America's Syria dilemma: Enemy of the enemy now a friend?
US efforts to recruit moderate rebels are not going well. With "Islamic State" now enemy number one, the White House has tacitly forged an alliance with its old adversary: Bashar al-Assad. Spencer Kimball reports ...November 26, 2014, DW:
'IS' supply channels through Turkey
Every day, trucks laden with food, clothing, and other supplies cross the border from Turkey to Syria. It is unclear who is picking up the goods. The haulers believe most of the cargo is going to the "Islamic State" militia. Oil, weapons, and soldiers are also being smuggled over the border, and Kurdish volunteers are now patrolling the area in a bid to stem the supplies. ...December 17, 2014. Near Eastern Outlook
ISIS’ Bloody Footprints Lead From NATO Territory
... Germany’s broadcaster Deutsche Welle investigated what turned out to be hundreds of trucks a day carrying billions of dollars in supplies, flowing into Syria and directly into the hands of the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS).
Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, has played a pivotal role in the destabilization and destruction of neighboring Syria. Since 2011, Turkey has allowed its territory to be used as a transit and staging point for sectarian terrorists flowing from around the world and into Syria in what could be described as a defacto NATO invasion by proxy.
In 2011, after the Libyan conflict drew to an end in favor of NATO, terrorists it had armed and provided air cover for in North Africa were promptly shipped to Turkey where they then slipped into Syria to engage the Syrian government and its military. Since then, an untold number of terrorists have used not only Turkey as a staging ground, but also Lebanon and Jordan. ...
President Obama: I think the analogy we use around here [in the White House] sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a JV [junior varsity] team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant. I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.
Q: But that JV team just took over Fallujah.
The nitpicking over what Obama had implied in his off-the-cuff remark to the New Yorker had taken on importance as the activities of Islamic State and the seriousness of its threat had become better known to the American public.
During an Aug. 25, 2014 press briefing, White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked if President Obama underestimated the Islamic State when he appeared to make a previous comparison between the group and a junior varsity basketball squad. Ernst "spun" Obama's remark in the effort to make it seem that Obama had not been referring to Islamic State when he spoke about a JV team -- which, as Kessler and Fact Check pointed out, was not true.
But even by early August President Obama had realized a firestorm was developing about his JV remark because of the Islamic State onslaught against the Yazidis. He sought to tamp down the fire by deflecting criticism onto American intelligence-gathering efforts. From the White House transcript of a remark made by the President on August 9 during a Q&A session with the press:
Did we underestimate ISIL [Islamic State]? I think that there is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and I think the expectations of policymakers both in and outside of Iraq.Instead of dousing the fire the remark only made it larger. By September Obama realized he needed backup and a full court press if he was going to throw the entire American intelligence community under the bus.
September 28, 2014, TIME magazine:
Intelligence chiefs have admitted they underestimated the threat posed by the Islamist group, Obama says
The U.S. underestimated the threat the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) posed in Syria and Iraq, President Obama conceded in an interview that will air on 60 Minutes Sunday, and overestimated the ability of the Iraqi army to secure their country.
“[Director of National Intelligence James Clapper] has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said.
“Essentially what happened with [ISIS] was that you had al Qaeda in Iraq, which was a vicious group, but our Marines were able to quash [it] with the help of Sunni tribes,” Obama went on.
“They went back underground, but over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you had huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos.”
When asked about comments by the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has said the U.S. overestimated the ability and will of the Iraqi military to fight the extremist group, Obama said,
“That’s true,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s absolutely true.”
Obama had already admitted that the rise of ISIS took the U.S. by surprise. “I think that there is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and I think the expectations of policymakers both in and outside of Iraq,” he said in an August statement [the same one I quoted above].So with the help of 60 Minutes and DNI James Clapper, the uproar about Obama's JV team remark finally died down. He'd depended on the intelligence community to keep him informed and the intelligence hadn't been good enough to appreciate at the first the seriousness of the threat from Islamic State. Case closed.
Time passed. Then suddenly all hell broke loose.
May 29, 2015. Middle East Eye
Pentagon report says West, Gulf states and Turkey foresaw emergence of ‘IS’ by Nafeez Ahmed, PhD
A newly declassified Pentagon report provides startling high-level confirmation that the US-led strategy in Syria contributed directly to the rise of the Islamic State (IS).
The secret US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) document, obtained by Washington DC law firm Judicial Watch, reveals that the emergence of an “Islamic State” across Iraq and Syria was foreseen by the Pentagon, as early as three years ago.
According to the internal report, which was distributed throughout the US intelligence community, this was seen as a likely consequence of the West’s efforts to destabilise Bashir al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
Despite that, Western governments continued to coordinate financial, military and logistical support to largely Islamist militant rebel groups in Syria, through allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Jordan and Turkey, among others.
A sectarian insurgency
Dated August 2012, the report states that the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” comprise “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq].”
Immediately after, the document states that these forces are being supported by a Western-led coalition: “The West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition.”
Throughout, the document does not suggest a distinction between "moderate" Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels and Islamist militant groups, nor between the insurgency and the opposition.
Rather, the document shows that opposition forces engaged in fighting the Assad regime consisted of a combination of overlapping Islamist forces. Singling out al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the document says the terror group “supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning” due to its belief that Assad was “targeting Sunnis”.
The report further describes the insurgency as a “sectarian uprising,” whose increasingly sectarian character attracts “volunteers” from across the region to “support the Sunnis in Syria”.
In the same month the DIA report was written, the BBC, Associated Press and other news outlets reported increasing incidents of sectarian atrocities against Shia civilians by FSA rebels, demonstrating the FSA’s growing penetration by sectarian Islamist groups.
In his recent blog post, however, Middle East expert Professor Juan Cole denies that the document says the US “created” sectarian groups in Syria. This is beside the point – the document affirms that despite awareness of the increasingly “sectarian direction” of an insurgency driven significantly by al-Qaeda, the US and its allies still supported it.Western backing for al-Qaeda
Earlier the same year, CIA officials were in southern Turkey overseeing the supply of Turkish, Saudi and Qatari-financed weapons to purportedly "moderate" rebels. The CIA was “helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters” would receive arms.
By the following year, defence consultancy IHS Jane concluded based on Western intelligence estimates that nearly half of all Syrian rebels were Islamist jihadists, who shared al-Qaeda’s outlook except for being focused on the Syrian conflict.
Cole scoffs at the idea that the US would “support al-Qaeda linked groups” – and that the DIA document might internally acknowledge the same.
Yet that is exactly what the West’s allies – the Gulf states and Turkey – were doing, under the close supervision of the CIA and MI6.
In 2014, a senior Qatari official revealed that Qatar and Saudi Arabia had for years provided economic and military assistance primarily to al-Qaeda’s Syrian arm, Jabhat al-Nusra, and to the IS precursor, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Prosecutor and witness testimony in court documents showed that in the same period, Turkey’s state intelligence agency (MIT) was supplying weapons by truck to al-Qaeda and ISIS-controlled rebel areas in Syria.
Such Saudi, Qatari and Turkish support for al-Qaeda and ISIS was not news to US intelligence. Back in late 2012, classified US intelligence assessments made available to President Obama and senior policymakers showed that most Saudi and Qatari arms went to “hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups”.
And despite official declarations of being able to certify support to "moderates" as opposed to extremists, last year the State Department was unable to identify a single "moderate" rebel group in receipt of Western support.
The failure of secular rebel groups “to secure regular arms supplies,” reported the New York Times, “has allowed Islamists to fill the void and win supporters”.
Consequently, rebel-held areas across Syria were “dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics,” who want to “infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government”.
The strategy allowed Islamist militants to hijack the grassroots Syrian revolution and crushed all prospects of an inclusive, democratically elected government.
[...]The Junior Varsity Team
Assad makes a Sophie's Choice -- John Batchelor Show,
July 2 (podcast; text from the JBS schedule page):
Pinhas Inbari, veteran Arab affairs correspondent, formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper; in re: Secret deal. ISIS came closer to Damascus, got control of channels providing Damascus with water and stopped the water supply. They already controlled the oil fields.
Assad decided to cut a deal: ISIS would allow water and gasoline to flow from Syrian fields. In return Assad would withdraw from areas where he protects minorities, including Druze and Ismailis.
Both minorities are important in the Syrian army. [...]
Two UK-based organizations investigating the attack said they had confirmed Islamic State's use of chemical weapons against Kurdish forces and civilian targets in Syria and Iraq, where they said chemical agents were also used in an attack on an Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga position on June 21 or 22.
Promising cheap relief from the scorching Iraqi summer heat, a suicide bomber with an ice truck lured more than 100 people to their deaths Friday. ISIS claimed responsibility on Twitter for the bombing in Khan Bani Saad, making it one of the single deadliest acts of terror the group has claimed.Islamic State Affiliate Says It Destroyed Egyptian Navy Ship - Wall Street Journal, July 16
US-backed offensive against Islamic State in Iraq stutters - Sydney Morning Herald - Tribune News Service July 19
The push by pro-government forces to retake Ramadi, which fell to IS militants in May, includes about 10,000 members of the Iraqi army, federal police and Shiite militias and Sunni tribal fighters.
But they have struggled to gain ground against heavy resistance, including hundreds of booby traps and other defences built by a small but capable force of 250 to 350 IS fighters believed to be holed up in the city, about 100 kilometres west of Baghdad. ...August 14, 2014, The Daily Mail
Fears are growing for the 300 Yazidi women reportedly kidnapped by Islamic State fighters last week amid claims they would be used to bear children to break up the ancient sect's bloodline.
The minority group is originally Aryan and has retained a fairer complexion, blonde hair and blue eyes by only marrying within the community.
But in a furious bid to convert all non-Muslims, ISIS jihadists have vowed to impregnate the hostages.
Some 45,000 Yazidi refugees have finally been able to escape from Mount Sinjar after U.S. air strikes and a fightback by Kurdish forces appeared to have broken the ten-day siege by Islamic militants.
However, as the women remain trapped, Kurdish militia are calling on Western forces to give them arms rather than plotting rescue missions. ...
To return to Dr Nafeez Ahmed's May 2015 account for Middle East Eye
Who wanted a ‘Salafist Principality’ ?
A girl from the minority Yazidi sect rests at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk province
after fleeing Islamic State militants
No, I guess not.