May 24, 2016 Juan ColeTwitter / The Nation & Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Fox News
What's left of the Free Syrian Army is an alphabet soup of fundamentalists, some more moderate Muslim Brotherhood elements, others armed with blueprints for a puritanical Salafi regime with no room for secularists, religious minorities, or for democracy. The CIA claims to have "vetted" more than 30 such insurgent groups as having no ties to Al Qaeda. The problem is that the "vetted" groups keep showing up on the battlefield as de facto allies of Al Qaeda in Syria.
Why Is Washington Supporting Fundamentalist Jihadis in Syria? A CIA-backed rebel group has joined with Al Qaeda in attacking another rebel force -- the one leading negotiations in Geneva Juan ColeTwitter / The Nation
(May 16, 2016) -- The peace negotiations between the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and the insurgents seeking to topple him and his one-party Baath state were headed on the rebel side by Mohammad Alloush, leader of the Saudi-backed Army of Islam (Jaysh al-Islam, or JI). Russia and the Syrian government objected to Alloush's group being in Geneva, viewing them as Salafi jihadis, i.e. as Al Qaeda Lite, and as more terrorists than insurgents.
The United States and its allies, especially Saudi Arabia, prevailed in insisting that Alloush not only remain invited but head the rebel delegation.
The Army of Islam has during the past month been fighting fiercely -- but not against Assad's Syrian Arab Army. Rather, in the eastern suburb of Damascus, East Ghouta, Alloush's forces have been ranged against another rebel group, a former friend now allied with Syria's Al Qaeda (the Nusra Front).
The fighting has left some 300 dead. Neither side in the Ghouta mini-war wants democracy or equal rights for all citizens. Why is the Obama administration going along with Saudi Arabia's legitimation of JI?
What's left of the previous Free Syrian Army in the region is an alphabet soup of fundamentalists, some more moderate Muslim Brotherhood elements, others armed with a blueprint for a puritanical Salafi regime in which there is no room for secularists or religious minorities, or for democracy.
Some 35 to 40 percent of Syrians belong to ethnic or religious minorities, and the remaining Sunni majority is split between avowed secularists and the religious.
Saudi-style Wahhabi Islam, which Riyadh appears to dream of imposing on Damascus, would definitely not work there. Meanwhile, the leftist Kurds of the northeast, who have been one of the most vigorous fighting forces against ISIS, and among whom US special forces troops have embedded, have so far been excluded from the Geneva negotations, at Turkey's insistence.
The Army of Islam has had an alliance with the Freemen of the Levant (Ahrar al-Sham), a Salafi jihadi group powerful in the north of the country. The Freemen of Syria in turn have an alliance with Al Qaeda.
Many former FSA units have defected to Al Qaeda or ISIS. The United States has been adamant in continuing to support the remnants of the FSA, even though many have either renounced democracy or pledged vengeance on Syria's Shiites and other minorities, or insisted they will impose a fundamentalist vision of Islamic law on the entire populationa.
The CIA claims to have "vetted" more than 30 such insurgent groups as having no ties to Al Qaeda. And then it passed to these fighters, through Saudi Arabia, TOW anti-tank munitions, making them formidable against Syrian armor.
The problem is that the "vetted" groups keep showing up on the battlefield as de facto allies of Al Qaeda in Syria. One of the vetted groups that has at least sometimes used TOWs is the Rahman Corps, which has a strong position in East Ghouta. Last year, the Rahman Corps shared an operation room with the Army of Islam.
Now there is a problem. In the past month the Rahman Corps has flipped, joined with Al Qaeda, and begun attacking Alloush's group, the Army of Islam.
That's right: The leader of the negotiating team at Geneva on behalf of the rebels is now besieged by one of his own US-backed constituents, which is likely using CIA-provided weapons against him. And it is doing so in a battlefield alliance with Al Qaeda.
In the East Ghouta pocket, Nusra ally the Rahman Corps and the Fustat Army Operations Room (led by Al Qaeda) have been ranged against the Army of Islam. Fighting between the fundamentalists intensified Saturday night, but it has been raging for twenty days and has killed 300.
Most of the dead were members of the Army of Islam and Al Qaeda, though dozens were from the Rahman Corps. The preachers of Al Qaeda, or the Nusra Front, were said to be inciting the killing of members of the Army of Islam.
The Rahman Corps began the struggle in late April, when it attacked the Army of Islam positions in the middle districts of Ghouta, took 400 of their rivals captive, and disarmed them. One Syria freelance journalist alleged that the attack on the Army of Islam was coordinated between the Rahman Corps and Al Qaeda.
On Thursday, the Nusra Front, along with its ally, the Freemen of Syria (Ahrar al-Sham), also attacked in another part of Syria, the Alawite Shiite village of Zara, south of Hama. There, they stand accused of butchering at least 19 civilians and of desecrating the bodies of the dead Alawites, who mostly support the government of Assad (himself an Alawite).
The villagers maintain that the invading insurgents slit the throats of their victims in their homes, and that those killed included children, women, and the aged. The Freemen of Syria denied targeting civilians.
The Alawites comprise some 10 to 14 percent of Syria's population. Remember that the Army of Islam of Mohammad Alloush, the lead negotiator in Geneva, is allied with the Freemen of Syria and that Alloush's family has been vitriolic against Syrian Shiites.
The Assad regime is guilty of crimes against humanity, and many of the groups that took up arms against it were fired by a desire for a more just society. But many of the supposed friends of the United States in Syria's opposition have an unsavory ideology, unsavory friends, or are themselves guilty of war crimes.
Washington has to stop arming these groups if there is ever to be peace in Syria, and it needs to pressure Saudi Arabia to cease trying to push Syria to the far right.
The weaponry sent in by Saudi Arabia on Washington's behalf in any case often makes its way to Al Qaeda or ISIS. The Army of Islam shouldn't be the lead negotiator in Geneva! The leftist Kurds need to be brought into the negotiations if the northeast is to remain part of Syria, and their voice on the opposition side is important to offset the powerful megaphone of the minority Salafis.
(October 29, 2015) -- Last week's "first of the ISIS war" combat death for a US soldier in Iraq gave way to admissions, over the past two days, that the Pentagon is engaged in ground combat as a fairly regular matter during what officials have presented as an exclusively "advisory" deployment. It's also apparently not new.
Apparently determined to protest the charge of "mission creep" in the war, officials are now conceding that they've been engaged in secret ground combat for months now, and therefore this isn't mission creep, but rather a transition to public admission of what they've been doing all along.
Officials also made reference to a US special operations office being run out of the Kurdish capital of Irbil, saying the matter was kept so highly classified that even the name of the office itself is considered a state secret that won't be released.
Sen. Bob Corker (R - TN), head of the Foreign Relations Committee, downplayed the seriousness of the White House carrying out a secret ground war even as they were publicly telling the American people that no ground combat would ever happen in Iraq, saying "it's the way our government is set up."
Corker did however express concern about the lack of information given to Congress about the scope of the special operations ground combat, saying that Congress isn't "even close to fully knowledgeable as to what is happening."
That apparently even leaves open the question of whether last week's death was the first "combat casualty" of the war, as officials are now suggesting that there are at least five American ground soldiers who were wounded in Iraq over the course of the war, and the details of all of those incidents are being kept secret.
Sgt. Joshua Wheeler's death last week appears to have been the first actual death of the conflict, and covering that up appears to have been a step too far for the Pentagon leadership. This is at least the public explanation for why the Pentagon went from "ruling out" combat to insisting a ground war was self-evidence in the matter of about 48 hours.
It may be too soon to rule out mission creep as well, however, as even if the US has been in secret ground combat for months doesn't mean the sudden admission of limited ground combat might not suggest the "secret" part of the war is going to transition into something even more aggressive. US Special Forces Reportedly in Covert Combat for Months Against ISIS Fox News.com
(October 29, 2015) -- US special operations forces reportedly have carried out several covert combat missions against ISIS over the past year, contrary to the Pentagon's insistence that operations like last week's raid of an ISIS-held prison in northern Iraq was a "unique" circumstance.
Bloomberg View reported that a special operations task force staffs an operations center in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil to support such missions. The report, which cited US and Kurdish officials, claimed that the task force has worked in recent months to identify and locate senior leaders of ISIS.
Members of the group also participated in last week's raid, during which Army Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler was killed. Wheeler became the first American to die in combat since the launch of anti-ISIS operations last year.
At a Pentagon briefing in Baghdad Tuesday, spokesman Col. Steve Warren answered a question about whether US forces in Iraq were in combat against ISIS in no uncertain terms.
"We're in combat," Warren said. "I thought I made that pretty clear ... That is why we all carry guns. That's why we all get combat patches when we leave here, that's why we all receive [an] immediate danger badge. So, of course we're in combat."
Last week, Cook said the raid on the ISIS prison in the town of Hawija was "consistent with our counter-ISIL effort to train, advise and assist Iraqi forces", using a different acronym for the terror group.
He also said the rescue was a "unique" circumstance, but declined to say that it was the only time US forces have engaged in a form of ground combat in Iraq. Instead, he noted that US troops are "allowed to defend themselves, and also defend partner forces, and to protect against the loss of innocent life."
Cook's previous comments had kept with a general avoidance on the part of administration officials to admit that US troops were in combat. However, on Friday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said while discussing the raid, "This is combat, things are complicated."
In addition to the death of Master Sgt. Wheeler, The Daily Beast reported earlier this week that five service members had been wounded in action since the start of operations in Iraq last year.
However, the Pentagon has refused to disclose how and when they were injured. The Washington Post reported in March that one of the wounded service members was hit in the face by bullet fragments while coming under enemy fire.
Bloomberg View reported that in addition to the special operations task force, the operations center also contains so-called Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, who work with US allies and the Iraqis to coordinate combat flights against ISIS over Iraq. A third group, from the Marine Special Operations Command, is in charge of training Kurdish counter-terrorism forces.
On Tuesday, Carter testified on Capitol Hill that that the military plans a "higher and heavier rate of strikes" against ISIS targets. Separately, a senior US official confirmed to Fox News that President Obama is considering proposals to move US troops closer to the front lines in the fight.
On Wednesday, retired Gen. John Allen told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that as the US continues to build up its military options in Syrian, European nations might consider combat operations to battle extremists.
Allen said the US military recently began asking its European allies to join it at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey where the US is being allowed to launch fighter aircraft and surveillance missions in Syria.
"I expect that as time goes on, and as more opportunity becomes available to us, we may well see our European partners become more kinetically involved in Syria," Allen said.
"There may be opportunities in the south as well as in the north where our European coalition partners could in fact play an important role, and I'm thinking special operations," Allen said, adding that additional details could only be provided in a classified setting.
Fox News' Jennifer Griffin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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