U.S. Support For Al-Qaeda-Linked Syrian Rebels: A Duplicitous Relationship
(MintPress) – On the second anniversary of the uprising against dictator Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, the United States, NATO forces and allied Arab countries are considering openly arming the Syrian opposition, a move that would escalate a civil war that has claimed the lives of 70,000 and has displaced more than 1 million, according to United Nations statistics.
Hundreds of radical Sunni terrorist groups are now in Syria, many fighting under the banner of Al-Qaeda while simultaneously being supported by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Experts posit that this is part of a long-term U.S. policy failure allowing arms and material to flow to radical opposition groups fighting a common U.S. enemy. In Syria, Libya and previously in Afghanistan, the U.S. created its own worst enemy — as well as armed radicalized opposition that turns against Washington’s national security interests once a mutual enemy, usually a despotic leader, is removed from power.
The support is compounded by Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally that has funded nearly $1 billion to Al-Qaeda and similar rebel groups over the past 40 years. The Saudi Royal family are “fundamentalists of the same ilk as Bin Laden. They are not all that radical, but it is almost that far,” said retired Colonel and AWACS director Wayne Quist to Mint Press News.
CIA support for al-Qaeda
“The evidence is mounting that Syria has become a magnet for Sunni extremists, including those operating under the banner of Al Qaeda,” reported the New York Times in 2012.
Many terrorists now fighting as part of the Syrian opposition gained experience in battles with the U.S. during the recent Iraq War 2003-2011. Some of the fighters have joined the ranks of the opposition, pledging to make the battle for Syria part of a broader regional takeover.
“We have experience now fighting the Americans, and more experience now with the Syrian revolution,” said 56-year-old Iraqi Abu Thuha. “Our big hope is to form a Syrian-Iraqi Islamic state for all Muslims, and then announce our war against Iran and Israel, and free Palestine.”
The statement highlights the radical position of Sunni Islamists fighters who have called for war against two legally-recognized states. Sunni extremists have called for war against Iran. Israel has also indicated their militant opposition against Iran. Many factions within Israel and Sunni extremists share a common enemy but have no ideological commonalities.
Some within Congress have already sounded the alarm, openly opposing U.S. material support for armed groups. “As many as a quarter of the 300 rebel groups in Syria may be fighting under the banner of al-Qaeda,” says Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in a recent statement.
This follows reports in 2012, indicating hundreds of radical fighters, mostly Sunni Muslims had already infiltrated the ranks of the Syrian opposition, from dozens of countries in the Middle East and South Asia, including Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Libya.
By some accounts there are already whole militias of foreign fighters spread across the country.
According to Martin Chulov, a foreign correspondent for the Guardian newspaper, “Free Syria Army officials in southern Turkey say there are at least four groups not aligned to them who are fighting regime forces, a Libyan guerrilla brigade among them, although the actual number is likely to be higher.”
Despite these dire warnings, the U.S. has already begun training rebels in neighboring Jordan, giving the fighters tactical support according to a report published by Der Spiegel this week.
Washington has already trained 200 fighters, with the number of trained “revolutionaries” set to grow to roughly 1,200 men in early 2013. Many allegedly subscribe to Wahhabi, or Salafist ideology — both radical elements informing the doctrine of al-Qaeda and other Sunni Muslim extremists.
The end goal for the CIA is to create about a dozen “Free Syrian Army” units totaling some 10,000 fighters. According to U.S. officials, Islamic extremists, namely Salafists, are excluded from the ranks of the fighters receiving U.S. training.
Training opposition fighters has been part of a strategy by policy makers seeking to secure control over natural resources, namely oil, in places like Libya and Mali.
The support for rebels in Syria is seen by some as a ploy to topple the Assad regime, a long-time ally of U.S. adversaries: Iran and Russia. Hezbollah fighters, an organization labelled as a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel have entered the fray, fighting on behalf of the Assad regime in recent months.
Both policies of engagement have escalated violence in Arab Spring uprisings and perverted the message of what were originally mass citizen movements calling for democracy and human rights reform.
The terrorists in Syria are every bit as violent as those that attacked the United States on 9/11. Writing about the terrorist attacks against Syrian civilians, Stephen Lendman, a columnist for Mint Press News and longtime journalist and author contends, “Aleppo murders are the latest example. Western-recruited death squads ruthlessly target civilians. They’re armed and directed to do so. They’re merciless cowards. Innocent men, women and children die. Murdering children, raping women and beheading men are their specialties So are other atrocities. Since winter 2011, many thousands of Syrians were slaughtered. Dozens more succumb daily.”
Despite strong evidence showing the misappropriation of U.S. aid, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to assuage fears of U.S. weapons falling into the wrong hands during a trip to Qatar earlier this month.
“You can’t guarantee that one weapon or another may not fall in that kind of a situation into the hands that you don’t want it to,” Kerry said. “But, in terms of fundamental balance of battlefield tactics and of effort, I think it is pretty clear that the prime minister shares a belief in trying to do what we need to do rapidly and to try to effect this through the SNC [Syrian National Council].” Kerry was speaking with Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim, also a strong supporter of the Syrian opposition.
Kerry and others continue to ignore warnings of grave human rights abuses committed by the rebels, in some cases as reprehensible as those committed by Assad.
“The Syrian government’s brutal tactics cannot justify abuses by armed opposition groups,” said HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson. “Opposition leaders should make it clear to their followers that they must not torture, kidnap or execute under any circumstances.”
Libya and Mali
The policy of “arm first, control fallout later” has also hurt regional security in Mali and West Africa following the murder of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011.
WikiLeaks cables dating back to 2008 revealed that conditions in Eastern Libya were fertile for the growth of terrorism. Dernah, a Libyan town was mentioned specifically as a breeding ground for fighters in a number of causes, including Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The unemployed, disenfranchised young men of eastern Libya have nothing to lose and are therefore willing to sacrifice themselves for something greater than themselves by engaging in extremism in the name of religion,” the cables quoted a Dernah businessman as saying.
During the uprising against Gaddafi, Dernah flew the al-Qaeda flag and declared itself an “Islamic emirate.” Like the Syrian rebels, the legions of fighters from Dernah and other towns fighting Gaddaffi received material support from Western nations, including the U.S.
Speaking to Mint Press News, Colonel Wayne Quist reports that many of the rebels using U.S. weapons have made their way into Mali, an impoverished West African nation.
Tracing the trajectory of U.S. arms after the Libyan revolution has been a difficult task for Western authorities. Working with Britain and France, the U.S. has focused on securing thousands of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, known as Manpads (man-operated portable air defense systems) in early 2013. Britain’s Ministry of Defence reported last year it had located just 5,000 of an estimated 20,000 Manpads dispersed in Libya.
These represent just a fraction of the rocket launchers, rifles and supplies that have been used to escalate the conflict in Mali’s north, an area where a coalition of foreign fighters have sought to create an independent Islamic state.
The area was held by rebels until late January when France send 1,000 soldiers to reclaim the area and oust the rebels. Although a restive calm has been restored, experts caution that violence could flare up should more weapons enter Mali.
“It takes a tiny fraction of the weapons missing in Libya to supercharge a conflict like Mali,” said Peter Bouckaert, a Human Rights Watch representative. “The arrival of new weapons changes the game. One day the rebels fight with AK47s and the next day they show up with anti-aircraft guns and other weapons and it’s a completely different conflict.”
The common link connecting rebels in Syria and Libya is the strong U.S. ties to Saudi Arabia, a regime that has spent billions backing terrorists in Afghanistan, Bosnia and more recently in Arab Spring uprisings.
“Up until the 1970, the most significant thing that happened was U.S. money funneling into the coffers of the Islamic clerics,” said Quist. “The royal family controls the economy and army. These are fundamentalists of the same ilk as Bin Laden. They are not all that radical, but it is almost that far,” he added.
According to Robert Baer, a former CIA operative and author of “Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude” reports that over the past decade, Saudi Arabia has transferred $500 billion to al-Qaeda and $100 million to the Taliban, much of it originally from the United States.
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