Glenn Greenwald: Support for Syrian rebels is legitimate in spite of Al Qaeda’s presence

Glenn Greenwald writes: I personally don’t view the presence of Al Qaeda “affiliated” fighters as a convincing argument against supporting Syrian rebels. It’s understandable that people fighting against an oppressive regime – one backed by powerful foreign factions – will align with anyone willing and capable of fighting with them. Moreover, the long-standing US/UK template of branding anyone they fight and kill as “terrorists” or “Al Qaeda” is no more persuasive or noble when used in Syria by Assad and the Russians, particularly when used to obscure civilian casualties. And regarding the anti-Assad forces as monolithically composed of religious extremists ignores the anti-tyranny sentiment among ordinary Syrians motivating much of the anti-regime protests, with its genesis in the Arab Spring. [Continue reading…]

This statement might confuse some of Greenwald’s readers — at least I’m sure it would have if he had made it the lead of his latest column. Instead, this recognition that alliances of convenience are inevitably formed during any attempt to overthrow a tyrannical regime, was more of an afterthought buried deeply within a diatribe aimed at the BBC.

Greenwald goes on to assert: “It’s not a stretch to say that the faction that provides the greatest material support to Al Qaeda at this point is the U.S. and its closest allies.”

He might not think it’s a stretch — many others would beg to differ.

The idea that Al Qaeda inside or outside Syria is backed by the U.S. government should be treated with the same amount of scorn as claims that 9/11 was an “inside job.”

Why?

American concerns about weapons falling into the wrong hands has and continues to be obsessive, as a Wall Street Journal report in January made clear.

It didn’t take long for rebel commanders in Syria who lined up to join a Central Intelligence Agency weapons and training program to start scratching their heads.

After the program was launched in mid-2013, CIA officers secretly analyzed cellphone calls and email messages of commanders to make sure they were really in charge of the men they claimed to lead. Commanders were then interviewed, sometimes for days.

Those who made the cut, earning the label “trusted commanders,” signed written agreements, submitted payroll information about their fighters and detailed their battlefield strategy. Only then did they get help, and it was far less than they were counting on.

Some weapons shipments were so small that commanders had to ration ammunition. One of the U.S.’s favorite trusted commanders got the equivalent of 16 bullets a month per fighter. Rebel leaders were told they had to hand over old antitank missile launchers to get new ones — and couldn’t get shells for captured tanks.

On those occasions where U.S. supplied weapons are known to have ended up in the hands of Al Qaeda, this has been a major embarrassment to the Obama administration.

Even now, after a month in which Russia has conducted more than 800 airstrikes in Syria, rebels have yet to be supplied with the most basic form of effective air defense — MANPADs, though this may soon change — and the flow and use of TOW anti-tank missiles remains tightly regulated.

What continues to get obscured by those who insist on pushing the narrative of rebels heavily armed by the U.S. and its allies, is the enduring imbalance of military power in this war: the fact that the Assad regime and its allies continue to maintain air dominance largely unchallenged.

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