Robin Yassin-Kassab writes: Whatever the hearts-and-minds rhetoric at the United Nations, in Syria the Obama administration is feeding the flames of Sunni extremism, and proving once again the truism that the American state is an enemy of the Syrian people (as it’s an enemy, like all states, of all peoples, including the American).
We expected strikes on ISIS. Some of the strongest strikes (and the strikes are far stronger than in Iraq), however, have been aimed at Jabhat al-Nusra (the Victory Front), the organisation from which ISIS split. Nusra is certainly an extremist Salafist group, and is openly linked to al-Qa’ida. Because its ideology terrifies not only minorities but also huge swathes of the Sunni population, it’s also a strategic obstruction in the way of the Syrian revolution. In August 2013 it participated (with ISIS) in the only documented large-scale massacre of Alawi civilians in the conflict. On the other hand, Nusra (unlike ISIS) was until yesterday actually fighting the regime, not other rebel groups. From January, along with every rebel formation, it’s been fighting ISIS too. And its leadership is entirely Syrian. Many Syrians, not necessarily extremist Salafists themselves, admire Nusra’s victories against their most immediate enemy – the Assadist forces dropping barrel bombs on cities and raping and torturing at checkpoints. A sensible answer to Nusra would be to provide weapons and funds to Free Army forces who would then be in a position to gradually draw men from the organisation, slowly making it irrelevant (most men don’t care about the ideology of their militia’s leadership; they care about food and ammunition). But the Americans are allergic to working with the people on the ground most immediately concerned by the outcome, and bomb from the air instead. Nusra is now abandoning front line positions (in some areas the regime may be able to take immediate advantage). One Nusra leader has already spoken of an alliance with ISIS against the Americans.
Syria’s new daily routine: the Americans and Gulf Arabs bomb the Salafist extremists while Assad bombs the Free Army and Islamic Front (and of course civilians – as usual it isn’t being reported, especially not now the televisual US war is on, but about a hundred are being killed every day). The headline in regime newspaper al-Watan reads “America and its Allies in One Trench with the Syrian Army against Terrorism”. The opposition reads it this way too. Several demonstrations yesterday condemned the American strikes, called for America’s fall, and for solidarity with ISIS and Nusra. A sign at one protest read: “Yes, It’s an International Coalition Against Sunnis.” [Continue reading...]
Fred Hof writes: The Assad regime and Iran have every reason to applaud strikes on the Islamic State in Raqqa and to the east: it costs them nothing, and airstrikes in the far east of Syria presumably can damage the ability of the Islamic State to sustain operations in Iraq from rear areas in Syria. Yet Tehran and its client will not want to see the US-led coalition hone-in on Islamic State targets in western Syria, where the forces of the self-proclaimed caliph work in tandem with the regime to kill off the nationalist rebels.
It may well be that engaging potential Islamic State targets around Aleppo and elsewhere is problematical in terms of target identification, collateral damage, and the like. Still, left to their own devices, the Islamic State and the Assad regime will work together — either tacitly or explicitly — to remove the anti-Islamic State military ground component identified by President Obama. This would presumably be unacceptable to the United States.
Helping the nationalist opposition survive the combined ministrations of the Assad regime and the Islamic State is table ante for engaging in the ultimate contest: overcoming state failure in Syria so that phenomena like the Islamic State will have no place to grow and prosper. Even as the world averts its gaze from regime barrel bombs, starvation sieges, and mass incarceration and torture, strikes against Islamic State forces in western Syria will hurt the Assad regime and disappoint Iran. In the end, however, what can they say in terms of objection?
If overcoming state failure in Syria is the end game, moving against the Assad regime is unavoidable. Bashar al-Assad is the caliph’s recruiting sergeant. Iran knows this, but thinks it needs Assad in western Syria to keep Hezbollah fit to fight in Lebanon. Russia knows it too, but apparently, President Vladimir Putin has a larger point to make about the survival of Moscow’s clients, no matter how unattractive they are. The West has been feckless with respect to Assad, and regional powers have — in the absence of US leadership — pursued policies of narrow self-interest. All of that must change, and perhaps the requisite change has begun. [Continue reading...]
As parliament is about to debate whether Britain should go to war with ISIS, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson writes: Isis is a group of international criminals, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity with genocidal intent, and the right – arguably the duty – to protect their victims does not depend on Russian approval in the Security Council.
Isis has been killing innocent civilians because of their religion and issuing blood-curdling incitements to kill “all non-believers”. They have been executing without trial, recruiting children as soldiers, taking and killing hostages. They are, in the Latin phrase used in international law, hostis humanis generis, the enemies of humankind. As with the pirate, torturer and slave trader, no UN approval is necessary for law-abiding states to use force against such barbarity.
But our complicity in the invasion of Iraq has cast a long shadow; Ed Miliband, for example, has evinced a “preference” for a Security Council resolution. This is unnecessary and in fact undesirable – action in humanitarian emergencies should not be vulnerable to the veto of the Chinese, or of President Putin. A resolution was necessary for the invasion of Iraq – a sovereign state where there was no basis for humanitarian intervention. President Bush expressly excluded this justification for his (and our) war. As for last year’s proposal to bomb Syria, it was a one-off punishment reprisal of questionable legality and doubtful purpose and it was sensibly rejected by Parliament (and people). [Continue reading...]
Mike Giglio reports: Ahmed Saoud was sitting in the restaurant of a four-star hotel in the Turkish city of Antakya, a short drive from the border with Syria, when he got an alarming call on his cell phone. An American voice was on the line. He said something that seemed to rile Saoud, a colonel who defected from the Syrian army and now commands a battalion of moderate rebels based in the country’s turbulent north.
Saoud’s group gets covert U.S. military support as part of a small CIA program to arm and train moderate rebels. Called the 13th Division, the battalion boasts a number of military defectors like Saoud, a common trait in the select club of rebel groups that America has decided it can trust in the murky war. One U.S. official involved in Syria policy, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 13th Division gets strong reviews in Washington: “They sit at the rare intersection of combat-effective and responsible.”
Such groups are rare in Syria — and all are weak compared to the Islamist battalions that now dominate the war. The U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army has been reduced to a shadow of the force that once aspired to be the revolution’s standard-bearer.
Yet these same groups are a key component of the U.S. campaign against extremist groups in the country that saw sweeping airstrikes this week — even as their role in U.S. intervention in Syria puts them in an increasingly precarious place. One consequence of the U.S. strikes may be that its allies face their toughest fight for survival to date. [Continue reading...]
Syria Direct reports: The Islamic State appeared to be closing in on the Kurdish-majority city of Ain al-Arab in northern Aleppo Wednesday despite unconfirmed reports of airstrikes against IS positions in the area the night before.
Reports on the ground indicate that the Islamic State is anywhere from 10 to 15 kilometers from Ain al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish.
Meanwhile, conflicting accounts cast doubt on the reported airstrikes against IS positions in Ain al-Arab.
The primary source of the report, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Wednesday that an airstrike Tuesday night hit IS supply roads 35 kilometers west of Kobani.
The monitoring group could not confirm that the plane was part of the American- led coalition, but did add that the aircraft was not Syrian and came from the direction of Turkey.
Arabic and Kurdish news agencies also reported the airstrikes Tuesday night.
“According to local sources…airplanes with the international alliance hit IS positions west of Kobani,” Ara News, a pro-opposition Syrian news agency, was quoted as saying.
Kurdish reactions to the airstrikes against IS in Syria appear to be positive, even if confusion remains as to whether the strikes around Ain al-Arab actually took place.
“There was a state of joy and satisfaction [amongst the Kurds] following the strikes,” Baz Ali Bkari, a Kurdish journalist based in the Turkish side of the border, told Syria Direct Wednesday, “because it means saving the Kurdish people from a genocide at the hands of IS.”
“The Kurdish people are with the American strikes against IS,” according to Radwan Biza, another journalist based in the Kurdish city of Tal Abyad on the Syrian-Turkish border.
“US-led airstrikes targeted IS strongholds in Kobani at the Turkish border,” said Kurdish news agency Rudaw Wednesday.
Turkish officials, however, denied that Turkey was involved in the attack, saying that neither Turkish airspace nor airports were used in the operation. [Continue reading...]
Aaron Stein writes: Turkey’s policy vis-à-vis ISIS has always been relatively clear. Ankara has not supported the group and has thought of it as a terror organization for 1.5 years. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, for example, has criticized Sayyid Qutb’s ideology and believes that his understanding of Islam is incorrect. Davutoglu, who is the architect of Turkish foreign policy, argues that Qutb’s understanding of Islam is too heavily influenced by Western political theories. These theories, he argues, are incongruent with the concept of Dar al Islam, which is a better source of political legitimacy in the Arab/Muslim world. Thus, any suggestions that the AKP supports IS because of an overlap in religious points of view, or a shared ideology, is false. The same applies to Al Qaeda. There is no sympathy in the Turkish government for the ideology underpinning either group.
Turkey, however, did give some support to Jabhat al Nusra. Ankara did so for two reasons. First, after Turkey changed its Syria policy in August 2011, Ankara “bet the farm” on Assad falling in 6 months. After Assad was able to hold on to power, Turkey began to support a slew of rebel groups – including Nusra. Ankara felt that it was imperative to put pressure on the regime to force Assad from power. Nusra was/is an effective fighting force and worked with FSA rebel groups to battle the regime. Second, the Turkish government believes that the Assad is the root cause of extremism in Syria. Thus, if he is forced form power, the appeal of the Jihadists would decrease. In turn, Nusra would be devoid of any widespread popular support and eventually be marginalized in the “New Syria.” Turkey wanted this new Syria to be run by the Brotherhood.
These assumptions guided Ankara’s decision-making up until mid-July 2012. At this stage of the conflict, Assad pulled his forces away from the Kurdish controlled areas. This left the three Kurdish cantons, known collectively as Rojava, to the PYD – a group with links to the PKK. Turkey reacted negatively. First, Ankara threatened to intervene and “establish a buffer zone.” After backing down from this threat, Ankara tried to put the PYD under the thumb of the KDP. This also failed. This eventually prompted Ankara to reach out to members of the PYD – most notably, Salih Muslim. The two sides appeared to have reached some sort of agreement to live in quasi-harmony. Turkey, however, was not comfortable with the status quo. Ankara has kept the border gates with Rojava closed since mid-July 2012 and has only recently begun to intermittently open two border gates along the border to accommodate thousands of Kurdish refugees fleeing from Kobane. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: A French tourist captured in North Africa by a group aligned with the Islamic State is seen beheaded in a video circulated on Wednesday, according to SITE Intelligence, which tracks jihadist groups.
The Frenchman — Hervé Gourdel, a 55-year-old mountaineering guide from Nice — was abducted in Algeria on Sunday by the terrorist group, known as Jund al-Khilafah. Mr. Gourdel had arrived only a day before on a trip to go hiking in Algeria’s northern mountains.
The terrorist group issued a statement after his abduction, saying that it was following the guidance of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq and has called on its sympathizers to strike Westerners — especially the French — wherever they can. [Continue reading...]
Jabhat Al-Nusra: ‘Why attack us? We didn’t do anything against the U.S. We just want to fight Assad’
— خراسان البلاغ (@khorasan313) September 24, 2014
Mike Giglio reports: At least eight U.S. airstrikes targeted the infamous Syrian rebel group called Jabhat al-Nusra in the last 24 hours. But a week ago, serving tea at his apartment in southern Turkey, an official with the extremist group complained that it gets a bad rap in the U.S. — and that the Obama administration should even see it as an ally.
Nusra is one of the most powerful insurgent forces in Syria’s civil war, with a long record of fighting the regime. It’s also a branch of al-Qaeda. This has seen it blacklisted as a terrorist group by the U.S. and U.N., something that has always angered some of its members, such as the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They say their lone goal is to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — a man whose ouster the Obama administration has called for too. “Why this treatment?” the official asked.
With global attention — and U.S. airstrikes — focused on another extremist group in the region, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, some Nusra members were pushing to mark a clear distinction between the two organizations. Nusra even released a U.S. man it was holding captive — journalist Peter Theo Curtis — as well as 45 U.N. peacekeepers. “They’re just criminals,” the official said of ISIS, making a point of condemning the group for beheading U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. “They’re against the U.S. generally.”
He suggested that Nusra and the U.S., which backs moderate rebel groups inside Syria, were on the same side: “We are fighting with the rebels. We are fighting with their alliance against the other alliance. So why attack us?”
He added: “We didn’t do anything against the U.S. We just want to fight Assad.” [Continue reading...]
Nusra official tells me US strikes hit Ahrar al-Sham too: "They're attacking the strongest groups that are really fighting the regime."
— Mike Giglio (@mike_giglio) September 23, 2014
Nusra often told me they focused on near enemy, not far. If West didn't harm them, they wouldn't harm it-for now #Syriastrikes change that
— Rania Abouzeid (@Raniaab) September 24, 2014
AFP reports: The US says it has hit a little-known group called “Khorasan” in Syria, but experts and activists argue it actually struck Al-Qaeda’s affiliate Al-Nusra Front, which fights alongside Syrian rebels.
In announcing its raids in the northern province of Aleppo on Tuesday, Washington described the group it targeted as Khorasan, a cell of Al-Qaeda veterans planning attacks against the West.
But experts and activists cast doubt on the distinction between Khorasan and Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch.
“In Syria, no one had ever heard talk of Khorasan until the US media brought it up,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Rebels, activists and the whole world knows that these positions (hit Tuesday) were Al-Nusra positions, and the fighters killed were Al-Nusra fighters,” added Abdel Rahman, who has tracked the Syrian conflict since it erupted in 2011.
Experts were similarly dubious about the distinction.
“The name refers to Al-Qaeda fighters previously based in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran who have travelled to Syria to fight with… Al-Nusra,” said Matthew Henman, head of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.
“They… should not be considered a new or distinct group as such.” [Continue reading...]
The Wall Street Journal reports: The chaos in a town near Turkey’s Syrian border intensified after U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State targets Tuesday, prompting Kurdish leaders to call on Washington to give them a role in coordinating the fight against the jihadists.
Kurdish leaders said that after U.S. warplanes hit Raqqa, the de facto capital of Islamic State, the insurgents redeployed men and heavy weaponry closer to Kurdish areas. The officials said the jihadist onslaught around the Syrian city of Ayn al-Arab, known in Kurdish as Kobani, continued through Tuesday, as shells fell on the city and surrounding villages were seized.
Turkey’s government said on Tuesday that the number of refugees fleeing the jihadist advance rose to 150,000, while the United Nations relief agency warned the number could reach 400,000.
Panic over Islamic State’s advance led to fresh clashes at the border between Turkish security forces and angry Kurdish protesters who cursed the absence of Turkey—a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member with a major U.S. air base—from the Washington-led coalition. Speaking to reporters in New York, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could give military or logistical support to the U.S.-led coalition, but stopped short of offering any firm commitments.
The Syrian Kurdish militia, which fights under the banner of the People’s Defense Units, or YPG, on Tuesday asked to join President Barack Obama’s coalition.
“We welcome the airstrikes but they didn’t help Kobani. The U.S. should coordinate with us,” said Redur Xelil, a YPG spokesman. “We fear that the airstrikes may even push their fighters to concentrate on Kobani, endangering the city even more.” [Continue reading...]
So apparently Assad has finally made up his mind. He's leading the international coalition against IS. No sovereignty violation. #Syria
— Shakeeb Al-Jabri (@LeShaque) September 24, 2014
Stars and Stripes reports: One year ago, the Obama administration considered a cruise missile strike on Syria, but the target was not the Islamic State or al-Qaida.
The president accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of murdering over 1,000 citizens with poison gas. But U.S. air strikes never came. Instead, the U.S. opted to negotiate the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons, and Assad continued a bloody war against his opponents that has killed an estimated 200,000 Syrians over more than three years.
Administration officials said again this week that Assad must relinquish power. But the new U.S.-led air war there against the Islamic State and al-Qaida offshoots Khorasan and the Nusra Front puts the administration in a precarious position – it is counting on Assad’s ouster while pounding some of his most dangerous enemies from the air.
Islamic State and Nusra Front fighters in Syria are among the most effective opposition forces battling a regime that Washington opposes. The U.S. plan to arm and train moderate rebels is still in its infancy. Aircraft and missile strikes against Islamist fighters and facilities in the north runs the risk of strengthening Assad in his fight to hold on to power. [Continue reading...]
The Wall Street Journal adds: “The only beneficiary of foreign intervention in Syria is the Assad regime, in the absence of any real strategy to topple it,” said Hamza al-Shamali, the commander of moderate rebel group Harakat Hazm, which is close to Qatar.
The group opposed the airstrikes, calling them a breach of Syria’s national sovereignty.
Reactions of Syrian rebel groups reflected the rifts and competing loyalties and agendas that have plagued the opposition fighters since the start of the conflict more than three years ago.
Rebels of all stripes have been battling both the Islamic State and Mr. Assad. And while regime forces and the Islamic State have largely avoided direct confrontation, this changed after the group grabbed significant territory in eastern Syria and neighboring Iraq starting in June.
There were differences and confusion even among the relatively moderate groups that have been the beneficiaries of U.S. and Western arms, training and other forms of support.
The head of the rebel umbrella group known as the Fifth Legion of the Free Syrian Army welcomed the airstrikes but said they had to also extend to “the source of terrorism: the Assad regime.” The Western-backed group said greater coordination with rebels on the ground was needed to avert civilian casualties.
Cengiz Candar writes: Faruk Logoglu, a former Turkish ambassador to Washington and an opposition member of parliament, a leading figure in foreign policy issues, sees the “deal with IS” as scandalous, which could place Turkey’s relations with the Western world on a more problematic course. He asked the government: “There are serious allegations that IS has been supplied with tanks and weapons and that these were carried by train to Tell Abyad. The government must respond to these allegations. What is meant by a ‘diplomatic deal’ is the freeing of IS militants detained in Turkey. How many? Why were they detained? For example, on March 25, 2014, three IS terrorists were arrested for killing three citizens at Ulukisla-Nigde. Are they part of the deal?
“Erdogan’s remarks on an exchange are scandalous, showing that he recognizes IS as an interlocutor to make diplomatic deals with. Social media close to IS reported 150 IS militants, 50 of them women, detained in Turkey were released. Sources close to the PKK allege Turkey has supplied IS with tanks and other weapons. Finally, IS could have been assured that Turkey will remain outside the coalition.”
There are many indicators that Turkey, even after the hostage release, does not have a free hand vis-a-vis IS. While it has rescued its hostages, it still remains hostage to IS. [Continue reading...]
McClatchy reports: Anti-government media activists and rebel commanders gave a mixed assessment of U.S.-led airstrikes in northern Syria on Tuesday, saying that some of the Islamic State encampments hit had been evacuated and one building that was struck had been filled with displaced civilians, even as at least one major Islamic State base was seriously damaged and many fighters were killed.
But the greatest damage, they said, may be to the Free Syrian Army, the moderate rebel faction that enjoyed U.S. support for years.
By focusing exclusively on Islamic State insurgents and al Qaida figures associated with the Khorasan unit of the Nusra Front, and bypassing installations associated with the government of President Bashar Assad, the airstrikes infuriated anti-regime Syrians and hurt the standing of moderate rebel groups that are receiving arms and cash as part of a covert CIA operation based in the Turkish border city of Reyhanli.
Rebel fighters argue that they constitute the only friendly ground force available to the international coalition to fill the security vacuum in places that Islamic State fighters are forced to abandon. But rebel commanders said they’d played no role in selecting the targets or planning for the aftermath.
The U.S. informed the Syrian government of the impending airstrikes Monday, the official Syrian news agency reported, but no one dropped a hint to the inner circle of rebel commanders. They learned about it from the news. [Continue reading...]
Foreign Policy: Immediately after the United States began its bombing campaign in President Bashar al-Assad’s backyard, the Syrian leader received a conspicuous visitor: Iraqi National Security Advisor Faleh al-Fayyad. The two men discussed the ongoing fight against Islamic State militants and, according to the Syrian state media summary of the meeting, Assad told the Iraqi official “that Syria supports any international counterterrorism effort.” It was at least their second meeting in as many weeks.
While the report contained no specific mention of U.S. bombing in Syria, Assad’s comment walks that fine line where it can be easily interpreted as a signal to Washington that Damascus will not stand the way of — and indeed welcomes — U.S. efforts to strike the Islamic State, which Assad sees as a mortal enemy.
The Syrian civil war and the subsequent rise of radical jihadist groups in the country have made strange bedfellows of the United States and its erstwhile enemies. Inside Iraq, U.S. airstrikes have at times come in support of Iranian-backed Shiite militias, putting Washington in the odd position of serving as Tehran’s air force in Iraq. As for Syria, President Barack Obama has called for Assad’s ouster but has now found common cause with the brutal strongman in launching an air war against the Islamic State militants fighting to overthrow him.
While U.S. officials maintain that they are not cooperating with Iranian forces in Iraq, privately they concede that they are coordinating airstrikes with Iranian militias by using Iraqi security forces as intermediaries. With the U.S. air war now expanding to Syria, Fayyad’s repeated trips to Damascus raise the possibility that Iraqi officials are reprising that coordination during another alliance of convenience between the United States and an ostensible enemy. [Continue reading...]
“We don’t have any specific, credible information about specific plans that they [the "Khorasan Group"] had. On the other hand, the intelligence did lead us to believe that they were in the process of getting very close to the execution phase of general plans that we know that they were interested in,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in an interview today with Yahoo’s Katie Couric.
“So for some time now we’ve been tracking plots to conduct attacks in the United States or Europe. We believe that that attack plotting was imminent, in that they had plans to conduct attacks external to Syria,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser at the White House.
Close to the execution phase of general plans? Imminent plotting for an attack somewhere outside Syria?
The New York Times reports:
[O]ne senior counterterrorism official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the group might not have chosen the target, method or even the timing for a strike. An intelligence official said separately that the group was “reaching a stage where they might be able to do something.”
When government officials make vacuous statements like these and warn about the “imminent” threat posed by America’s latest diabolical foe, is it any wonder that conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones find it so easy to capture a mass audience?
Those Americans less inclined to question official statements and willing to accept that airstrikes against a terrorist group they never heard of must nevertheless be a good thing if that group was about to attack the U.S., would be well advised to ask this question: does an administration that just presented its strategy for degrading and destroying ISIS, actually have a clear strategy if its war against ISIS is now also targeting one of ISIS’s principal adversaries?
What is being discussed is not a “new terrorist group,” but rather a specialized cell that has gradually been established within, or on, the fringes of an already existing al-Qaeda franchise, the so-called Nusra Front. What this seems to be about is a jihadi cell consisting of veteran al-Qaeda members who have arrived to the Nusra Front in Syria from abroad, mainly via Iran, and who are in direct contact with al-Qaeda’s international leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, himself believed to be based in Pakistan.
Whatever one decides to call it, this is not likely to be an independent organization, but rather a network-within-the-network, assigned to deal with specific tasks. Most likely it has no fixed name at all, and the “Khorasan Group” label has simply been invented for convenience by U.S. intelligence or adopted from informal references within the Nusra Front to these men as being, for example, “our brothers from Khorasan.”
The issue of the name is significant because it appears that from the vantage point of most Syrians, the U.S. strikes were simply strikes on Nusra and the implications are clear:
You can debate whether hitting ISIS really helps the Syrian regime. But whatever its merits, hitting Nusra definitely does.
— Mike Giglio (@mike_giglio) September 23, 2014
U.S. officials have repeatedly said that a campaign of airstrikes against ISIS will not accomplish its ultimate goal of destroying the organization without a ground operation involving Syrian opposition fighters. How will those fighters be recruited if the U.S. is seen as having already further undermined the war against Assad?
Targeting Nusra in #Aleppo can be viewed as a direct help for Assad forces
— al-Gharib الغريب (@troublejee) September 23, 2014
Whatever the U.S. might claim about imminent plots being hatched by the Khorasan Group, its leader is apparently viewed as having played a crucial role in the fight against Assad. Indeed, it seems somewhat more plausible that a guy who trains snipers would be focused on the war in Syria rather than some vague plot directed elsewhere.
The US air raid targeted a JN trainer He is a very well known figure & an important asset for jihad in sniping training Abu Yusuf AlTurki
— أبوالحسنين الشامي (@MohammedGhazzal) September 23, 2014
Whether attacking Jabhat al Nusra has made America any safer is highly debatable but it seems much more likely this will help ISIS — and Assad.
Will these U.S. bombs align Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic State back together into a single front (even undeclared)?
— Daniele Raineri (@DanieleRaineri) September 23, 2014
And lastly there’s this footnote: New evidence that Twitter obediently takes directions from the U.S. government:
Observation: about 5 hours before the US airstrikes started in #Syria all main Jabhat an-Nusra accounts got deleted (again) by Twitter …
— Pieter Van Ostaeyen (@p_vanostaeyen) September 23, 2014
Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl writes: American failure to take early, decisive action to prevent a power vacuum in Syria was a significant factor in the rise of ISIS. Such action could have been taken far earlier. One of the main sources of U.S. reluctance to do so has been the fragmentation and radicalization of the armed Syrian opposition. But this concern over acting in Syria mistakenly identifies the character of the opposition as the source of that fragmentation and radicalization.
In fact, dynamics within the war itself and not the inherent nature of the opposition have contributed significantly to the current disarray. In an ongoing research project on alliances and infighting between Syrian armed groups, I show how infighting among the opposition’s military formations increases when and where the fighting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has become stalemated or indecisive. The implications are two-fold. Fragmentation and radicalization in Syria were driven by factors that allowed the proliferation of armed opposition groups and by the absence of military support designed to bolster their offensive capabilities.
When the sources of the state of the armed opposition are weighed against U.S. policy on Syria since the war’s outset, the picture is clear: A hesitant U.S. role was central to the fragmentation and radicalization of the opposition. Particularly to blame are the combined failures to coordinate the actions of other pro-opposition states, to provide timely financial and military support to the opposition, and to use military support to produce qualitative changes in the opposition’s capabilities vis-à-vis the regime.
Such a causal story offers a different reading of ISIS’s swift organization of a militarily effective force, its barbaric violence and its consolidation of territory from Syria into northern Iraq. While the rise of ISIS might appear to confirm the worst fears of those who argued that the United States should not support the armed Syrian opposition, in fact it shows the opposite. [Continue reading...]
Musa al-Gharbi writes: The U.S. was the only non-Arab actor to participate in the Syria raids. Collaborating with the U.S. were five other Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan.
While many pundits have and will continue to describe them as “moderate Arab allies” — what “moderate” usually means is something akin to “compliant with the U.S. agenda in the region.” What may be more significant to note about these powers is that they are all monarchies—in fact, the actors who took part in the strike are most of the region’s surviving dynasties (excluding only Oman, Kuwait, and Morocco).
The Gulf monarchs are far from beloved in Iraq, even among the Sunni population. Readers may remember that the “Sunni” Hussein regime wanted to go to war with the KSA, provoking the U.S.-led Operation Desert Shield. There is a long enmity between the peoples of Iraq and the Gulf monarchs — and an even deeper enmity between these powers and the Syrians. So the idea that the populations of IS-occupied Iraq and Syria will find these forces and their actions legitimate simply in virtue of the fact that they are “Sunni” is a gross oversimplification that reinforces problematic sectarian narratives even as it obscures important geopolitical truths. Among them:
If anything, the alliance that carried out the strike actually reinforces the narrative of the IS: it will be framed as the United States and its oppressive monarchic proxies collaborating to stifle the Arab Uprisings in order to preserve the doomed status quo.
In a similar manner, it is somewhat irrelevant that salafi and “moderate” Sunni Muslim religious authorities have condemned al-Baghdadi’s “caliphate” as invalid and ill-conceived — in part because it presupposes that most of the foreign fighters who are joining ISIS for ideological reasons are devout, well-informed about fiqh and closely following the rulings of jurists, etc. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, and many of those coming from abroad to join the IS are motivated primarily by factors other than religion. Even much of their indigenous support is from people who join for money, or else due to their grievances against the governments in Iraq and/or Syria — not because they buy into the vision of al-Baghdadi and his ilk. Accordingly, the value of “Sunni buy-in,” framed religiously, is probably both misstated and overstated.
And not only will the involvement of the Gulf kingdoms strikes be extremely controversial on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but also within the emirates who took part in these raids. Syria and the so-called “Islamic State” remain highly polarizing issues across the region — many will be apprehensive of their governments getting involved, others actually support the aspirations of these mujahedeen and view their own regimes as corrupt. [Continue reading...]