Obama’s call for $500 million to arm and train Syrian Jihadist fighters couldn’t have possibly come at a more inappropriate time as Al Qaeda in Iraq menaces both countries.
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It wasn’t the Iraq War that made the Al Qaeda affiliate so dangerous. In 2008 it specialized in suicide bombings. It wasn’t marching on Baghdad with an army behind it.
The Arab Spring destabilized the region while money, weapons and recruits poured into Libya and Syria. Obama’s regime change war in Libya led not only to the takeover of entire Libyan cities by Al Qaeda, culminating in the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, but to an Al Qaeda affiliate seizing much of neighboring Mali. Libyan terror training camps also led to an attack on the Amenas gas plant in Algeria.
Three Americans were killed in that attack bringing the US death toll from Obama’s Libyan War up to seven.
But that was last year. This year it’s the Syrian Civil War that turned its local Al Qaeda affiliates into breakout Jihadi stars seizing entire cities and terrorizing the region.
Obama’s solution is to direct money intended for counterterrorism partnerships to terrorists in Syria.
This may be one of the worst ideas that he has ever come up with. Attempts to control the flow of weapons likely played a role in the Benghazi attacks. NATO forces enforcing an arms embargo on Libya had been told to ignore Qatari weapons shipments that were meant for “moderates”.
Instead they went to Al Qaeda.
Obama and Kerry, not to mention Graham and McCain, believe that weapons can be directed to “moderate” Syrian groups and that by arming the “good” terrorists, we’ll stop the “bad” terrorists.
But there are no “good” terrorists. Promises of delivering weapons only to “pre-vetted” groups are worth as much as Obama’s assurances that Al Qaeda was on the run and that ISIS is only a jayvee team.
Kerry met with Ahmad al-Jarba, the President of the Syrian National Coalition. Al-Jarba said that $500 million wouldn’t be enough and demanded more weapons. Meanwhile Al-Jarba was feuding with Ahmad Tohme, the Prime Minister of the SNC’s fictional government. Tohme had attempted to disband the Supreme Military Council over corruption charges while firing the head of the Free Syrian Army.
None of this really matters because the SNC is a puppet regime with many puppet masters and no puppets. The Syrian front men for the Saudis, Qataris, the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey and other factions are constantly firing each other. Their Free Syrian Army is a label stamped on a bunch of Islamist militias, many of whom openly support Al Qaeda.
Four out of five of the FSA’s front commanders had demanded to work with Al Qaeda last year. Parts of the FSA joined the Islamic Front and seized the FSA’s weapons warehouses taking anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons. The FSA fighters fled. Earlier ISIS had seized USAID items intended for the FSA.
After these embarrassments Obama was forced to temporarily suspend aid to the Free Syrian Army.
A senior Al Qaeda terrorist who answered to Ayman Al-Zawahiri was a leading figure in the Islamic Front through Ahrar al Sham, which operated alongside the FSA, until he was killed in an attack by ISIS. Ahrar al Sham had a powerful role in the Supreme Military Council through Deputy Chief of Staff Abdel-basset Tawil.
The FSA, to the extent that it exists, consists of bearded Salafist fighters and commanders in the field and “moderate” leaders in suits in Qatar and Turkey who usually never set foot in Syria. They obtain weapons and money from the West for Jihadists who are much less camera friendly.
Groups such as Liwa al Ummah choose to affiliate with the FSA even while they continue fighting alongside the Al Nusra Front. Experts label some Syrian Jihadist groups as moderate and others as extremist, but the “moderates” and “extremists” fly the black flag of Jihad and fight for an Islamic state.
Pre-vetting the groups means nothing because names like the Free Syrian Army or the Supreme Military Council are only fronts for outside interests. Even the names of the individual militias are often meaningless because new groups and new umbrella groups are constantly being created and dissolved. Fighters and commanders move from one group to another taking their weapons with them.
Keeping track of the various pseudonyms used by the commanders is already a full time job. It is often impossible to tell whether two Jihadist commanders with the same pseudonym are even the same person. Figuring out the relationship between various groups means depending on intelligence from those groups and various activists on the ground who all have their own alliances and agendas.
No meaningful vetting is possible under these circumstances and supplying weapons to “pre-vetted” groups is as good as supplying them to Al Qaeda. Supplying weapons to pre-vetted groups only means that it will take longer for those weapons to reach Al Qaeda through barter, alliance or capture.
And even if the weapons don’t end up with Al Qaeda, they will go to Salafist groups that share its goals. The difference is that those have not yet officially declared war on us. That same false sense of security led to the murder of four Americans in Benghazi.
We should not be arming any Islamic militias. We certainly should not be arming Salafi Jihadis who wave the black flag of Jihad. That would be more foolish than anything that Carter did in Afghanistan.
And even if we could control who the weapons went to and even if the Free Syrian Army were moderate, prolonging the Syrian Civil War only makes Al Qaeda more dangerous. Some have said that the best scenario is for both the Sunni and Shiite sides to go on bleeding. But the Syrians and Iraqis are not Americans. They have a much higher birth rate and a much lower regard for individual life.
A prolonged conflict will not break them. It will however train them.
Iran and Iraq bounced back from a much more devastating war to become serious threats. Conflicts in the region are training grounds that make enemies more dangerous, not less. The longer the fighting goes on, the more fighters will be recruited and the more competent commanders will emerge. And no matter how the fighting ends, many of those fighters and commanders will go on to other wars.
Afghanistan produced many of the Al Qaeda fighters and commanders who became a threat to the United States. The Arab Spring wars are producing a new generation of fighters. Their expertise will lead to multiple terror attacks and wars around the world. There is already concern about Muslim settlers in America, Europe, Canada and Australia who have gone to fight in Syria returning to the West.
The longer the conflict goes on, the more of them there will be. Prolonging the fighting by aiding the Sunnis is a mistake that ultimately helps Al Qaeda, not to mention Hezbollah, become more dangerous.
The myth of a moderate alternative to Al Qaeda that we can create with weapons shipments is an appealing fiction. The FSA couldn’t stand up to the Islamic Front. It certainly can’t stand up to ISIS. And there is no need for it to do so. The opposition fighters all want the same thing. They only disagree on who will have the upper hand. That is why Al Nusra fought against ISIS before kissing and making up.
The forces of the Sunni opposition have much more in common ideologically and culturally with each other than they do with us. Their common goal is a Sunni Islamic state built by the Jihad.
We can’t win by supporting them. We can only lose.