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As ISIS Raises Black Flag, Questions Raised Over Initial Western Support To Jihardists

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ISIS fighters
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With the current carnage in both Iraq and Syria now reaching a fever pitch, serious questions are being raised over initial Western support to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) Jihadists, who have captured large swath of both Iraq and Syria as they unleashed an intimidating reign of terror in their march to establish a caliphate in the Middle East.

Turkey, the United Arab Emirate, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are believed to be among a long string of nations that initially provided massive military support to Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime in the initial stage of the revolt. "These countries were encouraged by the United States to provide maximum military and financial support to the Free Syrian Army to topple the Assad regime. The result today is chaos, because we had no idea who those guys were," said John Stedman, one of many critics who have taken to social media websites to express their views. "We may have shot ourselves in the foot."

The revolt has since been infiltrated by several Al Qaeda elements, including the al Nustra front and the now infamous ISIS, whose videos of beheaded victims have galvanized world public opinion. With massive military hardware captured from the ill-trained Iraqi army, including hundreds of tanks, humvees, and artillery pieces, ISIS fighters and their allies have managed to tighten their grip on a huge stretch of territory.

Today, as the region descends into chaos, those same elements at the roots of the current crisis -- Turkey, the United Arab Emirate, Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- have been called upon to help a coalition of nations led by the United States to confront the growing threat posed by ISIS in an air campaign that has so far raised far more serious foreign policy questions than it answers. "They would not admit it, but the West made a huge mistake when it decided to arm Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime without serious consideration of the potential consequences such an approach would bring," said John Scott, 45, who spent a couple of years in Syria before the revolt began. "Now, they've taken our weapons and are using them against us."

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But the most pointed criticisms have been leveled against Turkey, whose tanks and troops sit just meters away from the Syrian town of Kobani, where heaving fighting pitting Kurdish fighters against ISIL militants is taking place. Turkey's inaction and reluctance to intervene to help save the town has drawn fire from the world over, including US vice president Joe Biden. "They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad -- except that the people who were being supplied were al Nustra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world," Biden told a packed meeting.

But the Turkish foreign ministry quickly fired back, saying Turkey would not intervene unless a buffer zone is set up. "Turkey maintains a principled and responsible attitude vis--vis the conflict in Syria which has been continuing nearly for four years and approaches the issue with utmost sensitivity, as is well known by those following the developments," read the statement. "Turkey will continue to act henceforth in the same meticulous manner and to take necessary measures in the face of threats against its national security on the basis of international law, and has no need to be reminded of its responsibilities in this regard."

News that coalition forces, including Kurdish Pershmega and Iraqi forces, outnumber ISIS fighters 20 to 1 in a new study by a British independent agency, Statista, is highly depressing.

According to the study, released today, the militants have a combined force of 31,000 fighters spread out throughout Iraq and Syria, with many captured weapons, among them tanks, artillery and rocket propel grenades.

By contrast, the Iraqi army alone has 270,000 active personnel, backed by 375,000 Kurdish Pershmega fighters, bringing their total combined forces to more than half a million. This combined force is backed by dozens of coalition warplanes patrolling the sky over both countries.

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Mithout Gomez is a veteran journalist who's covered local, national and international issues for several New York-based newspapers.


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