Reprinted from Consortium News
President Barack Obama talks with Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, following a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Sept. 12, 2013.
(Image by (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)) Details DMCA
If the tentative agreement on a Syrian ceasefire negotiated by the United States and Russia falls apart before it can be implemented, the reason will be the Obama administration's insistence that Russian airstrikes are targeting "legitimate opposition groups."
That is how Secretary of State John Kerry defined the issue on Saturday, repeating a propaganda theme that began, in a different form, as soon as the Russian air offensive in Syria began in late September of 2015. The Obama administration portrayed the Russian campaign in support of Syrian operations as hitting "moderate" opposition forces, suggesting that only strikes against ISIS would be legitimate.
Information from a wide range of sources, including some of the groups that the United States has been explicitly supporting, makes it clear that every armed anti-Assad organization unit in those provinces is engaged in a military system controlled by Nusra. All of them fight alongside the Nusra Front and coordinate their military activities with it.
This reality even slips into mainstream U.S. news accounts on occasion, such as Anne Barnard's New York Times article last Saturday about the proposed Syrian cease-fire in which she reported, "With the proviso that the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's branch in Syria, can still be bombed, Russia puts the United States in a difficult position; the insurgent groups it supports cooperate in some places with the well-armed, well-financed Nusra in what they say is a tactical alliance of necessity against government forces."
At least since 2014 the Obama administration has armed a number of Syrian armed groups even though it knew the groups were coordinating closely with the Nusra Front, which was simultaneously getting arms from Turkey and Qatar. The strategy called for supplying TOW anti-tank missiles to the "Syrian Revolutionaries Front" (SRF) as the core of a client Syrian army that would be independent of the Nusra Front.
However, when a combined force of Nusra and non-jihadist brigades including the SRF captured the Syrian army base at Wadi al-Deif in December 2014, the truth began to emerge. The SRF and other groups to which the United States had supplied TOW missiles had fought under Nusra's command to capture the base.
And as one of the SRF fighters who participated in the operation, Abu Kumayt, recalled to The New York Times, after the victory only Nusra and its very close ally Ahrar al-Sham were allowed to enter the base. Nusra had allowed the groups supported by the United States to maintain the appearance of independence from Nusra, according to Abu Kumyt, in order to induce the United States to continue the supply of U.S. weapons.
In other words, Nusra was playing Washington, exploiting the Obama administration's desire to have its own Syrian Army as an instrument for influencing the course of the war. The administration was evidently a willing dupe.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who had been supporting an aggressive program of arming opposition brigades that had been approved by the CIA, told a January 2015 seminar in Washington, "For a long time we have looked the other way while the Nusra Front and armed groups on the ground, some of which are getting help from us, have coordinated in military operations against the regime."
Reflecting the views of some well-placed administration officials, he added, "I think the days of us looking the other way are finished." But instead of breaking with the deception that the CIA's hand-picked clients were independent of Nusra, the Obama administration continued to cling to it.
Nusra and its allies were poised to strike the biggest blow against the Assad regime up to the time -- the capture of Idlib province. Although some U.S.-supported groups participated in the campaign in March and April 2015, the "operations room" planning the campaign was run by Al Qaeda and its close ally Ahrar al Sham.
And before the campaign was launched, Nusra had forced another U.S.-supported group, Harakat Hazm, to disband and took all of its TOW anti-tank missiles.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were financing the "Army of Conquest," commanded by Nusra, and were lobbying the administration to support it. U.S. strategy on Syria was then shifting toward a tacit reliance on the jihadists to achieve the U.S. objective of putting sufficient pressure on the Assad regime to force some concessions on Damascus.
But the idea that an independent "moderate" armed opposition still existed -- and that the United States was basing its policy on those "moderates" -- was necessary to provide a political fig leaf for the covert and indirect U.S. reliance on Al Qaeda's Syrian franchise's military success.