Al-Qaeda, US, and Syrian Crisis

The increasing infiltration of foreign jihadists into the midst of the armed Syrian opposition is now indisputable. Even in the Western media. 

In an interview with Reuters published Saturday, Jacques Beres, co-founder of Medecins Sans Frontiers, told the news agency that from what he has witnessed in Syria, foreign jihadists appear to “have swollen the ranks of rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.”

As Reuters noted, “During his previous visits to Syria - in March and May - Beres said he had dismissed suggestions the rebels were dominated by Islamist fighters but he said he had now been forced to reassess the situation.”

"It's really something strange to see,” Beres stated. “They [the rebels] are directly saying that they aren't interested in Bashar al-Assad's fall, but are thinking about how to take power afterwards and set up an Islamic state with sharia law to become part of the world Emirate.”

Such a credible firsthand account only adds to the mounting body of evidence found in Western media reports indicating a growing influx of al-Qaeda aligned fighters into Syria.

For example, a recent story from GlobalPost reported “a significant presence” of al-Qaeda linked militants fighting within the Syrian city of Aleppo. Likewise, an August report in the Israeli daily Haaretz, citing US intelligence officials, noted that al-Qaeda “is building a network of well-organized cells” within Syria.

The growing frequency of such revelations in the Western press has caused those in Washington seeking to topple the Syrian government to shift from dismissing all such accounts as merely the propaganda of the Syrian government, to seeking to cynically seize upon al-Qaeda’s presence.

Such imperial opportunism has principally taken the form of using the specter of al-Qaeda as another pretext for an escalated level of US intervention into the Syrian crisis.

As the Associated Press reported this week, “The US is ramping up its presence at Syria’s Turkish border, sending more spies and diplomats to help advise the rebel forces in their mismatched fight against the better armed Syrian regime, and to watch for possible al-Qaida infiltration of rebel ranks.”

Of course, the al-Qaeda menace is also used by Syrian rebels seeking more Western arms. For without such assistance, rebels warn, they will be forced turn to al-Qaeda.

As the AP report continued, “Syrian rebels have complained they are outgunned by the Syrian military and must rely on contributions in money and small arms from Gulf countries, and increasingly from hardline Islamic militants, including Iraq’s branch of al-Qaida.”

Al-Qaeda fighters and their sympathizers, though, have already proven to be indispensable foot soldiers in the Western campaign against the Syrian state.

As Ed Husain of the influential Council on Foreign Relations has written, “The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.”

A late July report in the Guardian newspaper of Britain titled, “Al-Qaida turns tide for rebels in battle for eastern Syria,” documented much the same. But, lest one forgets, Washington has long used jihadists to pursue its geopolitical aims.

Writing in the Washington Post this week, David Ignatius (a reliable conduit for the Washington power elite) acknowledged as much, evoking the historical parallels to the US involvement in Afghanistan in the 1980s. That is to say, when the US funneled arms to the Mujahedeen and ultimately helped to create what is known today as al-Qaeda.

“The parallels are spooky,” Ignatius wrote. “In Syria, as in Afghanistan, CIA officers are operating at the borders (in this case, mostly in Jordan and Turkey), helping Sunni insurgents improve their command and control and engaging in other activities. Weapons are coming from third parties (in Afghanistan, they came mostly from China and Egypt; in Syria, they’re mainly bought on the black market). And finally, a major financier for both insurgencies has been Saudi Arabia.”

But given how disastrous that campaign turned out for the US-birthing the 9/11 attacks and ultimately ensnaring the US military in an ongoing quagmire-Ignatius still supports providing Syrian rebels with assistance, ? la 1980s Afghanistan.

“The rebels fighting Assad deserve limited US support,” Ignatius argues, “just as the anti-Soviet mujahedeen did.”

However, after a decade of foreign policy based on a global “war on terror” ostensibly to combat al-Qaeda, the willingness of Washington to now tactically align with Islamic jihadists once more makes for less a case of spooky historical parallels than of outright mockery. Or as Marx would say, history repeats, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Speaking in an interview this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin lampooned the idiocy underlying the reformed US-House of Saud-foreign jihadi axis now directed against Syria.

“This policy is dangerous and very short-sighted,” Putin told RT television. “In that case, one should unlock Guantanamo, arm all of its inmates and bring them to Syria to do the fighting - it's practically the same kind of people. But what we should bear in mind is that one day these people will get back at their former captors. On the other hand, these same people should bear in mind that they will eventually end up in a new prison, very much like the one off the Cuban shore.”

“I would like to emphasize,” Putin added, “that this policy is very short-sighted and is fraught with dire consequences.”

Indeed, for the possibilities for blowback abound. But such, it increasingly appears, is the cost of the ever more desperate and violent campaign by Washington to retain its eroding regional hegemony via regime change in Damascus and beyond.
By Ben Schreiner 

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