U.S. Support for Al Qaeda-Linked Rebels Undermines Syrian Ceasefire

Michael Hughes Foreign Policy Analyst

The United States needs to do more than wag its finger at Syrian rebel groups for “comingling” with Al Qaeda-affiliated Salafist jihadists or else an already tenuous ceasefire accord between government and opposition forces is destined to collapse.


Earlier this week, the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG) co-chaired by the U.S. and Russia agreed to render persistent violators of the ceasefire as “fair game” on the battlefield, relegating them to the same status as the Islamic State and Jabhat-al Nusra, or the Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda’s franchisee in Syria.

On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson John Kirby expressed concerns that U.S.-backed Syrian opposition factions such as Ahrar al-Sham have been cohabitating with the Nusra Front. However, Washington has doggedly resisted calls to add the Al Qaeda collaborators to the UN terrorist list – claiming it would damage the ceasefire – which journalist Finian Cunningham sees as an “unwitting U.S. admission” about who is really leading the Syrian “rebellion.”

Ahrar al-Sham along with Jaysh al-Islam, another Western-sponsored faction, not only have zero inclination to respect the ceasefire, they have aspirations that completely contradict the U.S. stated goal of ushering in a Jeffersonian democracy to replace Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Both organizations, according to University of Ottawa extremism specialist Kamran Bokhari, share the common goal of instituting an Islamic state governed by sharia law. Further, Bokhari argues, the real reason the U.S. opposes designating them as terrorists is because they are proxy groups supported by American allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Hence, it has nothing to do with concerns about the ceasefire.

Moreover, on May 12, according to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Ahrar al-Sham collaborated with the Nusra Front in an assault on the Alawite-majority village of al-Zara, killing at least 19 civilians, including women and children. Point being, the attack provided clear evidence that Ahrar al-Sham is doing more than intermingling with Al Qaeda’s Syria branch.

Three days later, The New York Times reported that Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri plans to create an alternate headquarters in Syria to “lay the groundwork for possibly establishing an emirate through Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front,” which some experts claim complicates Washington’s support for the rebels even further.

“The United States has placed itself in a very difficult situation because many of the rebel groups that it wants to become principal holders of state power in Syria work hand and glove with Al Qaeda,” University of Oklahoma Center for Middle East Studies Director Joshua Landis told Sputnik on Monday.

Islamists are not only leading the Syrian opposition’s charge on the military front, they are dominating its role in the peace talks in Geneva as well. The rebel political delegation is being led by Jaysh al-Islam and other Islamist parties while the secular Syrian Kurds have been excluded, a surreal development fully sponsored by the United States.

During the early stages of the intra-Syrian talks in January, Washington Kurdish Institute Director of Media and Policy Yousuf Ismael said without the Kurds the creation of an Islamic system of government in Syria was inevitable based on the current constitution of the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC).

Even more disconcerting is the lack of outrage or any major objections to U.S. policy emanating from either Congress, the media or the public at large. American media outlets, including CNN, the Associated Press and the Washington Post, among others, have consistently propagated the fictional narrative that the United States is supporting “moderate opposition forces” on the battlefield and in the peace talks in Geneva. Not to mention the media’s primary focus has been on Syrian government ceasefire violations with little attention paid to opposition transgressions.

Secretary of State John Kerry has long claimed that the United States is committed to seeing a “whole, unified, pluralistic, nonsectarian Syria,” which is hard to believe given the State Department’s objection to classifying these two organizations as what they truly are: jihadist terrorist groups that should be excluded from any cessation of hostilities.

Which prompts a fair question that goes beyond simply upholding a fragile ceasefire: How in the world does the U.S. government believe for a second that a post-Assad regime in Syria will be secular to any degree based on the current makeup of the opposition’s negotiating team, whose members by and large have openly proclaimed that they want to establish an Islamist state?

The unfortunate answer is that the U.S. government has never absorbed the lessons of previous policies based on the credo, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Washington is following the exact same playbook employed during the jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s, in just one example, wherein we supported the most radical and virulently anti-Western factions within the mujahideen to achieve geopolitical ends at all costs, leading to the well-documented blowback known as Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

Despite all this, Washington’s love for jihadists has apparently not waned. As a result, the tragic irony is we are now facilitating the resurgence of these very same elements – in some cases literally the same figures – all in the name of a secular and unified Syria.

Terrorist bombings in Tartous and Jableh constitute serious escalation by Riyadh, Ankara, and Doha

Syria: Terrorist bombings in Tartous and Jableh constitute serious escalation by Riyadh, Ankara, and Doha


The Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Ministry sent two identical letters to the UN Secretary-General and the head of the Security Council regarding the terrorist bombings that took place in the cities of Tartous and Jableh on Monday.
In the letters, the Ministry said that terrorists targeted the cities of Tartous and Jableh with 4 car bombs and 3 suicide bombers wearing explosive belts, with terrorists detonating one car bomb at the main bus station in Tartous, followed by two suicide bombers with explosive belts carrying out attacks, one inside the bus station and the other in a nearby residential neighborhood. “Ahrar al-Cham” terror organization claimed responsibility for these attacks.
The letters went on to say that at the same time, terrorists detonated three car bombs in Jableh city; two targeted the main bus station in the city at the same time, while the third attacked the Electricity Directorate, and after that a suicide bomber with an explosive belt carried out an attack at the entrance of the ER at Jableh National Hospital, exploiting the crowds there as the hospital was receiving injured victims of the car bomb attacks.
The Ministry said that these seven bombings claimed the lives of dozens of civilians and injured dozens more, most of them sustaining severe injuries, adding that most of the victims are women and children, and that the attacks also caused massive damage to properties, infrastructure, and nearby houses.
The Ministry asserted that these terrorist bombings constitute a serious escalation by the extremist and malicious regimes of Riyadh, Ankara, and Doha, and that they seek to undermine the efforts that aim at stopping the shedding of Syrian blood, and they also seek to derail the Geneva talks and the cessation of hostilities and truce arrangements, as well as turning attention away from the Syrian Arab Army’s achievements in the war against terrorism.
The Ministry stressed that certain states’ persistence in imposing a policy of silence on the Security Council regarding the heinous crimes committed by terrorist groups across Syria, and the refusal of those same states to have the Security Council take deterring, immediate, and punitive measures against the states and regimes and that support terrorism – particularly the regimes in Riyadh, Ankara, and Doha – inspires these regimes to continue directing their terrorist pawns in Syria to commit massacres against the Syrian people.
The Ministry added that this conduct also leads to destabilizing peace and security in the region and the world as terrorism is used as a tool for political extortion and pressure.
The letters noted that the refusal by the representatives of the US, France, Britain, and Ukraine at the Security Council to approve listing “Jaish al-Islam” and “Ahrar al-Cham among the Council’s list of terrorist organizations and entities, and their insistence on referring to these two terror organizations as “moderate armed opposition” confirms that these states and others are still adopting a policy of overlooking these terrorist organizations’ crimes, as well as showcasing these states’ lack of seriousness in combating terrorism.
The Ministry asserted that the Syrian government will not allow such terrorist crimes and massacres to dissuade it from fulfilling its duties in combating terrorism and working towards a political solution for the crisis in Syria through an intra-Syrian dialogue led by the Syrians themselves.
The letters concluded by demanding that the Security Council and the UN Secretary-General condemn these terrorist bombings immediately and sternly, in addition to demanding that the Security Council take deterring, immediate, and punitive measures against the states and regimes and that support terrorism, particularly the regimes in Riyadh, Ankara, and Doha, stop said states from supporting terrorism and tampering with international peace and security, and force them to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions.