With many in the U.S. foreign policy community backing both the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the defeat of the Islamic State group (ISIS), a new report could raise some cause for concern. The report says Assad’s military has been the most engaged faction against ISIS over the past year of Syria’s conflict, making it an extremely risky target for a U.S. foreign policy that is intended to stop the jihadists’ advances.
The report published Wednesday by the London-based IHS Jane Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, one of the world’s leading security analysis agencies, says 43 percent of ISIS’s battles between April 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017 were fought against the Syrian military and its allies, which include Russia, Iran and pro-government militias. Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a majority-Kurd coalition of Arabs and ethnic minorities, accounted for 17 percent of the action against ISIS.
Under former President Barack Obama, Washington long maintained that Assad must be ousted, but U.S. support for rebels faded as ultraconservative Sunni Muslim groups like ISIS grew among the Syrian opposition and Washington then focused on battling jihadists. President Donald Trump further emphasized the need to defeat ISIS, and his administration last month abandoned the Obama-era regime change approach in Syria. However, more recently there have been suggestions that the U.S. may at some point pursue further action against Assad.
Amy Goodman and Nermeen Sheikh speak with Anand Gopal, a journalist and a fellow at The Nation Institute, who recently returned from the Middle East and has reported extensively from the region. (Democracy Now!)
At least 3,330 people were killed during March, and another 929 were wounded. These figures are a very conservative estimate of the casualties occurring in Iraq. The true figures could be hundreds or even thousands higher. The government has refused to give any honest figures; however, there is evidence that the numbers are being underreported.
According to news reports, at least 1,126 civilians, 104 security personnel, three Kurdistan Workers Party (P.K.K.) guerrillas, and 2,097 militants were killed during March. Another 798 civilians, 82 security personnel, and 49 militants were reported wounded. The figures add up to 3,330 killed and 929 wounded. During February, at least 2,748 people were killed and 1,224 were wounded in the conflict.
These estimates are unsurprisingly low, with the possible exception of Islamic State fatalities. Because there is little to no independent reporting from behind enemies, it is unclear if these figures are valid. The Iraqi government could be elevating the number of militant fatalities for propaganda purposes. Or, the numbers may be accurate, but the dead may include civilians, such as militant wives and children.
Britain’s willingness to work with Islamist forces has been evident in Libya, where it took a brutal civil war between armed opposition forces and remnants of the regime to overthrow Libyan ruler, Muammar Qadafi, who was killed in October 2011. Massive NATO air strikes, mainly by Britain and France, were conducted during March-October in support of the rebel forces and significantly contributed to the rebel victory. What concerns the story here is not a review of the whole intervention but the extent to which it involved an Islamist element being supported by Britain in furtherance of its objectives in the Middle East.
The Islamist forces were only part of the military opposition that overthrew Qadafi, but were an important element, especially in the east of the country which was where the uprising began and which provided the centre of opposition to Qadafi. The episode, to some extent, echoes past British interventions where Islamist actors have acted as among the foot-soldiers in British policy to secure energy interests. That the British military intervention to overthrow Qadafi was primarily motivated by such interests seems clear – in the absence of access to government files – to which we briefly turn later. Such oil and gas interests in Libya, however, has been downplayed by ministers and largely ignored by the media, in favour of notions of Britain being motivated by the need to support the human rights of the Libyan people and promote democracy: concerns completely absent when it came to defending the rights of other Middle Easterners being abused at precisely the same time, notably Bahrainis.
Britain provided a range of support to the rebel Libyan leadership, which was grouped in the National Transitional Council (NTC), an initially 33-member self-selected body of mainly former Qadafi ministers and other opposition forces, formed in Benghazi in February 2011 to provide an alternative government. UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was passed on 17 March, imposing a no fly zone over Libya and authorizing ‘all necessary measures…to protect civilians’ under threat of attack. In an echo of Kosovo in 1999, it was certainly questionable whether civilians in Libya were under the extent of attack described by British ministers as justification for their military intervention, such as David Cameron’s claim that ‘we averted a massacre’.
They wear the latest and most advanced body armour and helmets, camouflage gear and anti-ballistic sunglasses: the fashion statement favoured by frontline private security companies across the world’s combat zones. But Malhama Tactical is not from the West like most of the others. Its fighters are in Syria training Islamists: a “Blackwater of jihad” who have found a new way of cashing in on the self-styled “caliphate”.
Blackwater became the most high-profile of Western security contractors in Iraq, gaining notoriety as the most violent and aggressive of the corporate military firms that spotted a highly lucrative trade following the “liberation” of the country in 2003. Such firms were largely immune from scrutiny or prosecution: that changed after a particularly bloody day in Baghdad.
One late morning in September in 2007, I watched as Blackwater’s guards opened fire from their armoured cars into families out on a Sunday in a popular location, Nisoor Square: 17 civilians were killed and more than were 40 injured. Four of the guards were later convicted in connection with the deaths. Blackwater changed its name, first to Xe Services and then Academi and continues to receive US government contracts.
Winners and losers are emerging in what may be the final phase of the Syrian civil war as anti-Isis forces prepare for an attack aimed at capturing Raqqa, the de facto Isis capital in Syria. Kurdish-led Syrian fighters say they have seized part of the road south of Raqqa, cutting Isis off from its other territory further east.
Isis is confronting an array of enemies approaching Raqqa, but these are divided, with competing agendas and ambitions. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose main fighting force is the Syrian Kurdish Popular Mobilisation Units (YPG), backed by the devastating firepower of the US-led air coalition, are now getting close to Raqqa and are likely to receive additional US support. The US currently has 500 Special Operations troops in north-east Syria and may move in American-operated heavy artillery to reinforce the attack on Raqqa.
This is bad news for Turkey, whose military foray into northern Syria called Operation Euphrates Shield began last August, as it is being squeezed from all sides. In particular, an elaborate political and military chess game is being played around the town of Manbij, captured by the SDF last year, with the aim of excluding Turkey, which had declared it to be its next target. The Turkish priority in Syria is to contain and if possible reduce or eliminate the power of Syrian Kurds whom Ankara sees as supporting the Kurdish insurrection in Turkey.
Full details of the plan have not been released yet, but the long-promised Pentagon proposal to escalate the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been delivered today, and is said to includes options for large deployments of additional troops to Syria, as well as increased targeting of ISIS the world over.
The plan for the Pentagon is to “rapidly” defeat ISIS, with the assumption that throwing more US troops at the situation will make it go faster. Officials at the Pentagon conceded this strategy might need to be further refined before implemented on the ground.
It is particularly noteworthy that we don’t really know any more about the plan today, beyond the talking points, than we did about it in recent weeks when officials started hyping its upcoming delivery, with the recommendations still apparently boiling down to straightforward additions of a number of combat troops.
Gregory Wilpert speaks to CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin who says the recent failed US Navy Seal raid shows that the Trump administration’s plans for Yemen will contribute to making the horrific humanitarian crisis there worse. (The Real News)
The alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks wrote former President Barack Obama in a long suppressed letter that America brought the 9/11 attacks on itself for years of foreign policy that killed innocent people across the world.
“It was not we who started the war against you in 9/11. It was you and your dictators in our land,” Khalid Sheik Mohammed, 51, writes in the 18-page letter to Obama, who he addressed as “the head of the snake” and president of “the country of oppression and tyranny.” It is dated January 2015 but didn’t reach the White House until a military judge ordered Guantánamo prison to deliver it days before Obama left office.
Military chiefs are prepared to give President-elect Donald Trump the options he wants to intensify the fight against the Islamic State, including the possibility of granting commanders greater leeway to use secret cyber-warfare and space weapons, the top Air Force leader said.
“We’ve heard him loud and clear that he’s going to be looking for options,” Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, told USA TODAY.
Goldfein said the recommendations may center on permitting field commanders more flexibility to deploy an array of weapons against the militants, who are waging a terrorism campaign beyond their bases in Iraq and Syria.
“If we want to be more agile then the reality is we are going to have to push decision authority down to some lower levels in certain areas,” Goldfein said during a December trip to this air base. “The big question that we’ve got to wrestle with … is the authorities to operate in cyber and space.”
Capabilities in those two areas are among the military’s most closely held secrets, and their use now generally requires approval at the highest levels of government.
Amy Goodman speaks to Koray Çaliskan, associate professor of political science at Bogaziçi University, and are also joined by Kani Xulam, director of the American Kurdish Information Network, after Turkey suffers another terror attack. (Democracy Now!)
- A Look at the Major Attacks in Turkey Over the Past Year
- There Is Nothing the Turkish Government Can Do To Stop ISIS Terror Attacks On Its Soil
- Istanbul was our past, Istanbul is our future
- ISIS Makes Unusual Claim of Responsibility for Turkey Attack
- Istanbul Nightclub Attacker ‘Fought for ISIS in Syria’
- Turkey extends state of emergency, releases new images of nightclub killer
- Nightclub Massacre in Istanbul Exposes Turkey’s Deepening Fault Lines
- Erdogan Says Turkey Will Fight to End Against Terror Attacks
The killing by an Islamic State (Isis) gunman of 39 civilians in a nightclub in Istanbul is the latest massacre in Turkey, where such slaughter is now happening every few weeks. The perpetrators may differ but the cumulative effect of these atrocities is to persuade Turks that they live in an increasingly frightening and unstable country. It is also clear that the Turkish government does not know what to do to stop the attacks.
These are likely to continue with unrelenting savagery whatever the government does, because Isis is too big and well-resourced to be eliminated. It is well rooted in Turkey and can use local militants or bring in killers from abroad, as may have happened at the Reina nightclub and was the cae in the assault on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport earlier in the year.
As in France, Belgium or Germany, it is impossible to stop attacks when ordinary civilians are the targets and the killers are prepared to die. Their success is often blamed on “security lapses” but in practice no security will provide safety.
What makes “terrorism” in Turkey different from Europe and the Middle East is not the number of dead – more are killed by Isis in Baghdad every month – but the diversity of those carrying them out. Three weeks ago, the killing of 44 people — mostly policemen — outside a football stadium in Istanbul was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), allegedly an arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey in Ankara on 19 December was blamed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a third group, the followers of Feithullah Gulen, who are held responsible for the failed military coup on 15 July.
At least 52,369 people were killed in Iraq during 2017. Another 21,795 were wounded.
According to figures compiled by Antiwar.com, at least 9,148 civilians, 6,430 security personnel, and 36,661 militants were killed. Also, three U.S. servicemen were killed in combat in Iraq. (A fourth one was killed fighting the Islamic State militants in Syria.) A British bomb disposal expert and 125 members of the Kurdistan Workers Party were killed as well. Two French soldiers, a British bomb disposal expert, and an Australian N.G.O. worker were wounded. These figures are similar to 2015’s, which were 52,045 killed and 19,651 wounded.
It was a stark warning delivered at the height of the battle for Aleppo: Michel Kilo, a prominent Syrian dissident, told Saudi Arabia the blowback of meddling in his country would be simple: “This havoc will eventually end up destroying them,” he said.
“If events in our country do not come to an end, [terrorists] will move towards them in multiples. Eventually they will see what’s coming for them… they live just because they have money.”
Kilo’s warning – or perhaps threat – plays into what many in the Gulf might fear: Saudi and GCC support for rebels fighting Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has prolonged the war and will have unintended consequences; and that the Gulf faces an influx of militants as groups such as the Islamic State and the Nusra Front are defeated on the battlegrounds of Iraq and Syria.
According to the Soufan Group, there are 2,500 Saudis fighting for such groups, the highest total of the Gulf states. In contrast, there are only an estimated 70 Kuwaitis doing the same.
But there is already a threat within the Gulf states’ own borders, with IS claiming, and being blamed for, a string of attacks in Saudi Arabia and beyond. According to counter-terrorism expert Dr Mustapha Alani from the Gulf Research Centre, Saudi Arabia has arrested 500 people with links to IS since 2014, but attacks still get through.
Amy Goodman speaks to Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of several books, about the three deadly events which took place on 19th December and the wider context surrounding them. (Democracy Now!)
- Turkish Cop Assassinates Russian Ambassador ‘For Aleppo’
- Putin says Turkey ambassador murder is ploy to wreck Syrian peace process
- Five Things to Worry About After the Assassination of Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey
- The Ankara Assassination: World War III or a Flash in the Pan?
- This Isn’t 1914, and the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Isn’t Franz Ferdinand
- Russian ambassador’s assassin ‘used police ID’ to bypass metal detectors
- Russian ambassador killing: Photographer who captured the scene
- Berlin: Police launch new manhunt for armed gunman as main suspect is released
- What we know so far about the Berlin Christmas market attack
- Angela Merkel says it would be ‘particularly repugnant’ if Berlin attacker turns out to be refugee
- Berlin attack will accelerate the rapid decline of Angela Merkel’s popularity
- Truck attacks in Berlin and Nice reflect change in Islamic State tactics
- Zurich mosque shooting motive unclear, say police
- Zurich mosque gunman was interested in ‘the occult’
- Anti-Islam, Anti-Migration Wilders Widens Lead in Dutch Polls
- Warped Perception of Muslims in Society Biggest in France
- Americans overestimate the percentage of Muslims in the U.S. by 16 points, study says
[…] The dominance of propaganda over news in coverage of the war in Syria has many negative consequences. It is a genuine civil war and the exclusive focus of on the atrocities committed by the Syrian armed forces on an unarmed civilian population gives a skewed picture of what is happening. These atrocities are often true and the UN says that 82 civilians may have been summarily executed in east Aleppo last month. But, bad though this is, it is a gross exaggeration to compare what has happened in Aleppo to genocide in Rwanda in 1994 or the massacre in Srebrenica the following year.
There is nothing wrong or surprising about the Syrian opposition demonising its enemies and hiding negative news about itself. The Iraqi opposition did the same thing in 2003 and the Libyan opposition in 2011. What is much more culpable is the way in which the Western media has allowed itself to become a conduit for propaganda for one side in this savage conflict. They have done so by rebranding it as authentic partisan information they cannot check, produced by people living under the authority of jihadi movements that tortures or kills any critic or dissenter.
News organisations have ended up being spoon-fed by jihadis and their sympathisers who make it impossible for independent observers to visit areas they control. By regurgitating information from such tainted sources, the media gives al-Qaeda type groups every incentive to go on killing and abducting journalists in order to create and benefit from a news vacuum they can fill themselves.
The Iraqi army, backed by US-led airstrikes, is trying to capture east Mosul at the same time as the Syrian army and its Shia paramilitary allies are fighting their way into east Aleppo. An estimated 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by government artillery and bombing in the last fortnight, and in Mosul there are reportedly some 600 civilian dead over a month.
Despite these similarities, the reporting by the international media of these two sieges is radically different.
In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. Isis is accused of preventing civilians from leaving the city so they can be used as human shields.
Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad’s forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee. The UN chief of humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, suggested this week that the rebels in east Aleppo were stopping civilians departing – but unlike Mosul, the issue gets little coverage.
[…] Welcome back, approximately, to the world just after 9/11, when terror hung in the air, fear was raw and palpable and Islamophobia was so rampant that George W. Bush felt compelled to go to a Washington mosque six days after the attacks and declare: “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” Barack Obama, having inherited a much bigger global war from Bush after the invasion of Iraq, has avoided any talk of Islam at all and insisted on calling the enemy merely “violent extremism.” Obama repeatedly sought to remind Americans that it was precisely the idea of a “clash of civilizations” that Islamists embraced—because it frames the conflict as one against all of Islam and its culture, not just the jihadists.
But the incoming president, Trump, appears open to the clash-of-civilizations idea—one that fits neatly with his view of an America that rejects “globalism,” tightens up its borders against immigrants, and bans most new Muslims from coming in until they can be “vetted.” “I think Islam hates us,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last March. While he said he was speaking of radical Islam, he added: “It’s very hard to define. It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.” For the Trump team, who did not respond to a request for comment, Muslims appear to be guilty of radical sympathies until proven innocent.
That approach, some scholars say, will be a terrible mistake, 15 years into what is already seen by some as a “Forever War.”
“Sadly, Trump traffics in a similar ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative to that of Al Qaeda and ISIS,” says Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics, author of the recently published book ISIS: A History. “They all view the world in binary terms. … What Trump and his followers do not get is that their inflammatory rhetoric plays into the hands of ISIS and Al Qaeda, who labor hard to convince skeptical Muslims that the West is waging a war against Islam.”
[…] Trump’s instincts generally seem less well-informed but often shrewd, and his priories have nothing to do with the Middle East. Past US leaders have felt the same way, but they usually end up by being dragged into its crises one way or other, and how they perform then becomes the test of their real quality as a leader. The region has been the political graveyard for three of the last five US presidents: Jimmy Carter was destroyed by the consequences of the Iranian revolution; Ronald Reagan was gravely weakened by the Iran-Contra scandal; and George W Bush’s years in office will be remembered chiefly for the calamities brought on by his invasion of Iraq. Barack Obama was luckier and more sensible, but he wholly underestimated the rise of Isis until it captured Mosul in 2014.
The US no longer enjoys the superpower hegemony it had between the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the financial crisis of 2008. Its strength was further limited by failure to gain its ends in Iraq and Afghanistan and the return of Russia as a rival power, but it remains far-and-away the most powerful state in the world. It is a position full of pitfalls such as the prolonged effort by US allies like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel to lure the US into wars in Syria and Iran that will serve their own interests.
Obama resisted the temptation to fight new wars, but if Hillary Clinton had been in charge her record suggests that she might well have done so. How would Donald Trump have responded? There is a bigger gap between his words and deeds than there are with most politicians. But words create their own momentum and his constant beating of the patriotic drum will make it difficult for him to exercise the degree of caution necessary to avoid ensnarement in the Middle East. Over-heated nationalism cannot be turned on and off like a tap. He may want to concentrate on radical change at home, but the vortex of crises in the Middle East will one day suck him in.
Sharmini Peries speaks to investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed about his latest piece: ‘Intelligence agencies are running al-Qaeda camps in North Africa ‘. (The Real News)
Documentary by British filmmaker Adam Curtis released on 16th October 2016 exclusively on BBC iPlayer. (BBC)
Paul Jay speaks to Max Blumenthal and Medea Benjamin after the conclusion of the third presidential debate where host Chris Wallace challenged Clinton by saying a no-fly zone would lead to confrontation with Russia in Syria. (The Real News)
The Obama administration is moving to dismiss charges against an arms dealer it had accused of selling weapons that were destined for Libyan rebels.
Lawyers for the Justice Department on Monday filed a motion in federal court in Phoenix to drop the case against the arms dealer, an American named Marc Turi, whose lawyers also signed the motion.
The deal averts a trial that threatened to cast additional scrutiny on Hillary Clinton’s private emails as Secretary of State, and to expose reported Central Intelligence Agency attempts to arm rebels fighting Libyan leader Moammar Qadhafi.
Government lawyers were facing a Wednesday deadline to produce documents to Turi’s legal team, and the trial was officially set to begin on Election Day, although it likely would have been delayed by protracted disputes about classified information in the case.
A Turi associate asserted that the government dropped the case because the proceedings could have embarrassed Clinton and President Barack Obama by calling attention to the reported role of their administration in supplying weapons that fell into the hands of Islamic extremist militants.
In the early hours of a Sunday morning this June, Omar Mateen walked into Latin Night at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and opened fire. This was a space that often served as a refuge for the area’s LGBTQ community, but by the time daylight broke, 50 people were dead and another 53 wounded. Speaking from the White House hours later that day, President Obama told reporters that the attack appeared to be “an example of the kind of homegrown extremism that all of us have been concerned about.”
The attack rightfully outraged the American public. But the bloodshed that day was just the latest example of how the war on terror has changed since 9/11, when the greatest threat was generally understood to come from outside America’s borders. Like that in Orlando, the attack on the Boston Marathon, and more recently in Brussels and in Paris have highlighted the fact that acts of terrorism are often committed by people born or raised in our communities. Governments from the United Kingdom to the United States and beyond have sought to address this emerging phenomenon by establishing multiagency programs to help them identify who might be vulnerable extremism.
But is it ethical—or even possible—to determine who’s a terrorist in the making?
While within the United States, there is still plenty of willingness to use the 9/11 anniversary as a time for politicians to make public appearances and give hawkish speeches praising America’s “unity” in reaction to the attacks, internationally there is growing willingness to be more circumspect about the results.
France, which has found itself a primary target for ISIS terror attacks, increasingly sees the US reaction to 9/11 as the instigating cause of that, with several high-profile analysts and top officials saying that the post-9/11 interventions led to an “era of instability” of which much of Europe, including France, has been a victim.
French President Francois Hollandeechoed this sentiment, noting that the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the creation of ISIS, and that even though (France’s then-President) Jacques Chirac refused to participate in the war, France has become a main target for ISIS.
As Americans enter the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on their nation, they still have not understood the true cause of these dreadful attacks.
Who can blame them? Our politicians and media have totally obscured the truth behind these and subsequent attacks that we call ‘terrorism.’ While we mourn 9/11, US B-52 heavy bombers are raining bombs on what’s left of Afghanistan in a futile attempt to crush tribal forces (aka Taliban) fighting western occupation.
We did the same thing in Laos in the 1980’s, as President Barack Obama properly noted during his visit there last week. Laos has never recovered and Afghanistan won’t either.
Since 2015, the US has dropped at least 32,000 – 1,000-2,000 lb. bombs on Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan – all Muslim nations. US bomb inventories are running critically low as arms makers work overtime.
9/11 was a revenge attack conducted by mostly Saudi nationals who claimed they wanted to punish the United States for supporting Israeli oppression of Palestine, and for what they claimed was the US ‘occupation’ of Saudi Arabia.
That’s as much as we really know. We have never gotten the full story about 9/11. The best we can do is ask “qui bono,” who really benefitted from the attacks?
In the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when Congress voted to authorize military force against the people who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the hijackings, few Americans could have imagined the resulting manhunt would span from West Africa all the way to the Philippines, and would outlast two two-term presidents.
Today, U.S. military engagement in the Middle East looks increasingly permanent. Despite the White House having formally ended the wars Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of U.S. troops and contractors remain in both countries. The U.S. is dropping bombs on Iraq and Syria faster than it can make them, and according to the Pentagon, its bombing campaign in Libya has “no end point at this particular moment.” The U.S. is also helping Saudi Arabia wage war in Yemen, in addition to conducting occasional airstrikes in Yemen and Somalia.
Fifteen years after the September 11 attacks, it looks like the war on terror is still in its opening act.
A House Republican task force has found that officials from the U.S. military’s Central Command altered intelligence reports to portray the U.S. fight against ISIS and al Qaeda in a more positive light than lower-level analysts believed was warranted by the facts on the ground, three officials familiar with the task force’s findings told The Daily Beast.
A roughly 10-page report on the controversy is expected to be released by the end of next week, two officials said. While it contains no definitive evidence that senior Obama administration officials ordered the reports to be doctored, the five-month investigation did corroborate earlier reports that analysts felt the leaders of CENTCOM’s intelligence directorate pressured them to conclude that the threat from ISIS was not as ominous as the analysts believed, the officials said.
“The investigation is ongoing but the report substantiates the claims” that intelligence reports were altered, one official familiar with the report explained to The Daily Beast. Another official said that the investigation could remain open even after report is released.
Aleppo may get the lion’s share of the coverage in Syria’s Civil War recently, but the presentation of the conflict by both sides (ironically as they have been for years) as the decisive battle for Syria, the reality is that Syria has no shortage of different conflicts, with myriad different factions fighting largely independent wars.
Five years ago, Syria may have been a loose collection of rebels against a government, but today it’s common for two rebel factions to end up fighting one another, and there are several wholly distinct battles across the country, from the US-backed rebels at the Tanf border crossing to the fight between Nusra and the Syrian military over Idlib and Latakia Province.
The Nusra Front’s adoption of the new name Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and claim that it has separated itself from al-Qaeda was designed to influence US policy, not to make the group any more independent of al-Qaeda.
The objective of the manoeuvre was to head off US-Russian military cooperation against the jihadist group, renamed last week, based at least in part on the hope that the US bureaucratic and political elite, who are lining up against a new US-Russian agreement, may block or reverse the Obama administration’s intention to target the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria.
The leader of the Syrian jihadist organisation Mohammad al-Golani and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri both made a great deal of the public encouragement that Zawahiri gave to separation from the parent organisation. The idea was that the newly rebranded and supposedly independent jihadist organisation in Syria would be better able to fulfill its role in the Syrian revolution.
But to anyone who has followed the politics of Nusra Front’s role in the Syrian war, the idea that Zawahiri would actually allow its Syrian franchise to cut loose from the central leadership and function with full independence is obviously part of a political sham.