Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Two moderate Syrian rebel groups surrender to Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front

Two of the main moderate rebel groups who had received weapons from the US have surrendered to the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front after defeats in battle.There are reports that Islamic State forces joined the Nusra Front in at least one attack.

When the US bombed Islamic State positions in Syria they also bombed Nusra Front positions claiming they were attacking a group called Khorasan said to be threatening attacks on the west. However, the result has been disastrous. Not only were almost all rebel groups furious but the move appears to have led to the Nusra Front cooperating with the Islamic State rather than fighting it along with other rebel groups. The Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front were two major rebel groups to become part of the vetted moderate rebel forces chosen to fight the Islamic State. The Hazm movement had even received heavy weapons including Grad rockets and TOW anti-tank weapons and they had in turn supplied weapons to the Syrian Revolutionary Front(SRF).
 On Saturday, Jabhat al-Nusra or the Nusra Front stormed villages controlled by Hazm in the northern province of Idlib. The group surrendered their bases and weapons supplies to the group. A day earlier the Nusra Front had captured the home town of the Revolutionary Front's leader Jamal Marouf. The Nusra Front claims to have captured TOW missiles when it took over the home town of Marouf. His group fled into the mountains.
 Aymen al-Tammimi an analyst of the Syrian situation said:"As a movement, the SRF is effectively finished. Nusra has driven them out of their strongholds of Idlib and Hama." Marouf had become a prominent rebel leader praised in the west because he had launched the rebel offensive that had driven the Islamic State forces from most of the territory in two northern provinces they had wrested mostly from other rebel forces. Now jihadist forces linked to Al-Qaeda have driven him from his own strongholds into the mountains and taken over his home village. The US has from the beginning been wary of supplying any heavy weapons to the Syrian rebels in case they should end up in the hands of militant groups they oppose.
  Some reports indicate that Harakat Hazm simply decided to surrender to the Nusra Front without a shot being fired and that some members of Hazm joined the jihadist group. Even the moderate rebel groups were furious that the US is bombing groups fighting the Assad regime, especially Al Nusra Front who had been working with them. Even moderate rebels are primarily interested in the overthrow of Assad. The Hazm group still exists in Aleppo but only after they gave up some of their checkpoints to Al Nusra and signed a ceasefire agreement with them. One of the conditions for giving Hazm weapons was that the group would not work with Jabhat al-Nusra. The Al-Qaeda group felt that Hazm's close relations with the US made it a threat and that may be one of the reasons they attacked the group.
Obama announced that part of his fight against the Islamic State will involve training, arming, and equipping 5,000 Syrian rebels to fight against the Islamic State. The US appears to have completely misread the situation. The rigorous vetting process will take several months before training can even begin and it will be up to a year before the force is prepared to fight. Just last month a US official said that they would hasten the process by choosing rebels from groups already vetted. Included among those were Harakat Hazm.
 Apparently the operation rooms in Turkey that funnel weapons to rebels have been revamped and have representatives from the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. A Syrian source said that Qatar had been thrown out of the group over suspicions that it had been helping Jabhat al-Nusra but was being allowed back. The system for supplying weapons is complicated and is intended more to ensure that donor countries have confidence that the weapons were used for their proper purposes rather than providing effective aid to commanders. The US is intending to develop its own elite forces but these forces also could become victims of jihadist rebels who are interested only in attacking Assad and will only attack the Islamic State if IS attacks them.

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