Saturday, September 27, 2014

US bombings in Syria anger almost all Syria rebels

The Islamic State(IS) has captured territory held by other rebel groups and fought against them. Surely the rebels should welcome the strikes. However, the strikes were directed not only against IS but other radical rebel groups as well.

The US bombing attacks also targeted Jabhat al-Nusra(JaN), an Al-Qaeda-linked radical group but one that has mostly fought in cooperation with the FSA and other rebel groups such as the Islamic Front. There are reports that the bombing attacks were directed also at Ahrar al-Sham in the Aleppo area. The group is not linked to Al-Qaeda at all and operates in tandem with the Free Syrian Army that is supported by the west.
One US official explained: "We're characterizing our targets as Khorasan and ISIS but its possible others were there. It is a toxic soup of terrorists". Khorasan is a jihadist group that has migrated to Syria. It is associated with Al Qaeda and apparently includes a bomb-maker from Yemen. It hopes to hit targets in the west. James Clapper, Director of US National Intelligence claims that "in terms of threat to the homeland Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State (IS)".
While attacking the Nusra Front and Khorasan mayl seem quite reasonable from the point of view of the US war against terror, it makes no sense to Syrian rebels. Just when the rebels need all the help they can get against the Assad regime, the US actions appear to help him out in key areas such as Aleppo where the rebels are already having difficulties holding their ground and radical groups are an important fighting force. The US has claimed that it was bombing the Islamic State in Syria but instead it is attacking any radical rebel group that it does not like even though those groups are helping the Free Syrian army and other rebels against Assad.
The bombings are cheered on by the Asssad regime which originally opposed them as violations of its sovereignty and against international law. Syrian minister for national reconciliation, Ali Haidar, praised the attacks although Syria was still watching developments with caution: "As for the raids in Syria, I say that what has happened so far is proceeding in the right direction in terms of informing the Syrian government and by not targeting Syrian military installations and not targeting civilians.Notification of the Syrian government happened. Confirmation that they would not target Syrian military installations, and confirmation they would not target civilians happened." Civilians are not typically targeted in any event but are just collateral damage.
 Rebel groups of all stripes condemned the bombings. The Syrian Revolutionaries Front, a major secular coalition in the north-west of Syria that drove ISIS out of Idlib in January along with other rebel groups condemned the bombings claiming:"You help Bashar" Although bombing strikes targeted Idlib there are no IS forces there any more. One of the first condemnations of the strikes was by Harak Hazm an FSA militia operating mostly in Hama and numbering about 7,000:“The Hazem Movement rejects the external intervention of the US Coalition, which launched its first airstrikes on Tuesday in the governorates of Deir el Zour, Raqqa, al Hasaka, Aleppo, Idlib and Homs, with 11 civilians killed in rural Idlib province and five others in rural Homs province, as well as fighters from Jabhat al Nusra and the ISIS.These air attacks amount to *an attack on national sovereignty* and work to *undermine the Syrian revolution...We of the Hazem Movement hereby reaffirm our full commitment to the principles of the revolution, and emphasize that *our actions are guided solely by revolutionary principles and national interest, not by the demands of the international coalition...The only beneficiaries from the US coalition’s military intervention will be the Assad regime,.."
There have been demonstrations against the bombings in many rebel areas. While many are in support of the Nusra Front there are others which even express sympathy with the Islamic State: The enclosed You Tube video shows damage in bombings of Al Nusra Front positions: The only clear support for the bombings among rebel groups was the group supported by the west and Gulf state the Syrian Opposition Coalition(SOC) and the Supreme Military Command(SMC). The latter group supported "all earnest national forces and free international forces who are fighting terrorism but said that this should begin with attacking "the Assad Gang" whom the group claimed created the Islamic State.
 The aim of the US may to be to weaken or eliminate rebel groups it does not favor even though they are fighting cooperatively along with other rebel groups against Assad. The type of force that they will train will play the role of the Sons of Iraq in Iraq who were paid by the US government to fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq. This worked as long as the US continued to foot the bill. It may not work in Syria. The main rebel groups see radicals as allies as long as they work together against Assad. Destroying rebel's allies will not win any friends among the majority of the rebels even moderates. The ultimate aim of US policy may not be to defeat the Assad regime but to create a situation where there are more pro-western moderate rebels but who will be willing to negotiate with a war-weary and weakened Assad regime. Assad will be convinced to step aside and there will be a political settlement with the new government committed to fighting radical jihadists throughout Syria. Much of the material in this article derives from a long and very interesting article plus many links by Michael Karadjis from the University of Western Sydney to be found here.

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