Turkey and Saudis backing extremist rebels in Syria including Al-Qaeda-linked group
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are now openly backing Islamic extremists including the Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, part of the new coalition called the "Conquest Army."
The leader of another radical group in the coalition Ahrar al-Sham claimed previously that his group was the "real Al-Qaeda." The U.S. is said to be concerned that the new alliance between Turkey and Saudi Arabia will end up replacing Assad with a militant Islamic government, precisely the type of result the U.S. wants to avoid. The U.S. focus is on degrading the Islamic State but it has also attacked the Nusra Front in Syria angering rebels of all stripes since the group has been forcefully attacking the Assad regime. While the U.S. is planning to train and arm moderate rebels that it has vetted, the Pentagon wants them to concentrate on attacking the Islamic State. Most rebels together with Turkey and Saudi Arabia and many other Arab states think the first order of business should be defeating the Assad regime forces.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia have often been at odds as to whom they should support among the rebels. Turkey favours groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia opposes. Saudi Arabia has not officially supported radical groups at the urging of the U.S. However, both countries and others are fed up with the lack of U.S. action against Assad. Now the two countries are joined in support for radical groups that have already gained ground in Idlib province.
The present pact dates back to March, when Recep Erdogan, the Turkish president, flew to Saudi Arabia to meet the newly-crowned King Salman. In spite of differences over the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudi king saw Turkey as an ally in his war against Iran and Shias in general that is evident in his leading in the bombing of the Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen as well. In Syria, Saudi money together with Turkish logistical support can be used to defeat the Assad forces. Assad's government is dominated by members of a Shia sect although a majority in Syria are Sunni. Joshua Landis, who directs the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma said:
The agreement has led to a new joint command center in the province of Idlib in northeast Syria. President Obama has not commented on the new Saudi-Turkish agreement. This is surprising since the alliance includes the Al Nusra Front, which is a target of the U.S. war on terror and has been bombed in Syria by the US. It is almost as if the US has accepted that there will be a dual fight in Syria. The U.S. will concentrate on aiding moderate rebels to tackle the Islamic State while the Saudis and Turks allied with radical Islamists will take on Assad's forces. Some in the media claim that Obama is taking a hands off approach and is disengaged. Yet he is arming and training moderate rebels and he is bombing the Islamic State constantly. What we are seeing is a dual thrust in Syria. and a division of tasks.
Some reports on the new alliance suggest even more involvement in Syria by Turkey and Saudi Arabia: "Turkey would provide ground troops supported by Saudi Arabian air strikes, to assist moderate Syrian opposition against the regime forces." The "moderate rebels" in this case involve Al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra. The main Turkish opposition party also claims that Turkey is poised to send troops into Syria as soon as this weekend. The Turkish president has denied the claim as shown on the appended video. Conflict in Syria appears about to escalate and the tide could turn against Assad. Escalation is a dangerous move in an area that is already very unstable and filled with conflict. If Assad is overthrown, Syria may end up with numerous competing militias and a situation worse than Libya.
"It's a different world now in Syria, because the Saudi pocketbook has opened and the Americans can't tell them not to do it. It's quite clear that Salman has prioritized efforts against Iran over those against the Muslim Brotherhood."