Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Rebels in Syria are cut off from international support after coming under attack by Jihadists.

FSA fighters near al-Bab. Reuters. 

The CIA and international governments have cut off support for the Free Syrian Army after they came under attack by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly al-Nusra. Reuters. The FSA has been cut off of funds and weapons. Supposedly, the loss of funding has to do with battlefield conditions and not the new administration of Donald Trump. There is a fear that any weapons given to the FSA will be captured by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also dropped their support through the CIA channel, though other channels of support still function. The FSA believes that this situation will be temporary. The assault from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham has resulted in the FSA joining with the separate Jihadist group, Ahrar al-Sham. 

My comment:
I agree with this move. The FSA has always been far too close to Jihadist groups. Not only are they now linked with Ahrar al-Sham, they were perfectly fine with being allies with al-Nusra. Indeed, the fact that FSA worked with al-Nusra always was a main sticking factor for me personally and when I found out about it I wanted Bashar al-Assad to win. 

The stated justification makes sense as well. Time and time again we have been burned when handing weapons to local forces in both Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, the Iraqi Army left massive amounts of weapons and vehicles, including armor, for ISIS to capture in Mosul when the city fell. And in Syria we had multiple rebel groups that lost their weapons, either because they were wiped out by jihadists or they willingly turned their weapons over to groups like al-Nusra. 

The failure of the Obama administration to control who these weapons went to was one of his greatest foreign policy failures. Indeed, it may have been deliberate as he and his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton have been accused of sending those weapons to Jihadists on purpose. 

What is surprising is that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have gone with this reduction in support. In the past these countries cared little if their weapons fell into the wrong hands. Their main goal was defeating Bashar al-Assad, not preventing jihadist groups from getting weapons. They cared little if terrorist groups like al-Nusra or ISIS got weapons as well. 

So what has changed? I think it's the new president. During the election campaign, Trump often railed about how we didn't know who was getting our weapons and he seemed to be very opposed to arming rebels in general. Though I think that the given explanation, that we don't want these arms to fall into the wrong hands, is plausible, I do think that this is a pretty huge sign that we aren't going to support these rebels anymore. Trump just doesn't trust the rebels and he's right not to do so. 

I also think that it's pretty clear that the rebels are doomed. With Russia backing Syria, there is almost no chance of the rebels winning. Losing Aleppo was the deathblow and now they are getting attacked by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Without international support they can not survive and even with it they are probably doomed. 

The growth and increase in prominence for Jabhat Fateh al-Sham is one of the more disturbing elements of this story. The group is essentially "ISIS lite". They have many of the same beliefs as ISIS but they are slightly less brutal. If ISIS wasn't active in Syria, Jabhat Fateh would be the biggest threat and biggest news story out of Syria.  

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