Yet again on those hoary old allegations that the US has armed the FSA since 2012

Again on allegations that the US has armed the FSA since 2012

By Michael Karadjis

Ian Sinclair, in an article entitled “It never happened – US intervention in Syria” (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ian-sinclair/us-syria_b_5859930.html), writes:

“So to summarise, in mid-2012 the most influential newspaper in the world reported that the US was helping to arm the rebels,” and then goes to quote other sources that the US was not itself arming the rebels. His point being that although some mainstream media have already written what he thinks is the ‘truth,” most continue to deny this “truth.”

In reality, it is true that the US has not armed the FSA. As for the first part of his summary, regarding what the “most influential newspaper in the world” allegedly said, it all depends what “helping” to arm means, and the nature of this “help.”

At the end of his piece, Sinclair even throws that tiny bit of caution to the wind, criticising the western media for “refusing to inform their readers that *the US has been arming the rebels* in Syria since 2012.”

To be blunt, I believe that Sinclair, like many others, needs to “learn to read.”

The contention those who have actually studied the war have made is that the US never sent arms to the FSA. The articles Sinclair links to do not belie that. In none of the articles is the US providing arms.

No-one ever suggested that the US, as sensible (sometimes) imperialists, would not do what they could to co-opt any movement if it could. After all, for what is all the non-lethal aid that the US has supplied parts of the FSA – the tents, radios, night goggles and “ready-meals”, meant, presumably to fight MiG killer jets, ballistic missiles, barrel bombs etc – if not to try to co-opt whoever they can?

And so to summarise, the articles reveal that during 2012, the US became concerned about an existing “arms pipeline”, apparently set up via Qatari-Muslim Brotherhood networks, from Libya to bases in Turkey, and so moved in the CIA to try to control it, via limiting quantities of arms that got into Syria, ensuring the arms didn’t go to anyone the US didn’t like, and ensuring advanced weapons, especially anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, didn’t get to anyone. Thus the operation Sinclair talks about was a limiting operation.

When reading media reports from the time, what stands out is the glaring contradiction between certain reports of massive Saudi and Qatari (not US) arms being sent to Turkey and Jordan, and the constant reports from rebels on the ground that very little actually got into Syria.

For example, an article on the role of the CIA in Turkey (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/25/world/middleeast/arms-airlift-to-syrian-rebels-expands-with-cia-aid.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) claimed the arms airlift from the Gulf “has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes” landing in Turkey or Jordan since early 2012, estimated to be 3500 tons of military equipment.

Yet on the ground we read:

“Still, rebel commanders have criticized the shipments as insufficient, saying the quantities of weapons they receive are too small and the types too light to fight Mr. Assad’s military effectively … ‘The outside countries give us weapons and bullets little by little’, said Abdel Rahman Ayachi, a commander in Soquor al-Sham, an Islamist fighting group in northern Syria. He made a gesture as if switching on and off a tap. ‘They open and they close the way to the bullets like water’, he said.”

Thus rhetoric about “massive” quantities of arms going to the rebels from the Gulf and “escalating the war” needs to be taken with entire silos full of salt. What then is behind this apparent contradiction?

The article “Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/25/world/middleeast/arms-airlift-to-syrian-rebels-expands-with-cia-aid.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) from the March 24 New York Times, has often been quoted by those who want to show that the US is already involved. And the article does show this. But what it also shows about the US is far from what those highlighting this often want to show. Indeed, it is the CIA’s role in this operation that precisely explains the contradiction noted. One need go no further than the article itself, which describes the CIA’s specific role in the following terms:

“The C.I.A. role in facilitating the shipments, he said, gave the United States a degree of influence over the process, including trying to steer weapons away from Islamist groups and persuading donors to withhold portable antiaircraft missiles that might be used in future terrorist attacks on civilian aircraft. “These countries were going to do it one way or another”, the former official said. “They weren’t asking for a ‘Mother, may I?’ from us.”

“But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft. Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought.”

To summarise the article: the arming of the Syrian rebels was a Saudi-Qatari initiative, who were not asking US permission; the US steps in to help “coordinate” it by “limiting supplies”, “steering weapons away” from groups they don’t like, and making sure that none of the weapons the rebels actually needed to fight Assad’s heavy weaponry, e.g. anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, got through to the rebels.

Yes, that’s what happens when you actually read the article. But to make the point even stronger we can look at other articles from the period.

For example, a report by Nour Malas in the Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443684104578062842929673074.html) was even more explicit, pointing out that “the Pentagon and CIA ramped up their presence on Turkey’s southern borderprecisely after more weapons began to flow in to the rebels in mid-2012, especially small numbers of portable anti-aircraft weapons (Manpads), some from Libya, “smuggled into the country through the Turkish border”, others “supplied by militant Palestinian factions now supporting the Syrian uprising and smuggled in through the Lebanese border”, or some even bought from regime forces.

“In July, the U.S. effectively halted the delivery of at least 18 Manpads sourced from Libya, even as the rebels pleaded for more effective antiaircraft missiles to counter regime airstrikes in Aleppo, people familiar with that delivery said.”

Exactly. So, if in doubt, “knee-jerk anti-imperialists” can do this little test. I’ll do it with you:

Q1: Do you, as a good anti-imperialist, believe the US/CIA should have got right out of this operation in Turkey referred to here?
A: From me: Yes. From you? I assume as anti-imperialists, Yes.
Q2: What would have been the effects of such a withdrawal?
A: I don’t need your opinion for Q2, the answer is factual: greater quantities of weapons would have got into Syria from Turkey or Jordan; a greater variety of rebel groups would have got these weapons without US “vetting”; actually useful to the rebels weapons, namely anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, would have got through to the rebels.
Q3: Given the answer to Q2, do you still have the same answer to Q1?
A: Me: Of course, that is what I want. You: I wouldn’t have a clue. You work out your confusion.

Interestingly, the situation in the south, in Jordan, was if anything worse, and an interesting prelude to the sharp US-Saudi spat we saw late 2013. Not because the Saudis wanted to arm Islamists and the US said no  – the US has always said no to arming Islamists, but that’s a different question – but because the US went out of its way to block the Saudis sending their weapons in Jordanian storehouses to the secular FSA southern resistance:

“While Saudi Arabia has built up large stockpiles of arms and ammunition for the Free Syrian Army, the US blocked shipments until last Thursday. The US and the Saudis are involved in a multilateral effort to support the insurgency from Jordanian bases. But, according to the sources, Washington had not only failed to supply “a single rifle or bullet to the FSA in Daraa” but had actively prevented deliveries, apparently because of concerns over which factions would receive the weapons. The situation also appears to be complicated by Jordan’s fears that arms might find their way back into the Kingdom and contribute to instability there. The sources said the Saudi-backed weapons and ammunition are in warehouses in Jordan, and insurgents in Daraa and Damascus could be supplied “within hours” with anti-tank rockets and ammunition. The Saudis also have more weapons ready for airlift into Jordan, but US representatives are preventing this at the moment” (http://eaworldview.com/2013/06/23/syria-special-the-us-saudi-conflict-over-arms-to-insurgents).

This report, incidentally, makes clear that the famous incident of the glaring failure of the exile-based military leadership in Jordan to supply weapons to the rebels in a strategic south Syrian town that the Assad regime then conquered, around mid-2013, was directly due to US pressure.

Despite all this, once can’t but help notice that one of the pieces Sinclair “quotes”, while still not directly saying the US sent arms, seems to say that the US actually delivered these non-US arms directly to the rebels. Sinclair writes:

“In June 2012 the New York Times, published a report headed ‘CIA Said To Aid In Steering Arms To Syrian Opposition.’ According to the report ‘a small number of CIA officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey’ coordinating the delivery of arms to rebels in Syria, including ‘automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons’.”

You note where Sinclair carefully drops the quote marks. The way he has constructed this sentence can make it mean whatever anyone wants. It is obvious what Sinclair wants it to mean. Better however to go to the source. It says:

“A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

“The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.”

Thus, others, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, were distributing the weapons, already distributing to the rebels before the CIA showed up, indeed got the actual weapons to Turkey in the first place . The only role of the CIA, once it later showed up, was to try to influence the process of who gets the weapons and who doesn’t. As the article further elaborates:

“The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said.”

Another article, “U.S. Bolsters Ties to Fighters in Syria” (The Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2012, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303410404577464763551149048?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702303410404577464763551149048.html), usefully discusses some of the purposes of the operation:

“The U.S.’s stepped-up links with the FSA are also part of an effort to gain a better understanding of the rebels’ capabilities and of the identities and allegiances of fighters spread in disparate groups across the country, the U.S. officials said. The U.S. officials remain wary of some rebels’ suspected ties to hard-line Islamists, including elements of al Qaeda …” Some of [this communication] is dedicated to figuring out who these people are by talking to them,” said a U.S. official briefed on Syria.” The article further down explains that the US is also concerned about the role the Muslim Brotherhood was playing in the conflict, ie, the very organisation allegedly involved in the pipeline.

More on that murky 2012 stuff on the Turkish border, I think this article from the Australian (originally from Sunday Times) gets the emphasis right, as can be seen from the title: ‘CIA polices weapons entry to Syria as spooks invade Turkey’ (John Follain and Tony Allen-Mills, August 13, 2012, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/cia-polices-weapons-entry-to-syria-as-spooks-invade-turkey/story-fnb64oi6-1226448705909). The article reads in part:

“Despite mounting calls in Washington for a more aggressive US military role in Syria, the CIA has been quietly working along its northern border with Turkey to limit the supplies of weapons and ammunition reaching rebel forces, Syrian opposition officials say.

“Over the past 10 months, a Syrian opposition official told The Sunday Times, the CIA has blocked shipments of heavy anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, which rebel units of the Free Syrian Army have long said are vital to their efforts to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. At the same time they have approved supplies of AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles, and just over a month ago gave the green light to a shipment of 10,000 Russian-made rocket-propelled grenades.

“The weapons are either bought on the black market in Istanbul or supplied by the rebels’ allies in Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

“Yet rebel frustration is mounting at the CIA’s reluctance to allow heavy weaponry across the border for fear that it may eventually be used against America’s allies.

The RPGs aren’t enough,” the opposition official said. “You have to be close to the tank to make any impact, and often the fighter using it gets killed” (probably the CIA’s aim – MK)

“Bob Grenier, a former director of the CIA counter-terrorism centre, said the CIA’s policing activities along the border were intended to protect the administration from future embarrassment if the rebel groups it supported turned out to be hostile to Israel or the US should they gain power. “It would not be good if it was later established that weapons reached people identified with al-Qa’ida, and we could have done something about it,” he said.

“The CIA vetoes al-Qa’ida and it’s not very keen on the Muslim Brotherhood,” a Syrian opposition official said.”
………………………………………………………………………………………….

Where does all that leave Sinclair? I would say this is part of the well-discussed phenomenon of the decline of left journalism due to the Syria crisis, with reference to Cockburn, Fisk, Hersch and the like.

By the way, Harold Pinter, whose quote “It never happened” Sinclair uses to make his point, is dead, and has no way to defend himself from being associated with apologists for a fascist dictatorship that has killed 190,000 people and destroyed every city in its country just to keep a narrow mega-capitalist clique in power.

Sinclair ends his piece by claiming that “by so closely following the US and UK Governments’ preferred narrative, the media continues to minimise the US’s responsibility for the on-going carnage in Syria and the rise of Islamic State.”

Since this doesn’t make sense at all, I can only attempt to interpret it. I think he means that by arming the FSA, which he alleges (but fails to demonstrate) the US was doing “since 2012,” this led to the rise of ISIS, because he is shameless enough (like countless other “left”, right and mainstream imperialist journalists) to try to shove together the secular FSA, the moderate Islamist groups, harder Islamists, al-Qaida and ISIS as all much the same thing. He apparently believes, like most imperialist media by the way, that everyone fighting in Syria against the regime is a “jihadist”, some more open than others, that anti-Assad Syrians are by definition all “extremists,” that there cannot be such a thing as an anti-Assad “moderate,” that if you give a gun to an Arab moderate he will automatically give it to a jihadist, and other such breathtakingly racist and orientalist garbage.

The allegation is all the more disgusting given that it has only actually been the FSA and its allies that have fought ISIS, and earlier this year valiantly pushed ISIS out of large parts of Syria, at a cost of thousands of fighters’ lives. If only they did have the weapons Sinclair falsely alleges they have they could have done an even better job.

Question: why do people like Sinclair write things that simply don’t make sense? In fact, he answers this himself, just that he isn’t looking in the mirror when he does so:

“There is a certain discourse that becomes normalized, in which certain views are acceptable and others not.” In this atmosphere, if you make obvious factual statements “you are often marginalised as some sort of looney figure … It is through this process that the mainstream media basically becomes a tool of misinforming people, rather than informing people.”

Yes, not just the mainstream media, but its “anti-imperialist left” echo as well. Sinclair, for example, for repeating this imperialist propaganda that any arms sent to the FSA will inevitably fall into the hands of the jihadists.

Ironically for these “anti-imperialists,” from April 2014, the US actually did start to send a handful of TOW anti-tank missiles to a handful of FSA groups in the context of the FSA’s magnificent attack on ISIS from January 2014. The US had always insisted the FSA had to first attack ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra before the US would consider sending any arms. The FSA had always refused to be the “Sawha” (ie, the name of the Iraqi Sunni forces backed by the US and Saudis that defeated al-Qaida in Iraq in 2007-8). But since ISIS fascism became unbearable, the FSA went to war on ISIS from August 2013, and then the FSA and its allies decided, in January 2014, based on their own needs and not those of the US, to launch a nation-wide, coordinated, frontal attack on ISIS, with no military support from the US (but not on Nusra, which in fact joined the FSA/IF attack on ISIS).

So some months after this, the US, which had never armed them against Assad, decided it was time to test them out. The TOWs were never very many (here’s a good article on the reality of these shipments: http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-harakat-hazm-20140907-story.html#page=1); in some cases the US tried to get them to attack Nusra as well as ISIS, but they refused; in other cases they explicitly gave them weapons to fight ISIS only but not the regime (I have documented all this here: https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/iraq-and-syria-the-struggle-against-the-multi-sided-counterrevolution/).

The outcome of this? For brave, “anti-imperialist” leftists on their computers in the West, they would be sure this meant the FSA was now bought by the US, since they have bravely asserted this for years. And yet, virtually all the FSA and rebel units and coalitions on the ground, including virtually all the groups that got a few TOWs, have condemned the current US bombing of Syria as an attack on the revolution, and stand in solidarity (even if holding their noses) with Nusra, which came under US attack from the very first day of the US intervention “against ISIS.” Above all, the 7000-strong FSA militia Harakat Hazm – the first to famously receive TOWS in April 2014, discussed in that LA Times piece I just linked to – came out with the best and strongest anti-imperialist statement condemning the US bombings (see my new article detailing the reactions of the bulk of FSA and allied rebel units to these strikes: https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/syrian-rebels-overwhelmingly-condemn-us-bombing-as-an-attack-on-revolution/). No surprise, therefore, that Harakat Hazm stopped receiving US TOWs, and indeed, by the end of 2014, the TOW program as a whole had dwindled to nothing.

Revolutionaries that face the actual heat of the double battle against a fascist regime that dwarfs most of the Latin American tyrants of the 1970s-1980s, and a clerical-fascist ISIS as well, who have to make real decisions in these circumstances, receive a handful of half-useful arms after being starved of them for years against such massively armed opponents, and then when the US attacks their country “to help them” they take a principled revolutionary stance. Meanwhile other “revolutionaries” who have never had to make these kinds of decisions in their lives, and never will, content themselves with sitting back and condemning the revolutionaries in Syria for dirtying their hands by finally receiving a little something from the West (never mind that what they need for defense against the regime’s mostly air war is Manpads, which the US Congress explicitly forbade sending).

What is it that causes leftists to think that it is a big deal, that they should “expose,” if those fighting against such a mass-murderous, massively armed, fascist tyranny waging unlimited war on its population, get some arms that, I guess, they are “not supposed to” get? As I’ve repeatedly said, I’m in favour of them getting whatever weapons they can from whoever they can. Just as I would have been for the FSLN, FMLN, MIR, Tupumaros, and all the other Latin American armed movements that fought various lighter shades of Assadist regimes.

Hell, sometimes it was more than just a few arms. In 1994, the US invaded Haiti to bring the leftist Aristide back to power, overthrowing the Assadist-style Cedras tyranny. From memory, I don’t think that meant “revolutionaries” therefore backed Cedras and opposed Aristide. Even though Latin America had always been “easier” than the Middle East, this issue (and likewise the US invasion of Panama that ousted the CIA’s former stooge Noriega) showed even Latin America could be “complex.” A quarter of a century later, some are still confused.

We’ve come a long way when that is the distinction between revolutionaries and “revolutionaries”.

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Syrian rebels overwhelmingly condemn US bombing as an attack on revolution

By Michael Karadjis

In extraordinary developments, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan have launched a joint air war, on Syrian territory, with the full support of the Syrian tyranny of Bashar al-Assad, on the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS).

There are plenty of good reasons to oppose any US war in any circumstances; and in this case, a war that is targeting only the Sunni-sectarian ISIS, yet sparing the viciously anti-Sunni Assad regime, indeed collaborating with the regime, which is responsible for a hundred times more massacre and destruction than ISIS, with which it has long collaborated in any case, is likely to boost support for ISIS among a large section of the poverty-stricken, dispossessed Sunni majority.
However, ISIS is so reviled that it was just possible a very well-targeted war on ISIS may have won some hearts and minds. Certainly, even for those of us solidly anti-war, there should be no talk of “defending” ISIS, whatever that may mean. Likewise, if last year’s proposed (in my view imaginary) US attack on the Assad regime had become reality, it would have been necessary to oppose the war without giving a skerrick of “defense” to the genocidal regime that had just gassed hundreds of sleeping children to death with sarin.

The US launches war on Jabhat al-Nusra

However, the US is not only attacking ISIS – which the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the united rebel alliance has been at war with for the last year – but from the outset has also attacked Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN). Despite also being a sectarian organisation which the FSA will have to deal with in the future in its own time, based on its own decision-making, JaN has for the most part been fighting on the side of the FSA and the other rebels against both the Assad regime and ISIS.
There have also been unconfirmed reports that the US has attacked Ahrar al-Sham in Aleppo – AaS is what might be called the most “jihadist” wing of the Syrian rebels other than JaN, which, however, unlike JaN, is not associated with al-Qaida. AaS has been operationally allied to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and, along with the FSA, has been at war with both the regime and with ISIS. US officials seemed unconcerned by the possibility – one explained “we’re characterizing our targets as Khorasan and [ISIS] but it’s possible others were there. It is a toxic soup of terrorists” (http://www.buzzfeed.com/mikegiglio/us-goes-to-war-with-jabhat-al-nusra#39p8mlr).

In other words, the US and its allies have taken advantage of the revulsion against the clerical-fascist ISIS barbarians to launch an attack on the Syrian revolution on behalf of the secular-fascist Assad regime.

According to early reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, US air strikes killed 50 Al-Nusra militants and eight civilians, including children, in northern Syria on Tuesday (http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2014/Sep-23/271641-eight-civilians-30-fighters-killed-in-us-led-strikes-on-nusra-front-in-syria-activists.ashx#ixzz3E8z2uYK4). “Northern Syria” here refers to Idlib and Aleppo.

For the record, there is no ISIS whatsoever in Idlib – ISIS was driven out root and branch by the FSA’s Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) in January, probably the most successful anti-ISIS operation carried out by any of the forces at one time or another fighting ISIS, whether the Syrian Army, the Iraqi Army or the Kurdish forces.

Yet while ISIS is comprehensively absent, the US air force launched a series of air strikes on the Kafr Dariyan region of Idlib, killing dozens of al-Nusra militants, while the civilian death toll shot up considerably compared to the initial reports (https://www.facebook.com/RadioFreeSyria/posts/706573779427832). Here’s also video footage of this terror: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnQMgCo0Z2I. According to Nusra, their weapons factory near Sarmada in rural Idlib – where they produce weapons to fight the regime and ISIS – was targeted by US airstrikes (https://twitter.com/JihadNews2/status/514264176060301312).

In particular, given the grave situation in Aleppo, where the revolutionary forces are being jointly besieged from the south and the north-east by Assad and ISIS, the fact that the first US attacks were on JaN inside Aleppo – where JaN is playing an important role in the epic defense of the rebel-held, working—class, half of that city, alongside the FSA and other Islamist groups – is perhaps the most blatant attack on the revolution possible.

Perhaps once the revolutionary forces have been crushed in Aleppo, Assad and ISIS may fight: the former will then present the world with a fait accompli, it’s my regime or ISIS, while the latter will present the impoverished, Assad-hating Sunni masses with precisely the opposite dilemma.

That is why the defense of Aleppo now is all important. And at precisely that moment, dozens of Nusra fighters have been slaughtered by US bombers right there, in Aleppo. According to Nusra, “US airstrikes (with the help of Qatar, KSA, Jordan, UAE) hit positions of Jabhat an Nusra in Rural Muhandiseen Aleppo” (https://twitter.com/JihadNews2/status/514264771060072449) and scores of fighters were martyted in Jabhat al-Nusra headquarters in Urm al-Sogra, Aleppo (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/ByM2AKsCcAEO31v.jpg:large).

Oddly, US warplanes have also bombed positions in Jabal Sha’er in Homs countryside, killing some Bedouins (https://twitter.com/SN4HR/status/514407392801718272). It is unclear what the intended targets were.
Seniorj Jabhat al-Nusra leader, Muhsin al Fadhli, was martyred by the US bombing (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/ByNu9kqCcAAjfSE.jpg:large), as was Abū Yusuf at-Turkī, Nusra’s no.1 sniper, in US air strikes on Idlib.
The Assad regime must be very pleased with having acquired for itself a new airforce.

Some background

These developments are remarkable not for the fact they happened – this was basically my exact prognosis in June (www.links.org.au/node/3928) based on class analysis – but rather in its sheer brazenness and rapidity. That a US attack “on ISIS’ in Syria will become an attack on the revolution, via the device of attacking al-Nusra. Despite the jihadist Nusra leadership, much of its ranks are decent revolutionaries, often former FSA cadre just going where the money and arms are; and despite some its recent provocations (caused by the impact of ISIS’ victory in Mosul on the more jihadist part of the ranks), it still mostly fights the regime and ISIS. Attacking JaN is a way of attacking the revolution, just as the US has been trying to turn the FSA into a Sawha against JaN (not only against ISIS) since 2012 (http://www.thenational.ae/…/americas-hidden-agenda-in…). The FSA has always rejected this imperialist “advice.” According to FSA Colonel Akaidi last year, the US wants to turn the FSA “into the Sahwa,” but “if they [the US] help us so that we kill each other, then we don’t want their help” (http://www.ft.com/…/71e492d0-acdd-11e2-9454…). Then we had the recent UN resolution against ISIS that just happened to also be against JaN as well, nicely slipped in by Obama.

Assad regime hails US attacks

Furthermore, all this is in the context of the open collaboration between the US (and its Saudi, UAE etc allies) and the Assad regime, which the US informed of the attacks, with which the US is sharing intelligence, and which has expressed strong support for the US attacks on its own country.

Ali Haidar, Syrian minister for national reconciliation, told Reuters:

“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” (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/24/us-syria-crisis-minister-idUSKCN0HJ19S20140924?utm_source=twitter).
The US strikes have of course killed some dozens of civilians, but that is hardly a concern of a regime that has killed so many tens of thousands of civilians, as a grand underestimate.

Meanwhile, the pro-government news network Damascus Now hailed the strikes as a historic moment, in which “happiness was etched on the faces of the majority of Syrians, because they found international support towards eradicating a cancer which has been rooted in the diseased Syrian body,” referring to the rebels (http://syriadirect.org/rss/1580-syria-direct-news-update-9-24-14), and the regime’s Al-Watan newspaper declared “the US coalition and the Syrian Arab Army are on the same front against terrorism” (https://twitter.com/MousaAlomar/status/514789879180701697/photo/1).

Mass revulsion against US strikes

Revulsion has erupted right across Syria. In mass demonstrations throughout Aleppo (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/ByTcYjYCcAEeOnA.jpg:large), Idlib (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww2LT-Wcpcc&feature=youtu.be) and Homs, demonstrators chant “We are all Nusra” or “Jabhat al-Nusra came to support us when the world abandoned us” (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/ByTtNQkIYAETWtU.jpg:large).

Now, as stated above, I certainly don’t love Nusra. But these chants mean the people identify with those getting bombed by Assad’s newly acquired airforce. For those who want to emphasise the reactionary nature of the Nusra leadership (which I would distinguish from its ranks), this development underlines the fact that creating counterrevolution works in differing ways: one way is to directly militarily attack a militia, like Nusra, that *at this point* is on the side of the revolutionary forces; another is to put extra pressure on the more pro-Western elements within the FSA to take the US side against Nusra, thus weakening and splitting their forces on the ground; and a third way is precisely allowing Nusra to denounce anyone who doesn’t support it now as a US agent, thus exactly strengthening Nusra, the most jihadist pole, within the anti-Assad, anti-ISIS front.

Though this is by no means straightforward. The “we are all Nusra” chants may simply be identifying with those under US attack rather than expressing political support for Nusra; thus these demonstrations could equally be seen as a new, clearer anti-imperialist grounding of the revolution. It may take some time to work through what this dilemma means.

But worse is the fact that by allowing its attack on ISIS – who everyone hates – to become an attack on Nusra, and a collaboration with the regime, which all rebel forces and most of the impoverished, dispossessed Sunni masses see as their main enemy, the attacks have also led to a surge in support for ISIS in some quarters. To see mass demonstrations in support not only of Nusra, but also of ISIS, in areas as far west as Homs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlsxciMWxQQ&feature=youtu.be), and Idlib, underlines the multiple ways in which imperialist attack promotes counterrevolution: a mass demonstration supporting ISIS even occurred in Kafranbel in Idlib (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2WegUb7Omc&feature=youtu.be, https://www.youtube.com/embed/V3-BRbeGmTI?feature=player_detailpage), the very heart and soul of the revolution!

The reactions of the FSA and other rebels

In any case, it is the reactions from the FSA and other rebels which are most remarkable.

One of the first statements condemning the US attacks came from Harakat Hazm, a 7000-strong secular FSA militia operating mostly in Hama. Hazm stated (23/9/2014):

“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* and demonstrate the international community’s continuing ignorance of the demands of the Syrian revolution and failure to provide unconditional military aid to the FSA is simply an indication of massive failure and a harbinger of further catastrophes that will harm the entire region.

“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.*

“We also affirm that the international community’s unilateral decisions taken in an effort to win public support globally will not succeed in combating extremism, but will actively promote its growth. The only way to achieve the peace in the nation and region will come through fulfilling the aspirations of the people of Syria at the hands of Syrians.

“The only beneficiaries from the US coalition’s military intervention will be the Assad regime, in the light of an absence of any real strategy to oust it, and the regime will spare no efforts in its attacks on civilians in its attempt to rehabilitate itself internationally.

“We pray for mercy for our martyrs, healing for our wounded, and freedom for the detainees imprisoned in Syria, and life and freedom for our beloved people” (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/ByPSsxMIYAQy2Wt.jpg).

One of the extraordinary things about this statement is that, after all the years of “leftists” falsely asserting that the US was arming the FSA, when in fact it never sent them a bullet, is that Hazm is precisely one of the very few FSA units that *did* receive a handful of US anti-tank weapons beginning in April 2014. It was never very many, but Hazm could possibly have expected more if it palyed ball. This magnificent declaration indicates that while the US might be able to buy some dozens of puppets here and there, it is very difficult to buy an army of 7000 fighters to be your puppets.

Meanwhile, Jaish al-Mujadeen, a markedly soft-Islamist coalition that was set up last December and which then played a major role, alongside the FSA and important components of the Islamic Front (of which it is not a member), in driving ISIS out of Aleppo in January, also condemned the US attacks and said their aim was to put down the rebellion (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ClRaIMESbk&feature=youtu.be).

Abu Ratib, head of the Sufi-led Al-Haq Brigade, part of the Islamic Front, termed the intervention “a total war against Muslims” (http://syriadirect.org/rss/1580-syria-direct-news-update-9-24-14); Suqour al-Sham, the main Islamic Front unit in Idlib, condemned the airstrikes and said they “will breed more extremism and terrorism” (https://twitter.com/zaidbenjamin/status/514831422675513344/photo/1); the Army of islam, the IF unit in Damascus, which drove ISIS out of the Damascus region several months ago, also condemned the strikes; the secularist FSA Forqat 13 issued a statement condemning US-led airstrikes as “aimed at weakening the revolution” in Syria (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/ByTaFn8IEAAANl3.png:large).

Then in a joint statement, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF – the major secular FSA coalition in the north-west, which single-handedly drove ISIS out of Idlib in January), Jaish al-Mujahidin, Al Zinki, Hazm and others condemned the US airstrikes, declaring “you help Bashar” (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/ByUiHcTIMAAmTDF.jpg).

So while we haven’t yet accessed statements from every group, it is clear all the major groups have declared solidly against the US air war.

In similar vein, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Zuhair Salem declared “A new killer joins the band of the Syrian people killers. The war on Da’ash is an American pretext to continue the war on the Syrian revolution. We won’t wait for long to watch how the American war is eating revolutionary forces. We condemn the American crime of the aggression on Syrian territories” (https://twitter.com/zaidbenjamin). Earlier, a statement by the Syrian Islamic Council, close to the Muslim Brotherhood, rejected intervention in Syria by Western countries and their allies in the region. It condemned “the silence of the international community, Governments and organizations, at the daily massacres against the Syrians, with all kinds of internationally proscribed weapons, by the Assad regime,” describing the US move against ISIS in this context as a double standard (https://twitter.com/troublejee/status/510618525736894464). The MB itself rejected any collaboration with the US attack on ISIS unless the first bomb lands “on Assad’s head.”

Finally, the founder and former leader of the FSA, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, who still has significant influence, declared “The Coalition kills the remaining children that the Syrian regime couldn’t kill” (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/ByO1CbHIIAABquB.jpg:large). Earlier, he had already declared that the FSA will not collaborate with the US in the war against ISIS, claiming the US is working to destroy the FSA, noting that since 2011 the Americans promised aid that never materialised, and meanwhile they worked to split the rebels and to help al-Assad.

Asaad claimed that the real target of the strikes would not be ISIS, but rather “the Syrian revolution will be eliminated under this pretext.” He also called on moderate rebels to make efforts for more unity to revive the Syrian revolution after having been hijacked by radical Islamist groups and West-backed agendas. “We are looking for rebel commanders who share us the national concern” (https://www.zamanalwsl.net/en/news/6704.html).

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCCs), a grassroots network that coordinates civil disobedience and other non-violent campaigns, was a little more ambivalent, but have been documenting the civilian and other deaths from US air strikes. The LCC declared that “an end to the Islamic State needs to happen concurrently with an end to the equal terrorist threat represented by Bashar al-Assad’s regime,” and note that they “are herewith confirming their previous stances considering Assad’s regime the foremost enemy of the Syrian people and assuring that extremism and terrorism were the products of the regime’s crimes.”

LCC also emphasised the following:

1- Assad’s regime is holding the sole responsibility of this violation of the Syrian State’s sovereignty since it was the first to do that bringing the sectarian death militias from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.
2- Assad’s regime and ISIS are alike when it comes to terrorism and crimes violating the Syrian people dignity and decent lives.
3- The necessity of coordinating with the political and military forces of the Syrian revolution so they can regain control of the positions under ISIS conquer as well as helping these forces with their continuous battles against Assad’s regime till it is toppled.
4- Taking intense precautions that these air strikes do not give any form of political or military benefits to Assad’s regime.
5- Taking extra care of the civilians’ lives and their properties in the targeted areas.
6- The United Nations must take its responsibility towards the civilians by immediately responding to their humanitarian basic needs.
7- The Syrians salvation from ISIS should be synchronized with their liberty of the tyrant Assad’s regime and its terrorism against them.
Local Coordination Committees (23/ 9/ 2014, from https://www.facebook.com/RadioFreeSyria/photos/a.382885705129976.91927.363889943696219/706708506081026/?type=1&fref=nf).

The only more or less clear support for the intervention came from the pro-West and Gulf leadership of the exile-based Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) and its associated Supreme Military Command, supposedly of the FSA but in reality largely representing itself. The SMC declared support to “all earnest national forces and free international forces” who are trying to “fight terrorism,” but stressed that this should start with “the Assad gangs and Shabiha” and “ending with their new creation, ie, ISIS” (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/ByPX7XDIAAA7RNW.png).

The only other apparent support to the US coalition’s actions came from, somewhat understandably, the Kurdish PYD. PYD leader salih Moslem declared that the US attacks were a positive step for the fight against ISIS (http://civiroglu.net/2014/09/23/pyd_airstrikes/). Considering ISIS’ current genocidal attacks on the Syrian Kurds around Kobane which have driven some 150,000 Kurds acrosss the Turkish border (Turkey already holds 1.5 million Syrian refugees), the PYD’s position is understandable. It is unclear at this point, however, how much the US has targeted the ISIS units doing the besieging of Kobane – at the outset, at least, the US seems to have been too busy bombing ISIS in Raqqa (from where most ISIS militants had already been evacuated) and non-ISIS targets over in western Syria, to simply bomb the ISIS advancing front line around Kobane (just as the Assad regime, while good at bombing bakeries in Raqqa and killing dozens of civilians, also couldn’t seem to target the ISIS siege).

Where does this leave the US Sawha plans?

This rather solid opposition to the US air campaign from the bulk of the FSA and their allies on the ground raises serious issues regarding the US intention to arm and train a small puppet segment of the FSA as a Sawha to fight ISIS, and premably Nusra, but not the regime. It seems likely there will be relatively few takers. Of course many may officially agree in order to get the arms, and then hope to do as they please and direct their energies at the regime; but the current united stand against the US shows not only that the FSA are not puppets, but moreover has rubbbed this fact in the US’ face. Hazm seems to have performed this trick earlier this year to get some US anti-tank weapons; it now releases the most solidly anti-imperialist declaration.

It is worthwhile looking at the full text of the resolution in Congress to provide “training, equipment, supplies, and sustainment” some 5000 “vetted” rebels (https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hjres124/text). Anyone in doubt that the aim is for them to fight ISIS but not the regime only needs to read the opening, which states the purpose is firstly, for “defending the Syrian people from attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and securing territory controlled by the Syrian opposition,” secondly, “protecting the United States, its friends and allies, and the Syrian people from the threats posed by terrorists in Syria, and thirdly, the bit that refers to the regime, “promoting the conditions for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Syria.” So, smash ISIS (and Nusra), and negotiate with the regime.

More interesting is the section on what “vetted” means:

“The term appropriately vetted means, with respect to elements of the Syrian opposition and other Syrian groups and individuals, at a minimum, assessments of such elements, groups, and individuals for associations with terrorist groups, Shia militias aligned with or supporting the Government of Syria, and groups associated with the Government of Iran. Such groups include, but are not limited to, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Jabhat al Nusrah, Ahrar al Sham, other al-Qaeda related groups, and Hezbollah.”

Now of course, the references to Shia groups associated with Iran, Hezbollah etc are just fluff, since this is a resolution on “vetting” members of the Syrian opposition. Hezbollah is works for the regime, so is irrelevant to this resolution. But if “vetting” is to check if any “elements, groups, individuals” have any “associations” not only with ISIS, but also with Jabhat al-Nusra, and even Ahrar al-Sham, then the resolution effectively wipes out 90 percent, if not more of the FSA and of the Syrian opposition as a whole. Since they all actively cooperate with Jabhat al-Nusra on the ground against both the regime and ISIS, and even more so with Ahrar al-Sham, whose leadership was just wiped out by a regime- or ISIS-bombing.

By ruling out any “group” that has had any “association” with JaN and even with AaS, the US ensures its Sawha operation will remain with a very small group (perhaps even the proposed 5000, out of some 60,000 FSA fighters alone, cannot be reached) – always the intention anyway – so people should not confuse this with “training the FSA” and they should not confuse the US term “vetted” or the US use of the term “moderate” with “secular’ and “non-Islamist” as a whole – these few thousand will be secular/non-Islamist, but they will also be the most subservient – basically those who agree to fight only ISIS and leave the war on the regime till the future: the exact opposite of the priorities of the 95% that won’t be trained for Sawha.

Former US ambassador Robert Ford explained this more clearly than usual recently: “One prominent American observer says it is folly to think that we can aid the moderate armed fighters to topple al-Assad. But toppling wasn’t our goal before and shouldn’t be now.” Certainly, extra arms can help the opposition “put pressure” on Assad to form a “new” expanded government, like just happened in Iraq, whose first aim would be to expel ISIS from Syria, so therefore “as we boost aid to the moderate armed rebels, we must condition that help on their reaching out to disaffected regime supporters and developing with them a common political stance for a new, negotiated national unity government, **with or without al-Assad**” (my emphasis) (http://us.cnn.com/2014/08/26/opinion/ford-isis-syria/index.html?sr=sharebar_twitter).

In other words, while Obama long ago called on Assad to “step down” (this is the sole basis on which leftists imagine Obama called for “regime change”) in order to preserve his regime and state in a “Yemeni solution,” Ford is here making clear that if it could be negotiated, a “national unity government” would be fine even *with* Assad.

But who can replace ISIS? Assad can’t.

However, the US knows that it can not simply be Assad’s airforce. The US aim now seems to be to further eviscerate the revolution, in a number of different ways as explained. However, the question of who will replace ISIS on the ground if the US really wants to wipe it out – let alone if it also wants to wipe out Nusra – remains. Quite simply, in neither Syria nor in Iraq can ISIS be replaced by non-Sunni forces, still less by muderously anti-Sunni regimes. Some kind of Sunni forces will be necessary, just as the US needed to arm the Iraqi Sunni tribes in their “Sawha” against al-Qaida in Iraq in 2007-8.

The Kurds have been valiant fighters against ISIS, but in defending their own Kurdish turf; only Sunni Arabs can replace ISIS on the ground among their Sunni base that they now control.

The act of replacing the descredited Shiite chauvinist Maliki in Iraq before beginning to bomb ISIS was necessary façade; yet Maliki has been replaced by another member of his own party, only slighly less sectarian, with the hope that this may win over some Sunnis. So far, there has been little success; and fighting ISIS with Shiite sectarian militias simply consolidates Sunnis behind ISIS, including those who previously fought it.

What hope is there then in Syria, where the Assad regime has been far more murderous than Maliki, has wiped entire Sunni towns and cities off the map and sent millions into exile? While the US now acts as Assad’s airforce to help smash the revolution, a stabilisation of the situation will eventually require the long-term US aim of doing some deal that encourages Assad and a narrow circle around him to “step down” in order to save the Baathist regime and its military-security apparatus, and to “widen” it by allowing in some select conservative opponents into the regime. The so-called ‘Yemeni solution.’ The difficulty being that the Assad ruling family and mega-capitalist clique is so much more completely associated with the state than a mere Saleh or Mubarak ever was.

Is an attempt to crush the revolution for the regime a prelude to a plan with regime insiders and international factors to gently push Assad aside when it’s over to gain a modicum of Sunni support to replace ISIS on the ground? Like everything else, this remains to be seen, but is one of the possibilities – as is the possibility that the crushing of the revolution simply means the current regime becomes the “factor of stability” in the region.

On accusations of FSA truces with ISIS or subservience to the US

Several days ago, several conspiracist media outlets “reported” that a number of units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) near Damascus had signed a non-aggression pact with the local Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS). As is well-known, the FSA has been the main force fighting ISIS in Syria for over a year.

The “news” spread like wildfire around conspiracist, “anti-imperialist”, right-wing Islamophobic and similar networks, “evidence” yet again that can never trust an Arab moderate, because no such thing exists etc, and if “we” let them get arms they’ll give them to jihadists etc.

Then the entire story, predictably, turned out to be a bunch of lies: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/16/syrian-opposition-blasts-reports-it-signed-a-truce-with-isis.html

But here I want to make some more general points about the issue. The FSA are not America’s puppets, to simply dance to the tune of the master. The USA did not arm the FSA in their heroic 3-year fight against a fascist tyranny, and the USA did not arm them in their year-long fight against fascist ISIS. For the last year, tens of thousands of FSA fighters have borne the brunt (alongside further tens of thousands in various mainstream Islamist militias) in this 2-sided war against the allied double fascisms Assad/ISIS. The entire time, the regime and ISIS did not attack each other, but both focused on destroying the revolutionary forces. The US gave them nothing, unless one includes radios, night-goggles, tents and “ready-meals” as useful weapons against barrel-bombs, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons etc..

The Idlib-based Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), a coordinated network of FSA units in the north-west region of Syria, virtually single-handedly drove ISIS out of that part of Syria in January. With no help from the US.

In this context, revolutionary fighters are entitled to make truces or non-aggression pacts with whoever they feel like. That’s a question of tactics, of pragmatism, of avoiding exhaustion etc. If several FSA groups near Damascus (the original false articles suggested four groups, even if subsequent propaganda turned it into the FSA as a whole) had indeed signed a non-aggression pact with ISIS, that would have been their freaking business. In fact, some other FSA units have similarly signed temporary truces with the regime in recent months. That’s also their business. “Revolutionaries” in the West have no business judging fighters going through hell on the basis of what truces they are forced to make.

Question: why did a good part of “the left”, an increasingly meaningless term regarding such issues, scream blue murder when they thought some FSA units had signed a tactical truce in one area with ISIS, but haven’t been doing the same when some other FSA units sign tactical truces with the regime? Indeed, many of the same leftists probably think the latter is a good thing.

After all, it cannot be based on any objective weighing up of the nature of the regime and ISIS; because objectively speaking, leftists have always understood that it is those possessing capitalist state power, that systematically use the most horrific weaponry against the people, that are a greater problem than the similar crimes at a far lower-tech level carried out by groups of semi-state goons like ISIS. Certainly, ISIS shows of their horrific low-tech barbarism in a way designed to shock and sicken. But a regime that has tortured at least 11,000 to death in its dungeons (just during the war years, not to mention all the 10s of 1000s before that), that has been hammering Aleppo with barrel bombs non-stop for a year, that turned Homs into Hiroshima, that fires long-range missiles at apartment blocks, that has destroyed hundreds of hospitals, that gassed hundreds of sleeping children to death with sarin, that is guilty of systematic rape (http://www.iht.com/2014/03/12/syrias-silent-war-crime-systematic-rape/), that is responsible for 53,000 disappearances (http://www.iamsyria.org/syria-in-the-international-day-of-the-victims-of-enforced-disappearance.html, most of which are on top of the 191,000 killed), that has flattened the whole country – that surely, by any objective basis, doing any kind of deal with this kind of regime is worse than doing one with ISIS, no?

Just one example from right now – 120 civilians, one third children, killed in regime airstrikes on Douma in working-class Damascus suburbs in just 4 days: https://www.zamanalwsl.net/en/news/6570.html

So why does “the left” disagree? Simple, because, like everything else about this conflict, “the left” is in full agreement with imperialism, while imagining, as always, that when they say the same as the imperialists they are being “anti-imperialist.”

So, for years, imperialism has refused to arm the FSA using the excuse that any arms they get will inevitably end up going to the “jihadists”; likewise “the left” right through the war had insisted that any arms the FSA might get would inevitably end up in the hands of the “jihadists”, so they warned the imperialists not to send any arms, as if imperialism had any such intention, and in saying the same thing they imagined they were being “anti-imperialist.”

Fast forward to now, US imperialism is leading a war on ISIS, not on the Assad regime. That is the first thing that is difficult for leftists to get their heads around. The “left” agrees with imperialism that ISIS is worse than the regime, but it wants to imagine that imperialism thinks otherwise, despite the actual war in their face.

Secondly, as part of this war, the US aims to train and arm a very small number of highly “vetted” rebels to use as a battering ram against ISIS. That is, the US aims to change some small part of the FSA from the armed wing of the popular uprising against the regime and also ISIS into merely a “Sawha” against ISIS. The US states this explicitly. I know “leftists” don’t like reading what doesn’t agree with them, but Obama and all the other US leaders have made crystal clear that the arms and training will be to defeat ISIS *and not the regime*.

Of course, once again the left agrees that it is better to fight ISIS than the regime. But since “the left” hates the FSA worse than either ISIS or the regime, they have to find a spanner in the works. Since they have slandered the FSA since Day 1 as “US-backed jihadists,” they jump at both the proposed US arming of some FSA units, and this alleged truce between some other FSA units and ISIS, somehow without realising that these are totally contradictory positions, which relate to completely different FSA units, which make their “US-backed jihadist” theory of the FSA positively UFOish.

They think they have a difference with the imperialists here because imperialism has supposedly found at least some FSA moderates to arm against ISIS, whereas “the left” prides itself on being even more essentialist, racist and Islamophobic than the imperialists: they “know” there are, and can be, zero moderate FSA rebels. In reality, the difference is tiny: the reason the US is proposing to arm and train such tiny numbers is precisely because for the most part, regarding the great bulk of the FSA, imperialist strategists are on the same page as “the left.”

A few important quotes here. First on the size of the vetted Sawha:

“Rough estimates, presented by military officials to key congressional committees in closed-door briefings last week, called for using $500 million to train a *2,300-man force*—*less than the size of a single brigade*—over an 18-month period that probably *won’t begin until next year*, according to officials” (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB40001424052702304223004580033052289746586?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB40001424052702304223004580033052289746586.html).

There you go, a 2,300 man force, so not the 60,000 strong FSA. The bill that finally came through suggests 5000, though, as we will see below, this seems unlikely. But even the bigger figure leaves rather a lot of FSA that do not get US arms or training, some of whom may form the odd truce with ISIS if necessary, or, more likely, will not, and may continue fighting on two fronts without help from the US etc.

If $500 million sounds like a lot of money to arm a mere 2300-5000 rebels, it is: the point is, it is mostly about “training” rather than “arming.” The FSA, of course, says it has been on the battlefield 3 years, they need arms, not “training” (http://news.yahoo.com/syrias-moderate-rebels-weapons-not-training-094000772.html), while others that have done some of this “training” report that they learnt nothing they didn’t know; rather, the US officers “just wanted to see us, see what our thinking is” (http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-harakat-hazm-20140907-story.html#page=1).

But when the US pays its military “consultants” to do “training” in a distant and “hostile” part of the world, how much does it pay? Think about it? $15,000 a month? Hard to imagine less. So how many “consultants” would you need over 18 months to “train” 5000 fighters, plus their accommodation, transport and everything else “consultants” get – yes, the “training” money can be used.

Second quote, about the aim:

“Pentagon and State Department officials told key congressional committees that the purpose of the military-led training-and-arming effort would be limited to enabling the moderate opposition to hold the ground it now controls and to *fight against extremists*, rather than to enable the moderates to mount offensive operations against the Assad regime, according to officials” (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB40001424052702304223004580033052289746586?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB40001424052702304223004580033052289746586.html).

As former US ambassador Robert Ford explained recently, “One prominent American observer says it is folly to think that we can aid the moderate armed fighters to topple al-Assad. *But toppling wasn’t our goal before and shouldn’t be now*.” Certainly, extra arms can help the opposition “put pressure” on Assad to form a “new” expanded government, like just happened in Iraq, whose first aim would be to expel ISIS from Syria, so therefore “as we boost aid to the moderate armed rebels, we must condition that help on their reaching out to disaffected regime supporters and developing with them a common political stance for a new, negotiated national unity government, **with or without al-Assad**” (my emphasis) (http://us.cnn.com/2014/08/26/opinion/ford-isis-syria/index.html?sr=sharebar_twitter).

In other words, while Obama long ago called on Assad to “step down” (this is the sole basis on which leftists imagine Obama called for “regime change”) in order to preserve his regime and state in a “Yemeni solution,” Ford is here making clear that if it could be negotiated, a “national unity government” would be fine even *with* Assad.

Over on marxmail, one poster, Ron Jacobs, sent a message that claimed that once those favoured by the US start getting arms, they will become puppets and do whatever the US wants them to. That is of course debatable; given the numbers are small and they are highly “vetted” anyway, this may, or may not, be true. But the curious thing was that he didn’t seem to understand that he was totally contradicting himself when he then sent another message with this false news of the non-aggression pact between certain FSA units and ISIS near Damascus.

Let’s see – the US is at war with ISIS, not Assad; the US aims to train and arm a small group to fight ISIS, not Assad; then a group of FSA brigades allegedly sign a truce with ISIS. I’m sorry, but common logic tells you that this example indicates that these FSA groups would have been telling the US to get stuffed. They would precisely be not doing what they are told. But I’m not sure why leftists are just not getting this elementary logic. I’m sure its deliberate self-delusion. Possibly that was not Ron’s meaning, I can’t read his mind. But this illogic is definitely the explicit thinking of a lot of left commentators on this issue.

Of course there are other aspects here – just because 4 FSA groups were accused of signing a truce with ISIS, this does not mean that these 4 groups were among the small number of “vetted” groups that the US aims to arm and train – they are not.

A further point is that, while Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN) is the Syrian wing of al-Qaida and is certainly no likeable organisation – it is a sectarian organisation that the FSA has already had its own problems with and which it will no doubt have to deal with at a later time – it is also very, very different to ISIS. It does not lop off heads. It does not threaten minorities with genocide. It does not slaughter hundreds of POWS at a time. Throughout the entire past year, JaN has been fighting alongside the FSA and the Islamic Front and other soft-line Islamists against both the regime and ISIS. However, ever since late 2012, a key US war aim has been to turn the FSA into a “Sawha” against JaN (http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/americas-hidden-agenda-in-syrias-war), and even after its break with ISIS, the US continues to view JaN as, if anything, worse than ISIS, perhaps precisely because it really does focus on fighting the enemy rather than just slaughtering the wrong religion as part of a conservative state-building project (ie, ISIS). The US still insists on this; I don’t know how many noticed the UN resolution “against ISIS” was also explicitly directed against JaN! Totally sneaky, and in a Syrian context at this particular moment, counterrevolutionary.

One of the articles on the bogus FSA-ISIS truce quotes SRF leader Jamal Maarouf saying that he would not fight Al-Qaeda as it was not his problem and that he would welcome “anyone who fights against the regime inside Syria” (http://rt.com/news/187580-isis-deal-syrian-rebels). Of course, the article pretends he is talking about ISIS. But this quote was from earlier this year, precisely when the SRF was the leader of the war on ISIS and drove it right out of Idlib and Hama. It is therefore obvious he was referring to actual al-Qaida, ie, JaN. So who would have asked him to fight JaN in exchange for arms, that this refusal refers to? Obviously, the US. As a result of which, he got no arms. And is therefore no US puppet. Yet as the only force that has actually driven ISIS back from anywhere in Syria or Iraq in the last year, also no jihadist. That’s why, I guess, “leftists” would probably insist that Maarouf and his SRF are a bunch of “US-backed jihadists.”