US to increase aid to Syrian rebels after key group merges with al-Qaeda

posted at 12:01 pm on April 10, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

For some reason, American politicians in both parties want to see the US intervene to some extent in Syria’s civil war, even after the disastrous intervention in Libya that almost made Mali an al-Qaeda state.  Only a French military intervention prevented that outcome, and that may still only be temporary, but more on that in a minute.  The Associated Press reports that the Obama administration will increase “non-lethal” aid to Syrian rebels in the near future, although the timing is still murky:

The Obama administration’s next step in aid to Syrian rebels is expected to be a broader package of nonlethal assistance, including body armor and night-vision goggles, as the U.S. grapples for ways to stem the bloodshed from Syria’s civil war.

Administration officials say an announcement of the new aid is not imminent. But Secretary of StateJohn Kerry says the administration had been holding intense talks on how to boost assistance to the rebels fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“Those efforts have been very much front and center in our discussions in the last week in Washington,” Kerry said Tuesday, a day before meeting with Syrian opposition leaders in London. “I’m not sure what the schedule is, but I do believe that it’s important for us to try to continue to put the pressure on President Assad and to try to change his calculation.”

The United Nations estimates more than 70,000 people have been killed during more than two years of fighting between rebels and government forces.

Britain and France have already been shipping armor, night-vision goggles and other military-style equipment to the rebels.

Er, this isn’t “military-style” equipment.  It’s actual military equipment, and while it won’t kill anyone directly, its use isn’t for hunting squirrels and possum, either. The use of that equipment is intended to make the rebel forces more lethal, and its provision allows the rebels to use their existing funds on guns and artillery to pair up with all that non-lethal equipment.

And just who are the rebel forces fighting in Syria?  The most effective of them, Jabhat al-Nusra, just announced a merger with al-Qaeda in Iraq, the very forces we spent most of a decade fighting just across the border.  In fact, our partners in Baghdad are still fighting AQI:

The leader of an Islamic extremist rebel group in Syria pledged allegiance on Wednesday to al-Qaida and its leader for the first time.

Abu Mohammad al-Golani, head of Jabhat al-Nusra or the Nusra Front, confirmed his rebel group was tied to al-Qaida in Iraq in an audio message posted on militant websites.

Al-Qaida in Iraq said Tuesday it had joined forces with the Nusra Front — the most effective of a disparate patchwork of rebel groups fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. He said the new alliance would be called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

In my column for The Week, I marvel at the inability of both the Obama administration and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to learn a lesson from the results of the lightweight intervention in Libya:

Terrorist networks in eastern Libya, which had once provided al Qaeda in Iraq with thousands of suicidal recruits, had barely been controlled by Gadhafi; after his fall, they took over the entire area. Western nations, including our NATO partners, bailed out of the same Benghazi the intervention had been designed to protect, and the U.S. lost its consulate and four Americans to a terrorist attack there. The terrorist networks then turned their attention to neighboring Mali and sacked Timbuktu, forcing the French to stage a military intervention to keep al Qaeda from creating a terrorist state.

One might think that because of this, the doctrine of disengaged interventions had been completely discredited. Not so. The U.S. continues to mull over a replay of the Libya intervention in Syria, where the tyrant Bashar al-Assad is trying to retain his grip on power in the middle of a civil war. Politicians in both parties have urged President Obama to arm the rebels, fund the opposition, and/or impose no-fly zones to cripple Assad’s military capabilities.

Once again, however, this intervention would end up benefiting the same enemies we have fought since 9/11 — al Qaeda and its affiliates. The leading militia in the Syrian opposition is Jabhat al-Nusra, which the State Department belatedly added to its list of terrorist organizations last year. The Nusra Front has been imposing strict shari’a law every place it “liberates,” as The Washington Post reported three weeks ago. This week, Jabhat al-Nusra made it official by declaring a merger with al Qaeda in Iraq.

As I wrote yesterday, our “sovereign partner” in Iraq can’t believe the US still hasn’t learned its lesson about low-footprint interventions and terrorism:

In the same essay, Maliki marveled at how the U.S. could possibly consider siding with the Syrian opposition when the U.S. and Iraq are trying to stamp out its affiliates across the border. “We have been mystified by what appears to be the widespread belief in the United States that any outcome in Syria that removes President Bashar al-Assad from power will be better than the status quo,” Maliki wrote. “A Syria controlled in whole or part by al Qaeda and its affiliates — an outcome that grows more likely by the day — would be more dangerous to both our countries than anything we’ve seen up to now.” To press his point, Maliki pointed to another minimal-footprint intervention of a generation earlier. “Americans should remember,” Maliki warned, “that an unintended consequence of arming insurgents in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets was turning the country over to the Taliban and al Qaeda.”

Assad is a brutal dictator, no question — but will a rebellion led by al-Qaeda be a better replacement?  Maybe we should answer that before dropping “military-style” equipment that will make AQ more effective.


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The Smartest Smart Power in the world.

I eagerly await the antiwar marches and giant paper-mache heads being carried throughout the streets as sensitive liberals decry this horrid involvement of the U.S. in the domestic affairs of a sovereign, foreign nation.

Bishop on April 10, 2013 at 12:04 PM

For some reason, American politicians in both parties want to see the US intervene to some extent in Syria’s civil war

Wah Wah… Dooooooo something….

Pffttt… if America doesn’t want to nation build then be prepared to sit back and watch the slaughter. We tried half-arsed, and that’s what we got.

rhombus on April 10, 2013 at 12:06 PM

“Time, time, time
For another peaceful war.”
Warren Zevon

Obama just has to have his fingers in everybody’s pie, doesn’t he? Liberals always say they oppose American imperialism and interventionism, but they always seem to get us involved. Is it now time to say they lie about that assertion, too?

Liam on April 10, 2013 at 12:11 PM

I only caught part of it, early this morning – but Frontline had a show about the Syrian rebels.

And the situation was as you would expect – FUBAR.

OhEssYouCowboys on April 10, 2013 at 12:12 PM

Maybe we should answer that before dropping “military-style” equipment that will make AQ more effective.

We already know the answer; the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam

dmann on April 10, 2013 at 12:13 PM

Biden’s New World Order?

workingclass artist on April 10, 2013 at 12:13 PM

All weapons come with a the Nobel Committee’s official stamp of approval. When you are blown to chunks by one of the mortar shells you can rest assured that you were blown to chunks with love, compassion, understanding, and tolerance.

Bishop on April 10, 2013 at 12:14 PM

Pffttt… if America doesn’t want to nation build then be prepared to sit back and watch the slaughter. We tried half-arsed, and that’s what we got.

rhombus on April 10, 2013 at 12:06 PM

I don’t have a problem with Syrians exterminating each other. Do you?

Archivarix on April 10, 2013 at 12:15 PM

Liberals always say they oppose American imperialism and interventionism, but they always seem to get us involve

Ah, they are okay with imperialism and interventionism when its them that to it, because their reasons are pure and not driven by greed and lust for dominating the world by use of our power and might.

/s

hawkeye54 on April 10, 2013 at 12:16 PM

All weapons come with a the Nobel Committee’s official stamp of approval. When you are blown to chunks by one of the mortar shells you can rest assured that you were blown to chunks with love, compassion, understanding, and tolerance.

Bishop on April 10, 2013 at 12:14 PM

And so goes my mouthful of tea. That heads straight to my mail list…

Archivarix on April 10, 2013 at 12:16 PM

Seems to me the blood bath will continue in any event. At this point all we can do is exert some minor influence on which faction gets the most casualties.

The end result will be unfavorable either way.

This one will go down in history as losing from behind.

Curtiss on April 10, 2013 at 12:16 PM

*shaking the head*

cmsinaz on April 10, 2013 at 12:17 PM

I say we supply arms to both sides. If they want to exterminate each other, go for it.

Just like I have no problems sending arms to Hamas and the PLO, as long as they are fighting each other. Blue on Blue is fine with me.

It’s one reason why the Iran-Iraq war was one of those “can’t they both win” wars.

Vanceone on April 10, 2013 at 12:18 PM

When does Obama start calling out morning prayers and points to Mecca.

Oil Can on April 10, 2013 at 12:19 PM

All weapons come with a the Nobel Committee’s official stamp of approval. When you are blown to chunks by one of the mortar shells you can rest assured that you were blown to chunks with love, compassion, understanding, and tolerance.

Bishop on April 10, 2013 at 12:14 PM

#caring.

Curtiss on April 10, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Hot Air’s choice of picture does make Kerry look a little goofy, but really you should be using this.

Fenris on April 10, 2013 at 12:20 PM

Didn’t the Iraq study group recommend that we get in bed with Assad? Democrats and many Republicans were all for it then.

rhombus on April 10, 2013 at 12:22 PM

I say we supply arms to both sides. If they want to exterminate each other, go for it.
Vanceone on April 10, 2013 at 12:18 PM

And make a buck on the side while we’re at it. Gotta love me some capitalism!

Liam on April 10, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Hot Air’s choice of picture does make Kerry look a little goofy, but really you should be using this.

Fenris on April 10, 2013 at 12:20 PM

Is there any pic where Kerry doesn’t look goofy? I believe a picture is worth a thousand lies, so imagine him in the flesh. (if you dare!)

Liam on April 10, 2013 at 12:25 PM

Disengagement is not an option. Jabhat al-Nusra will get their weapons regardless of what we do. Most likely, they will get them from our “allies” in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The best we can do is arm the secular factions and help them win the second civil war.

BohicaTwentyTwo on April 10, 2013 at 12:29 PM

In fact, our partners in Baghdad are still fighting AQI:

Partners? Heh!

BL@KBIRD on April 10, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Disengagement is not an option. Jabhat al-Nusra will get their weapons regardless of what we do. Most likely, they will get them from our “allies” in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The best we can do is arm the secular factions and help them win the second civil war.

BohicaTwentyTwo on April 10, 2013 at 12:29 PM

Have you been drinking pure fluoride? First, we shouldn’t give a flying rat’s arse if one fraction in Syria obliterates another, as the world will be so much better without either. Second, we should at least sell the weapons for, you know, cash, instead of handing them out like cheap Halloween candy. And third, the fraction Ogabe showers with gifts is actually the religious one.

Archivarix on April 10, 2013 at 12:35 PM

The best we can do is arm the secular factions and help them win the second civil war.

BohicaTwentyTwo on April 10, 2013 at 12:29 PM

I have to disagree. The best we can and should do is stay out of it. All my life, America has been the world’s ‘police force’, most often when a situation didn’t involve national security.

I believe as George Washington said (paraphrasing): Avoid treaties and stay out of foreign entanglements.

Liam on April 10, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Liam on April 10, 2013 at 12:25 PM

More like an elitist bastard I’d say.

Fenris on April 10, 2013 at 12:37 PM

Looks like Kerry is going to outdo Hillary in incompetence. Aiding those folks is wrong on so many levels. This is one.

jake49 on April 10, 2013 at 12:41 PM

The best thing we can do is let them fight to a stalemate while gathering intelligence on who the players are on the rebel side.

Wigglesworth on April 10, 2013 at 12:43 PM

We already know the answer; the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam dmann on April 10, 2013 at 12:13 PM

In hell, Mao is sitting on Mohammed’s shoulders farting incessantly.

Akzed on April 10, 2013 at 12:45 PM

I marvel at the inability of some people to not understand the islamization of these countries is exactly the goal of the Democrat Party. In exchange Muslims will come to the US by the millions and vote Democrat.

GardenGnome on April 10, 2013 at 12:52 PM

Liam on April 10, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Not backing anyone guarantees Sryia becomes another Afghanistan, which turned out to definitely be in our national interest in 2001. Its hard to beat out George Washington, but I’ll try. Paraphrasing Rush, by choosing not to decide, you have still made a choice.

BohicaTwentyTwo on April 10, 2013 at 12:57 PM

Hmmm…Obama got started in 2004 when he called our invasion of Iraq stupid, and he claimed to have “judgment to lead” us out of Iraq in 2008. Ironically, the elected Prime Minister of Iraq is now telling Obama to stay out of Syria, and Smart-Power Obama blunders in on the side of Al Qaeda, just like he did in Libya. Maliki has no love for Assad, the Baathist former ally of Saddam Hussein, but he probably knows that an Al Qaeda-supported government in Syria would be a much bigger problem than Assad.

Let’s face it, neither side of the Syrian conflict is a friend of the United States or Israel, so why not stay out and let both sides weaken each other? The only “friends” we have that can be affected by a Syrian civil war are the Christians in Lebanon, and if the Syrian army is preoccupied with a rebellion at home, that gives them more freedom.

But we must give John Kerry credit where credit is due–he had some ideas about what to do with Al Qaeda rebels in Syria. Something about attaching jumper cables to genitals and turning on the power?

Steve Z on April 10, 2013 at 1:00 PM

Not backing anyone guarantees Sryia becomes another Afghanistan, which turned out to definitely be in our national interest in 2001. Its hard to beat out George Washington, but I’ll try. Paraphrasing Rush, by choosing not to decide, you have still made a choice.

BohicaTwentyTwo on April 10, 2013 at 12:57 PM

I understand what you mean, and don’t argue your point.

My particular view is, if there is no direct threat to the United States, stay out of it. Let the world — other countries — do as they will. I believe our concerns should center on only our United States.

Liam on April 10, 2013 at 1:05 PM

I marvel at the inability of some people to not understand the islamization of these countries is exactly the goal of the Democrat Party. In exchange Muslims will come to the US by the millions and vote Democrat.

Don’t you understand? Judeo-Christian ideology has been the root of our nation’s power and world domination and is morally judgmental and intolerant which is bad.

Islamic ideology, or any other religious ideology, has been the victim of Christian colonial power, capitalistic greed and domination, thus deserve reparation and welcomed in to share in the redistribution of our wealth and to make up for the abuses suffered at our hands.

Our Christian values and teachings must be diluted through diversity so no one faith so powerfully influences our politics and government

/s

hawkeye54 on April 10, 2013 at 1:08 PM

I marvel at the inability of some people to not understand the islamization of these countries is exactly the goal of the Democrat Party. In exchange Muslims will come to the US by the millions and vote Democrat.

GardenGnome on April 10, 2013 at 12:52 PM

More precisely, it will be an authentic, native ,mystical regime’ which will point the way to true enlightenment for all of us in the evil, materialistic West.

Obama & Co. have been swooning over everything east of Suez since the Beatles went to India to kiss the Maharishi’s ring. They either do not understand the difference between such things a Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, or else they are just so reflexively hostile to anything they perceive as “Western” and “civilized” that they simply do not care. If arming al-Qaeda brings the end of Western culture a step closer, they will do it.

They see themselves ruling a Utopia in which all decisions are made based on “feelings”, where everyone lives “close to the soil”, and man’s ambition does not extend past his next meal. (Extra points if you know where that last line came from.) To them, Eastern mysticism is the wave of the future- a future they expect to look a lot like the world might if the Greeks had lost at Salamis and Plataea. I suspect they deeply resent the fact that the Greeks didn’t lose, much as Plato did. (He also wanted a world run by “enlightened intellectuals” with absolute power- like himself.)

The only thing that surprises me about this situation is that it’s taken this long for The One and his witless minions to openly admit they are getting in bed with the very people we’ve been fighting for over twenty years (going back to the first WTC attack with a truck bomb).

It’s just one more example of The One’s philosophy of,

My friends are not the same as yours. And I don’t much like yours. Or you either.

clear ether

eon

eon on April 10, 2013 at 1:21 PM

Stupid sob’s…. I can’t believe we pay them anything……..

ultracon on April 10, 2013 at 1:22 PM

And make a buck on the side while we’re at it. Gotta love me some capitalism!

Liam

Only problem is we’d probably borrow the money from China, and then give it to both sides so they could then use it to buy weapons from us.

xblade on April 10, 2013 at 1:28 PM

Not backing anyone guarantees Sryia becomes another Afghanistan, which turned out to definitely be in our national interest in 2001.

BohicaTwentyTwo

It doesn’t guarantee anything. But if we must back someone, I’d prefer not backing the people who killed thousands of Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, and who we are currently fighting against in multiple other countries.

Its hard to beat out George Washington, but I’ll try. Paraphrasing Rush, by choosing not to decide, you have still made a choice.

BohicaTwentyTwo

Which doesn’t really say anything about the issue at hand. And deciding to back neither is actually a decision….and probably the right one in this case.

xblade on April 10, 2013 at 1:43 PM

if America doesn’t want to nation build then be prepared to sit back and watch the slaughter. We tried half-arsed, and that’s what we got.

rhombus on April 10, 2013 at 12:06 PM

If you are so into nation building, why not buy an AK-47 and go to Syria. And don’t forget to take Bill Kristol, John McCain and Miss Lucy with you.

bw222 on April 10, 2013 at 2:03 PM

“Jabahat Al Nusra” has been an Al Qaeda terrorist Frenchise all along and in fact they have been on the US list of terrorist organizations for a while. Nothing new here…
In Syria it is the ultimate scenario of Evil fighting Evil…

mnjg on April 10, 2013 at 2:49 PM

The problem with Lybia is that obama didn’t help train lybian security to take control after gadhahfi was defeated. Ed forgets the lessons of afghanistan that ignoring a conflict doesn’t prevent al qaida from setting up bases in a country to use for attacking us. The longer that no one is in control in syria the easier it is for al qaida to take advantage to setup bases inside the country.

philrat on April 10, 2013 at 5:21 PM