Reuters: Kerry’s sunny estimate of Syrian opposition not backed up by intelligence

posted at 9:21 am on September 5, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

John Kerry has come to Capitol Hill to deliver the hard-sell on war against Bashar al-Assad, but Reuters reports that his supporting data is rather suspect.  Kerry insists, as does John McCain, that the Free Syrian Army controls the opposition in Syria and that radical Islamist elements comprise only a small percentage of rebel fighting units.  However, intelligence from US and European agencies put the radical Islamists near parity in numbers, and far more in control than Kerry and the Obama administration acknowledge:

Secretary of State John Kerry’s public assertions that moderate Syrian opposition groups are growing in influence appear to be at odds with estimates by U.S. and European intelligence sources and nongovernmental experts, who say Islamic extremists remain by far the fiercest and best-organized rebel elements. …

U.S. and allied intelligence sources and private experts on the Syrian conflict suggest that assessment is optimistic.

While the radical Islamists among the rebels may not be numerically superior to more moderate fighters, they say, Islamist groups like the al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front are better organized, armed and trained.

Kerry insists that FSA’s General Salim Idriss has control, and the opposition is even holding elections for its leaders:

Kerry replied: “I just don’t agree that a majority are al Qaeda and the bad guys. That’s not true. There are about 70,000 to 100,000 oppositionists … Maybe 15 percent to 25 percent might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys.

“There is a real moderate opposition that exists. General Idriss is running the military arm of that,” Kerry continued, referring to General Salim Idriss, head of the rebel Free Syrian Army. Increasingly, he said, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are funneling assistance through Idriss.

According to Foreign Policy, though — hardly a conservative mouthpiece on foreign affairs — Idriss’ grasp on the opposition is crumbling, and may have been ephemeral all along.  Instead, his commanders have suddenly developed a taste for working with the elements that Kerry insists are too small to matter:

As the United States moves closer to taking military action against the Syrian government, the leadership of the mainstream armed opposition force has chosen a curious time to appear to be on the verge of unraveling. Known generically as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), this assortment of mostly secular defecting Sunni Arab officers and mostly Islamist volunteers has attempted several reorganizations. The most recent of these is now seriously threatened by a resignation threat from senior commanders. …

On August 22, four of the five front commanders threatened to resign from the SMC, promising to break “red lines” and work “with all forces fighting in Syria,” a clear reference to the war’s growing Salafist-Jihadist contingent. The statement was read by Colonel Fatih Hasun, who is the commander of the SMC’s Homs Front and the deputy chief-of-staff, that is to say, Idriss’s deputy and the most senior officer inside the country. Hasun added that rebels would no longer respect demands by outside powers that they not attempt to take over government-controlled chemical weapons sites. In addition to demanding action in response to the government’s use of chemical weapons in Damascus, Hasun also demanded better weapons and said they were tiring of the “false promises of those who call themselves Friends of Syria.”

While the resignation seemed tentative, Hasun was less equivocal about the other red line — the opposition’s Salafist-Jihadist groups, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) — both of which the United States has designated as terrorist entities linked to al Qaeda. Directly behind Hasun on the wall was an Islamic flag, with a pre-Assad Syria FSA flag draped to the side, a nod perhaps to the Salafists. Sitting to his right was a bearded cleric in Salafist garb. He directly stated, “we call upon all” FSA units to work with all others fighting the regime. Adding insult to injury, on August 25 Muhammad Tabnaja, field commander in Latakia for the Ahfad al-Faruq Brigade in Latakia, resigned citing the lack of support from the SMC.

If Idriss is in control and opposed to the radical Islamist elements, he would have acted forcefully to put down this rebellion within the rebellion. In the event, though, Idriss apparently couldn’t do anything:

Most telling is what happened when the SMC’s decision removing Akaydi was announced. Akaydi ignored it, then after brigade-level commanders within the AMC rejected the decision, he did an interview in which he mocked the SMC as made up of people “who are into travel and hotels and have no connection to what is happening on the ground.” He did clear Idriss of involvement, however, and Idriss promptly apologized to Akaydi and then traveled to Aleppo to meet with him and praise him. …

Idriss responded to Hasun’s threatened resignation by saying he “rejected” it, as if he had the power to do so.

Is the White House following the intelligence of its own agencies and that of its allies?  Is it even following the public events that demonstrate the lack of effectiveness in the FSA and the rise of al-Qaeda-affiliated leadership in the Syrian rebellion?  Or are they just so concerned about preventing Barack Obama’s humiliation that they don’t care?

Addendum: The New York Times offers a profile of one group that illustrates the problem of choosing sides in this fight:

At first, people who know Mr. Issa said, he was a protester, and then he led fighters in small skirmishes. By last year he was running a training camp in the highlands near Turkey.

By this year, the aide said, he was gathering weapons from relatives and Arab businessmen he knew from his work as a trader and, at least once, from the Western-supported Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, the rebel forces.

(Two representatives of the military council declined to comment on the council’s military collaboration or logistical support for Mr. Issa’s group. Mr. Issa could not be reached for comment over two days this week.)

By the spring, his group had taken a resonant name: Jund al-Sham, which it shares with three international terrorist groups, and another group in Syria.

Its relationship — if any — with these other groups is not clear.

Mr. Issa’s former aide and two other men who have met or investigated him said he appears to assume identities of convenience.

But, they said, one of his tactics has been to promise to his fighters what he calls “the extermination” of Alawites — the minority Islamic sect to which the Assad family belongs, and which Mr. Issa blames for Syria’s suffering.

“The Uncle,” as Issa is known, and his group released a celebratory video last week of the execution of seven prisoners they had captured, along with The Uncle’s poem pledging revenge on all Alawites.


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Comment pages: 1 2

Over Bmore, plus this

Putin and obama are thugs of the world.

Putin is respected.

This is a true story. The two were at a gathering a while ago and the gym had only so many machines. Putin got there when obama had already taken the last one.

Putin to the media “follow me”. He went into icy cold water, with ice all around, swimming, cameras all on him…

Imagine this of weasely eunuch obama…never…the bully Putin beats him every time, then asks for obama to pay for lunch.

Schadenfreude on September 5, 2013 at 11:57 AM

Infant Innocence by A.E. Housman, modified for today:

“The grizzly Russian bear is huge and wild,
He has devoured the infant child,
The infant child is not aware
It has been eaten by the bear.”

Schadenfreude on September 5, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Kerry’s sunny estimate of Syrian opposition not backed up by intelligence

Some call it lying.

“This was very unpleasant and surprising for me. We talk to them (the Americans) and we assume they are decent people, but he is lying and he knows that he is lying.”

petefrt on September 5, 2013 at 12:02 PM

Putin is right. He is a liar.

rjoco1 on September 5, 2013 at 12:02 PM

Putin and obama are thugs of the world.

Putin is respected.

…the bully Putin beats him every time, then asks for obama to pay for lunch.

Schadenfreude on September 5, 2013 at 11:57 AM

Bingo.

petefrt on September 5, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Why doesn’t anyone mention the Kurds? They already control their territory and are fighting against the Al Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front. Is it because a free Syrian Kurdish region is a threat to Obama’s buddy Erdogan or just because they are so pro-American?

Rancher on September 5, 2013 at 12:05 PM

Some call it lying.

Absolutely, it is.

And it’s not just Kerry, Senator Senile is also peddling this ‘spin’ whenever he can get in front of a camera.

This wasn’t the case when the Syrian Civil War escalated 18 months ago – and that was the time to embrace and assist the rebels. But at that time, Kerry and others were still calling Assad a ‘reformer’ and someone who they could / would work with. That was also about 75,000 dead ago…but none of that became a real issue until Obama’s red line that wasn’t Obama’s red line got crossed, and our feckless leader realized that he has no credibility.

Athos on September 5, 2013 at 12:18 PM

‘There’s no evidence that the Syrian rebels are affiliated with al-Qaeda. You’re just reading that tinfoil hat crap on the internet.’

– Bill O’Reilly, (paraphrased) last night

Man, I hope the biggest, bloody chicken in the world climbed on that pompous, arrogant ass’ face and laid a huge, gooey egg this morning.

Resist We Much on September 5, 2013 at 9:39 AM

Point of order; how could we tell the difference?

Steve Eggleston on September 5, 2013 at 10:07 AM

I wish someone would start a website called ‘Stupid Things Bill O’Reilly Said’.

slickwillie2001 on September 5, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Kerry replied: … There are about 70,000 to 100,000 oppositionists … Maybe 15 percent to 25 percent might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys.

So, 25,000 bad guys would be okay?

pain train on September 5, 2013 at 12:23 PM

It’s amazing that we have to look to Vlad the Impaler to do the work that the Republican House and the Media should be doing. Go Vlad!

RobertMN on September 5, 2013 at 10:46 AM

What’s even more amazing is that anyone on this site (who’s not a troll) would be rooting for Putin, but that’s where the Marxist-in-Chief has led us. That rat-eared, dog-eating, lying liar of a muslim turd. (Sorry, but I can’t say what I really feel about this POS, because I’d be banned for life.)

HiJack on September 5, 2013 at 11:27 AM

I wouldn’t say that I “root for poot”, but when Putin says the rebels did this and the REB says the rebels did that, I really don’t know who to believe.

This imbecile of a president has the same credibility as Putin, Assad, Snowden, or the UN, -take your pick.

slickwillie2001 on September 5, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Putin and obama are thugs of the world.

Putin is respected.

This is a true story. The two were at a gathering a while ago and the gym had only so many machines. Putin got there when obama had already taken the last one.

Putin to the media “follow me”. He went into icy cold water, with ice all around, swimming, cameras all on him…

Imagine this of weasely eunuch obama…never…the bully Putin beats him every time, then asks for obama to pay for lunch.

Schadenfreude on September 5, 2013 at 11:57 AM

funny…but sad…but also funny.

In the global d*ckwaggin’ contest…Our Preezy has to outsource a commission to find his and then get the media to wag it for him.

workingclass artist on September 5, 2013 at 12:25 PM

I wish someone would start a website called ‘Stupid Things Bill O’Reilly Said’.

slickwillie2001 on September 5, 2013 at 12:19 PM

They did.

Flange on September 5, 2013 at 12:27 PM

I wish someone would start a website called ‘Stupid Things Bill O’Reilly Said’.

slickwillie2001 on September 5, 2013 at 12:19 PM

This one’s close.

pain train on September 5, 2013 at 12:28 PM

Over Bmore, plus this

Putin and obama are thugs of the world.

Putin is respected.

This is a true story. The two were at a gathering a while ago and the gym had only so many machines. Putin got there when obama had already taken the last one.

Putin to the media “follow me”. He went into icy cold water, with ice all around, swimming, cameras all on him…

Imagine this of weasely eunuch obama…never…the bully Putin beats him every time, then asks for obama to pay for lunch.

Schadenfreude on September 5, 2013 at 11:57 AM

100% correct. The bully thug who commands the intl media, and the man child thug who used to command the media, but no more. A pair made in heaven, our planet should be grateful for its one if a kind political ‘elite’. We couldn’t have done better…

jimver on September 5, 2013 at 12:48 PM

Oh c’mon, who are you going to listen to – Kerry, a man who proved he is willing to lie to begin/further his own political career, or U.S. Intelligence?

easyt65 on September 5, 2013 at 1:43 PM

Our allies in action!

Dollayo on September 5, 2013 at 1:48 PM

John McCain in “Missing, Presumed Dead”

The goods on Kerry too.

Akzed on September 5, 2013 at 1:54 PM

Our allies in action!

Dollayo on September 5, 2013 at 1:48 PM

Yeah, but that’s downright depressing…here’s a more optimistic view of our allies :)…in a nuthsell, they are both Obama’s ‘allies’, heh, what could go wrong……

jimver on September 5, 2013 at 1:58 PM

What’s wrong with McCain? I’m very disappointed to see Flake’s name as a yes, it must be peer pressure or respect for McCain.

But McCain thinks we still have power and credibility and we don’t.

There is no credibility to save.

petunia on September 5, 2013 at 5:02 PM

Reuters: “Kerry’s sunny estimate of Syrian opposition not backed up by intelligence.”

Okay Reuters, name something that ever came out of John Kerry’s mouth that was backed up by intelligence!

drunyan8315 on September 6, 2013 at 3:43 PM

Nothing Kerry ever says or does is backed by inteliigence, because he has none.

bgoldman on September 7, 2013 at 11:36 PM

Comment pages: 1 2