Nusra Front self-sustaining after seizing control of key Syrian city
posted at 7:01 pm on September 12, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
That’s Jabhat al-Nusra, which declared its allegiance to al-Qaeda earlier this year after the US listed it as a terrorist-network affiliate in December 2012. They are the most effective fighting force among the rebels in Syria, and one of the most insistent on imposing shari’a law on the conquered. That includes Ash Shaddadi, McClatchy reports, which gives the Nusra Front access to enough oil and gas revenue to sustain their entire war effort:
Sitting at the edge of a vast and barren desert in Syria’s gas and oil production region, Ash Shaddadi, a city of 70,000, has become the nightmare that many fear if Syria’s radical Islamist forces triumph in this country’s civil war.
Since mid-February, the city has been under the control of the radical Islamist militia known as Jabhat al Nusra, or the Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to al Qaida. The spoils of conquest include much of eastern Syria’s petroleum resources: a major natural gas plant here, many oil wells in the countryside of Deir el Zour province to the south and much of the production of grains and cotton.
Nusra, which the U.S. government has branded a terrorist organization, captured Ash Shaddadi from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad with the help of the pro-Western Free Syrian Army rebels. But the better-equipped Nusra – many of its fighters veterans of battles against U.S. forces in Iraq – took the lead in the four days of fighting, capturing weapons, ammunition and government property.
Today Nusra runs the town. It controls the grain silos, the cotton warehouses, and most important the region’s gas and oil output. Yet the biggest windfall from victory may have been the proceeds from the sale of some 400 major construction vehicles, which they captured when they overran state facilities in January. The sale of the equipment netted 4 billion Syrian pounds, almost $40 million at the time, according to local Free Syrian Army commanders.
Townspeople have taken to the streets repeatedly to protest Nusra’s inability to provide basic services and its claim to piety and religious values while it seizes public property for use as it sees fit. But the protests haven’t shaken Nusra’s hold on the area, and because Nusra is self-sufficient in Ash Shaddadi, its fighters say there’s no way for outsiders to shut down support.
Be sure to read it all, especially while keeping in mind the argument that American involvement now can dictate a moderate alliance to replace Bashar al-Assad after regime change. It didn’t take Nusra Front long to push out the “moderates,” nor to choose its next enemy in the field — and it’s not Assad:
With Assad’s forces ousted from the area, the United States is their primary foe, Nusra fighters say.
“America is our enemy. They must get out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt, and they must put pressure on Israel,” said Abu al Walid, 21, a student of petroleum engineering who’s now guarding the Ash Shaddadi gas plant.