So that explains that mysterious BuzzFeed report yesterday about the U.S. abruptly halting non-lethal aid to northern Syria. BF noted that jihadi rebels had overrun several Free Syrian Army installations near the Turkish border, including an HQ and some warehouses, but it wasn’t instantly clear why losing those facilitate would require suspending aid to the entire northern part of the country.
Now it’s clear. They weren’t just any buildings, they were the headquarters of the FSA’s top officer — and America’s man in Syria — Gen. Idris. The FSA has now deteriorated to the point where they can’t protect their commander on their own turf. Thus, presumably, ends the White House’s dream of building a “moderate” Sunni counterweight to the Nusra Front in Syria.
Salim Idris, the top Syrian rebel commander supported by the West, was run out of his headquarters in northern Syria over the weekend and fled to Turkey and then Doha after Islamist fighters took over facilities run by Western-backed opposition, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The Obama administration is still trying to determine the circumstances under which Islamist fighters in a group called the Islamic Front took over warehouses and offices belonged to the Supreme Military Council, or SMC, the moderate rebel umbrella group that coordinates U.S. aid distribution, officials said.
“He fled as a result of the Islamic Front taking over his headquarters,” a senior U.S. official said.
The U.S. is urging Gen. Idris, who left Syria for Turkey then Doha over the weekend, to return to Syria, the officials said.
The U.S. has supplied him with only small arms so far, or so we’re told. I guess we’ll wait to see what goodies from the warehouse the jihadi rebels start parading around with on the inevitable cell-phone YouTube vids to come. If you’re unfamiliar with Gen. Idris, he’s the guy who’s name-checked in every soundbite from McCain as the man who could make Syria safe for democracy if only we’d give him the resources he needs to win. And if you’re expecting Maverick to back off from that now, think again: The beauty of his brand of super-interventionism is that setbacks can always be blamed on America’s failure to intervene more aggressively. The lesson here isn’t that Idris is an unreliable or incompetent commander, overrun in his own HQ and then so reluctant to return that he needs the White House to beg him to come back. The lesson is that we should have armed him to the teeth ages ago, before jihadis began to dominate the rebel side. Whichever way you come out on that, though, the window for doing so now has clearly closed. Which means our choices in Syria at the moment are backing Al Qaeda or Iran’s boy Assad.
Semi-serious question: Are we now officially neutral? Or are we actually, if tacitly, pro-Assad? He’s been kinda sorta complying with demands that he give up his chemical weapons, for whatever that’s worth, and we’ve committed to six months of dialogue with his patrons. If, miraculously, Iran agrees to some comprehensive nuclear deal, it’s a cinch that our efforts to oust their man in Damascus are over. That’s why, I assume, the U.S. is nervous about Idris bugging out: Even if he can’t win, simply having him in the field is a bit of leverage that could be conceded to Iran as part of a nuke bargain. If we’re willing to look the other way at Iranian ballistic missile tests, surely we’d be willing to pull the plug on Idris and the FSA. Now that he’s been run out of the country, Obama won’t have the chance.