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

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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