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About six months ago, U.S. intelligence officers in Jordan told Syrian rebel commanders that the opposition should fight radical rebel group Jabhat al Nusra before fighting Syria’s army, a commander present at the meeting told Phil Sands of The National.
“We’d prefer you fight al Nusra now, and then fight Assad’s army,” The Syrian commander said he was told. “You should kill these Nusra people. We’ll do it if you don’t.”
America has not acknowledged such an action or commented on the report, but the notion is plausible.
The U.S. has officially provided non-lethal aid and humanitarian assistance to rebels, while expressing reluctance about greater military entanglements in the 26-month-old conflict.
Unofficially, the CIA is reportedly working with elite counterterrorism units in Iraq, funneling U.S.-made weapons to Syrian rebels from southern Turkey, feeding intelligence to moderate rebels, training rebels in Jordan to safeguard chemical weapons and potentially to establish a buffer zone along Syria’s southern border, and scoping out targets for potential drone strikes inside Syria.
West powers have been wary of providing sophisticated weapons out of fear that Nusra, which has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, could get a hold of them.
“The last thing anyone wants to see is al-Qaeda gaining a foothold in southern Syria next to Israel,” an unnamed U.S. diplomat in Jordan told The Washington Post. “That is a doomsday scenario.”
According to the Syrian commander who spoke to Sands, six months ago the U.S. intelligence officer said America “can train 30 of your fighters a month, and we want you to fight Al Nusra.”
The glaring problem with that idea, if true, is that members of the poorly-equipped and fractured Free Syrian Army (FSA) continue to defect to Nusra — which has long been the opposition’s most effective, most organized, and best-equipped fighters.
“Fighters are heading to al-Nusra because of its Islamic doctrine, sincerity, good funding and advanced weapons,” FSA fighter Abu Islam told The Guardian.
Another obvious problem with rebel infighting is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has regained the upper hand in the war with a blistering counteroffensive.
Lastly, if the FSA turns on Nusra, they are playing into Assad’s hand.
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