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Forget Trump’s Twitter Posts, the U.S. Is Using al-Qaeda as a Proxy Army in Syria

Amid distractions from Trump’s Twitter account and the media’s concerns regarding whether or not he fully understands how NATO works, al-Qaeda has been busy in Syria over the past few weeks. According to the Guardian, fierce clashes broke out in the Syrian capital of Damascus on March 19, as “insurgents” infiltrated government-held parts of the city through tunnels.

Unsurprisingly, the relevant Guardian article was entitled “Clashes in Damascus after rebels tunnel into government-held areas.” However, a closer look at this story presents a very disturbing picture of America’s foreign policy and the corporate media’s complicity in allowing atrocities to go under-reported.

As the Guardian notes further down in its report, the rebels involved included the “ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham rebel faction”; “[T]he Levant Liberation Committee (LLC), a group linked to al-Qaida”; and the “independent Failaq al-Rahman faction.” All of these groups are al-Qaeda affiliates, and if they were burrowing tunnels overnight in New York, you can bet the media would not be presenting them as insurgents or “rebels.”

Of course, one could argue that some of these groups have allegedly broken ties with certain designated terrorist organizations, but that wouldn’t change the fact that they are almost ideologically identical. In 2015, a think tank founded by Tony Blair concluded in a report that it was pointless to distinguish between the various rebel groups as the majority of them shared ISIS’ core belief system and were intent on establishing sharia law. Further, the report found that the groups are indistinguishable on the ground as they all work together in conducting operations. The various groups may no longer get along with ISIS. They may have different names and leaders. But they pose the same threat to the Syrian state that ISIS does.

Essentially, there are two major issues with this particular narrative the mass media is promulgating. First, the media still insists on referring to these groups as mere rebel groups despite their clear links to al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Second, the corporate media largely ignores the fact that these same al-Qaeda-linked fanatics are attacking the Syrian state using American-made and supplied weaponry. Illustrating both of these points, Alternet’s Ben Norton notes:

“In her coverage of the assault on Damascus, the Washington Post’s Liz Sly provided a prime example of how this media whitewashing works: Sly did not even mention Tahrir al-Sham’s links to al-Qaeda, referring to the group simple as “extreme.” She also described a U.S.-vetted FSA faction that was fighting alongside rebranded al-Qaeda, Faylaq al-Rahman, as ‘moderate.’

“Another disturbing development that has been virtually ignored by U.S. mainstream media are the videos of Tahrir al-Sham and the FSA-affiliated Jaish al-Izza, which is fighting alongside rebranded al-Qaeda in the Hama offensive, attacking the Syrian army with TOW anti-tank missiles, which were manufactured by the American weapons company Raytheon and supplied to CIA-vetted rebels.” [emphasis added]

One cannot realistically talk about the war on terror without taking into account the fact that when it suits Western foreign policy goals, terrorist groups are incredibly useful. In that context, every time world leaders denounce a terror attack, we should be incredibly suspicious of the motives underlying their concerns. Norton brilliantly captures this hypocritical paradigm in his report, stating:

“Western media outlets have consistently treated Jabhat al-Nusra, in its various rebranded forms, differently than other branches of al-Qaeda, as it happens to be attacking Western enemies: the Syrian government and its allies Iran, Hezbollah and Russia.

Most disturbing, however, is the fact that the U.S. not only supports existing terror structures but also actively creates them in the first place. In 2015, the Washington Post reported that the CIA’s budget for training Syrian rebels was at least $1 billion a year. In 2016, the New York Times reported that the CIA provides most of the training to Syrian rebels but relies mostly on Saudi funding for these operations. This majority Saudi funding comes on top of the $1 billion a year the CIA has already been spending on training rebels to fight in Syria.

And what are these rebels being trained to do? According to a report by PBS, the CIA was training these rebels to ambush soldiers, retrieve munitions, and then finish off wounded soldiers who were still alive: an apparent war crime and terrorist tactic. The continued U.S. programs to arm terrorists have led lawmakers Tulsi Gabbard and Rand Paul to introduce legislation calling on the government to cease its practices.

Regardless of one’s thoughts on Syria, Russia, and Iran, if there is a government that could refrain from responding violently to these types of terrorist groups ransacking its territory, we have certainly never seen one. American authorities already respond violently to unarmed homeless people, executing them in broad daylight. Imagine how the U.S. would respond to groups of this kind pursuing an “insurgency” on American soil.

Darius Shahtahmasebi
Darius Shahtahmasebi is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst, currently specializing in immigration, refugee and humanitarian law. Contact Darius: Support Darius' work on Patreon:

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