Terrorist Army Has Thrived Under US-NATO Foreign Policy and Sponsorship
Submitted by Nauman Sadiq
For the sake of argument, let me concede at the outset that it is a plausible fact that the US does not directly supports the Syrian militants, it only sets the broad policy framework and lets its client states in the region, like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey, do the actual financing, training and arming of the Syrian militants. For instance, although the US openly provides the American-made antitank (TOW) weapons to the Syrian rebels but it has strictly forbidden the aforementioned clients from providing anti-aircraft weapons (MANPADS) to the militants, because Israel frequently flies surveillance aircrafts and drones and occasionally carries out airstrikes in Syria and Lebanon and had such weapons fallen into the wrong hands, it could have become a long term threat to the Israeli Air Force. Lately, some anti-aircraft weapons from Gaddafi’s looted arsenal in Libya have made their way into the hands of the Syrian militants but during the initial years of the civil war there was an absolute prohibition on providing such weapons to the insurgents.
More to the point, the declassified Defense Intelligence Agency’s report  of 2012 that presaged the imminent rise of a Salafist principality in north-eastern Syria was not overlooked it was deliberately suppressed, not just the report but that view in general that a civil war in Syria will give birth to the radical Islamists, was forcefully stifled in the Western policy making circles under pressure from the Zionist lobbies. The Western powers were fully aware of the consequences of their actions in Syria but they kept pursuing the policy of financing, training, arming and internationally legitimizing the so-called “Syrian opposition” to weaken the Syrian regime and to neutralize the threat that its Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah, had posed to Israel’s regional security; a fact which the Israeli defense community realized for the first time during the 2006 Lebanon war during the course of which Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel. Those were only unguided rockets but it was a wakeup call for the Israeli military strategists that what will happen if Iran passed the guided missile technology to Hezbollah whose area of operations lies very close to the northern borders of Israel? The Western interest in the Syrian civil war is primarily about ensuring Israel’s regional security.
Sectarianism and the rise of Islamic State
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in August 2011 to April 2013, Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front were a single organization that chose the banner of “Jabhat al Nusra.” Although, the current Al-Nusra Front is led by Abu Mohammad al Julani but he was appointed as the Emir of Al-Nusra Front by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, in January 2012. The current Al-Nusra Front is only a splinter group of Islamic State which split away from its parent organization in April 2013 over a dispute between the leaders of two organizations. Al Qaeda Central’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, tried to mediate the dispute between Baghdadi and Julani but eventually, in October 2013, he endorsed Al-Nusra Front as the official franchise of Al Qaeda Central in Syria. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, however, defied the nominal authority of Al Qaeda Central and declared himself as the Caliph of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. I have discussed this topic in detail in one of my write-ups for Asia Times: “How Syrian Jihad spawned Islamic State?” 
Moreover, unlike al Qaeda, which is a terrorist organization that generally employs anticolonial and anti-West rhetoric to draw funds and followers, Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front, both, are basically anti-Shi’a sectarian outfits. By the designation “terrorism” it is generally implied and understood that an organization which has the intentions and capability of carrying out acts of terrorism on the Western soil. Though, Islamic State has carried out a few acts of terrorism against the Western countries, such as the high profile November 2015 Paris attacks, but if we look at the pattern of its sabotage activities, especially in the Middle East, it generally targets the Shi’a Muslims in Syria and Iraq. A few acts of terrorism that it has carried out in the Gulf Arab states were also directed against the Shi’a Muslims in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia and Shi’a mosques in Yemen and Kuwait. Moreover, al Qaeda Central is only a small band of Arab individuals whose strength is numbered in a few hundreds, while Islamic State is a mass insurgency whose strength is numbered in tens of thousands, especially in Syria and Iraq.
Furthermore, Syria’s pro-Assad militias are comprised of local militiamen as well as Shi’a foreign fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and even the Hazara Shi’as from Afghanistan. And Sunni Jihadists from all over the region have also been flocking to the Syrian battlefield of jihad for the past five years. A full-scale Sunni-Shi’a war has been going on in Syria, Iraq and Yemen which will obviously have its repercussions all over the Middle East region where Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have coexisted peacefully for centuries. But the neocolonial powers will conveniently deny all responsibility by simply asserting that: “It isn’t our fault, the Muslims are killing each other,” an absurd claim made by the Bush Administration during the occupation years in Iraq. However, had the US not invaded Iraq in 2003 for its 140 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, would things have reached such a point of crisis? And the victim-blaming neoliberals will point fingers at Islam as a religion and some of its decontextualized Jihadist verses for all the violence and bloodshed without understanding anything about the underlying politics behind the Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the region.
Notwithstanding, after the Russian involvement in Syria, when Russia claims that it will fight the Islamic State, the assertion at least makes sense. But how can US claim to fight a force that was an obvious by-product of its own policy in the region in the first place? Let’s settle on one issue first: there were two parties to the Syrian civil war initially, the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition; which party did the US support since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011 to June 2014 when Islamic State overran Mosul in Iraq? Obviously, the US supported the Syrian opposition, and what was the composition of that so-called “Syrian opposition?” A small fraction of it was comprised of defected Syrian soldiers who go by the name of Free Syria Army, but the vast majority had been comprised of Islamic jihadists who were generously funded, trained, armed and internationally legitimized by the NATO-GCC alliance.
Islamic State is nothing more than one of the numerous Syrian jihadist outfits, others being: al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, al-Tawhid brigade, Jaysh al Islam etc. The reason why the US has turned against Islamic State is that all other jihadist outfits only have local ambitions that are limited to fighting the Assad regime in Syria, even al Nusra’s Emir, Abu Mohammad al Julani, has taken a public pledge  on al Jazeera on the behest of his Gulf-based patrons that his organization does not intends to strike targets in the Western countries, after which the Western mainstream media has become cozy to it and included al Qaeda Central’s official franchise in Syria in its list of so-called “moderate Islamists.”
All the Sunni jihadist groups that are operating in Syria are just as brutal as Islamic State, only thing that differentiates Islamic State from the rest is that it is more ideological and independent-minded, and it also includes hundreds of Western citizens in its ranks who can later become a national security risk to the Western countries, this fact explains the ambivalent policy of the US towards a monster that it had nurtured in Syria from August 2011 to June 2014 until it threatened the US’ strategic interests in the oil-rich, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) controlled Northern Iraq. Thus the US-led “war against Islamic State” since August 2014 has less to do with finding an expeditious solution to the Syrian crisis or the threat that Islamic State poses to Iraq and Syria and it is more about the threat that Islamic State poses to the Western countries in the long run, a fact that has now become obvious after the November 2015 Paris attacks.
According to a September 2015 NY Times report: “Thousands enter Syria to join Islamic State despite global efforts” , there are more than 30,000 foreign fighters in Syria from over 100 countries that are fighting alongside the Sunni jihadist groups to topple the Syrian regime; 4500 of those foreign jihadists are from the Western countries and France is the single largest European contributor of foreign jihadists with 1800 fighters, Britain is a distant second with 750, and the number of American jihadists fighting in Syria is relatively small, approximately 250. Although the report claims that most foreign jihadists fight for the Islamic State but corporate media, being a mouthpiece of the Western political establishments, has a vested interest in selectively singling out the Islamic State and giving a carte blanche to all the other Sunni jihadist groups, in line with the stated Western policy and objective of toppling the Assad regime in Syria.
The reason why Syria and Iran have been more willing to form an alliance with Russia against the Sunni jihadists is that the US-led “war against Islamic State” is limited only to Islamic State while all other Sunni jihadist groups are enjoying complete impunity, and the coalition against Islamic State also includes the main patrons of Sunni jihadists like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey and Jordan. But the Russian-led offensive in coalition with the aforementioned Shi’a regimes has been more comprehensive against all the Sunni jihadist outfits which are just as much of a threat to the Shi’a regimes as Islamic State.
Moreover, the Western corporate media is trumpeting these days that the Syrian regime has been unwilling to fight Islamic State. I don’t know what kind of spin-doctors come up with preposterous and counterfactual stories such as these, but it’s a fact that the military resources of the Syrian regime were stretched thin before the Russian intervention, therefore, its first priority were to defend itself around the densely-populated urban areas from Damascus and Homs to Hamah, Idlib and Aleppo and around the coastal Latakia. However, does anyone remembers the Hasakah Offensive of August 2015 in which the Syrian military successfully defended Hasakah and then routed Islamic State in alliance with the Syrian Kurds? The corporate media will never tell you about the previous alliance that existed between the Syrian Kurds and the Syrian regime against the Sunni Arab jihadists.
Kurdish factor in the Syrian civil war
In order to understand the Kurdish factor in the Syria-Iraq equation, we should bear in mind that there are four distinct types of Kurds: 1) the KDP Kurds of Iraq that are led by Masoud Barzani; 2) the PUK Kurds of Iraq led by Jalal Talabani; 3) the PKK Kurds of Turkey; and 4) the PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria. The first of these, i.e. the Barzani-led KDP Kurds of Iraq have traditionally been imperialist collaborators who have formed a strategic alliance with the US and Israel since the ‘90s, i.e. the First Gulf war. All other Kurds, however, have traditionally been in the anticolonial socialist camp and that’s the reason why PKK has been designated as a terrorist organization by NATO because Turkey has the second largest army in the NATO and the separatist PKK Kurds are the traditional foes of the Turkish establishment.
Unlike the Barzani-led Kurds of Iraq, however, the PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria, who are ideologically akin to the socialist PKK Kurds of Turkey, had initially formed an alliance with the pro-Russia Assad regime against the Sunni jihadists in return for limited autonomy – the aforementioned alliance, however, was not just against the Islamic State but against all the Sunni Arab jihadist groups that are operating in Syria, some of which have been supported by NATO and Gulf Arab countries. It was only in August 2014, after the US’ declaration of war against Islamic State, that the Syrian Kurds switched sides and now they are the centerpiece of the US policy for defeating Islamic State in the region.
One can’t really blame the Kurds for this perfidy because they are fighting for their right of self-determination, but once again the Western powers have executed their tried-and-tested, divide-and-rule policy to perfection in Syria and Iraq to gain leverage and to turn the tide despite the dismal failure of their undisguised regime-change policy for the initial three years of the Syrian civil war, i.e. from August 2011 to August 2014.
Until August 2014 the evident US policy in Syria was regime change and the Syrian Kurds had formed a defensive alliance with the Syrian regime against the Sunni Arab jihadists in order to defend the semi-autonomous Kurdish majority areas in the Syrian Rojava, that equation changed, however, when Islamic State captured Mosul in June 2014 and also threatened the US’ most steadfast ally in the region – Masoud Barzani and his capital Erbil in the Iraqi Kurdistan, which is also the hub of Big Oil’s Northern Iraq operations.
After that development, the US made a volte-face on its regime-change policy in Syria and now the declared objective became “the war against Islamic State.” That policy change in turn led to a reconfiguration of alliances among the regional actors and the Syrian Kurds broke off their previous arrangement with Assad regime and formed a new alliance with NATO against the Islamic State. Unlike their previous defensive alliance with the Syrian regime, however, whose objective was to protect and defend the Kurdish majority areas in Syria from the onslaught of the Sunni Arab jihadists, this new Kurdish alliance with NATO is more aggressive and expansionist, and its outcome is obvious from an October 2015 Amnesty International report  on the forced displacement of Arabs and demographic change by the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds.
Moreover, after the US’ initiative of training and arming the so-called “moderate Syrian rebels” in Turkey and Jordan to battle the Islamic State fell flat on its face, it is now trying desperately to put all of its eggs in the Kurdish basket in order to resuscitate its failed Syria policy. The so-called “Syrian Democratic Forces” is nothing more than the Kurdish YPG militias with a tinkering of a few hundred parochial Syrian Arab tribesmen in order to make it appear more inclusive and representative in the eyes of the international audience. However, this face-saving effort, too, is falling apart after the Russian involvement in the Syrian theater.
As I have already mentioned that the PKK-allied, PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria have historically been in the pro-Russia camp just like the Syrian regime; therefore, the reports are now surfacing that the Syrian Kurds might actually be more willing to join forces with Russia and the Syrian regime against the Sunni Arab jihadists who are supported by the Western powers, Turkey and the Gulf Arab states. For instance: a January 2016 Fox news’ report  mentions that the Russians are surveying to expand a regime-held airfield in the Kurdish-controlled Qamishli in northeastern Syria along the Turkish border.
Recently, a lot of backchannel diplomacy has been going on between the Russians and the Syrian Kurds; the only fierce opponent of this natural alliance based on ideological and strategic footing between the Syrian regime and the Syrian Kurds against the Sunni Arab jihadists, including the Islamic State, is none other than the lackey of the US and Israel, Masoud Barzani, who has been exerting his utmost political influence in order to keep the Syrian Kurds in the Western-led Sunni Arab camp.
Organizational structure of Islamic State
The only difference between the Afghan Jihad back in the ‘80s, that spawned the Islamic jihadists like the Taliban and al Qaeda for the first time in history, and the Libyan and Syrian Jihads 2011-onward, is that the Afghan Jihad was an overt Jihad – back then the Western political establishments and their mouthpiece, the mainstream media, used to openly brag that CIA provides all those AK-47s, RPGs and stingers to the Pakistani ISI which then forwards such weapons to the Afghan Mujahideen (freedom fighters) to combat the erstwhile Soviet Union. After the 9/11 tragedy, however, the Western political establishments and corporate media have become a lot more circumspect, therefore, this time around they have waged covert jihads against the hostile Gaddafi regime in Libya and the anti-Zionist Assad regime in Syria, in which the Islamic jihadists (aka terrorists) have been sold as “moderate rebels” with secular and nationalist ambitions to the Western audience.
Since the regime change objective in those hapless countries went against the established mainstream narrative of “the war on terror,” therefore, the Western political establishments and the mainstream media are now trying to muddle the reality by offering color-coded schemes to identify myriads of militant and terrorist outfits that are operating in those countries – like the red militants of Islamic State which the Western powers want to eliminate; the yellow militants of Jaysh al-Fateh (the Army of Conquest,) that includes al-Qaeda allied al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, with whom NATO can collaborate under desperate circumstances; and the green militants of Free Syria Army (FSA) and a few other inconsequential outfits which together comprise the so-called “moderate Syrian opposition.”
It’s an incontrovertible fact that more than 90% of militants that are operating in Syria are either the Islamic jihadists or the armed tribesmen, and less than 10% are those who have defected from the Syrian army or otherwise have secular and nationalist goals. As far as the infinitesimally small secular and liberal elite of the developing countries is concerned, such privileged classes can’t even cook breakfasts for themselves if their servants are on a holiday and the corporate media had us believing that the majority of the Syrian militants are “moderate rebels” who constitute the vanguard of the Syrian opposition against the Syrian regime in a brutal civil war and who believe in the principles of democracy, rule of law and liberal values as their cherished goals?
Notwithstanding, it is a fact that morale and ideology plays an important role in the battle; moreover, we also know that the Takfiri brand of most jihadists these days has been directly inspired by the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology of Saudi Arabia, but ideology alone is never sufficient to succeed in the battle. Looking at the Islamic State’s spectacular gains in Syria and Iraq in the last couple of years, one wonders that where does its recruits get all the training and sophisticated weapons that are imperative not only for the hit-and-run guerrilla warfare but also for capturing and holding vast swathes of territory? Even the Afghan National Army, that has been trained and armed by NATO’s military instructors, is finding itself in trouble these days to hold territory in Afghanistan in the face of the unrelenting Taliban insurgency.
Apart from the training and arms that are provided to the Islamic jihadists in the training camps located on the Turkish and Jordanian border regions adjacent to Syria by the CIA in collaboration with the Turkish, Jordanian and Saudi intelligence agencies, another factor that has contributed to the spectacular success of Islamic State is that its top cadres are comprised of the former Baathist military and intelligence officers of the Saddam regime. According to a highly informative August 2015 Associated Press report by Dawn , hundreds of ex-Baathists constitute the top-tier command structure of Islamic State who plan all the operations and direct its military strategy.
Moreover, the US’ State department appears to be quite “worried” these days that where does Islamic State’s jihadists get all the sophisticated weapons and especially those fancy, white Toyota pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns at the back, colloquially known as “The Technicals” among the jihadists? I think that I have found the answer to this riddle in an unusual December 2013 report: “Syrian rebels get arms and advice through secret command center in Amman,”  from a website affiliated with the UAE government which is highly biased in favor of the Syrian opposition: it is clearly mentioned that along with AK-47s, RPGs and other military gear the Saudi government also provides machine gun-mounted Toyota pick-up trucks to every batch of five jihadists who have completed their training either in the border regions of Jordan or Saudi Arabia. Once those jihadists cross over to Daraa and Quneitra in Syria from the Jordan-Syria border then those Toyota pick-up trucks can easily travel all the way to Raqaa and Deir ez-Zor and thence to Mosul and Anbar in Iraq.
While we are on the subject of Islamic State’s weaponry, it is generally claimed in the mainstream media that Islamic State came into possession of those sophisticated weapons when it overran Mosul in June 2014 and seized huge caches of weapons that were provided to the Iraqi armed forces by the Americans during the occupation years. On empirical grounds, however, is it not a bit paradoxical that Islamic State conquered large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq before it overran Mosul, when supposedly it did not had those sophisticated weapons, and after allegedly coming into possession of those weapons it is continuously losing ground? Only conclusion that can be drawn from this fact is that Islamic State had those cutting-edge weapons, or equally lethal weapons, before it overran Mosul and that those weapons were provided to all the Sunni jihadist groups in Syria, including the Islamic State, by the intelligence agencies of the Western powers, Turkey and the Gulf Arab states.
Maintaining credibility through charades
In order to create a semblance of objectivity and fairness, the American policy-makers and analysts are always willing to accept the blame for the mistakes of the distant past that have no bearing on the present and the future, however, any fact that impinges on their present policy is conveniently brushed aside. In the case of the formation of Islamic State, for instance, the US’ policy analysts are willing to concede that invading Iraq back in 2003 was a mistake that radicalized the Iraqi society, exacerbated the sectarian divisions and gave birth to a Sunni insurgency against the heavy handed and discriminatory policies of the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government; similarly, the “war on terror” era political commentators also “generously” accept that the Cold War era policy of nurturing the al Qaeda, Taliban and myriads of other Afghan so-called “freedom fighters” against the erstwhile Soviet Union was a mistake, because all those fait accompli have no bearing on their present policy.
The corporate media’s spin-doctors conveniently forget, however, that the formation of Islamic State and myriads of other Sunni Arab jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has as much to do with the unilateral invasion of Iraq back in 2003 under the previous Bush Administration as it has to do with the present policy of Obama Administration in Syria of funding, arming, training and internationally legitimizing the Sunni militants against the Syrian regime since 2011-onward in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa region, in fact, the proximate cause behind the rise of Islamic State, al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and numerous other Sunni jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has been Obama Administration’s policy of intervention through proxies in Syria.
If the Obama Administration decides today to stop providing money, arms and training to the so-called “moderate rebels” and declares them terrorists (Islamic jihadists,) the insurgency in Syria will fizzle out within months, at least, in the densely-populated urban Syria from Damascus and Homs to Hamah, Idlib and Aleppo and the coastal Latakia. The northern Syria under the control of Kurds and the central and eastern Syria from Raqqa to Deir ez-Zor which is dominated by the Islamic State, however, is a whole different ball game now and it will take years to subdue the insurgency in those rural-tribal areas of Syria, if at all.
Leaving the funding, training and arming aspects of the insurgencies aside, but especially pertaining to conferring international legitimacy to an armed insurgency, like the Afghan so-called “freedom struggle” of the Cold War, or the supposedly “moderate and democratic” Libyan and Syrian insurgencies of today, it is simply beyond the power of minor regional players and their nascent media that has a geographically and linguistically limited audience to cast such heavily armed and brutal insurrections in a positive light in order to internationally legitimize them; only the Western mainstream media, that has a global audience and which serves as the mouthpiece of the Western political establishments, has perfected this game of legitimizing the absurd and selling the satans as saviors.
Sources and links
 US’ Defense intelligence agency’s report of 2012:
 How Syrian Jihad spawned the Islamic State?
 al-Nusra leader: Our mission is to defeat Syrian regime:
 Thousands enter Syria to join Islamic State despite global efforts:
 Syrian Kurds razing villages seized from Islamic State, Amnesty International report:
 Russians survey new airbase in the Kurdish-held northeastern Syria:
 Islamic State’s top command dominated by ex-officers in Saddam’s army:
 Syrian rebels get arms and advice through secret command center in Amman:
Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitics’ analyst who has a particular interest in the politics of Af-Pak and MENA regions, energy politics and Petroimperialism.