The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures. The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.
Look, I know we intend to boost the supposedly good rebels, the nice rebels, versus the foreign jihadists who are the toughest of the rebel fighters. I do not see, though, how any aid we give to the forces trying to overthrow the Syrian dictatorship can do anything but aid al-Qaeda, however indirectly. It sounds from this report from Maaloula by the Beirut-based al-Akhbar newspaper that Our Friends The Free Syrian Army are doing pretty great on their own, savaging the peaceful Christians of that town. Excerpt:
Recalling the events of last week, 62-year-old Adnan Nasrallah said an explosion destroyed an archway just across from his house that leads into the town.
“I saw people wearing al-Nusra headbands who started shooting at crosses,” said Nasrallah.
One of them “put a pistol to the head of my neighbor and forced him to convert to Islam by obliging him to repeat ‘there is no God but God.’”
“Afterwards they joked, ‘he’s one of ours now.'”
Al-Nusra is an al-Qaeda affiliate and the most formidable of the rebel coalition. More:
Nasrallah spent 42 years running a restaurant – which he named Maaloula – in the US state of Washington and returned to Syria just before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad broke out in March 2011.
“I had a great dream. I came back to my country to promote tourism. I built a guesthouse and spent $2,000 installing a windmill to provide electricity in the town.
“My dream has gone up in smoke. Forty-two years of work for nothing,” he lamented.
But worse, for him, was what he said was the reaction of his Muslim neighbors when the town was seized by the rebels.
“Women came out on their balconies shouting with joy, and children… did the same. I discovered that our friendship was superficial.”
But Nasrallah’s sister, Antoinette, refused to condemn everyone.
“There are refugees from Harasta and Douma (in the suburbs of Damascus) that we have taken in, and they are spreading the poison of hatred, especially among the younger generation,” she said.
Another resident, Rasha, recounted how the jihadis had seized her fiance Atef, who belonged to the town’s militia, and brutally murdered him.
“I rang his mobile phone and one of them answered,” she said.
“Good morning, Rashrush,” a voice answered, using her nickname. “We are from the Free Syrian Army. Do you know your fiance was a member of the shabiha (pro-government militia) who was carrying weapons, and we have slit his throat.”
The man told her Atef had been given the option of converting to Islam, but had refused.
“Jesus didn’t come to save him,” he taunted.
Um, wait, the Free Syrian Army, those are the good guys, right? The ones we’re sending American weapons to, paid for by US tax dollars.
Shame on Congress! Vladimir Putin, of all people, has a more realistic view of the situation there. He writes in the NYT:
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.
Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.
So, why, exactly, are we sending guns to al-Nusra’s comrades in arms, the Free Syrian Army? The Free Syrian Army attacked the ancient Christian village right along with al-Nusra. According to Long War Journal:
A video posted online by Ahrar al Sham “suggests that at least three distinct rebel groups were involved in the attack in Malula,” Syria this week, The New York Times reports. In addition to Ahrar al Sham, al Qaeda’s Al Nusrah Front and a Free Syrian Army brigade from Homs took part in the fighting. But it is not clear “how closely they cooperated with one another,” according to the Times.
Malula is an ancient town northeast of Damascus and is known for its Christian population. The Times previously reported that the town is one of the few places left in the world where Aramaic is spoken.
In one of the videos, according to the Times, the cameraman says the attack was “coordinated” with the Al Nusrah Front.
According to the Associated Press, the Al Nusrah Front launched the dawn raid on Sept. 4 when a suicide bomber “blew himself up at a regime checkpoint at the entrance to the village.” The rebels “seized the checkpoint, disabled two tanks and an armored personnel carrier and killed eight regime soldiers in” the fighting that followed.
The AP cited a Syrian regime official and the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) in its reporting on Al Nusrah’s role. Residents took sanctuary in a village convent.
It is particularly disgusting that it was on 9/11 that the first reports of the CIA’s weapons shipment to this band of al-Qaeda allies appeared. Sen. Rand Paul told NPR:
I think there’s evil on both sides, and I think that’s one reason I don’t want to be involved in civil war. I see things in personal terms. I just can’t see sending one of my sons — or your son or daughter — to fight in a civil war, where on one side we have a dictator, who in all likelihood gassed his people. But on the other side, we have Islamic rebels who’ve been eating the hearts or organs of their enemies. We have priests that have been killed. We have Christian villages that have been razed by Islamic rebels. We have Islamic rebels who say they don’t recognize Israel and would just as soon attack Israel as Assad. So really, I see no clear-cut American interest, and I’m afraid that sometimes things unravel, and the situation could become less stable and not more stable.
May I ask: Where is the American church? Why so silent when your tax dollars are being used to arm the people who murder, and who will murder, your fellow Christians?
To be clear, I don’t think American policy towards Syria or any other country should be decided by the answer to the question, “What’s good for the local Christians?” any more than it should be decided by the question President Obama put to the American people this week (more or less): “Won’t someone please think of the children?” Still, Americans should understand what us military aid is doing to innocent Christians and should consider what kind of country Syria will be if the people who do this to Christians come to power. In 1980, the kidnap, rape and murder of US nuns in El Salvador woke quite a few Americans up to the kind of people our government — which is to say, our tax dollars — supported in that country. Of course Salvadorans dealt with this kind of thing every day, but the fact that Americans could identify with American nuns killed by a US-trained death squad there caused many Americans to see that conflict in a different light. The suffering of the victims of poison gas tells us something about the Assad regime, most likely. The suffering of the Christians of Maaloula tells us something about the rebels. We should help the refugees, Christian and Muslim alike, and work for partition of Syria as part of a settlement to end the war. But we should not send guns to these al-Qaeda rebels and their fellow travelers.