Two groups of “moderate” Syrian rebels armed by the U.S. have lost bases to a Jabhat al-Nusra offensive, and their weapons are now in the hands of jihadists:
The Obama administration’s Syria strategy suffered a major setback Sunday after fighters linked to al-Qaeda routed U.S.-backed rebels from their main northern strongholds, capturing significant quantities of weaponry, triggering widespread defections and ending hopes that Washington will readily find Syrian partners in its war against the Islamic State.
In a saner political culture, this would be extremely bad news for the members of Congress that voted in favor of the administration’s plan to arm and train “moderate” and “vetted” rebels. The loss of weapons to an Al Qaeda affiliate is exactly the worst-case scenario that opponents of arming the “moderate” Syrian opposition imagined could happen, and now it has. Following the large loss of weapons and equipment to ISIS in Iraq, it was inexcusable to approve sending more weapons into Syria where they could be and now have been seized by jihadists, but the measure overwhelmingly passed both houses. A failure of this magnitude would normally be an indictment of the terrible judgment of the policy’s supporters, but we can expect that interventionists will quickly tell us that this would never have happened if only we had listened to them sooner.
One of the groups that was attacked was Harakat Hazm, which had previously been among the loudest Syrian critics of the U.S. bombing of Jabhat al-Nusra forces. It seems that they had good reason to worry about the consequences of U.S. attacks on the Nusra front. Targeting Jabhat al-Nusra appears to have backfired on the groups that the U.S. is ostensibly aiding:
But Nusra militants grew suspicious of rebel groups that received western backing after the first coalition strikes two months ago also targeted Nusra leaders. Anticipating an offensive against them, they have hinted they would eventually seek to drive out western-backed groups.
So the U.S. has made the position of its supposed proxies in Syria considerably worse by attacking Jabhat al-Nusra. The so-called “moderate” opposition would probably be better off today if the U.S. had not expanded its war against ISIS into Syria. The Post report continues:
A Jabhat al-Nusra base was one of the first targets hit when the United States launched its air war in Syria in September, and activists said the tensions fueled by that attack had contributed to the success of the group’s push against the moderate rebels.
“When American airstrikes targeted al-Nusra, people felt solidarity with them because Nusra are fighting the regime, and the strikes are helping the regime,” said Raed al-Fares, an activist leader in Kafr Nabel, in Idlib.
“Now people think that whoever in the Free Syrian Army gets support from the U.S.A. is an agent of the regime,” he said [bold mine-DL].
It takes some doing to make people think that anti-regime rebels are, in fact, agents of the Syrian regime, but that appears to be one of the few concrete achievements of the war against ISIS.