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The CIA Is Training Syria's Rebels: Uh-Oh, Says a Top Iraqi Leader | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

The CIA Is Training Syria's Rebels: Uh-Oh, Says a Top Iraqi Leader


A soldier waves the independence flag in a Damascus suburb in January. (Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah.)

The United States is slipping and sliding down that proverbial “slippery slope” in Syria toward something that looks increasingly like war.

Most worryingly, according to The New York Times, the CIA is training Syrian fighters in Jordan. Buried in its story today about Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that the United States will increase aid to the rebels, including medical supplies and those always tasty MREs (“Meals Ready to Eat”), was this previously unreported nugget:

A covert program to train rebel fighters, which State Department officials here were not prepared to discuss, has also been under way. According to an official in Washington, who asked not to be identified, the CIA since last year has been training groups of Syrian rebels in Jordan.

The official did not provide details about the training or what difference it may have made on the battlefield, but said the CIA had not given weapons or ammunition to the rebels. An agency spokesman declined to comment.

Now, let us not be shocked, shocked that the CIA is doing this; in fact, it’s very likely that this is the tip of a very large iceberg. Undoubtedly, the CIA, and the Pentagon, is coordinating a regional effort involving the Sunni bloc involving Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Qatar to topple the Assad government in Damascus. That, folks, is called “regime change.” And we’ve seen it before.

The additional $60 million in US aid to Syria’s rebels is headed to the coffers of the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) and to the Syrian Military Council (SMC), a newly created body that purports to represent the so-called Syrian Free Army. Interestingly enough, although Egypt has pretty much stayed out of the fray in Syria officially, the SOC and the SMC are based in Cairo, Egypt, whose Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni secret society, is backing the Muslim Brotherhood–led rebels in Syria. At a background briefing yesterday, a State Department official said this:

The United States will be sending technical advisors through our implementing partners to support the SOC’s staff at their Cairo headquarters in the execution of this assistance. This will ensure that the assistance continues to comply with U.S. rules and regulations on the use of foreign assistance, including vetting, oversight, and monitoring. To remind that this additional $60 million for the SOC is in addition to the more than $50 million in nonlethal support we have already provided to help Syrian activists organize opposition efforts across the country and to amplify their message to Syrians and to the world through communications and broadcasting equipment.

There’s a long analysis of the Syrian Free Army and the SMC published by the Institute for the Study of War, a neoconservative think tank in Washington. Here’s an excerpt:

The Supreme Military Council was created on the heels of a three day conference held in Antalya, Turkey, from December 5-7, 2012. During this conference, rebel leaders from across Syria announced the election of a new 30-member unified command structure called the Supreme Military Command (SMC). The SMC is led by Chief of Staff Major General Salim Idriss and includes 11 former officers and 19 civilian leaders.

The SMC differs from previous efforts to unify the military opposition because more groups and support networks are included. It could prove to be a more sustainable organization than its predecessors. The SMC includes all of Syria’s most important field commanders, and its authority is based on the power and influence of these rebel leaders including: Abdel Qadir Salah, head of the Tawhid Brigade in Aleppo; Mustafa Abdel Karim, head of the Dara al-Thawra Brigade; Ahmed Issa, head of Suqour al-Sham Brigade in Idlib; Jamal Marouf, head of the Syrian Martyrs Brigade in Idlib; Osama al-Jinidi, head of the Farouq Battalions; and General Ziad al-Fahd, head of the Damascus Military Council.

The SMC was organized to incorporate the supply chains and networks that already existed inside Syria and eventually channel them through the centralized units of the SMC. In order to achieve this goal, the command is divided into five geographic fronts with six elected members each: the Eastern front, the Western/Middle front, the Northern front, the Southern front, and the Homs front.

That all sounds organized enough, but on the ground, inside Syria, the lines of authority and the lines of command are less than clear, and many of the anti-Assad fighters are radical and extreme Islamists and Al Qaeda types. Although the United States would like to “vet” the recipients of its aid, and although the people that the CIA is training in Jordan are probably from the more-moderate rather than less-moderate part of the anti-Assad spectrum, there’s just no telling what Syria after the fall of Assad might look like.

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One person who’s worried about exactly that is Faleh al-Fayyah, the national security adviser of Iraq, who spoke yesterday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. In his talk, he was asked about recent comments from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who worried about Syria spinning out of control. Iraq, of course, ruled by a Shiite coalition, is petrified at the idea that a bunch of Sunni radicals and Muslim Brotherhood types might take over in Damascus, leading to civil war, partition and a spillover into Iraq. As Fayyah said:

I believe that the statement by his excellency, Prime Minister al-Maliki, yesterday was an analysis for the potential and possible repercussions that would happen given the developments in Syria. And if it’s a bad, negative end to the – to the issue in Syria, then you will see the partition of the country, you would see a civil – a civil war, you would see a potentially a – (inaudible) – and also you would see – and also if the extremist factions come into power in a new regime, in a new order in Syria, then this will export an array of problems to Iraq.

He went on:

We have also started to see that some of these problems started being shipped to Lebanon, exported to Lebanon, and the ripple effect is now being seen in Lebanon. The prime minister’s analysis is an accurate and correct one. And if the situation keeps going in that direction that it is taking today, we feel there might be a civil war, there might be a sectarian partition of the – of the country and also we feel that terrorist groups may try to get the upper hand in that environment. Therefore, we feel if the situation goes into that direction, the future of the Middle East will witness tension, will witness further problems, and in that effect, the analysis of his excellency the prime minister, Prime Minister Maliki, was accurate and correct.

So what are we looking at? The very regime that the United States installed in Baghdad, now closely aligned with Iran, is fearful that the regime we are now trying to install in Damascus might be a bitter enemy—which, naturally, will drive Baghdad into the waiting arms of Tehran.

Given the rhetoric in Washington, Barack Obama won't be able to resist the drumbeat of war in Syria for long, Robert Dreyfuss predicts.

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