Qatar-funded Syrian rebel brigade backs al Qaeda groups in Syria

Ahfad-al-Rasoul-Brigade-banner.png

Banner for the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade’s official website.

Buried in this Washington Post article on the recent fighting between a PKK faction on one side, and al Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria — the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State of Iraq — on the other, is confirmation that other groups are allied with al Qaeda in the fighting in northern Syria.

Three groups, identified as the Ahrar al Sham (a known Syrian Islamist group that is sympathetic to al Qaeda and has fought alongside them in the past), the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade, and the Islamic Kurdish Front, banded together and announced they would fight together with the Al Nusrah Front against the Kurdish group in northern Syria. One of those groups, the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade, is funded by the Qatari government. From The Washington Post (which missed the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade’s ties to Qatar):

However, Wednesday’s statement from four opposition groups portrayed the clashes as a fight against the PYD rather than Kurds as a whole.

“In our war, we do not discriminate against Arabs or Kurds, we fight everyone who helped this criminal regime, and we consider them a legitimate target for us, and for all the rebel battalions,” the statement said. It added that the Kurdish militia had “crossed the line” when it captured Ras al-Ayn last week, pushing out fighters with the jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra.

In addition to Jabhat al-Nusra, the statement was signed by the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigade and the Islamic Kurdish Front, in an indication of a widening conflict on the opposition side. A video posted online also showed a military convoy from the Farouq Brigades, which the cameraman said was heading to Hasaka to fight “the dogs of Assad and their helpers” — although it did not explicitly mention the Kurds or the PYD.

Here is a quick background on the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade, from Wikipedia. Note that Qatar backs this large rebel force, and the leader of the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade is on the US-backed Arms Committee for the Free Syrian Army-dominated Supreme Military Command. This is the same group that the US government will be arming and funding.

The Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade (Arabic: لألوية أحفاد الرسول‎, meaning Grandsons of the Prophet), also spelled as Ahfad al-Rasoul is a Syrian rebel group fighting against the Syrian government in the Syrian civil war. It is one of the few brigade alliances that operate independently of the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian Liberation Front, or the Syrian Islamic Front and is considered the largest one, with about 15,000 fighters. It has been funded by the Qatari government.

It is composed of several battalions, most notably Al-Haqq battalion, Shuhada al-Jolan Battalion, and Suqour al-Jolan Battalion. In early September 2012 it announced the formation of the Suqour Jabal al-Zawiya battalion, giving it a presence in Idlib.

Ahfad al-Rasul took part in the September 2, 2012 bombing that targeted the Syrian Army General Staff building in Damascus. Its leader, Ziad Haj Obaid, is on the Arms Committee for the Supreme Military Command.

The US government is fooling itself if it believes it can reliably vet Syrian rebel groups to ensure that arms supplied by the US do not fall into al Qaeda’s hands. Additionally, the US is relying on countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia to ensure that weapons and aid do not fall into the wrong hands.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has already claimed that the Free Syrian Army, the darling of US policymakers, has sold the ISIL arms. Although the claim cannot be confirmed, it certainly isn’t difficult to believe, given that al Qaeda’s affiliates have fought alongside Free Syrian Army units numerous times in the past.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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7 Comments

  • mike merlo says:

    Another fine example of the Obama’s Administration cluelessness & the Fumblelina’s in the Intel Community run by some guy named ‘ConFuzeUs Says…!’

  • Matt says:

    I would not worry about it, no doubt whoever planned to use them as proxies in the war also planned to get rid of them when it is over.

  • Paul D says:

    Hi Bill
    What is Qatar role/plan for the region?
    It seems to fund MB whilst the Saudis hate the MB?

  • Eric says:

    This goes to the very heart of the US hesitancy to arm the so-called FSA. Some of the Syrian resistance groups and most of the defectors from Assad’s security forces can claim they fight only for the liberation of the people from a dictatorship. Allied to the same cause are groups such as the Afhad al Rasoul brigade which has a large following, foreign backers, and a salafist agenda. These groups intend to fight on, even after Assad is deposed, to form an Islamic state in Syria. If you supply one group, you will supply all of them, because they will share everything. The straight story here with the Kurds bears some attention as well. The PYD is trying to hold territory they did not historically control, as a buffer zone to protect Kurdish enclaves from Al Qaeda’s territorial encroachment. This move by PYD is an emerging threat to Al Nusrah’s control over resources and distribution networks in northern Syria. Al Rasoul is teaming with Al Qaeda to push the PYD out, because they need access to the same resources and networks. That mat be as far as this collaboration goes, or it may wind up going much farther, and we just don’t know. And the Qataris do not know any more than we do. The Qataris are funding Sunni militants in a sectarian struggle for control of Syria. They openly support groups like the Al Rasoul brigades, and more covertly fund groups like Al Khalifa and Al Nusrah. I think we cannot do any better than we already are doing, channeling our support through Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to get weapons to the rebel forces. The US needs to avoid direct connections to arms supplies to Al Qaeda at all costs. Even if the US supplies no weapons whatsoever to any Syrian group, the Saudis and the Qataris will both arm Al Qaeda along with the other Sunni brigades, regardless of actions by the US and the EU. They already have access to US-made weapons and ammo, and there already Al Qaeda forces in Syria using US weapons to inflict casualties. Clearly there will be another conflict for control of Syria after Assad is ousted. The Syrian people have no more intention of living under a tyranny of Sharia than living under Assad’s dictatorship. We cannot come to the Kurds’ assistance without ruinous consequences to our alliance with Turkey.
    What I cannot understand is why we do not impose a no-fly zone over all of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. It makes sense on so many levels, not the least of which is interdicting Al Qaeda’s movements where and when they act in bad faith toward other rebel forces. What pretext do we lack? Hezbollah already provided it when they attacked in Qusayr and then returned to safe-havens in Lebanon. That one incursion will be enough to bring the fighting to Lebanon, it is now only a matter of time. Is it because we wish to avoid an escalation with Russia over a no-fly zone? We already have anti-air batteries in place that preclude the Russians from sending their combat aircraft into Syrian airspace with orders to shoot. They already cannot do in fact what they say they are prepared to do in the media. If NATO takes out Assad’s air assets, we will surely lose some planes. We will surely incur enormous expenses. We will surely feel backlash from many Arabs. But we will end the critical airlift support for Iran’s forces on the ground in Syria, and Russia’s black market support for Assad’s command economy. And that will end Assad’s hold on power. At which point in history, the focus shifts quickly to Al Qaeda and the other Salafist factions making a grab for control. That is going to be the moment of truth for Syria, and NATO in control of the airspace is vital to that outcome. Please enlighten me. I do not see what is stopping us from committing to this course of action.

  • ahmed says:

    Useful information more useful than BBC CNN SKY NEWS put together.

  • FkDahl says:

    To Eric
    Why on earth should we start shooting down Russian planes or enforce a no-fly zone over Syria,Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan? Why not instead sanction Quatar and Saudi Arabia, or all of those despicable little dictatorships? The money for Al Quaeda comes from there, the religious-political doctrine comes from there in the form of Salafism or Wahabinism. The 9/11 guys came from there (and not from the so called axis of evil Iran Iraq and North Korea). I have no doubts whatsoever that if the US really wanted it could turn off the money and weapon spigot to Al Qaeda and related groups in Syria. That we chose not to do so tells a lot about how serious we (Washington) are with the war on terror.

  • nubwaxer says:

    when they are enthusiastically killing each other in their own countries haven’t we started winning?

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis