An article in yesterday’s New York Times titled “US Pins Hope on Syrian Rebels with Loyalties All Over the Map” highlights the fact that President Obama’s recently declared strategy against the Islamic State depends on empowering Syrian rebels to take control once the Islamic State is driven out. This plan leaves the US “dependent on a diverse group riven by infighting, with no shared leadership and with hard-line Islamists as its most effective fighters,” the article observes, and proceeds to elaborate on the difficulties of working with the various groups and even knowing what their allegiances are.
The article concludes with a brief focus on one likely prospect:
Some rebels appear ready to join the fight against ISIS [Islamic State]. A video posted online this week showed Jamal Maarouf, a rebel commander in northern Syria, addressing a gathering of hundreds of fighters. “God willing, we will fight two states: the state of Bashar al-Assad, the unjust tyrant, and the state of Baghdadi, the aggressor tyrant,” he said, referring to the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The only problem with this example of a possible US ally in the fight in Syria is that Maarouf has already stated that he has no problem with al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, the Al Nusrah Front, and has admitted to sharing weapons with it. And this example of cooperation between “moderate” and radical Islamist groups is not an isolated one; see Threat Matrix report, Desperately seeking moderate Syrian rebels.
As we pointed out here at Threat Matrix back in April, Maarouf told an interviewer from The Independent:
“It’s clear that I’m not fighting against al-Qa’ida. This is a problem outside of Syria’s border, so it’s not our problem. I don’t have a problem with anyone who fights against the regime inside Syria.” Maarouf admits to fighting alongside Jabhat al-Nusra – one example being the offensive against Isis, whose brutal tactics were deemed too violent even for al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
While Maarouf maintains that their military supplies are too few to share, he cites the battle of Yabroud, against the regime, as an example of how his group shared weapons with Jabhat al-Nusra.
“If the people who support us tell us to send weapons to another group, we send them. They asked us a month ago to send weapons to Yabroud so we sent a lot of weapons there. When they asked us to do this, we do it.”
The cooperation between Maarouf’s Syrian Revolutionaries Front and powerful Islamist jihadist groups such as Al Nusrah and the Islamic Front is ongoing. In recent weeks, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front fought alongside Al Nusrah and the Islamic Front in the takeover of the Quneitra crossing into the Israel-occupied Golan Heights. During the takeover, 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers were abducted by Al Nusrah. A video posted by the Syrian Revolutionaries Front shows its fighters manning the crossing, according to The Line of Steel: