US seeks to include ‘moderate’ Islamists in Syrian coalition

After the US’ efforts to prop up the Free Syrian Army have failed and the larger Islamist brigades of the FSA, which have fought alongside al Qaeda, have defected and created the Islamic Front, the Obama administration is now seeking to court the Islamic Front. The catch: The group must denounce al Qaeda and join the peace process. Read the full story at The Washington Post. Here is an excerpt:

The Obama administration is willing to consider supporting an expanded Syrian rebel coalition that would include Islamist groups, provided the groups are not allied with al-Qaeda and agree to support upcoming peace talks in Geneva, a senior U.S. official said Thursday.

In addition, the official said, the Americans would like the Islamic Front groups to return U.S. vehicles, communications gear and other non-lethal equipment they seized last weekend from warehouses at the Syria-Turkey border.

Now, correct us if we are wrong, but didn’t the US try the same strategy in Afghanistan, by attempting to get the Afghan Taliban to denounce al Qaeda and end military cooperation with the group, and to join the peace process? How well did that work out for the US? The Taliban have rejected negotiations and refused to denounce al Qaeda or even the generic term “international terrorism.”

Keep in mind that the Islamic Front, in its official charter, calls for the establishment of an Islamic state and the imposition of Islamic law, both of which are goals shared by al Qaeda. The charter also hints that the Islamic Front will continue to work with al Qaeda’s branches in Syria. It welcomes the “Muhajireen” [emigrants or foreign fighters] as “our brothers who supported us in jihad.” [See LWJ report, Islamic Front endorses jihad, says ‘the Muhajireen are our brothers’.]

And that just days ago Ahrar al Sham, one of the largest brigades in the Islamic Front, touted a joint operation with the Islamist State of Iraq and the Sham, and the Al Nusrah Front for the Peopel of the Levant, both al Qaeda branches that operate in Syria. Ahrar al Sham has a long history of fighting alongside al Qaeda in the Syrian civil war. Does the US really expect that to change by dangling some aid and cash?

Meanwhile, General Salim Idriss, the military chief of the now-gutted Supreme Military Council, won’t even reject al Qaeda. Instead, he seeks to get the Islamic Front and al Qaeda’s branches to work together.

“We are trying to stop the fight between the revolutionary forces and to go back to fight against the regime,” Idriss told CNN, according to The Wall Street Journal [emphasis is mine].

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

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  • Gaz says:

    From the perspective of the Syrian rebels, why would they condemn all Qaeda, who has been fighting in the trenches with them for two years, in favour of the Americans, who have done essentially nothing in two years but talk?

  • George Kominiak says:

    Are these US “Officials” kidding or are they simply just blinded and deafened (again) by Administration and/or State Department policy desires??

  • Jonathan Ullrich says:

    Good article, as always.
    I read this blog since many years, and i guess i will start posting comments here too, because its definitely the better one imo, even if im already more than busy doing it on other websites/forums!
    Well ‘moderate’ Islamists aka salafists, i guess we’re ok with that.
    I think US should definitely stop to support those rebels fighting alongside Al-Qaeda (i mean FSA, and of course Islamic Front which is more or less an Al-Qaeda “likeable” branch, but with direct Saudi funding).
    They backed the wrong horse, insurgency is dominated since late 2011 by islamists, since 2012 by salafists, and now lead by jihadists, the most efficient force on the ground and reinforced everydays by foreign fighters. I know they wont of course start supporting Assad (just the guy defending the christian minority there), because Assad is an Iran ally so an Israel ennemy, so an US ennemy… I guess they still think they will have more control with Al-Qaeda and salafists (lol). But they must realize that FSA doesnt exist anymore as a strong force, if they ever did. They are more a propaganda force on facebook, and a pretext for western public governements for their public opinion at the question “why are we supporting the insurgency in Syria”. But now 95% of the insurgency is islamist, and about three quarters salafist.
    If Syria governement is overthrown (i doubt it will ever happens), Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan will follow (at least the jihadist insurgency will reach them, with tens of thousand of well-armed fighters), already the case in Iraq as we know, jihadists or affiliated presence in Lebanon as well (i would say 2-3000) but they keep low profile for now, in Saida, Tripoli…
    Suicidal policies that to help these guys, they are just more or less intermediary between gulf state and AlQaeda, same would be to direclty give weapons and equipment to ISIL and JAN, so the caliphate would be a reality quicker…


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