The long and lonely search for a white hat posse of “moderate” Syrian rebels that could be armed by the United States and turned into a weapon against both the Assad regime and its most effective military adversaries—namely, ISIS and al-Qaeda—suffered another grievous setback over the weekend, as the first Syrian rebel force, armed with American weapons, threw in the towel and pronounced itself kaput.
That’s the bad news. The worse news is that Harakat Hazm dissolved because it was defeated and raided by Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria, and the victors promptly began crowing that they had seized a stash of American equipment from the vanquished moderates, including anti-tank missiles.
The Washington Post reports those claims “could not be verified,” cushioning the blow by recalling that “American supplies of weaponry to moderate rebels in northern Syria had in any case been scaled back in recent months since the battles with Nusra began.”
Part of Harakat Hazm’s downfall might have been its unwillingness to get with the new program, in which Syrian rebels are supposed to get busy killing their erstwhile comrades in the Islamic State, instead of fighting President Bashar al-Assad. Two years ago, Assad was the monster who stepped across President Obama’s WMD “red line” in a cloud of poison gas, earning himself a thumping, while ISIS was the mostly harmless junior varsity league of terrorism. Now the Syrian rebels are expected to forget about Assad, who is a de-facto U.S. ally, and turn their guns on the even more evil Islamic State.
It is not surprising that some elements of the Syrian resistance would retain their enthusiasm for resisting Assad, or that they would feel some ambivalence about signing on to the morass of Obama’s foreign policy, in which allies stand a better chance of being punished than enemies.
The Washington Post summarized where things stand at the moment:
Syrian rebel commanders say it is unclear whether the program will extend to fighters who have already been vetted and trained by the CIA, such as those in Hazm. It is also unclear whether the fighters who are to be trained under the new program will be charged with fighting Nusra, a fierce rival of the Islamic State that was a target of U.S. airstrikes shortly after they were launched last September but since has been left largely unhindered to expand its control in northwestern Syria.
It’s a safe bet that Nusra brings that up during negotiations with other rebel factions. They can drive the point home by holding those negotiations in one of the headquarters buildings they took away from the U.S.-backed group they just wiped out. Nusra is looking to make it a truly comprehensive defeat, too—they’ve already announced they intend to chase down “the heads and leaders of that criminal gang so that they suffer punishment for their oppression,” demanding that Hazm fighters turn themselves in to sharia courts looking to prosecute anyone who commits “crimes” against “Muslims and the mujahadeen,” according to a report at Syria Direct.