COMMENTARY — Blowback: Arming the Free Syrian Army

COMMENTARY — Blowback: Arming the Free Syrian Army

Once seen as a popular uprising of the Syrian people, foreign jihadists now dominate rebel forces battling the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Foreign warriors associated with al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq and Lebanon assassinated Kamal Hamami, also known as Abu Bassir al-Ladkani, a senior member of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The killing of Abu Bassir is just the latest in Al Qaeda’s terror campaign by the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, who killed an FSA rebel in neighboring Idlib province and cut off his head for display. On July 5, the group allegedly assassinated the leader of the Hamza Assad Allah Brigade and his brother in the town of al-Dana.  According to Rami Abdelrahman of the anti-Syrian government Observatory for Human Rights: “There have been attacks in many provinces.”

Jihadist groups fighting in Syria have imported large numbers of foreign fighters from North Africa and Europe. These groups are openly boasting they have seized Syrian government chemical weapons and man-portable air rocket systems. But it was only after Islamic State of Iraq leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi completed the merger with Abu Mohammad al-Golani, who is nominally the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, did the jihadist groups start terrorizing the FSA.

While al-Nusra had provided social services in to cultivate good will from the local populace, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham has repeatedly carried out executions across Syria and attacked other rebel groups.

The Islamic State wants control of the supply routes from Turkey that the CIA uses to coordinate arms shipments with the rebels. Many of the arms shipments have been brought in under the veil of non-government organizations, such as the “Charity Caravan From Turkey to Syria,” which has announced its intention to bring in 20 truckloads of food, cleaning materials, and drugs on July 20. 

Al-Baghdadi’s unrestrained violence is reminiscent of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq. The extremism and violence of al-Zarqawi’s almost succeeded in driving American forces out of Iraq. Only after he was killed by two 500 pound bombs in 2006 and President George W. Bush authorized the 20,000 troop “surge” in 2007 could the U.S. limit al Qaeda attacks. The U.S. has already placed a $10-million bounty on al-Baghdadi, second only to the bounty on al-Zawahiri.

Support of the Syrian rebels was the main topic of debate at the June 2013 G-8 meetings in Northern Ireland, after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Syria Transition Support Act on May 21. Senator Rand Paul has emerged as the leader of the opposition to trying to bail-out the FSA with huge new shipments of sophisticated weapons to the FSA.

Paul complains that: “It is unclear what national security interests we have in the civil war in Syria. It is clear that any attempt to aid the Syrian rebels would be complicated and dangerous, precisely because we don’t know who these people are.” He also worries “transition support” commits the United States to an Iraq style boots-on-the-ground restoration of Syria after the revolution. 

The CIA refers to the “blowback” thesis, where an “intelligence asset,” such as Islamic jihadis, is said to “have gone against its sponsors.” The blowback from the sophisticated methods taught by the CIA to Osama bin Laden and other Mujaheddin against the Soviets in in Afghanistan led to the birth of al Qaeda’s wars against the West.

With al Qaeda using American weapons to kill the Free Syrian Army leadership, how can the CIA’s increasing Syrian shipments not result in more blowback?