The decision by the US Government to arm and train what it describes as "moderate rebels" in Syria to fight Islamic State (ISIS) has seen the United States Military enter into a de-facto alliance with its sworn enemies Al Qaeda. Are lawmakers in the United States - who have been pushing for intervention in Syria's civil war - unaware of who they have entered an alliance with, and of the deeply sectarian nature of the "moderate rebels"?
Inside Syria, Al Qaeda's official franchise, the Al Nusra Front, has been fighting alongside the US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamic Front for the last three years. Al Nusra is considered to be the "cutting edge" of the Syrian insurgent forces, with the FSA reduced in most instances, and particularly in recent months, to providing a support role. Meanwhile, the FSA has announced a "non-aggression pact" with ISIS south of Damascus. The US-funded Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF) leader also told reporters it welcomed "anyone who fights against the regime inside Syria" and that it would not attack ISIS.
Jordanian journalist Raed Omari, referencing work by renowned researcher Hassan Abu Haniyeh, notes:
"Al-Nusra Front was originally part of the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq, from which ISIS sprung, but has refrained from unveiling its true identity due to concerns about straining its relationships with other rebel groups in Syria and angering external powers. This low-profile approach by al-Nusra was the reason behind ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s announcement of his organization’s disengagement from al-Qaeda
"ISIS and al-Nusra are just two sides of the same coin with their claimed differences and disputes being on tactics rather than ideology. In other words, during a time of heavy bombardment of the ISIS posts in Syria and Iraq by the US-led coalition or America alone, al-Nusra Front might be a safe haven for ISIS fighters."
Most recently this "moderate" rebel coalition kidnapped 45 UN Fijian Peacekeepers from their base in the Golan Heights. Bizarrely the rebels hoped that the kidnapping of UN peacekeepers could be used as leverage to have Nusra Front removed from the UN's list of banned terrorist organisations. These same rebels also attempted to kill other UN Peacekeepers in the region when they engaged in a gun battle with Irish and Filipino troops.
Those leading the "moderate rebels" include people like FSA and Farouq Brigades commander Abu Sakkar. He came to worldwide attention in May 2013 when he posted a video online in which he cuts into the body of a dead man whom he alleges to be a Syrian soldier and begins to eat the organs. The cannibal commander then encourages others to "slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts".
This overtly sectarian attitude has permeated throughout the ranks of the rebel forces and is something which leaders in the West appear happy to ignore. These US-backed "freedom fighters" have threatened to ethnically cleanse Syria of more than 3million of its inhabitants. Numerous Syrian refugees say the sectarian chant of Syrian rebels as they entered their towns and villages was "Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave!"
Ironically, it is this blatant sectarianism directed against anybody who isn't Sunni which has ensured the survival of the Syrian Government. Minorities, including Alawites, Shias, Christians, Druze and also many liberal Sunnis, are terrified of what a rebel takeover might mean. This has even seen the parliamentary opposition - who oppose the Assad Government - rallying behind the country's army.
The decision by rebels to attack the ethnic Armenian town of Kessab and the Christian town of Ma'loula - both of which had previously played no part in the civil war - only confirmed the worst fears of Syria's minorities.
While the Syrian rebels are almost exclusively Sunni Muslims, the Syrian Government's make-up is more in-line with that of the population of the Syrian state. Despite persistent claims from western media that President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect controls the state, the facts show that only a handful of key positions are held by Alawites. (The Syrian Prime Minister is Sunni, as are the Interior Minister, the Justice Minister, the Foreign Minister, even the Defence Minister.)
Many commentators seemed shocked at the sudden rise of the Islamic State, which has been responsible for some of the most violent outrages of the Syrian Civil War. News reports explained that it had gained control of territory from other rebels by attacking the soft underbelly of the Free Syrian Army while it was distracted and facing Syrian troops in places such as Homs and Aleppo.
In reality most of IS's forces came from within the FSA itself. Entire FSA brigades and other rebel factions simply switched sides. In some cases 1,000-strong US-funded units of the FSA defected to Islamic State. The organisation received huge amounts of support from US allies such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait; while NATO-member and US ally Turkey was key to aiding the growth of Islamic State by allowing it to operate with impunity within its territory, including the widespread sale of ISIS oil.
Now, it appears the US - in attempting to stamp-out a monster it helped create, albeit inadvertently through its funding for Syrian rebel forces - may well be repeating its mistakes all-over again. . .