Former DIA Chief Michael Flynn Says Rise of Islamic State was “a willful decision” and Defends Accuracy of 2012 Memo

Lengthy discussion of the DIA memo begins at the 8:50 mark.

In Al Jazeera’s latest Head to Head episode, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Michael Flynn confirms to Mehdi Hasan that not only had he studied the DIA memo predicting the West’s backing of an Islamic State in Syria when it came across his desk in 2012, but even asserts that the White House’s sponsoring of radical jihadists (that would emerge as ISIL and Nusra) against the Syrian regime was “a willful decision.”

Amazingly, Flynn actually took issue with the way interviewer Mehdi Hasan posed the question—Flynn seemed to want to make it clear that the policies that led to the rise of ISIL were not merely the result of ignorance or looking the other way, but the result of conscious decision making:

Hasan: You are basically saying that even in government at the time you knew these groups were around, you saw this analysis, and you were arguing against it, but who wasn’t listening?
Flynn: I think the administration.
Hasan: So the administration turned a blind eye to your analysis?
Flynn: I don’t know that they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was a willful decision.
Hasan: A willful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?
Flynn: It was a willful decision to do what they’re doing.

Hasan himself expresses surprise at Flynn’s frankness during this portion of the interview. While holding up a paper copy of the 2012 DIA report declassified through FOIA, Hasan reads aloud key passages such as, “there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria, and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

Rather than downplay the importance of the document and these startling passages, as did the State Department soon after its release, Flynn does the opposite: he confirms that while acting DIA chief he “paid very close attention” to this report in particular and later adds that “the intelligence was very clear.”

Lt. Gen. Flynn, speaking safely from retirement, is the highest ranking intelligence official to go on record saying the United States and other state sponsors of rebels in Syria knowingly gave political backing and shipped weapons to Al-Qaeda in order to put pressure on the Syrian regime:

Hasan: In 2012 the U.S. was helping coordinate arms transfers to those same groups [Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda in Iraq], why did you not stop that if you’re worried about the rise of quote-unquote Islamic extremists?

Flynn: I hate to say it’s not my job…but that…my job was to…was to to ensure that the accuracy of our intelligence that was being presented was as good as it could be.

The early reporting that treated the DIA memo as newsworthy and hugely revelatory was criticized and even mocked by some experts, as well as outlets like The Daily Beast. Yet the very DIA director at the time the memo was drafted and circulated widely now unambiguously confirms the document to be of high value, and indicates that it served as source material in his own discussions over Syria policy with the White House.

As Michael Flynn also previously served as director of intelligence for Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) during a time when its prime global mission was dismantling Al-Qaeda, his honest admission that the White House was in fact arming and bolstering Al-Qaeda linked groups in Syria is especially shocking given his stature.

Consider further the dissonance that comes with viewing the Pentagon’s former highest ranking intelligence officer in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden now calmly and coolly confessing that the United States directly aided the foot soldiers of Ayman al-Zawahiri beginning in at least 2012 in Syria.

This confirmation is significant to my own coverage of the DIA report, as I was contacted by a number of individuals who attempted to assure me that the true experts and “insiders” knew the document was unimportant and therefore irrelevant within the intelligence community and broader Syria policy.

This began after a Daily Beast article entitled The ISIS Conspiracy That Ate the Web  cited former NSA officer John Schindler as an expert source. Schindler concluded of the DIA document: “it’s difficult to say much meaningful about it… Nothing special here, not one bit.”

To my surprise, only hours after I published a rebuttal of Schindler and the Daily Beast article, I was contacted by a current high level CIA official who is also a personal friend from my time living in the D.C. area.

This official, who spent most of his career with CIA Public Affairs, made a personal appeal urging me to drop my comments attacking John Schindler’s credibility, as I had noted that Schindler is a highly ideological and scandal-laden commentator who consistently claims special insider knowledge in support of his arguments. This CIA official further attempted to convince me of Schindler’s credibility as an insider and expert, assuring me that “he has written insightfully.”

Mehdi Hasan’s historic interview with General Flynn should put the issue to rest—the declassified DIA report is now confirmed to be a central and vital source that sheds light on the origins of ISIS, and must inform a candid national debate on American policy in Syria and Iraq.

As it is now already becoming part of the official record on conflict in Syria among respected international historians, knowledge of the declassified document must make it into every American household.

The State Department’s Response to the 2012 DIA Islamic State Document

Defense Intelligence Agency report exchange begins at 29:45

FMR Director of the DIA Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn will discuss the 2012 Defense Intelligence report that predicts “an Islamic State” would arise as a result of the West’s desire to “isolate the Syrian regime” in an upcoming Al Jazeera interview set to air July 31.

Al Jazeera’s early press release indicates that Flynn says of the document concerning the origins of ISIL’s meteoric rise that: “I think it was a decision, I think it was a willful decision.”

Thus far the highest level denial of the document’s significance has come from the State Department in a June 4 daily press briefing.

Note that spokesperson Marie Harf ignores the essence of the question, which asks her to comment on the origins of ISIL in light of the DIA report, instead merely holding up GCC countries as currently part of the anti-ISIL coalition.

The below is the relevant section of the transcript from State.gov (see video above starting at the 29:45 mark):


 

QUESTION: It is striking, though, how similar – how what’s happening currently does chime in with the prediction we now know that the Defense Intelligence Agency made in 2012 that a Salafist principality might grow up in eastern Syria and western Iraq, and that – in fact, that was the policy. That’s what – the goal of the GCC countries, your allies in the region. Would you accept that that’s what’s happened?

MS HARF: Well, I think you’re making a number of sort of sweeping generalizations.

QUESTION: That was the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012.

MS HARF: Well, I haven’t read the whole DIA report. I’m happy to go back and pull that and take a look at it. There was a lot of assessment done at the time about the possible futures – directions that Iraq could take, certainly. So I’m happy to go back and look at those, but —

QUESTION: You don’t think it’s the goal of the GCC to have some sort of Salafist area there to be a sort of bulwark against Iran?

MS HARF: I think the fact that GCC and regional countries are taking direct military action against ISIL in the region now, I think, should make it pretty clear how they feel about ISIL.

IMPORTANT DIA UPDATE: Former Defense Intelligence Director Michael Flynn Comments Publicly on 2012 DIA Islamic State Report

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (Public Domain Image)

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Former DIA Director (Public Domain Image)

MY INITIAL REPORTING on the DIA memo that in 2012 predicts that the West would fuel the rise of “an Islamic State” in Syria caused enough of a global media stir that it prompted DIA Public Affairs to respond to my questions.

But as Middle East Eye reported, the DIA’s response was disappointing yet still somewhat revealing:

When asked repeatedly by journalist and ex-US marine Brad Hoff to dispel claims that the West aligned itself with IS or ISIS at some point in Syria, the DIA’s official response was telling: “No comment.”

While major foreign media like The Guardian, The Sunday Times of London, Der Spiegel, RT News, UK Daily Mail, and London Review of Books ran stories and prominent editorials that featured serious discussion of the document, their mainstream media equivalents in the U.S. didn’t touch it. To my knowledge, outlets like CNN, FOX, NBC, Newsweek, NPR, Washington Post, etc… have yet to even quote from the specific document either through broadcast or even in online articles.

Perhaps it will take hearing from the chief of the DIA that was in place at the time the intelligence report was drafted to finally inform the broader American public?

Thankfully, this will happen in a forthcoming Al Jazeera English interview with retired US Lt. General Michael Flynn, former head of the Pentagon’s DIA and senior intelligence officer with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Al Jazeera’s press release announcing the interview entitled “Is the US to blame for ISIL?” indicates that Flynn is asked specifically about the document in the prerecorded show set to air July 31:

Publicly commenting for the first time on a previously-classified August 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) memo, which had predicted “the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria (…) this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want” and confirmed that “the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and [Al Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” the former DIA chief told Head to Head that “the [Obama] Administration” didn’t “listen” to these warnings issued by his agency’s analysts.

“I don’t know if they turned a blind eye,” he said. “I think it was a decision, I think it was a willful decision.”

“Is the US to blame for ISIL?” with Michael Flynn will be broadcast on Friday 31st July at 20.00 GMT and will be repeated on Saturday 1st August at 12.00 GMT, Saturday 2nd August at 01.00 GMT and Monday 3rd August at 06.00 GMT.

For continuing coverage of the DIA Islamic State document, follow Taylor Tyler’s excellent reporting at Headline and Global News.

Guest Analysis by Steven Chovanec: Why We Must Not Arm Even One More Syrian Rebel

 Steven Chovanec is an independent geopolitical analyst and writer based in Chicago, IL.  He is a student of International Studies and Sociology at Roosevelt University and conducts independent, open-source research into geopolitics and social issues.  His writings can be found at undergroundreports.blogspot.comfind him on Twitter @stevechovanec. (Above Image: Shutterstock)

by Steven Chovanec

THE FACT THAT THE US can find only 60 Syrian rebels to train is quite telling.

It means that out of nearly 18 million Syrians (reduced by 4 million since the start of the conflict) the US could only find 60 that were willing to fight against the Syrian Army, only 60.(1)

In other words, only an increase of ~0.000333% of the Syrian population is deemed “moderate” by the US and willing to fight.  The military is currently in the process of vetting 7,000 volunteers, so if we assume that all of them will pass inspection, that will amount to a mere ~0.039222% of the population. A far cry from 0.1%, let alone 1% of the total inhabitants.

The fact that only 60 can be deemed “moderate” is also quite telling.  This coming from a government who deemed the Free Syrian Army, among others, as “moderates.”

Anti-tank missiles for "moderate" rebels—now in ISIS and AQ hands.

Anti-tank missiles for “moderate” rebels—now in ISIS and AQ hands.

In September of 2014, FSA “moderate” commander and recipient of US aid Bassel Idriss admitted that “We are collaborating with the Islamic State and the Nusra Front,” the reason for this being “We have reached a point where we have to collaborate with anyone against unfairness and injustice.”(2)

Back in April of the same year, the leader of the US-backed “moderate” Syrian Revolutionary Front Jamal Maarouf admitted that al-Qaeda was “not our problem” and that his fighters conducted joint operations with al-Nusra.  “If the people who support us tell us to send weapons to another group, we send them. They [Jabhat al-Nusra] 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.”(3)

One of the most senior “moderate” rebel commanders to be backed by the US and main recipient of Western aid, Col. Okaidi, is seen in a video, which has been authenticated by Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma, speaking during interviews saying “My relationship with the brothers in ISIL is good… I communicate almost daily with brothers in ISIL… the relationship is good, even brotherly.”

Okaidi admits al-Qaeda is not any different from the FSA “They [al-Nusra] did not exhibit any abnormal behavior, which is different from that of the FSA.”  The video shows Okaidi with ISIS Emir Abu Jandal (right frame below: standing right of Okaidi) celebrating a victory, an ally ISIS fighter shouts “I swear to Allah, O Alawites, we came to slaughter you.  Await what you deserve!”(4)

US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford (left frame above, standing by FSA Col. Okaidi), who worked closely with Okaidi, himself admitted to giving material support to ISIS and al-Nusra, stating that he “absolutely does not deny” knowing that most of the rebels he backed fought alongside ISIS and Nusra.(5)

The reason for all of this is simply that, as pointed out by the leading Western journalist in the region, Patrick Cockburn, “In reality, there is no dividing wall between them [ISIS and Nusra] and America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies.”  According to Vice President Biden, “there was no moderate middle because the moderate middle are made up of shopkeepers, not soldiers.”(6)

This means that apart from a plethora of substantially foreign terrorist jihadi lunatics, there is no other force willing to fight against the government.

2014 photo posted on ISIS media account: experts say the weapon is a Croatian RBG-6 grenade launcher, a weapon supplied to the Syrian rebels through the Saudi and CIA effort to transfer Balkan weapons to Syrian jihadists

2014 photo posted on ISIS media account: experts say the weapon is a Croatian RBG-6 grenade launcher, a weapon supplied to the Syrian rebels through the Saudi and CIA effort to transfer Balkan weapons to Syrian jihadists.

The reasons for this were further articulated by Obama himself, who stated that it was a “fantasy” to think that the US could arm and equip “farmers, dentists, and folks who never fought before” and have them be an effective force against Assad.(7)  What is implied here is that ordinary Syrians, actually moderate individuals, have no desire for military action nor are they capable of effectively harnessing it, hence the need to support the extremists, who are.  And therefore, as Biden points out, the Wests’ allies “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons to… al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”  What Biden leaves out is that this was all coordinated under a covert US-led operation.

In reality, these moderates were the peaceful opposition that did not want the destruction of the state but instead desired democratic change, who were then displaced by foreign-backers and terrorist who hijacked their uprising, as is conceded by prominent opposition leaders.(8)

This hijacking was the result of US leaders realizing that the actual moderates only wanted peaceful change, while the West desired the overthrow of the state through any means necessary, including violent takeover, and so therefore “Jihadi groups ideologically close to al-Qaeda have been relabeled as moderate if their actions are deemed supportive of US policy aims,” as Patrick Cockburn rightly points out.  The result of this is that “Washington thus allowed advanced weaponry to be handed to its deadliest enemy.”(9)

The recent training of 60 “moderates” is nothing different.

To illustrate this, it’s important to see that this narrative of a moderate opposition stays constant, while the group this label is applied to constantly changes.

Right now this label is being applied to the Southern Front, hailed as the new moderate force America can morally support.  However, this group is financed and supported by the Military Operations Centre (MOC) in Amman that is staffed by agents from the US, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, as well as other anti-Assad governments, and according to Syrian expert Aron Lund, “adoption of MOC-provided talking points” of moderation by members of this alliance are likely “to be more opportunistic than heartfelt.”(10)

The reason the US is now training 60 rebels is because every single other rebel group that the US trained, equipped, funded, and marked as “moderate” has gone on to join either al-Qaeda or ISIS.  FSA brigades, the Syrian Revolutionary Front, Harakat Hazm, all of them have now defected to al-Qaeda and ISIS.(11)

 

Moderate rebels?: This photo was originally uploaded to the web by a Swedish based group of fighters in Syria after the Summer 2013 rebel offensive against a govt. airbase near Aleppo. A rebel fighter mocks a captured Christian government soldier's cross. Another photo in the original set shows the soldier later being crushed with a large rock on his chest as he lay on his back.

Image: Moderate Rebels Mock a Christian Soldier—This photo was originally posted online by a Swedish based terror group in Syria after the Summer 2013 rebel offensive against a govt. airbase near Aleppo. A rebel fighter mocks a captured Christian government soldier’s cross. Another photo posted in the original set reveals that the soldier was later tortured by being crushed with a large rock on his chest as he lay on his back.

At every point along the way while receiving US-aid they were branded as “moderates.”  After they went on to join ISIS or it became too hard to keep up their “moderate” image, the torch was passed on to a new group, as now it is passed onto the Southern Front, yet “in reality” there was never any “moderate middle” nor is there “a dividing wall between [the extremists] and America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies.”

Therefore we should not be fooled when new rebels “ideologically close to al-Qaeda” are “relabeled as moderate” all because “their actions are deemed supportive of US policy aims”, whether they be the Southern Front, the new 60-trainees, or the next group that is sure to emerge in the future, especially given that from the beginning, according to US intelligence, the opposition has taken “a clear sectarian direction”, and according to leading Western journalists has been dominated from the start by “ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra… in addition to other extreme jihadi groups.”(12)

There is nothing moderate about voluntarily taking up arms and agreeing to be a proxy force for foreign powers.  Furthermore, there is nothing moderate about attacking and overtaking towns and villages, which is the expressed aim of this new US-backed force, when the majority of the population isn’t calling for it and doesn’t desire it.  As Zbigniew Brzezinski has stated, Assad has more support than any group opposing him, and surely he has more support than a US-backed militia, as polls consistently show world opinion sees the US as the major threat to peace, and since most Syrians are aware of the dirty war being perpetrated on them by the West.(13)

UK-based Conflict Armament Research investigators found this expended ammunition at ISIS firing positions in northern Iraq. The bullets were manufactured at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Missouri.

UK-based Conflict Armament Research investigators found this expended ammunition at ISIS firing positions in northern Iraq. The bullets were manufactured at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Missouri. (Source: Conflict Armament Research)

The presence of ISIS is not an argument for the training of more rebels, it is instead an argument against this, as quite possibly the single biggest factor in the creation and rise of ISIS was the US sponsoring of the insurgency in Syria which they knew to be sectarian and extremist, coupled with the training of rebels who were either themselves extremist terrorist or affiliated with such parties, flooding them with arms and funds to the tune of $1 billion per year and $2.91 billion since 2014.(14)

It must be remembered what former Scotland Yard detective and UK counterterrorism intelligence officer Charles Shoebridge rightly pointed out, that “the ‘moderate’ rebels the US and UK support themselves openly welcomed the arrival of such extremists. Indeed, the Free Syria Army backed by the West was allied with ISIS, until ISIS attacked them at the end of 2013.”(15)

This May 2014 report by Jenan Moussa of Al-Aan News featured U.S.-backed and armed Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) commander Jamal Maroof. McClatchy News later reported Maroof's SRF to be a recipient of TOW anti-tank missiles. Watch full news clip w/translation here.

This May 2014 report by Jenan Moussa of Al-Aan News featured U.S.-backed and armed Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) commander Jamal Maarouf. McClatchy News reported Maroof’s SRF to be a recipient of TOW anti-tank missiles. Watch full news clip w/translations here.

For the first 3 years of the crisis the rebels the West openly backed were allies of ISIS, committing the exact same kind of atrocities and terroristic acts.  And according to Patrick Cockburn, the US-backed FSA were at times despised even more than the other terrorist organizations as they would terrorize and ransack the civilian populations, “Pilloried in the West for their sectarian ferocity, these jihadists were often welcomed by local people for restoring law and order after the looting and banditry of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army.”(16)

If you train rebels one time and they commit these atrocities and fight alongside fanatical terrorists you can at least plead ignorance and good intentions, however if you continue these actions when this has been the outcome every single time, let alone doing it over, and over, and over, and over again, then that is premeditated complicity in the sponsoring of terrorism, an act by the West that Syria’s Christian leaders are also demanding an end to.(17)

This recent attempt to train “moderate” rebels is no different.  There is nothing moderate about the entire process, and these fighters will go on to commit the exact same kinds of atrocities and ally with the exact same terrorist entities that all of our other rebels have done in the past.

Furthermore, just the mere action of pumping in more bullets, guns, weaponry, and fighters will inevitably lead to further bloodshed and civilian casualties caught within the crossfire, exacerbating the situation and increasing pain and suffering.  As Charles Shoebridge notes, the notion that “pouring sophisticated weaponry into a war zone already awash with weapons” will somehow “save civilian lives” is a deeply “flawed assumption.”  “Syria’s rebels must be assessed as they are, not as they once were, or as we’d romantically like them to be,” and therefore on that basis, noting the extensively documented history of rebel atrocities, “we should not be backing them.”(18)

In his book “The Rise of Islamic State” Patrick Cockburn writes, “An intelligence officer from a Middle Eastern country neighboring Syria told me that ISIS members “say they are always pleased when sophisticated weapons are sent to anti-Assad groups of any kind, because they can always get the arms off them by threats of force or cash payments.”” (19) (emphasis mine)

I think it’s about time we stop fueling the spilling of blood and the arming of terrorists inside Syria.  If we actually wanted to stop ISIS, that’s the first place we would start.

 

Notes:

1.)    Rizzo, Jennifer, “Carter: U.S. trains only 60 Syrian rebels.” CNN, July 7th, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/07/politics/united-states-training-syrian-rebels-ashton-carter/; CIA World Factbook, Syria. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sy.html; Syria Regional Refugee Response, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  Last Updated 09 Jul 2015, accessed July 15th, 2015. http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php.

2.)   Knutsen, Elise. “Frustration drives Arsal’s FSA into ISIS ranks.” The Daily Star, September 8, 2014. http://cached.newslookup.com/cached.php?ref_id=394&siteid=2319&id=8144452&t=1410149280.

3.)   Hunter, Isabel. “’I am not fighting against al-Qa’ida… it’s not our problem’, says West’s last hope in Syria.” The Independent, April 2nd, 2015.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/i-am-not-fighting-againstalqaida-itsnot-our-problem-says-wests-last-hope-in-syria-9233424.html.

4.)   Joshua Landis, “US Key Man in Syria Worked Closely with ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra.” https://twitter.com/joshua_landis/status/504610185952784384.

5.)   “In February 2015, he [Robert Ford] openly confessed to having given support to ISIS and Al-Nusra terrorists after being questioned by Al-Monitor News journalist Edward Dark. THE TWITTER HANDLE, @fordrs58 is indeed Ambassador Robert Ford’s account, as was confirmed to me in a personal email by Dr. Joshua Landis, Director of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the most well-known Syria scholar in the United States.” Hoff, Brad. Levant Report, May 25th, 2015. http://levantreport.com/tag/robert-ford/.

6.)   Cockburn, Patrick, “Preface” & “The Rise of ISIS”, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Brooklyn, NY, 2015). Pg. xx, 3. Print.

7.)   “Obama: Notion that Syrian opposition could have overthrown Assad with U.S. arms a “fantasy.”  CBS News, June 20th, 2014.http://www.cbsnews.com/news/obama-notion-that-syrian-opposition-could-overthrow-assad-a-fantasy/.

8.)   In the beginning of the uprisings, Syrians did not desire the destruction of the pluralistic and socially inclusive albeit authoritarian state given the popular support for the president and the country’s religious diversity and tolerance. They supported the country’s protection of minorities, as well as the status of women and free education and health care yet opposed corruption, the security-intelligence apparatus, and the feared political police. Wikstrom, Cajsa. “Syria: ‘A kingdom of silence’”. Al Jazeera, February 9th, 2011. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/02/201129103121562395.html; Muhanna, Elias. “No Revolution in Syria: An Interview with Camille Otrakji.” http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2011/otrakji030511.html; Otrakji, Camille. “The Real Bashar Al-Assad.”Conflict Forum, February 4th, 2012. http://www.conflictsforum.org/2012/the-real-bashar-al-assad/; For further on this, see Tim Anderson, “Washington’s ‘New Middle East’ Stalls, the Resistance Rises.” Global Research, July 12th, 2015. http://www.globalresearch.ca/washingtons-new-middle-east-stalls-the-resistance-rises/5462101; The fact that the peaceful protests were hijacked and displaced by foreign-backed extremists is also explored in Andersons piece, as well as being conceded by leading opposition figures like Dr. Haytham Manna, who states that “the pumping of arms to Syria, supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the phenomenon of the Free Syrian Army, and the entry of more than 200 jihadi foreigners into Syria in the past six months have all led to a decline in the mobilisation of large segments of the population… and in the activists’ peaceful civil movement. The political discourse has become sectarian; there has been a Salafisation of religiously conservative sectors”, Haytham Manna, The Guardian, “Syria’s opposition has been led astray by violence.” June 22, 2012.http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jun/22/syria-opposition-led-astray-by-violence; This point is as well articulated by leading Western journalists. According to Patrick Cockburn “Come the uprisings of 2011, it was the jihadi and Sunni-sectarian, militarized wing of rebel movements that received massive injections of money from the kings and emirs of the Gulf.  The secular, non-sectarian opponents of the long-established police states were soon marginalized, reduced to silence, or killed.”  As well, “Saudi involvement, along with that of Qatar and Turkey, de-emphasized secular democratic change as the ideology of the uprising, which then turned into a Sunni bid for power using Salafi jihadist brigades as the cutting edge of the revolt.” Cockburn, Patrick. “The Rise of ISIS” & “Saudi Arabia Tries to Pull Back.” The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Brooklyn, NY, 2015), pg. 8, 103-4. Print; What Cockburn leaves out in these passages is that this was all coordinated under a covert US/CIA operation out of US-led operation rooms in Turkey and Jordan, where the US was giving intelligence to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar on which rebels to support, which ended up going “largely to hard-line Islamists.” Schmitt, Eric. New York Times, “C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition.” June 21, 2015.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/world/middleeast/cia-said-to-aid-in-steering-arms-to-syrian-rebels.html?_r=0; Sanger, David E. New York Times, “Rebel Arms Flow Is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria.” October 14, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/world/middleeast/jihadists-receiving-most-arms-sent-to-syrian-rebels.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2&.

9.)   Cockburn, Patrick. “Jihadis on the March.” The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Brooklyn, NY, 2015), pg. 52-3. Print.

10.)            A prominent example of the Southern Front dubiously being labelled as moderate comes from a recent piece by the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. Khatib, Lina. “Syria’s Last Best Hope: The Southern Front.” The National Interest, July 6th, 2015; Cockburn, Patrick. “Isis in Syria: We can’t win a war without taking sides.” The Independent, July 4th, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/isis-in-syria-we-cant-win-a-war-without-taking-sides-10366142.html.

11.) Zaman Alwasl, “FSA brigades pledge allegiance to ISIS in Al Bukamal, east Syria.” July 7th, 2014. https://en.zamanalwsl.net/readNews.php?id=5696; In September 2014 Abu Fidaa, a retired Colonel in the Syrian army who headed the Revolutionary Council in Qalamoun stated that “A very large number of FSA members [in Arsal] have joined ISIS and Nusra,” while FSA Commander Bassel Idriss said that “After the fall of Yabroud and the FSA’s retreat into the hills [around Arsal], many units pledged allegiance.” Knutsen, Elise. “Frustration drives Arsal’s FSA into ISIS ranks.” The Daily Star, September 8, 2014.http://cached.newslookup.com/cached.php?ref_id=394&siteid=2319&id=8144452&t=1410149280; Fadel, Leith. “3,000 FSA Fighters Defect to ISIS in the Qalamoun Mountains.” The Arab Source, January 9th, 2015. http://www.almasdarnews.com/article/3000-fsa-fighters-defect-isis-qalamoun-mountains/; “Moderate rebels who had been armed and trained by the United States either surrendered or defected to the extremists as the Jabhat al-Nusra group, affiliated with al-Qaeda… Among the groups whose bases were overrun in the assault was Harakat Hazm, the biggest recipient of U.S. assistance offered under a small-scale, covert CIA program launched this year, including the first deliveries of U.S.-made TOW antitank missiles… rebel fighters there surrendered their weapons and fled without a fight.” Sly, Liz. “U.S.-backed Syria rebels routed by fighters linked to al-Qaeda.” The Washington Post, November 2nd, 2014.https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-backed-syria-rebels-routed-by-fighters-linked-to-al-qaeda/2014/11/02/7a8b1351-8fb7-4f7e-a477-66ec0a0aaf34_story.html; “The Syrian rebel group Harakat al-Hazm, one of the White House’s most trusted militias fighting President Bashar al-Assad, collapsed Sunday, with activists posting a statement online from frontline commanders saying they are disbanding their units and folding them into brigades aligned with a larger Islamist insurgent alliance.” Dettmer, Jamie. “Main U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Disbanding, Joining Islamists.” The Daily Beast, March 1st, 2015. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/03/01/main-u-s-backed-syrian-rebel-group-disbanding-joining-islamists.html; “Islamic fighters with Jabhat al-Nusra… routed US-backed groups the Syrian Revolutionary Front (SFR) and Harakat Hazm… [Washington] has thus been supplying them with heavy weapons, including TOW anti-tank missiles… ‘Some of the rebels swore allegiance to al-Nusra, others fled.’” Bacchi, Umberto. “Syria: Al-Nusra Jihadists ‘Capture US TOW Anti-Tank Missiles’ from Moderate Rebels.” International Business Times, November 3rd, 2014. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-al-nusra-jihadists-capture-us-weaponry-moderate-rebels-1472864; “Fighters under the Obama-backed SRF commander Jamal Maarouf… have apparently been joining al-Qaeda in droves. “Dozens of his fighters defected and joined Nusra, that is why the group won,” Rami Abdulrahman with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was quoted as saying by Reuters. Nusra fighters also confirmed the defections of U.S.-equipped fighters to al-Qaeda. According to sources on the ground cited in media reports, Nusra obtained tanks and other heavy weapons as large numbers of SRF fighters swore allegiance to al-Qaeda.” Newman, Alex. ““Moderate” Rebels Armed by Obama Join al-Qaeda, ISIS.” New American, November 21, 2014. http://www.thenewamerican.com/world-news/asia/item/19583-moderate-rebels-armed-by-obama-join-al-qaeda-isis; “Abu Majid, another rebel leader, who has been receiving western support for six months, said it had not prevented his recent defeat by Jabhat al-Nusra… More than 1,000 men, half his brigade’s strength, had left in despair, many defecting to Isil… Defection to the jihadists has now been going on for years. Mahmoud, a former prisoner of the regime who used to work for the FSA, now runs safe houses in Turkey for foreign fighters looking to join Jabhat al-Nusra and Isil.” Sherlock, Ruth. “Fears that US weapons will fall into al-Qaeda’s hands as Syrian rebels defect.” The Telegraph, November 11th, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11224488/Fears-that-US-weapons-will-fall-into-al-Qaedas-hands-as-Syrian-rebels-defect.html.

12.) Declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents from August 2012 state that “Internally, events are taking a clear sectarian direction… The Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria… AQI supported the opposition from the beginning… The West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition.”  Judicial Watchhttp://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf; Patrick Cockburn, “The Rise of ISIS”, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Brooklyn, NY, 2015), pg. 3. Print.

13.) USA Today reports Defense Secretary Carter explaining that the 60 rebel fighters primary mission will be “to protect their towns and villages from ISIL fighters.” The word “protect” here is a euphemism for “control”, as these rebel groups “protect” villages by taking them over, thus insuring that others, like ISIL, do not. Vanden Brook, Tom, “Pentagon pays Syrians $400 per month to fight ISIL.” USA Today, June 22nd, 2015. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/06/22/pentagon-syria-isis/29113251/; The problem with this kind of “protection” is that the Syrians aren’t calling for it, and don’t desire it, especially from a US-proxy, as Zbigniew Brzezinski has stated “whether we like it or not, Assad does have some significant support in Syrian society.  And probably more than any one of the several groups that are opposing him… he has a better standing than any one of them.” “Brzezinski: Assad has more support than any group opposing him,” C-SPAN, January 26th, 2015. http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4525103/brzezinski-assad-support-group-opposing; Polls consistently show that, according to world opinion, the US is the greatest threat to world peace. Gallup International’s annual global End of Year survey 2013, Gallup Internationalhttp://www.wingia.com/web/files/services/33/file/33.pdf?1437015589.

14.)            Covert CIA Syrian rebel training program costs $1 billion per year. Miller, Greg et al, “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cut.” The Washington Post, June 12th, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/lawmakers-move-to-curb-1-billion-cia-program-to-train-syrian-rebels/2015/06/12/b0f45a9e-1114-11e5-adec-e82f8395c032_story.html; “As of June 18, 2015, the total cost of operations related to ISIL since kinetic operations started on Aug. 8, 2014, is $2.91 billion.” US Department of Defense. http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2014/0814_iraq/.

15.) Ahmed, Nafeez. “How the Pentagon Exploits ISIS to Kill Surveillance Reform and Re-Occupy Iraq,” Counterpunch, September 26th, 2014.http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/09/26/how-the-pentagon-exploits-isis-to-kill-surveillance-reform-and-re-occupy-iraq/.

16.)            Cockburn, Patrick. “Jihadists Hijack the Syria Uprising.” The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Brooklyn, NY, 2015), pg. 84-5. Print.

17.) Gledhill, Ruth, “Syrian Christian leader tells West: ‘Stop arming terror groups who are massacring our people.’” Christian Today, July 1st, 2015.http://www.christiantoday.com/article/syrian.christian.leader.tells.west.stop.arming.terror.groups.who.are.massacring.our.people/57747.htm.

18.)             Shoebridge, Charles. “Why We Shouldn’t Be Arming Syria’s Rebels.” Huffington Post, March 14th, 2003. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/charles-shoebridge/syria-rebels-uk_b_2873880.html; Shoebridge, Charles. “The West Should Not Support Syrian Rebels.” Huffington Post, July 31st, 2012.http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/charles-shoebridge/post_3720_b_1722772.html.

19.)            Cockburn, Patrick, “The Rise of ISIS”, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Brooklyn, NY, 2015), pg. 3. Print.

FEATURED: A MARINE GOES TO SYRIA

View story at Medium.com

SaudiLeaks Document: Did Saudi Arabia Barter in Christian Lives at the Vatican? Here’s the Full Translation

THE BELOW IS A COMPLETE TRANSLATION of the Saudi cable released by WikiLeaks, which came under scrutiny this week after WikiLeaks announced the following via Twitter on Monday with a link to the document: “Saudi to Vatican: Help us bring down Assad and we will spare the Christians.”

The initial tweet has since been deleted after controversy over whether the Arabic actually implies this, and was replaced by the following:

Whether WikiLeaks overstated the contents or not, the document at the very least reveals that the Saudi king (since 1964 also referred to as “prime minister”) took significant steps in April 2012 to do PR damage control concerning the Syrian opposition’s image.

In late March of 2012 the official Vatican news agency, Agenzia Fides, published a report citing “an ongoing ethnic cleansing of Christians” by anti-government fighters in Homs based on Syrian Orthodox church sources—this report quickly made world headlines. It was further widely reported in international press that 90% of the large Christian population of Homs had been forcibly expelled and their homes confiscated by rebel fighters.

As Saudia Arabia was giving public political support to the opposition at this time, as well as clandestine military support to rebel fighters through a joint CIA program reported by the New York Times to have begun in early 2012, it seems the kingdom was fully aware that the Christian problem could turn world public opinion against the armed rebels—many of which were expressly sectarian in their ideology—and their external backers.

The WikiLeaks Saudi trove contains another revelatory cable, undated, which speaks of a desire to “with all known possible methods bring down the current regime in Syria.

Amman-based Albawaba News, which is one of the largest online news providers in the Middle East, published an English translation of the following relevant passage:

The kingdom took its firm position and there is no longer room to withdraw. There must be emphasis on the truth that the Syrian regime’s first goal, to bypass its current crisis, is the revenge of the countries that stand against it, and the kingdom and some of the Gulf countries are on top of the list. If we take into consideration the range of the cruelty of that regime, its inhumanity and its lack of hesitation to use any way to accomplish its goals, then there is a high degree of danger for the kingdom, making it crucial to aim — with all known possible methods — to bring down the current regime in Syria.

This “bring down the regime” document, alongside the below newly translated Saudi-Vatican document wherein it is clear that the Vatican was being urged by Saudi Arabia to publicly support the revolution in Syria, should give us cause for serious consideration of WikiLeaks’ summary assertion of the secretive document: “Help us bring down Assad and we will ensure Christians are spared from retaliation.”

Was the Saudi emissary sent on this high priority mission (presumably then permanent foreign minister Saud bin Faysal) employing a carrot-and-stick approach while subtly using the lives of Syrian Christians?

THE BELOW is the first English translation of the Saudi-Vatican document on the web, courtesy of a Levant Report team member who is a published scholar of Arabic and Middle East History.


 

(Secret and Urgent)

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Prime Minister

May God preserve him

I am honored to refer to Directive No. 24616 dated 15.5.1433 [= April 7, 2012] which contains approval for sending a delegation to meet with the foreign minister of the Vatican bearing a verbal message from me urging them to encourage the Christians to support the movement of the Syrian people and to reassure them that all parties who support the Syrian people are committed to the rights of minorities in Syria and, in the event of the fall of the Syrian regime, will not accept for them to be subjected to any acts of retribution.

I am pleased to present for your consideration that I delegated His Excellency Abassador Raed bin Khaled Grimly to meet with His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs Archbishop Dominic Mamberti at the Vatican on Thursday, 20.5.1433 [= April 12, 2012] and he transmitted to His Excellency a verbal message regarding Syria, which has experienced an unacceptable and dangerous deterioration in its situation, that we affirm, along with the rest of the friends of the Syrian people, our complete commitment to the rights and freedoms of all members of the Syrian people of the various sects and ethnicities, that we absolutely will not accept for any elements of Syrian society to be subjected to acts of retribution, exclusion or marginalization and therefore we have continued to work to unite the Syrian opposition and to affirm its declared and reliable commitment to establish a regime that guarantees the rights, freedoms and equality of everyone without exception, and that we support a political solution and a peaceful transfer of authority but this requires the maximum possible pressure to be put on the regime to stop the killing, carry out its commitments, and be persuaded that it is not possible to achieve a military victory. For his part, His Excellency expressed his eagerness for continued communication between the two sides, affirming their expectation for development in relations based on what Your Highness has agreed […]


Note: the following page to the WikiLeaks document is not locatable or is unavailable, hence the text ends with the top page.

Permission is given to freely distribute the above translation with reference to LevantReport.com

Endless Predictions of the Syrian Regime’s Collapse, but Why Hasn’t it Happened? An Interview with Kamal Alam of the UK based Institute for Statecraft

http://www.thisfabtrek.com/journey/asia/syria/20091120-palmyra/assad-father-son-4.jpgManfred Schweda/thisfabtrek.com. Image used with permission.

KAMAL ALAM IS THE SYRIA FELLOW at The Institute for Statecraft, and advises the British Army on Syrian Affairs. He has served as advisor on Syrian affairs to the UK’s Chief of Defence Staff and to the European Union, and is a visiting lecturer at several military staff colleges across the Middle East and UK. His articles can be found in Nikkei Asian Review, ForeignPolicy.com, Middle East Eye, and other publications.

Kamal Alam

ONE YEAR AGO, Alam published a controversial yet prescient article in openDemocracy.net entitled, Pax Syriana: neither vanquished, nor all-conquering—wherein he explained why the Syrian Army had not and would not easily fragment, leading to the collapse of the Syrian state, as predicted by a chorus of analysts going back to 2011.

HIS NOVEMBER 2014 EXPERT TESTIMONY before the UK Parliament’s Defence Committee covering ISIS and national security can be viewed here.

WITH NEW REBEL VICTORIES in Spring of 2015, commentators and reporters declaring the regime’s imminent collapse grew louder, but it hasn’t happened. Kamal Alam agreed to the following exclusive interview with Levant Report—we wanted to know why the same old voices keep getting Syria so wrong…


 

Levant Report: At various times over the past few years there have been many failed predictions by prominent commentators declaring “the imminent demise” of the Syrian government. With the fall of Idlib and Palmyra and increased pressures, the prevailing wisdom in Western press is now once again that the government will soon collapse. Do you agree with this current popular assessment?

Kamal Alam: I do not believe the commonly stated prediction about ‘the fall of Assad and the Syrian regime.’ The coming fall of the Assad regime has begun to sound like the boy who cried wolf. Yet there is no wolf to be seen. However the fall of Idlib and Palmyra have significantly weakened the strategic posture of the Syrian Arab Army. The Syrian Arab Army is fighting the hardest battle in the Middle East against terrorists. Although one cannot deny that the Syrian protests started as a peaceful demand for reform they (protests) were quickly hijacked by the worst kind of extremists. No one from the initial days of the uprising wanted regime change. This was an external agenda which quickly spiraled out of control. And whilst the Syrian regime made mistakes to begin with as any State makes in times of tension, the uprising has turned into a blood letting sponsored by external states.

LR: Why do such commentators and analysts consistently fail in their predictions on Syria?

KA: The so-called experts and analysts fail in their predictions because they think Syria was the same as Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia and even Egypt. They failed to realize the ground realities of Syria and most experts have not even been to Syria. For instance the same experts were defence advisers in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Libya. They often begin their arguments by saying, ‘In Bosnia we did so and so.’ ‘In Afghanistan we did the surge in the South.’ Really? if Afghanistan or Iraq are barometers for success then one must look really hard in the mirror. Most strategic analysts are opportunists linked with media and defence companies who have vested interests and are definitely not bi partisan.  Without naming names, one of the key ‘experts’ was a DoD official who become the spokesperson for the Syrian National Council. How can an American defence official all of a sudden be a Syrian expert and spokesperson for the SNC? The only credible voices on Syria have been the late Patrick Seale, Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Joshua Landis. Even the ex-Israeli PM Ehud Barak said Assad would fall in two months, and this was in 2011.

LR: Damascus and other government-held centers are increasingly resource starved, and yet any modern army requires constant flow of energy and other resources. How has resource disruption impacted the operational effectiveness of the Syrian Army? How has the general strain impacted morale among the troops?

KA: The morale of the Syrian Army is still high. It is the only pluralistic fighting force on the ground which draws from the Sunni, Christian, Druze and Allawi sections of the society. The resources are severely depleted but time and again they have fought back from several setbacks over the last five years to regain their lost ground. No Army can fight a war without the support of its people and lands it operates in. For the Syrian Arab Army to operate for as long as it has, it has relied on its own people no matter how many foreign advisers there might be, there can be no substitute to your own people’s backing. The main problem is the supply line, and the international allies are helping the Army keep their supply lines well fed. At the same time people forget that Syria has always been the bread basket for the region. The Syrian Army is very resourceful given its experience in the Lebanese Civil War and de facto involvement in the war in Iraq since 2003. Lebanon was stabilized thanks to the Syrian Army in the 1970s and 1980s. People have a short memory and forget the Arab League and the United Nations mandated Syria to end the fighting in Lebanon. Now it is the time for the Lebanese to repay the favour to their Syrian brothers. The greatest factor in the cohesion of the Syrian Army is its multi-faith background.

LR: Former deputy director of the CIA Michael Morell recently publicly acknowledged Israeli-Nusra cooperation along the Golan. Concerning this and Israel’s documented direct attacks during the Syrian conflict, what do you see is Israel’s strategic interest in Syria?

KA: Kissinger famously said that without Syria there can be no peace in the Middle East. Israel has always clung to this statement, by knocking out the Syrian Army, they once and for all diminish any regional threat to their hegemony. Israel’s strategy in Syria has been clear: to divide the Syrians and create a buffer zone to further annexe land along the Golan Heights. They have tried hard to split the Druze and Allawi in particular saying they will protect them; however, so far they have failed in these attempts. In fact, as we saw a few days ago the Israeli Druze attacked an Israeli  military ambulance. So if anything Israel’s attempts have backfired and angered its own Druze community.

LR: In 2014 we heard many reports of local ceasefires and potential “freeze zones” that might lead to a long term stall in fighting [discussed here for example]. To your knowledge, did any locally negotiated ceasefires endure to a local peace? What are the prospects for peace in Syria? What would have to happen?

KA: There have been many successful local ceasefires most notably in Western Ghouta, Muaadamiet Esham, Qudssaya, Barzeh and the old city of Homs. The example of Maloula is also a useful one, where after the takeover of Islamic extremists, they were forced out by a coalition of armed locals and the Syrian Arab Army. Western Ghouta and Reef Dimashq has been a particular example with particular truces holding out in Ain Alfijeh and Wadi Barada. The key for a durable peace has to be a political understanding between agreeable sides. Both the Geneva talks failed because the rebels failed to come with an open mind. Moaz al Khatib, the most credible rebel leader to date resigned citing that the Syrian opposition is run by non-Syrians. The Turks and GCC begged him to stay on—yet he walked away knowing there is no credible opposition which he could lead. The examples of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt are before us in terms of the rigidity of Islamic democrats who feign the process of pluralism to grab power. Damascus has seen historical truces between Maronites and Druze of Lebanon, Sunnis and the Druze of Southern Syria. However for this to happen foreign interference must cease. The European states in particular need to hold their Muslim communities to account, Britain in particular has allowed so-called moderate Islamists to destabilize Egypt, Libya and Syria. This policy must be put to an immediate end. Any one who uses religion to seek power is by definition not a moderate—Syria gave birth to Christianity and a Christian priest foretold the coming of a Prophet in Arabia. Gulf Bedouins with little understanding of tolerance cannot dictate peace to the oldest civilization in the world.

This interview is also available at Medium.com.

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