A Critical Examination of the 2012 DIA Document Predicting the Rise of the Islamic State

Left: U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford with FSA Col. Okaidi in 2013. Right: FSA Col. Okaidi with ISIS emir Abu Jandal — part of Omar the Chechen’s group of fighters at Menagh Airbase in 2013.

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LR Editor’s Note: We are re-posting the below guest analysis by Robert Barsocchini, an internationally published researcher and writer who focuses on global force dynamics and writes professionally for the film industry. He is a regular contributor to Washington’s Blog. The below point-by-point examination of the DIA document was part of Levant Report’s early coverage and remains a relevant in-depth introduction to the contents of the declassified report (though more has since been revealed). Currently, the document is the basis for renewed discussion in the aftermath of tragic terror attacks in Paris, Beirut, and over Sinai. Yesterday, Glenn Greenwald highlighted the DIA report and former DIA Director Michael Flynn’s confirmation of its accuracy in an article for The Intercept, which is sure to spark renewed debate.
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For those readers only now discovering the DIA’s “salafist principality” document, here is some recommended introductory material: 1) Marcy Wheeler’s Salon.com article examined the legal basis through which the memo was declassified, establishing that it was used to brief Congress; 2) Former high ranking MI6 spy and Middle East expert Alastair Crooke analyzed the document from the perspective of a veteran intelligence official for The Huffington Post; 3) Tufts University Historian Hugh Roberts included lengthy discussion of the report in his historical narrative overview of the Syrian conflict for the London Review of Books; 4) Seamus Milne and Nafeez Ahmed wrote hugely popular articles that pushed the document into mainstream media in the UK and Germany (see here and here);  5) Levant Report questioned the Defense Intelligence Agency about the document here, and the State Department was questioned in its daily press briefing here and here. Note: Embedded tweets are not endorsements of the article, but provide broader context of events that have unfolded in Syria.                                                                                                                                            

by Robert Barsocchini

Here, I wrote that these documents “may” say the US/West wanted/want a Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria, because the declassified docs 1) say “Salafist, Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria”; 2) in the next sentence, the doc defines the “The West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey” as the countries that “support the opposition”; 3) they later say the “opposition forces are trying to control the Eastern areas”, where Syria borders Iraq, and, specifically of this control of Eastern areas, say the “Western Countries, the Gulf States, and Turkey are supporting these efforts”. 4) In a section about “effects on Iraq” the docs say that “there is a possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria…”, then say “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

However, while the document begins by stating that “The West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey support the opposition”, the document, as noted, also defines other groups, which could be considered “powers”, as either components of or supporters of the opposition: Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI. The report states: “AQI supported the opposition from the beginning…”

While the FSA is defined as “opposition”, Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are initially described as “the major forces driving the insurgency”, not as “the opposition”. It could be that the document means that the FSA is “the opposition” and the West, its allies, and the Islamic groups are simply all supporting them, but with different individual goals. However, AQI is also directly described as “opposition” to Assad: “AQI declared its opposition of Assad’s government because it considered it a sectarian regime targeting Sunnis.”

In the section that says “there is a possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria…”, then that “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want”—this section of the doc defines the opposition forces controlling the Iraq/Syria border as “Syrian Free Army”, the FSA, and says the FSA will try to take “advantage of the sympathy of the Iraqi border population”.

It then says that “If the situation [likely meaning FSA control of the border] unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).” (The US obviously opposes Iranian expansion and sides with the Sunnis, but the last part of this sentence, as it is framed in terms of Shia expansion, may suggest that here the “supporting powers to the opposition” may be referring not the sentence stating “The West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey support the opposition”, but to earlier sentences stating “AQI supported the opposition from the beginning…” and “AQI declared its opposition of Assad’s government because it considered it a sectarian regime targeting Sunnis.”

Thus, perhaps this is simply unclear writing, or too much is censored, and what this really means is that while both AQI and “The West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey” support the “opposition” (and AQI also comprises the opposition), only the AQI part of that support for the opposition would want a “Salafist Principality” to be established. This is clearly stated regarding the effect on Iraq. However, the US/West do strongly support existing Salafist Principalities, as noted above, including the most ideologically expansionist one, Saudi Arabia. Thus, supporting a Salafist Principality, and annexation of territory (Israel, Cuba, Diego Garcia, etc.), is something the US already does currently. (International relations scholar Dr. Nafeez Ahmed notes that a RAND corp report previously advised the US “to capitalise on the Shia-Sunni conflict by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes in a decisive fashion and working with them against all Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world.”)

The doc says the above-noted “deterioration”, likely referring to the ‘unravels’ term above, “has dire consequences on the Iraq situation.” It continues that this “deterioration” would give more momentum to terrorist groups and could allow them to declare an “Islamic state”, “which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory.” (A study out of British universities noted that US government/media did not report on ISIS publicly until it began to seize oil fields. Then, the study shows, the US sent drones to try to stop ISIS.)

The last uncensored sentence of the doc says that the third consequence of the “deterioration of the situation” (‘the situation’ likely meaning the FSA control of the border region) would be terrorist elements from all over the Arab world “entering into Iraqi arena.”

The rest of the document is censored, as are some sections before this.

Overall, what we can see in the document clearly states that a Salafist Principality is not desired by the West in terms of the Iraqi situation, but may or may not suggest that this principality is desired in terms of isolating Assad, which is a stated goal of the West and its allies (not just isolating, but removing). However, it is also a goal of AQI and its allies, which are defined both as supporting “the opposition” and having “declared its opposition of Assad’s government”. While this group and its affiliates could be viewed as a strategic asset for isolating Assad, they could also be viewed as a third party outside the wider global contest between West and East, which is opposed to either. However, a group in Syria opposed to both sides could be seen as preferable to having a group allied with the East and opposed to the West.

International security scholar Dr. Nafeez Ahmed analyzes these documents and concludes the US practices a policy of “sponsoring Islamist terrorism for dubious geopolitical purposes.”

“According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of this strategy, and warned that it could destabilize Iraq. Despite anticipating that Western, Gulf state and Turkish support for the “Syrian opposition” — which included al-Qaeda in Iraq — could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the document provides no indication of any decision to reverse the policy of support to the Syrian rebels. On the contrary, the emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliated “Salafist Principality” as a result is described as a strategic opportunity to isolate Assad.”

“The secret Pentagon document thus provides extraordinary confirmation that the US-led coalition currently fighting ISIS, had three years ago welcomed the emergence of an extremist “Salafist Principality” in the region as a way to undermine Assad, and block off the strategic expansion of Iran.”

“The establishment of such a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria, the DIA document asserts, is “exactly” what the “supporting powers to the [Syrian] opposition want.” Earlier on, the document repeatedly describes those “supporting powers” as “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey.”

Charles Shoebridge, a former British Army and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism intelligence officer, said (noted by Ahmed) that the documents “raise vitally important questions of the West’s governments and media in their support of Syria’s rebellion.”

“Throughout the early years of the Syria crisis, the US and UK governments, and almost universally the West’s mainstream media, promoted Syria’s rebels as moderate, liberal, secular, democratic, and therefore deserving of the West’s support. Given that these documents wholly undermine this assessment, it’s significant that the West’s media has now, despite their immense significance, almost entirely ignored them.”

Ahmed quotes a former US Marine: “US intelligence predicted the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), but instead of clearly delineating the group as an enemy, the report envisions the terror group as a US strategic asset.”

Ahmed concludes: “The rise of a Salafist quasi-state entity that might expand into Iraq, and fracture that country, was therefore clearly foreseen by US intelligence as likely — but nevertheless strategically useful — blowback from the West’s commitment to “isolating Syria.”

What the docs establish beyond doubt is that, in 2012, when they were written, the US saw the likelihood of a “Salafist Principality” or “Islamic State” being established, and was fully aware the insurgency in Syria was mainly driven by Islamic groups, who were fighting Assad and also supporting the FSA, which itself has been shown to have Islamic tendencies. For example, an FSA commander is on video saying he would want to implement Sharia law. But the West and its allies continued their support, as FSA members openly shared their US supplies with the ISIS-related groups, and even converted to ISIS.

As Ahmed puts it, “the Pentagon continued to support the Islamist insurgency, even while anticipating the probability that doing so would establish an extremist Salafi stronghold in Syria and Iraq.”

This “entire covert strategy was sanctioned and supervised by the US, Britain, France, Israel and other Western powers.”

“As Shoebridge told me, ‘The documents show that not only did the US government at the latest by August 2012 know the true extremist nature and likely outcome of Syria’s rebellion’ — namely, the emergence of ISIS — ’but that this was considered an advantage for US foreign policy. This also suggests a decision to spend years in an effort to deliberately mislead the West’s public, via a compliant media, into believing that Syria’s rebellion was overwhelmingly ‘moderate.’”

Ahmed quotes a former MI5 officer explaining that after Libya and other such projects by the West, we see in this behavior towards Syria “part of an established pattern. And they remain indifferent to the sheer scale of human suffering that is unleashed as a result of such game-playing.”

What we already knew before these docs is that the US and West strongly support extremist Salafist states as part of their strategy of eating away at the parts of the world not under the US thumb, the “East”: Syria, Iran, Russia, and China. The US and West themselves are built on and continue to support and commit theft and annexation of territory, and support, commit, or ignore (if they are not politically helpful) all kinds of mass killings, including by groups worse than ISIS; these have included the Khmer Rouge, the Suharto Regime, and the US itself: the establishment of the USA and the building of it into a superpower was a process that involved crimes worse than anything ISIS will ever accomplish.

Further, ISIS, as pointed out by Kofi Annan and many others, arose as a consequence of the illegal US invasion of Iraq, motivated largely by Bush Jr.’s religious fanaticism, an invasion the international community tried and failed to prevent, which, the most recent and comprehensive report finds, has killed about 1 to 2 million or more people, another feat ISIS will never accomplish.

While studies and many official statements make clear, and it is obvious to any minimally non-US-brainwashed individual, that the invasion was largely about oil, even if we disregard that, ignore the rest of US history, and declare the US had/has “good intentions” regarding Iraq, that puts us at the level of of Japanese fascists, who believed in their “good intentions” regarding their invasions of China and elsewhere.

People with too much power always declare good intentions, and are often sincere, as they get god-complexes and view themselves as humanity’s benevolent saviors. But the reason war (including supporting warring proxies) is outlawed as an instrument of policy is that it has disastrous consequences, as we are seeing, even for the sincerely well-intentioned.

Additional Notes:

It should be stressed that clearly admitting the West would “want” a Salafist principality in Eastern Syria is not generally the kind of statement people in governments would make of themselves, even in private, hence makes it less likely here that the West is being referred to specifically by that statement, as does the inclusion of the phrase “if the situation unravels” (meaning FSA control of the East) an Islamic state could result.  However, it is noteworthy that the West and the Islamists are so easily conflated in this document (this conflation may well be intentional as a way of discussing benefits without clearly stating that they might be desired), as they are clearly delineated as both being opposed to the Assad government, and for similar reasons – opposing Iran and the Shia, backed by Russia and China, the latter part being of greater import to the West.  The doc also makes very clear that the FSA was/is being supported by AQI and its Islamist affiliates, and that those Islamists were known to be “the major forces driving the insurgency”.  It has long been known that FSA shares its US/Western/Gulf/Turkish supplies with and converts to Islamist groups, and AQI, the ISIS precursor, has always been known as particularly aggressive.  And as Dr. Ahmed points out, the document nowhere suggests ending aid to the opposition due to its being driven by AQI and affiliates, and only frames the potential creation of the “Islamic state” as a bad thing in relation to Iraq.  In relation to Syria/Assad, it is not framed as a bad thing, but as something that would be seen to “isolate” Assad, a goal shared by the West and the Islamist groups.  So, these documents may well be an example of discussing a strategy while attempting to maintain some degree of “plausible deniability”.

It must also be remembered that the US and West not only support extremist Salafi/Wahhabi/Sharia established states, but have on numerous occasions worked with, backed, aided and/or paralleled some of the goals of non-state groups such as the Mujahedin and al Qaeda (in Afghanistan – see Brzezinski, Bob Gates; Bosnia, Kosovo – on these see Fulton in scholarly journal Global Security Studies), including under Obama in relation to Libya.  In US support for the Mujahedin in Afghanistan and then the Taliban, the support was not even seen as a means to an end, but a completely acceptable end in itself: the US was fine with the Taliban taking power and staying in power, as long as it cooperated with the US.  That is the bottom line.  As soon as it proved uncooperative, the US “discovered” the Taliban human rights violations that non-governmental US monitors had been decrying for years, while the US was supporting the Taliban (here).  And, as noted, abhorrent behavior is not a deterrent to US support.  The US has committed far worse crimes than ISIS and supported groups far worse than ISIS.  Only those unfamiliar with history and glued to US TV can think ISIS is some new level of evil in the world, or at least one not seen for a long time.  The only qualifier for US support is whether the group in question is willing to cater to US business and strategic interests.

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Congresswoman Gabbard: CIA Must Stop Criminal and Counterproductive War to Overthrow Assad

“I don’t want the U.S. government to provide weapons to Al-Qaeda…it’s a very simple concept in my mind.”

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is a rare voice of sanity in the public arena. Her perspective on U.S. policy in Syria is not one you’ll often find on CNN but is one I encounter frequently among veterans and even the few intelligence analysts that I know. She boldly states that in the attempt to overthrow the Assad government of Syria, the U.S. and CIA armed and supported our enemies.

She is an Iraq war veteran and is fully aware that Al-Qaeda in Iraq, at the point it crossed into Syria and joined the fight against Assad, was used of the CIA and State Department to wage proxy war as a U.S. strategic asset against the Syrian Arab Republic.

ISIS would not be the massive terror army it is today without such U.S. covert support to the rebels in Syria.

Is Congresswoman Gabbard correct?

The below video provides airtight proof of the truthfulness of her statements. The primary raw footage was confirmed by the New York Times in 2013. The video montage and translation was authenticated by the top academic Syria expert in the United States, Joshua Landis.

The video is accompanied by an article I wrote which originally appeared in Foreign Policy Journal and was featured on AntiWar.com. I offer it as a tribute to my fellow veterans as well as active service members struggling to come to grips with the facts of our nation’s criminal actions in Syria…

“Iraq, ISIS, and The Myth of Sisyphus”

 

 “The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.”

Albert Camus, THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

As the world reacts to President Obama’s announcement of a multi-front air and ground proxy war—on the one hand, bombing ISIS inside Iraq and Syria, and on the other, ramping up arms and training for the vaguely defined Syrian “opposition”—we as a nation should reflect upon the Myth of Sisyphus.

Let’s Roll…

I joined the Marine Corps as an idealistic eighteen-year-old in 2000, with a firm resolve, as I enthusiastically told my recruiter shortly before leaving for boot camp, to “fight evil in the world”—a resolve rooted more deeply in my veins after the 9/11 attacks. Slogans such as “let’s roll!” echoed in my ears, and my fervor for “the mission” influenced others to follow my path of military service. While stationed in Quantico providing post-9/11 “first responder” security to headquarters assets in the area, I became close friends with a young local college student, also just out of high school, and I encouraged him to join up.

My friend embarked on multiple tours of duty within a short two years as a Marine infantryman, and was killed by an IED in Iraq on his third tour prior to his twenty-first birthday. He understood little about the place of his eventual death, as had been clear during our brief visits together as we reconnected between his deployments. We were never encouraged to learn about the history of Iraq or the Arab world, or to ask too many questions for that matter. “Let’s roll” was enough for us as we set out to “win hearts and minds.”

Uncovering Absurd Contradictions

As the power of such simple platitudes faded, I began to investigate for myself the history of U.S. involvement in the region: this search began in the library of Marine Corps University at MCB Quantico and led to my traveling to Syria upon completion of active service.

Few Americans know of the absurd contradictions of our foreign policy in Iraq and other places over the past few decades, yet I found that many Iraqis and Syrians knew the history well. The United States, through covert support of the Iraqi Ba’ath in the 1960’s and 1970’s, sponsored Saddam’s rise to power as a way to combat perceived communist influence and populist national movements in the Middle East. Throughout that time, the CIA-supported Ba’ath engaged in “cleansing campaigns” which involved door-to-door death squads offing Washington’s enemies based on questionable lists provided through covert liaisons.

Upon Saddam’s rising to the presidency in 1979, and while the Iranian Revolution drove forward just across the border, the United States encouraged Saddam to invade Iran, kick-starting the most devastating war in the region’s history. Most Americans still haven’t seen the easily accessible archive footage of Reagan’s then special envoy to the Middle East, Donald Rumsfeld, shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in 1983, in what was clearly a warm and cordial visit.

Saddam would go on, during the course of a war that took over a million lives (1980-1988), to frequently employ chemical nerve agents against Iranian troop movements; later into the war this occurred with the assistance of the CIA and DIA. By the time of the 1988 gas attack against the Kurds of Halabja, U.S. covert assistance to Iraq’s military was established and routine.

And yet, Saddam soon became the new super-villain of the 1990’s and 2000’s, the very image of evil incarnate in the world—though his dictatorial and brutal rule had undergone no change from when he was the CIA’s man in Baghdad—only American perceptions of him did. The United States had helped to create the monster that in 2003 it was telling young men and women to travel across the world to destroy. Ironically, one of the main moral justifications for going after “the evil tyrant” was his gassing of the Kurds of Halabja.

Uncovering such an absurd contradiction of recent history made me feel like Sisyphus in Albert Camus’ famous essay. Sisyphus, condemned by the gods to his fate of pushing his boulder up the hill, must ever repeat the same process after it inevitably rolls back down the hill; he eventually becomes conscious of the futility of his action. We can imagine such tragic Sisyphean moments of realization in the minds of hundreds of thousands of veterans as they watched ISIS tear through places like Fallujah and Northern Iraq over the course of this past half year.

The Rock is Still Rolling

And yet, ISIS too, is a monster the United States helped to create.

Instead of two decades for the contradictions to come full circle, as was the case with the creation and destruction of Saddam Hussein, ISIS has gone from friend to monster within only two years. The U.S. armed forces, told by the White House of a minimal three-year long campaign to destroy ISIS, have barely recovered from the now seemingly futile burden of wars in post-Saddam Iraq and forgotten, ongoing Afghanistan.

As if the absurdity of the task of a renewed Iraq campaign mandated by the “gods” in Washington weren’t enough, we will now bomb ISIS locations in Syria while increasing the training and equipping of Syrian rebels. If there are military members and veterans out there, still not conscious that “there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor,” then I suggest watching the above video. The video gives insight into the Sisyphean task ahead of us as a nation: a never-ending cycle, old-yet-new, already set up for futility and failure.

Amazingly, the video, titled, “US Key Man in Syria Worked Closely with ISIL and Jabhat al Nusra,” has not yet had widespread distribution, even though it has been authenticated by the top Syria expert in the U.S., Joshua Landis, of the University of Oklahoma, and author of the hugely influential Syria Comment. Using his Twitter account, Dr. Landis commented (8/27): “in 2013 WINEP advocated sending all US military aid thru him [Col. Okaidi]. Underscores US problem w moderates.”

The video, documenting (now former) U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford’s visit to FSA Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi in Northern Syria, also shows the same Col. Okaidi celebrating with and praising a well-known ISIS commander, Emir Abu Jandal, after conducting a joint operation. In an interview, the U.S. “key man” at that time (2013), through which U.S. assistance flowed, also praises ISIS and Al-Qaeda as the FSA’s “brothers.” The video further shows Okaidi proudly declaring that al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda in Syria) makes up ten percent of the FSA.

I can think of no greater absurd foreign policy path to follow than to continue arming one wing of Syria’s rebels (only until very recently directly allied with the new “enemy”), while at the same time bombing another, and all the while declaring the necessity of continued “war on terror.”

Albert Camus concludes the myth thus, “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again.”

ISIS Leader Omar al-Shishani Fought Under U.S. Umbrella as Late as 2013

ISIS Commander Abu Omar al-Shishani celebrates after his joint FSA/ISIS operation at Menagh Airbase in the summer of 2013. (Photo circulated in jihadi social media)

Abu Omar al-Shishani, the red-bearded face of ISIS terror lately described in such headlines as ‘Star pupil’: Pied piper of ISIS recruits was trained by U.S. for the fact that he received American military training as part of an elite Georgian army unit in 2006 and after, did not stop playing for “team America” once he left his home country in the Caucuses. He actually enjoyed U.S. backing and American taxpayer largesse as late as 2013, soon after entering Syria with his band of Chechen jihadists.

A new book about ISIS chronicles the terror group’s earliest successes when it first made a name for itself on the Syrian battlefield by tipping the scales in favor of rebels in Northern Aleppo who had spent nearly a total of two years attempting to conquer the Syrian government’s seemingly impenetrable Menagh Airbase.

Benjamin Hall, journalist and author of Inside ISIS: The Brutal Rise of a Terrorist Army, was embedded in Northern Syria during part of the 2012-2013 siege of Menagh, even staying in FSA camps outside the base as attacks were underway.

At that time the Revolutionary Military Council of Aleppo was the US/UK officially sanctioned command structure in the region headed by FSA Colonel Abdul Jabbar al-Okaidi, described in international press at the time as “a main recipient” of Western aid.

Hall, who throughout his book expresses sympathy and occasional outright support for the insurgent groups within which he was embedded, describes the pathetic state of a rebel movement in disarray and lacking morale. He identifies a singular turning point which renewed both the tide of rebel military momentum and morale in Northern Syria:

That day in Minnah [or alternately Menagh], I was reminded that nothing happens on time in the Middle East. It took ten months for the rebels to finally capture that base, but it only fell when the FSA were joined by the ISIS leader Abu Omar Shishani and his brutal gang of Chechens. When we had been there, it had been under the sole control of badly funded, badly armed rebels with little knowledge of tactical warfare–but when Shishani arrived, he took control of the operation, and the base fell soon after. [1]

Hall further relates that Omar Shishani’s (or Omar “the Chechen”) presence evoked a certain level of mystique and awe among his FSA associates as he “systematically obliterated Menagh defenses by sacrificing as many men as it took” and rightly concludes that, “it is no exaggeration to say that Shishani and other battle hardened members of ISIS are the ones who brought the early military success.” [2]

The final collapse of government forces at Menagh on August 6 due to Shishani’s sustained suicide bombing raids, sending his men in makeshift armored vehicles to crash the base’s heavy fortifications, resulted in an outpouring of battle wearied emotion and celebration among all rebel groups represented.

Regional media, including Al Jazeera, was there to record the victory and congratulatory speeches that followed, and the fighters weren’t shy about giving interviews. These interviews reveal America’s true battlefield alliances at this key point in the lengthy rebel advance in Aleppo Province at a time long prior to ISIS becoming the “household terror brand” that it is today. The New York Times reported the following:

After the battle, Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Okaidi, the head of the United States-backed opposition’s Aleppo military council, appeared in a video alongside Abu Jandal, a leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

In camouflage, Colonel Okaidi offered thanks to “our brothers al-Muhajireen wal Ansar and others,” adding: “We’re here to kiss every hand pressed on the trigger.” He then ceded the floor to Abu Jandal and a mix of jihadist and Free Syrian Army leaders, who stood together, each praising his men, like members of a victorious basketball team.

The group singled out for praise in the video, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, was precisely Omar Shishani’s own brutal Chechen group (“Army of Emigrants and Helpers”) which turned the tide of the battle. Most significant about FSA Col. Okaidi himself, clearly the operational head of this jihadi “basketball team,” was that he had been paid a personal visit by his State Department patron, Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, just months prior to the final victory at Menagh.

A translated video montage of footage covering events at Menagh, authenticated by Middle East expert Joshua Landis, shows a clip of Robert Ford’s prior visit to Col. Okaidi inside Syria, with the two standing side by side in an image meant to seal official U.S. support for Okaidi as its top brass on the ground.

Okaidi’s subsequent victory speech at Menagh proves that Okaidi, while on the U.S. government’s Syria support payroll, fought alongside and publicly praised ISIS fighters (calling them “heroes”), and presumably exercised some degree of operational command over them. There is no mistaking the documented facts of the Menagh campaign: in the summer of 2013 the rising Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and the FSA fought as one, with a unified command structure, which happened to have direct U.S. backing.

Thanks to Abu Omar’s willingness to speak to Al Jazeera, we also have video confirmation of his emerging star status within rebel ranks and relationship of direct cooperation with the U.S backed FSA commander. Omar Shishani’s interview was archived online by Al Jazeera Arabic. While offering a simple statement about conquering all of the Syria from “the kuffar,” Abu Omar is surrounded by some of the same men, including emir Abu Jandal (identified above by the New York Times)—the same Abu Jandal that is presented as second in rank under Robert Ford’s friend Col. Okaidi in the latter’s victory huddle.

In another video where he stands proudly amidst a mix of fighters, Omar addresses the camera in Russian and recognizes the FSA’s valiant efforts in its eight months long siege of the government airbase. In a later statement given to the Russian-language pro-jihad site Beladusham, Shishani explained his pragmatic view toward working with U.S. backed FSA forces even while pledging loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: “We aren’t in a position of conflict with the whole FSA right now, but just against those groups who oppose our aims of an Islamic State.”

Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford has since admitted that the rebels funded by the State Department included ISIS and other Al-Qaeda fighters in their ranks. He recently told McClatchy reporter Hannah Allam that he had called Okaidi to tell him that his public cooperation with Abu Omar Shishani and associates was “extremely unhelpful, extra unhelpful”:

Ford was referring to Col. Abdel-Jabbar al Oqaidi [or alternately Okaidi], then-commander of the Aleppo branch of the Free Syrian Army. The problem was that the American-backed colonel had been filmed celebrating his men’s joint victory with al Qaida-affiliated fighters, creating a public relations nightmare for the Obama administration, which was trying to show Congress and the American public that it was boosting moderates and isolating extremists on the battlefield.

Amazingly, Okaidi’s courtship with the West didn’t end in 2013, even after such top U.S. officials confirmed that the rebel leader had been in a position of operational command over ISIS terrorists, some of which now fill out the top tiers of Islamic State’s ranks.

As recently as last July 2015, CNN gave Okaidi lengthy and virtually uninterrupted air time in a Christiane Amanpour interview to make a public appeal for a U.S. imposed no-fly “buffer zone” over Syria in support of “moderate” rebels—this on what the network bills as its “flagship global affairs program.”

In a recent and much talked about poll conducted inside Syria by ORB International, an affiliate of WIN/Gallup International, it was revealed that “82% of Syrians Blame U.S. for ISIS.” While the increased prominence of this view has perplexed many pundits who dare not admit anything counter to the official prevailing wisdom, it could simply be that Syrians pay closer attention and are able to process what U.S. clients like Okaidi utter in plain Arabic and without apology.

[1] Hall, Benjamin. Inside ISIS: The Brutal Rise of a Terrorist Army (New York: Center Street, 2015) p. 74.

[2] Hall 76.

Will the DIA document on Syria be reported in the mainstream U.S. media?

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AS OF THIS WRITING our reporting on the newly declassified August 2012 DIA document has yet to make it into mainstream media in the West; it has however, made it into RT News. On Saturday, RT’s International English broadcast, based in London and Washington D.C., relied on Levant Report’s original reporting of both the DIA document and former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford’s prior relationship to ISIS aligned militants.

Monday (5/25) and Tuesday will be significant days to see whether the story gathers enough momentum in the press to elicit an official response from Washington. For this to happen the DIA document would have to be covered in British media, or by an American newsroom with enough clout to attract attention, like McClatchy’s Washington Bureau or The Intercept, in order to get the ball rolling.

The well-known investigative journalist and best-selling author Nafeez Ahmed,  whose counter-terrorism work gained official recognition by the 9/11 Commission, published an excellent in-depth investigative piece on the DIA report at INSURGE intelligence.

Nafeez was recently a columnist for The Guardian, one of Britain’s big three national newspapers, and is still based in the UK. He took to Twitter over the weekend and announced that he is currently attempting to push the story into mainstream media, as the DIA document contains startling revelations that deserve the world’s attention and candid debate:

OF COURSE, MANY OF THESE  establishment media outlets have been so heavily invested in advancing a particular set of false assumptions regarding the dynamics of the conflict in Syria, that they would be loath to publish anything that damages their own credibility, even should clear evidence in official government documents contradict the prior reporting.

We are living in an age in which the unique propaganda system that operates in the West is so effective that it often doesn’t matter if government officials admit that they were purposefully promoting a false narrative, or were engaged in criminal conspiracy.

So long as their admissions come long after the fact, and so long as they occupy positions of prestige and respect, they can expect not to come under close scrutiny by a media establishment that itself was complicit in uncritically parroting their falsehoods all along.

We at Levant Report have been trying to shine a spotlight on former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford’s material support of Al-Qaeda for a long time. In February 2015, he openly confessed to having given support to ISIS and Al-Nusra terrorists after being questioned by Al-Monitor News journalist Edward Dark (a violation of Title 18 U.S. Code § 2339A – Providing material support to terrorists)—

Robert Ford Twitter Exchange                                   Click image for enlargement

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.

Ford’s admission came after a lengthy Twitter conversation in response to an original Feb. 18, 2015 entry by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace scholar Aaron Lund. Though Ford might now claim “good intentions” or that he was merely following orders from the State Dept., this defense certainly didn’t work for the multiple FBI arrests and successful prosecutions of American citizens that arguably had even less involvement—and at lower levels—with rebels in the Syrian conflict.

While RT News broadcast the video evidence of Ford’s crimes, it remains for American media and US Congress to begin asking serious questions about the State Dept., DOD, and CIA’s relationship with confessed ISIS collaborators on the Syrian battlefield. At the very least, a serious Congressional investigation is warranted. Americans must demand this.