The CIA is doing more to
bolster non-radical Syrian rebels to counter the increasing dominance of jihadist groups, Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman, and Nour Malas The Wall Street Journal report.The Agency is now feeding intelligence to secular-leaning rebels, presumably members of the West-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), to use against government forces.
Officials told WSJ that the move is part of an effort to “influence which groups dominate in post-Assad Syria,” which will be difficult given that Islamic militias such as Jabhat al Nusra have long been the opposition’s best and most organised fighters.
Nusra — a group of about 10,000 fighters led by veterans of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) — “resembles an army more than a quaint little terrorist group,” Seth Jones, an al Qaeda specialist at the Rand Corp. think tank, told WSJ. “As this war drags on against Assad and as long as they are able to build up their capabilities, it’s going to make it all the more harder to target them once the regime falls.”
This week the group helped capture a major air defence base in a strategic region of southern Syria near Jordan and territories in the Golan Heights near Israel. Meanwhile its members claimed large-scale raids in Syria’s Hama and Idlib governorates.
Nusra and its allies already control much of northern Syria. Earlier this week Liz Sly of the Washington Post detailed how Nusra runs more than half of Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city and commercial hub, where they turned a hospital into their headquarters and instituted Islamic law in rebel-held areas.
The group says it will fight any post-Assad secular government in their quest to impose Sharia (i.e. strict Islamic) law in “liberated” areas.
“Those people don’t represent the revolution,” respected activist Othman al-Haj Othman the Post. “They have power, they have guns, but they don’t have support.”
“After the fall of Bashar there will be so many battles between these groups,” an Iraqi who joined the regular FSA told the New York Times in December. “All the groups will unite against al-Nusra.”The Agency is already working with elite counterterrorism units in Iraq, training rebels in Jordan on how to identify and safeguard chemical weapons, and funelling weapons to Syrian rebels from southern Turkey.
The intelligence comes from satellites and other surveillance systems that collect intelligence on Syrian troop and aircraft movements, powerful radars in Turkey used to track Syrian ballistic missiles and pinpoint launch sites, and the extensive spy networks Israel and Jordan have inside Syria, U.S. and European officials told WSJ.
The advantage of providing intel instead of arms is that actionable intelligence about the fluid battlefield is only valuable for a short time while arms can be used and passed around for years.
Blogger Eliot Higgins, aka Brown Moses, noticed an influx of Croatian weapons in southern Syria at the beginning of the year. It turned out to be a large batch of arms bought by Saudi Arabia and sent through Jordan to secular and nationalistic rebels.
In March Higgins noticed that the weapons turning up in the hand of jihadists.
In October and November we reported on unconfirmed indications that the CIA may have been funelling heavy weapons from Benghazi, Libya, to Turkey. In October C.J. Chivers of The New York Times reported that SA-7 heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles were being used in Syria.
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