US, UK suspend non-lethal aid to Syrian opposition
Washington and London have stopped providing non-lethal aid to the Syrian rebels via Turkey after radical Islamists began to take control of the Free Syrian Army’s bases in northern Syria. Turkey has reportedly closed its side of the border with Syria.
On Friday radical militants from the Islamic Front seized several premises belonging to the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of the Free Syrian Army at the Bab al-Hawa crossing near the Turkish border, reported Reuters.
The Islamic Front formed of six major rebel groups with strong links to Al-Qaeda is believed to have captured warehouses with US non-lethal aid already delivered to Syria.
The Islamists acting on their own accord gave no warnings and provided no explanation for their actions.
It is yet unclear whether the Islamic Front worked in any way with the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (ISIS) or Al-Nusra, both labeled terror groups by the US, in seizing the facilities.
“As a result of this situation, the United States has suspended all further deliveries of non-lethal assistance into northern Syria,” the US Embassy spokesman in Ankara said on Wednesday, stressing that humanitarian aid distributed through non-governmental organizations will not be impacted by the decision.
The diplomat also announced that an investigation into the incident is going “to inventory the status of US equipment and supplies provided to the SMC.” The White House confirmed the decision later in the day.
The move was also shortly dubbed by Britain. The UK's Foreign Office said it is looking into the incident adding it "will not be making any deliveries of equipment'' to the FSA while that investigation is underway. However, assistance might be resumed as soon as conditions on the ground could guarantee "safe delivery'' of equipment.
It remains unclear what exactly was seized by the militants. Under US laws, non-lethal aid may consist of radios, intelligence assistance, body armor and medical supplies.
American political analyst Eugene Puryear of the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition told RT that the cutting off of aid is an acknowledgement by the US of a war within a war and that the US and its allies think they can still bring things back under their control in order to reassert total hegemony over the opposition.
“The Obama administration is right now seeing their original plans, which was to - along with the Gulf states and the EU - foment a civil war which would overthrow the (Syrian President Bashar) Assad regime. They’ve seen that plan really completely collapse,” Puryear said. “I think this attempt to cut off aid, which I think we’ll see will be most likely temporary...to send a message: If you want to continue receiving all of these goods...then you’re going to have to play by our rules.”
Puryear added that the struggle for control of opposition forces is a complicated game for the US.
“[The US has] total control over the opposition more broadly, but we’re seeing forces linked to Al-Qaeda, particularly, become more assertive and seek to gain poll position, if you will, inside the opposition coalition,” he said. “Yet the Islamist groups are heavily funded by the Gulf states, which are very much aligned with the US in the Syrian effort.”
The warehouse captured on Friday was a key stop on the supply line through Turkey into Syria’s northwest. The Turkish-Syrian border is now blocked in Hatay Province, an unidentified source in the Turkish customs told Reuters. However, an official confirmation is yet to follow. In October, local media reported that Ankara had started building a wall along the border in Mardin Province.
This is not the first attack of the kind. In late November, radical militants associated with Al-Qaeda seized an entire shipment to the Free Syrian Army, along with several members of the FSA guarding the warehouse.