Washington has no control over ‘moderates’ in Syria

© Ammar Abdullah
The US doesn’t have any leverage over “moderate rebels” in Syria who coordinate their attacks with the Al-Nusra Front terrorist group; and it does not have a strategy for the region, experts tell RT.

The Al-Nusra Front in Syria has started a major offensive. The terrorists resumed artillery barrages on residential areas of Aleppo. More than 270 civilians were killed in recent assaults by the terrorist group and its allies.

Despite the onslaught, Western powers are asking Moscow to end its bombing raids against Al-Nusra over fears so-called “moderate opposition” forces located among them, could also be hit.

Russian ceasefire monitors say Al-Nusra has been taking advantage of the truce to regroup.

“Jabhat al-Nusra has regrouped its forces, replenished armaments and ammunition, and launched active warfare having exploited the opportunity of the ceasefire and locations of ‘moderate opposition’ formations, which had been located in the same regions,” according to the Russian center for reconciliation of opposing sides in Syria.

Former Pentagon official Michael Maloof said Al-Nusra is a serious growing threat.
“It is, after all, Al-Qaeda is in Syria and it’s getting more members. It’s solidifying its position in quite a number of areas, particularly around Aleppo, Idlib – areas that are absolutely essential for Damascus to maintain control over,” he told RT.

Politicians like US Secretary of State John Kerry who are suggesting not hitting the terrorists, probably regard Al-Nusra, Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham as more moderate than ISIS, Maloof says.

“Although they all are ruthless and they are not only teaming up and coordinating attacks with Al-Nusra, but they happen to also be a member of this opposition group that is representing the opposition in Geneva, which is also bizarre,” said the former Pentagon official.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the US is telling Russia not to hit Al-Nusra Front, because there are also ‘normal’ opposition groups in the areas where they are operating.

Lavrov also said “such opposition groups should leave terrorist positions,” as was agreed previously.

Journalist Willy van Damme said Al-Nusra and moderate rebels have been cooperating for about five years fighting together against the Syrian government.

“To think that they would split from Al-Nusra is dreaming,” he told RT.

“For instance, at the moment in the town called Maarrat al-Nu'man in Idlib province Division 13, which was so-called ‘moderate’ [Syrian rebel group], is receiving arms … even anti-tank missiles from the Americans and the CIA,” van Damme continued.

The journalist added that this division was fighting for control of the town against Al-Qaeda. However, later they united.

“Al-Qaeda won it after a very short fight, disarmed Division 13 in that area. Two weeks or a week later both groups were fighting together against the Syrian government for control of the parts in Southern Aleppo, which was strategic,” said van Damme.

Despite the fact that Al-Nusra has been making gains and the terrorist groups linked to it have been carrying out massacres in villages over the last few days, the Americans still haven’t changed their stance. And it is unlikely the US is going to reconsider its position any time soon, Maloof suggests.

“Washington is bowing to Saudi Arabia, because these groups are members of the opposition that the Saudis put up to represent the opposition in Geneva,” he told RT.
According to Maloof, this shows Washington doesn’t have a strategy. He added that there is concrete evidence many other terrorists groups located on those areas have been coordinating attacks with Al-Nusra.

“The whole idea is to establish their foothold. And it’s Washington’s hope, as far as I can tell, to look at them as the more moderate; looking at Al-Qaeda of all groups as more moderate in relation to dealing with ISIS,” said Maloof.

Speaking about other Western powers, Van Damme mentioned that some time ago French officials suggested there has to be a split between Al-Nusra and the other moderate rebels. Yet, nothing happened.

“The West is facing a dilemma by saying to the Russians: ‘You shouldn’t bomb them, because they are moderates,’ – by doing so they are supporting Al-Nusra,” the journalist told RT.

When the cessation of hostilities was put together, it was acknowledged that the so-called moderate rebels would have been asked to leave the areas occupied by ISIS or Al-Nusra. Nonetheless, it doesn’t seem to be happening.

Maloof said the US has absolutely no leverage over the extremist groups: they didn’t leave, but joined Al-Nusra.

“Once again it demonstrates the lack of any kind of control, or influence at least at the minimum that the US might have on these groups,” the former Pentagon official told RT.

He added that despite American attempts to identify the Free Syrian Army, nobody knows who they are.

“Yet, they all claim to be Free Syrian Army - but in reality – members of these jihadist Salafi’s elements,” he concluded.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.