A horrifying video emerged on Tuesday of a teenage boy being beheaded. This had occurred the day before around Handarat in Aleppo, northern Syria. The boy had been fighting for Liwa al-Quds, a militia of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, composed mostly of Palestinians from the Nayrab camp and likely also from the unofficial settlement at Ayn al-Tal near Handarat. The rebel group that took him captive and then murdered him was Harakat Nooradeen al-Zengi, which had previously received support, including TOW anti-tank missiles, from the United States’ covert program run by the Central Intelligence Agency, though that support ended nearly a year ago. The episode is important in itself, and underlines some trends, namely al-Zengi’s evolution and the dynamics underway in northern Syria, where the U.S. is preparing to intensify its de facto policy of collaborating pro-Assad coalition against Jihadi-Salafist terrorist groups, which are strengthening al-Qaeda. Continue reading
A version of this article was published at NOW Lebanon.
In early November, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee released a report challenging the British government’s proposal to extend airstrikes from Iraq into Syria against the Islamic State (IS). Among other things, the report asked for a proposed political path to ending the Syrian civil war, a necessary prerequisite to defeating IS. On Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron released a response, part of which said:
Military action against ISIL will also relieve the pressure on the moderate opposition, whose survival is crucial for a successful transition to a more inclusive Syrian government. Syria has not been, and should not be, reduced to a choice between Assad or ISIL. Although the situation on the ground is complex, our assessment is that there are about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups.
This number has blown up into a major political row, with many Members of Parliament and pundits taking their personal unfamiliarity with Syria’s military landscape as evidence that it cannot be so. The Labour Opposition has made the number of non-extremist rebels a focal point of their challenge to the Prime Minister’s proposal for moving forward in Syria, and one of Cameron’s own Conservative MPs referred to the number as “magical”. The challenge to the number is part of a longer-term trend, where a narrative has become prevalent that there are no moderate opposition forces left in Syria. The corollary of this view is usually the argument that the West should side with the “secular” Assad regime as the “lesser evil” to put down a radical Islamist insurrection.
Sidestepping the ignorance that goes into believing a blatantly sectarian regime propped up by an international brigade of Shi’a jihadists is secular: What of this claim that there are no moderate rebels left? It isn’t true, as I recently made clear in a paper for The Henry Jackson Society. Continue reading