Epic fail: Free Syrian Army now under virtual control of al-Qaeda

One of the cornerstones of Obama administration Syria policy is to arm and train elements of the Free Syrian Army – the so-called "moderate" opposition fighting Bashar Assad.

The New York Times reports that the FSA has come under the thumb of the al-Nusra Front – al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.  Jabhat al-Nusra recently scored a key victory by capturing a Syrian army base using American-made TOW anti-tank missiles – weapons they had captured from American-backed militias.

The fall of the army base at Wadi al-Deif, which straddles an important supply route in Idlib Province, proved the Nusra Front’s dominance, they said. Other insurgents had long besieged the base without victory. Nusra succeeded after seizing much of the province from Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, two of several groups that until recently, American officials were calling the opposition’s new hope.

Those groups had received sophisticated American-made TOW antitank missiles, and their commanders expected to act as the ground force in the American-led campaign against ISIS. But lately they say the flow of American aid has dwindled as Washington’s strategy shifts to building a new force from scratch.

How exactly the Wadi al-Deif battle unfolded remains murky, with different commanders giving different versions. But reports and images from the operation make two things clear: antitank missiles were used, and Nusra claimed the victory. That means that the American-backed fighters could advance only by working with the Nusra Front, which the United States government lists as a terrorist group, or that they have lost the weapons to the Nusra fighters, effectively joined the group or been forced to follow its orders.

One commander of a group that received antitank missiles said that some F.S.A. fighters were forced to operate them in the battle on behalf of the Nusra Front, which had captured them from American-backed groups — a turn of events that he worried would lead the United States to cut off support.

He bitterly likened the F.S.A. to prostitutes, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating American officials. “If I wear Arabic dress and let my beard grow, the West will hate me and Nusra will love me, and vice versa. We are kissing everyone’s rear to get support.”

So much for Obama's plans to train "moderates" to fight Assad.  In fact, al-Nusra's benefactors – the Saudis and the Gulf states – could not care less about the ideology of those fighting the Syrian government.  They are giving arms and money to groups that fight the best.  That makes al-Nusra a primary beneficiary of their largesse.

The Islamic State has a tentative, uneasy alliance with al-Nusra, although there are reports that the two groups exchange fire occassionally.  But what's important is that America policy is in total disarray as a result of the growing power of the terrorists:

“No F.S.A. faction in the north can operate without Nusra’s approval,” Mr. Maarouf said, adding that the front had either bought or terrorized F.S.A. fighters into compliance. “Nusra cannot cover every area so they still need them. But once they take control, they will confiscate all weapons or oblige those factions to pledge allegiance.”

In southern Syria, rebels trained and equipped under a covert C.I.A. program retain more freedom of movement and have claimed advances recently, but insurgents familiar with the battles say most of their successes have come with the help of Nusra fighters who weaken government defenses with suicide bombings.

It seems likely that the Obama administration will be forced to once again change direction in Syria and adapt its policy to reflect the realities on the ground.  Unreasonable and naive expectations have led us into supporting and arming troops who fight for terrorists – a turn of events that could have been avoided with the application of clear thinking about the jihadist threat.