The thing that many had warned about in Syria came to fruition last week: Arms that were earmarked for a “moderate Muslim” faction were seized by Al-Qaeda extremists.
This latest incident illustrates what many analysts have feared: That whatever aid is given to the rebel-backed forces in Syria will eventually end up in the hands of the very people we have declared war on when battling Terror.
According to a recent article written by Sara Carter for The Blaze on September 27:
Terrorist fighters with an Al Qaeda-affiliated group in Syria seized weapons and other supplies meant for the secular Syrian Supreme Military Council, U.S. State Department and other western officials confirmed to TheBlaze.
According to reports from Syria, small arms and ammunition stashed at a warehouse located along the border town of Azaz supplied by Saudi Arabia and Qatar were taken more than a week ago by the Al Qaeda affiliate.
A State Department official with knowledge of the incident confirmed to TheBlaze that U.S. ready-to-eat meals, known as MREs, and other non-lethal supplies were taken by fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS. The group is extremely dangerous and threatened this month to “cleanse” towns along the border of any secular Muslims and pro-western opposition groups, according to reports.
In a widely distributed photograph published late last week, ISIS-linked Commander Muhajireen Kavkaz wa Sham, who along with other rebels, appeared to be donning battle gear and a rocket-propelled grenade inside a U.S. Agency for International Development tent.
“It looks like they got the tent from the raid on the depot,” said a U.S. official, who asked not to be identified. “It’s not surprising – it happens in war zones – bad guys sometimes get their hands on weapons not intended for them.”
This is not the first time ISIS has stepped to the center stage in the civil war in Syria. ISIS has been able to burnish its reputation has a major player among those who are fighting the Assad regime. In August, ISIS participated in the takeover of Minakh air base in Aleppo. It also joined in the offensive in the regime heartland of Latakia, and other operations.
Similar to the Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) faction, the other al-Qaeda-aligned group currently fighting in Syria (and which was reported on in this week’s Intelligence Update), ISIS has attempted to ingratiate itself to the local populace through various charitable activities, known as dawa, and other social outreach programs. Whether or not this adaptation is sustainable remains to be seen, but up to this point, ISIS has kept itself in check and made progress on the ground.
Since late May, ISIS has been working toward winning the “hearts and minds” of the local citizens, especially in the Aleppo and Raqqa regions as well as in Damascus and Deir al-Zour. One of the main ways it has gone about this is through dawa forums in neighborhood squares. In Aleppo, al-Bab, al-Dana, Jarabulus, Azaz, and other cities, ISIS speakers frequently exhort people on the virtues of jihad and fighting the Assad regime, sometimes balancing the speeches with games and other children’s activities.
As long as ISIS continues down this path, it is likely that it will play a major role in any post-Assad government, should it come. The group is now a key actor on the ground, and the future success of its jihadist project is in its hands.
Only later will the basic radical ideology of the group show itself and likely alienate many locals and face growing opposition in the long term.
And while mainstream Syrian rebels have not taken action against ISIS, this does not necessarily indicate sympathy for the group’s goals. The rebels have too many other battles to fight right now and ISIS is proving a valuable ally and the other rebel factions are too weak to take Al-Qaeda affiliated group head-on.
Indeed, one of the biggest ironies of the conflict is that the deeply fractured opposition has become deeply interconnected on the battlefield, since no one faction is strong enough to completely dominate the others. Because they need each other, non-Islamists and jihadists have been willing to work together against regime forces – for now.
This scenario very similar to the one that manifested itself in Egypt. The difference in Syria is that there is not a strong independent standing army behind Assad.
If Assad falls, the army falls with him and the country, in whatever form it takes, will be in the hands of the jihadists.
This also means that if Al-Qaeda (ISIS) does find a new home in Syria, it will be poised to take jihad to the rest of the region.