How the United States is arming the jihadists—in Syria and elsewhere


After two gas incidents, both ascribed to the Assad regime in Syria but in the end unmasked as provocations by others, the White House and its combative UN ambassador Nikki Haley have this time come up with a warning in advance. Now they claim to have knowledge of another chemical weapons attack being planned, by Syrian government forces. And to leave nothing to chance, Haley has added that Russia and Iran are implicated in these preparations.


It cannot get much more transparent: the war party in Washington, embroiled in a bitter internecine power struggle that shows no signs of abating, seeks to raise tension well in advance, threatening an attack on Assad as well as on his Russian and Iranian auxiliaries.

This coincides with Israel and Saudi Arabia stepping up their aggression against Syria and Iran (via Qatar), respectively.

Could it be that Washington is signalling to its jihadist allies that an incident staged by them would be immediately followed by an American attack? Such coordination is meanwhile well documented. Also, the military force the jihadists command today has been delivered by the US and other Western countries, working with Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. In a piece for the American Conservative, Gareth Porter has documented this latter aspect in amazing detail.

As with all accounts of Western support for jihadists in Syria, Libya, and elsewhere (not least of course in the southern Russian border areas), we must always keep in mind that this implies that terror attacks in large European cities—London and Manchester, Paris and Berlin—are connected to this support structure too. That is not the same as saying they are necessarily intended by Western sponsors, but these may be complicit in them on occasion.

President Barack Obama was involved early on in the supply of arms to the rebels in Syria, although he initially tried to limit support. Thus in September 2011 Obama was pressed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to the armed groups that these Sunni states were planning to set up in Syria. Obama refused direct US supplies but agreed to set up a logistical system so that any arms these states were going to supply, would reach the intended beneficiaries. The CIA then arranged the shipment of weapon stocks of the Gaddafi regime stored in Benghazi. As revealed by Seymour Hersh in 2014, CIA-controlled firms shipped the weapons to small ports in Syria, with US military managing the logistics and Saudi Arabia covering costs.

The size and calibre of the arms supplied is stunning. Already in August 2012, one shipment included not only small arms but also 400 howitzers (artillery pieces). By that time the supply line had delivered an estimated 2 750 tons of weapons to the rebels. However, after the NATO regime change in Libya, local militants attacked the Benghazi embassy annex from where the operation was run and in September the supply stopped.

With help from the CIA, Saudi representatives were then brought into contact with Croatia, which had huge stocks of arms from the civil war in Yugoslavia, another NATO operation. Using cargo planes, this route supplied a further 8 000 tons of weapons to Syria through 2013 alone, via Turkey. It included armoured rocket launch vehicles, anti-aircraft guns, astronomical amounts of rockets and rocket-propelled grenades and other munitions. The plan to provide the jihadists with a full-fledged conventional army with a marked anti-tank capability of the most advanced type was now well on its way to being fulfilled. Topping it all was an order placed in Serbia for three hundred tanks.

In Obama’s second term, the president reversed his previous ban on lethal assistance to anti-Assad armed groups. In December 2013 the U.S. supplied 15,000 TOW anti-tank missiles to the Saudis at a cost of about $1 billion, to be distributed to groups vetted by the US. The TOW missiles began to arrive in Syria in 2014 and soon had a major impact on the military balance. Along with the entry of 20 000 foreign fighters into Syria via Turkey, this made the al-Nusra front the dominant force against Assad, Porter writes. In the context created by influx of weaponry and the tens of thousands of foreign fighters, the ISIS phenomenon, too, could take shape. By early 2013, the Free Syrian Army had effectively merged into the jihadist formations.

As Washington got suspicious of the sort of groups Qatar and Turkey were giving aid to, it wanted the Saudi’s to give sophisticated anti-tank weapons only to certain formations, but in 2015 and ’16, the TOW missiles had found their way into al-Nusra arsenals.

In the rebel conquest of Idlib province, the US then gave the green light for the remaining ‘moderates’ to ally with the jihadists, and the same happened in Aleppo, where they were eventually defeated. There again it transpired that for Western media, the jihadists are the favourite sons, including the allegedly humanitarian branch, the ‘White Helmets’.

The upshot of it all is that the United States, in a tradition that goes back decades, has supported the most reactionary and cruel fighters for the purpose of destabilising a regime it and its allies do not want to survive. The ‘War on Terror’ is actually a war WITH the terrorists and the only question that remains unanswered is to which extent terrorism in Western Europe too is controlled by the US-backed Middle Eastern Sunni coalition and Israel.

Kees van der Pijl

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