Friday's New York Times reported that "The Obama administration is considering the resumption of nonlethal military aid to Syria’s moderate opposition, senior administration officials said on Thursday, even if some of it ends up going to the Islamist groups that are allied with the moderates." -- COMMENT: Read between the lines of this piece and you'll see in it a confirmation of our recent assertion that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have decided to work in concert to back local jihadists (the Islamic Front) in Syria against global jihadists (ISIS). -- For "questions now being debated at the White House and the State Department" read "questions decided in December in consultation with Saudi Arabia." -- For "The administration has to determine whether the benefits exceed the risks" read "The administration has decided that the benefits exceed the risks." -- Mark Landler's article is pure PR, relying on the national security state's stable of regional "experts" (in this instance, Frederic C. Hof, a former State Department official now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council [whose associates are a veritable roster of the U.S. internationalist power élite], Daniel Serwer, a professor of conflict management [sic] at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies [whose full name is the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, named after the architect of the U.S. national security state], and Andrew J. Tabler, an expert on Syria and senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy [an offshoot of AIPAC and a core member of the Israel lobby]) to legitimate a decision already reached weeks ago. -- But this article, O surprise, makes no mention whatsoever of Saudi Arabia (which is one of the funders of the Atlantic Council, by the way)....
U.S. CONSIDERS RESUMING NONLETHAL AID TO SYRIAN REBELS
By Mark Landler
New York Times
January 10, 2014 (posted Jan. 9)
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is considering the resumption of nonlethal military aid to Syria’s moderate opposition, senior administration officials said on Thursday, even if some of it ends up going to the Islamist groups that are allied with the moderates.
The United States suspended the shipments last month after warehouses of equipment were seized by the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist fighters that broke with the American-backed Free Syrian Army and has become an increasingly vital force in the nearly three-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
But as a result of the rapidly shifting alliances within Syria’s fractured opposition, some of the Islamists fought alongside the Free Syrian Army in a battle against a major rebel group affiliated with Al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
That has eased American qualms about resuming the aid, the officials said.
Restoring the aid, they said, would send a message of American support at a time when opposition groups are threatening to boycott a Jan. 22 peace conference out of concern that it will only serve to tighten Mr. Assad’s grip on power and discredit them at home.
Administration officials insisted that no aid would be directly supplied to the Islamic Front, an umbrella for half a dozen rebel groups who favor the creation of an orthodox Islamic state in Syria. Aid would continue to be funneled exclusively through the Supreme Military Council, the military wing of moderate, secular Syrian opposition.
But a senior administration official said: “You have to take into account questions of how the SMC and the Islamic Front are interacting on the ground,” adding, “There’s no way to say 100 percent that it would not end up in the hands of the Islamic Front.”
When the State Department confirmed on Dec. 11 that it had cut off the aid, officials made it clear that it could be restored. The United States continued delivering humanitarian relief.
Among the questions now being debated at the White House and the State Department, officials said, is how to ensure that the aid flows only to vetted organizations, and whether Islamist groups that receive any of it could be compelled to pledge that they will not work with Al Qaeda.
The deliberations are part of a broader effort to deal with a civil war that has devolved into a splintered struggle in which jihadist groups -- some nationalist, others transnational -- are increasingly leaving the secular fighters on the sidelines.
The administration has signaled a willingness to talk to the Islamic Front, but an effort to arrange a meeting in December was rebuffed by the group when the White House opted to send two mid-level State Department officials rather than the ambassador to Syria, Robert S. Ford.
The administration has also struggled to learn what precisely happened in the early hours of Dec. 7, when the Islamic Front seized control of warehouses in Atmeh, in northern Syria, that contained the American-supplied aid, including food rations, medical kits, and vehicles.
The fighters also seized the headquarters of the Supreme Military Council.
The Islamists said they were acting at the request of the council, which feared an attack on the warehouses by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Since then, Mr. Ford has told analysts, the Islamic Front has returned the warehouses and their contents, with the exception of light arms and ammunition.
Under the administration’s division of labor, the State Department is in charge of supplying nonlethal aid, while the CIA runs a covert program to arm and train the Syrian rebels.
While analysts said a decision to resume aid may encourage opposition groups to attend the peace conference, it would be far short of what is necessary to salvage the meeting -- known as Geneva II but set to be held in Montreux, a nearby Swiss city.
Opposition groups are scheduled to meet on Jan. 17 to decide whether to attend the conference. But the meeting’s stated goal -- to chart a political transition in Syria -- seems more elusive than ever, given the recent military gains made by Mr. Assad’s forces.
“The larger questions are: What is the strategy for making the conference itself successful? And how do the meetings in Switzerland serve an overall strategy for Syria?” said Frederic C. Hof, a former State Department official who has worked on political transition in Syria.
“Just getting people to sit down and talk is too low a bar for success,” said Mr. Hof, who is now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “It’s almost subterranean.”
Other experts said it would be harder for the administration to ensure that none of its aid wound up in the hands of extremists, given how murky the Syrian battlefield has become.
“The administration has to determine whether the benefits exceed the risks,” said Daniel Serwer, a professor of conflict management at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “It makes sense if it will tip the scales away from Al Qaeda-type extremists. The Islamic Front is likely to be the best antidote to them.”
But there is also a political risk for the administration. Critics on Capitol Hill would most likely protest any decision to supply aid to the Islamic Front. They could cite historical examples, like the American support for the Afghan Mujahedeen fighters in their war against the Soviets in the 1980s, which planted the seeds for later terrorism against the United States.
The risk, some analysts said, is not that the American aid would end up in the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, but with the Nusra Front, another powerful rebel group that the United States believes has links to Al Qaeda but which many rebels view as an effective combatant against Mr. Assad. The Nusra Front is not a part of the Islamic Front, but it has close ties to some groups that are under the front’s umbrella.
Still, as other experts noted, the aid in question includes food rations and pickup trucks, not tanks and bullets. None of it is likely to change the trajectory of the conflict, which some experts said had fallen into a kind of “territorial equilibrium,” in which neither the rebels nor Mr. Assad’s forces have much to gain from further fighting.
“Given where we are, given the state of the war, given that it’s nonlethal in nature, there’s less downside risk,” said Andrew J. Tabler, an expert on Syria and senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It could lead to bigger and better things.”
--Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting.