Russia is bombing “terrorists” in Syria, and the US is understandably peeved.
A day after the bombing began, Obama’s Defence Secretary Ashton Carter complained that most Russian strikes “were in areas where there were probably not ISIL (IS) forces”.
Anonymously, US officials accused Russia of deliberately targeting CIA-sponsored “moderate” rebels to shore-up the regime of Bashir al-Assad.
Only two of Russia’s 57 airstrikes have hit ISIS, opined Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in similar fashion. The rest have hit “the moderate opposition, the only forces fighting ISIS in Syria,” he said.
Such claims have been dutifully parroted across the Western press with little scrutiny, bar the odd US media watchdog.
But who are these moderate rebels, really?
The first Russian airstrikes hit the rebel-held town of Talbisah north of Homs City, home to al-Qaeda’s official Syrian arm, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the pro-al-Qaeda Ahrar al-Sham, among other local rebel groups. Both al-Nusra and the Islamic State have claimed responsibility for vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs) in Homs City, which is 12 kilometers south of Talbisah.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reports that as part of “US and Turkish efforts to establish an ISIS ‘free zone’ in the northern Aleppo countryside,” al-Nusra “withdrew from the border and reportedly reinforced positions in this rebel-held pocket north of Homs city”.
In other words, the US and Turkey are actively sponsoring “moderate” Syrian rebels in the form of al-Qaeda, which Washington DC-based risk analysis firm Valen Globals forecasts will be “a bigger threat to global security” than IS in coming years.
Last October, Vice President Joe Biden conceded that there is “no moderate middle” among the Syrian opposition. Turkey and the Gulf powers armed and funded “anyone who would fight against Assad,” including “al-Nusra,” “al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI),” and the “extremist elements of jihadis who were coming from other parts of the world”.
This external funding enabled Islamist factions to systematically displace secular Free Syria Army (FSA) leaders, culminating in the rise of IS.
In other words, the CIA-backed rebels targeted by Russia are not moderates. They represent the same melting pot of al-Qaeda affiliated networks that spawned the Islamic State in the first place.