— The Times of London (@thetimes) June 14, 2013
Last week, a US air strike meant to hit a base held by the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front almost hit a Free Syrian Army facility instead:
Since U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Syria began on Sept. 22, there has been no coordination between the U.S. military and its alleged partners on the ground, according to FSA leaders, civilian opposition leaders, and intelligence sources who have been briefed on the U.S. and allied military operation. It’s this lack of communication that led to an airstrike that hit only 200 meters from an FSA facility in the suburbs of Idlib. One source briefed on the incident said multiple FSA fighters were killed in the attack.
“Unfortunately, there is zero coordination with the Free Syrian Army. Because there is no coordination, we are seeing civilian casualties. Because there is no coordination, they are hitting empty buildings for ISIS,” Hussam Al Marie, the spokesman for the FSA in northern Syria, told The Daily Beast.
What’s at risk of happening here, as ISIS and the Nusra Front congeal, is our allies in the Free Syrian Army suddenly getting it on all sides. Assad has every reason to keep killing the “moderates”; the west has always eyed them as a potential governing regime in Syria once Assad is gone, so by eliminating them Assad makes himself the only anti-ISIS game in town. And now both ISIS and the Nusra Front have a strong reason to target the FSA.
Notwithstanding this week’s mishap, Nusra will suspect that the “moderates” are either already [feeding] intelligence to the Pentagon about their locations or will be soon. The smarter strategic play here, surreal though it may seem, might have been to leave Al Qaeda alone at first and concentrate on ISIS, so as to better isolate the latter group.
But then, maybe that was impossible. Once ISIS is gone, who’s likely to replace them in control of Sunni areas? Right — Al Qaeda. We’re holding the weakest hand on the field with the FSA. To clear a path for them to rule, we’ll have to eliminate … everyone, basically.
And the quicksand will get deeper and deeper. As if that’s not enough, Fred Hof insists that the US treat Assad as our enemy as well:
The salient fact governing today’s situation in Syria is that there would be no Islamic State were it not for the criminally sectarian manner in which the Assad regime chose to respond to peaceful political protest. This would be true even if the Assad regime had had nothing to do with sustaining Al Qaeda in Iraq during the years of American occupation. This would be true even if regime-IS collaboration on the ground in western Syria were merely happenstance: an accident produced by the existence of a common enemy.
Aaron David Miller illustrates why all of this is nuts:
So, here’s my latest worry. Looking at our Syria policy, it has begun to dawn on me that we really face a two-part conundrum that we will have difficulty unpacking. First, there’s the obvious: hitting the Islamic State (IS) strengthens Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Second: If we choose to hit him, we’ll buck up IS, al-Nusra, and the rest of the swell groups who are in the Syrian opposition, not to mention alienating our new friends, Iraq’s prime minister, and of course, Iran, and a few of our old acquaintances like Putin.
That two-part conundrum only reinforces my real concern: the new and potentially slippery slope that is at the heart of our approach. And it’s not boots on the ground. Instead, it’s the reality that we’re being pulled inexorably like a moth to a flame not just toward a military conflict with Assad, but toward bearing the responsibility for fixing — or worse for creating — the new Syria. Indeed, under the realist’s rubric of striking IS to keep America safe, we may well end up in the very place U.S. President Barack Obama has willfully tried to avoid: nation-building.
And the beat goes on, and on, and on …