Al-Qaeda militants and other Sunni extremists are becoming a greater and greater part of the conflict in Syria, just as the US officially announced it was abandoning any pretense of a diplomatic approach in favor of toppling the regime through proxy rebel groups.
“The evidence is mounting that Syria has become a magnet for Sunni extremists, including those operating under the banner of Al Qaeda,” reports the New York Times. “The presence of jihadists in Syria has accelerated in recent days in part because of a convergence with the sectarian tensions across the country’s long border in Iraq.”
According to one US intelligence estimate, as many as a quarter of the 300 rebel groups in Syria may be fighting under the banner of al-Qaeda, says Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Strangely, the fact that Washington, in cooperation with its allies, is now sending communication gear, military intelligence, and weapons to militias in Syria with considerable – and growing – ties to al-Qaeda has not made the Obama administration blink.
Russia on Wednesday criticized the US for not condemning the July 18 bombing in Damascus, which they called an act of terrorism. “This is directly justifying terrorism. How can this be understood?” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
“In other words, to say it in plain Russian, this means ‘we (the United States) will continue to support such terrorist acts for as long as the UN Security Council has not done what we want’,” Lavrov added.
The CIA is supposedly employing a “vetting process” to avoid having the aid get into the hands of Islamic extremists, but the process is made up of untrustworthy, third-party sources and intelligence officials have recently told the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times that the truth is that the US doesn’t know who is getting the money and weapons.
Apparently, even arming and strengthening al-Qaeda isn’t enough to disrupt Washington’s plan to change the regime in Syria, in order to eliminate Iran’s main ally in the Middle East and to gain an even stronger foothold in the region.
But extremist infiltration of the Syrian opposition carries other problems. The Obama administration runs the risk of helping to bring these extremists to power if and when the Assad regime finally does collapse. Moreover, as happened in Afghanistan after the US proxy war there with the mujihadeens, the potential for deadly blowback is very real.