Endless Enemies – How the US is Supporting the Islamic State by Fighting it

From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State to Assad, the US is fighting terrorists of its own creation by partnering with other terrorists of its own creation

By Nafeez Ahmed

Geopolitics is a murky game. Precisely how murky is reflected in the well-worn phrase, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

What happens, though, when you follow that ancient proverb with the faith of a religious believer?

Now that the war on the “Islamic State” (IS) is, ostensibly, in full-swing, the US is making “friends” out of enemies, old and new. Among our new friends is al-Qaeda.

Except they are supposedly not “our” friends, but friends of our allies.

Al-Qaeda, freedom fighters for Gulf monarchies

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are now working to support al-Qaeda’s official arm in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, to re-take Syrian territory from Bashir al-Assad. The strategy resulted in a coalition of rebel groups, led by the al-Qaeda faction, conquering Idlib in April.

The three regional powers claim they are hoping to compel al-Nusra to renounce its relationship to al-Qaeda – but the reality is they are funding the al-Qaeda affiliate without any meaningful guarantee of control.

“Nusra will stay with al-Qaeda unless the other rebel forces are able to unify into one force,” said one al-Nusra member. “[Al-Qaeda leader Ayman] al-Zawahiri says the unification of Muslims is more important than membership in any group.”

According to Rami Abdelrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, al-Nusra is “not so different from IS. They want to make an emirate but are looking for the right opportunity.”

Publicly, the official line is that the Saudi-Qatari-Turkish strategy is not directly funding al-Nusra, although the geopolitical coalition is aware that al-Nusra will benefit from the support to Islamist rebel groups.

Privately, a source in the Saudi royal family involved in security policy said that 90 percent of the rebels receiving military and other aid were members of al-Nusra and rival jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham, whose founding member Mohamed Bahaiah is also a senior al-Qaeda operative. As much as 40 percent of the rebels’ requirements are supplied by the Saudis, Turks and Qatar, the remainder being self-financed.

The strategy was, according to journalist Gareth Porter, rubber-stamped at the Camp David summit in May. The Gulf states and Turkey would acquiesce to the US-Iran nuclear deal, as along the US would guarantee containing Iranian influence in the region – part of which would involve turning a blind eye to Saudi, Qatari and Turkish support for al-Nusra and other Sunni jihadist factions.

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