(Underground Report) The New York Times recently ran a big front-page piece, taking up more than a full page, seeking to explain the recent developments in Syria. Anne Bernard, the Times’ leading reporter on the Middle East, who mainly operates from Beirut and gets her information from rebel sources, unfortunately grossly fails to inform her readers on some very basic and easily accessible facts that would be journalistic commonplace if we had anything remotely resembling a free press in the US.
The piece begins with some good reporting on the ceasefire and the problems and successes of its implementation, and then goes on to note one of the main talking-points of the opposition: “One of the main concerns of beleaguered opposition forces was that the government would continue to take territory, attacking all insurgents while claiming it was battling only the two groups excluded from the truce: the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate.”
Firstly, the characterization of the rebels as “opposition” and “insurgents” is common practice in Western media reports, yet it shields the fact that the rebel opposition is, and has been for years, dominated by al-Qaeda and ISIS.(1) In failing to report this fact, which is also available from multiple US intelligence agency reports, Bernard and the NYT in effect protect the al-Qaeda forces on the ground from the eyes of the Western public, and in doing so protect the complicity of Western governments in supporting them.
Instead of fulfilling its journalistic function of holding accountable those in power, the NYT instead serves to propagandize for government policy.
Bernard further does this by describing the non-ISIS opposition as “a broad array that includes the Nusra Front, Islamists, and relatively secular groups led by army defectors and backed by the United States and its allies,” failing to note the prominence of the extremists and the fact that the “relatively secular groups” “only operate under license from the extreme jihadists.” Also, describing the “moderates” as secular is entirely misleading and false, as almost all want some form of Islamic stateand are almost exclusively Sunni Muslim.
Going further the intimate, longstanding, and “brotherly” working relationship between the US-backed FSA and al-Qaeda is described in the piece only as “different degrees” of “tactical alliances.”
Initially after the signing of the ceasefire deal, the US-backed FSA were some of the biggest critics of the fact that their al-Qaeda ally was not included, which the US initially tried to make happen before the proposal of protecting al-Qaeda terrorists was rejected by Russia. Main FSA leaders described al-Qaeda as their “partners”, as an “honorable” faction, and claimed that it fights on the ground with “most of the brigades that attended the Riyadh conference,” which essentially includes all the main groups except for Nusra and ISIS.
A few months before that al-Qaeda made a video showing a Nusra leader presenting a gift to an FSA commander, thanking him for using US-supplied TOW anti-tank missiles in support of al-Qaeda while claiming that al-Qaeda and the FSA “are one.”
In 2013, the US-backed FSA commander Col. Okaidi, described as one the biggest recipient of US aid, who to this day can be seen being given air time by Western media to mobilize support for the opposition, described his relationship with ISIS as “good, even brotherly” after having won a main victory while exercising a degree of operational command over ISIS. After having admitted to fighting alongside al-Qaeda, Okaidi explains that al-Nusra does not “exhibit any abnormal behavior, which is different from that of the FSA,” admitting that the sectarian ferocity of al-Qaeda which is often pilloried by the West was no different from the actions of his FSA rebels, that the US supports.
Yet not only is this an intimate alliance that is years in the making, it is as well one that has been ordered by the US and its allies.
In the overtaking of Idlib in 2014, Charles Lister, at the time of the Brookings Doha Center, revealed from interviews with rebel commanders that they received specific instructions from US-led operations rooms to align themselves within al-Qaeda’s ranks and to use their increasing shipments of US-supplied weapons in support of al-Qaeda.
Earlier in 2014 the commander of the US-backed SRF revealed that “those who support us”, i.e. the CIA and its allies, specifically “told us” to “send weapons to [Islamist fighters in] Yabroud” and therefore “we sent a lot of weapons there.”
Anne Bernard however thought only to describe all of this as the rebels having “joined in tactical alliances to different degrees.”
This, in turn, is said to be a “political conundrum” since “Mr. Assad and his allies argue that that makes all rebels legitimate targets.”
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