While the Obama administration continues to claim that it is providing only “nonlethal” aid to the Syrian opposition, its role in fueling the bloody war there is increasingly coming to light.
After two years of conflict, more than 70,000 people have been killed and over a million displaced in what is being described in the corporate media as a civil war. More than 2 million Syrian children continue to grapple with disease, malnutrition and severe psychological trauma.
As late as Feb. 28, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the U.S. was for the first time shipping “nonlethal aid” to the Syrian opposition, claiming not to be providing arms because “it is difficult to prevent them from falling into the hands of militants who could use them on Western targets.”
It has been widely reported that Jabhat al-Nusra, a group designated by the U.S as terrorist, has emerged as the opposition’s leading military force. “The lone Syrian rebel group with an explicit stamp of approval from Al Qaeda has become one of the uprising’s most effective fighting forces, posing a stark challenge to the United States and other countries that want to support the rebels but not Islamic extremists,” wrote the New York Times on Dec. 9, 2012.
Hints that the Obama administration’s public position on providing only nonlethal aid to Syria was false had first appeared as early as June 2012, when the Times found “a small number of CIA officers” secretly working with “a shadowy network of intermediaries,” including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to ship arms to the opposition. (New York Times, June 21, 2012)
It has now been confirmed that the CIA has been sending large shipments of weapons to Syria via regional proxies since at least early 2012. The secret airlift has in the past months increased dramatically to include more than 160 military cargo flights through Turkish and Jordanian airports.
The implications of this policy are staggering. Data on the Syrian war’s human toll show how as late as early 2012 — when the rebel arms shipments escalated — weekly deaths were falling, only to rise sharply to unprecedented levels a few months into the program. The exact concerns about arms being funneled to terrorists that Kerry raised publicly also seem to reflect the reality on the ground. U.S. proxies in Saudi Arabia are reported to be “involved in arming Syrian rebels, the most ultraconservative, ultrareligious groups, such as al-Nusra, and … hundreds of Saudis are infiltrating across the borders from Jordan and Turkey and going to fight with these extremist groups in Syria.” (democracynow.org, March 3)
The patently criminal nature of arming these groups to accomplish geostrategic goals is not without precedent in U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. role in Libya was identical, leading eventually to a cross-border conflict unfolding with deadly consequences in Mali. Another recent episode was the revelation that the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) had for years been arming and funding the Mujahedeen e-Khalq, including training members inside the U.S. in an ongoing covert war against Iran played out through targeted assassinations and bomb plots.
These developments, moreover, come amid rising signs that the violent Syrian opposition is floundering and fighting within itself. The president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Mouaz al-Khatib, announced his resignation on March 24, “citing his frustration with unspecified foreign powers, which he accused of trading funding for control of the group.” (McClatchy Newspapers, March 25)
Further militarization of the conflict seems likely only to exacerbate the pressing humanitarian crisis. Through it all, the U.S. imperialist ruling class continues fueling the violence, hoping that its repeatedly failed policy of military interventionism might serve its interests in the flames of Syria.
Kamalakanthan is a junior at Duke University in Durham, N.C.