'Free Syrian Army' Is Just a Brand Name Without a Product

Nobody is actually calling themselves that on the ground

Wed, Oct 7, 2015
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MORE: Politics

Originally appeared at Off Guardian


Jabhat al Nusra kicking back after a hard day of moderate pillage and murder. Did they steal the sofa from the US too?

The US are now openly admitting that which they vehemently denied for so long – viz that some at least of the Syrian “rebels” were created and trained by the CIA. Said John McCain himself, quoted in the Independent.

I can absolutely confirm to you that they were strikes against the Free Syrian Army or groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA...

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This CIA-backed “Free Syrian Army” is now being resurrected in the media as the embodiment of the “good rebels”, portrayed as our allies and friends, whom Russia should not bomb, and entirely and completely separate from the extremists/jihadists Daesh/Islamic State/ISIS/IS/ISIL – whom we claim to have been bombing for months. But is such a view remotely consistent with known facts?

Let’s kick off by reminding ourselves that back in 2013, Aron Lund was alleging very explicitly that the FSA Doesn’t Exist. Describing it as a “branding operation”, Lund outlined its creation in the following terms:

"…The FSA was created by Col. Riad el-Asaad and a few other Syrian military defectors in July 2011, in what may or may not have been a Turkish intelligence operation…these original FSA commanders were confined to the closely guarded Apaydın camp in Turkey, and kept separate from civilian Syrian refugees.

Turkish authorities are known to have screened visitors and journalists before deciding whether they could talk to the officers. While this is not in itself evidence of a Turkish intelligence connection, it does suggest that this original FSA faction could not, how shall we say, operate with full autonomy from its political environment."

More importantly, according to Lund, the FSA barely ever existed as anything much more than a name. In the chaos (deliberately engendered or accidental) of the “civil war”, the name “FSA” quickly became used as shorthand for any group – real or imagined- the media wanted to present as being worthy of sympathy.

The FSA label is increasingly being used in the media as shorthand for those factions which receive Gulf/Western support and are open to collaboration with the USA and other Western nations.

Many other commentators have echoed this view. Even Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn – who are at best fairly qualified critics of western foreign policy – have been saying the “moderate rebels” are more myth than reality. Says Patrick Cockburn:

"The[] [moderate rebels] scarcely exist on the ground. That’s one of the extraordinary things… is that in Syria the main opponent of the Islamic State is to be the Syrian armed moderates. But nobody can find them on the map."

And Fisk:

“…the FSA fell to pieces, corrupted, and the “moderates” defected all over again, this time to the Islamist Nusrah Front or to Isis, selling their American-supplied weapons to the highest bidder or merely retiring quietly – and wisely – to the countryside where they maintained a few scattered checkpoints…”

But, if the FSA is just a brand name or a media-creation, or if it sold its weapons and ran for the hills many months ago, then who exactly are these other “groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA” John McCain is crying foul over?

Well, back in June 2015, the WSJ ran this headline:

To U.S. Allies, Al Qaeda Affiliate in Syria Becomes the Lesser Evil

The article went on to suggest those arch-terrorists Jabhat al Nusra – otherwise known as “al Qaeda in Syria” – might be re-classified as western allies since they had apparently fallen out with their one-time chums, ISIS. Yes, that’s the ‘al Qaeda.’ As in 9/11. As in the War on Terror. As in “they hate our freedoms.” As in countless dead in Iraq and Afghanistan in an alleged bid to wipe them from the face of the earth. Incredibly, these people are somehow getting rebranded as a “lesser evil” than elected, non-terrorist Bashar al Assad.

But if that weren’t already crazy enough, just a month after this article appeared,so the narrative goes, al Nusra allegedly murdered several “US-trained rebels” from a very shadowy entity called “Division 30”, who only seem to exist in relation to this incident, and who were allegedly wiped out (just like the Kurdish forces) right at the moment they were about to launch an attack on ISIS.

You might think this would have been the end of US co-operation with Jabhat al Nusra, but it doesn’t entirely seem so. As late as September there were reports of more US-backed groups “accidentally” handing over equipment to them. And the recent media outrage over Russian airstrikes certainly seems to imply al Nusra is one of the CIA-backed “non-ISIS” rebel outfits John McCain is talking about.

So, it seems al Nusra is still deemed worthy of protection by Washington, even after they allegedly murder its own “moderate rebels.”

Strange and confusing, no? You can see why Russia is bemused and keeps asking for clarification. You can see why it has its own suspicions about why ISIS seems so impervious to US bombs, and where it got those matching trucks and US-made weapons.

It’s becoming too clear that it’s not just “FSA” that works as a handy label. So too does “al Qaeda” (the ‘database’), “Ahrar al Sham”, “Jabhat al Nusra”, “ISIS”/”ISIL”/”Daesh”. Increasingly they seem like little more than synonyms to be used interchangeably as suits the narrative. If the moderates fizzle then just re-define Jabhat al Nusra as the new “moderates”. When the’rebels’ get US weapon drops, or get bombed by Russia we call them the “FSA”. When they murder civilians or blow up ancient monuments, we call them “ISIS”.

The end is the means. The spread of chaos and confusion so thick we think we can create any outcome we choose simply by announcing it. Who knows what’s really happening? Who in the greedy corrupt ranks of the western political class much cares, providing they are getting their fat pay cheque? The narrative is king and people are rewarded handsomely for serving it. The US presence in Syria is an extended promo film for US domestic consumption, selling the idea of a dynamic imperial America to its own restive population. Even the bad guys are franchises now. ISIS was sold to us first and foremost as a logo.

I think the mutual incomprehension between Russia and the west is as much about these different concepts of the real as anything else. Russia hasn’t yet become culturally psychotic enough to view veridical reality as a minor inconvenience to be spun and lied into oblivion. Their dogged obsession with hard facts infuriates and disgusts us. Our manic hubris shocks and disgusts – and alarms – them.

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