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CIA Restores Funding to 'Moderate Rebels' — But There's a Catch

No more infighting. The "moderate rebels" will have to focus solely on fighting the Syrian Army

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

In February, the CIA froze funding and supplies for all Syrian rebel groups. Two months latter this support has at least partly returned. 

There's one catch: They have to focus on taking down Assad.

This has been confirmed to Al Jazeera by commanders of two rebel groups. 

Moreover, the rebels have told Al Jazeera that along with money and guns they have also received new marching orders from the US. They are to join a new operations room that will be backed by US, Turkey, Arab gulf monarchies and Western Europeans. The rebels have said they "do not have much of a choice about joining the new operations room and that not doing so would mean a confrontation with the US".

This new operations room is being set up explicitly to fight the Syrian army. Earlier reports that it is being set up to fight al-Qaeda have been rebuked by the CIA-backed rebels.

Keep in mind that January saw significant fighting between rebels and their consolidation into the hyper-militant Tahrir al-Sham coalition (which is synonymous with al-Qaeda) and the opposing coalition around the slightly more pragmatic Ahrar al-Sham.

The US is now seemingly pressuring the groups around Ahrar, who are weary of al-Qaeda goons going after them again, to get over themselves and get back to the business of fighting Assad.

If you think this is an insane al-Qaeda-friendly move you're absolutely right. Apparently this was a concession to the Turks who are fuming that they weren't allowed to curb-stomp the Syrian Kurds whom the US needs for the march on Raqqa.

The move to unify rebel factions in northern Syria came just a few days after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Turkey. Earlier last week, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced the end of Turkey's Euphrates Shield operation in Syria, suggesting there might be future operations with Turkish involvement in Syria.

According to Aba Zeid, it is possible that the new unified command is part of negotiations between the US and Turkey in which the participation of Turkish-backed Syrian forces the battle for Raqqa is also on the table.

Abdul Majeed Barakat, political adviser of FSA forces which were included in the Euphrates Shield operation, told Al Jazeera that Turkey had planned a unified rebel army under the name "Al Jaish Al Watani" or "Jaish Al Tahrir". That force was supposed to lead a second phase of Turkey's operations in Syria which was to focus on Idlib province. Barakat said that a number of meetings were held in Ankara between the Turkish authorities and rebel commanders to discuss the issue. 

If Syrian rebels are to be believed, the sulky Sultan wants a round two against Assad and he has secured US support for it — even if it means boosting al-Qaeda all over again.

Coincidentally, a perfectly timed "sarin gas attack" has just struck — just in time to justify a renewed Turkish-American-Islamist push against Damascus.

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