Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The ISIS-Assad Canard Reappears

When it's time to post the newest installment in the information war against the Syrian government, one can always count on NYT's Anne Barnard to be front and center, as she is today with "Assad’s Forces May Be Aiding New ISIS Surge."

The gist of the story, built out of Twitter posts from the shuttered U.S. Embassy in Syria and interviews from spokesmen for Islamic Front (Syria), is that the Syrian air force bombed rebel-held positions northeast of Aleppo, softening them up for an ISIS offensive:
At stake is the survival of one of the few pockets of insurgent-held territory not dominated by the Nusra Front or the Islamic State. Northeast of the city of Aleppo, which is divided between government and rebel control, the main insurgent groups are Islamist factions not affiliated with the two most extreme groups. 
Khaled Khoja, the president of the main Syrian exile opposition group, accused Mr. Assad of deploying his warplanes “as an air force for ISIS.”
Echoing those claims, the Twitter account of the long-closed United States Embassy in Syria made its strongest statement yet about Mr. Assad’s tactics. 
“Reports indicate that the regime is making airstrikes in support of #ISIL’s advance on #Aleppo, aiding extremists against Syrian population,” the embassy said in a series of Twitter posts. In another post, it added that government warplanes were “not only avoiding #ISIL lines, but actively seeking to bolster their position.”
Neither American officials nor Syrian insurgents have provided proof of such direct coordination, though it has long been alleged by the insurgents. The State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Tuesday that United States officials were looking into the claims but had no independent confirmation. 
What is clear is that Mr. Assad and the Islamic State reap benefits by eliminating or weakening other insurgent groups. Mr. Assad can claim he is the only alternative to the Islamic State, and the Islamic State can claim it carries the banner of oppressed Syrians and Iraqis. 
But insurgents said the recent fighting around Aleppo provided by far the strongest indication of active coordination. “It was never this blatant,” said Abu Abdo Salabman, a spokesman for the Sham Revolutionary Brigades, a rebel group that has sent reinforcements to the battle.
Besides the demurrer (in bold red above), Barnard provides no counterpoint, whether from a Syrian government official or a third-party expert, to the claim that Assad is acting as Islamic State's air force. Like her recent reports with Somini Sengupta on the Syrian Arab Army's use of barrel bombs of chlorine gas, Barnard acts as stovepipe for anti-Assad propaganda direct to the pages of the "newspaper of record."

My sense of what is going on here is the desire of the U.S. to appropriate some of the language and argumentation that has gained a wide popular purchase in the information war, despite the close coordination of the mainstream media with Western governments, and that is the idea that the U.S. is publicly, officially at war with ISIS and Nusra while working behind the scenes to make sure the jihadis continue to hold and acquire Iraqi and Syrian turf. In other words, if you can't beat 'em, join em.

The ISIS-Assad canard is not new. It was trotted out and then thoroughly debunked in February 2014.

The point that Barnard makes in the first paragraph of the above quote, that the insurgent-held territory between Aleppo and the Turkish border that is under ISIS assault is somehow pristine and free from the Salafist infection of Nusra, is disingenuous. Islamic Front is part of the Nusra-led Army of Conquest that has racked up victories in Idlib on its drive to Alawite-populated Mediterranean coast. As Barnard acknowledges, Nusra is rushing fighters to defend Islamic Front's turf in Aleppo:
Insurgents said they had been able to slow the Islamic State’s advance on Aleppo by diverting fighters, ranging from Nusra to nationalist groups, from other fronts where they had been facing government troops.
The jihadis are an alphabet soup, mixed and matched, moved here and there on the battlefield under different names, but they share the same goal with the United States and its despotic partners in the GCC, cracking Iran's power base.

The jihadis can share the same goal without being unified. Islamic State has proven itself time and again to be adept at devouring low-hanging fruit. An argument can be made that the Turkish/Saudi desire for a no-fly zone in northern Syria is one step closer to realization if it's Islamic State that controls the territory.

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