By Chris Simmons
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” So thought Syrian President Bashar Assad when he allowed Al Qaeda (AQ) to create and sustain a “Rat Line” funneling a torrent of foreign fighters into Iraq. Now the stream has reversed course and AQ-trained and equipped fighters are flowing into Syria to fight with the Al Nusra Front. Benefitting greatly from the terrorist group’s extensive infrastructure in Iraq, its Syrian-based affiliate has swelled to 6000 fighters since its establishment in January 2012.Not surprisingly; Al Nusra seeks to replace Syria with a Sunni Islamic state.
For nine long years (2003-2011), Assad allowed AQ foot soldiers to fly into Damascus. There they entered an intricate network of safehouses whose staff smuggled them covertly into northeastern Iraq. Assad helped AQ kill Americans to undermine the US effort in Iraq. According to US media sources, no other leader in the Middle East did more to aid AQ operations in Iraq than President Assad. Yesterday The Washington Times cited retired US General John Keane as claiming even Syrian Intelligence was involved with directly helping AQ in its deadly mission.
Now his former “friends” have used their expertise to create the most powerful force within the diverse array of Syrian opposition groups. Combat seasoned, well-armed and disciplined, the Al Nusra Front has already proven itself capable of coordinated operations with other opposition entities. More importantly, AQ has the ability to make things much worse for Assad. US troops have left Iraq and Baghdad’s military does not threaten AQ the way American forces did. Additionally, AQ has increased the resources available for reassignment to Syria by recently freeing many of its captured combatants from Iraqi jails.
For unknown reasons, Assad did not anticipate AQ’s likely responses to a political opening occurring in Syria. In his dangerous game of “Human Chess,” he not only failed to understand his supposed ally, he also focused solely on his next move instead of his next several moves. President Assad never understood that while his self-interest and that of Al Qaeda’s did overlap on the sole issue of killing Americans, their overall interests could not have been more divergent. Their previous collaboration was merely a short-term marriage of convenience and as so often happens, the divorce has proven itself quite messy.