Since 2010, when the upheaval in the Mideast dubbed the Arab Spring began, the United States has been the friend of rebels seeking regime change in countries throughout the region. In some cases, that meant providing weapons to rebels as well as reportedly conducting clandestine U.S. military operations.
In recent months, evidence emerged that al-Qaida has taken advantage of the U.S.-backed chaos in the Mideast and North Africa to gain allegiance in the aftermath of regime changes. When the Arab Spring initially began, al-Qaida was believed to be strongest in Pakistan. But policy analysts point to the rash of violent protests at U.S. embassies in Cairo and in Yemen and the attack that took the life of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, as evidence of a proliferation of al-Qaida-initiated terror.
Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United States was prepared to provide $60 million in aid to opposition groups working to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. That money will be in addition to $50 million already provided to the rebels to help them organize, as well as $385 million distributed to Syria and neighboring countries for humanitarian relief.
U.S. officials are reluctant to arm Syria’s rebels; the influx of monetary aid comes at a time when the United States and other outside nations have lost leverage over the Syrian opposition forces and radical Islamist groups like al-Qaida are gaining support among the rebel fighters. There is concern from some that the aid money could be making its way into the hands of terror groups.
A NATO researcher explained last week why the growing al-Qaida presence is cause for concern, saying Syria’s uncertain future could make it a top al-Qaida stronghold.
“It’s now clear that Syria is not undergoing a violent transition from one regime to another,” noted NATO researcher Jean-Loup Samaan. “In fact, the country is enduring a process of disintegration of its state structures. Planners for a post-Assad Syria are no longer eyeing the potential successors of Assad but [are looking] at the bewildering landscape of non-state actors that fight each other over the conquest of what will be eventually left of the Syrian state.”
Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Massoud Jazayeri urged U.S. officials to rethink support of Syrian opposition forces earlier this month, warning that terror groups have gained heavy control of opposition forces. He warned that the al-Qaida mission, such as it is, will lead to the armed rebels continuing their terrorist activities in the other countries, including the West, in the near future.
“The al-Qaida groups and those services which conduct their operations in line with the U.S. interests will soon change track of their operations to other places and they will cause new troubles for the U.S. and Europe henceforth,” Jazayeri said.