Tony Greenstein | 29 May 2015 | Post Views:

Anti-ISIS coalition knowingly sponsored violent extremists to ‘isolate’ Assad, rollback ‘Shia expansion’

Intelligence document

More evidence that the rise of ISIS was a
direct and conscious result of the West’s desire to overthrow the Assad regime,
because it was secular, and its opposition to the Iranian regime, which derives
from its support for Assad and 

Tony Greenstein
by Nafeez Ahmed
This story is published by INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new crowd-funded
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A declassified secret US government document obtained
by the conservative public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that
Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist
extremist groups to topple Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad.
The document reveals that in coordination with the
Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist
groups to destabilize Assad, and that these “supporting powers” desired the
emergence of a “Salafist Principality” in Syria to “isolate the Syrian regime.”
According to the newly declassified US document, the
Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence
of this strategy, and warned that it could destabilize Iraq. Despite anticipating
that Western, Gulf state and Turkish support for the “Syrian
opposition” — which included al-Qaeda in Iraq — could lead to the emergence of
an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the document provides no
indication of any decision to reverse the policy of support to the Syrian
rebels. On the contrary, the emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliated “Salafist
Principality” as a result is described as a strategic opportunity to isolate


The revelations contradict the official line of Western
governments on their policies in Syria, and raise disturbing questions about
secret Western support for violent extremists abroad, while using the
burgeoning threat of terror to justify excessive mass surveillance and
crackdowns on civil liberties at home.
Among the batch of documents obtained by Judicial Watch
through a federal lawsuit, released earlier this week, is a US Defense Intelligence
Agency (DIA) document
then classified as “secret,” dated 12th August
The DIA provides military intelligence in support of planners,
policymakers and operations for the US Department of Defense and intelligence
So far, media reporting has focused on the evidence that the
Obama administration knew of arms supplies from a Libyan terrorist stronghold
to rebels in Syria.
Some outlets have reported the US intelligence community’s
internal prediction of the rise of ISIS. Yet none have accurately acknowledged
the disturbing details exposing how the West knowingly fostered a sectarian,
al-Qaeda-driven rebellion in Syria.
Charles Shoebridge, a former British Army and Metropolitan
Police counter-terrorism intelligence officer, said:
“Given the political leanings of the organisation that
obtained these documents, it’s unsurprising that the main emphasis given to
them thus far has been an attempt to embarrass Hilary Clinton regarding what
was known about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012. However,
the documents also contain far less publicized revelations that raise vitally
important questions of the West’s governments and media in their support of
Syria’s rebellion.”

The West’s Islamists

The newly declassified DIA document from 2012
confirms that the main component of the anti-Assad rebel forces by this time
comprised Islamist insurgents affiliated to groups that would lead to the
emergence of ISIS. Despite this, these groups were to continue receiving
support from Western militaries and their regional allies.
Noting that “the Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and
AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,”
the document states that “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the
opposition,” while Russia, China and Iran “support the [Assad] regime.”
The 7-page DIA document states that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI),
the precursor to the ‘Islamic State in Iraq,’ (ISI) which became the ‘Islamic
State in Iraq and Syria,’ “supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning,
both ideologically and through the media.”
The formerly secret Pentagon report notes that the “rise of
the insurgency in Syria” has increasingly taken a “sectarian direction,”
attracting diverse support from Sunni “religious and tribal powers” across the
In a section titled ‘The Future Assumptions of the Crisis,’
the DIA report predicts that while Assad’s regime will survive, retaining
control over Syrian territory, the crisis will continue to escalate “into proxy
The document also recommends the creation of “safe havens
under international sheltering, similar to what transpired in Libya when
Benghazi was chosen as the command centre for the temporary government.”
In Libya, anti-Gaddafi rebels, most of whom were al-Qaeda
affiliated militias, were protected by NATO
‘safe havens’ (aka ‘no fly zones’).

 ‘Supporting powers want’ ISIS entity

In a strikingly prescient prediction, the Pentagon document
explicitly forecasts the probable declaration of “an Islamic State through its
union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”
Nevertheless, “Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey
are supporting these efforts” by Syrian “opposition forces” fighting to
“control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to Western Iraqi
provinces (Mosul and Anbar)”:
“… there is the possibility of establishing a declared or
undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and
this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to
isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia
expansion (Iraq and Iran).”
The secret Pentagon document thus provides extraordinary
confirmation that the US-led coalition currently fighting ISIS, had three years
ago welcomed the emergence of an extremist “Salafist Principality” in the
region as a way to undermine Assad, and block off the strategic expansion of
Iran. Crucially, Iraq is labeled as an integral part of this “Shia expansion.”
The establishment of such a “Salafist Principality” in eastern
Syria, the DIA document asserts, is “exactly” what the “supporting powers to
the [Syrian] opposition want.” Earlier on, the document repeatedly describes
those “supporting powers” as “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey.”
Further on, the document reveals that Pentagon analysts were
acutely aware of the dire risks of this strategy, yet ploughed ahead anyway.
The establishment of such a “Salafist Principality” in eastern
Syria, it says, would create “the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old
pockets in Mosul and Ramadi.” Last summer, ISIS conquered Mosul in Iraq, and
just this month has also taken control of Ramadi.
Such a quasi-state entity will provide:
“… a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the
jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world
against what it considers one enemy. ISI could also declare an Islamic State
through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, which
will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of
The 2012 DIA document is an Intelligence Information Report
(IIR), not a “finally evaluated intelligence” assessment, but its contents are
vetted before distribution. The report was circulated throughout the US
intelligence community, including to the State Department, Central Command, the
Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, FBI, among other agencies.
In response to my questions about the strategy, the British
government simply denied the Pentagon report’s startling revelations of
deliberate Western sponsorship of violent extremists in Syria. A British
Foreign Office spokesperson said:
“AQ and ISIL are proscribed terrorist organisations. The UK
opposes all forms of terrorism. AQ, ISIL, and their affiliates pose a direct
threat to the UK’s national security. We are part of a military and political
coalition to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and are working with international
partners to counter the threat from AQ and other terrorist groups in that
region. In Syria we have always supported those moderate opposition groups who
oppose the tyranny of Assad and the brutality of the extremists.”
The DIA did not respond to request for comment.

Strategic asset for regime-change

Security analyst Shoebridge, however, who has tracked Western
support for Islamist terrorists in Syria since the beginning of the war,
pointed out that the secret Pentagon intelligence report exposes fatal
contradictions at the heart of official pronunciations:
“Throughout the early years of the Syria crisis, the US and
UK governments, and almost universally the West’s mainstream media, promoted
Syria’s rebels as moderate, liberal, secular, democratic, and therefore
deserving of the West’s support. Given that these documents wholly undermine
this assessment, it’s significant that the West’s media has now, despite their
immense significance, almost entirely ignored them.”
According to Brad Hoff, a former US Marine who served during
the early years of the Iraq War and as a 9/11 first responder at the Marine
Corps Headquarters Battalion in Quantico from 2000 to 2004, the just released
Pentagon report for the first time provides stunning affirmation that:
“US intelligence predicted the rise of the Islamic State in
Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), but instead of clearly delineating the
group as an enemy, the report envisions the terror group as a US strategic
Hoff, who is managing editor of Levant Report—  an
online publication run by Texas-based educators who have direct experience of
the Middle East — points out that the DIA document “matter-of-factly” states
that the rise of such an extremist Salafist political entity in the region
offers a “tool for regime change in Syria.”
The DIA intelligence report shows, he said, that the rise of
ISIS only became possible in the context of the Syrian insurgency — “there is
no mention of US troop withdrawal from Iraq as a catalyst for Islamic State’s
rise, which is the contention of innumerable politicians and pundits.” The
report demonstrates that:
“The establishment of a ‘Salafist Principality’ in Eastern
Syria is ‘exactly’ what the external powers supporting the opposition want
(identified as ‘the West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey’) in order to weaken the
Assad government.”
The rise of a Salafist quasi-state entity that might expand
into Iraq, and fracture that country, was therefore clearly foreseen by US
intelligence as likely — but nevertheless strategically useful — blowback from
the West’s commitment to “isolating Syria.”


Critics of the US-led strategy in the region have
repeatedly raised questions about the role of coalition allies in intentionally
providing extensive support to Islamist terrorist groups in the drive to
destabilize the Assad regime in Syria.
The conventional wisdom is that the US government did
not retain sufficient oversight on the funding to anti-Assad rebel groups,
which was supposed to be monitored and vetted to ensure that only ‘moderate’
groups were supported.
However, the newly declassified Pentagon report proves
unambiguously that years before ISIS launched its concerted offensive against
Iraq, the US intelligence community was fully aware that Islamist militants
constituted the core of Syria’s sectarian insurgency.
Despite that, the Pentagon continued to support the
Islamist insurgency, even while anticipating the probability that doing so
would establish an extremist Salafi stronghold in Syria and Iraq.
As Shoebridge told me, “The documents show that not only
did the US government at the latest by August 2012 know the true extremist
nature and likely outcome of Syria’s rebellion” — namely, the emergence of
ISIS — “but that this was considered an advantage for US foreign policy. This
also suggests a decision to spend years in an effort to deliberately mislead
the West’s public, via a compliant media, into believing that Syria’s rebellion
was overwhelmingly ‘moderate.’”
Annie Machon, a former
MI5 intelligence officer who blew the whistle in the 1990s
on MI6 funding of al-Qaeda to assassinate Libya’s former leader Colonel
Gaddafi, similarly said of the revelations:
“This is no
surprise to me. Within individual countries there are always multiple
intelligence agencies with competing agendas.”
She explained that MI6’s Libya operation in 1996, which
resulted in the deaths of innocent people, “happened at precisely the time when
MI5 was setting up a new section to investigate al-Qaeda.”
This strategy was repeated on a grand scale in the 2011
NATO intervention in Libya, said Machon, where the CIA and MI6 were:
“… supporting
the very same Libyan groups, resulting in a failed state, mass murder,
displacement and anarchy. So the idea that elements of the American
military-security complex have enabled the development of ISIS after their
failed attempt to get NATO to once again ‘intervene’ is part of an established
pattern. And they remain indifferent to the sheer scale of human suffering that
is unleashed as a result of such game-playing.”

Divide and rule

Several US government officials have conceded that their
closest allies in the anti-ISIS coalition were funding violent extremist
Islamist groups that became integral to ISIS.
US Vice President Joe Biden, for instance, admitted last year that
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Turkey had funneled hundreds of millions of
dollars to Islamist rebels in Syria that metamorphosed into ISIS.
But he did not admit what this internal Pentagon
document demonstrates — that the entire covert strategy was sanctioned and supervised by the US, Britain, France, Israel and other Western
The strategy appears to fit a policy scenario identified
by a recent US Army-commissioned RAND Corp report.
The report, published four years before the DIA
document, called for the US “to capitalise on the Shia-Sunni conflict by taking
the side of the conservative Sunni regimes in a decisive fashion and working
with them against all Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world.”
The US would need to contain “Iranian power and
influence” in the Gulf by “shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes in Saudi
Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan.” Simultaneously, the US must maintain “a strong
strategic relationship with the Iraqi Shiite government” despite its Iran
The RAND report confirmed that the
“divide and rule” strategy was already being deployed “to create divisions in
the jihadist camp. Today in Iraq such a strategy is being used at the tactical
The report observed that the US was forming “temporary
alliances” with al-Qaeda affiliated “nationalist insurgent groups” that have
fought the US for four years in the form of “weapons and cash.” Although these
nationalists “have cooperated with al-Qaeda against US forces,” they are now
being supported to exploit “the common threat that al-Qaeda now poses to both
The 2012 DIA document, however, further shows that while
sponsoring purportedly former al-Qaeda insurgents in Iraq to counter al-Qaeda,
Western governments were simultaneously arming al-Qaeda insurgents in Syria.
The revelation from an internal US intelligence document
that the very US-led coalition supposedly fighting ‘Islamic State’ today,
knowingly created ISIS in the first place, raises troubling questions about
recent government efforts to justify the expansion of state anti-terror powers.
In the wake of the rise of ISIS, intrusive new measures
to combat extremism including mass surveillance, the Orwellian ‘prevent duty’
and even plans to enable government censorship of broadcasters, are being
pursued on both sides of the Atlantic, much of which disproportionately targets
activists, journalists and ethnic minorities, especially Muslims.
Yet the new Pentagon report reveals that, contrary to
Western government claims, the primary cause of the threat comes from their own
deeply misguided policies of secretly sponsoring Islamist terrorism for dubious
geopolitical purposes.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an
investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security
scholar. A former Guardian writer, he writes the ‘System Shift’ column for
VICE’s Motherboard, and is also a columnist for Middle East Eye. He is the
winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award, known as the ‘Alternative Pulitzer Prize’,
for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian work, and was
selected in the Evening Standard’s ‘Power 1,000’ most globally influential

Nafeez has also written for The Independent, Sydney
Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz,
Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New Internationalist,
Counterpunch, Truthout, among others. He is the author of
User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It
(2010), and the scifi thriller novel ZERO POINT, among other books. His work on the root causes and
covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to
the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.

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