12:29 GMT +316 February 2019
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    The Consequences of Mislabeling Syria’s Rebels

    The Consequences of Mislabeling Syria’s Rebels

    © REUTERS / Sultan Kitaz
    Middle East
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    In the recent years the term “moderate rebels” has been vastly missused by western media and foreign policy elites.

    Now that the long lasting US military campaign in Syria has proved to be a failure, the question rises again whether the “moderate" Syrian rebels ever existed anywhere aside from the minds of Western diplomats.

    The idea of supporting the rebel groups espousing liberal democratic values and sharing US enemies in Syria was a cornerstone of Washington’s strategy in combating ISIL, but only resulted in devastating consequences and a number of humiliating incidents.

    When the news emerged that American arms and vehicles were handed over by the US-trained commanders to the Nusra Front fighters, doubts arose whether there is actually a line between “moderate” rebels and terrorists.

    “You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that respects human rights and that is waiting and ready because they don’t exist,” Said Aron Lund of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a researcher who has published extensively on the Syrian opposition.

    Back in July Labib Al Nahhas, the foreign relations chief for Ahrar al-Sham, a Sunni Islamist group fighting against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, warned about the dangerous consequences of wrongfully labeling Syrian revolutionaries as either “moderate” or “extremist”  in the Washington Post Op-Ed.

    “American policy has so narrowly defined the term “moderate” that it excludes most opposition groups in the country, including Ahrar al-Sham” Nahhas said.

    In the opinion piece, Nahhas attempted to redefine his organization as a rather peaceful group trying to rebel against an evil dictatorship. He denied the link between Ahrar al-Sham (“Free Men of Syria”) and al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (ISIL) and claimed that groups like his should be included in the list of those receiving US support.

    The bright alternative picture of Nahhas’ insurgent group may be questionable but his remarks on the Obama administration’s strategy in Syria are worth reviewing now that the world knows the disappointing outcome.  

    “Stuck inside their own bubble, White House policymakers have allocated millions of US taxpayer dollars to support failed CIA efforts to support so-called ‘moderate’ forces in Syria,” Nahhas wrote, arguing that the US is making a mistake by only supporting those rebel groups that fit within the Pentagon’s narrow definition of “moderate.”

    Dividing the Syrian insurgency into two categories without deep understanding of who and what certain rebel groups represent would lead nowhere, he insisted, adding that the term “moderate” should be defined “not by CIA handlers but by Syrians themselves”.


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    Middle East, opposition, rebels, Syrian crisis, Syria, United States