It’s Complicated: US, ISIS and the FSA – the Love and Hate Triangle


November 16, 2015

Vesti Nedeli (Weekly News) on “Russia 1” TV channel 

Translated by Kristina Rus

(33:14 – 42:00)

“Vesti” special correspondent Evgeniy Popov interviews Syrian opposition leaders to learn about their relationship with ISIS and al-Nusra terrorist organizations. The findings illuminate a torn opposition, which often prefers Islamic radicals to Assad – a relationship more cozy, then the FSA supporter – American government – would like to admit. 

Here are the Syrian opposition leaders, in their own words.


“This is Ibrahim, and this is Faris, their throats were cut off”

Akhmed Abdul Khadir received the video of the massacre of his brother the next morning.

Akhmed is tearing up, his brother was executed two weeks ago. The video is ended with words: “You are next!”

Akhmed: “We continue our work and we won’t give up”

Akhmed and Ibrahim fled Raqqa, now it is a capital of ISIS. In Turkey they launched Assad opposition websites, also writing about ISIS atrocities.

“This is a man who killed my brother. But he is not a problem. The problem is – the huge terrorist organization.”

Akhmed buried his brother at a local cemetery. The headstone has only one name – “Ibrahim.” The funeral was filmed by mainstream American TV. Abdul Khadir is a popular name among the anti-Assad activists.

Akhmed believes into the victory over Assad and supports the Free Syrian Army. He hates ISIS, but still cannot understand how a gang of terrorists turned into a global threat overnight.

“Everything happened suddenly. At first there were about 100 ISIS militants in our native Raqqa. And suddenly just a tsunami of weapons, people and equipment. Where did they get it from – America? Clearly it did not materialize without the help of large states.”

Everything is mixed in the Syrian pot. Hundreds of militant groups are tearing the country apart. But 4-5 major groups known around the world are fighting each other. The Free Syrian Army, which has introduced the world to the term “moderate opposition”, and ISIS and Jabhad al-Nusra (classified as terrorist around the world), the largest fragment of Al Qaida.

Akhmad Rakhal: “Of course al-Nusra is a terrorist organization, as a part of al-Qaeda. But on the other hand, we see Hezbollah, and Iran and Iraq fighting the Syrian people. Therefore we cannot fight al-Nusra now. It is not our priority today” 

Akhmad Rakhal is a former respected Syrian general. Deputy Minister of Defense in Assad’s government, Navy commander.  In 2012 Rakhal publicly denounced the Syrian president.

“I, general Akhmad Rakhal, Navy general, denounce Assad’s army and join the revolution”

Since then Rakhal represents the command of the opposition forces of the Free Syrian Army.

It turns out that the moderate opposition opposes Assad together with terrorists of al-Nusra. Often they even conduct joint operations together. There is no unity on this issue in the Free Syrian Army, just as there is no unified FSA.

Bassam Khazhi Mustafa, reresentative of “Nur-Addin al- Zanki” of the FSA: “Al-Qaeda on the Syrian territory, no matter what it’s called, is still a terrorist organization. ISIS is a big threat to us. But the main terrorist is – Bashar Assad.”

Rakhal: “More then 70 000 people deserted Assad’s army, among them – 5,000 officers. But the US did everything to push them out of the country, to give the Islamists an upper hand.  Destruction of Syria is in the interest of many global forces”

Opposition members Rakhal and Mustafa came to Turkey to revive the “Damascus Declaration”. This 2005 document aims to unite Assad’s opponents. Although the goal seems elusive now. 

One of the most notable guests – active opposition leader, commander of the Free Syrian Army in Allepo, colonel Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi. Reluctantly he agrees to the interview. Changes the civil suit into camo with golden stripes. He fixes the three-star opposition flag and shows where his units are now fighting on the map.

“The fighting is going on here now. Assad is trying to take control of the road connecting Allepo and Damascus to no success. This is my first interview to Russian TV. For four years I refused requests for interviews.  

I am one of the commanders of the Free Syrian Army, I am a member of the moderate Syrian opposition, I have 17,000 fighters under my command in Aleppo.

Colonel doesn’t hide that opposition receives help from America, Turkey and other friends in the Middle East.  He is not shy about coordinating with the radical Islamists of the al-Nusra front. But today he calls ISIS the enemy, although not the main.

“We are fighting against ISIS. In my opinion Jebhad al- Nusra is not a terrorist organization. But we don’t always agree with their methods. Al-Nusra executes those who fight against al-Nusra. And Assad executes peaceful people. For us Assad regime is a priority. As far as for ISIS – they are mentally backward people. This is why they do what they do – destroying historical monuments.”

The colonel casually talks about the wild ways of ISIS, excuses atrocities by mental backwardness. He admits that his brothers in arms drive captive women in cages on the streets, presumably to prevent air strikes. 

“What do you expect from people, who want to defend themselves from aviation? They don’t want to do this, but they have no choice. Regime forces and Russian aviation forced them to use these methods, which are against our principles and our ideals”

So what is the difference between the methods of the moderate Free Syrian Army and ISIS? The question hangs in the air.

Syrian army colonel is famous beyond his motherland. Americans often film reports about him. He tries to show the reporters the peaceful life on his territory to no success. There are no more safe places in Syria. [Explosions heard]

And this is May, 2013. Al-Oqaidi poses with the now former American ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford. America is generous with its help for colonel’s units. And they have something to show for it. In August al-Oqaidi troops successfully stormed the government air base Minakh near Allepo. Colonel congratulates the soldiers and gives the word to his ‘brother’ (as he calls him), Abu Djandal:

“We thank Allah for this victory, the fighters of all the brigades, among whom are the heroes of the Islamic State. The military base Minakh has been conquered. ISIS is here to stay. I swear to Allah, Alawites, we are coming to raze you”

To celebrate the victory ISIS beheads captured Syrian airforce captain Shadi Suleiman. FSA colonel is satisfied.

Old interview:

Reporter: “How is your relationship with ISIS?”

Al-Oqaidi: “We have a great relationship with our ISIS brothers”

Reporter: “Do you communicate with them?”

Al-Oqaidi: “Of course, we communicate almost daily with our ISIS brothers and discuss our problems. We have a good relationship, almost brotherly, although we don’t always agree with their methods” 

Hardly ambassador Ford was not aware that he was financing ISIS associates. America did not denounce colonel al-Oqaidi even after there was clear evidence.

In just a year he is sitting at the same table with congressmen Kinzinger, signing a formal paper declaring he is fighting against ISIS and Assad. Americans forgot to mention al-Nusra militants in this unassuming document, although USA was one of the first to classify the al-Nusra front a terrorist organization.

Congressman Adam Kinzinger reports upon his arrival home – he met with moderate opposition in Turkey,  America will continue its support.

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