State Department: Ahrar Al-Sham Are “Commingling” With Al-Nusra

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By Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ
18th May, 2016

During the daily US State Department briefing on the 17th May, 2016, Spokesperson John Kirby, who notoriously does not clarify or detail which groups exactly the US has influence over in Syria, had to use very vague vocabulary to say “we know our guys are fighting alongside Al Qaeda, but c’est la vie”. 

He also states that there are only 2 groups who can be ‘legally’ bombed (ISIS and Al-Nusra), but how many groups are fighting in Syria exactly? If Wikipedia is to be believed, there are over 50 different groups, some being region specific. Some groups have officially declared loyalty to another another group:

“Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham, Ajnad al Sham form anti-Russian alliance in Damascus countryside”

The actual phrase Kirby uses in his briefing is commingling”:

to mix or mingle together; combine.

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So the US is unable to spot a convoy of Toyotas heading towards Mosul, but despite being aware of Takfiri groups blending together, nothing can be done, apparently. The US can train the Kurds and even deploy their own battalion, who even handed their weapons over to Al Nusra, but agreeing to place Jaish Al-Islam and Ahrar Al-Sham on the UN ‘terrorist group’ list (preventing this “commingling”) is just too darn difficult. 

(7:50 in the video)

Well, I think just by dint of the kinds of strikes that have been done in the past in Syria, what we’ve seen certainly by the regime and also by the Russian military in the past, should be enough all by itself to indicate to those who would consider being persistent violators of the risk they’re putting themselves and their forces under.

Again, I don’t want to try to get ahead of tactical decisions that haven’t been made yet. And obviously, the purpose for today’s discussion was to try to prevent that from ever happening, to make it clear that they do this at their own peril and that there’s going to be a limit to the international community’s patience for persistent and consistent violations of the cessation. But we have seen – we have seen times in the past when groups have put themselves at risk by some other activity, and if they need – I would find it surprising that they would need proof that that risk is real, given what we’ve seen happen in the past.

The other thing your question raises is the – and you may have seen it in the communique or in the Secretary’s discussion – is that we – and I’ve said it from the podium that we urge – we know there’s commingling happening, physical commingling. Some of that’s unavoidable, given the dynamic, fluid situations, and particularly in places like Aleppo. But the communique specifically calls attention to that and actively urges groups to avoid putting themselves in greater peril by putting themselves close to groups – in this case there’s still only two – that are not party to the cessation.

So again, I think today’s communique does provide more clarity, given what we’ve seen happen in the last several weeks, provides more clarity to the situation on the ground and to our expectations of all the parties who are actually on the ground and engaged.

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