Nobody seemed to know a couple of weeks ago where US-backed Syrian ‘moderate rebels’ were, but now that Russia launched its anti-terror op in Syria, they are ‘everywhere’, while ISIS, on the contrary, is ‘nowhere’, says political analyst Neil Clark.
Q: Russian President Vladimir Putin said he received a proposal from the French president to form a coalition between Assad and the Free Syrian Army. It seems like an unexpected proposal. The Russian line is: who are these moderates? Could they form some sort of synergy against ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) ?
Neil Clark: Possibly, but again the big problem, as we said, is who actually are these people. Robert Fisk, veteran foreign correspondent wrote that the Free Syrian Army is mainly sitting in cafes in Istanbul drinking coffee. If that is the case, than I don’t think they are going to be much use against ISIL. Obviously the widest possible coalition is to be built to defeat ISIL. That is what needs to be done.
What about the US. I don’t think the US would like the FSA [Free Syrian Army] joining in with the Syrian Army because unfortunately the USA’s main aim is still toppling the Syrian government. And that has been a big problem with fighting ISIL. The US hasn’t responded to the Russian intervention very positively. And I think that is very telling, because if they were serious about defeating ISIL, they should be welcoming what Russia is doing.
Q: Who does Francois Hollande think this so-called moderate opposition is?
NC: Absolutely and how many of them are there. Because the ‘moderate rebels’ – nobody really seems to know where they are. They were nowhere a couple of weeks ago, but as soon as Russia starts bombing, they are everywhere. We were told that ISIS was everywhere a couple of weeks ago. And now ISIS is nowhere according to the US, and that Russia is bombing moderate rebels. So it is all very vague and we need to find out who these people actually are. What we do need is obviously troops on the ground to append the Russian campaign. The Syrian army is the main force that could do that. We’ve got to be very skeptical as to whether other forces could join in, simply because we don’t know who they are and how many of them there are.
Q: Mixed messages from the Pentagon; one the one hand it is saying that it is willing to give Russia some tactical information, but not security information. One the other hand, another line from the Pentagon is saying that basically it is refusing to cooperate with Russia while Moscow is putting its policy in Syria in place. Did you expect such repose from the Pentagon?
NC: Well, I did expect that response, because I think what Putin has done here – he called Obama’s bluff and called America and Britain’s bluff on fighting ISIS. If they were generally concerned with defeating ISIS, they would be sharing security information with other countries that want to defeat ISIS and building the widest possible coalition. Here is Russia saying: “Look, we want to defeat ISIS, let’s share information that can help us.” And then the Americans are saying: “No, we will share some technical information, but not the most important information, which is the security information as to where ISIS cells are”.