The White House says it wants to work with Syria’s moderate rebels. But warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition came awfully close to striking one of their HQs.
Last week, an airstrike from the American-led coalition nearly hit a command-and-control facility affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the moderate rebels the Obama administration says are America’s “boots on the ground,” according to two opposition leaders. They are asking the Obama administration to please coordinate with them in the future before America bombs its only allies in Syria.
Since U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Syria began on Sept. 22, there has been no coordination between the U.S. military and its alleged partners on the ground, according to FSA leaders, civilian opposition leaders, and intelligence sources who have been briefed on the U.S. and allied military operation. It’s this lack of communication that led to an airstrike that hit only 200 meters from an FSA facility in the suburbs of Idlib. One source briefed on the incident said multiple FSA fighters were killed in the attack.
“Unfortunately, there is zero coordination with the Free Syrian Army. Because there is no coordination, we are seeing civilian casualties. Because there is no coordination, they are hitting empty buildings for ISIS,” Hussam Al Marie, the spokesman for the FSA in northern Syria, told The Daily Beast. “We have been getting promises that the coordination will be coming, but we have been getting promises since the beginning of this revolution and nothing has happened yet.”
The incident, which was not been previously reported, doesn’t just highlight the gap between the U.S. and its newly-endorsed allies in the moderate opposition, however. It also shows how complicated it can be to make alliances in the multi-factioned Syrian civil war. The coalition airstrike was targeting a base used by al Nusrah, the local al Qaeda affiliate. And the camp was, essentially, next door to the FSA facility. The al Qaeda fighters and the U.S-endorsed rebels were neighbors—and, at times, partners in battle against ISIS and the Bashar al-Assad regime.
“Because there is no coordination, [the U.S.-led coalition] hit an al Nusrah base in the Idlib suburbs that is only 200 meters from the Free Syrian Army,” Al Marie said.
There were 11 civilian casualties after the first day of U.S.-led airstrikes inside Syria, according to the FSA, and at least one more when the coalition struck a Shariah Court near Idlib two days ago that was under the control of al Nusrah. The U.S. government has said it cannot confirm any civilian casualties but will investigate any accidents.
“There are always civilian casualties when they are hitting al Nusrah because al Nusrah is just living among the people,” said Al Marie. “They didn’t do any real harm to ISIS, the buildings of ISIS were empty. Meanwhile, the main battle on the ground against ISIS hasn’t been supported yet. That’s the important thing, the ground battle.”
In the fight against ISIS in northern Syria, the FSA often fights alongside other rebel groups with varying levels of Islamic flavor: the Islamic Front, the Tawheed Brigade, and even the al Qaeda-linked al Nusrah Front. FSA fighters are moving around the area all the time and sometimes have to pass through al Nusrah checkpoints to get where they are going. And yet, according to the Obama administration, these moderate rebels can be trusted—despite their alliances of convenience with al Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria. (On Sunday, the leader of al Nusrah made his first public statement in eight months, telling moderate rebels that his group, and not the United States, was their true partner.)
“Unfortunately, there is zero coordination with the Free Syrian Army. Because there is no coordination, we are seeing civilian casualties. Because there is no coordination, they are hitting empty buildings for ISIS.”