Playing with the Fire of Terrorism

By pandering to Saudi Arabia and the Sunni-controlled Gulf states, the U.S. government is playing with fire, allowing the spread of Sunni radicalism to destabilize targeted governments like Syria but unable to control the resulting terrorism, writes Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

African nations were in the forefront of opposing a U.N. Security Council resolution in mid-May that sought to curb the global traffic in small arms because the resolution made no mention of extremist groups obtaining such weapons.

Angola, Chad and Nigeria joined Russia, China and Venezuela in abstaining on the resolution, which barely passed with the minimum 9 votes. Ismael Abraão Gaspar Martins, the Angolan ambassador, told the council that Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab terrorists benefit from the supply of small arms.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia and his entourage arrive to greet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

King Salman of Saudi Arabia and his entourage arrive to greet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Mahamat Zene Cherif, the ambassador of Chad, said the refusal to add a provision making it illegal to transfer arms to such “non-state actors” was “tantamount to a refusal to prevent conflict and destabilization of a fragile state.”

The insistence of Western countries not to include mention of “non-state actors,” diplomatic speak for terrorists and insurgents, is telling.

“We do not think ill-defined, and practically unenforceable new statements by this council on the subject of ‘non-state actors’ would in any way improve the situation on the ground,” British ambassador Matthew Rycroft said after the vote. But why?

There has long been speculation that Western nations and their Gulf Arab allies have secretly armed and supported extremist and even terrorist groups in the Middle East and Africa to further their strategic goals.

It’s accepted today that the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan worked together to back mujahedeen rebels who came from across the region to Afghanistan in the 1980s to expel the Soviet Union’s army supporting a leftist and secular regime in Kabul. Out of those groups emerged Al-Qaeda.

The question is, after the Russians left, what happened to the relationship with the Islamist militants? There have been persistent reports that Saudi individuals, if not the government, continued support to jihadists, perhaps in the Balkans, but certainly by 2003 in Iraq and 2011 in Syria.

Then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a 2009 classified memo revealed by Wikileaks, wrote: “While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.”

But whatever the level of actual U.S. concern about this, there’s no indication Washington has used its considerable leverage with the Saudis to try anything beyond persuasion.

Seymour Hersh, in his seismic piece this month in the London Review of Books on the killing of Osama bin Laden, reported that the Saudis funded bin Laden from 2006 while he was held under house arrest by the Pakistanis. The Saudis insisted the Pakistanis not tell the Americans, Hersh reported.

In a U.S. television interview, Hersh added, “The last thing Saudi Arabia wants is the United States to begin interrogating Osama bin Laden and discover who might have been giving him money, which sheikh, where, in Saudi Arabia in ’01 and ’02, and before or even after.”

After the quiet diplomacy of Clinton’s memo, something changed last year to make the U.S. go public about the need to suddenly rein in terrorist financing: namely, the rapid rise of the uncontrollable Islamic State.

After the U.S. declared war on the Islamic State, Washington pushed through a U.N. Security Council resolution in September that names no state sponsors, but seeks to cut off terrorist funding. President Barak Obama himself chaired the council meeting.

Eight days later U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told a Harvard University audience that, “Our allies poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad,” including jihadists joining Al-Qaeda. Biden later went on an apology tour of the region, trying to withdraw his remarks.

Was it because the Gulf allies knew something of American complicity? Speculation persists that the West has either been turning a blind eye to Gulf terrorism financing or even actively supporting it, if it dovetails with Western interests. The U.S., Britain and France insist they only support hard-to-find “moderate” Syrian rebels, many of whom defected to the Islamic State, taking their Western equipment with them.

In spite of all this, a smoking gun pinning support for terrorism not only on the Gulf, but also on the West, has been elusive.

Until last week, that is, when a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency document from August 2012 was declassified and made public after the agency lost a freedom of information request in court. The document says the West, Turkey and Arab Gulf states have supported a Syrian opposition that includes Salafists and al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch.

It says this opposition, with support from militants on the Iraqi side of the border, in 2012 was “trying to control the eastern areas [of Syria] adjacent to the Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar).”

“Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these efforts” to “prepare safe havens under international sheltering,” the document says.

The documents warned that “if the situation unravels” there is the possibility these safe havens could lead to the establishment of “a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria.”

Nevertheless, the document says “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.” The supporting powers are the West, the Gulf Arab States and Turkey.

So this U.S. intelligence document says the West at least up until 2012 was supporting Al-Qaeda and Salafists in Syria in their quest to set up a safe haven to put pressure on Damascus that it correctly predicted would turn into the Islamic State.

U.S. officials were warned. “This creates the ideal atmosphere for [Al-Qaeda in Iraq] to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi, and will provide a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria,” the document says.

Islamic State of Iraq, as the nascent group was then known, “could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria,” the document predicts.

It warns that this “will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory.” Mosul and Ramadi are the two principal Iraqi cities that the Islamic State has taken over.

The document is prescient not only in predicting the rise of the Islamic State, but in warning that it could become a Frankenstein turning on the interests of its backers.

A US official declined to interpret the contents of the document, which he said was raw intelligence. But the document appears to prove that supporting “non-state actors” is a Western, Gulf and Turkish strategy, and that playing with fire will often get you burnt.

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached at[email protected]  and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.

8 comments for “Playing with the Fire of Terrorism

  1. Winston
    June 4, 2015 at 15:55

    You should read the declassified documents released by Judicial Watch on Libya and Syria. These Jihadis are “strategic assets” to quote the description in one declassified document. The policy started by Carter in Afghanistan has not abated in the many interventions since then using these Jihadis who behave like Pavlov’s dogs responding to a trigger. US treats them like cowboys treat cows, pushing them in one direction, punishing them if they go in the “wrong” direction.

  2. Anthony Shaker
    June 2, 2015 at 09:55

    Your wrote:

    “A US official declined to interpret the contents of the document, which he said was raw intelligence. But the document appears to prove that supporting “non-state actors” is a Western, Gulf and Turkish strategy, and that playing with fire will often get you burnt.”

    Finally, we seem to be getting it right! Terrorism has been a tool of the Western powers for a long time. It started in the late 19th century. But it was Lawrence of Arabia, the infamous cross-dresser T.E. Lawrence, who trained Wahhabi Saudis from the wild frontier of the Najd desert in the art of terrorism during the British campaign. The aim then was to dislodge the Ottoman army from the Arabian Peninsula and then move from there. That campaign led to the complete dismantling of the Ottoman world. With the French, the British laid the foundations for a Zionist race colony, which is now airing its genocidal/suicidal mindset with impunity, as they took possession of the Persian Gulf’s oil.

    But the French saboteurs have place of pride too in the art of terrorism. They were expert saboteurs during the Vichy-Nazi regime in France, an art they recalibrated for use elsewhere; and with the Algeria War, almost turned against them with a right-wing coup attempt against de Gaule. The French could never control their basest imupulses, being especially known for their degeneracy in Lebanon and Syria during the French mandate.

    Enter the United States and the realization of its leaders–after Pres. Truman, an unfathomable moral dwarf–that nuclear bombs were in fact useless in staving off a third, possibly final, collapse of the “Western” world (i.e, US, UK and France). By the way, those two world wars cost nearly 100 million lives (and the West is still teaching the rest of the world about the sacredness of life and human rights). Anyway, the nature and uses of war had radically changed, a lesson driven home by the Korean mire and the soon-to-erupt historic conflict in Vietnam.

    So, America’s new visionaries had to refine the old art of “counterinsurgency”–learned in Africa by the British empire in its twilight years there, not to forget French expertise in Algeria and “Indochina.” And what a true treasure trove in the black art of terror they inherited from those two failed colonial powers!

    Ever since its panicked discovery about nuclear strategy, the United States has been leading one terrorist war after another, not to speak of coup d’états, destabilizations, massacres, invasions, false flag operations. But nofficial wars had still to be supported by the US Air Force, occasionally by ground troops–US army toughs surfing onto tiny Grenada’s shores. The list is long, from bands of cutthroats in Southern Africa, supported militarily by South Africa and diplomatically/materially by the US to protect the Afrikaaner Bastion of Freedom; to the Contras in Nicaragua, the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, and now the blackest of all (everything else having failed) the Wahhabi takfiris in Syria and Iraq.

    In my youth, “progressive” economists and armcahir intellectuals used to harp endlessly about “monopoly capitalism, the last stage of capitalism.” The last stage of the Western domination of the planet, 150 years on, is actually the malignant pax Americana, a world regime which I recognize as the New Reign of Terror.

    What a fitting ending to this “Western” story of unending horror, one Robespierre had ushered in during the French Revolution. After this story climaxed with the Nazi and Stalinist fadish tyrannies, it is now returning into a death cult for our modern age: a new reign of terror decorated with ipods and hand gadgets to fill our time. Only this time we have the NSA’s omniscience.

    The good part is that we have a true witness in the NSA. The National Security Agency is doing its part recording the collapse of a world ruled by moral dwarves and paper pushers. But I may be assuming too much that its operators will not trash the vast information being mined all over the world! God knows what evils they hide besides those that are befalling us all.

  3. abbybwood
    June 2, 2015 at 01:54

    Saudi coalition announces plans to depose Saudi royal government:

  4. Canosin
    June 1, 2015 at 08:59

    More and more I do fear the world is purposly lead to the irreversible point of no return of war….
    reading the news here in Germany….there are no infos or reports like this one available….describing accurately the real situation we are going to face….starting in the middle east…
    it seems that all media are streamlined for one purpose only….which is, manipulation of the public in all “Western“ (US and all so called allies ) countries….preparing for war….I Do fear the almighty USA and all their croonie states more any other country….because they have all capabilities, and sooner than later, this is going to happen….orchestrated with the usual methods….for the money establishment, the world is not enough

  5. jer
    May 31, 2015 at 20:51

    The U.S. government (or political establishment) is a money-pit worshippers’ gathering of 21st century right-wing global conquistadors and neo-fascist imperialists that only wants to utilise the world’s top religious fanatics as its foot soldiers to help it take full control of the Middle East, north Africa, central Asia and south Asia. Nothing more. After that, it will discard and cast them aside as more 3rd world cannon fodder which the U.S. military can then duly feast on. So mucho mucho thanks to the State Dept, the Pentagon, and also the wealthy oil sheik despots. These guys will eventually rule the world !

    • Mark
      June 1, 2015 at 08:05

      They try to rule the world but will they succeed? It seems their policies have backfired in many instances which means they scramble to launch another ill-conceived action to compensate. They’re stretched thin militarily and, inspite of their accumulation of puppet and collaborative regimes, world opinion is stacking up against the entire collective cabal of conspiring, complicit and collusive multi-national corporations, media-propaganda empires and governments.

      The question seems to be how much damage they’ll inflict on the worlds population (including the domestic US population which is already considerable to date) and the environment before they’re reign is terminated.

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