Telling Only Part of the Story of Jihad

A CNN star reporter should not be shocked to learn that U.S. allies are consorting with Yemeni terrorists, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

A recent CNN report about U.S. military materiel finding its way into Al Qaeda hands in Yemen might have been a valuable addition to Americans’ knowledge of terrorism.

Entitled Sold to an ally, lost to an enemy,” the 10-minute segment, broadcast on Feb. 4, featured rising CNN star Nima Elbagir cruising past sand-colored “Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected” armored vehicles, or MRAPs, lining a Yemeni highway.

“It’s absolutely incredible,” she says.  “And this is not under the control of [Saudi-led] coalition forces.  This is in the command of militias, which is expressly forbidden by the arms sales agreements with the U.S.”

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” she adds.  “CNN was told by coalition sources that a deadlier U.S. weapons system, the TOW missile, was airdropped in 2015 by Saudi Arabia to Yemeni fighters, an air drop that was proudly proclaimed across Saudi backed media channels.”  The TOWs were dropped into Al Qaeda-controlled territory, according to CNN.  But when Elbagir tries to find out more, the local coalition-backed government chases her and her crew out of town.

U.S.-made TOWs in the hands of Al Qaeda?  Elbagir is an effective on-screen presence.  But this is an old story, which the cable network has long soft-pedaled.

In the early days of the Syrian War, Western media was reluctant to acknowledge that the forces arrayed against the Assad regime included Al Qaeda. In those days, the opposition was widely portrayed as a belated ripple effect of the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings elsewhere in the region.

However, in April-May 2015, right around the time that the Saudis were air-dropping TOWs into Yemen, they were also supplying the same optically-guided, high-tech missiles to pro-Al Qaeda forces in Syria’s northern Idlib province.  Rebel leaders were exultant as they drove back Syrian government troops.  TOWs “flipped the balance,” one said, while another declared: “I would put the advances down to one word – TOW.”

CNN reported that story very differently. From rebel-held territory, CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh described the missiles as a “possible game-changer … that may finally be wearing down the less popular side of the Shia-Sunni divide.”  He conceded it wasn’t all good news: “A major downside for Washington at least, is that the often-victorious rebels, the Nusra Front, are Al Qaeda.  But while the winners for now are America’s enemies, the fast-changing ground in Syria may cause to happen what the Obama administration has long sought and preached, and that’s changing the calculus of the Assad regime.”

Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and The New York Times all reacted the same way, furrowing their brows at the news that Al  Qaeda was gaining, but expressing measured relief that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was at last on the ropes.

But now that Elbagir is sounding the alarm about TOWs in Yemen, CNN would do well to acknowledge that it has been distinctly more blasé in the past about TOWs in the hands of al Qaeda.

The network appears unwilling to go where Washington’s pro-war foreign-policy establishment doesn’t want it to go.  Elbagir shouldn’t be shocked to learn that U.S. allies are consorting with Yemeni terrorists.

U.S. Army soldier holding a Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) 2B Aero Missile at National Training Center, Fort Irwin, 2014. The anti-tank guided missile can hit targets over 4,000 miles away. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Richard W. Jones Jr./Released)

U.S. soldier holding Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) 2B Aero Missile at Fort Irwin, Calif, training area, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Richard W. Jones Jr.)

U.S. History with Holy Warriors    

What CNN producers and correspondents either don’t know or fail to mention is that Washington has a long history of supporting jihad. As Ian Johnson notes in  A Mosque in Munich” (2010), the policy was mentioned by President Dwight Eisenhower, who was eager, according to White House memos, “to stress the ‘holy war’ aspect” in his talks with Muslim leaders about the Cold War Communist menace.”  [See How U.S. Allies Aid Al Qaeda in Syria,” Consortium News, Aug. 4, 2015.]

Britain had been involved with Islamists at least as far back as 1925 when it helped establish the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and both the U.S. and Britain worked with Islamists in the 1953 coup in Iran, according to Robert Dreyfus in Devil’s Game” (2006)

By the 1980s a growing Islamist revolt against a left-leaning, pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan brought U.S. support.    In mid-1979, President Jimmy Carter and his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, armed the Afghan mujahideen — not at first to drive the Soviets out, but to lure them in. Brzezinski intended to deal Moscow a Vietnam-sized blow, as he put it in a 1998 interview.

Meanwhile, a few months after the U.S. armed the mujahideen, the Saudis were deeply shaken when Islamist extremists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca and called for the overthrow of the royal family. While Saudi Arabia has been keen to repress jihadism at home, it has been a major supporter of Sunni extremists in the region, particularly to battle the Shi‘ite regime that came to power in Tehran, also in 1979.

Since then, the U.S. has made use of jihad, either directly or indirectly, with the Gulf oil monarchies or Pakistan’s notoriously pro-Islamist Inter-Services Intelligence agency.  U.S. backing for the Afghan mujahideen helped turn Osama bin Laden into a hero for some young Saudis and other Sunnis, while the training camp he established in the Afghan countryside drew jihadists from across the region.

 Russian artillery shells Chechen positions near the village of Duba-Yurt, January 2000. (Wikimedia)

Russian artillery shells Chechen positions
near village of Duba-Yurt,  2000. (Wikimedia)

U.S. backing for Alija Izetbegovic’s Islamist government in Bosnia-Herzegovina brought al-Qaeda to the Balkans, while U.S.-Saudi support for Islamist militants in the Second Chechen War of 1999-2000 enabled it to establish a base of operations there.

Downplaying Al Qaeda

Just six years after 9/11, according to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, the U.S. downplayed the fight against Al Qaeda to rein in Iran  – a policy, Hersh wrote, that had the effect of “bolstering … Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.”

Under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, policy toward Al-Qaeda turned even more curious.  In March 2011, she devoted nearly two weeks to persuading Qatar, the UAE and Jordan to join the air war against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, only to stand by and watch as Qatar then poured hundreds of millions of dollars of aid into the hands of Islamist militias that were spreading anarchy from one end of the country to the other.  The Obama administration thought of remonstrating with Qatar, but didn’t in the end.

Much the same happened in Syria where, by early 2012, Clinton was organizing a “Friends of Syria” group that soon began channeling military aid to Islamist forces waging war against Christians, Alawites, secularists and others backing Assad.  By August 2012, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the [anti-Assad] insurgency”; that the West, Turkey, and the Gulf states supported it regardless; that the rebels’ goal was to establish “a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria,” and that “this is exactly what the supporting powers want in order to isolate the Syrian regime….”

Biden Speaks Out 

Two years after that, Vice President Joe Biden declared at Harvard’s Kennedy School: 

“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. …  The Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. what were they doing?  They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do?  They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except the people who were being supplied were al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”  (Quote starts at 53:25.)

Biden in 2012. (Kelly Kline via Flckr)

Biden in 2012. (Kelly Kline via Flckr)

The fact that Obama ordered the vice president to apologize to the Saudis, the UAE and Turkey for his comments provided back-handed confirmation that they were true.   When TOWs turned up in the hands of pro-Qaeda rebels in Syria the following spring, all a senior administration official would say was: “It’s not something we would refrain from raising with our partners.”

It was obvious that Al Qaeda would be a prime beneficiary of Saudi intervention in Yemen from the start. Tying down the Houthis — “Al Qaeda’s most determined foe,” according to the Times — gave it space to blossom and grow.  Where the State Department said it had up to 4,000 members as of 2015, a UN report put its membership at between 6,000 and 7,000 three years later, an increase of 50 to 75 percent or more.

In early 2017, the International Crisis Group found that Al Qaeda was “thriving in an environment of state collapse, growing sectarianism, shifting alliances, security vacuums and a burgeoning war economy.”

Detail of map of southern Yemen.

Detail of map of southern Yemen. (PBS, Frontline)

In Yemen, Al Qaeda “has regularly fought alongside Saudi-led coalition forces in … Aden and other parts of the south, including Taiz, indirectly obtaining weapons from them,” the ICG added. “…In northern Yemen … the [Saudi-led] coalition has engaged in tacit alliances with AQAP fighters, or at least turned a blind eye to them, as long as they have assisted in attacking the common enemy.”

In May 2016, a PBS documentary showed Al Qaeda members fighting side by side with UAE forces near Taiz.  (See The Secret Behind the Yemen War,” Consortium News, May 7, 2016.)  

Still from 2016 Frontline report "Yemen Under Siege."

Still from PBS Frontline 2016 report “Yemen Under Siege.”

Last August, an Associated Press investigative team found that the Saudi-led coalition had cut secret deals with Al Qaeda fighters, “paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment, and wads of looted cash.” Saudi-backed militias “actively recruit Al Qaeda militants,” the AP team added, “…because they’re considered exceptional fighters” and also supply them with armored trucks.

If it’s not news that U.S. allies are providing pro-Al Qaeda forces with U.S.-made equipment, why is CNN pretending that it is?  One reason is that it feels free to criticize the war and all that goes with it now that the growing human catastrophe in Yemen is turning into a major embarrassment for the U.S.  Another is that criticizing the U.S. for failing to rein in its allies earns it points with viewers by making it seem tough and independent, even though the opposite is the case.

Then there’s Trump, with whom CNN has been at war since the moment he was elected.  Trump’s Dec. 19 decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria thus presented the network with a double win because it allowed it to rail against the pullout as bizarre and a win for Moscow while complaining at the same time about administration policy in Yemen.  Trump is at fault, it seems, when he pulls out and when he stays in.

In either instance, CNN gets to ride the high horse as it blasts away at the chief executive that corporate outlets most love to hate.  Maybe Elbagir should have given her exposé a different title: “Why arming homicidal maniacs is bad news in one country but OK in another.”

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nationto Le Monde Diplomatiqueand blogs about the Constitution and related matters at

27 comments for “Telling Only Part of the Story of Jihad

  1. March 2, 2019 at 02:09

    I was reading away until i came across the term “Assad Regime.”

    If even you bunch are ignorant of the fact that it is called Syrian Government, then you probably call the Persian Gulf by its British-invented Arabian name.

    So, WTF, and good riddance.

  2. February 23, 2019 at 01:50

    Old time Marxists had a term worth remembering: objective allies. It referred to forces, which while apparently at loggerheads, were united, secretly or otherwise, against a common foe. Anyone who has a fair knowledge of current affairs and a mind capable of even basic analysis can hardly come to any other conclusion but that the Empire and Al Qaeda are objective allies.

    To understand the reason, it’s vital to comprehend the modern Imperial way of waging war.

    Ever since Kosovo, (with one exception) this is how the Empire does war: it begins by selecting a country for “regime change.” It then picks out a “rebel” group, promotes it as “freedom fighters”, arms and trains it, and then uses it to launch attacks on the government of the target nation – attacks the government has no choice but to counter with armed force. These attacks are typically carried out inside cities, which are now the preferred guerrilla battleground, just as the forests once used to be. The idea is to compel the government to strike back in these urban jungles of concrete, with inevitable civilian casualties.

    Once these government counter-assaults take place, they are then cited by the Empire’s propaganda-mongers as a “humanitarian crisis” which requires armed intervention. This armed intervention means relatively risk-free massed air attacks against the government forces, which have been drawn into action by the tame terrorists and are therefore concentrated into easily bombarded target areas. If these government forces stay in concentration against the terrorists, they can be destroyed from the air; if they disperse, they can be overwhelmed by the terrorists. Either way, the terrorists then have a free run into the capital.

    The only time it wasn’t used was against Iraq in 2003. There were two reasons: first, the only “rebels” the Empire could procure were Ahmed Chalabi’s ragtag faction, which was so pathetic that it had no presence in Iraq at all and had to be flown in after the invasion. More importantly, the Bush regime had no intention of sharing the glory of being the “liberators” of Iraq with anybody.

    You’ll note that the neo-imperial way of combat has some requirements:

    1. There has to be a reasonably powerful terrorist group on the ground. If one can’t be found, it has to be created, by creative recruitment and throwing money around to trigger defections. If one can’t be created, one has to be imported, if necessary under a new name. Al Qaeda is a ready resource for this.

    2. The second requirement is that the targeted nation’s armed forces (especially air defence) can’t be too strong; if they are, then aerial intervention becomes too costly and after Iraq the Empire is no longer very keen to be seen carrying out imperial aggressions alone, without the participation of its European vassals. Therefore, an important part of the technique is to try and choke off military supplies, like NATO is attempting to do to Syria. You’ll notice that NATO gets hysterical at the notion of S 300s being sent to Syria from Russia, even though these can’t be used to “attack civilians”. If one is to take NATO’s concern for civilians seriously, one can’t find a reasonable explanation for this reaction.

    3. A dedicated propaganda campaign. This is very important, but easy to arrange, such imperial organs as the BBC and CNN are ready to hand. This propaganda isn’t aimed at the right wing, who are in any case either reflexively happy to go to war or in favour of allowing the foreigners to fight it out amongst themselves; it’s aimed at the centre and the so-called “left”, which in most lexicons ought to be called centre-right (what I call the faux-liberal class).

    Alongside al Qaeda is ISIS, which is (with its distinctive Hollywoodish villainous violence, complete with videos of Hollywood quality production values) a perfect *enabler* of American intervention and colonial occupation. Call it a good-cop bad-cop scenario.

    American culture really comprises only Hollywood, so it probably couldn’t come up with anything else.

  3. vinnieoh
    February 22, 2019 at 11:26

    I’m sure Mr. Lazare’s analysis is probably correct. I’ve got to wonder though if maybe she’s just not that bright? The web of lies is so intricate it’s becoming harder for programmed talking heads not to fall through somewhere. I don’t watch CNN, so I’m not familiar with that reporter.

  4. Garrett Connelly
    February 22, 2019 at 10:42

    So the US, England, Saudi Arabia, Israel and France are allies of Al Qaeda and other Jihad fighters.

    Why do democrats lust for endless war against the poor? Are they really just a front for out of office republicans?

    • February 23, 2019 at 04:26

      It’s worse than that, by extension they are also friends of the same Mafia which funds Israel. Likud is funded by Adelson, the current Godfather in Las Vegas, who is funding Israel to empty the entire Middle East of as many Muslims as possible, to start the same evil routine in the USA and Europe. As is usual it is all being organised by those whom desire to rule the world.

  5. exiled off mainsteet
    February 22, 2019 at 02:41

    This is serious stuff. The yankee regime lost the last shreds of legitimacy when it went to war with civilization itself as it decided to employ terrorist barbarians as its soldiers of fortune.

    • Garrett Connelly
      February 22, 2019 at 10:50

      Barbarians from Europe came to the Americas. Then, after killing the people already living there, destroyed an advanced agriculture they were too primitive to understand or even see. Birds of a feather flock together.

      • February 23, 2019 at 04:36

        You are not strictly correct, most of those “barbarians” were given no choice. The Irish for example were kicked out of Ireland having managed to survive the City of London’s attempted genocide. They were forced to defend themselves against indigenous people whom understandably resisted the invasion. The Irish well understood the cultivation of the land, however like the Blacks in Africa the indigenous people of the USA chose to drive bison over a cliff leaving them to die in agony after they had sliced off their favourite morsel.There are no innocent people and the Red Man was no different.

  6. February 22, 2019 at 02:05

    Yemen? What about Venezuela? Socialists? AOC? Col Sanders? My left foot?

  7. jg
    February 22, 2019 at 00:44
  8. February 21, 2019 at 19:54

    I wrote the article at link below some time ago.

    March 13, 2017
    “The Scumbags of the Western World and Their ‘Allies’ that Fund and Arm Terrorists”

  9. Brian James
    February 21, 2019 at 16:53

    Sep 4, 2018 U.S. Is Funding and Backing Al Qaeda in Yemen

    Once again the U.S. government is supporting and funding Al Qaeda fighters, this time in Yemen. It is something we have seen before in Libya and Syria. So why does this continue to happen? Is it because the “War on Terror” is just a farce and is never meant to be won?

    • February 22, 2019 at 18:38

      The War On Terror, like Cold War, is counterrevolution. As long as ‘the people’ exist and you have those who have self-modified into being believers in inequality, violence and deceit – and upholders therefore of this dark world’s paradigm of ‘riches for the strongest’ – you will have a powerful, lawless, global 1% that wants (now that the values and desires of this self-modified crowd have become warped) class divisions, with a 1% class of strong glory seekers who survive and gain glory and feel strong by stealing their means of survival from sucker sheep who buy the law & order rhetoric. Counterrevolution, the pushback against the people and those among them who might do things differently (threatening those who at present dominate, dicatate and plunder), will continue until the 1% is no more. We – imperfect and powerless and, crucially, sane and law-abiding, people – can’t deal effectively with this perverted, ultra violent and lawless crowd. If we become like them in order to deal with them then we’d be them.

  10. Jeff Harrison
    February 21, 2019 at 13:51

    You can always tell the bias of an author by what countries he claims have regimes. While the dictionary says that a regime is merely the government, in common parlance a regime is a government that lacks democratic legitimacy. So while President Putin was elected in what can only be described as a landslide and President Assad also won a majority in his election, they preside over regimes. Whereas the Cheeto-in-chief lost the election by 3 million votes and presides over an administration. Go figure.

  11. chuck utzman
    February 21, 2019 at 12:57

    Tulsi Gabbard is having a hard time getting support for her “Stop Arming Terrorists”
    bill in the House. Please consider contributing $1 or more to help her qualify for the 2020 debates.

    • vinnieoh
      February 22, 2019 at 11:49

      Thanks for that info. One might think she’d become another comic book hero – The Invisible Woman.

  12. February 21, 2019 at 12:37

    “If it’s not news that U.S. allies are providing pro-Al Qaeda forces with U.S.-made equipment, why is CNN pretending that it is? One reason is that it feels free to criticize the war and all that goes with it now that the growing human catastrophe in Yemen is turning into a major embarrassment for the U.S.”

    — Exactly. This is how the propaganda machinery works. Cover for empire when that “cover” is the most important function of the day; and then, when the mission changes, report the truth of what everyone in progressive media knew all along as if that truth is some breaking revelation. This bit of propaganda gaming exists simply a way to try to “reclaim” some mantle of legitimacy for MSM, which of course has none, but only after it has fulfilled it’s most pressing propaganda agenda during the critical time period of illegal immoral U.S. backed war crimes.

  13. John Puma
    February 21, 2019 at 12:36

    If you are killed by a US bomb you are an “extreme” terrorist.
    If the US collaborates with you to murder innocent civilians, in
    assistance to a latter-day medieval kingdom, then you are
    a “moderate terrorist” — a term oozing with a level gaslighting of
    Herr Hairness has never imagined but, still, the ignominious
    cornerstone*** of the flaccid Obumma “legacy.”
    *** just ahead of the being the first Nobel Peace prize winner to
    bomb another

  14. mike k
    February 21, 2019 at 11:37

    The US and it’s allies fund and arm terrorists all over the world. The US military operates as a terrorist entity in most of what it does. But rent-a-terrorist deals are cheaper, and provide cover for our evil actions.

    • christina garcia
      February 21, 2019 at 22:32

      Hi mike
      What happened to Joe Tedesky? Does anyone know? He used to post very thoughtful posts. pleses reply

      • ML
        February 22, 2019 at 14:17

        Joe is still around. I have read several of his comments on various articles in the last few days. Joe is a thoughtful and decent man, I agree.

  15. February 21, 2019 at 08:21

    From CNN in above article:

    But while the winners for now are America’s enemies, the fast-changing ground in Syria may cause to happen what the Obama administration has long sought and preached, and that’s changing the calculus of the Assad regime.”

    What does that mean? It’s gobbledegook. Changing the calculus of the Assad regime? I think it means getting rid of Assad and who cares what happens to the Syrians after. Afghanistan is still trying to recover after Carter bought the Polish sociopath’s cure all. I wonder if Carter has any regrets as I think he might have about the Camp David Accords. Maybe not in either case. He got a Nobel Peace Prize for the latter.

    Another great article on CN. Really been some good ones lately.

    Going back to 1925. I suppose every empire does the same thing, get in league with the devil as long as it gets rid of the enemy.


    • Bob Van Noy
      February 21, 2019 at 12:46

      Exactly Herman, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the first time I ever heard “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” he said it, and I’ve contemplated it constantly since then. It’s a totally ridiculous concept!, one that almost requires “blowback” as a response. And, of course, that’s what we get…

    • Leslie F.
      February 21, 2019 at 19:15

      I think his Nobel was for his post presidential work. Sadat and Begin got Nobels for Camp David but he didn’t.

  16. Sally Snyder
    February 21, 2019 at 07:42

    Here is an interesting but little discussed look at John Bolton’s solution for the Middle East:

    Apparently, John Bolton has never seen a war that he didn’t like….except for the Vietnam War in which he could have served.

    • AnneR
      February 21, 2019 at 10:10

      Bolton probably was gung-ho for the war in Vietnam – so long as his life wasn’t endangered by it.

      Truly, this man is psychopathic – he clearly gets his jollies from contemplating the destruction, by bombs, missiles and bullets, of other peoples’ lives and cultures. Again so long as he’s not in danger.

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