US Has Backed 21 of the 28 ‘Crazy’ Militias Leading Turkey’s Brutal Invasion of Northern Syria

New data from Turkey reveals almost all the mercenary force of “Arab militias” getting slammed by former and current U.S. officials were armed and trained in the past by the CIA and Pentagon, reports Max Blumenthal. 

By Max Blumenthal
The Grayzone

Footage showing members of Turkey’s mercenary “national army” executing Kurdish captives as they led the Turkish invasion of northern Syria touched off a national outrage, provoking U.S. government officials, pundits and major politicians to rage against their brutality.

In The Washington Post, a U.S. official condemned the militias as a “crazy and unreliable.” Another official called them “thugs and bandits and pirates that should be wiped off the face of the earth.” Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the scene as a “sickening horror,” blaming President Donald Trump exclusively for the atrocities.

But the fighters involved in the atrocities in northern Syria were not just random tribesmen assembled into an ad hoc army. In fact, many were former members of the Free Syrian Army, the force once armed by the CIA and Pentagon and branded as “moderate rebels.” This disturbing context was conveniently omitted from the breathless denunciations made by U.S. officials and Western pundits.

Left: The late Sen. John McCain with then-FSA chief Salim Idriss, on his right, in 2013; Right: Salim Idriss, in center, in October, announcing the establishment of the National Front for Liberation, the Turkish mercenary army that has invaded northern Syria.

According to a research paper published this October by the pro-government Turkish think tank, SETA, “Out of the 28 factions [in the Turkish mercenary force], 21 were previously supported by the United States, three of them via the Pentagon’s program to combat DAESH. Eighteen of these factions were supplied by the CIA via the MOM Operations Room in Turkey, a joint intelligence operation room of the ‘Friends of Syria’ to support the armed opposition. Fourteen factions of the 28 were also recipients of the U.S.-supplied TOW anti-tank guided missiles.” (A graph by SETA naming the various militias and the type of U.S. support they received is at the end of this article).

In other words, virtually the entire apparatus of  insurgents arrayed against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime — and armed and equipped under the Obama administration — has been repurposed by the Turkish military to serve as the spearhead of its brutal invasion of northern Syria. The leader of this force is Salim Idriss, now the “defense minister” of Syria’s Turkish-backed “interim government.” He’s the same figure who hosted John McCain when the late senator made his infamous 2013 incursion into Syria.

The “sickening horror” this collection of extremists is carrying out against Kurds is, in fact, the same one it imposed on Syrians across the country for the past seven years. Before, when their goal was regime change in Damascus, they had the blessing and wholehearted support of official Washington. But now that they are slaughtering members of a much more loyal U.S. proxy force, their former patrons and enablers are rushing to denounce them as “bandits and pirates.” 

FSA and White Helmets

Turkey employed anti-Assad insurgents against the Kurdish YPG for the first time in March 2018, when it invaded the northern Syrian city of Afrin during Operation Olive Branch. That onslaught saw an array of heinous atrocities, from the vandalism of the corpse of a female Kurdish fighter to the looting of Afrin. These war crimes were committed largely by fighters of the defunct Free Syrian Army – the collection of “moderate rebels” once armed by the CIA.

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In a video message, one of the invading fighters promised mass ethnic cleansing if Kurds in the area refused to convert to his Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam. “By Allah,” the fighter declared, “if you repent and come back to Allah, then know that you are our brothers. But if you refuse, then we see that your heads are ripe, and that it’s time for us to pluck them.”

Also present in Afrin were the White Helmets, the supposed civil defense outfit that was nominated for a Nobel Prize, celebrated by the Western media as life-saving rescuers, and heavily funded by the U.S. and U.K. governments. The White Helmets had arrived as auxiliaries of the Islamist mercenary forces, and were operating as Turkish proxies themselves.

This October, when Turkish-backed Islamist fighters stormed back into northern Syria, atrocities immediately followed.

Hevrin Khalaf, a Syrian Kurdish legislator, was pulled from her car by the militiamen and executed along with her driver. Other Kurds, including two unarmed captives, were filmed as they were murdered by the Turkish proxies. The mercenary gangs went on to deliberately free ISIS captives from unguarded prisons, releasing hundreds of their ideological soulmates to the battlefield.

The most shocking footage allegedly showed the Turkish mercenaries sawing the heads off of Kurdish fighters they had killed. For those familiar with Nour al-Din al-Zinki, a participant in the Turkish invasion that was formerly supplied by the CIA, and which beheaded a captive Palestinian-Syrian fighter on camera in 2016, this behavior was not surprising.

Left out of the coverage of these horrors was the fact that none of them would have been possible if Washington had not spent several years and billions of dollars subsidizing Syria’s armed opposition. 

Promoters of ‘Moderate Rebels’

When the Turkish military and its proxy force overwhelmed the Kurdish YPG this October, Hillary Clinton angrily denounced their brutality.

Back in 2012, however, when Clinton was secretary of state, she junketed to Istanbul to rally support for those very same militias during a “Friends of Syria” conference convened by Turkey’s Recep Erdogan.

She later remarked, “The hard men with the guns are going to be the more likely actors in any political transition than those on the outside just talking. And therefore we needed to figure out how we could support them on the ground, better equip them…”

One of those “hard men” is Salim Idriss, today the “defense minister” of Syria’s non-existent “provisional government” and de facto leader of the mercenary forces dispatched by Turkey into northern Syria. He has pledged, “We will fight against all terror organizations led by the PYD/PKK.”

Back in 2013, however, Idriss was lionized in Washington and hyped as a future leader of Syria.

When the later Sen. John McCain made his notorious surprise visit to the Turkish-Syrian border in May 2013, hoping to inspire a U.S. military intervention, he was warmly welcomed by Idriss, the then-leader of the US-backed Free Syrian Army.

“What we want from the U.S. government is to take the decision to support the Syrian revolution with weapons and ammunition, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft weapons,” Idris told Josh Rogin, a reporter and neoconservative booster of regime change in Syria.

Though Idriss and his allies never got the full-scale intervention they sought from the Obama administration, they did receive shipments of heavy weapons, including hundreds of anti-tank TOW missiles.

They were also showered with adulation by droves of hyper-ambitious foreign correspondents from corporate Western outlets.

CNN’s Clarissa Ward, then of CBS, with the FSA in 2011.

CNN’s Clarissa Ward was an especially enthusiastic promoter of the FSA, embedding with its fighters, painting them as a heroic resistance. When she returned to Syria years later, she used a top mouthpiece of Syria’s local Al Qaeda affiliate as a fixer for her unequivocally pro-opposition “Inside Aleppo” series.

Danny Gold was also among the flocks of Western reporters who embedded with the armed opposition during the height of the insurgency against Damascus. In 2013, he churned around a piece for Vice on “chatting about ‘Game of Thrones’” with a group of fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda’s local franchise.

Gold and a clique of rabid online regime change zealots spent the rest of their time clamoring for U.S. intervention in the country and viciously denigrating anyone who disagreed. Gold has, for instance, likened The Grayzone’s factual coverage of Syria to Nazi propaganda.

This October, when the Turkish invasion of northern Syria began, Gold reported that one of the FSA fighters he embedded with back in 2013 was taking part in the assault on Kurdish positions.

Like Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Islamist fighters’ former boosters, Gold was clearly struggling with a case of cognitive dissonance. Unable to take responsibility for promoting these extremists as they rampaged across Syria for years, or for smearing anyone who forcefully opposed the regime change agenda, he lashed out at his critics: “Almost as if war is complicated and doesn’t fit into the neat little box the anime teens in my mentions don’t realize,” he tweeted.

As members of a former U.S. proxy ruthlessly prey on a present day U.S. proxy, Western pundits and politicians are hoping that no one notices that they spent the past seven years celebrating the former group. They are initiating a cover-up, not only of the blowback unfolding in northern Syria, but of their own records.

This band of hacks is now fully exposed for foisting a bloody scam on the public, marketing some of the most brutal fanatics on the planet as revolutionaries and “moderate rebels” while they destabilized an entire region. Like the extremists they once promoted, most have somehow managed to evade accountability and remain employed.

Below is SETA’s list of Turkish “national army” militias, outlining the type of U.S, support each one received over the years:


 Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah,” Goliath,” The Fifty One Day War and The Management of Savagery.” He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Killing Gaza and Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie.” Blumenthal founded the Grayzone Project in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.

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18 comments for “US Has Backed 21 of the 28 ‘Crazy’ Militias Leading Turkey’s Brutal Invasion of Northern Syria

  1. Richard Graham
    October 21, 2019 at 13:02

    Trump may have little long-term impact. Except that the world can no longer pretend the US knows anything about the world, their own best interests, or the best interests of their longest allies and best friends. They can’t be expected to defend democracy, expand human rights, or manage the most important part of world’s economy.

  2. Anonymot
    October 20, 2019 at 20:19

    I suspect that one of Hillary’s numerous reasons for her brainless attack on Tulsi Gabbard the other day was that when Gabbard went to Syria she found out about Hillary’s anointment of the CIA to begin the war with Syria. That and Tulsi’s backing Bernie Sanders after seeing the inside of the Democrats’ establishment. She is the ultimate political garbage.

    Who noticed that in Buttigeig’s interview today he said that mixing domestic politics with foreign affairs is a no go. Obviously, no one but Tulsi Knows anything about foreign affairs. They’ll just turn it all back to the CIA!

  3. Brockland
    October 20, 2019 at 19:22

    Rebecca Gordon wrote “American Nuremberg’ during the Bush years, but the idea went cold when Bush I’s wars became Obama’s wars.

    Now that Obama’s wars are Trump’s wars… things might be a little different again.

    In any case, among the great failures of the Nuremberg show trials was only the losing side’s atrocities got tried, only a few of the politically disconnected got punished.

    • AnneR
      October 21, 2019 at 07:52

      And many of the perpetrators of atrocities – German, fellow travelers in eastern European countries like the Bandera lot of Ukraine, and Japanese – were not even presented for trial. Many of them (Operation Paperclip) were either brought to the US to aid and assist in such humanitarian CIA programs as MK-ULTRA (sarcasm) or worked alongside the same gentle, humanitarian US-ians in their home countries passing on their abominably, murderously achieved knowledge while continuing the same or similar atrocities with the full support of the US government via the CIA. Stephen Kinzer’s latest book makes this all too sickeningly clear. Taxpayer dollars at work.

  4. Eddie S
    October 20, 2019 at 14:00

    Excellent article once again — thanks for a MUCH more plausible narrative than that supplied by the MSM — ie; that the US is SO concerned about Syria war killings that they reluctantly have to ESCALATE the war [that the US by-and-large fomented by giving weapons to unhappy groups].

  5. October 19, 2019 at 17:19

    Excellent article
    I believe we need present day Nuremberg Trials. Those responsible must be held to account for their war crimes. =

  6. Vera Gottlieb
    October 19, 2019 at 14:11

    Without fail…wherever the US goes trouble follows.

  7. robert e williamson jr
    October 19, 2019 at 13:58

    Is anyone keeping an eye on those two nuts at the top if the Israeli ultra right wing government?

    I see the White Helmets are back in Syria.

  8. Hide Behind
    October 19, 2019 at 13:51

    While we see a few names mentioned, seemingly all from US and Turkey there in actuality are tens of thousands of unnamed from Europe, ME Brits, France, Central Asians Balkans and US/Israel involved in planning, supplying and implemation in destruction of Syria.
    There were billions spent and billions diverted into international pockets of financials and arms merchants.
    All of NATO’S and some few From Canada, Australia and South Americans elite military forces have taken part in every US intervention from Vietnam, through Somalia, destruction of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq twice., Syria and Libya.
    No US President or its elected bodies since Eisenhower’s administration has disavowed its Military interventions, and Europe seeing as to how US profited from war making has , behind largely closed doors, found ways to profit as well along with US.
    All the public at large display by wringing of hands, clowning at protest, crocodile tears, and intellectuals mentally masturbating in media outlets, has no bearing upon what people that hide behind the halls of high places decide to do.
    We are bought off by promises of political rulers of a chicken in every pot and pot in every chicken, of sexual preferences , medical and wages to a few with pennies to the pennieless. keeping adults until 25-30 years of age and ability to get laidn whenever we want, but never, never, never, are we privy to what our nations foreign policy makers decide upon until after the fact

    They act and then we react or else go shopping.

    • Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
      October 21, 2019 at 12:59

      Yours is an excellent reply to an equally excellent article by Max. Few others could have written better pieces than these, I simply don’t know what the well-greased idiots in MSM do with all their talents.

      Not just the British and Israelis but there are many other numbskull elites across the world who will equally blindly plunge into any foreign country for carrying through US-hatched regime changes without even using an iota of their own commonsenses.

      This is especially true if Muslim states are at the receiving end as victims of regime change misadventures.

      Hopefully, in the future COWs (coalitions of the willing) would not similarly assemble blindly for carrying through the next round of slaughter under whatever pretext especially, but not also exclusively, against weak Muslim states !

  9. Antiwar7
    October 19, 2019 at 13:32

    Everyone that advocates for wars of choice is reprehensible.

    It’s always like this: their “good guys” turn out to be monsters. Always.

  10. Pablo Diablo
    October 19, 2019 at 12:58

    We sell weapons to our friends AND to our enemies. Gotta keep The War Machine well fed so it can buy politicians who support War.

  11. October 19, 2019 at 08:43

    What is this all about? One commenter takes exception to the article because not all the participants in the fighting received weapons and training. In response, we can’t provide weapons to everyone. There is a limit.

    Through it all, to this ignorant writer, there one theme, one purpose that overrides all the others. Weaken Syria. Deprive it of its territory and its oil revenues. Use the Kurds. Use Turkey. Use the Wahabbis. But keep our eye on the ball. Golan Heights. The oil fields. Make Syria a non-functioning state.

  12. AnneR
    October 19, 2019 at 08:24

    Thank you, Mr Blumenthal, for this cogent article.

    The mind-blowing hypocrisy of Clinton has to be seen to be believed. She who cackled over the Libyan slaughter (particularly of Gaddafi’s but I can imagine more generally) and whose close friend Albright considered the deaths of some 500K Iraqi children from the siege warfare effects of economic sanctions (even before the bombings started) “worth it.” Doubtless Shillary did too. A more corrupt, psychopathic and sociopathic individual it would be hard to conjure – oh, wait, just about all who fill the halls of government and the deep state in DC are kindred.

    And it took this move (sort of move) by Trump and the Turkish invasion into Syria with concomitant effects to arouse the otherwise uncaring, disinterested in our perpetual warmaking, killing bourgeois Demrat supporters among my late husband’s FB friends to pucker their lips. But not about what we had done to (and continue via our Saudian proxies to Yemen, or in Afghanistan, Iraq and so on) the MENA countries and peoples. Nope. Not those really existing past and present atrocities and their effects. The Strumpet’s pull back was the trigger.

  13. Hank
    October 18, 2019 at 18:09

    The only thing the Democrats have going, if at all, is the degree of ignorance of millions of Americans. These people are easy to lead into a lynch mob because they have been angered by a constant anti-Trump mainstream theme the past four years and readily accept ANY negative portrayal of Trump as “fact”. How many people unknowingly accepting the media’s false portrayal would like to be a defendant in a trial where there are only prosecutors. Does anyone actually think the media allows even a tiny bit of cross examination? certainly a common citizen is by law entitled to a defense lawyer and representation in ANY trial in this nation. How can it be that the PRESIDENT cannot get this simple principal, other than this IS a lynch mob, where there are NEVER defense lawyers for those about to be hanged. The thugs that accelerated the butchery and destruction in Syria, all for poor little Israel, who sits there and waits for the spoils of OTHER PEOPLES” sacrifices, were predominantly people in the Obama administration, not to say that there aren’t warmongering cutthroats on the other side of the aisle! To war or not to war seems to be the big litmus test in this nation and it shows the grip that the military/industrial mafia has on “our” government. Prospects for peace have actually become a horrifying prospect for the M/I mafia and all their whorish backers! The USA needs a good old fashioned exorcism to root out these most vile of pro-war-regardless-of-the-facts monsters!

    • boxerwar
      October 20, 2019 at 17:10

      This posted comment (reply) only amplifies the cognitive dissonance of a brainwashed populace, – the “Moral Majority” of which go to sleep at night secured in the belief that “America Can Do No Wrong” – and – by extension – The American Gov’t is “Organically Structured (“CONSTITUTIONALLY) by means of an abiding RULE OF LAW that cannot and should not be abridged by any Overriding Political Authority that would create false or new ‘extenuating’ circumstances that would abrogate decades/centuries of Parliamentary Procedure in any “Rule-By-Law” National Government where “Parliamentary Procedure” is The Rule Of Law under Federalized Laws Of Governance.

      Mr. Trump has apparently been given (allowed) his own Special pageantry 0f affectation inside Wall Street Pockets of Ingratiation / Self Enrichment ( the immoral establishment of his own Brand as the fulfillment of Ayn Rand’s uninhibited/impulsive- right-winged licensed -“FREEDOM CAUCUS” overthrow of Lincoln’s ( image of ) an inclusive democracy decreed under the auspices of “A NEW BIRTH/BURST of Freedom — dedicated to the — PROPOSITION — ‘that all men were created equal’ … … …

      WOW !! — This POLITICAL Proposition was Foisted upon a nation of MAJORITY White American Bigots !!

      Never mind the Vast and Expanding Wealth of Southern Cotton Farmers accumulating wealth from Bondage/Subjugation/
      FREE-Laborers whose Owners attain vast wealth in US Northern States, from the wealthy Slave Trade of exported cotton industrial fabric to Europe at the time of extraction of Gold and other minerals from South America (…continuing as of this day) /////
      as of Now, This Very Moment – the Extraction of Valuable Elements and Minerals are being Stolen from Indigenous Peoples/

  14. dcouzin
    October 18, 2019 at 16:49

    Blumenthal is right-on to condemn as hypocrites (or idiots) Hilary Clinton and assorted US journalists who supported the FSA and now condemn the successor SNA’s attacks on the YPG. He is to be thanked also for rubbing dirt on Biden’s and Klobuchar’s beloved McCain. However Blumenthal has insulted our numerical intelligence a bit. “US has backed 21 of the 28” should make everyone wonder if the quarter they didn’t back are the nastiest ones. Among the factions that SETA calls the 10 largest of the 28, there are just two that the US didn’t back: Ahrar al-Sharqiyah and Ahrar al-Sham. Well, are these nastier than the others? Ahrar al-Sharqiyah is the group that murdered Hevrin Khala last week, so Blumenthal’s mention of that murder poorly fits his “21 of 28” formula. Ahrar al-Sham is very large and was not part of the FSA. Its political ideology is complex and I can’t compare its nastiness to that of the others. But Blumenthal, to justify his formula, must.

  15. George
    October 18, 2019 at 16:08

    Great article Max, excellent. I’m curious now about origins of the 21 militias.
    Was there a ‘Friends of anti-Assad Militias’ meeting several years ago?
    I’m donating!
    I enjoyed Graham Fuller’s piece the other day. You guys are providing behind the scenes analysis. Other sources of information sit in the audience, clapping and cheering as ‘the production’ ‘molds and unfolds’ every day. I’d love to see some CN guys hitting it on TV, which reminds me – RT got dropped from all the casino cable feeds from MS to LV to CT some months ago. Don’t know how to get it.
    I wish CN could get its VIPS forensic stories back into circulation. Maybe when the reports come out. ‘We sent our forensic report to Mueller, who ignored it.’ Best wishes.

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