The day before a crucial mid-term election, President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, which has become a large campaign issue, took another blow in the Middle East. U.S.-backed Syrian rebel fighters defected to the extremist group Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida linked group.
The defections came as Jabhat al-Nusra made a push along Idlib in the northern region of Syria. Idlib was the location of armories filled with large amounts of weaponry and ammunition, according to the Washington Post. The push represented an attempt to eliminate the more moderate Free Syrian Army, analysts told the Post. Idlib was the last stronghold of the moderates in the north. The other more moderate fighters that were able to escape the offensive are now fleeing in retreat to the Turkish border.
The Pentagon and the White House had been arming the moderates in an attempt to provide a safeguard in the region against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. While ISIS has not been a threat in southern Syria, where most of the moderates remain, this remains a huge shift in the north, as many of the moderates have now deserted the region.
One of the groups overtaken was Harakat Hazm. It received the most of the $500 million in U.S. aid. Its funds went to start a covert CIA weaponry program. Harakat Hazm abandoned their weaponry, which includes anti-tank missiles, without a fight, according to The Atlantic. In addition, on Saturday another pro-U.S. group, The Syrian Revolutionary front, surrendered its bases in the mountainous area of Jabal al-Zawiya.
As the defections and loss of weaponry and allies continues defect, the White House and Pentagon are defending their actions, telling The Post that it may take months to implement the aid appropriately. A senior Defense Department told The Post that they could not confirm the actions on the ground, but were watching the developments closely.
As the number of allies in the Middle East continues to dwindle it will become more difficult for the Obama Administration to find allies to help stop the spread of ISIS Charles Linder of the Qatar-based Brookings Doha Center told The Post. “This sends a message that Western support doesn’t equal success,” he added.