How the US Helped ISIS
A recently declassified document again shows the United States’ complicity in
the rise of ISIS.
By David Mizner
June 02, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "Jacobin"
- In October 2014, Vice President Joe Biden publicly criticized US allies for
backing ISIS. The previous month, General Dempsey
had told the Senate
Armed Services Committee that America’s “Arab allies” were funding the group.
US officials were trying to distance themselves from the
ISIS-supporting actions of their allies without harshly condemning them. Biden
suggested that their arming of ISIS was unintentional and quickly apologized to
them. (Responding to Dempsey, Senator Lindsey Graham actually defended them:
“They were trying to beat Assad. I believe they realize the folly of their
This mild criticism of allies came amid the effort of American
officials to sell the decision to start bombing ISIS. By this time, the group
was already entrenched in eastern Syria and western Iraq. But there’s no
evidence that in the months and years prior, the Obama administration had made
any attempt to prevent its client states from helping ISIS become a regional
The United States itself continued to send arms into Syria
despite the certainty that some would end up in the hands of ISIS. “We have good
relations with our brothers in the FSA,” said ISIS
leader Abu Atheer in 2013, referring to the US-backed Free Syrian Army. He
said ISIS bought anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank weapons from the FSA.
A recently declassified US military intelligence document is
further evidence of US complicity. Formerly classified as “secret,” an August
2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report was among a batch of documents obtained
by the conservative group Judicial Watch.
The mainstream press and Republican politicians have focused
on other documents in the collection: those related to the 2012 attack on the US
Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Largely overlooked is this document, which
contradicts the official narrative not just about the rise of ISIS but also the
makeup of the opposition in Syria and its relationship with foreign backers.
“The August 5, 2012 DIA report confirms much of what Assad has
been saying all along about his opponents both inside and outside Syria,”
“terrorism analyst” Max Abrams.
The report concerns a period in time when the escalating
violence in Iraq had ceased to be a prominent topic in the US press and when its
coverage of the war in Syria — mirroring the discussion in Washington — focused
on the Assad government, not the forces aligned against it. This may be hard to
imagine now that ISIS has become the US government’s favorite monster, but
during these months President Obama and his team gave major
speeches on Syria that didn’t even mention the group.
Even after ISIS took Fallujah in January 2014, discussion of
the group in establishment outlets was scarce. It wasn’t until later in 2014 —
after continued battlefield victories and heavily publicized beheadings of
westerners — that Islamic State became Public Enemy Number 1.
American officials claimed the ascendancy of ISIS had caught
by surprise. Yet in
the 2012 report — which was circulated widely through the US government —
the DIA foresaw the creation of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria. It
also said that Islamic State of Iraq could “return to its old pockets in Mosul
and Ramadi” and declare an “Islamic state” in western Iraq and eastern Syria.
More than that, the report says the creation of an Islamic
state was precisely the goal of the foreign governments that support the
If the situation unravels there is the possibility of
establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria
(Hasaka and Der Zor) and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the
opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered
the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).
The document previously identifies, in a slightly different
context, “supporting powers” as “Western countries, the Gulf States, and
Turkey.” Even if one interprets the document to exclude the United States from
the “supporting powers” — indeed, why would its intelligence agency tell the US
government what its policy was? — it reveals that at least as early as 2012, the
United States knew that its client states sought the creation of an “Islamic
state.” Two years would pass before the United States offered its peep of
More broadly, the United States participated in a war against
the Syrian government that turned Islamic State of Iraq into a regional power
encompassing — and devastating — large parts of two countries. Such an outcome
was predictable — and indeed predicted by the US government itself.
While American politicians and pundits have blamed the
ascendance of ISIS on former Iraqi president Nouri
or on the removal of American troops from Iraq — the DIA report reminds us that
the key event in the rise of ISIS was the corresponding rise of the insurgency
in Syria. Brad Hoff of the Levant Report, the first journalist to analyze the
DIA report, says it
shows that “A nascent Islamic State became a reality only with the rise of
the Syrian insurgency . . . there is no mention of U.S. troop withdrawal from
Iraq as a catalyst.”
Maliki warned that the war in Syria could
engulf Iraq, yet the United States and its allies kept supporting the
insurgency. The American bombing of ISIS, relatively light and sporadic, has
only intensified the belief of many Iraqis that the United States
doesn’t want to defeat the group.
According to the official storyline, the US has sought to
weaken ISIS in Syria by supporting “moderate” rebels. (President Obama has faced
constant criticism for not arming opposition groups in Syria despite
constantly arming opposition groups.)
The decision of the US to train its own force was an
acknowledgement that it’d been unable to find moderate groups to support. Former
US Ambassador Robert Ford has
admitted as much, saying that “for a long time, we have looked the other
way” as US-backed groups worked with al-Qaeda’s affiliate, the Islamic State of
Iraq spinoff al-Nusra Front. Many “moderate” rebels — “entire
CIA-backed rebel units” — have joined al-Nusra Front and ISIS. Earlier this
year, the main US-backed group, Harakat al-Hazm, couldn’t beat al-Nusra Front —
so it joined them.
The 2012 DIA document confirms that reactionaries dominated
the opposition from early on. “The Salafist, The Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are
the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” it says. It also notes that
“AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning.”
This is the long-obscured truth that the DIA report
underscores: that after the initial stage of the war in Syria, simply to support
the war on the Syrian government was to help ISIS.
American complicity in the rise of ISIS would hardly be an
anomaly. At various times since World War II—most infamously in Afghanistan in
the ’70s and ’80s — the United States has armed, allied with, or otherwise
strengthened jihadists (and their precursors) for the purpose of undermining
its more immediate and authentic adversaries.
And one need not consult history for an antecedent.
Right now, as its effort to build a force from scratch founders, the United
States is encouraging its proxies in Syria to work with al-Nusra Front and has
green-lighted a new coordinated effort of Gulf countries and Turkey to arm an
opposition coalition that includes al-Nusra Front and other reactionary groups.
If the United States really wanted to defeat ISIS and
al-Qaeda, it would stop empowering them.
Iraq's prime minister says the US-led coalition isn't
doing enough to help defeat ISIS: Speaking at
a conference in Paris, Abadi said coalition partners were not providing Iraqi
forces with sufficient air intelligence to stem Islamic State advances, while
support for ground operations was also lacking.
‘2,300 Humvees in Mosul alone’:
Iraq reveals number of US arms falling into ISIS hands: Iraq has admitted that
ISIS jihadists captured huge caches of US-made weapons, including thousands of
Humvees seized from Iraqi forces retreating from Mosul last year. The spoils of
war have since then been used by ISIS to gain ground in Iraq and Syria.