Syria’s ‘Moderates’ Have Disappeared... and There
Are No Good Guys
Western confusion reigns while the Russians go for the jugular
By Robert Fisk
October 05, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "The
Independent" - The Russian air force in
Syria has flown straight into the West’s fantasy air space. The
Russians, we are now informed, are bombing the “moderates” in Syria
– “moderates” whom even the Americans admitted two months ago, no
It’s rather like the Isis fighters who left Europe
to fight for the “Caliphate”.Remember them? Scarcely two months ago,
our political leaders – and leader writers – were warning us all of
the enormous danger posed by “home-grown” Islamists who were leaving
Britain and other European countries and America to fight for the
monsters of Isis. Then the hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees
began trekking up the Balkans towards Europe after risking death in
the Mediterranean – and we were all told by the same political
leaders to be fearful that Isis killers were among them.
It’s amazing how European Muslim fighters fly to
Turkey to join Isis, and a few weeks later, they’re drowning in
leaky boats or tramping back again and taking trains from Hungary to
Germany. But if this nonsense was true, where did they get the time
for all the terrorist training they need in order to attack us when
they get back to Europe?
It is possible, of course, that this was mere
storytelling. By contrast, the chorus of horror that has accompanied
Russia’s cruel air strikes this past week has gone beyond sanity.
Let’s start with a reality check. The Russian
military are killers who go for the jugular. They slaughtered the
innocent of Chechnya to crush the Islamist uprising there, and they
will cut down the innocent of Syria as they try to crush a new army
of Islamists and save the ruthless regime of Bashar al-Assad. The
Syrian army, some of whose members are war criminals, have struggled
ferociously to preserve the state – and used barrel bombs to do it.
They have also fought to the death.
“American officials” – those creatures beloved of
The New York Times – claim that the Syrian army does not fight Isis.
If true, who on earth killed the 56,000 Syrian soldiers – the
statistic an official secret, but nonetheless true – who have so far
died in the Syrian war? The preposterous Free Syrian Army (FSA)?
This rubbish has reached its crescendo in the
on-again off-again saga of the Syrian “moderates”. These men were
originally military defectors to the FSA, which America and European
countries regarded as a possible pro-Western force to be used
against the Syrian government army. But the FSA fell to pieces,
corrupted, and the “moderates” defected all over again, this time to
the Islamist Nusrah Front or to Isis, selling their
American-supplied weapons to the highest bidder or merely retiring
quietly – and wisely – to the countryside where they maintained a
few scattered checkpoints.
Washington admitted their disappearance, bemoaned
their fate, concluded that new “moderates” were required, persuaded
the CIA to arm and train 70 fighters, and this summer packed them
off across the Turkish border to fight – whereupon all but 10 were
captured by Nusrah and at least two of them were executed by their
captors. Just two weeks ago, I heard in person one of the most
senior ex-US officers in Iraq – David Petraeus’s former No 2 in
Baghdad – announce that the “moderates” had collapsed long ago. Now
you see them – now you don’t.
But within hours of Russia’s air assaults last
weekend, Washington, The New York Times, CNN, the poor old BBC and
just about every newspaper in the Western world resurrected these
ghosts and told us that the Russkies were bombing the brave
“moderates” fighting Bashar’s army in Syria – the very “moderates”
who, according to the same storyline from the very same sources a
few weeks earlier, no longer existed. Our finest commentators and
experts – always a dodgy phrase – joined in the same chorus line.
So now a few harsh factoids. The Syrian army are
drawing up the operational target lists for the Russian air force.
But Vladimir Putin has his own enemies in Syria.
The first strikes – far from being aimed at the
“moderates” whom the US had long ago dismissed – were directed at
the large number of Turkmen villages in the far north-west of Syria
which have for many months been occupied by hundreds of Chechen
fighters – the very same Chechens whom Putin had been trying to
liquidate in Chechnya itself. These Chechen forces assaulted and
destroyed Syria’s strategic hilltop military Position 451 north of
Latakia last year. No wonder Bashar’s army put them on the target
Other strikes were directed not at Isis but at
Islamist Jaish al-Shams force targets in the same area. But in the
first 24 hours, Russian bombs were also dropped on the Isis supply
line through the mountains above Palmyra.
The Russians specifically attacked desert roads around the town of
Salamia – the same tracks used by Isis suicide convoys to defeat
Syrian troops in the ancient Roman city of Palmyra last May.
They also bombed areas around Hassakeh and the
Isis-held Raqqa air base where Syrian troops have fought Islamists
over the past year (and were beheaded when they surrendered).
Russian ground troops, however, are in Syria only
to guard their bases. These are symbolic boots on the ground – but
the idea that those boots are there to fight Isis is a lie. The
Russians intend to let the Syrian ground troops do the dying for
No, there are no good guys and bad guys in the
Syrian war. The Russians don’t care about the innocents they kill
any more than do the Syrian army or Nato. Any movie of the Syrian
war should be entitled War Criminals Galore!
But for heaven’s sake, let’s stop fantasising. A
few days ago, a White House spokesman even told us that Russian
bombing “drives moderate elements… into the hands of extremists”.
Who’s writing this fiction? “Moderate elements”