Whether you were touched by what the Associated Press described as his contentious, expletive-laden speech against the Sunni extremist group ISIS (now the Islamic State), or simply thought that his "Hello Kitty" notebook was cute — please be advised: Syrian Rebel Leader Zahran Alloush is not your friend, OK?
This is an easy mistake to make. Speaking personally, I remember my friend Angela having some pretty cool "Hello Kitty" stuff in middle school, with Pochacco in particular, and she threw some cool parties at her parents' house, and let me use her gel pens to draw during class, and was generally pretty great. So, if Angela were to ask me today for $500 million to train and equip rebel militants fighting a two-front war against both Assad's regime and ISIS, I might be like, "Sure. No problem."
This is a very different situation, though, because Zahran Alloush, the leader of the Islamic Front (الجبهة الإسلامية, al-Jabhat al-Islāmiyyah), is not like Angela at all. According to Mideast scholar Josh Landis, the Islamic Front has "worked hand in glove with al-Qaida linked forces, particularly al-Nusra, on most battle fronts and recent offensives against the regime." 45,000-fighters strong, Alloush's group controls the city of Douma, northeast of Damascus, where the iconic Syrian human rights defender, Razan Zaitouneh and three of her colleagues, (Wa'el Hamada, Nazem Hamadi and Samira Khalil) were kidnapped last December.
That month Alloush and his Islamic Front forces, along with al-Nusra, killed dozens of minority Alawite, Shiite, Druze, and Christian civilians in the city of Adra, according to witnesses and activists with the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (Other reports place that figure closer to 40.) Some victims were shot, others were beheaded. Describing the scene, one activist told Reuters, "Zahran Alloush has committed a massacre."
In short, this man is like no one you know who owns a "Hello Kitty" notebook.
Probably lulled by Alloush's "Hello Kitty" notebook, the CIA has already been providing light arms and munitions to the rebels, overtly since September; while the Pentagon has overseen shipments of nonlethal aid like vehicles, communications equipment, and combat medical kits.
But really it's been going on for much longer. Oil-rich Qatar has allegedly spent over $3 billion in assistance since the fighting began a few years ago — always supposedly with experienced CIA operatives present to help vet the rebels. Alloush's Islamic Front has been given similarly generous support from the Saudis and the Pakistani military. (Zahran's father, Abdullah Mohammed Alloush, is a hardcore Salafi cleric based in Saudi Arabia with close ties to the Saudi royal family.)
Officially, the Obama administration only wants to provide assistance to moderates among the Syrian rebels, genuine Hello Kitty-types, but the policy is widely seen as unrealistic "in a place like Syria," as PBS's Frontline reports, "where alliances and foes change with breakneck fluidity." All the moderates, they say, have worked closely with al-Nusra and Islamic Front, meaning that U.S. arms and materiel will inevitably find their way into the hands of radicals, much more like Kitty's friend, bad-boy penguin Badtz-Maru.
It's hard to believe that someone like Barack Obama, who has experience raising two daughters, could be so easily tricked by a "Hello Kitty" notebook, which might lead cynics to conclude that the administration is willing to partner literally with anyone who seems capable of ousting Assad: one of Russia's few remaining strategic partners in the Arab world. Since late June, Obama has been calling on Congress to authorize a $1 billion expansion of the CIA's military assistance program, $500 million for Syrian rebels and another $500 for forces combating ISIS in nearby regions. Yet, precious little has been offered, to either the public or Congress, about how this new injection of military aid would be deployed.
"We need to do better than 'it's classified so we can't talk about it!'" Adam Smith (D-CA), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said at a hearing yesterday, interrogating Defense Department officials over the proposal.
With the administration and Pentagon officials being so secretive on this billion-dollar package, who knows which rebel groups it could be going towards, or in what form the assistance might arrive — TOW anti-tank missiles, gel pens, a pencil case depicting Mimmy, Kitty and Keroppi playing baseball at the beach.
The Obama administration needs to seriously reconsider its foreign policy on Syria, because this shit is not cute.