Even as the U.S. State Department acknowledges that Al-Qaida is part of the Syrian opposition, the U.S. Treasury Department has cleared the way for funds to flow from the United States to that very same Syrian opposition.
In its "County Reports on Terrorism" report for 2011, issued July 31, the State Department admits: "In fact, towards the end of 2011, AQI [Al-Qaida in Iraq] was believed to be extending its reach into Syria and seeking to exploit the popular uprising against the dictatorship of Bashar al-Asad."
At yesterday's State Department press briefing, a question was asked about this, and whether it has continued into this year. Daniel Benjamin, State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism, minimized the sitation, by answering that "there have been many accounts of al-Qaida-related operatives being in Syria," and he went on: "We believe that the number of al-Qaida fighters — al-Qaida-related fighters — who are in Syria is relatively small. But there is a larger group of foreign fighters, many of whom are not directly affiliated with AQ, who are either in or headed to Syria, and clearly this is a matter of concern for all who fear greater violence in Syria and for regional stability."
As we have reported, last week the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) approved a license allowing the U.S.-based "Syrian Support Group" to provide otherwise-illegal financial assistance to the Free Syrian Army. While the license doesn't explicitly authorize military aid, a spokesman for the group (and former NATO official) Brian Sayers, says the money will go for weapons. According to today's Wall Street Journal, citing Sayers, the Syrian Support Group "hopes to directly finance FSA's military councils," which "could then use the money to fund things such as soldier salaries or buy weapons and medical supplies."
Lest there be any doubt of the FSA's military council's ties to Al Qaida and related foreign jihadists, one need only refer to the article in the London Guardian "Al-Qaida turns tide for rebels in battle for eastern Syria," posted July 30. The Guardian quotes on Abu Khuder, a former Syrian Army officer who helped form the FSA, who is now aliged with Al-Qaida, and it states: "According to Abu Khuder, his men are working closely with the military council that commands the Free Syrian Army brigades in the region."
"We meet almost every day," Abu Khuder told the Guardian. "We have clear instructions from our [al-Qaida] leadership that if the FSA need our help we should give it. We help them with IEDs and car bombs. Our main talent is in the bombing operations."
And soon, he might add, that FSA/AQ military council may be the beneficiary of funding from the U.S., which has just been legalized by Tim Geithner's Treasury Department.