Damascus (GPA) – Once again the US media is working overtime to portray some of the most nefarious international terrorist groups under the vague umbrella of Syrian rebels in Ghouta.
As the latest efforts are underway by the Syrian Arab Army and their allies are underway to clear out a hive of terrorist activity in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta the US media is seemingly repeating the same propaganda campaign that they employed during the Aleppo offensive of 2016. Much like in Aleppo, the Western media seems to be bending over backward in their efforts to whitewash militant groups with ties to Al Qaeda.
Just like Aleppo, the Western media has launched a massive ‘human rights‘ blitz, highlighting casualties in the Syrian government’s campaign to wipe out Al Qaeda. The latest charges came late last week as the media began decrying the fact that Syrian airstrikes have allegedly killed up to 500 people.
Besides the fact that the US was behind their own murderous air campaigns in cities like Mosul which have resulted in thousands of deaths, these numbers being touted by the imperial media are also troubling due to the fact that they originate from the usual suspects in anti-Assad propaganda circles.
The primary source for the casualty figures coming out of Ghouta is the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which is the same culprit from the Aleppo campaign who was reporting their casualty numbers based on information from the Al Qaeda ‘Civil Service’ actors: The White Helmets. The White Helmets are, of course, well-known as an enthusiastic extension of Al Qaeda and have recently been revived as a source by western media, most notably in a recent Guardian piece that smeared independent journalists like Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett for reporting the truth about the White Helmets.
Not only are The White Helmets and the SOHR employing the same tactics as they did in Aleppo in support of the Syrian rebels in Ghouta but they’re even protecting the same groups of rebranded extremists.
Who are the Syrian Rebels in Ghouta
Much like in Aleppo, the Syrian rebels in Ghouta are primarily represented by some of the war’s most active Al Qaeda affiliates; primarily Jaysh Al-Islam (Army of Islam). Jaysh Al-Islam, formerly Liwa Al-Islam, first emerged as a presence in Ghouta under the umbrella of the Islamic Coalition, led primarily by Al Qaeda offshoot Tahrir al-Sham. If you’re unfamiliar with Tahrir al-Sham, you may know them better by their previous name Jabhat Fateh al-Sham or their initial name: al Nusra Front, the original officially sanctioned Al Qaeda branch operating in Syria.
Jaysh Al-Islam later turned on the leadership of Tahrir Al-Sham as a part of larger calculations by the group’s sponsors, such as Saudi Arabia, which needed rebel groups not directly tied to Al Qaeda. This workaround provides the Gulf countries the ability to still have a proxy at the Russian-led Syrian negotiations, which Tahrir Al-Sham can’t participate in due to their international designation as terrorists.
While Jaysh Al-Islam may not be directly linked to Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria anymore, the group still promotes a Salafist hardline interpretation of Sharia Law. Jaysh Al-Islam may not directly work with Tahrir Al-Sham but they do still cooperate with Ahrar Al-Sham, yet another salafist group, primarily backed by Turkey and Qatar with political objectives that are hard to discern from those of Al Qaeda.
This kinship has been expressed openly by the leader of Jaysh Al-Islam, Zahran Alloush who said in an interview with the Daily Beast that “Jaysh al-Islam stands alongside Ahrar al-Sham and all revolutionary forces that fight Assad.” Alloush claims that, despite these close ties to Salafist extremists, that didn’t apply to Jaysh Al-Islam.
Alloush discounts the idea of him having direct connections to Turkey as ISIS propaganda despite public displays of solidarity between the group and Ankara and his obvious affinity for fellow Salafists. Although the group may claim to want to create a “technocratic body that represents the diversity of the Syrian people,” in the words of Alloush, that diversity is likely only to be withing a limited range of extreme interpretations of Sunni Islam.
James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.