Sunni and Shiite Soldiers of Allah are on the march against each other. They are preparing for a clash of arms in the embattled Syrian arena.
The Sunnis are using the hallowed mission of defeating Syria’s Bashar Assad for a worldwide call-up of jihadi fighters across the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia. The campaign is in full spate. Like the 1980s conscription of volunteers to drive the Russian Army out of Afghanistan, now, too, Islamic fighters are rallying eagerly to the flag of jihad.
Then, a surge of Islamist zeal swept the universities, colleges and madrassas. According to Muslim history books and journals, the imaginations of young students were fired up enough for them to abandon homes and families to fight in Afghanistan. Some observers are painting the response to the current call to fight the heretics in Syria in the same pious colors.
Then, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, who succeeded him as president of Egypt, seized on the Afghan conflict as a chance to get rid of Muslim fundamentalist troublemakers. This became more urgent after an extremist group assassinated Sadat in 1981. The US and Saudi Arabia helped remove these violent zealots to another land, while also distancing them from Riyadh and its oil riches.
After spending time in remote CIA-sponsored training centers, where the jihadists were taught how to use American Stingers and other weapons for shooting down Russian aircraft, they were flown to their last stop before crossing into the war arena, transit camps on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where they first met their commander, Osama bin Laden.
After attaining power, the extremists want a quiet life
The CIA placed him at the head of the anti-Russian jihad on the recommendation of Saudi intelligence chiefs who praised his exceptional organizational and operational skills as a talent worth nurturing.
In August 2012, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and counterterrorism sources report, jihadist motivations and recruitment techniques are unchanged. The differences lie in the character of the new rulers thrown up by the Arab Revolt and their newfound goals. In an epic topsy-turvy turn, the soldiers of Allah whom Egyptian secret agents posing as Muslim zealots recruited for Afghanistan then, have reached the top of the tree in Cairo. The radical Al-Gama'a al-Islamiya has metamorphosed into a powerful political party, controlling 22 percent of Egyptian parliament seats.
These days, Islamist rulers of Egyptian, Tunisia and Libya, avid students of realpolik, are perfectly willing to play ball with the conservative regimes of Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar, Kuwait as well as Turkmenistan for a getting the violent extremists off their backs. The attraction of fighting the heretical Assad regime and its Shiite Iranian backers is proving an effective lure.
Pushing the recruiting machine’s buttons are, once again, the CIA, as well as Britain’s MI6 external spy service and the Turkish intelligence arm, the MIT. It operates on several tracks.
Two absorption centers in Libya
The main track, run jointly by the three spy services and Qatari intelligence, mobilizes volunteers in Muslim lands for service in Syria, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counterterrorism sources report.
It is managed by Qatar’s Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah. This pair comes armed with ample experience in the business of ousting rulers, having spent most of the summer of 2011 on Libyan battlefields and taking active part in the revolt which removed Muammar Qaddafi.
Now, they are applying their expertise to the overthrow of Bashar Assad and capture of Damascus for the Syrian rebels.
In the past month, two Qatari-run absorption and mobilization centers in Libya – Tripoli and Benghazi – have been taking in jihadist volunteers from various parts of the world. New arrivals are reimbursed for their travel expenses and given their first pay check of $1,000 per month, which they may remit to families back home. They are flown next, without security screening, by unmarked aircraft leased by Qatari intelligence to Istanbul where they disembark on side runways in early dawn and are driven by waiting airport buses to a second fleet of unmarked flights, which carry them to the southern Turkish town of Adana in Antalia.
Up until Istanbul, the route is shared by the three services engaged in the mobilization of jihadists for Syria.
From there, they enter the gateway to the “Secret Qatari Track” into Syria and are in the hands of Qatari elite officers.
The secret “Qatari track for Syria”
A bus takes the new recruits from Adana to the small Turkish town of Rihannly in the Antankya region. This brings them up to the Turkish-Syria border where they can view the embattled Syrian region of Idlib.
Here, they are interviewed and vetted by Qatari intelligence officrs, handed uniforms and divided into companies. Trained guides then escort them across the frontier on foot and after a night’s march to the small Syrian village of Sarakip, which our military and intelligence sources report has been transformed into a military training facility for the new recruits. Here, they undergo military training for two weeks and are issued with US- and Turkish-made arms.
Outstanding recruits are promoted to squad and platoon commanders and assigned their battle zones. Most of the first intake is already fighting with Syrian rebel forces in Aleppo and the Jabal al-Zawiya area near Idlib.
Our sources estimate that some 4,600 jihadist fighters had passed through this boot camp by end of this week. Most were Libyans and Moroccans; smaller numbers came from Tunisia, Egypt, Turkmenistan, Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as well as Islamists from Britain, France, Holland and Italy – and even the United States.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report that the tempo of arrivals at the Libyan recruitment centers is accelerating. They estimate that the numbers will soon double and thousands more jihadist fighters are on their way through the Qatari track to the battlefields of Syria.
By the end of September their total number could reach 10,000, substantially augmenting the estimated 70,000-strong rebel army – and still growing.
Already, the proportion of indigenous Syrian rebels in the forces ranged against the Assad government is declining, especially in the north, in proportion to the foreign Sunni fighters. Opposition war bulletins were being signed this week by new elements, such as the “Martyrs’ Brigades” or the “Fighting Islamic Brigades” rather than the Free Syrian Army as hitherto.
The US-UK track prepares for the day after Assad
The US State Department's Office of Syrian Opposition Support-OSOS, on which serve many British Foreign Office officials, is trying to put together an alternative government for the day after Bashar Assad disappears from Damascus. The CIA and MI6 are running this project without Arab or Muslim allies. Headhunters are on the lookout for exiled Syrians or expatriates capable of taking over a post-Assad regime and personnel able to man the government administration among the thousands of military and civilian defectors and refugees.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland last week confirmed the existence of the OSOS program. She said it would become fully effective only when President Assad leaves office.
"There are groups inside and outside Syria beginning to plan for that day-after,” she said, “and beginning to plan for how they might quickly stand up at least that first stage of transition so that we could move on when Assad goes, because he will go."
The US is carefully separating the before-and-after roles shared out among the anti-Assad opposition: The jihadists recruited by Qatar will be confined to combat – with no plans to integrate them in national, local or military administrations. Government positions will be reserved for a different set of indigenous opposition functionaries.
The Saudi track:
3. The brainchild of Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, this track is focused mainly on two regions, Western Syria which borders on Lebanon and Eastern Syria which abuts on Iraq.
While the Qataris fund and train foreign jihadist recruits, Saudi intelligence is mobilizing thousands of fighters from West Iraq’s Al Anbar border region among the Iraqi Sunni tribes which up until mid-2006 were allied with Al Qaeda and then turned their guns against its adherents under the Sunni Awakening/Sons of Iraq programs initiated by CIA director Gen. David Petraeus, then commander of NATO forces in Iraq.
In 2012, Iraqi Sunni tribesmen are again under arms, this time to finish rooting out the Assad regime’s dominance of the entire eastern region, after gaining control of most of the Euphrates Valley.
This region is Syria’s oil center, the site of its fifth largest town, Deir ez-Zour, its gateway to Iraq and scene of the anti-Assad rebellion’s first flashpoint.
The rebels in these regions have made advances with the help of weapons and funding provided by Saudi Arabia.
To see how Assad and his Iranian and Hizballah allies are counteracting the Sunni jihadist surge, read the next article.