WASHINGTON, March 12, 2013 — A massive 3,000 ton weapons airlift from Croatia to Syrian rebels, reported two weeks ago by the New York Times then further detailed by a Croat newspaper and the London Telegraph on Friday, appears to breach the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), theoretically subjecting high level U.S. officials and allies to arrest.
The weapons, destined for groups attempting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, have a high possibility of ending up in the hands of al-Qaeda affiliates.
On February 25, the New York Times revealed that “Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to antigovernment fighters in Syria,” adding that U.S., European, Jordanian and CIA officials all declined comment.
On March 8, The London Telegraph, citing a newspaper article published in Croatia, said the operation required 75 cargo flights to deliver the weapons, beginning in November. Most of the cargo flights landed in Jordan before the arms were moved over the border into Syria, according to reports.
“The first cargo planes involved with the shipment were from Turkey, but most have been from Jordanian International Air Cargo, whose Russian-made Ilyushin jets have been seen regularly at Zaghreb airport in recent months” reported the Telegraph, citing the Croat newspaper.
The Telegraph says Saudi Arabia financed the shipments “at the bidding of the United States,” which assisted in supplying the weapons. The paper says the shipments “transited Turkey and Jordan on their way to Syria.”
According to the press reports, some of the weapons shipped to Syria date back to the 1990 Yugoslav wars. However, infantry rifles as well as systems such as the M79 Osa anti-tank rocket launcher remain effective on the battlefield today.
The shipments reportedly went to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is the group of rebels fighting inside Syria to overthrow Assad. The FSA was formed in July 2011 primarily by former Syrian soldiers, has a loose organizational structure and little command and control, according to numerous sources.
Moreover, several groups fighting with the FSA are affiliated with al-Qaeda. The Al-Nusra front, an Islamist militant faction made up primarily of Sunni jihadists, was recently designated a terrorist organization by the United States. Ahrar al-Sham is another jihadist group fighting with the FSA, considered more moderate than Al-Nusra, but still seeking an Islamic state in Syria.
U.S. officials admit Islamists fighting with Syrian rebels complicate the situation, and numerous outlets say there is growing dissent between Islamist and secular fighters in Syria. Additionally, in early March, Islamist rebels in Syria who boasted of their al-Qaeda ties posted a YouTube video showing their recent capture of SCUD missiles
Even more troubling, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford has stated that al-Nusra Front terrorists fighting against Assad in Syria are essentially one and the same as the al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) terrorists that killed large numbers of U.S. military personnel.
“The Assad regime’s brutality has created an environment inside Syria that al-Qa’ida in Iraq is working hard to exploit. In an effort to establish a long-term presence in Syria, AQI is trying to rebrand itself under the guise of a group called al-Nusrah Front,” Ambassador Ford is quoted as saying.
Under NDAA of 2012 Section 1021, which President Obama signed on December 31, 2012, the President’s authority under the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) includes the power to arrest and indefinitely detain any U.S. citizen or non-citizen “who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”
The controversial indefinite detention provisions of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) allow for the military arrest and indefinite detention of anyone, anywhere on the planet, who provides support to al-Qaeda or “associated forces”.
Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson last February clarified the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the NDAA “associated force” clause of the arrest and detention provisions:
- “An ‘associated force,’ as we interpret the phrase, has two characteristics to it: (1) an organized, armed group that has entered the fight alongside al Qaeda, and (2) is a co-belligerent with al Qaeda in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. In other words, the group must not only be aligned with al Qaeda. It must have also entered the fight against the United States or its coalition partners. Thus, an “associated force” is not any terrorist group in the world that merely embraces the al Qaeda ideology.” – Jeh Johnson, Department of Defense General Counsel, February 22, 2012
Now that the weapons airlifted into Syria are on the ground, what happens to them is largely out of the hands of those who shipped them into the country.
While unlikely that President Obama would order the arrest of himself or members of his own cabinet, the wording of the NDAA suggests Obama may be breaking the law with the shipment. The close association between the FSA and al-Qaeda affiliates means that the United States, and President Obama, are effectively arming terrorists.
Following the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, the Obama Administration worked hard to protect the names of high level officials, possibly including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who were behind the scheme which armed Mexican drug cartels and left hundreds of Mexicans as well as several Americans dead.
Now, it appears the U.S. is at least complicit in arming al Qaeda.
Arming Mexican drug cartels can theoretically (not always practically) get someone arrested, but does not subject them to NDAA indefinite military detention. Sending weapons that logically will end up in the hands of terrorists who killed U.S. troops in Iraq is a bold gamble by the Saudis, and their collaborators in the Obama administration and elsewhere.
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