The Obama Administration is arguing that Russia’s new Syrian military campaign in support of the Assad regime has not been targeted on the Islamic State, but rather on the non-ISIS Syrian opposition to the Assad regime.
That U.S. response is superficially accurate, but deliberately misleading. Although the Russians are not focusing on targets in ISIS-controlled territory, there is a very good reason for that.
The reason is that it is not ISIS, but the forces aligned with al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, Jabhat al-Nusra or al-Nusra Front, that pose the most immediate threat to the very existence of the Assad regime.
U.S. statements, from government and media sources alike, strongly imply that it was the U.S.-backed “moderate” Syrian groups opposed to the Assad regime that are being attacked.
But this framing of the issue fundamentally mis-represents the situation in Syria.
First, it conjures up a non-existent powerful U.S.-backed “moderate” force, while diverting attention from the real threat posed by al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise.
Second, the Russians are not hitting some imaginary set of “moderate” Syrian armed groups opposing the Assad regime. They are overwhelmingly focused on targeting the military command in which al-Nusra Front is the central strategic force.