McGurk later stated that the efforts by foreign governments, including the U.S., “to send in tens of thousands of tons of weapons and looking the other way as foreign fighters come into Syria may not have been the best approach. Al Qaeda has taken full advantage of it and Idlib now is a huge problem.”
Watch | Top U.S. counterterrorism official calls Idlib “largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11″
McGurk’s characterization of Idlib as an “Al Qaeda safe haven” has also been reported on by the mainstream U.S. press. For instance, last February, The Washington Post published an article that stated that Idlib, “the biggest surviving rebel stronghold in northern Syria,” was “falling under the control of Al Qaeda-linked extremists.” One of the rebels quoted in the Post article stated that Al-Qaeda-linked radicals “are controlling every aspect of life” in Idlib and that “Al-Qaeda ideology is spreading everywhere.”
That same article went on to report that most rebels have joined one of the two most powerful factions in Idlib: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a coalition formed by Syria’s Al Qaeda branch al-Nusra Front; or the “more moderate” Ahrar al-Sham, a coalition known for being a common battlefield ally of al-Nusra Front. The New York Times wrote in 2015 that Ahrar al-Sham membership included associates of Osama bin Laden.
However, recent statements made by Trump administration officials omit this key fact, despite the fact that the Al Qaeda presence and threat within the Idlib province remains unchanged from last year. In fact, since last year, Al Qaeda’s presence in Idlib has only grown, as Al Qaeda affiliates in other parts of Syria were evacuated to Idlib province as part of several deals negotiated with the Syrian Arab Army that resulted in the surrender of then-rebel-held territories to the Syrian government.
Unsurprisingly, U.S. mainstream media outlets now echo the Trump administration on Idlib, despite their own past admissions that the province is dominated by Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups. For instance, a New York Times article published this past Sunday opened by lamenting that the Syrian government offensive targeting Idlib presented a threat to “rebel fighters and their civilian supporters who rose up more than seven years ago demanding regime change,” noting only in the story’s 21st paragraph that these same “rebel fighters” are “affiliated with Al Qaeda.”
While it may seem striking that the Trump administration would spring to the defense of a known “Al Qaeda safe haven,” government officials have stated in recent months that the U.S.’ objectives in Syria are no longer about fighting terrorism but about countering the “Iranian menace,” as National Security Adviser John Bolton stated in July. Thus, it seems that defending Al Qaeda has become par for the course given the Trump administration’s ultimate goal of targeting Iran, a country that has spent much of the past seven years fighting terrorists like ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria.
Top Photo | Members of the al Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front gesture as they drive in a convoy touring villages in the southern countryside of Syria’s Idlib province, December, 2014. Khalil Ashawi | Reuters
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.