US-Backed Militia Appoints Former ISIS Member as Commander

( – The Syria Free Army (SFA) has appointed a prior member of ISIS to lead some of its men. The SFA works inside Syria to maintain peace in the region and was primarily responsible for beating ISIS in a civil war in the country years ago. The announcement on Facebook thanked Col. Farid al-Qasim for his 16 months of service while hailing the arrival of Col. Salem Turki al-Antari to the organization.

The SFA works to beat the remnants of ISIS (also called IS or Da’esh). A spokesman for the organization indicated that the change in leadership was routine and not the result of infighting. He elaborated that American authorities weren’t involved in the decision. Another tribal leader from eastern Syria suggested that Qasim was “provoking tribal division,” however.

Antari is from the city of Palmyra and joined up with ISIS in 2014. He fought for ISIS from 2015 through 2017, taking part in the siege of Palmyra by fighting the Syrian Army. In 2017, he became affiliated with the Turkish-supported Syrian National Army (SNA). While with that organization he participated in assaults of Ras al-Ayn, a city in the northeast of the country which remains under siege today.

In 2019, he was incorporated into the SFA and began working under Syrian and U.S. forces. The U.S. is overseeing the training of these converted militants inside the Al-Tanf base. However, it’s unclear if the U.S. is effectively converting militants or simply playing both sides.

Russian officials have repeatedly accused the US of logistically supporting ISIS and maintaining the conflict. Russia has previously hit the Al-Tanf base, and killed militants in the area they consider terrorists.

The Middle East is often an obscure foreign policy miasma of shifting alliances as different administrations or tribal leaders come and go over the years. The CIA has also been accused of using groups like ISIS as proxy forces for covert agenda items. Former defense officials have suggested that small teams of operators under US control have regularly tinkered in the internal politics of countries like Syria under the guise of “counter-terrorism.”

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