The Saudi Arabian government has officially thrown in the towel on the hopes that the United States will take the lead in toppling the Assad regime in Syria.
The House of Saud is now training its own fighters to stabilize the situation in Syria. They envision a force of 40,000 to 50,000 Sunni fighters capable of defeating the regime of President Assad and counterbalancing Islamist rebel groups that are affiliated with al-Qaida. King Abdullah has enlisted the help of veteran foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal. and former Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. More troubling, however, is the House of Saud recruiting Pakistan to train Saudi fighters.
If you recall, the covert coalition of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the CIA worked in Afghanistan in the 1980s to assist the Mujahideen against the Soviet Union. The coalition built up the rebels but failed to build a unifying political framework. This set the stage for the Taliban to fill the power vacuum in Afghanistan.
While the pros and cons have been discussed in Riyadh, Saudis with knowledge of the training program describe it as an antidote to extremism and not a potential cause of it. They have described the kingdom’s effort as having two goals: toppling of the Assad regime, and weakening extremist groups in the country. Prince Turki Al-Faisal Al-Saud, the former Saudi intelligence chief and envoy to Washington, said in a recent interview that the mainstream opposition groups must be strengthened so that it could protect itself against “…these extremists who are coming from all over the place” to impose their own ideologies on Syria.
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Didn't Putin just hold talks with Prince Bandar Al-Saud? Anybody know more about that?
Hmmmm, The Pakistanis could probably cut a deal with AQ and numerous domestic Islamist groups. This deal would involve the Pakistanis looking the other way so long as these entities sent fighters to Syria and ceased carrying out operations on Pakistani soil. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if this has already happened. The Pakistanis may even facilitate their domestic jihadists' travel to Syria. At the same time, the Saudis and other Arab states are known to dump domestic radicals into arenas of jihad as a means of getting rid of them. The Saudis are also known for funding Islamists and exporting Wahhabism. I highly doubt the Saudis are looking to establish a tolerant and/or democratic state in Syria.
I have sympathy for you and your clients. Trying to comply and deliver need-based aid is yeoman's work. Years ago, I worked for a firm that did work for corporations working abroad (everything from PMC to foreign aid). Even renting houses and space in a conflict zone is problematic, since knowing exactly who are the good guys and bad guys, or who's receiving your rent check is almost impossible, and the material support law doesn't distinguish between goods and services intended to further terrorist goals. Given that the favorite drinking game of prosecutors is to name a celebrity (i.e., Mother Theresa or Princess Diana) and figure out a plausible way for to indict her for the most obscure crimes possible, the concerns are not trivial. (Haliburton, in fact, has had problems along these lines.)
I have a client which is a domestic nonprofit formed a year and a half ago, they are active in organizing relief for children and other displaced civilians from Syria in Lebanon and Turkey. From what I have gathered, the board members are all naturalized Sunnis from Syria. Although this client is providing only food and housing aid (I hope, and am pretty sure, although it's hard to be absolutely sure - I used to have a nonprofit client delivering aid to south Sudan which I became fairly certain was um, supporting its beneficiaries in a more military fashion which probably did not comply with US exempt org law), it's pretty clear that their sympathies are with the anti-assad camp.
Interesting article. Wondering what will be the outcome from all of this.