In Their Own Words: US intelligence on AQI and the Syrian War

The DoD Document from 2012:

Numerous bloggers have already reported on the DoD Intelligence Report from 2012 [1] that was recently obtained through a FOIA request and published by Judicial Watch a few weeks ago.   In fact so many people wrote about it that I wasn’t going to bother.   Until I noticed something, a quote that kept showing up in the reports, that is contradicted by earlier government documents related to Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).    So I’m going to have my say after all.

If by some chance, you aren’t aware of the document I am talking about, it is an intelligence report from 2012 that predicts much of the current situation in Iraq and Syria; in particular, the circumstances around the development of ISIS.    It states many ‘facts’ that are openly stated and discussed in much of the alternative media at present.  It says that  “The salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” with “The West, the Gulf Countries and Turkey supporting the opposition; while Russia, China and Iran support the regime.  None of this is new at this point, but it validates what some of us have been saying for some time.  The West, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates and Turkey have been supporting an insurgency in Syria driven by the salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and local Al Qaeda affiliates.

It goes on to say that “AQI is familiar with Syria; AQI trained in Syria then infiltrated Iraq“.   Keep this point in your mind as I am going to come back to it.   Also, “AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning.” and “AQI conducted a number of operations in several Syrian cities under the name ‘Jaish al Nusra'”. These latter points validate what some of us have been saying.   Both President Obama and Vice President Biden have also said as much, though not until 2014.

The document then talks about the Iraq Syria border, noting that by focusing it’s forces on more populated areas in the west, the Syrian government left the Iraq border unguarded.    There is some gobbledygook anti-Assad analysis around this point in the document, but it is clearly a sensible policy for a force that cannot control the entire area of the country to focus on the more densely populated areas.   The document, however,  focuses on the area as including Mosul and Ramadi in Iraq, and Deir Ezzor and Raqqah in Syria, which is the current domain of ISIS. Further, it points out that the area on both sides of this border is a vast desert with some mountain ranges and  “lacks transportation routes with the exception of the international highway and a few cities.”

It identifies the population here as a tribal society with cross border familial and tribal affiliations.   This would imply a certain lack of respect for the international border which would provide a good location for cross border smuggling, a point that is duly noted.   Then it says “Their sectarian affiliation unites the two sides when events happen in the region.”   But this contradicts earlier statements which say it is their tribal and family affiliations that unite them.   This is typical of the United States policy of lumping all alliances and affiliations in the region into sectarian (i.e. Sunni vs Shia) formulations.  Then it says that “AQI had major pockets and bases on both sides of the border which it used to facilitate the flow of material and recruits.”   Finally it notes “a regression of AQI in 2009 and 2010.”

The document predicts a situation much like the one that his developed over the last year.  It predicts the spread of ISIS through the above described area in Iraq and Syria, even using the language of ‘Caliphate’ and ‘Islamic State’ which currently identify ISIS and the region it controls.  .

Earlier Research by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point

To give some depth to this analysis, we can turn to a couple of earlier research reports obtained by Tony Cartalucci a year or more ago.    These reports,  Al Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq, a preliminary report published in late 2007, and Bombers, Bank Accounts and Bleedout: Al Qa’ida’s road in and out of Iraq, published in 2008, are research papers produced by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.   They are based on analysis of documents from an abandoned AQI base on Mt. Sinjar,  (kind of interesting given that they returned there and drove out the local Yazidi Kurds on their way to Mosul last year) where they received and deployed foreign fighters is coming in through Syria.   These research reports probably provided the basis for the later analysis in 2012.

The reports document how many AQI recruits originated from various countries, with Libya and Saudi Arabia topping the list.   Most recruits  did not travel directly to Damascus or Aleppo, but rather came by way of Egypt, Turkey or Jordan, before entering Syria.   What little information there is on time of stay in Syria indicates that recruits generally did not spend any time there beyond that necessary to meet their contacts and proceed to the Iraq border.  There were a number of recruits coming directly from Syria, mostly from the border region and the areas where the opposition forces initially arose in 2011, Dara’a, Hama, Idlib,  and Deir Ezzor.   There were only one recruit listed from Damascus and one from Aleppo.

The reports conclude that the foreign fighters coming through Syria to join AQI were being trafficked through an informal network of mercenaries and low-level government functionaries on the take, and that the Syrian central government was likely tracking some of this activity but was not directly involved.     The cross border tribes, already accomplished smugglers were at the center of this operation.

This takes us back to the statement from 2012 document that told you to remember:

“AQI trained in Syria [in the mid-2000s] and then infiltrated into Iraq”

The earlier document contradicts this statement.   I want to draw attention to this because the statement has been repeated over and over by those reporting on the document, which generally confirms our own analysis, but without careful consideration to details.   This is important because the statement would give credence to the U.S. assertions that Syria was a hotbed of Sunni unrest and already falling into a civil war during the first part of the Iraq war.   There is no indication that this was the case and we need to be careful not to inadvertently give it credence.    These earlier reports based on hard data indicate that, at least as of 2008, AQI was not training in Syria, but rather, they were just using the open border and the presence of a ready-made smuggling/trafficking route there, which was probably, as pointed out in the 2012 report, enlivened by the chaos caused by the ongoing Iraq war.   Business was booming.

Shortly after the final report on the Sinjar documents was released in 2008, the United States sent a Special Forces unit to assault a compound, a family home, in Eastern Syria on the Iraq border near Deir Ezzor.   However, their target was the home of Abu Kamal, the boss of the cross-border smuggling ring, and not a terrorist training camp.     The result was that 8-12 civilians were killed, including women and children.   This operation would indicate that they were taking the intelligence seriously, but somehow not understanding it.   Though the Syrian government complained to the United Nations,something they do regularly when perverse incidents of violence are perpetrated in Syria by the United States and Israel, the U.S. propaganda machine attempted to implicate the Syrian Government in the act and stood by the claim that the attack targeted a nest of terrorists.

Meanwhile,  it seems very unlikely the secular, cautious, Syrian government would not be aware of AQI jihadi  training camps in the country, or that they  would have tolerated such camps operating in Syria.     That is a very different thing from overlooking some smuggling in and out along the borders.  Since, from the very beginning of the Syrian War, the training camps for foreign fighters have been in Turkey and Jordan supported by a well of human resources in Saudi Arabia,  I would wager that’s where they were then as well.   There were also Muslim Brotherhood centers in Egypt, which, although illegal, had the cover in that country of a moderate political organization.

When I first read the 2008 report, I thought, how easy it would be to co-opt a network of this sort to ones own purposes.   In fact, this is one of the obvious conclusions, and is discussed at some length within the report.   These potentials were significantly more far-reaching than the targeting of a smuggling operation on the Iraq-Syria  border after AQI was largely defeated.   Certainly the period in 2009 and 2010 when AQI was quiescent would have presented an opportunity for an intervention, while the presence of Ambassador Robert Ford, who previously served in Iraq with John Negroponte and Zalmay Khalilzad, to Syria in 2010 would have presented a means.

It would seem to me that these reports provide analysis of the fertile ground in which the seeds of the so-called ‘Syrian Revolution’ were planted.   First co-opt the criminal networks and make nice with the fundamentalists dissidents who supported the jihadi ideology.   Their names and locations were provided in the report with enough information to determine which is which.   Then, in 2011, release the leadership from Camp Bucca under the cover of an Iraqi post-war reconciliation  initiative.    According to the 2008 report,there were 251 foreign fighters in Camp Bucca in April of 2008, along with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.    Saudis, Egyptians and Libyans were heavily represented there, along with Syrians.  All the pieces were there to build the basis of the 2011 Syrian insurgency.

Fast Forward to the Present: The Washington Post ran an article on June 12 titled “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cut”, expressing concerns about Congressional efforts to cut a massive CIA program in Syria.  They describe the program as follows:

U.S. officials said the CIA has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years — meaning that the agency is spending roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel who has gone through the program.

The CIA declined to comment on the program or its budget. But U.S. officials defended the scale of the expenditures, saying the money goes toward much more than salaries and weapons and is part of a broader, multibillion-dollar effort involving Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to bolster a coalition of militias known as the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army.

Much of the CIA’s money goes toward running secret training camps in Jordan, gathering intelligence to help guide the operations of agency-backed militias and managing a sprawling logistics network used to move fighters, ammunition and weapons into the country.

We might infer from these reports and the unfolding realities of the war that the  criminal network in Syria now belongs to the CIA, who use it to train fighters and move them into and around the country just as AQI did prior to 2008.   They no longer need to move them across the Iraq border as ISIS controls that border.  They merely have to restrain regional US air forces from bombing ISIS convoys on the 500- 600 km journey across the desert from Raqqah or Deir Ezzor to Mosul and Ramadi.  In fact, it may no longer be necessary or possible to control this network directly at present.  It is possible the logistics of the system that supported ISIS development have mutated and the entity is now self sustaining.


  1.  Pgs. 287-293 (291) JW v DOD and State 14-812 in Judicial Watch Archive
  2. West Point CTC’s Al-Qaida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq
  3. West Point CTC’s Bombers, Bank Accounts and Bleedout: al-Qa’ida’s Road In and Out of Iraq


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