Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) members at a camp in the countryside of the northern Idlib province on August 14, 2018. | Photo: Omar Haj Kadour / AFP
CAIRO, Sept 12: Seventeen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US government, and media outlets have decided that Al-Qaeda is now a rebel group worthy of our sympathy. The cynical narrative change is par for the course, experts told RT.
As somber newspaper headlines mark the anniversary of the devastating attacks, some commentators have pointed out that the terrorist group accused of murdering 3,000 Americans seventeen years ago is now occupying northeastern Syria – with the US threatening to take military action if the "rebels" are evicted from the region by the Syrian army and its allies
The United States has spent an estimated $1.5 trillion on its Global War Against Terrorism, launched in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, but the United States now seems to find itself providing diplomatic cover – not to mention excellent press – to the terrorists that it once vowed to eradicate.
The majority of Syria's Idlib province is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a State Department-designated terrorist group that is regarded as indistinguishable from Al-Qaeda. But the US has signaled that it will respond militarily to any efforts by Damascus to evict the internationally-recognized terrorist group from its last stronghold in Syria, with the New York Times even fawning over the jihadists as "a de facto governmental authority, facilitating trade across the long border with Turkey and organizing aid deliveries." What happened?
Even as social media fills up with maudlin GIFs vowing to "Never Forget" the September 11 attacks, one of the reasons that Al-Qaeda has been able to remain in Idlib is because Americans have actually "forgotten," analysts say.
A lot of time has passed since 9/11. They got Osama bin Laden and people have moved on, and they have other issues that they're focusing on," former Pentagon official Michael Maloof told RT. According to Maloof, many Americans are now preoccupied with domestic scandals like "Russian collusion," and they're "not focused on the extent to which the Trump administration is providing backing and support to Al-Qaeda today in Syria. And it's really tragic."
However, those who are paying attention are "tired of the lies," Willy Wimmer, a former state secretary to the German defense minister, told RT.
"I think the public in the West is tired of the lies of their own government concerning Al-Qaeda, or other terrorists groups." He noted that it's an open secret that the US, UK, France, Saudi Arabia and Gulf states provide direct and indirect support to "rebel" groups that under normal circumstances would be considered terrorists.
What's the endgame?
But what does the United States hope to gain from deterring an attack on Al-Qaeda's last enclave in Syria?
Washington's threats of military action are a way of preserving a "modicum of influence" in Syria, Maloof said. "The US is looking at Idlib and support for Al-Qaeda to maintain influence and try to deflect attention away from domestic problems."He added that the US is using the excuses of "humanitarian disaster and chemical weapons" to justify its military activity in the country.
"They're going to go kinetic if there's an attack in Idlib," Maloof predicted.
Wimmer warned against trying to overthink Washington's shocking change of heart concerning Al-Qaeda. "You can't look at US foreign policy under logical terms," he said.
"These groups are used to topple whole regions, not only Syria but also other countries, and at the end we fight against a threat that was organized by our own governments. And I think people are tired of this."
He noted that the US has "danced on its own argument" by accusing Russia of using anti-terrorism operations as a false pretext for getting militarily involved in Syria, adding that unlike Russia and Iran's presence in the country, "under all legal terms, there is no justification for a US presence in Syria under international law."