Saudi Arabia's Shadow War to Topple the Assad Regime

(Foreign Policy) David Kenner - Saudi Arabia, having largely abandoned hope that the U.S. will spearhead international efforts to topple the Assad regime, is embarking on a major new effort to train Syrian rebel forces with the help of Pakistani instructors. Saudis described the effort as having two goals: toppling the Assad regime and weakening al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria. Carnegie Middle East Center fellow Yezid Sayigh first noted the use of Pakistani instructors, writing that the Saudis were planning to build a Syrian rebel army of roughly 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers. The effort relies on a network of Saudi allies in addition to Pakistan, such as Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and France. Sayigh wrote that Saudi Arabia is attempting to build "a new national army" for the rebels - a force with an "avowedly Sunni ideology." In addition to its training program in Jordan, Saudi Arabia also helped organize the unification of 50 rebel brigades into "the Army of Islam" under the leadership of Zahran Alloush, a Salafist commander whose father is a Saudi-based cleric. Saudi Arabia has given more aid to Pakistan than to any non-Arab country, according to former CIA officer Bruce Riedel, and also allegedly helped fund Islamabad's nuclear program. "The biggest problem facing the Saudis now is the same one facing the U.S., France, and anyone else interested in helping the rebels: the fragmentation of the rebels into groups fighting each other for local and regional dominance rather than cooperating to overthrow Assad," said David Ottaway, a scholar at the Wilson Center.

2013-11-08 00:00:00

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