By Col. Richard H. Black (ret.), Virginia state senator, 13th District
A massive army of terrorists is marching on the capital of Syria. If it is not stopped, the Army of Conquest will plunder Damascus and declare it the capital of an Islamic State. They will rule a vast and dangerous caliphate, one espousing the ideology of al-Qaida and its founder, Osama bin Laden. Their goal is not Syria; it is to conquer the world.
The Army of Conquest was organized in March of 2015 by America’s so-called “allies,” Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It is led by al Nusra – which is al-Qaida in Syria. It includes powerful Islamist armies like Ahrar al-Sham and battalions linked to the sinister Muslim Brotherhood. Turks and Saudis have effectively applied pressure to coordinate the once squabbling jihadists.
Like competing drug cartels, the Army of Conquest and ISIS share common goals while engaging in a bloody struggle for dominance. Both share the barbaric belief that all who deny puritanical Islam must be murdered, enslaved, raped or dominated through terror. In short, ISIS and the Army of Conquest are a “who’s who” of the world’s most savage terrorists. They march under the dread black and white flag of al-Qaida. Today they drive on Syria; tomorrow – Europe.
The name, “Army of Conquest,” carries deep significance for militant Islamists. Turkey’s President Erdogan dreams of reconstructing the savage Ottoman Empire. In June, he warned political opponents, “We will not give space to those who want to extinguish the fires of conquest burning in the heart of Istanbul for 562 years.” His remarks romanticized one of the darkest crimes in human history. For it was 562 years ago – in 1453 – that Ottoman Turks invaded and dealt a massive blow to Christendom during the Sack of Constantinople. For weeks, they raped and butchered Christians before selling the city’s 30,000 survivors into slavery. They inflicted unspeakable public humiliations on Christian nuns and other women. So vicious was the slaughter that Istanbul – once the heart of Christendom – has almost no Christians today.
The U.S. ostensibly opposes both ISIS and al-Qaida. However, we repeatedly funnel weapons to terrorists under the guise of arming so-called “moderate rebels.” The United States trains militants at camps in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. And from the outset, our rebels have supported jihadists. Sometimes “moderates” serve directly as heavy weapons elements for terrorist armies. At other times, they conveniently abandon vast stores of U.S.-supplied weapons to jihadist armies. Under various covert schemes, since 2011, the U.S. has planned attacks in coordination with known terrorist organizations and has supplied much of the war materiel fueling violent jihad in the Mideast.
As memories fade, it is important to recount that al-Qaida attacked the United States on 9/11. Osama bin Laden, a prominent citizen of Saudi Arabia, created al-Qaida. On Sept. 11, 2001, he dispatched teams of Saudis to highjack four jetliners. Wielding boxcutter knives and yelling “Allah Akbar,” they piloted suicide flights that killed 3,000 of our countrymen. Americans died in blazing holocausts at the Pentagon and Twin Towers. ISIS, al Nusra and al-Qaida in Iraq were all outgrowths of the same al-Qaida that attacked the U.S. Today, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have organized their new Army of Conquest around al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate. The ghost of Osama bin Laden lives on in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Before the Turks and Saudis took firm control of the jihadist armies, Syrian government forces had scored decisive victories in rapid succession. As foreign jihadists were driven out, it appeared that peace might finally come to that war-torn land. But as Turks and Saudis imposed order among the competing terrorists, the tide has shifted. Both ISIS and the Syrian al-Qaida have gained ground.
What does this mean for the West? It is foolhardy to pretend that Syria is the endgame. The Army of Conquest has no intention of stopping with Syria. It shares, with al-Qaida and ISIS, a desire for world domination that flows from puritanical terrorist beliefs. In lands that they conquer, they slaughter those who deny their literal interpretation of the Quran. They intend to force their will upon all of Western civilization – including the U.S. And they intend to do it soon.
They compel captives to renounce Christianity or face death. They employ terror unlike anything in recent memory. Mass executions, beheadings, cannibalization, stoning, amputations and crucifixions are commonplace. Sexual slavery is among their most vile practices. Their interpretation of Shariah law permits jihadists to rape captive girls as young as 9 years old. This very day, Christian and Yazidi women, shackled by chains, are being marched like cattle for sale at organized slave markets in the Islamic Caliphate.
The Druze, a sect supportive of Israel and the West, mobilized recently, after allies of our supposed “moderates” executed 20 of them, forcing villagers to renounce their faith or die. Western media avoids acknowledging these forces as terrorists. But if forced conversions, beheadings, crucifixions, stonings, burnings, child rapes, slavery and mass executions of POWs don’t amount to terror, the word has lost all meaning.
Before the war, Syria was a neutral, nonbelligerent nation. There was no lawful justification for any nation to employ military force against it. Syria’s constitution guarantees total religious freedom and equality between men and women. It guarantees freedom of speech and the press. The president is popularly elected and limited to two seven-year terms in office. In short, Syria has been the freest of all Arab nations. Had it been ruled by Sunnis instead of Alawites, the Turks and Saudis never would have pressured the U.S. into destabilizing its government. Their war created religious divisions where none existed simply as a mechanism to force regime change on Syrians.
If Syrian defenses hold, the U.S. loses nothing. If their defenses fall, al-QaIda gains a strategic Mediterranean stronghold, posing an existential threat to Israel and Western Europe – and increased terrorism against the United States. Already, Italy feels threatened by a growing wave of Libyan immigration. Many of the immigrants are dangerous militants. Boatloads of Libyan refugees have identified Christians in their midst and drowned them by throwing them overboard. In 2011, the U.S. toppled its ally, Col. Gadhafi, in order to seize his weapons to fuel the holocaust in Syria. The resultant vacuum has seen ISIS spread across North Africa, edging ever closer to Europe. Even now, it has begun entering the heart of Europe through Italy.
How did America – a nation once committed to justice, decency, freedom and liberty – become militarily aligned with this evil Army of Conquest? Why do we follow the Turks and Saudis and their Army of Conquest – an army that seeks to purge the world of Christians, Jews, Shiites, Hindus, Buddhists and Yazidis? How can we embrace murderous terrorists whose growing legions seek to conquer and enslave the world?
I’ve seen Americans die in battle, and not one shed his blood so that the Army of Conquest could plunder and enslave Syria. No American sacrificed his life so that Syria’s al-Qaida could compel Christians, Druze and Alawites to renounce their religions or die. None shed blood so that children could become concubines, ravaged by savages. This is not what Americans have fought and died for. The U.S. alliance with terrorists betrays Americans who died at their hands on 9/11. Our covert alliance with the Army of Conquest stains the honor of everyone who wears our nation’s uniform.
We are better than this. It is time to reverse course and recognize that our enemy is not Syria; it is the jihadists whom we now arm and support.
Col. Richard H. Black once supervised military justice throughout the Middle East. He served on the General Staff in the Pentagon, developing Executive Orders for the president’s signature. He represented the Army before Congress and advised the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on issues of national significance. As a Marine helicopter pilot, he flew 269 combat missions in Vietnam. As a forward air controller for the 1st Marine Regiment, he directed over 1,000 fragmentation and napalm bombs against enemy positions. He was wounded and his radiomen were killed attacking enemy positions. Sen. Black is a frequent critic of U.S. policy in the Mideast. In 2015, he was one of three Americans declared an enemy of ISIS. ISIS calls him, “The American Crusader.”