The Syrian American Council, America's largest and oldest grassroots Syrian American organization, requests an urgent clarification from Secretary of State John Kerry and Department of Defense spokesman Col. Steve Warren following their grossly incorrect remarks last week on Syrian rebels in Aleppo. On April 20, Col. Warren wrongly asserted that it's "primarily al-Nusra," the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate, that holds Aleppo. Secretary Kerry echoed these remarks two days later by falsely tying a Russian military buildup to "impatience with the terrorists...laying siege to places on their side and killing people."
Contrary to Col. Warren's remarks, top independent military analysis firms agree that the Al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) is at most one of many insurgent groups in Aleppo. As recently as April 11, the military analysis firm Stratfor explicitly stated that "though militants from Jabhat al-Nusra are present, fighters from other groups are too...Russia often labels other militants as being part of Jabhat al-Nusra." An Institute for the Study of War report from February 2016 lists the rebel groups Levant Front (Jabha Shamia), Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Failaq al-Sham, and Fawj al-Awal as "Powerbrokers" in Aleppo, while Nusra is described only as a "Potential Powerbroker."
Even if Col. Warren's assertion were true, Secretary Kerry's remarks can not be justified because he himself gave a very different assessment during the last major Russian escalation in Aleppo in February. Secretary Kerry stated bluntly then that "this has to stop" because "hospitals have been hit, civilian quarters have been hit," correctly identifying that Russia's main targets are civilians. Kerry's assertion that Russia's escalation stems from an "impatience with terrorists...laying siege to places" is especially curious given that no areas in Aleppo Province are currently besieged by rebel forces and given that Assad forces recently massacred 40 civilians in Maarat al-Numan town, which has been protesting Nusra for over a month.
"Recent Obama Administration comments on Aleppo are deeply troubling because they are not only false, they also mimic Russian propaganda that all rebel groups are 'Nusra' and all aid trucks are 'ISIS oil convoys'," said Mohammed Ghanem, the Government Relations Director at the SyrianAmerican Council. "As Russia ramps up its activities in violation of the cessation of hostilities, it seems that the Administration is drifting toward the Russian position when it should hold Russia to account. We call on Secretary Kerry and Colonel Warren to quickly clarify their recent remarks, which will be interpreted in Moscow as a green light and a blessing for another major assault on Aleppo."