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Powerful Syrian Islamist brigades, frustrated by the increasingly fractured Free Syrian Army (FSA), are joining forces in an attempt to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Reuters reports. A citizen Deir Ezzor, a city in eastern Syria, told The Guardian that Islamist organisations “are the real fighters on the ground” while the FSA there “are only issuing statements” and “stockpiling weapons in the countryside for reasons we don’t understand.”
The man added that there is little coordination among FSA groups because there is “big conflict between the defected officers about who should be the commanders.” Consequently, people are now “more supportive of the jihadi organisations than the FSA.”
The jihadists brigades have decided to come together to form the “Front to Liberate Syria” and one jihadist leader told Reuters they have “more than 40,000 fighters now and the numbers are growing.”
Reuters estimates that a force of that size would represent roughly half of Assad’s armed opponents. That is, the organised half.
This does not bode well for the Western and Gulf nations backing the opposition, which have been hedging their desire to see Assad fall with the prospect of funelling guns and heavy weapons directly into the hands of radical groups like al-Qaeda.
A U.S. or allied-armed opposition could gain victory in two ways: the FSA could defeat Syria’s armed forces and conquer the country, or it could continue to gain strength and dishearten regime stalwarts, leading to mass defections or even a coup that causes the regime to collapse. The FSA would then become the new Syrian army, subordinate to an elected Syrian government, with the mission of ensuring the country remains stable and has protected borders.
That is the hope. The current reality is that the Syrian opposition forces are weak and despite a year of violence are finding it difficult to unite. Sect, ethnicity, region, strategy, and leadership all divide the opposition. … The FSA, for its part, is currently poorly armed, disorganized, and divided from the broader political opposition movement. … Thus, if the United States were to embrace the policy of arming the opposition, a key initial step would be to make the opposition more coherent.
So at this point, success may lead to armed and organised brigades of jihadist rebels competing for influence in the power vacuum that Syria would become.