Increasing reports indicate a mounting presence of Islamic terror groups within Syria’s rebel forces, complicating options for Western policymakers to address the Syrian civil war.
According to a report in the New York Times, Islamic groups have provided for basic government and local services such as running bakeries, controlling power plants and providing medical services in rebel-controlled areas.
Local residents have grown to respect the Islamic groups who receive funding and weapons from sympathetic donors from the Arab Gulf states. As a result, Islamic commanders have risen up the Syrian rebel ranks, now controlling many positions in the rebel umbrella group, the Supreme Military Council.
The biggest concern for the West is a U.S.-designated foreign terror group, the Al-Nusra Front, which has direct ties to Al-Qaeda in Iraq and has pledged loyalty to Al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Another prominent terror group is Ahrar al-Sham, which is made up primarily of native Syrians.
“My sense is that there are no seculars,” Elizabeth O’Bagy of the Institute for the Study of War, who has recently interviewed several rebel commanders, told the New York Times.
Recently, the U.S. confirmed intelligence reports that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against the Syrian rebels, corroborating an earlier Israeli intelligence assessment.
U.S. President Barack Obama has previously said that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” for his administration, possibly triggering U.S. military action. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also recently refused to rule out possible Israeli military action in Syria in a BBC interview.