Reports from Syria say the country’s government fighters are becoming increasingly weak, as several rebel groups begin US-backed training.
According to the The Washington Post, “an unexpectedly cohesive rebel coalition called the Army of Conquest” has risen in the last month and managed to roll back President Bashar al-Assad’s troops in several of its strongholds. The alliance comprises the al-Qaida-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra together with a constellation of smaller Islamist and secular battalions. It is reportedly focused on beating back Assad’s army as well as the Islamic State terror group. (RELATED: Oil Man May Be The Shady Bridge Between ISIS And Syrian Government)
Since coming to power in January, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has strengthened relations with Turkey and Qatar, which help to bankroll rival insurgent groups to those that Saudi Arabia supports. His government’s high-profile, if controversial, campaign of airstrikes against Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen has elevated his credibility among regional leaders who oppose Assad’s continued rule in Syria. Iran, which also supports Assad in Syria, has vehemently opposed Saudi actions in both countries.
While the capital of Damascus remains solidly under Assad’s control, the coalition’s capture of the city of Idlib several weeks ago was quickly followed by a move toward Lattakia, in the president’s own home province. Damascus was also threatened several weeks ago when IS forces briefly took over a refugee camp just miles away from the city. (RELATED: Syria’s Assad Still Denies Killing Syrians, Says He Has ‘Public Support’)
Meanwhile, training has begun for a US-backed rebel force to push against Islamic State, as the group continues to hold significant territory in eastern Syria and western Iraq. After spending 10 months in preparation for the start of training, US officials are now downplaying their hopes for the force, telling Reuters that a “reluctant” President Barack Obama has not yet decided whether to support the rebels with U.S. military strength.
The training effort was conceived to complement the ongoing unauthorized American bombing campaign against Islamic State militants. But once the hundreds-strong group is trained, and forced to contend against IS as well as Assad’s forces and the Saudi-backed “Army of Conquest,” the U.S. may wind up leaving it alone and hope for the best.
As one rebel commander told Reuters, “You can’t throw a man who can’t swim into the sea and ask him to swim.”
While Obama backed Assad’s ouster soon after the Syrian civil war began in 2011, increasing radicalization among anti-Assad forces has kept the U.S. from enforcing its demands. But the rise of IS, Assad’s continued atrocities against civilians, and greater involvement in Syria by other countries may soon force American policymakers into the grim choice of military commitment.
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