The Free Syrian Army, a moderate militia being trained and equipped by the Obama administration in hopes that it could defeat both ISIS and Syria's secular dictator, was routed by Al Qaeda allies over the weekend, with many of its men and weapons being taken over for the jihadi cause.
Moderate rebels who had been armed and trained by the United States either surrendered or defected to the extremists as the Jabhat al-Nusra group, affiliated with al-Qaeda, swept through the towns and villages the moderates controlled in the northern province of Idlib, in what appeared to be a concerted push to vanquish the moderate Free Syrian Army, according to rebel commanders, activists and analysts.
Jabhat al-Nusra, Sly writes, has been seen by many Syrians as the "less radical" jihadist alternative to ISIS militants, and she adds that it garnered sympathy after it was bombed by the Americans, who have classified Nusra as a terrorist group.
"When American airstrikes targeted al-Nusra, people felt solidarity with them because Nusra are fighting the regime, and the strikes are helping the regime," said Raed al-Fares, an activist leader in Kafr Nabel, in Idlib.
"Now people think that whoever in the Free Syrian Army gets support from the U.S.A. is an agent of the regime," he said.
It's not clear how many Western-trained men and Western-supplied arms fell into the hands of Islamist militants in the fighting, but the defeat leaves Americans with even fewer options than they once had to influence the Syrian conflict. As Brookings terrorism expert Charles Lister told the Post: "This sends a message that Western support doesn't equal success."
[Photo credit: AP Images]