British Study Finds Half of Syrian Rebels are Hardline Islamic Jihadists

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When the Syrian uprising began in 2011, it was part of the larger Arab Spring movement that swept across the Middle East. However, unlike in Tunisia, Egypt, or Libya, the story did not end for Syrians once summer hit and the world’s attention waned. Instead, it turned into the Syrian Civil War which has raged for over two years and has left up to 100,000 dead. However, with the increased scrutiny of the Syrian situation in light of the chemical weapons attack, more attention is being paid to the conflict than ever before.

A British defense study has discovered that almost half of the Syrian rebel fighters are hardline Islmaic jihadists less interested in toppling Assad’s regime and more interested in the underlying Sunni/Shiite sectarian conflict, according to The Telegraph. Yet, the Syrian Rebel Army is less of an army than it is a loosely-affiliated collection of, according to some estimates, 1000 separate bands of soldiers. 

While operating under myriad names, rebel forces linked to Al Qaeda and other hardline groups align with the Sunni Islamic sect, while Assad’s forces are tied to Hezbollah. Both are enemies of US interests and allies. Thus, the US and other Western alliances have been reticent to aid the Syrian Rebel Army, which has led the embattled group to double-down on the aid they are receiving from the hardliners.

Many of these hardline rebel factions are carrying out vicious attacks that leave little distinction between civilian and military targets. However Aryn Baker, Middle East bureau chief for TIME, reports that the deliberation over a US strike has caused some of the moderate rebels to turn on their hardline allies. Baker suggests, that if the rebels break ties with the hardline groups, this could lead to more willingness from Western Powers to get directly involved.