WASHINGTON — As international diplomacy continues on the Syria crisis, the battle in the country between various rebel groups and the Syrian government rages. Rebels are varied and divided among several factions with differing agendas. All have the goal, however, of ousting the government of Bashar al-Assad.
They have sworn allegiance to al-Qaida.
The fighters of Jabhat al-Nusra are among the best trained and armed in Syria.
The U.S. says they are terrorists.
Many fought against American soldiers in neighboring Iraq.
A commander goes by the alias Sheikh Abu Ahmed “People like me used to pray in the mosque five times a day, and before the revolution, the Syrian regime considered this as a crime. Because of this we were arrested, captured many times and tortured by the regime’s branches. For this reason we are against the regime from the bottom of our hearts,” he said.
Some al-Qaida links
Jihadi fighters like those from al-Nusra are one of the reasons the U.S. has been reluctant to send weapons to Syria.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, “This is an imperfect situation. There are no good options here. This is complicated. There is no clarity.”
U.S. officials say there are up to 100,000 Syrian rebels trying to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Between 15 and 25 percent are linked to al-Qaida.
But U.S. officials say moderates make up the largest share of Assad's opposition.
U.S. President Barack Obama said, "The majority of the Syrian people - and the Syrian opposition we work with - just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom."
Free Syrian Army
Many rebels who fight under the banner of the Free Syrian Army have defected from the Syrian military.
An unnamed commander said, “I was a sergeant-major before I defected. After witnessing tyranny of Assad’s gang, I wanted to defend this country until the last drop of my blood, God willing.”
The use of chemical weapons in the conflict seemingly outweighs the U.S. concern about extremists. It's the major reason Obama initially proposed a military strike.
“It’s true that some of Assad’s opponents are extremists. But al-Qaida will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death,” said the president.
Islamists in picture
Some jihadi groups, like Ahrar al-Sham, have staged spectacular attacks - usually with car bombs.
But analysts say most Syrians have no desire to live in a country ruled by Islamic law.
Former CIA officer turned analyst Reuel Marc Gerecht said that is unlikely. “I deeply doubt that small jihadi organizations, even numbering 10 or 20 thousand, are sufficient to dominate in a post-Assad Syria.”
So while diplomats discuss what to do about Syria’s chemical weapons,
The deadly and complicated civil war continues.