ATMEH, Syria – The Syrian civil war is now infused with infighting between northern rebels and the growing prominence of the Islamic Front. The United States and Britain find it hazardous to continue supporting northern rebels with non-lethal military aid. Both countries fear that the aid could be acquired by fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda. The U.S. and Britain have decided to suspend aid to rebels in northern Syria as Islamic groups become more involved in the civil war.
The Islamic Front is a rebel alliance of six major groups assembled for the establishment of an Islamic state and claims no ties to al-Qaeda. The group seized bases spanning the Syria-Turkey border that the northern rebels controlled. These bases consist of warehouses and headquarters. As the Islamic Front gains ground on the northern rebels, aid being seized along with the bases is probable. The warehouse in Atmeh the Islamic Front seized was stocked with equipment and supplies the rebels received from the U.S.
U.S. non-lethal military aid sent to the northern rebels typically contained body armor, communications equipment, night vision goggles and medical supplies. While not lethal, this military aid can provide a strategic advantage. If the Islamic Front were to gain access to the aid intended for the rebels, they would benefit from it. The northern rebels are in a difficult position as their strongholds are taken over by the Islamic Front and have now lost access to aid.
The infighting between the members of the northern rebel group weakens the group and makes it more vulnerable. Dissension within the group allows the Islamic Front and President Bashar al-Assad a greater opportunity to succeed in the civil war. Western supporters are more cautious about providing assistance to the northern rebels as the cohesion among the group breaks down. It was only in April when the U.S. planned to double non-lethal military aid to $250 million for the rebels. Northern rebels will no longer be receiving a portion of that aid at this time.
The Syrian rebels supported by the West are the moderate opposition to the Assad regime. The U.S. foreign policy goal is to strengthen the group and convince Assad to step down from power. However, the achievement of that goal has two major roadblocks the U.S. will have to address. One major roadblock is the al-Qaeda affiliated groups are getting stronger along with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The second major roadblock is the northern rebels are splintering as some commanders leave the group to start coalitions of their own.
The U.S. now focuses on determining how much aid is currently controlled by the northern rebels and the best way to support the Syrian people. Rebels in southern Syria will still receive U.S. non-lethal military aid through Jordan. Humanitarian aid will also continue as scheduled because international and non-governmental organizations distribute it.
Islamic militants have not attained British aid as far as Britain knows at this time, but Britain has suspended aid as a precaution while it examines the situation in northern Syria. Britain has provided £20 million worth of non-lethal military aid to the Syrian rebels. British aid consists of 4×4 vehicles, body armor, communication equipment, generators, water purification kits and protective equipment against chemical weapons.
The Syrian civil war is in its third year, with a death toll of over 100,000 lives lost. Assad has yet to relinquish control and remove himself from power. The civil war is more convoluted as fighters with al-Qaeda ties join the conflict and other groups edge out the rebels up north.
– Brittany Mannings
Sources: Time, NBC News, New York Times, BBC