- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Islamist rebels in Syria, the lead force in the armed opposition, would benefit from a U.S. bombing campaign against the Syrian regime and advance their goal of seizing power in Damascus, analysts said Wednesday.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who advocates tough actions against Syria and its ally Iran, said the emergence of Sunni Muslim extremists means the Obama administration must publicly align itself more strongly with the Free Syrian Army, headed by a former general who defected from the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Gen. McInerney said the Free Syrian Army, which is tied to a handful of effective militias, is the best credible check against growing jihadist forces.

“All the others are either radical Islamists or Muslim Brotherhood or al Qaeda,” he told The Washington Times.

The Obama administration in 2012 endorsed an umbrella group that includes the Free Syrian Army.

The Congressional Research Service reported this summer, “As of June 2013, Sunni extremist groups appear to be increasingly active in Syria, including groups sympathetic to or affiliated with Al Qaeda.”

This year, extremists have attempted to take over territory with force and by establishing municipal services, food aid, hospitals and Islamic, or Shariah law, courts.

About that time, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri issued statements calling on terrorists to create a “jihadist Islamic state” in Syria.

List gets longer

The list of Islamic groups fighting to overthrow Mr. Assad, and install some type of Islamic government, gets longer.

There is the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, perhaps the largest Islamic group at tens of thousands of members. It includes the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria as well as hard-line Salafist Sunni Muslims.

There is the Syrian Islamic Front, which encompasses a powerful fighting force called Ahrar al-Sham.

And there are two violent al Qaeda-linked groups: the Al Nusra Front, which numbers about 6,000; and the Islamic State of Iraq, which is fighting a two-front war against the government in Syria, as well as Iraq.

“Even if that’s true — that Islamic groups dominate the opposition — the organization and coordination of forces aligned with U.S. interests are still the most capable of pushing through,” said Joe Kasper, spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, who toured the region this week.

“And it’s all the more reason to provide the right actors with the small arms and training to effectively remove the Assad regime.”

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