A top strategist at the prestigious U.S. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is crediting al-Qaeda forces in Syria with the resurgence of the rebellion against President Bashar Al-Assad's regime.
"The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks," writes Ed Husain, a Senior Fellow of Middle East Studies with the CFR, which is considered in political circles to be America's most influential foreign-policy think tank.
According to Husain, the participation of the group blamed for the 9/11 attacks has made a significant difference in the military effectiveness of the rebellion. He went on to write:
"By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime's superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now."
In addition, Husain pointed out that the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria is forwarding the rebel charge into Damascus and Aleppo, two of the nation's largest cities. If the current trend continues, "al-Qaeda could become the most effective fighting force in Syria," Husain added.
Husain affirmed these statements in an August 23 column for the CFR. "The Syrian opposition is benefiting hugely from the terrorist organization's determination, discipline, combat experience, religious fervor, and ability to strike the Assad regime where it hurts most," Husain writes. "While exact numbers of jihadist fighters are hard to come by, it is a fact that in every crucial battle of the last three months, from Aleppo to Homs to Deir al-Zor to Damascus, al-Qaeda has been prominent."
In an email response to the Digital Journal, Husain predicted that the jihadi fighters will wield power in a post-Assad Syria. "If by al-Qaeda we mean jihadi Salafis, then yes, they will certainly have a role in a Sunni Muslim-majority Syria," Husain said. "What that role looks like, and how much Salafism, is uncertain."
Such an outcome has caused concern among the minority Christians in Syria, who are fleeing to Lebanon, according to the Los Angeles Times.
When asked about what might happen to the Syrian government's stockpile of chemical weapons if Assad falls, Husain described a number of potential outcomes, but emphasized that the future remains unclear. "The fast-moving and emotion-driven nature of the Syrian conflict means our best guesses could be wrong," he warned.
Husain is only the latest media voice to describe al-Qaeda's involvement in the Syrian uprising. As we reported in June, BBC, the Guardian, and ABC News have all acknowledged that the terrorist group, a current target of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, is supporting rebel forces aimed at toppling Assad.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Times reports that the UK is sending $5 million of financial assistance to the Free Syrian Army. In addition, the CIA has smuggled 14 stinger missiles to Syrian rebels, according to the UK Mirror. Whether these resources are making their way into the hands of Al Qaeda remains to be seen.