Many articles have been recently written on the increasing number of fighters waging active Jihad in Syria, especially those associated with the groups Jabhat al Nusra and Kataib Ahrar al Sham (One of which is the excellent Time article). No one can argue the effect of these groups have had on the unrest. Ever since the first car bombings in Damascus and Aleppo at the turn of 2011/2012 these spectacular attacks highlighted the fallibility of Syrian security forces as well as struck a major physiological blow against the Syrian regime.
But with as many as ten significant Salafi Jihadi groups operating in the Syrian unrest and countless smaller ones, this worrying increase will only pose serious trouble for any future Syria. As was seen in Iraq after the American invasion of 2003, these Jihadi groups can pose the major security threat to the stability of a country.
With Assad’s strong and efficient security forces otherwise engaged with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the distraction has allowed these groups to gain a foothold in a country that has been long on the Jihadi wish list. The FSA while denouncing these extremist groups, especially those connected with Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), has not yet tried to take any practical actions against them, aware that they need all the help they can get in the fight against Assad, including learning tactics from them.
But with the violence increasing and the threat of sectarian violence creeping close, it is the Jihadi groups that are sure to gain from the conflict, most likely at the expense of the FSA. When the dust has settled from the conflict against Assad, will the FSA find a new enemy to combat? One that could prove more resilient than the Baathist regime.
J Robinson – Twitter: @jprobinsons
This Post first appeared on The Old UAR, a blog dedicated to events around the Middle East. It is run by Jonathan Bertman