On Wednesday morning, Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani, the leader of the Al-Nusra Front, one of the rebel Syrian groups involved in the struggle against President Bashar al-Assad’s administration, pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The announcement by al-Jawlani exemplifies American hesitation of supporting the Syrian rebels – fears that terrorist groups have been present in the struggle and that such support, through aid or weapons, for example, might end in their hand. However, the announcement also exemplifies one of the greatest issues that President Obama’s administration has failed to acknowledge or take action on, and that might create a detrimental situation in the long-term – by not taking action on the issue of Syria, the U.S. might allow it to become a hotbed for terrorists groups and jihadist warriors from across the globe. Most recently, coalition fronts such as the Syrian National Council (SNC) have been created by politicians in the opposition with the prospects of organizing and planning for life after Assad. Supporting a group such as the SNC presents the best course of action for the United States to avoid the establishment of terrorist groups in Syria and the consequences that would have, both regionally and globally.
Secretary of State John Kerry stated in February that the U.S. was committed to providing $60m in aid to the Syrian National Council (SNC), the coalition of rebel groups that seek to stand oust Bashar al-Assad. Kerry claimed that Assad has “long ago lost his legitimacy”, recognizing the plight of the Syrian people as the death toll rises from the 70,000 that were reported to have died from the conflict by the United Nations, and estimates of displaced people are between 500,000 to 1 million, with refugee camps having been set in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. However, this sum was deemed as “good but not good enough” by the SNC, yet the United States has not made any attempt to provide more aid. The fact that Washington did provide aid makes it clear that it is aware of the horrific situation of Syrian citizens and is willing to provide help, yet its lack of commitment demonstrates its fears of aiding the rebels due to the uncertainty in who will indeed be receiving this assistance. As logical as these fears are, the U.S.’s lack of action and support for the rebels has contributed to the lack of a clear leadership among the insurgents, and this lack of direction under a worthy leadership has facilitated the entrance and establishment of terrorist groups like Al-Nusra and ironically, has led to the very consequence the Americans feared.
Although the United States’ fears of providing aid to rebels for the possible consequences of such aid ending up with terrorist groups is a legit fear, Washington needs to see that its inaction is having the consequence it so seeks to avoid, as the Syrian rebels have failed to establish a strong, united leadership and have therefore allowed for terrorist groups to become involved in the Civil War. Yet, the presence and growth of the SNC provides a legitimate group to lead the rebels both politically and on the ground. President Obama must seize the opportunity the Syrian National Council gives as a possible political leader to support it in its bid to lead the nation into a future without Assad. By providing significant aid to such a group, the United States would avoid groups such as Al-Nusra to first infiltrate Syria and then to ally themselves with major terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.