Rebel cooperation in Syrian town shows challenge of isolating Islamists

McClatchy reports: Sophisticated new weapons now in the hands of rebels in north-central Syria underscore how difficult it will be, once more lethal aid begins to arrive, to keep those weapons from Islamist extremists who’ve become key to rebel military advances throughout the country.

Rebels who belong to the Victory Brigade – a group whose alliance with the Hama provincial military council makes it acceptable to U.S. officials who are deciding where aid should go – were giddy as they showed off their new weapons this week. They included Russian-made RPG-27s – shoulder-fired rocket-propelled grenades capable of piercing the armor on the Syrian military’s most advanced tanks – and RG6 grenade launchers, another Russian-designed weapon, this one capable of spewing projectiles that explode on contact.

But the brigade doesn’t fight alone, and a video that another rebel group, the Islamist Ahrar al Sham, posted to YouTube this month showed fighters using the same kinds of weapons in an assault that was coordinated with the Victory Brigade.

“Of course they share their weapons with us,” said Ali Ankir, a spokesman for Ahrar al Sham. “We fight together.”

Indeed, Victory closely coordinated its offensive in December to seize the town of Kfar Nbouda from forces loyal to President Bashar Assad not just with Sham, but also with fighters from the Nusra Front, which the State Department has designated a terrorist organization aligned with al Qaida in Iraq. Nusra and Sham share the goal of establishing an Islamist state in a post-Assad Syria, and unlike Victory they don’t recognize the authority of the Hama military council. [Continue reading…]

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