The Guardian reports: Saudi Arabia is preparing to spend millions of dollars to arm and train thousands of Syrian fighters in a new national rebel force to help defeat Bashar al-Assad and act as a counterweight to increasingly powerful jihadi organisations.
Syrian, Arab and western sources say the intensifying Saudi effort is focused on Jaysh al-Islam (the Army of Islam or JAI), created in late September by a union of 43 Syrian groups. It is being billed as a significant new player on the fragmented rebel scene.
The force excludes al-Qaida affiliates such as the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, but embraces more non-jihadi Islamist and Salafi units.
According to one unconfirmed report the JAI will be trained with Pakistani help, and estimates of its likely strength range from 5,000 to more than 50,000. But diplomats and experts warned on Thursday that there are serious doubts about its prospects as well as fears of “blowback” by extremists returning from Syria. [Continue reading…]