The rise and fall of one of the Syrian opposition’s most powerful commanders

The Washington Post reports: In Syria’s chaotic and increasingly radicalized revolution, one man stood out for having resolutely moderate views, a large following and, it was widely whispered, the support of the United States and its allies.

Jamal Maarouf, a former day laborer who until recently was one of northern Syria’s most powerful commanders, had been held up by the Syrian opposition as a model rebel leader who shunned extremism and was among the first to take up arms against the Islamic State.

He had also, however, established a reputation as a warlord, whose fighters exacted tribute at checkpoints and spent more time engaged in the lucrative smuggling businesses he operated than waging war.

When the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra group forced him to flee his headquarters in the picturesque Jabal Zawiya mountains of northern Idlib province in November, Maarouf found himself with few friends. About half of his men remained behind, preferring to accommodate the invaders than fight for their leader. Moderate allied groups declined to respond to his pleas for help. So did the U.S.-led coalition, which failed to answer e-mails sent by the Syrian opposition requesting airstrikes against his attackers. [Continue reading…]

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