Michael Stephens writes: In advocating a case for extending UK air strikes into Syria, Prime Minister David Cameron outlined a strategy of targeting so-called Islamic State (IS), paralleled with a diplomatic track in which the main opposition groupings sat down with the Syrian regime and worked out a transition of power.
As part of making the case for a robust diplomatic process, the prime minister noted that as many as 70,000 fighters who did not belong to extremist groups were still committed to fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
The figure has raised eyebrows: there was no clarity offered as to who these fighters are, where they are fighting, and what sort of relationships these moderate groups have to al-Qaeda, and indeed IS.
Many politicians and commentators have outright dismissed the figure as fantastical, feeding into the Russian propagandists’ line that there are no “moderate” rebels left in Syria.
In the past week, a number of analysts have taken up the challenge to identify these rebels. [Continue reading…]