The kidnapping of two Western journalists in northern Syria last month by foreign jihadists seems to affirm the Obama administration’s worst fears: Radical foreign fighters are entering the fray, bringing the potential to aggravate the conflict and further destabilize the region.
With analysts estimating the presence of 200 or more extremist fighters in Syria, Washington has stuck to its policy of not providing arms to the Syrian opposition. In addition, U.S. President Barack Obama signed a secret decree earlier this year authorizing the CIA to help guide weaponry provided by Saudi Arabia and Qatar into the right hands -- moderate, military defectors within the Syrian opposition. These initiatives are a step in the right direction, but the U.S. and its key regional ally, Turkey, need to do more to stop the radicalization of the Syrian conflict.
With the Free Syrian Army (FSA) making gains in northern Syria, transit routes from Turkey have brought an increasing number of foreign jihadists into the country. For now, these groups are tolerated by the opposition and are in some cases seen as an asset in the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. According to one FSA military coordinator in Aleppo, jihadist fighters “are like the revolution’s elite commando troops.”