The Washington Post

Syria’s opposition groups are growing, but does that help the U.S.?

The New York Times reports today that the CIA has set up shop in southern Turkey to help allies determine which Syrian opposition fighters will get automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and antitank weapons to fight the Assad regime.

The report also says the Obama administration is contemplating providing intelligence materials such as satellite imagery, as well as “considering whether to help the opposition set up a rudimentary intelligence service.”

According to Jeffrey White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the numbers of rebel factions are rapidly growing.

Jeffrey White, a defense analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who tracks videos and announcements from self-described rebel battalions, said there were now about 100 rebel formations, up from roughly 70 two months ago, ranging in size from a handful of fighters to a couple of hundred combatants.

“When the regime wants to go someplace and puts the right package of forces together, it can do it,” Mr. White said. “But the opposition is raising the cost of those kinds of operations.”

No doubt, the number of groups will continue to climb if support continues to increase. That’s presumably what the administration wants — a better prepared and growing opposition could mean the U.S. does not have to become militarily involved in Syria.

But the growth of Syrian rebel groups might only make the administration’s decisions that much more difficult in the event the Assad regime falls. One of the primary arguments for not taking military action in Syria is the unknown: Which rebel group would take over the country’s governance in the absence of an Assad regime? It’s a question that only becomes more difficult to answer as the rate of groups sharply increases.

Allen McDuffee writes about politics and policy and covered think tanks for The Washington Post from 2011 to 2013. He freelances and hosts a podcast at and is currently working on a book about the influence of think tanks in Washington.


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