FSA commanders say that for more than a year they have been warning that such a situation could arise.
“Our hell cries fell on deaf ears,” Abboud said as he sipped coffee in a hotel cafe in the Turkish town of Antakya.
He said the FSA’s leadership is doing what it can to counter the rise of the ISIS, including trying to unify moderate groups. He spoke of newly signed mutual-defense agreements and new legions of fighters, but he didn’t appear hopeful.
“To be honest,” he said, “this is all still theoretical.”
Meanwhile, groups with a more Islamist bent, such as the al-Tawhid Brigade, one of the country’s most powerful rebel factions, are moving away from the Western-backed rebel leadership, Abboud said. He cited a new Islamist alliance, announced last month as a repudiation of the Western-backed leadership, which brought together al-Tawhid, Jabhat al-Nusra and nine other rebel groups.
Rebel leaders were once concerned that teaming with extremist factions would reduce their chances of receiving support from the West, he said. But without significant Western support, he said, that concern no longer exists.
While the rebel leadership, known as the Supreme Military Council, blames lack of funding, some rebels say the problem lies within the organization itself.
They are hopeful that the Islamist alliance might be able to muster more support from the gulf region and distribute it more efficiently.
“The council is useless,” said Mohammed al-Qusair, a Turkey-based activist. “Anything that replaces them will be better.”