No end in sight for Syrian battleground

The emergence of groups like Jabhat al-Nusra are creating a new reality on the ground in Syria

The latest gains made by the rebels in Taftanaz military airbase highlight a new strategy: the rebels are going after targets where the potential for substantial capture of weapons and ammunitions is high, a move not without risks though. 

Short on weapons and tired of waiting the west deliver military aid, Syrian rebels  say they will take their destiny into their own hands. 

But that means a protracted conflict with more casualties and more destruction. 22 months into the conflict, there are no indications the regime is on the verge of collapse or that the rebels may ever be defeated no matter what forces Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is amassing or weapons he might be using in the future.

On the ground there is a new reality that may shape the future of the country. 

Fighters from the Nusra Front and the Islamic Forefront are gaining credence among the rebels.

They are disciplined and are at the forefront of the fighting in most of the country. Feared by regime troops, widely respected by the local population, their meteoric rise overshadows the Free Syrian Army. 

The US has branded the Nusra as a terrorist organisation, a decision with huge implications for the rebels. They know that they may never get weapons from the West as long as the Nusra is in Syria. But there is nothing the Syrian Coalition, a loose umbrella of opposition groups, can do about it. 

If they clamp down on Nusra, they risk a backlash, but inaction is also counterproductive. It will reinforce Western perceptions that the opposition and its military wing FSA are ineffective. 

What next

Prospects of a negotiated political settlement in Syria are waning. The opposition insists Assad must step down before they join a transitional government. a prerequisite rejected by Assad and his main ally Russia. 

Rebels, activists are all convinced war will continue until one party achieves a decisive victory. But neither can given the fact that the rebels control most of the countryside and Assad loyalists hold sway in the cities. 

Government troops enjoy massive air superiority and they will continue airstrikes wreaking havoc on civilians and cities. 

The rebels are likely to expand their control in the north taking over more airfields and government positions, enough to generate more momentum but not defeat Assad completely. 

Where does the West stand? 

Journalists, pundits, the rebels themselves are bewildered by the position of major powers.   They all say Syria is not Libya and that a military intervention is absolutely not an option. But the perils of this approach according to many Syrians I have been talking to is that “violence will spiral out control at a heavy price and Thousands will die, more villages and cities will be destroyed, and extremism will gain more ground”. 

In a recent trip to a refugee camp in Kilis, the same fears were reverberating again and again, Yaser from Jisr al Shughour told me “It’s a shame nobody is willing to help us… we only want to go back home”.