"The FSA is an army in name only. It is made up of hundreds of small units, some secular, some religious – whether mainstream or radical. Others are family gangs, or simply criminals."
It's dressed up in the usual concern about "extremists", but the NBC News piece lets a few crucial facts slip through the pipeline.
1. There is no Free Syrian Army
The difficulty determining where the FSA’s sympathies lie resides in the fact that it is an army in name only. It is made up of hundreds of small units, some secular, some religious – whether mainstream or radical. Others are family gangs, or simply criminals.
Few media outlets are willing to say that out loud, but it's quite true. There is no Free Syrian Army. It's an umbrella for providing Western aid to a front group run by the Muslim Brotherhood.
2. General Idris is a general of nothing
The “commander” of the FSA, Brig. Gen. Salim Idris, is a former Syrian Army general who defected in July 2012. He is seen as the leader of the most moderate segment of the FSA and under his leadership the group has been receiving limited assistance from the U.S. -- small arms like AK-47s, ammunition, military rations, medical kits and cash, but not much more.
Idris acts more as a chairman of the board than a battlefield commander, offering advice and money to other groups that he feels are benefiting the cause.
This point has been made several times. Idris is basically a politician. He isn't running the war. Putting him out in front of a lot of Salafist commanders is a scam. They're the ones running the war. Not him. He's just another politician funneling money and weapons from the Saudis, the Turks, Qataris and us.
3. There are no moderates
The FSA is by far the largest Syrian rebel force. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain have both estimated the total rebel force in Syria at around 100,000. They claim the hardcore Islamists -- defined as members of two al Qaeda-affiliated groups waging war against Assad -- account for only 10 to 15 percent of that total.
But a senior military official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, disagreed, claiming the percentage of radical Islamic fighters is “way higher than that,” when the definition is expanded beyond the membership of the al Qaeda affiliates. He said Pentagon officials estimate that extreme Islamist groups now constitute “more than 50 percent” of the rebel force, “and it’s growing by the day.”
The funny moderate math depends on classifying Salafists who aren't with Al Qaeda, officially, even if they fight alongside it, in independent groups or the FSA, as moderates.
But what percentage of the brigades are Salafist and can there even be such a thing as a moderate Salafist? According to various analysts, the Syrian Islamic Front is moderate even though its goal is to use violence to create an Islamic state. But compared to hard core Takfiris, it may be considered possibly moderate. But to us that's a technical distinction without a difference.