Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 06/2014

Indecisive Inter-Rebel Fighting in Syria Benefits the Regime

Jeffrey White

January 2014

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy


The outbreak of serious fighting earlier this month between jihadist militants and a loose alliance of more moderate rebel factions represents a potentially critical stage in the Syrian conflict. This war-within-a-war reflects all the complexity of the wider rebel struggle against the Assad regime: many different groups engaged, murky and shifting relationships among the players, confusing battles with ambiguous outcomes, and the jumbling of forces on the ground. At the same time, fighting continues between rebel and regime forces, sometimes on virtually the same ground simultaneously. The inter-rebel conflict is the war's most important military development since Hezbollah's direct intervention in spring 2013. How and when it will end is unclear -- at present, it appears to be protracted, costly, and of most benefit to the regime. Yet the United States can still influence the outcome favorably by aiding the moderate elements fighting the extremists.