Syria’s ‘Moderate’ Rebels Suffer Defections to ISIS

Opposition Aims to Bring Free Syrian Army Under Political Control

Loudly endorsed by the US for years as their “vetted, moderate” rebels of choice, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is courting the United Arab Emirates for increased funding, saying it needs help as it aims to “reform.”

The FSA has a much smaller footprint across Syria than it once did, having lost virtually all of its territory to rival rebels, and seeing mass defections, including large numbers joining ISIS.

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the self-proclaimed government-in-exile based in Turkey, aims to reform the FSA under more direct political control, and is waving the prospect of using them against ISIS as an effort to get more foreign subsidies.

Yet the FSA and other factions just got done signing a non-aggression pact with ISIS on Friday, and it’s hard to imagine the group’s fighters will willingly break that for foreign aid, particularly when they’re so dramatically outmatched by ISIS fighters at every turn.

The FSA’s ability to recruit and keep fighters seems to be heavily weighed down by the group’s lack of success so far, as the group has not shown itself to be particularly adept at anything but currying favor with Western nations, and what arms its obtained from them are quickly distributed to other factions, which do all the heavy combat.

The United Arab Emirates has joined the US coalition against ISIS, and could likely use sending some funding to the FSA as its excuse that it is “doing something” as a coalition member. It is hard to imagine, however, that any amount of money could turn the FSA into a major faction on the ground.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.