IRBID, Jordan — The main Western-backed Arab rebel group in Syria appears on the verge of collapse because of low morale, desertions, and distrust of its leaders by the rank and file, threatening U.S. efforts to put together a ground force capable of defeating the Islamic State and negotiating an end to the Syrian civil war. “After five years of this war, the people are just tired … and so are our fighters,” said Jaseen Salabeh, a volunteer in the Free Syrian Army, which was formed in September 2011 by defectors from the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Free Syrian Army, or FSA, some of whose members are trained by the Central Intelligence Agency, is the biggest and most secular of the scores of rebel groups fighting the Assad government. Although defeating the Islamic State is the focus of Western attention, the U.S. believes there can be no lasting peace in Syria, and no elimination of the Islamic State there, as long as Assad remains in power. In order to deal with both the Islamic State and the future of Assad, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have brokered a plan to bring the Syrian government, which Russia supports, and all “moderate” rebel groups to the negotiating table in Vienna next month. The aim is to build a coalition to wage a counterterrorism campaign against the Islamic State militants and prepare for democratic elections within the next 18 months. With an estimated 35,000 fighters, the FSA remains the biggest rebel group and is a key element in the U.S. strategy. Islamic State fighters are believed to number about 30,000 but spread over a wider area of both Syria and Iraq.
US-Backed Syrian Rebel Group on Verge of Collapse | Military.com