Syrian rebel violence complicates debate about US intervention

Updated
A Free Syrian Army fighter takes up a shooting position in Ogiwl, Aleppo, September 8, 2013.
A Free Syrian Army fighter takes up a shooting position in Ogiwl, Aleppo, September 8, 2013.
Hamid Khatib/Reuters

As the Obama administration lobbies for military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a video released Thursday that depicts rebels carrying out brutal acts of violence further complicates the dilemma the opposition forces create for any United States intervention.

In a video obtained by The New York Times, rebels are seen executing seven captured Syrian soldiers. Over two and a half years of civil war has led to a myriad of anti-Assad groups taking up arms and forming a coalition to oust the president. The largest coalition of opposition condemned the killings but admitted in a statement that its command structure does not have control over all anti-Assad military operations, heightening the risks for the type of violence depicted in the video.

The specter of protracted unrest and violence in a post-Assad Syria haunts the debate over American involvement in the civil war.

The video was the first topic raised by Chris Hayes in his interview with Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday night. Would the executioners in the video become “our allies,” Hayes asked. Kerry said no–and that the rebels would be “disadvantaged” by American action, which he claimed would strengthen moderate forces in Syria. “We’re not remotely talking about getting America involved directly in between any of those forces,” he said. “The president is not talking about, uh, assuming responsibility for Syria’s civil war.”

During a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on Tuesday, Kerry said that more moderate elements are gaining power within the Syrian opposition, but there is much U.S.  intelligence that suggests otherwise, Kerry responded to a question about whether al Qaeda had infiltrated opposition forces by saying the movement had “increasingly become more defined by its moderation.” While there may be a moderate coalition of fighters that some U.S. leaders wants to support, there are al Qaeda-linked extremist groups currently operating in Syria.

Any American military action would carry at least some risk of emboldening potential enemies within the opposition’s ranks, something even Kerry acknowledged when he appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. When Rep. Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican, suggested as many as half the Syrian opposition fighters were extremists, Kerry said, “15 to 25% might be in one group or another that we would consider bad guys.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday passed an authorization for the president to take military action. The full Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week.

This story was updated at 9:45 p.m.

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Syrian rebel violence complicates debate about US intervention

Updated