This is an admission of defeat and failure: the fading Western powers are tacitly admitting that the secular groups in Syria are finished. Yes, the same secular groups that just weeks ago they were confidently assuring the world were firmly in control.
"Britain holds first face-to-face talks with Islamists fighting Assad," by Richard Spencer for the Telegraph, December 4:
Britain and its western allies have held their first face-to-face talks with Islamist factions fighting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, including militant groups demanding a hardline Sharia state, as the secular forces they previously backed lose ground.
The meeting was held in the Turkish capital, Ankara, officials said, as the western alliance grows increasingly alarmed by the strength of jihadist, al-Qaeda-linked factions that now dominate parts of rebel-held territory.
The western alliance is hoping that non al-Qaeda Islamist groups will form a common cause with the secular Free Syrian Army and the western-backed Syrian National Coalition, despite their deep ideological differences. However, they have previously refused to back several of these Islamist groups for fear that arms sent to moderate groups will just leak to the extremists.
The officially recognised head of the Free Syrian Army, Gen Salem Idriss, this week repeated his belief that if Assad falls from office, rebels will have to join forces with the remnants of his army to drive al-Qaeda forces out of Syria.
“Most of the rebels taking part were from the middle ground, but then moved down the spectrum,” a western official briefed on the talks said. “The aim was to understand where these Islamic groups stand on the spectrum.”
As regime troops and rebels have fought to a near stalemate in recent months, the most significant development on the ground has been the formation of a new pan-Islamist alliance among the rebels, confirmed at the end of November.
Some of the brigades who signed up were “moderate Islamist” groups which had previously been backed by western allies, such as the Liwa al-Tawhid in Aleppo, and were loyal to Gen Idriss and the FSA’s Supreme Military Council.
But others included Ahrar al-Sham, a hardline Islamist group that has rejected the West and Gen Idriss and since last year fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda faction that signalled its presence in Syria last year with a series of suicide bombings.
Ahrar was also cited in a Human Rights Watch report alleging the murders of a number of civilians from Assad’s Alawite sect after an attack in the north-west of the country in which it participated.
Both groups contain foreign jihadis, including from Britain, and apart from the general rise of militant Islam intelligence services fear that their growing role may feed back later into Islamist terrorism in Europe....