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Support for jihadists in Syria swells as US backing of rebels falls short

US reluctance to provide weapons and cash to Syrian rebels is increasing the appeal of joining with well-funded and well-armed jihadists, many of them from abroad.

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But on the ground, many Syrians say the US reluctance to support their cause is yielding more jihadists, and more radical ones. 

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And it's questionable whether American reluctance is significantly hampering the flow of weapons to jihadists. 

"If the Americans do not give us weapons, then the jihadists will get them from somewhere else," says Abu Baraa, a local Aleppo commander. In his view, current US policy "has opened the doors for jihadist Islam, not for moderates.”  

Another result, often voiced in this embattled city, is that even though the US shares rebel aims, its limited support for the fight itself has ignited widespread anger toward Washington – and even prompted speculation that the US wants the Syrian regime to win.

"Before the revolution, there were no Al Qaeda here," says Abu Mohammed, the doctor. "When this regime makes these crimes, they come, and come to help. 

"The US says their [pro-democracy line only]; Al Qaeda says, 'We will help.' So what do we do, smile to the US and kick out Al Qaeda?" he adds. "The longer [the war] takes, the more of them there will be." 

US is making 'excuses'

American reluctance to help more in Syria is partly due to uncertainty about Syria's future, especially because the 2011 regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya are far from settled. 

Strategically, the US also sees through the prism of Afghanistan in the 1980s, when the CIA provided Stinger missiles and training to anti-Soviet mujahideen fighters, only to watch them eventually morph into anti-American militant groups such as Al Qaeda.  

The geopolitical stakes are high in Syria, too, where Russian, Chinese, and Iranian support for the regime – along with that of the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah – has ensured the longest and most lethal anti-regime battle so far of the Arab uprisings.

"We hoped the American government would help us in our revolution, because it fights for the democratic flag in the world – and toppled Saddam Hussein in the name of democracy," says a Syrian judge who runs a temporary court in a rebel-controlled district of Aleppo. He gave his name as Abu Ibrahim.

"But Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did nothing. America failed us," says the secular Syrian, whose tailored suit and pressed shirt contrasted sharply with the motley collection of rebels who man the frontline a few streets away. "This whole thing about jihadists is an excuse not to support us."

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