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Currently the main force of the non-ISIS opposition to Syrian government is the Islamic Front group, a loose conglomerate of several groups, the strongest of which is the An-Nusra front, a Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda. The both An-Nusra and Al-Qaeda are designated terrorist organizations by the UN. We heared a lot about how Al-Qaeda is evil during prevuous years, so the Western support to the "rebels" seems hypocritical.

Recently seven Western countries (the USA, UK, France, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia) had made a declaration condemning Russian bombing of the non-ISIS Syrian opposition.

So what's the purpose of doing so?

Just some comparison.

(Warning: image may be shocking to some viewers)

enter image description here

This is Free Syrian Army. The West heavily helps them. Russians say they do not consider FSA terrorists and do not bomb them. FSA as of now a weak group, mostly integrated with the structures of Islamic Front while formally remaining independent.

enter image description here

This is An-Nusra (Al-Qaeda). Russians heavily bomb them, but the West condemns Russian actions.

enter image description here

This is ISIS, Russians bomb them but only slighly. The West wants Russia to bomb them more and bombs them themselves.

closed as primarily opinion-based by SoylentGray, bytebuster, Avi, PointlessSpike, Sam I am Oct 5 '15 at 16:19

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Do you have prove that all these pictures show the groups you attribute them to? Such pictures are very often mis-attributed for propaganda reasons and I can find no insignia showing allegiance on any of them. Also, you forgot to post pictures of atrocities committed by the Assad regime. – Philipp Oct 2 '15 at 16:50
  • Because the US state department has decided to take the same route as Saudi Arabia and pay al queda to target somewhere besides here. Its only short sighted if you consider it likely that a future administration is likely to reverse this decision and stop paying Al Queda. As far as this adminstration is concerned that is not a possiblity worth considering – SoylentGray Oct 2 '15 at 16:58
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    @Philipp do u have evidence that Syrian government commited any atrocities except those associated with warfare? – Anixx Oct 2 '15 at 17:03
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    I also think that this question would benefit from a link to the exact wording of the declaration which is said to "condemn Russian bombing of the non-ISIS Syrian opposition". – Philipp Oct 2 '15 at 17:04
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    This supposedly "question" is full of bareword claims with no proof links. It does not set its goal of receiving an answer and therefore should be heavily edited or completely removed. – bytebuster Oct 2 '15 at 21:04
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Islamic Front group, a loose conglomerate of several groups, the strongest of which is the An-Nusra front, a Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda

Technically, An-Nusra is not the part of Islamic Front but its close ally. By this (pretty weak) reason the West justifies the support of Islamic Front while condemning An-Nusra (and, of course, Al-Qaeda). And at the same time, when Russian jets attack An-Nusra, the West protests against bombing "legitimate Syrian opposition", i.e. Islamic Front.

this question would benefit from a link to the exact wording of the declaration which is said to "condemn Russian bombing of the non-ISIS Syrian opposition"

The full text of joint declaration is available at www.gov.uk

We express our deep concern with regard to the Russian military build-up in Syria
and especially ‎the attacks by the Russian Air Force on Hama, Homs and Idlib
...
We call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition
and civilians and to focus its efforts on fighting ISIL

At the same time Russian media say that the target of these attacks is IS. But it's obviously wrong, as the cities mentioned above are under control of Islamic Front and An-Nusra, not IS.

So what's the purpose of doing so?

The war in Syria began as the part of "Arab spring" - the series of inspired revolts in different countries. The final aim is, of course, to install a new regime. The primary instrument for this task is FSA, but FSA is too weak to do this alone. So the West has to cope with more radical movements like Saudis' Islamic Front and its allies. On the other hand, IS went out of control of Saudis and actually fights against both legitimate Syrian army and so-called "Free" Syrian army. So it's desirable for the West if Russia helped to beat IS, but not An-Nusra.

  • Thank you for the excellent answer! But can you please clarify the relations between FSA and the Islamic Front? According to my information FSA is currently more or less on the ground integrated with IF but you say they are fighting each other. What is in reality? Or may be the things changed over time? – Anixx Oct 2 '15 at 19:02
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    @Anixx I said IS fights against FSA, not IF. But IF is not integrated with FSA either. It seems that IF and FSA have sporadic fights against each other, so they are neither true enemies, nor allies at the moment. – Matt Oct 2 '15 at 19:10
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    Thank you for the clarification, seems my bad as I misread the name of the group. – Anixx Oct 2 '15 at 19:12
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According to longstanding Western doctrine, opposition groups in countries that lack a proper democratic political system can be supported in order to change things for the better. What groups can be supported and to what degree is going to be determined on an ad hoc basis. But the West will never support any terrorist groups. If a group does have some involvement in terrorist activities, they must first renounce any such activities before the West will engage with them. A good example is the KLA in Kosovo. The US made an agreement with this group making them to renounce any attacks on civilians.

In Syria, the problem is that the moderate rebels that the West is supporting have been marginalized in the conflict. At the start of the conflict such groups were more prominent, it was then easier for the West to engage with them. E.g. McCain was able to travel to Northern Syria and meet with FSA members, but I don't think he'll try that again in the near future.

Now, what happens if you maintain such ties where you support groups that become more and more marginalized, is that some of your military support will end up in the wrong hands. But cutting off your support because of that, may be the death sentence for people who you are in close contact with, who have been able to hold their grounds only because you've supported them. So, you then have a moral obligation to keep supporting the people you've supported so far.

Now, if the resistance groups would face total collapse, then one would face the very difficult problem of having to evacuate them from the region. An example in recent history is the fate of the SLA in Lebanon.

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