(NEW YORK) — If a story in The Guardian turns out to be accurate, it could spell more trouble for the Obama administration as it mulls how to respond to the growing crisis in Syria.
According to the report in the British newspaper, the ranks of the al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra are swelling because fighters are deserting the Free Syrian Army to join the Islamic militant group.
The Guardian says as many as 3,000 former FSA rebels joined al-Nusra in the past few months, which turns out to be a better-equipped and financed fighting force.
Both al-Nusra and the FSA have the same mission: deposing the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after more than two years of fighting that has left tens of thousands of people dead while creating a devastating humanitarian crisis.
While the White House also wants al-Assad gone, it’s also leery of al-Nusra and its intentions if a political vacuum eventually comes about with the downfall of the current regime.
Furthermore, a stronger group than the FSA with ties to al Qaeda would make the administration far more reluctant to arm rebel forces. The president has been meeting with national security advisors as to how to react to the conflict, especially in light of evidence that the Syrian military might have used chemical weapons.
Meanwhile, many of those deserting the FSA for al-Nusra contend it’s partly the fault of the West for this development because of how little financial or military support rebels have received since the conflict began in March 2011.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Angela Dewan and Euan McKirdy, CNN
Chandrika Narayan and Steve Almasy, CNN
Ben Westcott, CNN