For the first time, Syrian opposition forces are poised to conquer an entire city – the northern provincial capital of Raqa, on the Euphrates River. Raqa is located about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of the border with Turkey, and has been the scene of fierce fighting for days.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian Army troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are fighting both the mainstream Free Syrian Army, and radical Islamist Al-Nusra Front jihadist forces, who apparently joined together for this battle.
The Al-Nusra Front, a group linked to Al Qaeda and listed as a terrorist organization in the United States, is one of 13 factions that have joined together to form the jihadist Islamic Front for the Liberation of Syria.
The Islamist coalition has in the past publicly stated it refuses to cooperate with the Western-backed mainstream opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), due to its ties to Western nations.
Representatives of the United States and Britain both announced last week on the sidelines of a meeting in Rome with the Friends of Syria group that their governments would supply training and non-lethal equipment for opposition forces.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also announced following talks with SNC leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib the U.S. would provide $60 million in “immediate” non-lethal assistance to hand-picked rebel groups – but made it clear the recipients would not be radical Islamists.