(CNSNews.com) – Alarmed at the rise of al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, the U.S. government is hoping to encourage a newly-formed Islamist alliance, the Islamic Front, to join the shaky U.S.-backed mainstream coalition before a long-delayed conference aimed at ending the civil war convenes in Switzerland next month.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that the U.S. and others “want to broaden the base of moderate opposition and to broaden the base of representation of the Syrian people in the Geneva II negotiation.”
Speaking during a visit to the Philippines, Kerry said the U.S. government had yet to meet with the Islamic Front, but that it was possible a “discussion” could take place.
The U.S. and other countries involved in the process wanted “to make sure that the delegation that goes to Geneva will be as broadly representative as possible of the legitimate oppositionists who could be acceptable at that table,” he said. “That obviously does not include the radical extremists and the worst elements that are to some degree on the ground.”
The two main al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, al-Nusra and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have been growing in strength. Kerry conceded in an ABC News interview on Sunday that “al-Qaeda has greater clout there [inside Syria] than it had before, and it’s an increasing threat.”
The groups making up the Islamic Front are not openly linked to-Qaeda, and so there are no legal barriers for U.S. officials to meet with it.
“We can engage with the Islamic Front, of course, because they’re not designated terrorists,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Monday, describing it as “an alliance of prominent Islamist groups in the Syrian opposition.” (On Tuesday Harf said there were “no meetings to announce” yet.)
Nonetheless the Islamic Front, a Saudi-backed alliance of seven groups boasting tens of thousands of fighters, is ideologically committed to an Islamic state – not a secular democracy – in a post-Assad Syria.
Furthermore, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal reported on Tuesday that some key figures in the Islamic Front do in fact have strong al-Qaeda links, identifying a key member of the Islamic Front’s biggest constituent group, Ahrar al-Sham, as a former al-Qaeda courier who “today serves as Ayman al Zawahiri’s representative in the Levant.” Keep reading