Halab al-Shabaa Brigade, one of the larger FSA units under the military council in Aleppo, is considering disbanding. The unit commander, a moderate, told me he knew that the extremist militant group Jabhat al-Nusra had approached some of his men. Jabhat al-Nusra is well-financed: Many of its cells have more food and weapons than recruits, and they are approaching Syrians to expand. Their obvious advantage is that they can provide what more moderate groups and civilian councils cannot: salaries and weapons.

I was shocked when a liberal commander of a brigade from al-Hasakah, a province in northeastern Syria, told me that he was considering joining Jabhat al-Nusra. His view of why he had “no option” was strategic: “I’m struggling with funding, and if the deal comes through me, I’ll maintain influence over the 20-year-olds fighting in my brigade, most of whom are not terribly educated. If the frustration grows, they will leave me, and they might end up with Jabhat al-Nusra, at which point they might embrace their ideology.”…

As winter sets in, the Syrian people will be in desperate need. The United States must do all it can to bolster the legitimacy of civilian councils and other moderate organizations, including delivering aid through the coalition and regional councils rather than third-party nongovernmental organizations. This would help enable civilians to run their communities and increase the likelihood that a post-Assad Syria will become an inclusive democracy, rather than a failed state.