Syrian rebels fear U.S. ties put a target on their backs for Putin

Raed Fares, one of Syria’s best-known activists, doesn’t think his U.S. connections will offer him any protection from the Russian airstrikes now pounding opposition-held territory across the country. In fact, he thinks the U.S. ties may even put a target on his back. “To be honest,” he told BuzzFeed News by Skype, “I’m afraid.”

From the northern town of Kafranbel, Fares leads protests against both ISIS and the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, often featuring the town’s trademark signs, handwritten in Arabic and English, which circulate widely on social media in the West. He also runs a radio station and media center that receive support from the U.S. Now that the Russian strikes, which began on Tuesday, have hit rebels backed by the U.S. government, Fares said, he was bracing for a similar fate. “It won’t protect us,” he said of the U.S. support he receives, about which he has always been up front. “It may well make us more of a target.”

Russia has claimed that its strikes are focused on ISIS. But they have so far centered instead on other rebel groups fighting Assad, a longtime Russian ally. That has included even rebels backed by the U.S. government. In interviews with BuzzFeed News, several Syrians who have received U.S. support, civilian and military alike, said that they feared suffering a similar fate. “They don’t care if the U.S. supports us,” Jamil al-Saleh, the head of the U.S.-backed rebel battalion Tammaju al-Aaza, told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday, after his group was targeted in the first wave of Russian strikes.