The loosely-banded Free Syrian Army has become an even less appealing option for many after news broke Wednesday that the U.S. had reportedly chosen to cut ties with the Syrian opposition altogether. While many Syrians have already fled to bordering countries or to the relative safety of government-held cities such as Tartous and Latakia, Serwer said a number of those still willing to fight would rather join Al-Qaeda than team up with Kurdish nationalist groups in the Syrian Democratic Forces. CIA-backed Syrian rebel groups and Pentagon-backed Kurdish groups continue to clash in northern Syria and the rise of Kurdish nationalism could be just as crucial for Al-Qaeda’s interests as the fall of its main competitor, ISIS, especially in the years ahead.
“I do think Al-Qaeda will get stronger as ISIS is defeated,” Kurdish affairs analyst Diliman Abdulkader told Newsweek. “It will attempt to regain the spotlight it lost when it was ‘replaced’ by the more gruesome version of itself. Also important, Al-Qaeda’s aim is long term, while ISIS wanted a caliphate now.”