senator John McCain (R- AZ.), a staunch advocate of US military strikes on Syria, dismisses as “not true” a study that asserts “extremists” increasingly make up the opposition in the Arab country.
The study, released this week by defense consultancy IHS Jane’s, found that the insurgency fighting against the Syrian government is now “dominated” by extremist groups.
Speaking to an audience at The Council on Foreign Relations, McCain stated, “Not true, not true!”
“There’s about 70 percent still who are Free Syrian Army,” said McCain who has previously met with militant leaders in Syria.
The Jane’s study found that only around 30 percent of insurgents are not extremists.
In an article published by the Foreign Policy magazine early in September, Charles Lister, the study’s author, gave his assessment of the militant groups in Syria.
“Groups on the more extreme end of the spectrum, particularly those affiliated with al Qaeda, have proven remarkably adept at spreading their military resources across large swathes of territory, joining battles at the pivotal moment, and exploiting their superior organizational structures to establish political control and influence over territory.”
Lister named the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as the most “extreme” groups of the insurgency in Syria which together command an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 fighters, scattered in at least 11 of Syria's 14 governorates.
In addition to this figure, Lister noted, “There exist at least 10 smaller al Qaeda-like militant groups in the north and east of the country, whose combined strength likely numbers between 2,000 and 3,000 fighters.”
At congressional hearings early in September, Secretary of State John Kerry also said that the armed opposition in Syria “has increasingly become more defined by its moderation,” implying that al-Qaeda-affiliated groups no longer made up the majority of the militants.
The Pentagon has put forth a proposal for training and arming some members of the insurgency in Syria.
The proposal, which was revealed by two administration officials to CNN, would increase the role of the US military in the Syrian conflict and would put American troops in direct contact with militants in the country.
The CIA has been secretly training and arming the militants for months.