"What matters to us is the question of: Who will America target its strike against? And why choose this particular time?" the statement asked. "The Assad regime has used chemical weapons dozens of times and the U.S. did not move a finger. Have they experienced a sudden awakening of conscience or do they feel that the jihadists are on the cusp of achieving a final victory, which will allow them to seize control over the country? This has driven the U.S. to act in the last 15 minutes to deliver the final blow to this tottering regime so it can present itself as a key player and impose its crew which it has been preparing for months to govern Syria."
Commanders of more moderate rebel factions will admit, after much prodding, that they feel invigorated by the prospect of a U.S. strike. But that doesn't mean they trust in the benevolence of Washington's intentions for one second.
Jamal Maarouf, the leader of the Syrian Martyrs' Brigade, is considered one of the most prominent strongmen in the northern Idlib province. Maarouf's brigade includes more than 30,000 fighters, he says, which are now spread across most of Syria's provinces. In describing the U.S. motivation for intervention, he explains that the United States can invade a country in two ways -- by deploying its ground troops, or building up a local autocrat who it can control. In Syria, Maarouf says, Washington has opted for the latter option.
"The U.S. wants a pliant leadership that it can control remotely," he explains. "But who is capable of ruling this mess of a country when there are more than 200 armed factions currently fighting on the ground? That's why the U.S. did everything it could to prolong the conflict."
Maarouf believes the Americans are more than content to see droves of Islamists from Afghanistan, Somalia, Tunisia, Pakistan, and Iraq flock to Syria, where they can all be conveniently eradicated at once.
"Here's what I think will happen: The U.S. strike will target the military airports, where the regime keeps its anti-aircraft missiles," he says. "Once that's taken care of, the Americans can send their drones, at will, to collect intelligence on the Islamist factions they want to get rid of. No one will notice as the war continues to rage on and the humanitarian crisis escalates. They think they are fooling us. No one has ever fooled us. But, unfortunately, what can we do about it?"
Such huge distrust of the United States, one might suspect, would make Maarouf hostile to the prospect of American "help" in his struggle against Assad. After all, he notes, none of the weapons promised to them months ago have arrived yet. But when asked if he supports the U.S. strike, Maarouf answers quickly.
"Definitely," he says. "I don't trust their intentions but, against my better instincts, I welcome this strike because they might at least damage the regime's military airports and, let's face it, the enemy of your enemy is your friend."
Rebel commanders have been further disconcerted by Obama's delay in launching a strike. "His decision to get Congress's permission gave Bashar plenty of time to change his strategic [military] positions," said Qassem, a commander who heads an independent battalion in Idlib. "In fact, he has transferred hostages to the locations that U.S. forces could strike so, if anything, there will be a huge loss in terms of civilian lives."
But despite the many potential downsides of American military action, many commanders see no other way to break the bloody military stalemate that currently grips the country. Col. Qassim Saad al-Din, a spokesperson for the FSA's military command who heads military operations in Homs province, doesn't share Maarouf's suspicions that Islamists are the real target of any upcoming U.S. strike.