By the blacklisting Tuesday, Dec. 11, of the Jabhat al-Nusra group fighting in Syrian rebel ranks as “a foreign terrorist organization” and affiliate of al Qaeda in Iraq, Washington faces four quandaries:
1. The 10,000 fighters of this al Qaeda affiliate are the best-trained and most professional component of the Syrian rebel front;.
2. Jabhat al-Nusra fields 3,000 fighters out of the mostly Free Syrian Army’s 14,000 rebels fighting in and around Aleppo. They also constitute the assault force’s spearhead.
3. The Islamists are at the sharp front edge of the rebel force battling for control of the Syrian army’s biggest chemical weapons store at Al Safira, near Aleppo. Thursday morning, Dec. 12, they were just a kilometer from the base’s northwestern perimeter fence and advancing fast. By week’s end, Jabhat al-Nusra jihadis may have smashed into the base and seized control of the chemical stocks and Scud D planes standing there armed with chemical warheads.
The imminence of this peril forced Bashar Assad’s hand into sending Scud jets against rebel-held areas in an effort to stop their advance on the base.