"The president has made a decision about providing more support to the opposition," said Rhodes. "That will involve providing direct support to the SMC. That includes military support."
Last week, at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's annual threat-assessment hearing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that one of the leading groups in the Syrian rebellion -- the al-Qaida-affiliated al Nusra Front -- would like to attack the U.S. homeland.
"How would you characterize the probability of an al-Qaida-sponsored or inspired attack against U.S. homeland today, as compared to 2001?" Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., asked Clapper.
Clapper indicated that parts of Syria might now be like the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which sit along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, and have been a sanctuary for al-Qaida.
"The ideological center of al Qaida movement I think still remains in the FATA," said Clapper. But "the operational locus and the locus for operational planning has dispersed. There are some five different franchises at least, and in 12 countries, that this movement has morphed into. And we see sort of chapters of it, of course, in Yemen, Somalia, in North Africa, in Syria."
It is not the Shiite-allied Alawite regime of Bashar al Assad that is turning Syria into a base of operations for al-Qaida. It is Sunni extremist Syrian rebels.
"What we spoke about before in Syria, what's going on there, is in maybe some respects a new FATA for us," said Clapper. "And what's going on there, and the attraction of these foreign fighters is very, very worrisome.
"Aspirationally," said Clapper, "al-Nusra Front, to name one, does have aspirations for attacks on the homeland."
On Dec. 11, 2012, six months before the White House announced Obama would provide military support to the Supreme Military Council of the Syrian rebels, the State Department listed al Nusra Front as an al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist group.
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