David Ignatius
December 6, 2012

The Jabhat group now has somewhere between 6000 and 10,000 fighters, according to officials of an non-governmental organisation that represents the more moderate wing of the Free Syrian Army. They say that the al-Qa’ida affiliate now accounts for 7.5 per cent to 9 per cent of the Free Syrian Army’s total fighters, up sharply from an estimated 3 per cent three months ago and 1 per cent at the beginning of the year.

The extremist group is growing in part because it has been the most aggressive and successful arm of the rebel force. “From the reports we get from the doctors, most of the injured and dead FSA are Jabhat al-Nusra, due to their courage and (the fact they are) always at the front line,” said a message sent today to the State Department by the moderate Free Syrian Army representatives, warning of the extremists’ rise.

These estimates are very rough, given the scattered and disorganised nature of the opposition. But they are based on detailed reporting from the field by the members’ military councils, which are the closest thing to an organised command structure among the rebels. In reports sent this week to the State Department, the NGO representing the Syrian moderates offered a detailed breakdown of the extremists’ growth:

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