(WASHINGTON) -- Accusations are flying back and forth over the extent of militant involvement on the ground in Syria. The State Department fired back sharply Thursday at Russian President Vladimir Putin's remark that Secretary of State John Kerry "lies openly and he knows that he lies" when he told Congress that in Syria "the opposition has increasingly become more defined by its moderation."
According to Kerry, extremist elements, led by the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra, only comprise 15-25 percent of those seeking to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Putin's comment "preposterous."
So what's the truth? Ask Syrian opposition member Hozan Ibrahim who claims, "There aren't that many extremist groups -- yet." Meanwhile, Jane Kinninmont, an analyst at the Chatham House think-tank in London, acknowledges, "There are al-Qaeda elements active in Syria, although they weren't there at the beginning."
Last May, a story in a British newspaper said the ranks of the al-Nusra were swelling due to fighters deserting the Free Syrian Army. The Guardian reported that as many as 3,000 former FSA rebels had joined al-Nusra in the past few months, which was turning out to be a better-equipped and financed fighting force. According to The Guardian, many of those deserting the FSA for al-Nusra argued it was partly the fault of the West for this development because of how little financial or military support rebels have received since the conflict began in March 2011.
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