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U.S. navigates complicated cast of opposition groups in search of partner to fight Islamic State – Part 1

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The U.S. air campaign inside Syria broadened again last night, going beyond the targeting of the Islamic State group.

    Tonight, we take a closer look at the shifting dynamics on the ground in that war-torn nation.

    This video, posted by Syrian activists, purports to show the aftermath of U.S. airstrikes near Aleppo overnight. Targets included the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida's Syrian proxy, and the so-called Khorasan group, said to include al-Nusra elements.

    Over the weekend, Nusra Front fighters routed two U.S.-backed rebel groups in neighboring Idlib province, and seized a major weapons cache. On the other hand, Nusra has also often allied itself with so-called moderate rebels against the Bashar al-Assad regime. Nusra and the Islamic State group split with each other in February over tactics.

    The weekend losses were a blow to Washington's effort to build up those rebels. At the White House yesterday, President Obama said the U.S. and its allies must tread carefully in the Syrian maze to find someone who will battle the Islamic State group.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    There are a lot of opposition groups in Syria. They fight among each other. They are fighting the regime. And what we're trying to do is to find a core group that we can work with that we have confidence in.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Indeed, the dizzying array of groups fighting in Syria, includes the Syrian army of Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State group, the al-Nusra Front. In addition, there are Kurdish militia, and the Free Syrian Army, or FSA, among others.

    They control different parts of Syria. The regime holds sway in the Western-central regions, parts of Damascus and Aleppo, and the coast. The Islamic State holds a band across Northern and Eastern Syria, toward Iraq. Al-Nusra is strong along the southern border near Israel and in the northwest. And the Kurds hold territory along the border with Turkey.

    Other groups and the FSA are strongest in the south. The Free Syrian Army and its allies still hold areas in the north, including a vital crossing into Turkey called Bab al-Hawa. Vital aid passes through here, a lifeline to rebels and to thousands of internally displaced Syrians. Now al-Nusra forces are closing in on the border crossing, as alliances once again shuffle.

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