There is such a deep sense of mistrust in Syria that it’s reasonable to assume it’s near impossible to decipher who is aligned with who. When so many different entities have a common goal why would that not translate to cooperation on the ground? This constantly updating live map of Syria shows every Tweet, post, etc, coming out of the region to give insight on the ground truth in Syria.

On the map legend, the rebels and al-Nusra are the same identifying color. It’s that hard to distinguish their operations and operating space. They fight the same people and share the same space. But they’re different. We support one and not the other.

The situation is different depending on what Syrian front you’re discussing. Much of this article is most applicable to south-east Syria and swathes of northwest Syria. Skirmishes, raids and tensions exists between different Syrian groups through the Syrian region. While I propose that al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are somewhat aligned I also believe that marriage is an unstable one and fights occur, often. There is limited control in these groups and the battle space might more closely resemble a mad max movie than call of duty.

There are reported instances of Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel fighters defecting to join Al-Nusra. Some have noted that the FSA has been severely damaged because desertions to Al-Nusra and fighters out right were quitting. Some went as far as laying down their arms in a brokered ceasefire in Homs. Syrian Rebels left Homs at the time, but some local fighters stayed at home.

The single biggest obstacle when looking at Syria with cogent eyes is our narrative. We’ve backed and continue to help the Free Syrian Army (FSA) which for most of its existence has been ineffective. But this year reports have emerged speculating that the FSA and al-Nusra have joined forces in the fight. Then, al-Nusra rebranded itself and had reportedly broken its ties with al-Qaeda. It is no longer an official affiliate group, and compared to ISIL, they’re moderate.

I appreciate and understand that good people are working within the FSA. There are always good people. But in a region where violence rules the land, the good ones can’t lead in the long term. After all, that’s why the Sunni people in Fallujah turned to al-Qaeda/ISIL in the first place. They’re violent, they’re tough, and are believers. They’re still standing after all these years at war. The esteemed scholar who can perform rousing speeches is of great worth in the United States, but adds little value when the bullets begin to fly in the Levant. They simply do not have the luxury of idealism. The only philosophy that works is a religious one because it can be used to make sense of things. An objective view of the violence and unrest in the middle east could be unbearable for the average person.

The entire narrative in Syria has become partly misleading. Citing opposition forces, rebels and ISIL all as different entities. There are conflations of world war and clear-cut strategies and enemies. Each day the situation ebbs and flows between the various actors in Syria. Who is winning and how they’ve done it has become a matter of opinion. A big fault of our policy is our inability to track progress and measure outcomes.

The featured image for this article shows al-Nusra and FSA flags hoisted in victory. The picture gives an indication that these two groups conduct joint operations. It’s not likely a coincidence that al-Nusra has cut ties from Al-Qaeda. They know that rules and perception bind us and stated intentions matter. Al-Nusra from the outset wanted Assad gone and to implement a new system of government.