Fears grow of Qaeda fighters gaining sway in Syria

Syrian rebel fighters stand on top of a government tank captured two days earlier at a checkpoint in the village of Anadan, Syria, Aug. 1, 2012.
AFP/Getty Images

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - As thousands of refugees flee violence inside of Syria, foreign fighters are streaming into it.

"So long as (Syrian President Bashar) Assad refuses to go and Syria's transition is blocked, the danger grows of more foreign fighters, including extremists of the al Qaeda type infiltrating Syria," State Department counterterrorism chief Daniel Benjamin told reporters Tuesday.

Benjamin said the U.S. is warning Syria's rebels not to allow foreign fighters to infiltrate their rebellion but the U.S. government isn't providing weapons to the rebels to counter this threat.

"They need weapons," said Brian Sayers of the Syrian Support Group. "They need ammunition. They need intelligence support."

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Right now the U.S. is providing $15 million worth of communications equipment and so-called non-lethal support. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are providing weapons to like-minded rebel groups. Without U.S. support, American influence is weakened, ultimately creating a new risk to U.S. security.

"Al Qaeda in Syria puts our interests at risk because if they overrun chemical weapons stockpiles, that would be a major risk to the United States," said Andrew Tabler of The Washington Institute. "If they could also secure other weapons that would perhaps down aircraft somewhere else in the world, it could also be used."

But even as the warnings appear, it is unlikely that the U.S. will provide any military support to Syria's rebels.

  • Margaret Brennan

    Margaret Brennan is moderator of CBS News' "Face The Nation" and CBS News' senior foreign affairs correspondent based in Washington, D.C.