The United States and its allies are gearing up for a new push to unify the Syrian opposition and topple President Bashar al-Assad. They are looking to exploit battlefield gains by the rebels and change the trajectory of the conflict before Syria collapses into a patchwork of local fiefdoms -- and the violence explodes rather than seeps beyond Syria's borders.
With the U.S. election out of the way and growing concerns about the rise of jihadist groups within Syria, Western powers are now engaging groups fighting inside Syria, rather than the exiled and ineffectual Syrian National Council. The ultimate goal may be to create a safe zone -- a slice of liberated Syria -- where the opposition can form an interim government.
U.S. and British diplomats are concerned that over the last year, the initiative has been yielded to countries like Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and to "nonstate actors" from countries like Libya. They have been picking sides among the diverse brigades of the Free Syrian Army, paying the salaries of FSA fighters and sending weapons.
There is also great anxiety about a rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis, with food and fuel shortages compounded by colder weather and inadequate access to those most in need.