Is the battlefield shifting again in Syria?

Remember how our friends, the moderate Syrian rebels, got mad at the U.S. for bombing targets associated with Jabhat al-Nusra in addition to ISIS targets, because they all said that Nusra was their ally against Assad (and let’s not lose sight of what a blood-stained madman he is) and ISIS? Well, either those moderates seriously misjudged Nusra or our airstrikes really shook things up on the ground, because here are those same moderate rebels “pleading” for U.S. assistance against, that’s right, Jabhat al-Nusra:

While acknowledging Nusra’s al Qaida ties, rebel leaders have said that unlike the Islamic State, Nusra appears dedicated to the downfall of Assad. Previously, the groups have coordinated militarily with Nusra.

That appears to have changed in recent days, however. Rebel commanders said that for the past two months, Nusra has been moving forces into towns and cities held by more moderate rebels in western Syria. On Monday, Nusra fighters attacked seven villages in Jabal al Zawiya that were held by rebel forces in addition to launching a major assault on Almastuma, a regime base at the entrance to the city of Idlib.

Nusra also has attacked the U.S.-backed Hazm Movement in Aleppo this week, and it has launched assaults on major rebel-held cities such as Ma’arat al Numan.

“The (Nusra) operation in Idlib was a fake,” Hallak said, referring to the Monday attack on Almastuma, “and then they turned on the Syrian Revolutionary Front.” The revolutionary front, which last January spearheaded a highly successful assault against the Islamic State in northeastern Syria, is among a dozen rebel groups receiving U.S. aid through a covert CIA program.

Nusra on Wednesday issued a statement saying it was fighting a “war against corruption and the corrupt” and said other Islamist groups were with it.

That last part seems important, because it’s only been about a month since people were reporting that U.S. airstrikes in Syria might be encouraging a reconciliation between enemies/frenemies Nusra and ISIS:

A senior source confirmed that al-Nusra and Isis leaders were now holding war planning meetings. While no deal has yet been formalised, the addition of at least some al-Nusra numbers to Isis would strengthen the group’s ranks and extend its reach at a time when air strikes are crippling its funding sources and slowing its advances in both Syria and Iraq.

Al-Nusra, which has direct ties to al-Qaida’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called the attacks a “war on Islam” in an audio statement posted over the weekend. A senior al-Nusra figure told the Guardian that 73 members had defected to Isis last Friday alone and that scores more were planning to do so in coming days.

So it’s entirely possible that Nusra and ISIS are working together at this point. On the other hand, if the McClatchey report is correct then the “moderates” are asking the U.S. for weapons, but not air support. Why? Are they concerned that airstrikes won’t help against Nusra, which doesn’t have the big vehicles and equipment that ISIS plundered from the U.S.-equipped Iraqi army has? That would make sense. Or are they hyping a non-threat in the hopes that they can panic Washington into suddenly throwing massive amounts of weaponry into Syria without properly vetting the recipients or tracking the weapons? That would unfortunately also make sense. For all we know, these guys urging more weapons shipments will turn around and hand those weapons off to Nusra the second they get there. This is the problem with engaging in a fight when you don’t have good intel on what is really happening on the ground.

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