Syrian rebels celebrating
Soldiers of the Free Syrian Army celebrate after capturing a string of checkpoints on the borders with Iraq and Turkey. Reuters

Syrian rebels in the northern part of the country advanced in key battlegrounds near Aleppo over the weekend as several groups merged and renamed themselves the Levant Front. The rebel groups that came together in one fighting force consist of some of the largest and best- equipped anti-regime groups in the country. It marks the first time since 2012 that rebel groups have officially collaborated to take on President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The collaboration could be a turning point for the opposition in Syria, which has for months been losing major battles in the north not only to Assad's forces, but also to the Islamic State group and Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda offshoot in the country.

Senior U.S. officials have acknowledged publicly that the rebels in the north were failing and needed more support. Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this month the U.S. was engaging in new efforts to save the so-called moderate (i.e. not Sunni Islamic extremist) rebels from total defeat. Those forces, he said, "did not fare well in their battles and one or two of them folded into al-Nusra, which is disturbing." The rebels are, according to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., "on the verge of collapse."

But now, with the unification, the rebels have a better chance of defeating the regime forces and ISIS because they collectively have more financial and weapon resources.

Videos surfaced Thursday of a ceremony honoring the unification of the rebels, who come from groups like the Islamic Front, the Mujahedeen Army, Fastaqim Kama Umirt -- a unit of the Free Syrian Army -- and the Asala wa-al-Tanmiya Front.

It is unclear if the U.S. has begun sending weapons to the new rebel group. International Business Times reported last month that the Americans had stopped sending weapons to vetted rebel groups in the north because they were losing battles to more extremist groups like al-Nusra.

The U.S. administration has said publicly that it currently has a strict “ISIS first” strategy in Syria, meaning all other imperatives take a backseat to eradicating the jihadist force -- even if that effectively helps Assad. “In Syria, our actions against ISIL are focused,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a House hearing last month. "Our military aims in Syria are limited to isolating and destroying ISIL’s safe havens.”

Some prominent observers now say the very notion of arming moderates has been exposed as bankrupt. Others assert that the Obama administration now confronts an overdue reckoning with a discomfiting reality: It could soon be forced to accept the continued rule of its sworn enemy Assad -- a tyrant who unleashed chemical weapons on civilians -- or otherwise risk the victory of the Islamic State group, whose tactics have been denounced as too brutal by none other than al Qaeda.