The question came up when Secretary of State John Kerry recently visited both House and Senate foreign affairs committees. And it became clear that there are stark differences in opinion -- and "opinion" seems the right word -- over who is who in the Syrian opposition.
"Who are the rebel forces?" asked McCaul, who receives classified briefings in his role with the Homeland Security Committee. "Every time I get briefed on this it gets worse and worse, because the majority now of these rebel forces -- and I say majority now -- are radical Islamists pouring in from all over the world to come to Syria for the fight."
Kerry strongly disputed McCaul's question. "I just don't agree that a majority are al-Qaida and the bad guys," he told McCaul. "That's not true. There are about 70,000 to 100,000 oppositionists, about somewhere, maybe 15 percent to 25 percent might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys."
McCaul would not accept Kerry's numbers. "The briefings I've received, unless I've gotten different ones or inaccurate briefings, are 50 percent and rising," he said. "These fighters coming globally are not coming in as moderates. They are coming in as jihadists."
McCaul later said he was "stunned" by Kerry's assertion. When it comes to how many Syrian rebels are good and how many are bad, the U.S. government cannot come to agreement with itself.
Kerry explained that he has met several times with opposition leaders in the last year. "They have evolved ... significantly," he said. "Are they where they need to be? Not completely. But they have changed markedly over the course of the last few months."