News / Middle East

    Moderate Syrian Rebel Factions Face Wipe-Out

    Kasim Genco, 21, a fighter with the Syrian opposition who was wounded during airstrikes on Syrian villages near the Turkey border, lies in his hospital bed in the southeastern city of Kilis, Turkey, Feb. 7, 2016.
    Kasim Genco, 21, a fighter with the Syrian opposition who was wounded during airstrikes on Syrian villages near the Turkey border, lies in his hospital bed in the southeastern city of Kilis, Turkey, Feb. 7, 2016.

    The sweeping Russian-backed offensive in northern Syria by President Bashar al-Assad’s military and foreign fighters from Iran, Lebanon and Afghanistan is triggering a humanitarian crisis by propelling thousands of civilians to flee to the Turkish border, say political activists and rebel commanders.

    And the daunting offensive is altering dramatically the balance of insurgent forces in the north of the country to the benefit of al-Qaida-linked groups and the Islamic State, they say.

    Some forecast an implosion of secular and less religious-based militias aligned with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) in northern Syria. “This is the end of the FSA in northern Syria,” Bassam al-Kuwaiti, a well-known figure in political opposition circles, told VOA.

    Merge, disband

    Al-Kuwaiti said some moderate militias will be forced to merge; others will have no alternative but to disband altogether and join either the powerful Islamist insurgent group Ahrar al-Sham, [Free Men of Syria] or enlist with al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra.

    “They will have no other option,” he said.

    FILE - Rebels from al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, wave their brigade flag, as they step on the top of a Syrian air force helicopter at Taftanaz air base, Jan. 11, 2013.
    FILE - Rebels from al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, wave their brigade flag, as they step on the top of a Syrian air force helicopter at Taftanaz air base, Jan. 11, 2013.

    Al-Qaida’s affiliate and Ahrar al-Sham are partners in an alliance known as Jaysh al-Fatah, or Army of Conquest, and have recently debated formally merging.

    In villages and towns northwest and north of Aleppo, FSA militias are already relying on Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra to help them to try to survive a week-long Assad onslaught that has seen Russian warplanes fly hundreds of round-the-clock bombing sorties.

    Ahmad, a rebel fighter, said he and his unit came under 400 airstrikes in four days

    Regime forces have managed to capture a chain of villages that control the main rebel supply route for insurgent-held districts in Aleppo city.

    “The situation is disastrous,” said rebel fighter Abu Zaid, who had just returned to Turkey from the front-lines. “The Russians are flying six-plane sorties and we are being bombarded by artillery and coming under multiple rocket attacks.”

    Shi'ite fighters

    Several rebel commanders say most of the ground forces against them consist of foreign Shi’ite fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and from Afghanistan as well as members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Afghanis and Iranians wear red headbands or armbands, and Hezbollah fighters yellow ones.

    U.S. officials have told VOA Russian commandos, or Spetsnaz, are also in the regime’s mix of forces and have been working covertly around Aleppo.

    But Zakaria Malahefji, the political officer of the 3,000-strong Fastaqim Kama Umirt, a brigade aligned to the rebel alliance Jaish al-Mujahideen (Army of Holy Warriors), said they had not spotted Russians on the ground and few Syrian soldiers.

    “You hardly see Syrian army troops fighting,” Malahefji said. “We are fighting Iranians, Afghans and Hezbollah.”

    He was bitter about what he sees as a Western desertion of the Syrian revolution.

    “I have spoken with the ambassadors and their staffs of the U.S., Britain and France and asked them, 'What will you do other than just make statements?’ ”

    'We don't have weeks'

    He said one message he got from a U.S. official read: “God willing, we are working on changing the conditions on the ground in the next few weeks.”

    “But we don’t have weeks,” snapped Malahefji, a former higher education teacher. “We need portable anti-aircraft missiles if we are to persevere” he said. “And we need more anti-armor missile systems like anti-tank TOW missiles.”

    People inspect the damage after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel held al-Sakhour neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 5, 2016.
    People inspect the damage after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel held al-Sakhour neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 5, 2016.

    In the complex and multisided conflict in northern Syria, all nongovernment players are jockeying to survive or to take advantage of the sudden dramatic shift of battlefield fortunes.

    The position of the Kurdish YPG, or People’s Protection Units, which is dominated by Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), appears the most tortuous. Rebel commanders accuse the YPG of being two-faced.

    Around the mainly Kurdish enclave of Afrin, YPG fighters have started to coordinate with rebel factions to keep open a humanitarian corridor for displaced Syrians from northern towns and villages who are stuck on the Syrian-Turkish border near the Bab al-Salamah border crossing close to the Syrian town of Azaz.

    No border crossings

    Turkey, despite claiming it has an “open-border policy,” has not been allowing refugees to cross.

    YPG and rebel factions have been protecting civilians as they travel from Azaz. But at the same time the YPG has launched attacks on Islamist and moderate rebel factions around Afrin, seeking to expand the Kurdish enclave.

    Russian airstrikes on Saturday helped  Kurdish fighters alongside militiamen from Jaysh al-Thwar, a YPG Sunni Arab ally, to capture the strategic Tal Zinkah hill north of Aleppo.

    In this photo provided by Turkey's Islamic aid group of IHH, Syrians fleeing the conflicts in Azaz region, arrive in a truck at the Bab al-Salam border gate, Syria, Feb. 5, 2016.
    In this photo provided by Turkey's Islamic aid group of IHH, Syrians fleeing the conflicts in Azaz region, arrive in a truck at the Bab al-Salam border gate, Syria, Feb. 5, 2016.

    Syrian rebels argue the YPG, the most effective ground partner for the U.S.-led international coalition fighting Islamic State militants, is a secret partner of Assad and directly and indirectly coordinates with Damascus.

    YPG commanders have always denied the claim.

    In an exclusive phone interview with VOA, PYD leader Salih Muslim echoed Assad and Russian officials.

    “The Russian airstrikes are targeting terrorists, Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra,” Muslim said. “The offensive won’t impact Syrian Kurds.”

    Western analysts also warn the Assad offensive will weaken rebel moderate factions and force fighters to throw their lot in with the larger and more militant groups.  

    “The renewed pressure being placed upon the opposition also risks driving opposition groups to deepen their coordination with Syrian al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and other Salafi-jihadist factions,” cautioned Christopher Kozak, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.

    You May Like

    Syrian Torture Victim Recounts Horrors

    'You make them think you have surrendered' says Jalal Nofal, a doctor who was jailed and survived repeated interrogations in Syria

    Mandela’s Millions Paid to Heirs, But Who Gets His Country Home?

    Saga around $3 million estate of country's first democratic president is far from over as Winnie Mandela’s fight for home overshadows payouts

    Guess Which Beach is 'Best in the US'?

    Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay tops an annual "top 10" list compiled by a coastal scientist, also known as Doctor Beach

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    February 08, 2016 2:37 AM
    The picture of this article and its description is a proof of the long time speculation that Turkey is the main one supporting these extremists.

    "Kasim Genco, 21, a fighter with the Syrian opposition who was wounded during airstrikes on Syrian villages near the Turkey border, lies in his hospital bed in the southeastern city of Kilis, Turkey, Feb. 7, 2016. "

    by: Anonymous
    February 08, 2016 2:31 AM
    There's no "moderate rebel" in Syria, all of them are Islamist extremists, no matter what label you put on them.

    All of these "moderate rebels" want an Islamic country.

    Turkey was the one who originally staged a false flag operation of gassing Syrians to trigger a US attack on the Syrian government, which failed.

    Why is it again that the west is against Assad?

    Assad is the only one who protects all of the minorities including Christians, Yezidis and many many others. Assad is also helping the Kurds to defend themselves against ISIS.

    No one can replace Assad. Only extremists will fill his place, do we want this? Or it's Turkey who wants this.

    Turkey = ISIS

    by: anynmous from: usa
    February 07, 2016 3:40 PM
    labeling moderate rebel is wrong. those moderate rebel are starting war that cause catastrophe. there are Sunni . they hate Bashar el Assad and their motive to fight is revenge and promote agenda to destroy Shia . the fact moderate rebel is terrorist and they responsible of killing Christian whom are protected by Bashar el Assad

    by: Fred
    February 07, 2016 2:06 PM
    No fear - Saudi Arabia is on the way, as soon as they finish in Yemen!

    by: Aletheanoesis
    February 07, 2016 1:37 PM
    The socalled moderate Rebels paid from USA-NATO-CIA should just surrender+give up war and then blood shed will end.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 07, 2016 11:39 AM
    The Russians and Syrian army (intent) is to end this Syrian war and defeat the terrorists in Syria once and for all, with a blitzkrieg strategy that is non-stop and relentless in it's savagery that gives the terrorists no time to regroup, with no place to run, and no safe haven in which to hide, and now it's become a rolling juggernaut that can't be stopped? .. Unless the US can get a Russian and Syrian army ceasefire (with frozen battle lines) so they and their Sunni Muslim allies can rearm, reequip, and reposition the terrorist groups they support, and prolong the war to try and get Assad removed?

    Could it be, that Russia just want's to defeat all the terrorists in Syria, while the US supports the terrorists in Syria that also want to remove Assad? .. Could it be? .. That's why Obama changed the US anti-terrorist plan strategy (that's a hoax, a joke, and a sham) that won't ever defeat any terrorist group (even the smallest) anywhere in the world in a thousand lifetimes? .. It seems the US is more interested in removing the Shia Muslim Assad, than in defeating the terrorists that now have become a real world power now? .. strange, isn't it?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora