News / Middle East

Syrian Revolution Seeks Commanding Position

Former Syrian army commander, General Mustafa al-Sheikh, defected and wants to to lead rebel Free Syrian Army forces against Assad regime. (Reuters)
Former Syrian army commander, General Mustafa al-Sheikh, defected and wants to to lead rebel Free Syrian Army forces against Assad regime. (Reuters)
David Arnold
As Syria’s opposition re-structures its political agenda to take command of a 20-month-long revolution against President Bashar al-Assad, global powers waiting for regime change want to see if this newly branded Syrian National Coalition can effectively prosecute the civil war.
 
Under the leadership of Ahmad Maath Khatib, a 52-year-old recent exile and former cleric at the Grand Mosque of the Umayyads in Damascus, the coalition is seeking international recognition and massive financial support for its cause.
 
France, Turkey and several Gulf states have recognized the new coalition as the transitional structure to replace Assad. France and Britain appear willing to consider more military support. And following his re-election, President Barack Obama announced he is reviewing his administration’s wait-and-see position on recognition and weapons support.
 
If this organization is going to have any effect on how this war is fought, they need to become effective pretty quickly
The Syrian coalition, put together in early December, is under pressure to convince potential donor nations that it has support from inside Syria if it expects to get the cash and weapons that might be available. At the same time, the coalition hopes to convince the fighters and activists inside Syria it can deliver the foreign support needed for success.
 
Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, spent a week interviewing Syrian refugees on the Turkish frontier who claimed to be Syrian army defectors leading rebel units in the Idlib and Aleppo regions of the country.

“Time is moving on, the war is moving on, and the war is intensifying,” White said. “If this organization is going to have any effect on how this war is fought, they need to become effective pretty quickly.”

The rebels may not yet have a national political structure, White said, but “The new organization has a chance to shape how the war is going be fought now.”

Can Khatib find a rebel command structure?

Three months ago, experts on Syria’s armed revolution called it a guerilla war run by an array of independent brigades and battalions, each flying its own flag.

Many units have succeeded in conducting hit-and-run campaigns in Hama, Homs, Deraa and later in Aleppo, Idlib and Damascus. They have often been unable, however, to hold urban positions against Syria’s tanks, jets, attack helicopters, rocket fire and cluster bombs.

As outside military experts see it, the rebels are not able to mount an effective nation-wide military campaign against the Syrian army.

Much has been made of the threat of extremists that have joined the revolution in recent months, said Joseph Holliday, a Syria expert at the Institute for War.  But he adds that “what we don’t understand is the broader opposition group.”

Col. Asaad’s influence never extended far beyond the refugee camps in Turkey where he is basedHolliday wrote a report that described opposition fighters as an aggregation of divisions, brigades and battalions that battle the Assad regime but do not take orders from anyone else. He notes, however, that opposition military councils have emerged in about nine of Syria’s major governorates and that military and political cooperation could improve.

Four commanders and counting

But finding an effective military commander may be more difficult. One candidate was Riad Asaad, an Air Force colonel who defected in June of last year, set up shop in a Turkish refugee camp and announced he was commanding the Free Syrian Army.  But even though Asaad established a public affairs office and a well-designed web site and Facebook presence, there were serious questions about what, exactly, he commanded.

Col. Asaad’s influence never extended far beyond the refugee camps in Turkey where he is based
“Col. Asaad’s influence never extended far beyond the refugee camps in Turkey where he is based,” wrote Aron Lund this September in a report for the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.  Lund said the recently created military councils in the governorates only “pay nominal respect, at best, to Col. Asaad.”

Lund wrote that another potential leader of the opposition military effort was Col. Col. Qasem Saadeddine of the Homs Military Council. He added, however, that even though Saadeddine expanded his command to include four more military councils, the military command structure appeared to be dysfunctional.

The former director of Syria’s National Defense College, Major General  Muhammad Hussein al-Haj Ali, also is a potential leader. He defected this past June and told reporters he was taking over the opposition military effort and was renaming the rebel forces the Syrian National Army.

Yet another potential military leader for the opposition is General Mustafa al-Sheikh, the highest-ranking member of President Assad’s military to defect.

Al-Sheikh is now described as the commander-in-chief of the Higher Military Council of the rebel Free Syrian Army divided into five geographic divisions.

But some military experts are not convinced al-Sheikh is the opposition’s true military leader. According to Holliday, Col. Riad Asaad and Gen. al-Sheikh have been locked in apparent competition for leadership. “The two of them have this little jousting match up in Hatay, Turkey, going back and forth about, ‘Well, we’re both FSA and now we’re part of this larger organization that al-Sheikh runs, we’re partner organizations …’  

“I characterize these two characters … as leaders more interested in figuring out how to gain power for themselves …,” Holliday said.

“My sense is Mustafa al-Sheikh is more important,” said White of the Washington Institute, but he added that no one will command the respect of the fighters unless they are inside Syria directing the actions of brigades and battalions.

Young political activists may hold the key to rebel union

Holliday proposed that the new National Coalition start with the local activists – the Syrians who started the protests last year.  Most are organized into one of two larger networks, the Local Coordinating Councils of Syria that is strong in Damascus, Deraa and the south, and the Syrian Revolutionary General Commission that holds sway in the north.
And here is where the ties really matter. They (activists) have been providing some of the basic measures of governance

In many cases, Holliday said, the military councils have blended, overlapped and in some cases merged with the unarmed political activists who have established their own networks of revolutionary councils.
 
These activists continue to serve the revolution by uploading YouTube videos of protests, funerals, victims and keeping careful records on the 30,000 or so Syrians killed since the uprising began.
 
“And here is where the ties really matter,” said Holliday. “They have been providing some of the basic measures of governance … They are staffing hospitals and schools and coordinating trash pickup, primarily in Idlib and Aleppo, but also the Homs and Hama countryside.”
 
Holiday said the activists rely on the militants for protection while they conduct the demonstrations, strikes and funerals and provide medical care and food.
 
“It’s a practical relationship,” he concluded.

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
November 19, 2012 9:21 AM
so, this clown is the latest defect...?

by: Anonymous
November 18, 2012 11:29 PM
I bet $1 that whoever captures Assad will likely cut his head off.

by: Anonymous
November 18, 2012 10:22 PM
Pardon me if I am mistaken... The number of deaths caused by Assad is estimated at 39,000. I believe it is likely triple however... Assad should receive 39,000 death sentences, or if we are nice only give him 20,000.

How can anyone kill so many people this day and age and get away with it??? Assad actually seems happy about it too. I wish the people of Syria would just hang him and get the war over with.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More