News / Middle East

Syrian Rebels to Shift to Southern Strategy

Members of the Jund Allah Brigades, part of the Free Syrian Army, hold their weapons as they pose for a photograph in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria February 18, 2014.
Members of the Jund Allah Brigades, part of the Free Syrian Army, hold their weapons as they pose for a photograph in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria February 18, 2014.
Syria’s Western and Gulf-backed rebels are likely to try to adjust their military axis in the coming weeks to re-focus more on the south of the country in their three-year-long struggle against President Bashar al-Assad in a shift that analysts say is a bid to strengthen the moderate armed opposition at the expense of hard-line Islamists.
 
The goal of the readjustment, if it can be pulled off by leaders of the highly fractious rebels, would be to help the Western-favored rebels bypass insurgent infighting in the north that has seen a loose coalition of some of the biggest moderate and Islamist brigades battle for weeks against an al-Qaida offshoot.
 
More than 2000 have died in the internecine struggle that erupted in rebel-held areas across northern and eastern Syria last month.
 
The attempt to effect a strategic refocus coincides with a reappraisal by Saudi Arabian and U.S. officials of the best ways to provide support for the rebellion while trying to ensure that additional arms supplied go directly to rebels favored by the Saudis and Washington DC and don’t leak to jihadist groups and other Islamist hard-liners, say U.S. and Gulf officials privately.
 
With no progress coming from Geneva peace talks, the Obama administration’s rhetoric has sharpened in recent days.

Shift is due in part to failure of Geneva talks
 
In meetings with U.S. lawmakers Secretary of State John Kerry signaled there would be a renewed effort to bolster moderate rebels, and earlier this week he publicly cautioned that the United States and its allies would soon have to make critical decisions on how to respond to the failed peace talks in Geneva, the second round of which concluded amid bitter recriminations last week.
 
The planned shift to focus militarily more on the south was reportedly discussed last week at a meeting in Washington DC of intelligence chiefs from the U.S., Gulf countries, Turkey and Jordan. But it is already facing its first major hurdle – getting all moderate rebel commanders to sign on.
 
Some commanders are objecting to the appointment on February 16 of a new overall leader of the moderate Free Syrian Army to oversee the shift in military focus. The official commanders of the FSA’s five battlefield fronts are resisting the sacking of Gen. Salim Idris and his replacement Brig. Gen. Abdul-Illah al-Bachir, who defected from the Syrian army last year, saying that the change is being made at the bidding of Saudi Arabia and the U.S.. Al-Bachir is based in Quneitra on Syria’s southern border.
 
A southern military strategy using Jordan rather than Turkey as the main arms supply route for the rebellion could inject new vigor into the uprising and allow the Western-backed moderates to escape the rebel infighting in the north, says Aram Nerguizian, a military expert at the Washington DC-based think the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
 
“It is the only frontline left – and it isn’t clear for how long – where elements of the more mainstream armed opposition have relative operational mobility,” he said. But he warns disunity even among the moderate rebels will make it hard to shift the strategic axis or “find a stable resolution to their own internal problems” and disputes.

Moderates stronger in the south
 
The uprising against President Assad has been marked by rebel disarray and disagreement on tactics and over ideology and has seen in the past year the rise of al-Qaida offshoots. In November, the FSA suffered a major reversal when some of the largest brigades broke way to form their own hard-line Islamist coalition.  
 
Moderate rebel forces are stronger in the south than the north and are reportedly being reinforced with about 200 new fighters a month freshly trained in American-sponsored training camps in Jordan say U.S. officials privately.
 
Says Charles Lister, a Mideast expert with the think tank the Brookings Institution: “Moderate forces are in a more advantageous position in southern Syria as compared to other regions of the country. Rebel operations have already increased in intensity in southern Syria over recent weeks. The appointment of Al-Bachir suggests the rebels’ Supreme Military Council and its external state backers have made a strategic decision to re-focus on southern Syria as the key bulwark of the moderate armed opposition.”
 
He adds though: “It would be naive to present the south as free of hard-line Islamists and extremist groups. They retain a considerable presence in southern Syria and they are involved in almost all key strategic offensives. As such, a bolstering of moderates in the south is entirely feasible, but any sophisticated weapons provided to moderate forces are highly likely to be shared or eventually passed onto more hard-line groups.”

Jordan was a key zone for the provision of arms from foreign backers in early 2013 but rebels say there was a petering out of supplies when it became clear that there was considerable leakage to jihadists earmarked for moderates.
 
Analyst Nerguizian says the window of opportunity for the rebels of using the south more is narrowing quickly. Assad forces have pursued strong offensives close by along the Lebanese border that would impact seriously a southern strategy. “The regime and its allies have really shifted a great deal of the momentum in their favor, especially near and around Damascus and along the frontier with Lebanon. I do not see the opposition reversing that,” he says.

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: ali baba from: new york
February 22, 2014 11:39 AM
Who supply these rebel with money and arm ? the one who supply them is responsible for the crimes committed by the rebel. giving money and arm for these psychopaths is a crime against humanity. these people are killing children raping woman and their existence causes the destroying the country.
In Response

by: ali baba from: new york
February 22, 2014 6:30 PM
I am not defending Bashar el Assad. I am looking at the picture as a whole. there is no business to rebel whom are belong to terrorist organization like Osama bin laden group. Pakistan and Afghanistan Jihadist has no business in Syria. they are destroying the country .they are raping woman and called sexual jihad . million of refuge .Bashar al Assad is not responsible for the crime of Jihadist .Syria was living under Bashar Al Assad for many years and the consequence of the rebel is destroying the country and it will not come back again . the fanatic has no conscious. they destroyed Lebanon . they destroyed Sudan. They will destroyed Libya .Islam is not the solution .It is the prescription for disaster . .
In Response

by: Anonymous
February 22, 2014 6:00 PM
You are wrong. Assad has been killing ALL Syrians of all religions and all backgrounds. Whoever arms the Syrians to protect themselves are heros. Assad has murdered more women and children than anyone in Syria. He should be facing the Syrian justice system which hangs people for their crimes of murder. The only thing assad is doing now is using the SAA to try and protect himself from being captured and having to face a judicial system. He won't win whether he likes it or not, if the Syrians cant arrest him, the international community will.

Long live Syria, god bless Syrians, they will get their man in the end hopefully sooner than later, saving thousands of more deaths.

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