News / Middle East

    Syrian Rebels Vow to Wage a National Liberation Guerrilla War

    FILE - In this December 17, 2012 file photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover during fighting with the Syrian Army in Azaz, Syria.
    FILE - In this December 17, 2012 file photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover during fighting with the Syrian Army in Azaz, Syria.

    Syrian rebels warn their five-year-long struggle to oust President Bashar al-Assad will go underground, if they are deserted by Western backers or an attempt is made to foist an unacceptable political deal on them. They will wage a relentless guerrilla campaign against the Assad regime and “foreign invaders” from Iran and Russia, turning the war into a national liberation fight, rebel commanders and opposition politicians say.

    Talk of a guerrilla war fought along the lines of the Mujahideen’s successful albeit bloody war to oust Russian occupiers in Afghanistan has mounted in recent days and it is the focus of discussions between rebel commanders now as they wrestle with the implications of Thursday’s announcement in Munich by foreign powers of a “partial cease-fire” in Syria.

    Rebel commanders and opposition politicians are greeting with deep skepticism the announcement by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) of 17 foreign powers, including Russia, of a cessation of hostilities along with the delivery of humanitarian aid within a week to besieged areas of the war-torn country with deep skepticism.

    With the partial cease-fire deal announced by the ISSG in Munich not including a clear commitment from the Kremlin to end blistering Russian airstrikes immediately — a key demand of the Syrian opposition — the rebels dismiss the idea that Munich represents a breakthrough in the search for a political solution to end the brutal five-year-long civil war that has left upwards of 250,000 dead.

    They view it instead as another way-station on a road that will lead to an inevitable Western-backed negotiated political deal that they won’t be able to accept.

    A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces takes a position atop Mount Annan overlooking the Tishrin Dam, after they captured it from Islamic State militants, south of Kobani, Syria, Dec. 27, 2015.
    A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces takes a position atop Mount Annan overlooking the Tishrin Dam, after they captured it from Islamic State militants, south of Kobani, Syria, Dec. 27, 2015.

    Fighters are angrier

    Some even once pro-Western rebel commanders are expressing increasingly sharp anti-American sentiments and warn that their fighters are even angrier.

    “Fighters on the front-lines have some very harsh things to say about the West,” says Mohammed Adeeb, a senior figure in the 10,000-strong Shamiya Front, an alliance of secular and nationalist armed factions.

    Speaking in Munich after lengthy talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said a U.N. task force would “work to develop the modalities for a long term and durable cessation of violence”. He acknowledged, though, that the deal was only so good as the paper it is written on and much further works is needed.

    But some rebels and opposition politicians are drawing comparisons with another piece of paper signed in Munich in 1938.

    Formally, the Syrian Coalition, the main political opposition group, is welcoming the idea for a cessation of hostilities — saying the civilians need desperately a lessening of the violence and to receive humanitarian aid. “The conditions on the other side of the border are really terrible,” says Nader Othman, deputy prime minister in the opposition's Syrian Interim Government.

    But he fears the Russians are playing a game to sap Western resolve and to divide further the West from the anti-Assad opposition. “This will only end this phase of the regime’s offensive. The regime and its Russian backers will exploit the cease-fire,” he worries.

    FILE - Free Syrian Army fighter fires a shell towards Islamic State fighters in the northern Aleppo countryside, Syria.
    FILE - Free Syrian Army fighter fires a shell towards Islamic State fighters in the northern Aleppo countryside, Syria.

    Cease-fire vs cessation of hostilities

    Pro-opposition civil society activists also remain highly doubtful about the deal and what it may hold. “I will welcome the delivery of aid to all areas that need it,” says Bassam al-Kuwaiti, a well-known figure in opposition circles.

    “As to the cease-fire, a political transition should start at the same time, or we will be allowing the Assad forces to capture lands under the banner of fighting the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra, and therefore to obtain a powerful position that enables it to halt any political change,” he says.

    He cautions: “It is very important to distinguish between a cease-fire and a cessation of hostilities. With the first there are monitoring mechanisms, as for the latter there are no such mechanisms and it is left to the parties to decide how to implement it.”

    He fears the cessation offer is designed also to split opposition forces.

    That view is shared by rebel commanders. And in the hours since the deal was announced, more militias have voiced if not outright disapproval, huge doubts. Few want to be seen dismissing the deal out of hand, fearful of being seen as saboteurs of a deal that might bring some relief to civilians.

    “We are skeptical that Russia will hold to these commitments when its current policy is to indiscriminately bomb all parties in Syria into the dust, in particular civilians and moderate opposition, and with complete impunity, while saying they are bombing terrorists,” the Southern Front, an alliance of factions in the south of the country, said in a statement Friday.

    The biggest concern of rebel commanders in north Syria is that the Russian-backed regime will use the cessation of hostilities as a PR cover for a shift in battlefield focus, one Western powers will have inadvertently provided a stamp of approval for and won’t be able to object to later.

    The Munich deal writes out any cessation of hostilities for not only the Islamic State but al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra or other groups deemed terrorists by the UN Security Council. Some of those groups, aside from IS, have been battlefield allies of other rebel factions around Aleppo.

    It remains unclear at the moment if Islamist militia Ahrar al-Sham, an al Nusra ally and one of the most powerful armed anti-Assad armed factions, is outside the scope of the Munich deal, too.

    Watch: Kurdish Forces Capture Rebel-Held Air Base in Syria

    Kurdish Forces Capture Rebel-Held Air Base in Syriai
    X
    February 13, 2016 2:27 AM
    Kurdish forces, backed by Russian bombing raids, drove Syrian rebels from the key military air base of Menagh near the border with Turkey. A VOA Kurdish stringer went to the airport and can confirm it is now held by Kurdish Forces.

    Even so, al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham are the dominant forces in the rebel Army of Conquest alliance in Idlib, the neighboring province to Aleppo. With the regime having tightened the noose on the rebels in Aleppo and cutting their main supply line to the border with Turkey at Bab al-Salameh,rebel groups will need to ferry in supplies via Idlib from the border crossing at Bab al-Hawa.

    Some rebel commanders say they will have no choice but to back up al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, if a post-Munich regime offensive unfolds in Idlib — not just out of comradeship for other anti-Assad fighters but because a collapse by their forces there would weaken moderate and nationalist militias in Aleppo, too.

    Midweek, Gen. Salem Idris, the former chief of staff of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, told VOA that he thought within days the Russians would start bombing Idlib.

    “They want to close down Bab al-Hawa,” he said.

    The Shamiya Front’s Adeeb also sees Idlib as the inevitable next focus of the phased Russian-backed regime offensive — and would have been regardless of a Munich deal being agreed by the ISSG.

    He says of al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham: “We don’t coordinate militarily on the battlefield with them but we do have a saying that any rife trained on Assad deserves our support.” Rebel commanders say that regardless of what they decide to do in the event Idlib is targeted their own militiamen will want to fight there, weakening the coherence of moderate factions, if they resist the demands of their ranks.

    FILE - Syrian President Bashar Assad.
    FILE - Syrian President Bashar Assad.

    Assad's future

    Whatever the near future holds for the Syrian revolution against Assad, Nader Othman of the Syrian Interim Government insists the regime won’t win. “They might take more land and occupy it. There will be a resistance, it will revert to a guerrilla war, and Syrians can make things even harder for the Russians than they experienced in Afghanistan.”

    He adds: “Our mistake was not to see our revolution as a national liberation struggle. This is no longer a civil war — we are occupied by many foreign forces and we should make that clear. This is now a war to eject foreign invaders.”

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    February 13, 2016 11:02 AM
    The brutality of the Assad regime was obvious long before there was an IS or al Nusra. Some who took up arms against it eventually joined IS or al Nusra. Some still hold out hope however faint of a peaceful prosperous all inclusive democratic Syria. These are the people Russia and Syria's army have been attacking because they offer a rational alternative to Assad. Syria is an integral part of Iran's strategy for regional hegemony which Russia supports. That will not be allowed to happen. When the threat of Iran is perceived to no longer be tolerable, one or more of those threatened by it, possibly a coalition will attack Iran directly with whatever force it takes to defeat it. Meanwhile what's left of Syria will never know peace until Assad's regime is gone. As it appears now, Syria will become a failed state, entirely ruled by terrorists in some areas, complete anarchy in others. Ultimately life in Syria will not be sustainable. And it is ALL Assad's doing.

    by: Abraham Yeshuratnam from: India
    February 12, 2016 9:36 PM
    ISIS MASQUERADE AS SYRIAN REBELS.
    It is all because of the insolvency of Obama's foreign policy that total chaos prevails in Syria and Iraq. Obama's complete indifference to the IS’ siege of Kobane in 2014 is the real cause for the current tragedy.. Without allowing boots on the ground, he allowed the ISIS which began its career as a rag tag terrorist group to grow into a mighty force with the Pentagon supplied arms, ammunition, tanks, SUVs. The ISIS fleet of captured U.S. military vehicles, including M1A1 tanks, grew by more than 100 when Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) fled the provincial capital of Ramadi. Pentagon officials said that ISIS has seized over 2,500 armored vehicles, including tanks and Humvees. Pentagon's fleets of white Toyota trucks given to Syrian rebels are now being used by ISIS terrorists. . America dropped more than 50 tons of ammunition on Syria to arm rebel groups. Military cargo planes released batches of small arms and hand grenades over Ras Al-Ayn. Why 50 tons? One ton is enough for a small group of rebels. 50 tons can be given only to a large army to be used for many months. In all probability ISIS would have used the grenades to capture Palmyra, to blast the ancient Christian monastery, churches and to kill Syrians. It is a bizarre sight to see ISIS terrorists with their black flags parading streets in white Toyota trucks. The US itself has played a key role in arming, funding, and intentionally perpetuating the terrorist army across Syria and Iraq. . Now with Russia increasing its tempo of military operations, ISIS terrorists are seen fleeing to Libya and Yemen. In this muddled situation, the only solution is to allow Assad to unite Syria. Christians were also living peacefully in Syria before these troubles began. The UN should not be misled by Obama. Western powers should strengthen the hands of Assad to expel ISIS terrorists from Syria. History shows that by removing autocrats such as Saddam, Qadaffi, the countries have plunged into unfathomable anarchy. Massive aid from World Bank may be sought to reconstruct Syria. UN should strive to establish a democratic government in Syria by forcing Assad to conduct elections. A new Syrian government will also eventually put an end to migrant crisis because migrants now in European countries can be asked to return to Syria

    by: AHMED from: INDIA
    February 12, 2016 9:30 PM
    This is Proxy war created by USA to bring puppet Govt like Saudi Arabia. USA like all Govts like SAUDI ARAB, Who is master in listening. To achieve this target USA will not feel shame to convert Syria to another Libya.

    by: Mark from: Virginia
    February 12, 2016 1:14 PM
    It is the last statement in the article that concerns me the most.... Nader Othman of the Syrian Interim Government says, "Our mistake was not to see our revolution as a national liberation struggle. This is no longer a civil war — we are occupied by many foreign forces and we should make that clear. This is now a war to eject foreign invaders.” That means everyone who is not Syrian; western forces, Russian forces, everyone not Syrian.
    It is Munich in 1938 all over again.

    by: Anonymous
    February 12, 2016 12:25 PM
    No such thing as "moderate rebel" in Syria.

    All of them are extremist AQ groups, under b.s. names like FSA, Turkmen Brigades...
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 12, 2016 5:08 PM
    Like the tens of thousands of foreign Sunni Muslim extremists, fanatics and insane that the US had armed and trained in Turkey and Jordan that later joined the religious cause of the ISIL and al-Qaeda, [these more moderate] foreign Sunni Muslim extremists, fanatics and insane that are being armed and trained in Turkey and Jordan will (more than likely) join again with the more extreme, fanatical and insane, in the ISIL or al-Qaeda for the same religious cause to fight and die as martyrs for? .. What moron thought up this US military strategy? .. the commander in chief?

    by: Dom from: Madison Wi
    February 12, 2016 8:19 AM
    Don't count on Obama, the only country he has helped in the last seven years is Iran.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 12, 2016 9:29 AM
    Hey Dom _ The tens of thousands of foreign Sunni Muslim religious extremists, fanatics and insane terrorist/rebels that the US armed and trained in Jordan and Turkey (in 2011 thru 2013) will continue to wage their Jihadist terrorist war against the Shia Muslim led government of Assad and Syria because they have no other choice, because they will die on the battlefield as martyrs or be executed as terrorists? .. [Just thinking?] .. Dwindling foreign terrorist/rebels would find it hard to hide amongst a Syrian population, wouldn't they?

    [And now?] .. The US and NATO must either continue to arm and support the tens of thousands of foreign Sunni Muslim religious extremists, fanatics and insane that they armed and trained in Turkey and Jordan to wage Jihad war on Assad and Syria, [or], the US and NATO must abandon them to the Russian and Syrian army military juggernaut that's threatening to destroy them? .. Make no mistake, the US and NATO knows exactly who the different terrorist/rebel groups are, even though they keep switching sides? .. Because they know the one's they armed and trained, and the one's they didn't? .. It's the legacy that Obama left the world with?

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