News / Middle East

    Will Friends of Syria Pledge Arms to Rebels?

    French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, center, stands with representatives of other Friends of the Syrian People of Syria at their Paris meeting, Friday, July 6.
    French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, center, stands with representatives of other Friends of the Syrian People of Syria at their Paris meeting, Friday, July 6.
    David Arnold
    As rebels pile up victories against the Syrian Army of President Bashar al-Assad, U.S. State Department delegates will join many of the 70 member states of the Friends of the Syrian People on Wednesday in Marrakech, Morocco to offer more support for the overthrow of Assad and to shorten a bloody 20-month revolution. 
     
    Recent rebel Free Syrian Army successes have been telling: downing Syrian MiG jets and helicopter gunships with shoulder-fired air defense missiles, forcing the government to temporarily shut down commercial flights to Damascus International Airport, and taking and holding urban and as well rural regions in the northern governorates of Idlib and Aleppo - Syria’s wealthy commercial and manufacturing center.
     
    Some of the rebel advances – such as Monday’s takeover of a large Syrian Arab Army (SAA) base near Aleppo - have been led by better-equipped jihadist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, which Washington placed Tuesday morning on its terrorism list as an alias for al-Qaida in Iraq. The announcement marks an effort by the United States to isolate or remove extremists fighting units from rebel forces that may receive support from Friends of Syria.
     
    Most of Syria’s armed opposition groups – poorly equipped local volunteers and SAA defectors – have asked for substantial military support from Western nations, specifically, enforcement of a no-fly zone in the north and delivery of heavier weapons than their AK-47 assault rifles.
     
    Now that there is a new opposition formed, we are going to do what we can to support that opposition   - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
    Their pleas for heavy weapons was echoed by the Syrian National Council, exiles who shared their desire for regime change, but failed early on to ignite global support. Now strengthened by creation of the Syrian National Coalition of Revolution and Opposition Forces, Assad’s political opponents hope to come away from Marrakech with pledges of enough military support to take Damascus, the capital, and to shorten a war many predict could go on for another six months or longer. 
     
    But will there be weapons?
     
    In recent days, reports of unity among domestic anti-Assad forces took root: On Thursday, 96 representatives of revolutionary councils met in Istanbul and the next day commanders of 30 military councils agreed to form a united Syria Military Council under a chief of staff, Gen. Salim Idriss. The council does not include Jabhat al-Nusra, which was not invited to the Antalya meeting.
     
    International support for the opposition also is growing. NATO committed to install Patriot missiles on the Turkish side of Syria’s northern border, the U.S. pointedly warned Assad against using chemical weapons on Syrians, and there were reports that France is handing out cash to local political councils inside Syria through its new representatives in the coalition.
     
    At the NATO meeting in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – who had to cancel her Marrakech plans due to illness - said, “Now that there is a new opposition formed, we are going to do what we can to support that opposition.”
     
    However, the meeting in Morocco Wednesday may only give more moral support and added humanitarian aid. Sources say it may be too soon to expect substantial military promises. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Burns will lead the U.S. delegation to Marrakech.

    The United States, a major player in the Friends of Syria, is said to be impressed with endorsements of the coalition by domestic opposition leaders, but needs evidence of popular support from the street activists. Officials hope that will develop over time.
     
    Following the birth of the broader National Coalition in Doha under the leadership of moderate Sunni cleric  Mouaz al-Khatib, France, the United Kingdom and Germany, recognized the Syrian National Coalition as Syria’s government in exile. Washington, however, says the coalition’s role is at this point only that of the leader of a revolution.
     
    The military is still fragmented, but they are able to take down the regime and they are doing it piece by piece - Andrew Tabler, Washington Institute
    Washington also does not appear ready to commit to a no-fly zone that requires significant military support.  Officials indicate instead that the meeting in Marrakech will emphasize basic issues such as food, medicine and fuel for the thousands of Syrians in informal refugee camps that have sprung up in rebel-occupied territories. 
     
    To date, the U.S. government has given over $200 million in what officials describe as humanitarian aid to improve living conditions for refugees and others displaced internally by the war.
     
    Washington avoids discussion of significant military commitments because officials don’t want U.S. weapons going to those whose goals extend beyond restoration of a peaceful, democratic and secular Syria. And officials point out that rebel forces are already achieving success in some areas with weapons provided by other sources.
     
    “The military is still fragmented, but they are able to take down the regime and they are doing it piece by piece,” said Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of “In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with Syria.” But Tabler worries about what those fighting units will do after Assad is gone.
     
    “The problem the rebels face is whether these diverse fighting units will merge when it comes time to rule,” Tabler said. “And most important, the United States has no relations with them at all.”
     
    Doubts about opposition unity
     
    Tabler argued in a recent VOA interview, “I think predictions of the unity of the opposition are overstated.” He said there are two weaknesses in the new coalition’s appeal.
     
    First, the opposition that coalesced in Doha still needs better links with opposition leadership inside Syria. The Khatib coalition chose activists in Syria to represent the 14 revolutionary councils, but Tabler said the activists may not adequately represent those councils. 
     
    “The question is how much sway do they have in their governorates.  It’s a bit strange… For example, in Homs, you have an active revolutionary council but the revolutionary council in Homs is not really represented. There is a local notable who is represented from Homs.”
     
    The second weakness cited by Tabler is that the coalition’s goal to reduce the dominating influences of the Syrian National Council’s Muslim Brotherhood faction was not achieved. “The SNC is still a major player,” he said, and remains ”a dysfunctional organization.” And he worries whether the coalition will be able to maintain control.
     
    “And that’s just the civil end. The armed groups within the country are not included in this coalition directly. How is that going to work?”

    You May Like

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Goodbye Ketchup, Hello Sriracha!

    How immigrants are triggering a great transformation in American cuisine

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    December 13, 2012 1:42 AM
    Russia doesn't attend "Friends of Syria" because it isn't a friend of the Syrian people, yet it stations their Navy in Syria... Bad move Russia, your childlike responses to the needs of the Syrian people will get you kicked out of Syria permanently, plus more actions in the business world will take place as a slap.

    by: Anonymous
    December 11, 2012 5:44 PM
    they should not... unless they want a new Islamic Al Qaida in the middle east... only this time it would be much closer to Europe...

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora