Taliban on the Euphrates: Syria fighters Dump Moderate SNC, Aim for Fundamentalist State

The pan-Arab daily al-Hayat [Life] reports that 14 bands of fighters in Syria have broken with the moderate Syrian National Council led by Ahmad al-Jarba and have repudiated its Free Syrian Army.

The importance of this development should not be underestimated. It will throw a scare into Baghdad and Amman, and will provoke serious thought in Tel Aviv and Europe about the wisdom of supporting the opposition in Syria.

Embarrassingly enough this development broke while al-Jerba was at the UN General Assembly, where he met with Secretary of State John Kerry and UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Al-Hayat said the Americans insisted on three points: Pursuing the plan to sequester Syria’s chemical weapons; an increase in aid to the opposition, including humanitarian aid; and proceeding with a negotiated settlement at Geneva. Al-Jerba, who wants outright victory, cannot have been happy to hear all this. And then his fighters abruptly joined al-Qaeda, cutting him off at the knees. The Americans postponed their further meeting in Washington with AlJerba and with Gen. Salim Idris, commander of the (now diminished) Free Syrian Army.

The American plan, of strengthening the FSA and overcoming the extremists in the opposition so as to force the ruling Baath regime to the negotiating table has now almost completely fallen apart. The turn toward al-Qaeda of so many Syrian fighters just after the Nairobi attacks will make it even harder for the Congress to support aid to the rebels.

Three of the armed groups that signed the fundamentalist declaration had been considered members of the Free Syrian Army. Also signing the declaration seeking an Islamic state instead of a Syrian National Council were Jabhat al-Nusra, an open al-Qaeda affiliate.

France 24 reports:

The London-based daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat [The Middle East] suggests one explanation for the defections: money. The Syrian National Council is just not funding the moderate Free Syrian Army very well, while fundamentalist fighters are well paid.

“Syria: FSA Officials Complain of Weak Financing, Defections to Well-Financed Islamist Brigades”…
Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Document Type: OSC Translated Text

Despite insistence by the Syrian opposition on organizing the activities of the Free Syrian Army and controlling decisions by its brigades as a prelude to transforming it to a military establishment that protects security in the period after the ouster of the regime, realities on the field indicate there are many obstacles to bringing this about. Military commanders complain of the modest finances that reach the Joint Chiefs of Staff, something that forces the commanders of the brigades fighting on the ground to shift their alliances to the quarters that supply them with money and weapons.

Breakaway Brigadier-General Khalid al-Hammud told Al-Sharq al-Awsat that about 50 percent of the FSA brigades receive support from external sides. These brigades are the more effective in fighting the regular forces because they lead the most prominent battles and score great gains, he said. This has produced a state of multiple loyalties within the FSA because the decision in some brigades is up to those who supply them with weapons and pays them, not the Chiefs of Staff.

Al-Hammud said that the Chiefs of Staff control only 20 percent of the brigades that fight on the ground. Its members live on the borders and do not enter Syria, something that makes them distant from the course of action on the field, he said.

Al-Hammud explained the procedure adopted by the fighting brigades to obtain support from merchants and businessmen sympathetic with the Syrian revolution. He said the soldiers prepared a video on an operation they carried out against regular forces to send it to the financing quarters in order to get money and weapons. Thus the phrase has been coined among brigade commanders in Syria: Shoot videos and get money and weapons, he said…

According to Al-Hammud, the hard-line Islamic brigades that constitute 30 percent of the opposition fighters do not suffer a problem in getting finances. On the contrary they pay salaries to their fighters and ensure a good life to their families.a(euro) He said that a(euro)oea number of moderate fighters leave their brigades and join the Islamic brigades to obtain the privileges they provide. He blamed this on the FSA Chiefs of Staff which he said operates a(euro)oeaccording to a Western agenda.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff comprises 30 civilian and military members operating under the command of General Salim Idris who was elected in mid December 2012 after lengthy meetings held in the Turkish town of Antalya attended by representatives from various fighting Syrian opposition factions operating inside Syria. This took place about a year after the establishment of the FSA by the breakaway Colonel Riyad al-Asad who was excluded along with his aides from the composition of the new Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Under the field complexities facing the FSA, its brigades have lately been facing a new confrontation with the hard-line Islamic brigades, especially the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant which is close to Al-Qaeda. Several clashes have broken out between the two sides the last of which was in the village of Hazanu in [Idlib's] countryside.

Alan Lund has more analysis at Syria Comment

22 Responses

  1. It will make Ankara happy. But it’s not in the least surprising, merely the official announcement of what had been obvious for months and months.

  2. Two points:

    Firstly, the Syrian National Council (the “Council”) is Istanbul-based and led by George Sabra, a Christian Syrian and a member of the Central Committee of the Syrian Communist Party since 1985; their website is http://www.syriannationalcouncil.com

    The Syrian National Council is a largely secular exile group founded in 2005. The Syrian National Coalition (the “Coalition”) was chartered in Qatar in 2012 and about 35% of its seats are held by members of the Syrian National Council – most of the remaining seats are held by Syrian exiles who strongly identify as Muslims to varying degrees.

    The Council and Coalition are two discrete organizations and it is the Coalition that had received the allegiance of the Free Syrian Army as well as diplomatic recognition by the majority of world community as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and a government-in- exile.

    It is the Coalition (currently led by Ahmad al-Jarba)that has deteriorating relations with the Free Syrian Army – not the Istabul-based Council.

    Secondly, General Salim Idris is NOT the commander of the Free Syrian Army – only its administrative Chief of Staff. Idris was a brigadier general in the Syrian Army and had been the highest-ranking member to defect to the Free Syrian Army – but Idris has no battle experience and his role in the Free Syrian Army is merely administrative; Idris was assigned to the Corps of Engineers in the Syrian Army and manages the business aspect of the Free Syrian Army, including press relations. The commander-in-chief of the Free Syrian Army is Colonel Riad al-Asaad – who operates as the field commander of the Free Syrian Army.

    Colonel al-Asaad is revered by many Syrians as a battlefield leader, while Idris is viewed as a bureaucrat. Al-Asaad’s exclusion from the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the FSA – even though he fonded the FSA – is puzzling.

  3. I was hoping but wary the FSA etc could be viable. This is really depressing and dangerous. The skeptics of helping rebels have the right to say, “we told you so.” This needs further elaboration: “According to Al-Hammud, the hard-line Islamic brigades that constitute 30 percent of the opposition fighters do not suffer a problem in getting finances. On the contrary they pay salaries to their fighters and ensure a good life to their families …” So who is paying them so well?

    • Gulf Arabs, AKP-allied Islamists within Turkey. IOW, the usual suspects. Why US policy pretends that it’s still 2007 in Ankara is beyond me.

  4. That these Islamist groups have broken from the Syrian National Council and repudiated the Free Syrian Army should be no surprise. They generally have the toughest commanders and fighters, and more important, their goals for a post-Assad Syria were never in alignment with the moderate SNC and its FSA. They have explicitly stated they want an Islamist government in Syria with Shari’a Law.

    Some of us have been predicting this from the beginning and have counseled against US support for the rebels. It is risible to suggest that funneling arms to certain “vetted” groups among the rebels will ensure those arms stay out of the hands of the Islamists. Arms, like money, are fungible and cannot be kept within only one group, particularly with Islamist fighters and Al-Qaeda affiliates in the mix.

    The US should stay out of the fray in Syria and let the conflict play itself out. We have no national interests in Syria that are worth getting involved. If Russia arms the Assad regime and Saudi Arabia and Qatar arm the rebels, so be it. The US managed its interests in the Near East reasonably well while living for 40 years with the Assad family running Syria. Should Assad eventually prevail, we can live with him. Should he fall, there is nothing we can do to ensure the Islamists won’t prevail, and if they were to do so, the result would likely be much worse than Assad. The US should restrict its activity to providing support for the refugee camps in surrounding countries.

    • “….(a)rms, like money, are fungible, and cannot be kept within one group, particularly with Islamist fighters and Al-Qaeda affiliates in the mix.”

      Good point.

      Arms are valuable commodities and the CIA-brokered purchases of weapons to the vetted “good guys” may be re-sold on the black market and wind up in the hands of al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters which may create a dangerous situation.

      If anyone doubts this there is historical precedent in Afghanistan where the U.S. frantically attempted to recover Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and launchers from Islamic rebel forces, who saw the missiles as status symbols. One
      CIA-supplied rebel leader, Gulbuddin Hekmyatar, became prime minister of Afghanistan in 1994 and his men attempted to shoot down the Afghan president’s plane with a missile. Hekmyatar later was targeted for an unsuccessful drone attack in 2002 by the Bush administration; Hekmyatar shortly later announced his support for al-Qaeda and remains at large in Afghanistan.

      Also, it is agreed that there is absolutely no U.S. strategic interest in Syria and U.S. involvement should be limited to much-needed humanitarian assistance. If al-Qaeda gains a foothold in any post-Assad government and Syria becomes a rogue state like Afghanistan did, then those who backed the CIA arming of the rebels may have egg on their collective faces.

    • The Islamists are winning fighters’ loyalty because they getting more outside support than the moderates, so therefore, this demonstrates that the US should not be giving the moderates support?

      That is…not obvious.

      • It is far from obvious that the Islamists are winning fighters’ loyalty because they are getting more outside support than the moderates. It is equally far from obvious that said fighters would side with the moderates were they to receive more outside support.

        The more obvious explanation is that the Islamists are attracting fighters because they agree with the goals and program of the Islamists. That, and the fact that the Islamists are much the better field commanders and fighters than the moderates.

        • Nice set of unsupported assertions. Got anything that shows that Obviousness?

          link to weekly.ahram.org.eg

          link to globalpost.com

          And rafts of other digested (and otherwise) source items. Which might not altogether comport with the Serious Obvious Explanation. How to stop it? kind of like trying to stop the heating and dispersion of the melted nuclear fuel out there at Fukushima…

        • “Nice set of unsupported assertions. Got anything that shows that Obviousness?”

          I am curious why you posted the two links in your comment, ostensibly in support of the above-cited quote? Neither of the linked articles contradicts in the slightest my assertion that “The more obvious explanation is that the Islamists are attracting fighters because they agree with the goals and program of the Islamists. That, and the fact that the Islamists are much the better field commanders and fighters than the moderates.”

          Do you just post links randomly without digesting or fully understanding their content?

        • Bill, you are getting better at the misdirection-redirection-impeachment game.

          Still wondering if you have anything to support your Obviousness = Everyone Ought To Know claim.

          Sure looks from what I read like a lot of young bristly males, with their mouths full of the profanity of the invocation of G_D’s greatness as they get off shooting and blowing everything up, have, as a principal part of their motivation in destroying civil society in Syria, just plain old paychecks that apparently come from various “outside sources.” Including, of course, our own beloved national institutions…

          More random linkage, for those who want a little broader read: link to thedailysheeple.com

        • JT, this is an embarrassing performance, even for you. You literally don’t even know what you’re supposed to be arguing, you just know that Those People On The Internet Are Wrong.

          Bill,

          It is far from obvious that the Islamists are winning fighters’ loyalty because they are getting more outside support than the moderates.

          That’s what the story reports, Bill.

          Military commanders complain of the modest finances that reach the Joint Chiefs of Staff, something that forces the commanders of the brigades fighting on the ground to shift their alliances to the quarters that supply them with money and weapons.

  5. I am aghast as to why the Americans have vowed not to learn a lesson from the dreadful blunders committed earlier. It is not a rocket science that in deeply religious societies the chances of secular oriented groups to come on top against well entrenched radicals are extremely marginal. The Afghan debacle should have been an eye opener. Even a cursory look at recent history would have suggested that Islamic radicals have turned out to be the ultimate winner in political upheavals. I am more than convinced that no one will even dare to do American bidding.

    • “Dreadful blunders?” That characterization sort of depends on one’s personal calculus of values.

      It helps to “follow the money.” Who gets rich and famous off the “policies?” For example: Part of US “strategy” (sic) was to pay local warriors not to shoot at “us.” In A’stan it was direct: “we” wanted truck-delivered fuel and munitions at “the front,” in a frontless 4th Generation war. So “we” paid warlords to pay their warriors not to attack our idiot convoys, and paid other warriors to drive the trucks. “We” paid one set of troublesome warriors in Iraq to stand down or at least attack others, a “surge” of unaccounted cash among other magical disappearances of huge amounts of wealth. “Our” great plan to Pacify and Build Nations involves paying lots more money (including to corrupt politicians and our corrupt and corrupting “training and arming contractors,” that bland little phrase that obscures such ugly reality) to inhabitants of “those little countries over there” to become “national police” and “national armies” which for some reason never “works out” as advertised (though maybe as intended.)

      In our own country, our own fundamentalist radicals have gained power and prominence and infiltrated and occupied our military and civilian-corporate leadership by being On Task and On Message with a limited set of appealing, quasi-religious idiocies and a strong organizing and warfare-oriented approach to politics.

      Some nominal “Americans” have learned very well a whole profitable set of lessons from earlier salients and strategems. You maybe assume, Munir, that “we US Imperial Citizens” collectively are actually at all interested in “doing good,” as ordinary people elsewhere, who themselves I might add have their own imperfections, might understand the term…

  6. Actually Juan, far from making it more difficult for other countries to support the Free Syrian Army, the fundamentalists’ exit may make it easier and more urgent for them to do so

    • That’s a hatched in hell (with all respect, sir). The group that failed and failed and had its lunch repeatedly eaten by the jihadis will now, if armed magically be able to defeat the jihadis? How much NATO personnel and materiel are you willing to commit to this project?

      And who gets to play the Chris Stevens role?

  7. Juan, whilst you were busy fighting the last war against the last Administration, our President pulled off the greatest triumph of coericive diplomacy since – dare I say – Munich–

    The results speak for themselves.
    Another week another triumph
    link to cbsnews.com

    And so the decks are cleared for an advance in diplomacy with Iran.

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