Syria’s Many Militias: Inside the Chaos of the Anti-Assad Rebellion

The chief of the Syrian rebels' new Military Command faces a tough task not simply coordinating a war against the Assad regime, but controlling the patchwork of militant groups and rebel outfits that make up his fighting force.

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Sarmad Al-Shamali / HANDOUT / REUTERS

A Free Syrian Army fighter looks back while pointing his weapon at a police academy as smoke rises during fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, on the outskirt of Aleppo, March 2, 2013.

Syria‘s rebels have been locked in a bloody uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad for nearly two years. But for 27 days after it was formed last December, the Free Syrian Army’s Military Command—elected by some 550 rebel delegates and tasked with commanding and controlling the myriad groups on the ground—did not receive so much as a bullet from its Arab and Western supporters. That lack of aid threatened to crush the nascent Military Command’s credibility with the fighting men inside Syria.

The body, headed by chief of staff Brigadier General Salim Idris, replaced the Joint Command of the Revolutionary Military Councils (which was formed less than three months prior), and shunted aside the dueling, Turkey-based so-called leaders of the Free Syrian Army, Colonel Riad al-As’aad and General Mustafa al-Sheikh, who were never more than figureheads.

After 27 days of pleading, the “valve was opened,” Idris told TIME in an interview at a hotel in Antakya, southern Turkey. (The command is based inside Syria, albeit close to the Turkish border.) He remains at the mercy of suppliers he declined to name but who are widely known — mainly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with the blessing of Turkey and Western states. “Our brothers in the field make demands as if I have any influence over our suppliers,” Idris said. “I can’t force them to give us ammunition. If they say ‘I don’t want to give you anything,’ what can I do?”

(MORE: Portrait of a Lady: A Female Syrian Rebel Speaks to TIME)

The men on the ground aren’t necessarily waiting for Idris’s supplies — they have become adept at scrounging for weapons and ammunition, buying them from the regional black market or from corrupt regime soldiers, capturing war booty and making their own armaments, rockets and improvised explosives devices. Almost two years of a grinding civil war have necessitated such skills.

But if the Military Command is to successfully stitch together the patchwork of factions and militias that make up the rebellion, it needs some form of leverage — and the funneling of weapons and ammunition into Syria is supposed to be its modus operandi. Although there are reports of new batches of armaments being shuttled mainly via Syria’s southern border with Jordan, as well as its northern one with Turkey, Idris says it’s all not enough: “We need between 500-600 tons of ammunition a week. We get between 30-40 tons. So you do the calculations.”

The Syrian political opposition didn’t even want to attend an international conference on Syria in Rome last week, a reflection of the anger many of Assad’s opponents feel at the lack of robust foreign support. In the end, the head of the opposition coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, went but was unimpressed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s pledge of $60m non-lethal aid offered directly to select armed rebel groups. So how will the Military Command succeed in imposing its authority when all of its various predecessors largely failed, and Islamist groups outside the Free Syrian Army (which itself is just a loose umbrella term) are growing in stature and influence?

It’s not just about providing material support—the promise of prestige plays a part too. Although there are Islamist Jihadi units of various shades within the Free Syrian Army, other large independent groups like the Salafi Ahrar al-Sham brigades and Jabhat al-Nusra offer the strongest Islamist units within rebel ranks. The U.S considers Jabhat a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaeda although the group denies this and is widely respected by other rebels for its fighting prowess. Some FSA units are joining the Ahrar and Jabhat, not just because their networks of support seem to be more consistent, but because it has come to be perceived as a kind of graduation or a promotion, an acknowledgement that a particular FSA unit or an individual fighter is good enough to become a part of the most respected, most disciplined rank of fighters. It doesn’t hurt that the Ahrar and Jabhat turn fighters away, often because they aren’t considered pious enough, making acceptance into the groups a form of achievement.

(PHOTOS: The Swallows of Syria)

In several recent battles in Idlib province, for example, the two Salafi groups took the organizational lead, and the participation of other groups was by invitation only. Jabhat, in particular, has an authority the FSA lacks because it fights fiercely—often at the very front of the frontlines—is considered “clean” and not corrupt and because its religious clerics can invoke the power of a Sharia court. Which group, once it has pledged obedience or allegiance to a religious court, would dare fall outside of its authority?

At the same time, a number of Islamist groups — including Ahrar al-Sham but not Jabhat al-Nusra — have also coalesced into a bloc called the Syrian Islamic Front, a coalition that says it’s fighting a “two-front war” — to topple Assad and to build “a civilized Islamic society in Syria.”

Some members of the Islamic Front, like Ali Alloush, leader of the Martyr Hamze battalion in the city of Maaret al-Numan in southern Idlib province, say the lack of support drove him to join the Islamist coalition. “We were not Islamists or extremists,” Alloush says. “Our Islamic philosophies and understanding were not like the ones that the Syrian people now have, but with the progression of time, our faith in God, and our belief that He was the only one who could end this for us, that we have nobody but Him, grew. So, naturally our thoughts developed, just as they have in other Islamic states facing this, toward extremism, and the West drove us to this.”

MORE: Syria’s Proxy Wars: In Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, the Specter of Conflict Looms

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10 comments
JanFearing
JanFearing

Time World - Start telling the REAL story of Syria. The story of a president who was getting too popular, too influential and it was worrying Saudi Arabian Wahhabi extremists, Muslim Brotherhood extremists, Qatar extremists. Start telling the story of oil fields and gas pipelines. Start telling the story of Israel wanting Iran to 'get a message'. Start telling the story of Qatar's hundreds of millions of bribe money, excuse me, unsolicited donations to pet projects in the US/UK/France. Start telling the story of the Islamist 'revival' going on in the ME right now where, with US and NATO support, extremists are getting power in more and more areas and over more and more oil and gas fields. Hmm. Big bad Assad is actually the ONE guy in the ME that makes any sense or who has been telling the truth about the sordid business from the get go.

JanFearing
JanFearing

This is a very complicated situation; however it can be summed up simply. The rebels and the opposition are overwhelmingly Islamists. The legitimate government of Assad is secular. The Syrian people support Assad and his army. The opposition does not 'enjoy' the support of either. Under Assad, Syria protected and respected the Christians there. Where the western backed rebels are in control, the Christians are tortured, murdered, displaced. Under Assad, women had equal rights. Where the rebels are there are Sharia courts arresting women for not having 'appropriate dress'. Under Assad, 16-17% of GDP was spent on secular education for all kids, boys and girls. Where the rebels are schools and universities are bombed. Scientists and professors are murdered.

William
William

It would be appropriate for Time World to instigate some controls over what people post in response to lead articles. For this site to be a benefit for all readers there needs to be some discipline. Posting what are no more than 'dispatches from the front' which Mark Fisher did three times or a list of books and references as Sid Harth put up is not comment. 

In Australia any number of newspapers have an on-line commentary facility. In most instances the comments are restricted to a max. of 1500 characters. This ensures comments are focused and to the point. Those responsible for Time World should consider adopting a similar approach as it will improve the standard of comment and make it more rewarding for readers.  

elcidharth
elcidharth

Development of Conflict in Arab Spring Libya and Syria: From Revolution to Civil War By Maya Bhardwaj

http://pages.wustl.edu/wuir/development-conflict-arab-spring-libya-and-syria-revolution-civil-war

Middle East and Islam: Syria Scholarly Articles

©2002. Middle Eastern Studies Links - University of Oklahoma (Prof. Joshua Landis).

Get smart, it pays.

...and I am Sid Harth@elcidharth.com

William
William

I have no idea who Mark Fisher is but what this site needs is concise opinion not three posts that resemble dispatches from the front to army HQ.

The West would be well advised to pull stumps and leave the arabs to sort out this mess because either way it's not going to turn out as anyone wants except the jihadist's. While Russia backs Assad, the likelihood of a change in government is remote. So Syria will endure a long protracted civil war. And if the opposition were to take power the blood letting will be even worse without the intervention of peace keeping forces. And what is the Arab League doing or the Muslim clerics who are so fond of telling us they are a religion of peace and harmony. 

In the end, regardless of the outcome, Syria will look to the West for aid on the basis that we should pay because we are richer. Like so many of its counter parts, Syria could be a progressive country with a good standard of living for its people. What holds it back and the whole of the Middle East is Islam. No religious force has been so counter productive for so long. It has been an ally to all the repressive regimes and a tool to enslave the people in a cloak of smoke and mirrors. Only when the people realise that Islam has been used to repress them will they make any real progress to addressing their short comings.




MarkFisher
MarkFisher

Army Carries Out Operations against Terrorists in Several Areas

Units of our Armed Forces on Monday carried out special operations against terrorists in several areas in Idleb countryside.

A source in the province told SANA reporter that Armed Forces units destroyed terrorists hideouts, killing a number of terrorists and injuring others in the western farms surrounding Idleb city and on Idleb-Filon highway and in the towns of Merand, al-Douisat, al-Janorieh and Qatron in Jisr al-Shughour countryside.

The source added that a number of the terrorists vehicles and weapons were also destroyed in the operations.

It also said that the operations inflicted heavy losses upon terrorists in the areas surrounding Wadi al-Daif and al-Hamidiya in Maaret al-Nou'man .

A number of terrorists were killed among them terrorists Ahmad Taher al-Said, nicknamed Saso and Adnan al-Makhzoum, nicknamed al-Dish and Samer Bakfalouni.

A warehouse for ammunition was also destroyed with all the weapons and ammunition in it, and all the terrorists in it were killed.

Terrorists were also killed in Binish city in addition to destroying hideouts for terrorists in al-Nirab village and the farms of Broma, Kafr Rohin and Taftanaz.

In Abu al-Duhour city, a unit of our Armed Forces targeted an armed terrorist group, killing a number of its member.

Meanwhile, two vans were destroyed on Sunday with all the weapons and ammunitions in them , in addition to a DShk-equipped car in Bani Zeid in Aleppo in a special operation by Armed Forces.

The operation resulted in the killing of all the terrorists in the two vans.

SANA reporter quoted a source in the province as saying that the army stormed into two terrorists' hideouts in Areha city in Idleb countryside and inflicted heavy losses upon the terrorists in them.

The source added that another army unit targeted terrorists' gatherings in the towns of al-Sheikh Yousef and Maardabsi, killing scores of them and destroying many of their vehicles.

The army also dismantled 15 explosive devices weighing between 50-70 kg each planted by terrorists on Areha-Saraqeb highway.




Army Eliminates Terrorists' Leaders in Damascus Countryside

The army units pursued armed terrorist groups in Jubar area in Damascus Countryside and killed scores of terrorists.

An official source told SANA reporter that leaders of terrorist groups were killed in the operations, adding that among them were Yaser al-Harah, Bashar Qasem, Waleed Jouma and Khaled Qartouma.

Terrorists Bassam al-Aghawani and Taha Yahya were also identified among the dead.

Armed Forces units carried out several operations targeting terrorist hideouts in al-Rihan farms in the eastern Ghouta area, destroying a terrorist hideout along with the weapons and munitions inside it and eliminating a number of terrorist including Amer Kahteh, Mahmoud Allam and Ziyad al-Nabki.

In Adra area and the surrounding farms, Armed Forces units continued pursuing terrorists, killing a number of them and injuring others.

MarkFisher
MarkFisher



Army Units Kill Terrorists in Damascus Countryside

Unit of our Armed Forces carried out operations against the armed terrorist groups in Daraya and al-Zabadani in Damascus countryside, killing and injuring terrorists, in addition to dismantling several explosive devices.

An official source told SANA that an Army unit clashed with an armed terrorist group in al-Alali area in Daraya, killing and injuring several terrorists, among the dead terrorists were Foua'd Barakat, Hussam Muhammad and Adnad Aouyda.

The source added that an Army unit destroyed an armored car, two cars equipped with heavy machineguns and a heavy bulldozer which was used by terrorists to make barriers, inflicting heavy losses upon them.

The source pointed out that engineering units dismantled 3 explosive devices in the area with weights over 30Kg.

In al-Zabadani city, Army unit clashed with an armed terrorist group in the north side of the city, inflicting heavy losses upon them, among the injured terrorists were Ahmad al-Dalati.



Terrorists Eliminated in Homs Countryside

Syrian Arab Armed Forces clashed with an armed terrorist group in al-Rastan in Homs countryside and eliminated all of the group's members.

SANA reporter quoted a source in the province as saying that among the killed terrorists were Mohammad Arour, Issa Bakkour, Rami Shreteh and Muhannad Bahbouh.

The source added that an explosion occurred in an explosive devices factory in al-Qseir city, adding that the factory was destroyed and all terrorists in it were killed or injured.

Army Units Inflict Heavy Losses upon Terrorists in Homs Countryside

A unit of our Armed Forces killed a number of terrorists and injured others in Homs countryside.

A source in the province told SANA that the Army units destroyed a number of terrorists' dens in Akrab, al-Tayba, al-Houla and Oum Sharshuh in al-Rastan, inflicting heavy losses upon terrorists.

MarkFisher
MarkFisher


Terrorists Killed and Injured in Deir Ezzor

An Armed Forces unit carried out a special operation in al-Matar al-Qadim neighborhood in Deir Ezzor city, eliminating a number of terrorists, including Ahmad Louay al-Sheikh Hammoud from a terrorist group calling itself "Saraya al-Nasr."

Another unit clashed with a terrorist group that attempted to attack a military point in the 7 KM area in Deir Ezzor countryside, injuring and killing a number of terrorists including Hatem Khalif al-Mutlaq, Ibrhaim al-Elkeh and Bashir Taha al-Bashir.

Three Employees at Hama Water Establishment Martyred in a Terrorist Explosion

Three employees at Hama Water Establishment were martyred on Monday as an explosive device planted by terrorists went off in Hama countryside.

A source in the province told SANA reporter that the three employees were martyred while they were repairing a well in Kurmus town in Hama western countryside.

   

Army Units Inflict Heavy Losses upon Terrorists in Aleppo and its Countryside

Units of our Armed Forces carried out operations against terrorists' gatherings in Aleppo and its countryside, inflicting heavy losses upon them.

An official source in the province told SANA that the Army units destroyed a terrorist den and 4 cars equipped with heavy machineguns, killing and injuring terrorists in al-Mansoura in Aleppo countryside.

The source added that the Army units eliminated terrorists in al-Hader, Der Jammal, Darit Ezza and Ming.

In Aleppo city, Army units killed and injured terrorists in Hananou, Karm al-Tarrab, Boustan al-Kaser, al-Kalasa.

The source pointed out that the Army units continued pursuing terrorists in the old city, killing terrorists and destroying their dens.

bobgreenfield2013
bobgreenfield2013

And why should we arm and support Islamist Jihadists?  So they can use those same weapons against Americans someday?  I'm still upset that Kerry gave them $60 million dollars.  These are the same Al-Qaeda backed terrorists that were killing our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Why the hell are we sending them aid?

BrahmandamLakshmiNarasimhaMurthy
BrahmandamLakshmiNarasimhaMurthy

The foolishness of US?NATO in supporting the syrian rebels  has resulted in terrible loss of  syrian life and also presented Alquaida and other Islamists  an opertunity to capture another country. Slowly Egypt , Libya and Syria ,Mali.Algeria will come under islamic fundamentalists and Iraq will follow.All this is not good for the world but by the time the west realises their mistake it will be too late.Dictators or democrats , what ever they were the earlier rulers of these countries were able to keep these countries stable, which is not the case after western intervention