Free Syrian Army: Better tool for toppling Syria's Assad than UN?
As Arab and European nations push for a new resolution at the UN Security Council tomorrow, the Free Syrian Army is emerging as an increasingly influential player. But it needs weapons, money.
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“In reality, a UN resolution is no longer necessary, and might even be counterproductive if it was phrased in such a way as to equate Assad’s mindless crackdown with the legitimate rebellion it succeeded in instigating,” US-based Syrian activist Ammar Abdulhamid wrote in an online newsletter circulated Monday. “What is needed at this stage is the ability and willingness to provide the necessary materiel and logistical support to the rebels and to provide protest leaders with the training and advice necessary to lead the transitional period themselves.”Skip to next paragraph
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However, an international decision to support the FSA could risk a backlash from the Syrian regime and its powerful allies in Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, risking trouble spilling beyond its borders. Furthermore, while backing an FSA campaign of attrition against the Assad regime may be seen in the West as the least worst solution in the absence of a diplomatic alternative and or international intervention, but the level of violence in Syria would assuredly increase and could last many months before the balance falls in favor of the opposition.
FSA struggling to get enough weapons
Obtaining sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain the struggle against the Assad regime is a daily challenge for the FSA, which has tenuous control of some Damascus suburbs, part of the Idlib province in the north, and the town of Zabadani near the border with Lebanon.
“We need everything,” says Mohammed, an FSA officer in his late 30s who was hiding in the home of a radical Lebanese cleric in Tripoli. “RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades], PKCs [light machine guns], silencers, ammunition. There are so many of us that we need much more than we are getting.”
Some weapons are smuggled through Lebanon’s border with Syria, although the quantity is small and on an individual basis. Other weapons are brought across the border with Turkey, which FSA fighters can cross with relative ease.
Diplomatic sources say that weapons are also crossing into Syria from Iraq on a “tribe to tribe” basis, meaning the Sunni tribes of Iraq’s Al-Anbar province supplying their brethren in eastern Syria. The sources say that the Kurds in northern Iraq are also dispatching armaments to the Kurds of northeast Syria although most of it is being stockpiled for now.
Another valuable source of arms is coming from the regular Syrian Army itself, according to FSA officers.
Some Syrian forces secretly help FSA
Sheikh Zuheir Amr Abassi, spokesman of the Islamic Supreme Council of Syria and a logistical coordinator for the FSA, says there are secret channels of communication between the FSA and soldiers and officers serving in the regular army.
“A potential deserter will contact us and give us his name and rank. We will ask him his job in the army. If he’s of use to us, we tell him to stay where he is so he can smuggle weapons to us or provide us with intelligence. Otherwise, we tell him to desert only when he has a rifle and plenty of ammunition,” he says.
Abassi recounted one example of how an Army officer was recruited into the FSA, handed a Thuraya mobile satellite phone and asked to help prepare for a raid on an arms depot.
“He called us one night and said all was clear. We sent 20 guys with duffel bags to the depot and they filled them with weapons and ammunition,” he says.