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An Urgent Effort To Organize Syria’s Rebels

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
July 21, 2012

The battle for Syria appears to have reached a decisive stage. Tanks are on the streets of Damascus, and civilians are fleeing the capital. Rebels have seized border posts with Turkey and Iraq.

The rebels have shown a surprising military capability over the past few days. Now, there’s a major push to organize.

As fighting intensifies in the Syrian capital, there is an urgent effort underway to organize the rebel fighting force.

Lt. Gen. Faiz Amro, speaking from a camp on the Turkish border for top Syrian military defectors, says 20 senior officers have formed a new military council.

There’s been a shake-up in the command of the Free Syrian Army, he says. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has become a dominant force in Syria’s fragmented opposition, agrees that a military reorganization is needed. Molhelm al-Drobi is a member of the Brotherhood’s leadership.

“What’s important is, that the people are talking to each other,” he says. “Outside moderators are trying to play [a] role to unify officers under one umbrella.”

Rebel commanders confirm unity talks have accelerated over the past few days. Many agree a unified command is now crucial. The Free Syrian Army has been an army in name only, says one rebel, Abu Amar, who expressed the frustration of many fighters inside Syria with officers outside.

“We don’t take any order from them, we don’t listen to them, and we don’t have any real communication with them,” he says.

An Attempt to Fight Together

A barely furnished apartment in southern Turkey serves as headquarters for a brigade fighting in a province on Syria’s northern border. Some fighters sleep draped over couches; others watch the news, drink sweet tea and smoke. This brigade began with local army defectors and civilians, who sold land, cars, houses, anything of value, to buy arms.

Nidal Dura Mohammed, part of the brigade’s leadership, echoes the call for a unified command.

“We need our officers to take their correct places in the revolution,” he says, because the regime still hasn’t fallen yet.

He says there’s a tough fight ahead – but many fear there will also be chaos. Mohammed Fiso is the logistics chief for the Farouk Brigade, one of the most respected rebels groups. It now controls the town of Rastan in central Syria.

“We are afraid that after the fall of the regime, we will enter a civil war,” he says.

Infighting Feared

It is a widespread fear that the hundreds of groups fighting the regime will turn on each other in a struggle for power. Fiso supports some military authority to disarm the militias once the Assad regime has been ousted.

“So, the idea is that to avoid different groups fighting other groups, they should all give back their weapons once the regime has fallen,” he says.

That will be very difficult. Anyone can become a rebel – all it takes is money — and not all of them serve under the banner of the Free Syrian Army. There are al-Qaida-style radicals, conservative Muslims called Salafis, who get support from private Arab donors in the Gulf. The Muslim Brotherhood also funds brigades, and there are local secular groups. Some brigades only accept Army defectors and impose strict military discipline.

Abu Bashar is a logistics chief for one brigade of defectors. His financial backers – he refuses to identify them – insist he keep track of every bullet, registering the serial numbers of all smuggled arms.

“Once a week, they get a document, a columned Excel sheet with the military operation carried out and the type of weapons that were bought,” he says.

Many of the rebel groups follow the same procedures to account for the weapons once the regime falls. But with so many weapons now in Syria, he says, there is trouble ahead. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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