The Syrian Revolution is approaching its sixth year since the popular uprising started against the Assad regime in March 2011, where the Syrian people took to the streets asking for legitimate rights like democratic reforms and more civil rights but achieving these demands now seems to be much more difficult than ever. The uprising against the dictatorship regime was peaceful for several months but due to regime’s continuous massive crackdown on the peaceful protesters, led many civilians and army defectors to start an armed resistance against the Assad regime which led to the birth of Free Syrian Army. Later on, the armed resistance in Syria have witnessed a rapid transformation from the formation of one faction to over 100 different armed factions, currently the armed opposition groups needs to come together and merge if it wants to defeat the Assad regime and its allies.
Unification of political and military groups is vital
On the ideological level, we cannot ignore that fact that many of the armed opposition groups in Syria have ideologized into different ideologies despite their main objective which is the downfall of the Assad regime. The ideological process one way or another contributed to the deepening fragmentation that already existed in the Free Syrian Army linked brigades in the early stages of the revolution. This process has made it difficult for armed opposition groups to come to an agreement for a complete unification that could benefit the revolution on the national level. The armed opposition groups must find a mutual ideology to agree upon just like they did during the early stages of this revolution.
In December last year in Saudi capital Riyadh, The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) was created and it’s the first political entity that combines the political opposition parties and opposition military factions, which was a great step towards unification but it’s not enough since they are facing now tough moments including the poor support from their close backers. High Negotiations Committee should make a huge pressure on their primary backers [Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar] and their European political backers like France and Britain so they could make an effective change to try to end the massacre in Aleppo and other parts of Syria, also to allow humanitarian aid to reach the besieged areas in Syria. Most importantly The United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 must be implemented.
For the opposition to be able to achieve something on ground and at the negotiation table there must be a complete integration between the opposition’s political body and armed wing, the separation of armed groups from the political body as currently it is now, will put the Syrian opposition in many difficult positions. Before they launch any offensive they must set a political goal that is achievable for a military victory, if they have the upper hand on the ground than they will have the advantage on the negotiating table.
The situation is more complicated now on the ground, where every strong armed group [Nationalist or Islamist] wants to establish a strong a rule on the ground or in the geographical space that they have a strong influence or semi-complete control on it just like in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib. Many operation rooms and coalitions have been created as a close cooperation between armed groups but due to internal division in the command centre, many of these operation rooms and coalitions didn’t continue operating and were dissolved.
Some commanders in many different opposition armed groups have grown a deep hostility towards other armed groups because of the continuing disagreements and internal rivalry, this continuing hostility have led to exchanging threats which many times resulted in heavy clashes and arrests. This is one of the major obstacles for unification between all armed opposition groups, the disease of factionalism must come to an end.
Regarding funding and finances let’s take ISIS as an example, when Islamic State entered to Syria from Iraq in 2013 they firstly focused on expansion and capturing opposition held territories that have natural resources like oil, wheat and other resources, then it exported the oil and electricity to Assad regime in exchange of money according to many reports. This continuing trade has boomed ISIS economy to self-sufficiency level that allowed them to manage their territories efficiently.
The armed opposition lost those areas easily to ISIS especially in Deir ez-Zor, because they didn’t concentrate their efforts on combating ISIS as much they did against the pro-Syrian government troops back in 2013 since they didn’t send any reinforcements to defend the oil-rich town. Also when the opposition held those areas that is rich with natural resources they didn’t take care of it due to dispersion and the lack of proper management of resources and use them to build for their own benefits by commanders and warlords, this left with only dependency on external financial support. If they focused on the self-financing from beginning it would have a larger independency for constructing their decisions strategically.
The Turkey based- Syrian National Coalition should issue new procedures related to the financial supervision and administrative control for its institutions and embassies, after reports of corruption scandals and misappropriation of funds. Syrian National Coalition should the funds it gets from the “Friends of Syria” to support local governance councils, displaced camps and also use that money to lobby to get more political or military backings, the more lobbying they do, the more likely they will receive more support.
New military strategy is needed
Syrian armed opposition groups should make real threats that will force the Assad regime to return to the negotiation table, real threat would be launching new offensives in Damascus and Latakia is impossible at the moment due to large pro-Syrian government and Russian troops stationed there, so they should instead try to set up small cells there to carryout sabotage missions in order to create panic and distability in Assad regime held territories including the assassinations of Syrian senior army commanders and influential official members. For Aleppo southern western suburbs including northern Latakia the armed opposition forces should switch their tactics to guerrilla warfare, it’s a very effective tactic to use especially against well supplied enemy troops like Iran’s foreign legion and Russian marines.
After they failed to break the siege on Aleppo twice due to its heavy fortifications and effective use of Russian airforce. The opposition’s next military target is to attempt to connect separated regions with each other, the armed opposition groups have no choice but to launch a new offensive towards Hama and capture it then advance to reconnect northern suburbs of Homs with Hama and Idlib. This new strategy will allow the opposition to open new supply lines also this move will ease the move of supplies especially in central and north-western side of Syria, Russia and Assad regime will defiantly change their military plans and concentrate their efforts on other fronts and that will ease the pressure on East Aleppo.
Unity between armed opposition groups
There were many successive attempts to rebuild this type of central FSA leadership have vanished. The concept of a Free Syrian Army first appeared in July 2011, when a Supreme Command for the Free Syrian Army was created by Syrian army defectors in Turkey.
In 2011 Colonel Riad al-Asaad, took the position of FSA Supreme Commander. Col. Asaad’s FSA group which was backed by Turkey and other Gulf states in order to channel funds to local opposition armed groups and create a more cohesive insurgency, one that would be able to topple Assad regime by some combination of disciplined military action and political negotiation. This strategy failed. The insurgency remained confusedly divided.
On 2nd February 2014, The Defence Minister of the Syrian Interim Government, Maj. General Salim Idris, has announced preparations for the formation of “Syrian National Army” consisting of 60,000 fighters including all armed opposition forces operating inside Syria but the project failed. We’ve seen the creation of Revolutionary Command Council in December 2014 in Turkey and the revived FSA Supreme Military Council of July 2015. Another project, the FSA High Command, which is backed by the exiled Syrian opposition and Turkish government, but it remains inactive at the moment. The list will surely continue to grow.
There were many effort to deal with the divisions among the ranks of the armed opposition but it all ended in vain, the creation of a new military body [the Syrian National Army] which is supposed to unite all the different armed opposition forces [Nationalists and Islamists] fighting against the Assad regime forces, Iran’s foreign legion and Russia, this move would have definitely prevented many armed groups from promoting their own agendas also they would have significant military support from their western and regional backers.
The FSA’s decentralization is at least in part a consequence of the Western countries withholding early and significant support for the armed group in the first year of its founding. Such support would have had a better chance of solidifying the FSA brand from the outset; disciplining regional actors and constraining their provision of support through one united channel; reducing dysfunction within FSA linked group’s ranks.
Currently the armed opposition groups in the north-western of Syria are in a process of uniting although fragmentation is meanwhile increasing among them, FSA Southern Front is considered to be best organized military force of the Syrian armed opposition which has a unified command center, this force is consisting of 54 opposition groups ranging from secularist to moderately Islamist groups. FSA and Islamist groups in the North and Western Syria should follow this example and unite.
If we look at the strength of the revolution and the power of its enemies the chances of success and victory looks very slim. I’m afraid that the revolution is far from victory and it is currently in the process of defeat, if they don’t change their strategy and make effective reforms, the revolution in Syria will come to an end.