In America’s discourse on Syria, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is almost entirely absent. Or it is coyly mentioned with no affirmative Washington’s position up to now on the Syrian opposition whether in terms of weaponry provision or even political support.
The FSA-Washington relationship is a drama. Whenever the talk about America’s intention to provide the FSA with lethal weapons or training reaches its climax, it goes down to dénouement. Having his “redline” warning crossed by the August 21 chemical attack against Damascus’s Ghouta in 2013, President Obama has authorized lethal aid to Western-allied rebel Syrian rebels. However, that “short-lived” bold stance on Syria eased up shortly afterwards with Washington raising concerns about such advanced weapons falling in the hands of extremists.
Despite Washington’s anti-Assad attitude, the Obama administration has not yet fulfilled its promise of lethal aid to the FSA except for some shipments of light weapons and other munitions reported to be delivered in September last year.
Rise of ISIS
With the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra, one can understand why Washington has been shying away from sending lethal weapons to the FSA. Yes, there is indeed a point to this hesitation. America once found itself fought by fundamentalist fighters using U.S.-made weapons they either seized or provided by Washington itself. I mean here the American war against Arab and Mujahideen fighters following the Soviet invasion. The U.S. fear of Syria becoming a “Somali-style warlords-run” country is also plausible especially amidst reports depicting Syria as an abundant of black arm market.
However, the FSA is a different story. In fact, I wonder why Washington is still concerned about arming the FSA though it has done much to alleviate such fears and prove its reliability and, more importantly, moderate attitude. Remarkably enough, the FSA is always referred to in the Western press as “moderate” and at times “secular”. Curiously enough too, the U.S.’s hesitation to provide advanced weapons to the moderate rebels is always hailed in the Syrian regime -owned press.
Undoubtedly, the FSA has proved to be an organized entity enjoying full command and control doctrine. It is rarely mentioned in the Western narrative on Syria that the FSA is made up of moderate ex-Syrian army officers who defected to the opposition in dismay over the Assad army’s unsurpassed brutality against their people. This interprets the FSA victories against the regime’s organized military. Plus, the FSA is the military arm of the exiled Syrian National Coalition (SNC), meaning that it acts within certain political agenda exactly as state armies do.
Additionally, the FSA has proved to be a reliable partner in the fight against ISIS. Along with its fight against ISIS in Kobane, the FSA has been engaged in battles against al-Nusra and ISIS in Syria. The FSA has long been the target of these two fundamentalist groups. But the U.S. has never paid enough attention to this. Part of the FSA’s decision to fight alongside the Kurds in Kobane is to deliver a message to the U.S. about its abhorrence of radicalism and its readiness to combat terrorists. It was a “flirt message” to Washington, so to speak, and a projection of its moderate attitude.
Over the past days, I had the chance to interview two persons; one of them was a well-informed source from the U.S. Department of State and the other was a FSA commander with the major topic being the U.S. weapon aid to the FSA.
The FSA commander was full of disappointment, emphasizing the FSA’s moderate attitude and its ability to secure such weapons from being seized, sold or channeled to extremists. “We don’t want tanks or any other vehicles. All we need is anti-aircraft equipment,” he said, pledging the FSA ability to win the war once such weapons are channeled. The U.S. source was skeptic about the “full moderate” attitude of the FSA, saying that the White House still sees the FSA as made up of hundreds of radical fighters who have links with al- Nusra and ISIS. “The U.S. administration is certain that hundreds of radical fighters from the Syrian Islamic Front, Fajr al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham, and others have been enrolled in the FSA.”
The Western-allied SNC can’t be said to enjoy adequate political support from Washington. There is also a dramatic structure in the U.S.-SNC political relationship. Its rising action began with Washington’s narrative on regime change in Syria with the talk now about a political solution to the war there being the falling action.
Let it be that a political solution to Syria’s war is in the works now in Washington, I wonder how such a speculated solution can be viable and sustainable in the absence of a well-supported Syrian opposition to be able to run the state’s affairs during any transition period? Plus, if Assad is Russia’s and Iran’s “man”, then who is America’s from the Syrian opposition? It was believed that former SNC president Ahmad al-Jarba was Washington’s ally but he left the political scene suddenly at the time he began to gain popularity within Syria, the region and the world. Even the SNC’s current president Hadi al-Bahra does not seem to be that satisfied with Washington’s support to the opposition. He still complains about the same things his predecessor Jarba used to complain about: inadequate U.S. support.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via email@example.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2