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At last, the FSA is a trustworthy U.S. ally

Recent developments mark the launch of a strategic alliance between the U.S. and the Syrian National Coalition

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

Recent major developments mark the launch of a strategic alliance between the United States on one hand, and the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and its military arm - the Free Syrian Army - on the other.

Washington’s hitherto uncertain approach towards the opposition was primarily due to radicalism prevailing in Syria, particularly with the involvement of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It had not been easy for intelligence agencies to tell who is moderate and who is extremist among the numerous rebel groups involved in the Syrian war.

This had a negative impact on the FSA’s image. However, much of Washington’s concern has been allayed recently, as the FSA is showing discipline and professionalism.

Jordan made it clear recently that it will maintain its neutral position on Syria, thus refusing to host the training of Syrian rebels in its territories

Raed Omari

As a result, President Barack Obama has called on Congress to approve $500 million to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition. Also, Secretary of State John Kerry had a fruitful meeting with the SNC’s former president, Ahmad Jarba, and U.S. Senator John McCain met with opposition members in Turkey. As such, it would not be far-fetched to say the FSA is now a trusted regional ally to Washington.

Request for U.S. funds

Obama’s request for $500 million to train and equip the FSA is a bold move, and a big boost to the Syrian opposition after a considerable period of U.S. hesitance and inadequate assistance. Obama’s call is likely to be approved because supporting the FSA has become a necessity for Washington, not only against the Russian-backed Syrian regime, but also to address the threat posed by ISIS.

America’s changing stance towards the FSA is also due to developments in Iraq - where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has proved to be a fragile, unreliable and untrustworthy ally - as well as the strength of Iran and its regional Shiite allies.

Kerry’s meeting with Jarba

Little is known about Kerry’s meeting with Jarba, except for the former’s request to the latter to use his tribal influence in Iraq to battle ISIS. Jarba was among the few leaders Kerry met with during his recent regional tour to discuss Iraq.

This is evidence of U.S. recognition of the Syrian opposition as an influential regional player, and its reliance on the FSA as a game-changer. Given developments in Syria and Iraq, Jarba’s appeal for more arms will be carefully considered this time in Washington.

McCain in Turkey

McCain is an outspoken lawmaker who is influential in Congress, and has long criticized U.S. inaction over Syria. The former presidential candidate’s meeting in Turkey with the Syrian opposition, at the time Obama requested the $500 million from Congress, is proof that the financial aid requested will receive a big push.

After the meeting, McCain called for greater support to the FSA as part of efforts to defeat ISIS. He added that the Syrian opposition was fighting on two fronts: against the Syrian regime, and against al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist organizations.

McCain’s and Kerry’s statements, as well as Obama’s request for funds for the Syrian opposition, show harmony between America’s executive and legislative authorities over Syria.

Rebel training

The never-ending, yet never confirmed, talk about the U.S. training or intending to train Syrian opposition fighters keeps resurfacing from time to time, especially when there is a rising American decisiveness on Syria or when there are reports on the U.S.-backed FSA rapidly losing ground in the ongoing war there.

This is exactly the case in Syria now. There have been reports about Assad’s forces as about to complete the encirclement of Aleppo to enforce a siege on the rebel strongholds in Syria’s second largest city. The Syrian opposition has been calling for reinforcements, warning at the same time of a blow to the moderate FSA should such encirclement succeeds.

Such reports from the battlefield in Syria have been accompanied by the talk about rebel training by the U.S. to be again in Jordan as always said. Pentagon officials have been quoted in American press lately as unveiling plans by the military's U.S. Central Command for a rebel training program already in place awaiting a White House request.

Jordan, which is always mentioned when there is a talk about a U.S. rebel training program, has made it clear recently that it will maintain its neutral position on Syria, thus refusing to host the training of Syrian rebels in its territories. Jordan’s affirmation has been expressed recently by its media affairs minister Mohamad Momani who put forward his country’s rationale as to avoid being part of any military action against Syria.

There seems to be an understanding for such a bold Jordanian stance on the rebel training issue by Washington, which is aware of Amman’s concerns over a Syrian retribution of some kind should it appear as cooperating overtly with the U.S. over military action targeting Damascus’ government.

But Jordan has not yet received any official request from the U.S. to train Syrian rebels in its territories and maybe this is part of Amman’s reluctance. If not in Jordan, the rebel training can be in other neighboring countries, probably in Turkey this time as it’s closer to Aleppo.

However, what matters most now is not the training of the Syrian rebels inasmuch as providing them with advanced weapons that can enable them stand firm against the well-backed Assad forces. The FSA fighters have received enough military training through their almost four-year war against the regime’s army.

The FSA is proving its moderate attitude day by day and its status as an organized army, of considerably high-performance command and control system, i.e. not a fragmented militia anymore. This could lure the U.S. to end its hesitation over the provision of lethal weapons.

If not from its stores and to avoid the post-Afghani war scenario, when the American weapons provided to the rebels were used against the U.S. interests, Washington’s provision of advanced arms to the Syrian opposition could be from its allies in Europe or the Middle East.

The fact that it is only through a well-equipped FSA that the American anti-Assad stance can be transformed into a fact on the ground, coupled with the criticism from top U.S. army officials to the Obama’s administration’s withdrawal policy as paving the way for the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, could signal a new bold position by Washington on Syria in the coming days, manifested in rebel training or lethal weapons provision, or both.

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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 raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.