A fight too far? U.S. prepares Syrian opposition for battle

The number of Free Syrian Army members promised to undergo training is too small

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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During a Congressional hearing session dedicated for the discussion of Syria and the war on ISIS, some congressmen were surprised that the American government military training program for the Syrian opposition will begin next spring and end a year later in the spring of 2016! “What are we supposed to do until then? Bomb marginal areas while the training plan goes on for a long time?” they deploringly asked.

The promised training program itself is only worthy of attention on the political level because it expresses an American stance in support of the opposition and the toppling of the Assad regime. It’s only a political stance that must not carry any further weight or interpretation, and it can be contradicted in the White House morning summary statements.

The number of Free Syrian Army members promised to undergo training is so small that it does not exceed a quarter of the number of ISIS terrorist fighters

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The number of Free Syrian Army members promised to undergo training is so small that it does not exceed a quarter of the number of ISIS terrorist fighters or one eighth of Bashar al-Assad’s troops. Five thousand FSA fighters are supposed to spend one year in American training camps and it will probably be two years before any of them can fire a bullet in the battlefield. This is due to bureaucracy and lack of urgency about the implementation of the promised task. Even when they become trained soldiers, what will they do in the face of jets dropping barrel bombs or cannons shelling from afar? Nothing, because they are deprived of defense weapons.

Continue to fight

Despite that, Syrians will continue to fight whether they are trained or not, armed or not, because war is not a matter of choice today and it cannot be paused while Syrians wait for a political solution or until military training ends. There are nine million Syrians displaced inside and outside Syria and they cannot accept the simple provision of blankets and bread and continue to sleep in the open every winter. This is why war did not stop and will not stop. Many Syrians are fighting dressed in rags and using simple weapons. Even those who are tired of this cannot go home except through force. This is their only hope. The next two years may pass with the regime staying in Damascus while still depending on the support of its Iranian ally. However, the war will not stop without marking the end of the regime whether by war or through a political solution.

We all know that if the moderate opposition possessed advanced weapons, the regime wouldn’t have lasted and the losses of the regime’s allies would’ve exceeded their capability to continue in this bloodbath until today. There is no shortage in the number of volunteers willing to fight the Assad regime. Their number in the south alone is more than 30,000 although they are poorly equipped and their arms are limited to simple weapons. It’s neither the United States nor the European countries in support of the FSA who are training the opposition fighting on ground. Most of the latter received fast-track training in Turkey and Arab countries who support and help them.

This is why we tell international mediators and Western delegates that they must understand the new reality which doesn’t harmonize with theoretical solutions that they come up with every time in a different language. The secret lies in the nine million refugees mostly found inside Syria itself. It’s because of them that the war will continue as the Assad regime views them as rivals and won’t allow them to return to their cities and neighborhoods out of fear of handing them over to the opposition or them fighting with the opposition as well. At the same time, we cannot expect them to remain neutral at a time when they’re expelled from their homes. This is exactly why the war will go on until change is achieved. What we cannot know in the near future is how power will be established amongst the refugees and how their situation will be. Will more of these lost Syrian youths join extremist organizations like the ISIS and al-Nusra Front? Or will they join the moderate FSA? It’s difficult to speculate what’s happening inside the communities of refugees and those displaced from afar. All one can say is that they are a huge and angry human reservoir.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on December 15, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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