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The Free Syrian Army: 4,000 or 60,000?

What is certain is that Western support the FSA is receiving has decreased

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

The current puzzling question regarding the size of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) highlights just how vague the situation is and how easily propaganda is marketed on both sides. The Syrian regime is pushing the idea that the opposition is divided and has been wiped out, while the opposition says it is reorganizing 60,000 fighters who are members of the FSA.

What is certain is that Western support the FSA is receiving has decreased. A Wall Street Journal report said American military support for the Syrian opposition had regressed, and that the U.S. only gave the equivalent of 16 bullets a month per fighter.

The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday: “Since the first of the year, we have delivered approximately 2.7 million in nonlethal supplies and equipment to the moderate opposition, including water trucks, back hoes, generators, winterization gear, and more than 17,000 food baskets.”

Despite the restraints levied against it, the FSA is on the verge of consolidating its control of southern Syria

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Despite this scarcity, the FSA and the moderate Syrian opposition in general deserve appreciation for their steadfastness despite a lull in support, and despite the restraints placed against them (they are no longer able to move freely in northern Syria due to constant targeting by the extremist al-Nusra Front).

Added to that, Turkey has also begun to restrain the activity of the FSA and its leaders, perhaps as a result of foreign pressures.

Consolidating control

Despite the restraints levied against it, the FSA is on the verge of consolidating its control of southern Syria - in Daraa and its surroundings - even though many of the fighters have not received salaries in months.

Salim Idriss, minister of defense in the opposition government, said the opposition had begun to unite factions to establish a united army that will include 60,000 fighters. Idriss further hypothesized that the world will realize that its only option to confront the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is to topple the Syrian regime and support the moderate opposition which represents all Syrian people of different religions, sects and tribes.

Some American politicians and legislators agree with this opinion when it comes to the topic of confronting ISIS and the threats it poses to the world.

A member of the U.S. Senate Defense Affairs Committee said: “The American government must support the Free Syrian Army because it’s the only option. Despite the hesitation to support [the FSA], its leadership will be capable of altering the vision of regional countries in support of the Syrian people and [will also be capable] of altering the vision of suspicious Western countries if it really manages to reunite itself and if it really succeeds at uniting the ranks of, at least, its military leaderships [especially since] rival and competing political leaderships are not as significant during this difficult phase.”

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on February 2, 2015.

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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.