Moderate Rebels Worry About How To Control Islamists If Assad Loses Northern Syria
Look no farther than Libya.
In three years of fighting, rebel commanders had never seen anything like the video that went up on the Internet last week. There was Brig. Gen. Suhail al Hassan, one of President Bashar Assad’s favorite commanders, pleading with the Syrian defense minister for urgent help.
“Sir,” he began, speaking into his cellphone. “The fighters in al-Ziara have retreated. There are 800 fighters. They are all around me and they want to go back. They only need ammunition. Please provide the ammunition,” he said. “Am I not right, men?”
The dozens of regime troops crowding around him shouted their agreement.
The sight of Hassan begging for help is being viewed with delight and satisfaction by opponents of the Assad regime. “I know him. He was rattled. He’d lost his composure” said Col. Jemiel Radoon, a U.S.-backed moderate rebel commander.
With good reason. Government forces appear on the verge of being ousted from their last redoubt in northern Syria, and the forces under Radoon’s command had just blocked their escape route.[…]
To minimize friction, each of the major groups maintains an operations room in a battle area, and they send liaisons for joint meetings to decide on strategy, tactics and, most important, which force takes which front. The main groupings are Jaish el Fateh, which groups the Islamist forces, Sham, which groups the moderates, and the Nusra Front, which operates largely on it own.
But both Raddoon and Ghabi acknowledge concerns about what will follow if Ariha falls. Radoon says he has managed to keep the Islamists and the Nusra Frontout of the Ghab valley offensive, but whether he can do that after Ariha falls is unclear. They worry the Islamists and Nusra will attack Christians and Alawites who have backed Assad.
“We are expecting trouble after Ariha,” he said. “Where will the Fateh group go after Ariha falls? They will go to our areas, mixed areas.”
Already, Radoon said , the Islamists and the Nusra Front have far more weaponry, and booty from Ariha will strengthen them further.
“We cannot speculate on what they will do,” he said.
One hope, Ghabi said, is for more help from the United States. “If you give me support for 10,000 fighters, I will change the dialectic of the whole area,” he said. “We have professional officers. If we have support, we can rebuild the Free Syrian Army. In this case, people will come to the conclusion that there is an alternative to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.” More