March 3, 2014
In mid-February, the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) Supreme Military Council (SMC) announced that it had dismissed its Chief of Staff, General Salim Idris, citing “the paralysis within the military structure these past months.” The SMC replaced Idris with Abdelilah al-Bashir, head of the military council in the southern province of Quneitra.
The move threw the already fragile FSA into disarray, with Idris and his backers taking to YouTube to denounce the decision as “illegal and illegitimate” and declare that they would form a new military body and “cut all ties” with the SMC and the opposition government-in-exile. General Al-Bashir, meanwhile, revealed that he had received no prior notice that he was even being considered for Idris’s post and only learned of his appointment when a friend called to congratulate him.
The intra-FSA chaos comes as Syria’s Western-backed rebels seek to regroup and launch a major campaign in southern Syria after becoming increasingly marginalized in favor of better-armed Islamist brigades. The United States last month reportedly began providing moderate armed groups with millions of dollars in increased financial support, while Saudi Arabia indicated that it would begin equipping FSA groups with advanced weaponry, including anti-aircraft missiles. It remains unclear whether, and in what quantities, such weaponry has in fact arrived in Syria.
Captain Omar al-Wawi is an FSA leader based in the Bab al-Hawa area along Syria’s northern border with Turkey. He tells Syria Direct’s Osama Abu-Zeid that the FSA has been losing ground to Islamist groups due to “an absence of any real military leadership,” and charges that General Idris was “the reason for all the FSA’s failings.” For another take on Idris’ dismissal, see Syria Direct’s recent interview with FSA officer and Idris ally Colonel Fatah Hassoun.
Q: To begin with, what do you think of the appointment of Abdelilah al-Bashir as leader of the FSA? What can he offer in the coming stage of the war?
First of all, the position is a burden, not an honor. Second, Salim Idris wasn’t capable of leading because he ignored and marginalized FSA officers and failed to form institutions or bodies. Third, Salim never presented any real support to FSA groups.
General Salim Idris is the reason for all the FSA’s failings;
Q: Some observers say that the ongoing battle for Yabroud is the most important battle for the FSA—do you think that’s fair to say?
The most important battle for the FSA is opening the battle for the coast and entering the capital. As for Yabroud, it won’t fall as easily as other towns nearby; we are determined to win that battle.
Q: What was the mechanism by which the SMC chose al-Bashir to replace Idris?
On November 7, 2012, following the formation of the FSA’s Joint Command, we established an internal system permitting the Joint Command leadership and the SMC to oversee the Chief of Staff and his deputies, and to remove them based on consensus by a majority of the leadership.
Q: We’ve seen a large number of military formations distance themselves from the FSA and move toward the Islamic Front and other groups—why is that?
The reason is an absence of any real military leadership in the FSA that would guarantee soldiers’ salaries, rations and weapons, combined with demonstrated support for other non-FSA brigades.
You also need to know that the revolution has been revitalized. The Syrian people have gone back to demanding the FSA’s return as Syria’s protector—they want the FSA, not ISIS or other groups.