August 27, 2013
By Nuha Shaaban, Mona Alami and Jacob Wirtschafter, Special for USA TODAY
As the Syrian military replenishes troops with fighters from its ally Iran and from Hezbollah, the rebels are accepting some help from al-Qaeda-linked fighter groups — one reason the U.S. has been wary of intervention.
AMMAN, Jordan — Strong military intervention from the West is what is needed to stop the Syrian military from wiping out civilians and rebel fighters, a commander of the Free Syrian Army told USA TODAY.
The rebels could then take advantage of the attack and there would be no need for Western troops to hit the ground, said commander Abdulbasit Sa-ad al-Dein.
“Directing strikes to the regime locations and military points like ballistic missiles launchers and air bases, to prevent random civilian killing,” would be most effective, said al-Dein, president of the joint staff of the unified forces in Aleppo, Syria.
“But it’s not good with ground military intervention,” he said.
Senior Western and Arab military officials met in Amman to discuss the regional security situation, according to Jordan state media. The meeting was co-chaired by U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and army chiefs from the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar.
The Free Syrian Army was not reported to be present, but some of its leaders say they are included in the discussions.
Abou Anas, a military commander of Liwaaa al Sahaba, an Islamic Brigade deployed south of Damascus, said FSA commanders were meeting Tuesday and again Wednesday to discuss a ground operation in conjunction with possible airstrikes by the West.
“We expect certain sites around Damascus such as Jabal maneh and the Mazeh airport to be targeted,” he said.
“We will have a limited window of opportunity to secure strategic locations after the air strike as regular Syrian troops will be severely weakened,” he said.
FSA members say that missile strikes against strategic military sites, suspected chemical weapons stockpiles and the country’s main air force bases would allow for a shift in the current balance of power in favor of the opposition.
Among possible targets: weapons caches located in the Qalamoun area near the Syrian-Lebanese border, the headquarters of the Republican Guard and the fourth division in the Mount Qasion area in Damascus and radar stations namely in Damascus, Deraa and Homs as well as weapons and chemical plants in Hama, Homs and Aleppo.
“We have been informed of negotiations taking place between members of the FSA’s higher military council and representatives from Western countries. However, up until now, we have not received any instructions linked to a possible ground operation,” says Mousaab Abou Qatada from the Damascus military council.
But Mourad al Chami, from the Syrian local Coordination Committee, says he was unaware of any coordination between the FSA and Western countries.
STORY: Syria defies claims on chemical weapons
The FSA has seen some success, taking areas of Syria and grinding the Assad military down to a stalemate in some cities. But Assad has used punishing air raids and tank artillery to destroy whole sections of cities, reducing some to rubble.
The FSA is largely made up of former members of Assad’s military and has established itself in cities such as Aleppo and in Homs, where the rebellion against dictator Bashar Assad started more than two years ago.
Despite taking losses, the Syrian military has replenished its troops with fighters from its ally Iran and from Hezbollah, the anti-Israel terrorist group based in southern Lebanon. Assad is also receiving arms from Russia.
Some commanders of the FSA are working with al-Qaeda-linked fighter groups that have streamed into the battle from foreign countries.The FSA has refused to denounce them because they are helping them fight, but it is one reason the United States has said it is wary of arming the factions too heavily.
However, the FSA says it cannot stand up to Assad’s heavy armor and air force bombings, and need help soon with a Western-implemented no-fly zone like the one established to help remove Moammar Gadhafi from power in Libya in 2011.
A member of the Islamist Syrian opposition group Ahrar al-Sham fires against a position of the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG), a militia set up to protect Kurdish areas in Syria from opposing forces, during clashes in the countryside of the northern Syrian Raqqa province on Aug. 25.(Photo: Alics Martins, AFP/Getty Images)
Al-Dein said he believes Assad’s regime used chemical weapons to force the West to intervene at the request of its patron, Iran.
“The regime in Syria is only a tool in the hands of Iran and its supporters in the region,” he said.
“Because of the strong hits from the FSA against them and to save face, Iran gave orders for this criminal, Assad, to use chemical weapons so that the West will intervene to end the crisis in Syria because Iran was exhausted financially, economically and from human capita and can’t continue supporting the regime in this war.”
He said many believe the West would want to intervene for many reasons.
“It’s considered as a port for all continents in the world and has one of the strongest economies in the Arab world because it has petroleum, agriculture, tourism and industries,” he added.