April 24, 2013
By Nuha Shabaan and Michael Pizzi
As the National Coalition prepares to establish a representative presence in Syrian territories controlled by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), opposition and independent voices alike are expressing doubts about the interim government’s ability to manage the tumultuous security situation, and in particular, guard against the regime’s aerial attacks.
Coalition representatives “won’t be safe in liberated areas,” says Free Syrian Army Lieutenant Abdul Naser Farzat, who is stationed in Aleppo and leads the frontline Ahrar Halab brigades. Lieutenant Farzat, who defected from the Syrian army, believes that the interim government’s security is contingent on its ability to secure air defense, which the West has thus far refused to provide.
Although Farzat insists that the FSA will do what it can to protect the interim government, he is not optimistic. “They will only be able to secure these areas if they get air defenses,” he said.
Pro-revolution activists are expressing similar doubts online. "The [Coalition] government won't be able to secure these [liberated] areas,” says Sameer al-Homsi a longtime political dissident who manages the popular Syrian opposition Skype chatroom “Hiwar Siyasi” (Political Dialogue). “[It] will only be a relief organization that administers donations and international aid - and I'm not even sure it will succeed at that."
Concerns about the FSA’s ability to protect the interim government were raised over the weekend as regime forces killed hundreds of people in Jdeidat al-Fadl and Artouz in Outer Damascus province. Some activists are beginning to question not only the interim government’s appraisal of the security situation in Syria, but also the strategic competence of the FSA.
“The FSA was very wrong to enter the city of Jdeidat al-Fadl,” says Ayham al-Dimasqhi, a computer engineer who is currently living in Damascus. He believes that the FSA’s apparent presence in these towns provoked the regime to attack and massacre residents, who were defenseless because FSA soldiers had actually retreated prior to the attack. “The FSA cannot protect itself,” al-Dimashqi argues, adding that this does not bode well for its ability to protect an interim government.
Echoing al-Homsi and Farzat, al-Dimashqi cites the regime’s air raids, which he believes to be a consequence of the international community’s indifference toward Syrians, as the FSA’s primary weakness against the Syrian army.
“The reason behind their failure is the air attacks,” al-Dimashqi said.
Yaser al-Dumani, a spokesman for the Duma Coordinating Committee, defends the FSA’s strategy in Jdeidat al-Fadl, but at the same time acknowledges their comparative disadvantages against the regime’s military forces.
“The problem was not the FSA,” he says. “When the bombing started, the FSA declared their withdrawal from the area, even though they weren’t there, so that the regime would not have an excuse to attack the city. But Al-Assad’s forces nonetheless attacked and killed nearly 600 people.”
The National Coalition announced it intends to begin administering areas no longer controlled by the Syrian government within a time frame of 4-6 weeks. The FSA, meanwhile, has yet to convince its opposition allies that it can coordinate security within the liberated territories. As it stands now, it seems that the interim government’s prospects hinge largely on its ability to prove itself to the outside world.
“The success of the transitional government will encourage the regime’s popular base and the countries supporting it to abandon it and engage with the transitional government,” says Dr. Muhammad Zakwan Baaj, a member of the Syrian National Democratic Alliance, an opposition group within the Syrian National Coalition. He suggests that direct communication between a transitional government and the international community might lead to a better-equipped FSA, and an end to the air embargo.
“Of course [the air embargo] is not internal,” Ayham al-Dimashqi adds, “it is 100% due to external factors. The international community is acting like there is nothing happening here, you start to think that they enjoy hearing about the massacres.”