The United States and other Friends of Syria have discussed putting money and weapons into the hands of brigades of Syrian revolutionaries fighting under the brand of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Their dilemma is that they don’t want any guns or ammo to get into the wrong hands: jihadists or other foreign fighters who have regional goals beyond the FSA’s effort to dislodge Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
If Western powers don’t act soon, observers fear that the current conflict will plunge Syria into a very uncivil war between Sunni rebels and the still-large but diminishing forces of Alawites and other minorities who cling to the hope of Assad’s survival. Worse yet, the fighting could lead to a broader regional conflict.
The Syrian Support Group (SSG) is a small group of Syrian expatriates and others in the United States who say they have devised a way to guarantee that any weapons provided by the West get to their intended recipients. They have identified nine military councils within Syria who are said to represent legitimate forces fighting for a multi-ethnic and democratic Syria. Brian Sayers is a former NATO officer who now serves as the SSG’s government relations director and their weapons-for-Syria lobbyist. He works out of an office just blocks from the White House.
VOA’s David Arnold spoke to Sayers about the SSG, their support of the FSA to Syria and the local nature of rebel command and control. Below are some excerpts from Sayers remarks. Listen to the sound file below for a fuller version of the interview.
Principles of war, power of the purse
The military councils have signed a proclamation of principles that they are living this out in deed as well, and that includes that they are fighting for a peaceful democratic multi-ethnic Syria. But there are also other ways to do that. You can institute third-party vetting which means we will be in contact with non-FSA elements in the country that will be reporting to us on what is happening on the ground, as they always have. If there is a questionable act on the ground, we will be in touch with people in the cities and in the provinces that can report on that. We will be instituting a 30-day probation period, for example, so if they receive funds they will have to act within those principles.
Peace doesn’t come by singing ‘Kumbaya’
I’ve been here since around May. [The SSG] was established in early February 2011 but it was largely formed on the social media side to support the protest movement in Syria. The ideology of the group sort of changed in July after the harsh crackdowns by the regime. The view then of the group was to supporting the peaceful movement but do that through supporting the FSA on the ground as a sort of reality check that peace was not going to come about by singing ‘Kumbaya.’
You can’t command the FSA from the outside
It’s very difficult for any kind of commander on the outside of Syria to actually have any kind of command and control over forces inside as well as the respect of the insiders. The FSA on the inside is very organic. There are many fighters who have left, that have defected and gone outside and they’re not really in any position to try to implement command and control when they’re not even in the country…. There is no general commander for the FSA. If there is anything that is being superimposed from the outside, I can tell you that it is probably not something that is very tangible…. We believe firmly that the fighters on the inside have to recognize that.
For these and other insights by Brian Sayers listen to the sound file below (5:18)
David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.