Britain to equip the FSA to defeat both ISIS, Syrian army

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Published Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Britain will make "a significant contribution" to equip and train the so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition to defeat both the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and the Syrian army, its foreign secretary said on Monday.

The statement came after a London meeting between Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Saudi-based businessman Hadi al-Bahra of the Turkey-based opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC).

"The UK is helping the opposition establish security and governance, and to deliver essential services. This includes life-saving search and rescue training, helping Syrians whose homes have been reduced to rubble by the regime's bombs," Hammond said.

ISIS, which declared a "caliphate" over territory it seized in Iraq and Syria, is being described as the world's wealthiest "terror" group, earning $1 million a day from black market oil sales alone, in addition to $429 million it has looted from Mosul’s central bank.

Britain and other countries in the international coalition against ISIS are arming and training opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants to not only counter the extremist group that drove Iraq's army - the recipient of $25 billion in US training and funding - to collapse, but also the Syrian army that has been engaged in fierce battles for almost four years.

"We are providing non-lethal equipment and the UK expects to make a significant contribution to the US-led Train and Equip program," Hammond said in the statement, adding that "Assad can play no future role in Syria.”

For his part, Bahra accused the US-led coalition in an interview Tuesday of having a "confused" strategy in Iraq and Syria that targeted jihadists but turned "a blind eye" to crimes by the Syrian army.

The coalition has received support and recognition from the Western powers and Gulf states who are among Assad's most vocal opponents, but has so far failed to stop ISIS advances.

"The coalition is fighting the symptom of the problem, which is ISIS, without addressing the main cause, which is the regime," Bahra told The Guardian newspaper.

Bahra was speaking during a visit to London on Monday, during which he met with representatives of the 11 countries which support his coalition in its fight against the Syrian army.

"People feel there is a hidden agenda and cooperation between the coalition and Assad's forces because Assad assumes he has a free hand," he told the newspaper.

Bahra also accused the coalition of "completely" ignoring fighters of the FSA.

"The whole operation has been confused. Airstrikes will not be able to win the battle against extremism. You have to defeat ISIS on the ground," he said, asserting the need to “to deal with the main cause and source of extremism, which is the regime itself."

Aware of the need of “boots on the ground,” US President Barack Obama in September asked Congress to authorize $500 million to train and arm so-called "moderate" Syrian rebels.

Critics opposed to training and funding the FSA note that these Western-backed forces have been helpful to ISIS.

In an interview with CNN, Barak Barfi, the spokesperson for the family of murdered American journalist Steven Sotloff, said that “moderate” Syrian rebels backed by the United States government sold Sotloff to ISIS.

“We believe that these so-called moderate rebels, the FSA, that people want our administration to support, one of them sold him probably for something between $25,000 and $50,000 to ISIS and that was the reason he was captured,” Barfi declared.

Damascus and its allies have pointed out that Washington, in partnership with its Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia, played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like ISIS by arming, financing and politically empowering armed opposition groups in Syria.

A recent study by the London-based small-arms research organization Conflict Armament Research revealed that ISIS jihadists appear to be using US military-issued arms and weapons supplied to the “moderate” rebels in Syria by Saudi Arabia.

The report said the jihadists disposed of "significant quantities" of US-made small arms including M-16 assault rifles and included photos showing the markings "Property of US Govt."

It also found that anti-tank rockets used by ISIS in Syria were "identical to M79 rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the Free Syrian Army umbrella in 2013."

UN envoy’s “action plan”

The United Nations' peace envoy to Syria said in an interview published on Tuesday that a common threat posed by ISIS militants to Syria's warring factions may help push government and rebel forces toward local truces.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura is pushing an initiative to create "incremental freeze zones" to stop localized fighting and improve aid access, starting in the northern city of Aleppo.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was quoted on Monday as saying the proposal was "worth studying."

De Mistura told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that ISIS was "destabilizing everybody."

Asked what incentive rebel and government fighters may have to accept local truces, de Mistura said: "There is one major new factor. What is that called? Daesh. ISIS. Terrorism."

ISIS declared a “caliphate” in June on swathes of territory it seized in Iraq and Syria.

"Second ... no one is actually winning (in Syria's war)," de Mistura added. "You think that one side may be winning? The truth is no one is. And that's why we have an idea about how to push at least one major example, Aleppo."

De Mistura acknowledged that, even if the UN plan went forward, it would only be an initial step in a conflict which has killed some 200,000 people and displaced millions.

"Saying having a peace plan would be ambitious and delusionary. But I do have, we do have, an action plan. And the action plan starts from the ground: stop the fighting, reduce the violence," he said.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)


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