The Free Syrian Army, Learning from the Jihadi’s?

Video Still from Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade announcing their establishment (Credit: Al Wasat)

A BBC Article today noted that the violence in Syria “appears to have escalated” due to the evolving tactics of Syrian rebels. While this is true, what was missed in the report was that the escalation in violence has been occurring for some time now and helped by the numerous Syrian and foreign Jihadi groups operating in Syria. Since late 2011, an influx of radical Islamic fighters have steadily entered Syria and engaged in militant Jihad against the security forces. This has included heavy weight groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Fatah al Islam and The Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

Though the establishment of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) last summer did help the situation in Syria to evolve into more violent resistance, it became quickly apparent that the FSA lacked the skills to effectively combat the Syrian security forces. This lack of expertise was suddenly rectified at the turn of 2012 when the Pentagon announced a 134% increase in Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks against Syrian security between December 2011 and January 2012 that was attributed to “external support”. Soon after, the first in a series of high profile car bomb attacks occurred in Damascus that quickly spread to Aleppo and Idlib claimed by the Syrian group Jabhat al Nusra and its offshoot Kata’ib Ahrar al Sham.

Both these successful guerrilla warfare methods are reminiscent of the tactics used in Iraq by Jihadi groups and now have been brought to Syria. At least 10 notable Syrian and foreign Jihadi groups have emerged since January 2012 that employ these tactics to notable effect. It would appear that this knowledge has now been passed the FSA. But by relying on the expertise of more radical elements, the FSA are walking a fine line; utilizing the expertise of these groups while attempting to keep them at arms length, so as not to damage its credibility in the eyes of both the Syrian population and the International Community. With the situation in Syria growing more sectarian and chaotic, especially in the religiously conservative north of the country, it is the radical Islamic groups in Syria that are sure to profit in the long term, not the FSA.

J Robinson – Twitter: @jprobinsons


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