The Free Syrian Army – Not as United as You Think

Logo for the Free Syrian Army (Credit: Flickr)

A while back I wrote a piece on the Syrian Opposition and the disjointed nature of it, being made up of a series of local, regional and international elements. This time round, I want concentrate on the Syrian opposition on the ground. This is widely quoted as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), although it is interesting to note that another fighting force known as the Syrian Liberation Army (SLA) also fights on the ground and is not associated with the FSA.

The FSA is not as unified as the West would like to think. It is made up of a series of battalions and brigades that fight under the banner or umbrella of the FSA, but certainly are not controlled by them or share all of their views. This is worrying as a number of affiliates of the FSA do not follow some of the FSA’s key views, especially that; fighting groups should remain secular in outlook, fighting groups should respect human rights and fighting groups should remain apolitical. Here are a few example groups I have come across that demonstrate what I mean;

Lions of Tawhid Brigade

Falling under the FSA Banner and based in Aleppo Province this group of fighters aim to overthrow the regime of Bashar al Assad. However the group appears to openly use prisoners as suicide bombers, which are both against international law and against FSA view of respecting human rights.

God is Great Brigades

Swearing allegiance to the FSA, the group have vowed to topple Bashar al Assad. Based in Eastern parts of Syria around Deir Ez Zour, this group uses hardline Islamic language, declaring their fight to be a holy one “in the path of God”. This outlook goes against the FSA’s secular leanings.

Sham Falcons

Based around Northern Syria in Jabel Al Zawiya, Idlib province this group have pledged allegiance to the FSA banner to overthrow Bashar al Assad. However the group uses harline Islamic language and also attains to help establish a democratic Syria in the future. Both these views are against the FSA’s outlook.

Dhu al Nurayn Battalion

Based around Homs, this Jihadi group has released a number of videos declaring that they will overthrow of Bashar al Assad as and impose the rule of Allah on Syria. The group appears to have links with the FSA, probably more of a loose understanding than anything else, as the group appears to do its own thing. Also using hardliner Islamic language in their videos this group certainly goes against the secular outlook of the FSA.

Al Farouq Brigades

Also based around Homs, the group came to light after it was accused of sectarian clearing of a Christian district in Homs. Some fighters are also thought to have fought previously in Iraq, suggesting the group has some hardline Islamic influences. They have pledged allegiance to the FSA but again their Islamic viewpoints go against the secular leanings of the FSA.

While all these groups and ones like them, are currently assisting the FSA in the fight against Bashar al Assad, these groups could pose issues to the FSA in the future. If  more ground and power is gained by the opposition these groups may want to add their own thoughts and ideologies to any future Syria. Like in Libya , if these groups taste a little power it may prove difficult to reconcile them into any future government. At present the FSA are glad of all the help they can get but this tact could backfire as the Assad regime weakens and these groups gain strength and confidence.

J Robinson – Twitter: @jprobinsons


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