Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Under Russian fire, Syrian rebels blame West for abandoning their fight

 'What is left of the Syrian “moderate” opposition is bitter as hell. As far as they are concerned, the US and its allies have thrown them under the bus, unwilling to give them the firepower or protection necessary to resist a resurgent Russian-backed regime now pushing into Aleppo, a critical opposition redoubt. 
 “For the last year we haven’t received anything. The US is preventing everyone from supplying the opposition with weapons out of fear they will fall in the hands of Islamic State,” says Bassam Hajji, a political officer in a CIA-backed rebel group in Aleppo.
 Chris Kozak, a Syria analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, says it will be difficult for the opposition to turn the tables in and around Aleppo barring a quick escalation from regional allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials have said they could send ground troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State – a move that could also allow it to prop up its allies. But few see this happening anytime soon since Saudi forces are already overstretched in Yemen.
 Turkey is “likely to consider some high risk options to this renewed offensive, including providing MANPADS and anti-aircraft systems to try and counteract the advantage Russian aircraft has given,” says Mr. Kozak. 
 “Without the direct support of the US and NATO, I think (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan will be hesitant to take such a dramatic intervention step as a direct military intervention in Syria,” says Kozak.  
 One consequence is that beleaguered rebel groups are likely to deepen their collaboration with more Islamist-oriented factions seen as more effective fighting forces. These include Al-Qaeda’s affiliate Nusra Front, which has been a tactical partner of US-backed rebels both in the north and the south. The overlap between groups has long been contentious, as the US fears indirectly arming rebels that aren’t vetted.
 Jihadists are said to have a small presence in Aleppo City and have joined other rebel formations from the northwestern province of Idlib to reinforce the city’s defenses. Rebels in northern Aleppo Province are under massive pressure from regime forces in the south, Kurdish-led factions in the west, and the Islamic State in the east. ​
 While Hajji describes the factions ​in northern Aleppo as strictly Free Syrian Army – what the West considers moderate rebels – he adds “everyone has had to work with Al-Nusra” at some point or another. Rebel commanders argue that such alliances were born not out of ideological affinity but necessity. They blame the international community for allowing the Syrian regime to kill civilians with impunity over the past five years. 
 Yasser Abdul-Rahim, a rebel commander in Aleppo Province, complained that no support is being delivered to the opposition at this time of crisis. For the West, he had one question: “Have you sold out the Syrian revolution?” '

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