Free Syrian Army

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Free Syrian Army
(الجيش السوري الحر)
Free syrian army coat of arms.svg
Official logo of Free Syrian Army
Active29 July 2011 – present
AllegianceNational Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces
TypeLight infantry
RoleArmed resistance
Size100,000 fighters[1]
(August 2012 estimate)
NicknameFree Officers Movement
(Arabic: حركة الضباط الأحرار‎)
MottoVictory or death![2]
(Arabic: ننتصر أو نموت‎)
ColorsGreenRedWhite and Black
EngagementsSyrian civil war
Commander-in-ChiefColonel Hussein Harmoush  (POW) (July 2011–Sept. 2011)
Colonel Riad al-Asaad (Sept. 2011–Dec. 2012, symbolic role Dec. 2012–present)[3]
General Mustafa Al-Sheikh (March 2012–Dec. 2012, head of Military Council)[3]
Chief of StaffMajor General Adnan Sillu (Sept. 2012–Dec. 2012)
Brigadier Selim Idris (Dec. 2012–present)[4][3]
Deputy Chief of StaffAbdelbasset Tawil[4]
Deputy Chief of StaffAbdelqader Saleh[4]
Identification markSyria-flag 1932-58 1961-63.svg
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Free Syrian Army
(الجيش السوري الحر)
Free syrian army coat of arms.svg
Official logo of Free Syrian Army
Active29 July 2011 – present
AllegianceNational Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces
TypeLight infantry
RoleArmed resistance
Size100,000 fighters[1]
(August 2012 estimate)
NicknameFree Officers Movement
(Arabic: حركة الضباط الأحرار‎)
MottoVictory or death![2]
(Arabic: ننتصر أو نموت‎)
ColorsGreenRedWhite and Black
EngagementsSyrian civil war
Commander-in-ChiefColonel Hussein Harmoush  (POW) (July 2011–Sept. 2011)
Colonel Riad al-Asaad (Sept. 2011–Dec. 2012, symbolic role Dec. 2012–present)[3]
General Mustafa Al-Sheikh (March 2012–Dec. 2012, head of Military Council)[3]
Chief of StaffMajor General Adnan Sillu (Sept. 2012–Dec. 2012)
Brigadier Selim Idris (Dec. 2012–present)[4][3]
Deputy Chief of StaffAbdelbasset Tawil[4]
Deputy Chief of StaffAbdelqader Saleh[4]
Identification markSyria-flag 1932-58 1961-63.svg

The Free Syrian Army (Arabic: الجيش السوري الحر‎, Al-Jayš Al-Suri Al-Ḥurr, FSA) is the main armed opposition structure operating in Syria that has been active during the Syrian civil war.[5] Composed of defected Syrian Armed Forces personnel and volunteers,[6][7][8] its formation was announced on 29 July 2011 in a video released on the internet by a uniformed group of deserters from the Syrian military who called upon members of the Syrian army to defect and join them.[9] The FSA's leader in August 2011, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, announced that the FSA would work with demonstrators to bring down the system, and declared that all security forces attacking civilians were justified targets.[10][11] The FSA coordinated with the Syrian National Council starting in December 2011,[12] and supported the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces after the coalition's November 2012 creation.[13] A major reorganisation of the FSA command structure occurred in December 2012, with al-Asaad retaining his formal role but losing effective power[3] and Brigadier Selim Idris becoming Chief of Staff and effective leader.[4][14]

Riad al-Asaad stated in October 2011 that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has no political goals except the removal of Bashar Assad as president of Syria.[15][16] The FSA has also claimed that the conflict is not sectarian, that they have in their ranks Alawis who oppose the government, and that there will be no reprisals if it falls.[17] On 23 September 2011, the Free Syrian Army merged with the Free Officers Movement (Arabic: حركة الضباط الأحرار‎, ħarakat al-ḍubbaṭ al-aħrar) and became the main opposition army group.[5][18][19] By early December 2011, there were an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 defectors from the armed forces according to activist and media sources,[20][21][22] American intelligence sources estimated greater than 10,000 defectors.[23][24] The actual number of soldiers defecting to the Free Syrian Army is unknown.[25][26]

The FSA operates throughout Syria, both in urban areas and in the countryside. Forces are active in the northwest (Idlib, Aleppo), the central region (Homs, Hama, and Rastan), the coast around Latakia, the south (Daraa and Houran), the east (Dayr al-Zawr, Abu Kamal), and the Damascus area. The largest concentration of these forces appears to be in the central region (Homs, Hama, and surrounding areas), with nine or more battalions active there.[27][28] The head of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has said that the Free Syrian Army controlled significant parts of some cities.[29]




The Free Syrian Army traces its origin to early defectors from the Syrian army who refused to shoot on unarmed protesters during the Syrian uprising.[30] The first defections occurred when the army was sent into Daraa to quell ongoing protests. There were reports that different units had refused to shoot on protesters and had split from the army.[31] Video footage showed civilians helping defecting soldiers who had been shot for refusing orders.[32] Defections continued throughout the spring as the government used lethal force to clamp down on protesters and lay siege on protesting cities across the country such as Baniyas, Hama, Talkalakh and, Deir ez-Zor. Many soldiers who refused to open fire against civilians were summarily executed by the army.[33] In July 2011, seeing the need for action Riad al-Asaad and a group of officers announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army with the goal to protect unarmed protesters and to help overthrow the regime.[11]


Colonel Riad al-Asaad and others announcing the FSA's formation in an online video statement.

On 29 July 2011, Riad al-Asaad announced the opposition army's formation. He explained that the free army’s formation resulted from the defecting soldier's nationalistic duty, loyalty to the people, a sense of the need for conclusive decisions to stop government killings, and the army’s responsibility to protect the unarmed free people. He proceeded to announce the formation of the Free Syrian Army to work hand in hand with the people to achieve freedom and dignity, bring the government down, protect the revolution and the country’s resources, and stand in the face of the irresponsible military machine that protects the system.[11]

Asaad called on the officers and men of the Syrian army to "defect from the army, stop pointing their rifles at their people's chests, join the free army, and form a national army that can protect the revolution and all sections of the Syrian people with all their sects." He continued that the Syrian army "[represents] gangs that protect the regime" and declared that "as of now, the security forces that kill civilians and besiege cities will be treated as legitimate targets. We will target them in all parts of the Syrian territories without exception."[11]


Since the Syrian summer of 2011 there was a steady flow of defections to the Free Syrian Army, documented in defection videos.[34][35] Western intelligence reports in December 2011 indicated that as many as half the army conscripts did not report to army duty in the last three call-ups, and that lower-level officers were deserting in large numbers. In some cases, whole units had deserted en masse.[23] During the 2011/2012 Syrian winter, the FSA continued to announce the formation of new army units, publicly declaring to Bashar al-Assad that "you will find us everywhere at all times, and you will see that which you do not expect, until we re-establish the rights and freedom of our people."[36] In an effort to weaken the pro-Assad forces, the free army released a statement in mid-November which announced that a temporary military council had been formed.[37]

The FSA operates throughout Syria, both in urban areas and in the countryside.
External videos
Idlib, Syria, 21 February 2012, About 500 soldiers defect from the Syrian army's 17th Regiment and join the opposition Free Syrian Army.[38]

In January 2012, high-ranking defections continued.[39] On 6 January, General Mustafa al-Sheikh of the Syrian Army defected from the government forces to join the FSA.[40] A day later, Colonel Afeef Mahmoud Suleima of the Syrian Air Force logistics division defected from Bashar Al Assad's regime along with at least fifty of his men and joined the FSA. He announced his group's defection on live television and ordered his men to protect protesters in the city of Hama. Colonel Suleima in a statement declared: "We are from the army and we have defected because the government is killing civilian protesters. The Syrian army attacked Hama with heavy weapons, air raids and heavy fire from tanks ... We ask the Arab League observers to come visit areas affected by air raids and attacks so you can see the damage with your own eyes, and we ask you to send someone to uncover the three cemeteries in Hama filled with more than 460 corpses."[41] Defections continued a week later, when another general of the Syrian army defected to the opposition in the city of Qusayr in Homs province.[42]

General Mustafa al-Sheikh told Reuters that up to 20,000 soldiers in total had deserted the army since the beginning of the conflict, and that the FSA had taken control of large swathes of land. He said in an interview on 12 January 2012 : "If we get 25,000 to 30,000 deserters mounting guerrilla warfare in small groups of six or seven it is enough to exhaust the army in a year to a year-and-a-half, even if they are armed only with rocket-propelled grenades and light weapons", and also mentioned that the majority of army deserters had gone to be with their families, rather than join the rebellion.[43] On 29 January, there were reports of a new round of high-ranking defections after the Syrian Army was deployed to fight in the Damascus suburbs. At least two generals and hundreds of soldiers with their weapons defected at this time.[44][45][46]

On 21 February 2012, General Fayez Amro of the Syrian air force, who is originally from the Bab Amr district in Homs and of Turkmen origin, defected to the opposition. Another intelligence general from the Syrian army also defected at this time to Turkey. His name was not disclosed due to security reasons. This was at the same time that a defected lieutenant who worked in the chemical weapons department claimed that "BZ-CS, Chlorine Benzilate, which damages people’s nerves and makes them fade away, is being used in Bab Amr." He said that some Syrian soldiers had been supplied with gas masks for protection.[47] It was also reported that a brigadier general defected in Idlib with 200 of his soldiers.[48] The next month General Adnan Farzat from the city of Rastan and two other generals defected.[49][50] Turkish government sources reported that same month a surge in desertions with there being over 20,000 desertions in the past month alone bringing the total number of deserters from the Syrian army to over 60,000 soldiers.[51]

On 24 March 2012, the Free Syrian Army united with the Higher Military Council. The groups agreed to put their differences behind them, and in a statement said: "First, we decided to unite all the military councils and battalions and all the armed battalions inside the country under one unified leadership of the Free Syrian Army and to follow the orders of the commander of the FSA, Col. Riad al-Asaad."[52]

December 2012 reorganisation

On 7 December 2012, about 260[4] to 550[3] commanders and representatives of armed Syrian opposition groups, not including the FSA Commander-in-Chief Riad al-Asaad, met in Antalya and elected a unified command[4] (or "leadership council"[3]) of 30 people. This 30-member command elected Brigadier Selim Idris[4] (or Brigadier General Salim Idriss[3]) as the FSA chief of staff.[3] Security force members from the United States, United Kingdom, France, the Gulf Cooperation Council and Jordan were present at the meeting.[4]

About two-thirds of those elected to the new command were people associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and defected, senior former members of the Syrian Army (during the Bashar al-Assad government) were excluded.[4] Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham were excluded from the meeting and the unified command.[3] Thomson Reuters described two of the new Deputy Chiefs of Staff, Abdelbasset Tawil from Idlib Governorate and Abdelqader Saleh from Aleppo Governorate, as "Islamist commanders".[4] The Huffington Post stated that "the FSA command appears to want to sideline extremist groups that have been playing a bigger role in recent months" and that there would be a total of five deputy commanders associated to five regions of Syria.[3]


FSA soldiers plan during the Battle of Aleppo (October 2012).

The Free Syrian Army is the military wing of the opposition movement,[53] and it aims to bring down the government by protecting civilian protesters, encouraging army defections and by carrying out armed action.[11] As the Syrian army is highly organized and well-armed, the Free Syrian Army has adopted guerrilla-style tactics in the countryside and cities. The FSA's military strategy is focused on a dispersed countrywide guerrilla campaign with a tactical focus on armed action in the capital of Damascus. The campaign is not meant to hold territory, but rather, is meant to spread the government's forces and their logistics chains thin in the battles for urban centers where protests continue, to attrition the security forces, to degrade morale, and to destabilize Damascus the center of government.[54]

The Free Syrian Army's armed actions focus on the government's combat advantages, which include the ability to mount coordinated operations on a large scale, the ability to move its forces at will, and the ability to employ heavy firepower.[55] To halt these advantages the FSA has mounted attacks on the government's command and control and logistical infrastructure. A sabotage campaign has begun in Syria with reports of attacks on different government assets. The FSA has mounted attacks on security service command centers and on Syrian social media sites information about blocking roads, attacking logistics vehicles, including tank transporters and fuel trucks, cutting coaxial communications cables servicing airfields, and destroying telecommunications towers, sabotaging engines of combat and other vehicles used by government forces by sugaring the fuel tank, and attacking railways and pipelines has been discussed.[56][57]

The Free Syrian Army on the local level engages and ambushes the state’s shabiha militia[17] and confronts the army during which it encourages defections.[7] Some members of the Free Syrian Army have stated that the organization does not have the resources to occupy and take control of territories, and instead relies primarily on hit and run attacks to prompt the Syrian army into withdrawing.[58] The FSA also uses improvised explosive devices to attack military convoys of buses, trucks and tanks that are transporting supplies and security reinforcements and engages in attack and retreat operations on government checkpoints.[17][59] In neighborhoods opposed to the government, the FSA has acted as a defense force, guarding streets while protests take place and attacking the militias, known as shabiha, which are an integral part of the government's efforts to suppress dissent.[60] In Deir ez-Zor, Al-Rastan, Abu Kamal and other cities the Free Syrian Army, however, engaged in street battles that raged for days with no particular side gaining the advantage.[17] The FSA has also sought international help in bringing down the Assad government. It has asked the international community for arms and the implementation of a no fly zone and naval blockade of Syria[19]


FSA soldiers cleaning their AK-47s during the Battle of Aleppo (October 2012).

The Free Syrian Army is mainly armed with AK-47s, DShKs and RPG-7s.[61] As defecting soldiers lack air cover, deserting soldiers have to abandon their armoured vehicles. Soldiers defect carrying only their army issued light arms and hide in cities, suburbs or the cover of the countryside.[17] Besides AK-47s, some FSA soldiers also have M16s, Steyr AUGs, FN FALs, shotguns,[62] G3 Battle Rifles,[63] and PK machine guns.[64] The FSA has a few heavy weapons captured from the Syrian government. In February 2012, video footage was posted online showing a captured government tank, being used in Homs by FSA forces. The tank carried Syrian opposition flags and was seen firing with armed men in civilian clothes taking cover behind it.[65] An FSA spokesman has said that the organization received three tanks from a group of 100 deserters from the Syrian army.[46] The FSA has also reportedly acquired a number of anti-aircraft missiles.[66] The Free Syrian Army has recently begun manufacturing its' own mortars and rockets.[67]

Raids on government checkpoints and arms depots are carried out to supply the FSA with much of its ammunition and new arms. The FSA also purchases weapons on the Syrian black market which is supplied by arms smugglers from neighboring countries and corrupt loyalist forces selling government arms. There have been reports that whole arms depots have been offered for sale, although these offers were refused because of fears of a potential trap.[68][69] FSA fighters are also sometimes able to purchase weapons directly from army supply bases, provided that they have enough money to satisfy the government troops guarding them. It is also reported that the FSA purchases much of its heavy weaponry from Iraqi arms smugglers.[70]

Col. Riad Asaad has asked the international community to supply the FSA with arms to alleviate the organization's supply issues.[71][72] While many nations have been hesitant to provide Syria with arms out of fears of escalating the conflict,[73] the organization does appear to be receiving some outside arms shipments. In April 2012, the Lebanese Navy intercepted a Sierra Leone-registered vessel carrying a large number of arms and ammunition believed to be destined for the Free Syrian Army. Some of the arms were labeled as Libyan.[74]


The Free Syrian Army operates throughout Syria, both in urban areas and in the countryside. Forces are active in the northwest (Idlib, Aleppo), the central region (Homs, Hama, and Rastan), the south (Daraa and Houran), the east (Dayr al-Zawr, Abu Kamal), and the Damascus area. The largest concentration of these forces appears to be in the central region (Homs, Hama, and surrounding areas), with nine or more battalions active there.[27]

The free army uses guerrilla warfare tactics when it fights and does not aim to occupy terrain once a fight is over, however, by late 2011 large swathes of area in Syria had fallen under partial control of the Free Syrian Army.[75][76] In late 2011, the FSA established control over a number of towns and villages across Idlib province.[77][78] Later in January 2012, the Free Syrian Army succeeded in taking control of the town of Zabadani in Damascus province, following intense clashes with the regular troops. On 21 January, the FSA temporarily captured the town of Douma, near Damascus.[79] The Free Syrian Army also for three months controlled around two-thirds of Homs, Syria's third largest city, according to Syrian military officers inside the city.[80] In January, some Damascus suburbs fell under partial opposition control. For example, the town of Saqba, an eastern suburb of Damascus fell under opposition control for a week until the FSA was forced to tactically retreat into the local population after sustained heavy bombardment by the Syrian Army.[81][82] In late February, the city of Idlib was under opposition control, with opposition flags flying in the city centre.[83]

In May, United Nations monitors confirmed media reports that large areas of Syria's countryside and provincial cities were under de facto FSA or nobody's control.[84] The Free Syrian Army has stated that it only has partial control over its held areas, and that in a head to head battle with the Syrian army was unable in most cases to hold the territory. The FSA’s goal as of winter was to loosen government control over areas, rather than to impose firm control of its own.[85]

Command structure

Head command

Add caption here

Prior to September, 2012, the Free Syrian Army operated its command and headquarters from Turkey's southern Hatay province close to the Syrian border with field commanders operating inside Syria.[72][86] On September 23, 2012, the FSA announced that it had moved its headquarters to Idlib Governorate, inside Syria.[87]

The army's symbolic leader is Colonel Riad al-Asaad as Commander-in-Chief,[3] with Brigadier General Selim Idris as the Chief of Staff[3] and effective leader.[4] Abdelbasset Tawil from Idlib Governorate and Abdelqader Saleh from Aleppo Governorate are two[4] among five[3] Deputy Chiefs of Staff. The army's strategic planning and arms procurement is handled by its military council.[88]

Regional command

The Free Syrian Army has field units located across the country. The field units are under the direct command of nine regional commanders which are based in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Idlib, Deir al-Zor, Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia. The regional commanders include Colonel Qasim Saad al-Din who directs military operations in Homs province and Colonel Khaled al-Haboush who directs military operations in the capital. The regional commanders are under the direct operational command of Colonel Riad Asaad and hold conference calls almost daily.[89][90][91] For internal communication and operations, the FSA appears to have an extensive internet based communication network that state security has tried to penetrate.[92][93]

Field units

The Free Syrian Army has adopted the configuration and tactics of a guerrilla force. A typical field unit such as the Tel Kalakh Martyrs’ Brigade numbers between 300 to 400 fighters split into combat units of six to 10 men. Each man in the unit is armed with a light weapon, such as an AK-47, and the combat unit as a whole is equipped with an RPG launcher and a light machine gun. Communication inside the battalion unit is carried out by walkie talkie.[96] The FSA battalion units work closely with the local population and defectors typically join units from the region or town that they come.[93] The FSA is closely interlinked with ad hoc activist networks and it works closely with the civilian formed local councils.[97][98] Around key population centers, such as Damascus, Aleppo, Daraa and Hama, the FSA operates military councils that coordinate operations in the area.[99][100]

The army's command and control is exercised through a variety of means, including mobile phones, voice over IP, email, couriers and social media.[27] In November 2011, the army spent $2-million to improve communication links between opposition fighters in Syria.[68] The Bashar al-Assad government captured a number of sophisticated communications devices from opposition fighters, including Thuraya mobile satellite phones, very high and ultra-high frequency (VHF/UHF) devices, and Inmarsat mobile communication satellite systems.[27] In February 2012, Qatar had supplied the army with 3,000 satellite phones.[108] The United States has also provided communication equipment to help create a more structured army.[6][109][110]

Free Syrian Army units specialize in different tasks. Units close to the borders are involved with logistics and the transport of injured soldiers out of the country and also with the transport medical equipment, material supplies and weapons into the country.[122] Other units such as the Farouq Brigade which is based in the city of Homs are involved in protecting civilians and fending off the Syrian army. The Farouq Brigade is one of the more active FSA battalion units. It is led by Lieutenant Abdul-Razzaq Tlass, the nephew of former Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass.[8] Lieutenant Tlass was one of the first defectors and is one of the key figures in the Syrian uprising. His unit of 500-2,000 soldiers has actively engaged the Syrian army in Homs and raided Syrian checkpoints and command centers.[57][123][124] As of January 2012, the army had around 37 named battalion units, 17–23 of which appeared to be actively engaged in combat.[101][125]


Armed action in 2011


Detailed map of Syria
Battle of Rastan

From 27 September to 1 October, Syrian government forces, backed by tanks and helicopters, led a major offensive on the city of Rastan in Homs province, which had been under opposition control for a couple weeks.[126][127] There were reports of large numbers of defections in the city, and the Free Syrian Army reported it had destroyed 17 armoured vehicles during clashes in Rastan,[128] using RPGs and booby traps.[129] A defected officer in the Syrian opposition claimed that over a hundred officers had defected as well as thousands of conscripts, although many had gone into hiding or home to their families, rather than fighting the loyalist forces.[129] The Battle of Rastan between the government forces and the Free Syrian Army was the longest and most intense action up until that time. After a week of fighting, the FSA was forced to retreat from Rastan.[127] To avoid government forces, the leader of the FSA, Col. Riad Asaad, retreated to the Turkish side of Syrian-Turkish border.[130]


Jabal al-Zawiya clashes

By the beginning of October, clashes between loyalist and defected army units were being reported fairly regularly. During the first week of the month, sustained clashes were reported in Jabal al-Zawiya in the mountainous regions of Idlib province. On 13 October, clashes were reported in the town of Haara in Daraa province in the south of Syria that resulted in the death of two rebel and six loyalist soldiers, according to the London based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.[131] Clashes were also reported in the city of Binnish in Idlib province with a total of 14 fatalities for both affected towns, including rebels, loyalists and civilians.[132] A few days later on 17 October, five government troops were killed in the town of Qusair in the central province of Homs, near the border with Lebanon, and 17 people were reported wounded in skirmishes with defectors in the town of Hass in Idlib province near the mountain range of Jabal al-Zawiya, although it was unclear if the wounded included civilians.[133] According to the London based organization, an estimated 11 government soldiers were killed that day, four of which were killed in a bombing. It was not clear if the defectors linked to these incidents were connected to the Free Syrian Army.[134]

Continuing clashes in Idlib province

On 20 October, the opposition reported that clashes occurred between loyalists and defectors in Burhaniya, near the town of Qusair in the central province of Homs, leading to the death of several soldiers and the destruction of two military vehicles.[135] A week later on 25 October, clashes occurred in the northwestern town of Maarat al-Numaan in Idlib province between loyalists and defected soldiers at a roadblock on the edge of the town. The defectors launched an assault on the government held roadblock in retaliation for a raid on their positions the previous night.[136] The next day on 26 October, the opposition reported that nine soldiers were killed by a rocket-propelled grenade when it hit their bus in the village of Hamrat, near the city of Hama. The gunmen who attacked the bus were believed to be defected soldiers.[137]

On 29 October, the opposition reported that 17 pro-Assad soldiers were killed in the city of Homs during fighting with suspected army deserters, including a defected senior official who was aiding the rebel soldiers. Two armoured personnel carriers were disabled in the fighting. Later the number of casualties was revised to 20 killed and 53 wounded soldiers in clashes with presumed army deserters, according to Agence France Presse. In a separate incident, 10 security agents and a deserter were killed in a bus ambush near the Turkish border, opposition activists reported. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights reported that the bus was transporting security agents between the villages of Al-Habit and Kafrnabuda in Idlib province when it was ambushed "by armed men, probably deserters".[138][139][140]


On 1 November, dozens of armored vehicles converged on a village in the Kafroma in Idlib, as defected soldiers killed an unknown number of Syrian soldiers.[citation needed] A few days later on 5 November, at least nine people died in clashes between soldiers, protesters and defectors, and four Shabeeha were killed in Idlib reportedly by army deserters.[141] On the same day, the state-news agency SANA reported the deaths of 13 soldiers and policemen as a result of clashes with armed groups.[142] According to SANA, four policemen were also wounded in clashes with an armed group in Kanaker in the Damascus countryside while one of the armed individuals died, additionally that day, two explosive devices were dismantled.[143]

Defections and checkpoint raids

More army defections were reported in Damascus on 10 November, three out of at least nine defectors were shot dead by loyalist gunmen after abandoning their posts. The same day, clashes reportedly resulted in the death of a fifteen year old boy in Khan Sheikhoun, when he was caught in crossfire between Assad loyalists and the free army.[144] Also on the 10 November "at least four soldiers in the regular army were killed at dawn in an attack, headed by armed men – probably deserters – on a military checkpoint in Has region, near Maaret al-Numan town" according to the Syrian Observatory For Human Rights.[145] However, the number has also been put at five soldiers.[144] A checkpoint in Maarat al-Numaan three kilometers south of Homs also came under attack by defectors, resulting in an increase in tank deployment by Syrian security forces in the city.[144]

In November, there were conflicting reports of the number of Syrian soldiers injured and killed. On 11 November, Reuters reported that 26 soldiers were killed,[146] while Syrian state media reported the lower figure of 20 soldiers killed at this time.[147][148] For the month up until 13 November, the Local Coordination Committees reported the death of about 20 soldiers,[146] the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights reported the death of more than 100 soldiers,[146] and the Syrian state media SANA reported the death of 71 soldiers.[147][148][149][150][151][152][153] Increased Clashes in Daraa province began on the 14 November when 34 soldiers and 12 defectors were killed in an ambush by the free army. The death toll as a result of the fighting also included 23 civilians.[154] One day later on 15 November, eight soldiers and security forces troops were killed by an assault on a checkpoint in Hama province, according to activists.[155]

Damascus Intelligence complex attack

On 16 November, in a coordinated attack, an air force intelligence complex in the Damascus suburb of Harasta was attacked.[156] According to the Free Syrian Army, they did so with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, leading to the death of at least six soldiers with twenty others wounded. A western diplomat said the assault was "hugely symbolic and tactically new".[37][157] The attack on the air force intelligence complex was a continuation of clashes in Damascus. The next day, the Free Syrian Army launched an assault against the Baath party youth headquarters in Idlib province with RPG's and small arms.[158] The state news agency SANA reported the deaths of three Syrian troops as a result of a bomb blast, with an officer also critically wounded and two law-enforcement agents injured.[159] Three members of the security forces were reportedly killed on between the 18 to 19 November by the Free Syrian Army.[141] Multiple attacks on 19 December by armed groups were also reported by the state news agency SANA.[160] State news also reported that ten wanted armed individuals were captured in Maarat al-Numan.[161]

According to Reuters, two rocket propelled grenades hit a Baath party building in Damascus on 20 December. This if true is highly significant; it is the first attack of this kind within the capital itself and would lend weight to the Free Syrian Army's claim that it can strike anywhere in Syria. According to Reuters, a witness said: "Security police blocked off the square where the Baath's Damascus branch is located. But I saw smoke rising from the building and fire trucks around it." The building was reportedly mostly empty in the attack which took place before dawn and was seemingly a message to the regime.[162] However, an AFP reporter went to the area and saw no signs of the claimed attack while residents said that there had been no explosions.[163] Colonel Asaad himself denied that the Free Syrian Army was responsible for the attack. It is therefore likely that it was a provocation by the Assad regime.[164] On 22 November, the Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for killing eight members of the security forces.[citation needed] On 23 November, five defected soldiers were killed; four in a farm near Daraa where they were hiding and one near the Lebanese border, according to Reuters. If there was a confrontation between the soldiers and government troops is unclear. Any government troop casualties as a result of these clashes are also unknown.[165]

Homs airbase attack

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, on the 24 November soldiers and Shabiha with armoured vehicles started operations in farmland west of Rastan in Homs province to track down defectors. 24 people died as a result (if they were soldiers, defectors or civilians was not stated). At least fifty tanks and other armoured vehicle opened fire with 50 cal. machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons on positions held by the Free Syrian Army on Rastan's outskirts. Deaths were also reported in Daraa and Homs[166] On 24 November, 11 defectors were killed and four wounded during clashes on the western outskirts of Homs.[167]

In an attack on an airbase in Homs province on 25 November, six elite pilots, one technical officer and three other personnel were killed. The Syrian government vowed to "cut every evil hand" of the attackers as a result.[168][169] On that same day, at least 10 troops and security service agents were killed in clashes with mutinous soldiers in the east of Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deaths occurred in Deir Ezzor, while early the next day a civilian was also killed in the eastern city. Several defectors were also killed or wounded.[170][171][172]

Army convoy ambushes

Sustained clashes in Idlib province began on 26 November between loyalist and opposition fighters. At least 8 soldiers were killed and 40 more wounded that day when the free army attacked them in Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. "A group of deserters attacked a squad of soldiers and security agents in a convoy of seven vehicles, including three all-terrain vehicles, on the road from Ghadka to Maarat al-Numaan”, the Britain-based watchdog said. “Eight were killed and at least 40 more were wounded. The deserters were able to withdraw without suffering any casualties,” it added. The FSA claimed to be behind the attack.[173]

Syrian human rights activists claimed that the Free Syrian Army had killed three loyalist soldiers and captured two others on 29 November, although they did not specify where.[174] According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, seven soldiers were killed on 30 November in fighting in the town of Deal in Daraa province after security forces moved on the town in force. The fighting went on from the early morning to the late afternoon. "Two security force vehicles were blown up. Seven (troops) were killed," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the observatory. An activist from the town, in the province of Daraa, said some 30 busloads of security men stormed Deal and two of the buses were blown up in fighting "between security forces and defectors," the Observatory reported. One of the destroyed buses was allegedly empty.[175]


Idlib intelligence building raid

On 1 December, FSA troops launched a raid on an intelligence building in Idlib, leading to a three-hour firefight in which eight loyalists were killed.[176] This came the same day the United Nations announced it considered Syria to be in a state of civil war.[177] On 3 December, clashes in the city of Idlib in the north of Syria the next day resulted in the death of seven Assad loyalist soldiers, five defectors and three civilians.[178] On 4 December, heavy fighting raged in Homs during which at least five FSA insurgents were killed and one wounded.[179] Defected soldiers killed four members of the security forces, including an officer, at the southern city of Deal in Daraa province on 5 December.[180] On 7 December, there were clashes between the Syrian regular army and groups of army defectors near the radio broadcasting centre in the town of Saraqeb, in Idib district. An armoured personnel carrier (APC) of the regular army was destroyed during the clashes. Meanwhile, joint security and military forces raided the houses at the edges of Saraqeb and arrested three activists, at dawn time. This was according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.[citation needed] Between 1 December and 7 December, the Syrian state news agency SANA reported the deaths of 48 members of the state security forces.[181][182][183][184][185][186]

Escalating clashes in Daraa

A military tank was destroyed in Homs on 9 December.[187] Four defected soldiers also apparently died in fighting on 9 December.[188] On 10 December, activists say clashes between Syrian troops and army defectors killed at least two people. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says two army armoured carriers were burned in the pre-dawn clash in the northwestern town of Kfar Takharim.[189] On 11 December, it was reported that a battle was fought between defectors and the Syrian army in Busra al-Harir and Lujah. Troops, mainly from the 12th Armoured Brigade, based in Isra, 40 km from the border with Jordan, stormed the nearby town of Busra al-Harir, the Reuters news agency reported. It was apparently the largest battle to take place in the conflict so far.[190][191] At least five soldiers, including a military officer, are reported to have been killed the same day in an unspecified location.[192] In one of Sunday’s clashes, which took place before dawn in the northwestern town of Kfar Takharim, two of the military’s armored vehicles were set ablaze, said the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.[193] Three other vehicles were burned in another clash near the southern village of Busra al-Harir, the group said. Similar battles took place in several other parts of the south, said the Observatory and another activist group called the Local Coordination Committees.[193]

Urban fighting in Homs

Syrian army defectors, who operate under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, say that a senior army officer was killed on 11 December after refusing to fire on civilians in Homs. Maher al-Nueimi, a spokesman for the FSA, said that Brigadier-General Salman al-Awaja was given instructions to fire on residents of al-Quseir in Homs. When he refused, Nueimi said, he was killed. The FSA says that a large number of defections took place after the killing, as clashes broke out between al-Awaja's supporters in the army and the other soldiers who killed him.[194] The Observatory said two people were killed in the clash with defectors in Kfar Takharim and two armoured vehicles were destroyed.[195] On 12 December, three civilians and two defectors were killed during clashes in Idlib province.[196] Fighting in Ebita, in the northwestern province of Idlib, continued throughout the night and into the early hours on 12 December. At least one fighter was killed and another injured in the assault.[197] The FSA killed ten troops in an ambush on a convoy in Idlib, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. This attack was allegedly done to avenge the deaths of 11 civilians previously killed. A Syrian officer was also killed in a revenge attack.[198][199] Loyalist soldiers reportedly fired upon a civilian car near Homs on 14 December, killing five people, in response, the Free Syrian Army staged an ambush against a loyalist convoy consisting of four jeeps, killing eight soldiers.[200] The same day, three anti-regime military defectors were wounded in clashes with Syrian security forces in the village of Hirak in Daraa province.[201] The FSA engaged loyalist army units and security service agents south of Damascus on 15 December, leading to 27 loyalist deaths and an unknown number of FSA casualties. The clashes broke out at three separate checkpoints in Daraa province around dawn[202] Between 8 December and 15 December, the Syrian state news agency SANA reported the deaths of 68 members of the state security forces.[203][204][205][206][207][208][209][210] A lieutenant colonel of the FSA was killed by the Syrian army on 17 December according to Local Committee, and opposition source.[211]

Unsuccessful defection in Idlib

On 19 December, the FSA suffered its largest loss of life when new defectors tried to abandon their positions and bases between the villages of Kensafra and Kefer Quaid in Idlib province. Activist groups, specifically the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, reported that 72 defectors were killed as they were gunned down during their attempted escape. The Syrian Army lost three soldiers during the clashes.[212] The next day, S.O.H.R. stated that in all 100 defectors were killed or wounded.[213] The clashes continued into the next day, and another report, by Lebanese human rights activist Wissam Tarif, put the death toll even higher with 163 defectors, 97 government troops and nine civilians killed on the second day alone as the military tracked down the soldiers and civilian that managed to initially escape.[214] On 21 December, it was reported that the FSA had taken control over large swathes of Idlib province including some towns and villages.[215] It was also reported on 24 December that the FSA stronghold in the Bab Amr neighbourhood of Homs was under attack by security forces, with two FSA soldiers killed.[216] A week later, a minute long fire fight erupted between FSA forces and government security forces, on a road near the village of Dael in Daraa province. Four government soldiers were killed in the ambush.[217]

Armed action in 2012


Clashes around Damascus

Syrian forces clashed with army deserters in an area near the capital Damascus, opposition activists said. The town of Reef Damascus saw fighting on 1 January as the government forces were hunting for suspected defectors, according to the activists. There were no immediate reports of casualties.[218] According to the London based Syrian Observatory for Human rights, despite a self-declared ceasefire, Free Syrian Army soldiers in Idlib, on 2 January, overran two checkpoints belonging to security forces and captured dozens of loyalist troops, and launched an attack on a third checkpoint killing and wounding several loyalists.[219] More than a dozen people, including 11 soldiers, were killed in clashes between defectors and loyalists in Basr al-Harir, a town in southern Daraa Governorate, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.[220] Shelling and gunfire were also reported in Deir ez-Zor by the LCC.[221] On 14 January, the Syrian Observatory For Human Rights said there was fighting between deserters and loyalist troops in Hula, Homs province, after the defectors destroyed a barricade and a number of security forces were killed or wounded.[222]

Battle of Zabadani

In mid-January, the FSA managed to take control over the border town of Zabadani, just 14 miles away from the capital, Damascus. Regular army forces tried to assault the town several times but as of 16 January all attacks were repelled.[223]

Battle for the Damascus suburbs

By 26 January, the Damascus suburb of Douma had fallen under control of the Free Syrian Army, with occasional raids by security forces failing to dislodge the rebels, mainly made of armed civilians, and some army defectors, mostly armed with assault rifles and hand grenades.[224] Because of the growing number of defectors, some defectors managed to take their tanks with them. A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army said that more than 100 soldiers defected on 28 January 2012, bringing three tanks along with them.[46] By the end of January and the beginning of February, videos surfaced showing BMP-2 armoured personnel carriers in Homs carrying the Syrian independence flag firing at government forces, supported by FSA soldiers.[225]

Between the 29 and 30 January, government forces massed over 2,000 troops and at least 50 tanks and launched a major offensive to reclaim the northern suburbs – held by the FSA – and drive them from the city. By the end of 30 January, it appeared that the operation had been mostly successful, and the FSA had made a tactical withdrawal.[226] 10 FSA fighters and eight government soldiers were killed during the day in the whole country. Two of the defectors died in the Damascus suburb of Rankus, which had been retaken by the military.[227] Another report put the day's death toll in the suburbs at 19 civilians and 6 FSA fighters, while the overall number of those killed in the previous three days, since the fighting in the area started, was 100.[228] The same day, it was reported by opposition activists that one of the original founders of the FSA, Colonel Hussein Harmush, who was captured in late August by Syrian special forces, was executed several weeks earlier.[227]

On 31 January, the Syrian army continued to advance in order to remove the last FSA pockets.[229] The army fired into the air, as they advanced with tanks even beyond the positions from where the FSA withdrew. Activists told that the suburbs were on unannounced curfew while others were allowed to flee. The army was conducting arrests on suspected people in the district of Irbin.[230][need quotation to verify] In some instances, curfews were defied by some citizens, who put up a large opposition flag in the centre of Damascus.[231]


Second battle of Rastan

The FSA during the Second Battle of Rastan retook complete control of the city of Rastan around early February.

Damascus suburbs

On 1 February, the Syrian army extended their operations around Damascus, with more troops moving into the mountainous area of Qaramoun, north of Damascus. Further north, the troops which took the control of Rankous, started to extend their control into farmland surrounding the city. In the eastern suburbs of Mesraba, activist reported that army snipers were positioned and that tanks were in the streets.[232] Initially, 12 people, including six FSA rebels, were killed in fighting in Wadi Barada, located north-west of Damascus in the Rif Damashk governorate, according to the Local Committee of Coordination.[233] Later, the death toll of FSA fighters in the area was raised to 14.[234] The town of Deir Kanoun and Ein al Fija were also under army assaults according to the London based SOHR.[235] At the same time, SANA reported that, further south in the suburbs Daraa, security forces killed 11 armed fighters and wounded two when they attacked a military bus killing one Army sergeant and wounding two others.[236] Also, the Al-Watan newspaper reported that 37 rebel fighters were killed in fighting in Homs and 15 in Rastan, while four soldiers died in Bab Dreib and two in Rastan.[237]

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, troops and army defectors clashed in the northwestern province of Idlib and the southern province of Daraa on 5 February. They report two civilians and nine soldiers killed in Idlib.[238] The FSA seems to have taken over another checkpoint in Homs on 2 February.[239] Five government troops were shot in clashes with rebel fighters in Qalaat al-Madyaq town in restive Hama area, on 14 February.[240]

Homs bombardment

On the night of 3 February and in the early hours of 4 February, government forces launched a major offensive against Homs, leading to over 200 deaths and 800 injuries. FSA forces engaged loyalist forces and threatened reprisals particularly in Damascus.[241] On 10 February, Sky News reported that the FSA had taken full control of the northern city of Idlib. However, Syrian tanks were surrounding Idlib, and citizens and defected soldiers feared a new offensive. Renewed fighting in the Idlib province was reported on 11 February.[83]

Battle of Al-Qusayr

Heavy fighting had taken place in the town of Al-Qusayr in Homs since 13 February, when the FSA captured the headquarters of the secret service in Homs, killing five agents in the process. Remaining government troops retreated to the town hall and hospital in the city. Four tanks came to reinforce them.[242] However, 1 of the 4 tanks as well as 30 soldiers defected to the opposition, where the tank, aided by tractors and trucks, took out remaining government positions and the other 3 tanks. During the Battle of Al-Qusayr, FSA fighters were able to establish full control of the city. They said 20 government soldiers had been killed and 80 had fled. FSA fighters said 1 of their men had been killed and another 6 wounded during the battle.[243]

Battle of Baba Amr
Areas of conflict and displacement (light purple), refugee camps (red triangles), displaced in host homes (green houses), FSA held territory (red), June 2012.[244][245]

Baba Amr district in Homs fell to government forces on the morning of 1 March, as the Free Syrian Army claimed they had made a "tactical retreat" from the area, after running low on weapons and ammunition. They made the decision to withdraw from Baba Amr and into other parts of Homs because "worsening humanitarian conditions, lack of food and medicine and water, electricity and communication cuts as well as shortages in weapons."[246]


Second unsuccessful defection in Idlib

Shortly after their retreat from Baba Amr in Homs, the FSA suffered another setback on 3 March, when a defection of 50 soldiers from the Abu Athuhoor Military Airport in Idlib province was foiled after their plans were discovered. 47 of the soldiers were executed[247] and only three managed to escape. Their bodies were reportedly dumped in a lake.[248]

Raid in Mezze

A raid was held in the Mezze area of Damascus, involving machine-gun fire and rocket propelled grenades. A defecting general was escorted from the area. A military helicopter flew over the area leading to the detection and deaths of 7 FSA fighters.[249] Also, 80 elements of the security forces including pro-government militia were reportedly killed and 200 wounded during the clashes. The deputy commander of the Free Syrian Army also said that two military tanks were destroyed during the operation.[250][251] However, neither the opposition-affiliated SOHR activist group or any independent media confirmed the high number of government casualties in the clashes.


Homs situation
Areas of conflict and displacement (light purple), refugee camps (yellow triangles), displaced in host homes (green houses), FSA held territory (red), June 2012.[244][245]

By late April 2012, despite a cease-fire being declared in the whole country, heavy fighting continued in Al-Qusayr, where rebel forces controlled the northern part of the city, while the military held the southern part. FSA forces were holding onto Al-Qusayr, due to it being the last major transit point toward the Lebanese border. A rebel commander from the Farouq Brigade in the town reported that 2,000 Farouq fighters had been killed in Homs province since August 2011. At this point, there were talks among the rebels in Al-Qusayr, where many of the retreating rebels from Homs city's Baba Amr district had gone, of Homs being abandoned completely.[252][253]


Despite the UN ceasefire, fighting between the Free Syrian Army and Syrian government forces continued throughout May. The FSA had used much of early May to regroup[254] and gradually launched more and more attacks on government forces as the month progressed (despite often being poorly armed)[255] and it became clear that the ceasefire had failed. Kofi Annan himself expressed exasperation at the ongoing violence. Footage in late-May appeared to show FSA forces had been destroying Assad forces' tanks in Idlib.[256]


The Free Syrian Army announced on 4 June it was abandoning its ceasefire agreement. Spokesman Sami al-Kurdi told Reuters that the FSA had begun attacking soldiers to "defend our people". At least 80 government soldiers were killed in escalating violence over that weekend.[257] By mid-June, the FSA controlled large swathes of land in Idlib governorate and Northern Hama governorate. In these areas, the FSA and local individuals administered justice and the distribution of supplies to residents.[258]

It was reported on 28 June that the opposition almost entirely controlled the city of Deir ez-Zor, while the government army had shelled it, trying to take it back. Human rights groups said that this assault with tanks and artillery had killed over 100 residents. The government also reportedly told doctors not to treat people at local hospitals and targeted hospitals that refused with mortar rounds. Humanitarian aid workers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were targeted by the army, one worker was killed.[259] In Homs, the FSA held out against government forces bombarding large parts of the city, including the opposition bastion of Khaldiyah. Also, renewed fighting between rebels and loyalists was reported in the Baba Amr neighourhood of Homs.[citation needed]


In July, it was reported that the Free Syrian Army had taken control of a number of suburbs north of the capital Damascus, including Zamalka and Irbeen. FSA fighters openly patrolled the streets of the suburbs, and clashes occurred less than 10 kilometers from the center of Damascus city itself.[260]

It was reported that the Free Syrian Army also took control of a commercial crossing in Bab al-Hawa in Syria's northern frontier. FSA fighters had fought government forces there for ten days until they won. FSA fighters were seen in video footage, destroying portraits of Assad and celebrating their victory.[261]


On 18 November, rebels took control of one of the Syrian Army's largest military bases in northern Syria, Base 46 in the Aleppo Governorate after weeks of intense fighting with government forces. Defected General Mohammed Ahmed al-Faj, who commanded the assault, hailed the capture of Base 46 as “one of our biggest victories since the start of the revolution” against Bashar al-Assad, claiming nearly 300 Syrian troops had been killed and 60 had been captured with rebels seizing large amounts of heavy weapons and tanks.[262]

On 22 November, rebels captured the Mayadeen military base in the country's eastern Deir ez Zor province. Activists said this gave the rebels control of a large amount of territory east of the base, to the Iraqi border.[263]

International support

The Libyan National Transitional Council announced in November 2011 that it had been in talks with the Syrian National Council and was considering supplying weapons and volunteer fighters of the National Liberation Army to the Free Syrian Army, and that international intervention may only be weeks away. According to people with links to the National Council, the Libyans were offering money, weapons and training forces loyal to the Syrian National Council.[264] At the end of the month, it was reported that at least 600 fighters of the National Liberation Army from Libya had been dispatched to support the Free Syrian Army and had entered Syria through Turkey.[265]

Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been trying to "cultivate a favorable relationship with whatever government would take the place of Assad."[266]

In February 2012, British foreign secretary William Hague said that Britain was prepared to send advanced communications equipment to the FSA to help them coordinate their forces, but did not mention supplying weapons.[267] A week later the Saudi Gazette reported that the Gulf Cooperation Council was thinking of recognising the Free Syrian Army "as the sole and legitimate representative of the Syrian people", citing an unnamed Bahraini official who requested anonymity.[268]

By the end of February 2012, there was extensive talk by Gulf States of arming the Free Syrian Army. The FSA leadership, however, reported in March that it had not yet received any funds, weapons, or equipment from any government despite recent pledges to help support their armed struggle. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, FSA leader Riad Asaad said that: "There is no practical support from the international community," and that "It's been all talk."[269] The Free Syrian Army for now planned on relying on itself and raids on arms depots, however, it still hoped for outside arms support.[92]

On 1 March, Kuwait's parliament declared support for the FSA.[270] By mid-May, it was reported according to opposition activists and foreign officials that the FSA had started to receive significant financial support from the Persian Gulf nations for the purchase of arms.[271]

In July 2012, a non-governmental organization based in Washington DC, called Syrian Support Group, has gotten clearance from the U.S. Treasury Department to fund the Free Syrian Army.[272]

Foreign combatants

The number of foreign Sunni militants active within the FSA is hard to assess. In late May 2012, based on interviews with FSA fighters, it was reported that 300 Lebanese had joined the FSA. The presence of Algerians, Tunisians, Jordanians and fighters from Saudi Arabia was also confirmed.[273][274] A leader of the FSA told an AFP correspondent that five Libyan combatants have been killed in clashes with the Syrian Army. The same leader, while denying the presence of many foreign fighters, said that there are few of different nationalities. Peter Harling, from the International Crisis Group, told the AFP that the proportion of foreign fighters is currently very small, but might grow after Saudi Arabia and Qatar announced their support for arming the rebels.[275]

Croatian General Marinko Krešić confirmed that there are between 80 and 100 Croat mercenaries between the ages of 40 and 60 helping the Free Syrian Army. They are veterans from the Croatian War of Independence (1991–95) or Bosnian War (1992–95), but also fought as mercenaries in Iraqi War (2003–11), Libyan civil war, Tunisian revolution and Egyptian revolution. Krešić stated that some are serving as security, instructors while others are killing. He also stated that they are very well trained and that "they are the one who will probably kill rather then be killed". Krešić stated that their payment is up to 2,000 US$ a day due to "rich foreign donators". He also added that the majority of the volunteers coming from the Balkans to help the FSA are Serbs and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[276][277][278] Sources close to the Belgrade military circles confirmed that the former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army are also aiding the FSA. They are mostly instructors who train the rebels mostly for the urban and the guerrilla warfare.[279] A first reported death of a member of the Kosovo Liberation Army was announced on 13 November. Naman Demoli, a former member of the KLA was killed near Syrian-Turkish border.[280]

There are dozens of Kuwait's volunteers entering from Turkey that are fighting in ranks of the FSA. The volunteers are given Syrian IDs as a precautionary measure in case they are arrested, before they are armed and sent to fight in different locations across the troubled country.[281]


War crimes allegations

In a video uploaded to the Internet in early August, an FSA representative announced that, in response to international concerns, FSA units would follow the Geneva Convention's guidelines for the treatment of prisoners and would guarantee its captives food, medical attention and holding areas away from combat zones. He also invited Red Cross workers to inspect their detention facilities.[282] On 8 August, FSA commanders distributed an 11-point code of conduct signed by scores of brigade commanders and rebel leaders. It states that all fighters must "respect human rights ... our tolerant religious principles and international human rights law - the same human rights that we are struggling for today".[283][284]

The UN also noted some credible allegations that rebel forces, including the FSA, were recruiting children as soldiers, despite stated FSA policy of not recruiting anyone under the age of 17.[285] One rebel commander said that his 16-year-old son had died fighting government troops.[286]

The FSA has been accused of summarily executing numerous prisoners whom it claims are government soldiers or shabiha,[287] and people whom it claims are informers. A rebel commander in Damascus said that over the months his unit had executed perhaps 150 people that the "military council" had found to be informers. He explained: "If a man is accused of being an informer, he is judged by the military council. Then he is either executed or released".[282] Nadim Houry, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch argued that "Intentionally killing anyone, even a shabiha, once he is outside of combat is a war crime, regardless of how horrible the person may have been".[288] On 10 August 2012, a report indicated that Human Rights Watch was investigating rebel forces for such killings. The FSA, for its part, stated that they would put those fighters that had conducted the unlawful killings on trial.[289] The investigation was confirmed five days later when UN human rights investigators accused opposition forces of committing war crimes, although not on the scale as government troops.[290]

Witnesses have also reported rebels conducting 'trial by grave' in which an alleged government soldier was given a mock trial next to a pre-made grave and executed on the spot by members of the FSA Amr bin al-Aas brigade. One rebel said: "We took him right to his grave and, after hearing the witnesses' statements, we shot him dead".[291][292]

The Daoud Battalion, operating in the Jabal-al-Zawiya area, has reportedly used captured soldiers in proxy bombings. This involved tying the captured soldier into a car loaded with explosives and forcing him to drive to an Army checkpoint, where the explosives would be remotely-detonated.[282][293][294]

Timeline of Alleged War Crimes

On 20 March 2012, Human Rights Watch released an open letter to the opposition, criticizing the opposition, including the FSA, for kidnappings, torture and executions and calling on them to halt these unlawful practices.[295]

On 22 May 2012, an FSA brigade kidnapped 11 Lebanese pilgrims coming from Iran.[296] Four of them were killed in an airstrike by the Syrian Air Force and the rest were released unharmed.[297]

On 20 July 2012, Iraq's deputy interior minister, Adnan al-Assadi, said that Iraqi border guards had witnessed the FSA take control of a border post, detain a Syrian Army lieutenant colonel, and then cut off his arms and legs before executing 22 Syrian soldiers.[298]

On 21 July 2012, Turkish truck drivers said that they had their trucks stolen by members of the FSA when it captured a border post. They said that some of the trucks were burnt and others sold back to their drivers after the goods were looted.[299]

On 13 August 2012, a series of three videos surfaced showing executions of prisoners, apparently by rebel forces, in Aleppo province. In one video, six postal workers were being thrown off the main postal building in Al-Bab to their deaths, purportedly by Free Syrian Army fighters. The gunmen claimed they were shabiha.[300][301][302][303]

On 9 September the FSA exploded a car bomb near al-Hayat Hospital and the Central Hospital in Aleppo. According to Syrian state media, at least 30 people were killed[304] and more than 64 wounded.[305] The FSA claimed that the Army had occupied the hospital buildings and were using them as a base.[306]

On 10 September the FSA's Hawks of Syria brigade executed more than 20 Syrian soldiers captured in Hanano military base.[307]

On 2 November the FSA's al-Siddiq Battalion kidnapped and executed prominent Syrian actor Mohammed Rafeh. It claimed he was a member of the shabiha and was carrying a gun and military ID.[308][309]

Relationship with Islamists

Various jihadist groups have arisen as rebel factions in the anarchic climate that has categorized the Syrian Civil War. These groups include Al-Nusra Front with between 6,000 - 10,000 troops[310] and Ahrar al-Sham. These groups have frequently fought alongside Free Syrian Army units in various battles.[311] [312] [313]

Interviews with the FSA in August 2012 suggested that its top commanders see the Islamists as "a threat to stability post regime change".[314] FSA commander Saleem Abu Yassir expressed his fears to The Guardian: "They are stealing the revolution from us and they are working for the day that comes after".[314] Although FSA leaders have "generally condemned the emergence of jihadi groups", many of its rank-and-file "argue they need all the help they can get". Abu Haidar, a Syrian FSA co-ordinator in Aleppo's Saif al-Dawla district said that the Islamist groups "have experienced fighters who are like the revolution's elite commando troops ... They are not all al-Qaeda, many are just volunteers who want Syria to be freed".[315]

The Syrian government claimed in 2011 that some elements among the armed opposition were Salafists.[316]

One FSA commander has claimed that their fight is an Islamic struggle against a secular government, though qualified that they were fighting for all of Syria's religions and sects: Christian, Muslim, Alawite, Sunni, Druze, Shia.[317] "Islamists in Syria are weak. The Baath regime devastated the Islamist movement after its opposition led to widespread violence and instability in Syria from 1977 to 1982"; however, "Islamist sentiment remains powerful and religious organizations retain a social network throughout Syrian society. If infighting paralyzed the Alawis, particularly if it led to a split in the military, Islamists might increase their influence."[318]:73 In mid-2012, Mohaimen al-Rumaid of the Syrian Rebel Front said the US should cast aside its reticence over arming the opposition due to the involvement of Islamists, since the latter are among the most effective fighters against the government. Sameh al-Hamwi, a prominent activist based on Syria's border with Turkey, said that, while rebel groups were adopting Islamist slogans and making jihadist-style videos, this was only to please their Gulf supporters, and denied that Islamism was the major current within the opposition.[319]

According to Vatican-controlled state media outlet Agenzia Fides, 90% of the Christian population of Homs, about 10,000 people, were expelled from their homes by members of the FSA's Farouq Brigade.[320][321] Some local Christian families confirmed that they were expelled from Homs because they were "considered close to the regime".[322] However, Jesuits in Homs disputed the cause of the exodus, and said that Christians were not targeted specifically, but fled the city on their own initiative because of the ongoing conflict.[323] Per interviews made by McClatchy Newspapers of refugees in Lebanon, there was no targeting of Christians because of their religion. Rather, a number of government-affiliated Christians were seized by the Farouq Brigade, which led to some Christians fleeing the area. This was confirmed by Farouq Brigade members.[324]

In late May 2012, based on interviews with FSA fighters, it was reported that 300 Lebanese had joined the FSA with the goal of waging "jihad" against the Syrian government. The Lebanese volunteers were training in a militant camp in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon before crossing the border into Syria.[273][274]

In mid-June 2012, a report stated that in March an ill-fated "Islamic Emirate of Homs" was declared by a Lebanese Islamist radical, Al-Boustani, who appointed himself the Emir. Al-Boustani reportedly engaged in kidnapping and murder while claiming to wage jihad against the Syrian government. The "Emirate" lasted only a few weeks. Eventually, a local FSA brigade executed Al-Boustani amidst accusations that the jihadist was not only a traitor to the Syrian opposition but also a Syrian government agent.[325] Al-Boustani had formerly been one of the leaders of Fatah al-Islam.[326]

In July 2012, the FSA rescued a British and Dutch photojournalist from their Islamist captors. The journalists, John Cantile and Jeroen Oerlemans, were held hostage for a week by Islamists who accused them of working for the CIA. The FSA stormed the camp, freed the journalists and scolded the hostage-takers. Oerlemans commented: "Where the FSA seems to be fighting for democracy, these foreign fighters don't want anything more than imposing sharia on Syria".[327] In August, the Farouq Battalion killed the leader of the Islamists who had kidnapped the journalists. One Farouq Battalion member said: "Jihadis don't share in fighting against the regime, because they say we are kafirs, and they won't fight with kafirs".[328]

Relation with the political opposition

National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces

The Free Syrian army supports the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, a coalition of Syrian opposition groups created in November 2012 that includes many SNC members in its council.[13]

Syrian National Council

At the beginning of December 2011, the Free Syrian Army agreed to coordinate its activities with the Syrian National Council (SNC).[12] On 6 February 2012, Riad al-Asaad voiced his concern about the SNC's lack of political and material support for the FSA and stated that if differences could not be resolved the FSA would break off its relations with the SNC.[329]

In late February 2012, the Syrian National Council established a military bureau to oversee military operations. This initiative was met with criticism by Free Syrian Army leaders who said that they had not been informed.[330] Defected General Mustafa al-Sheikh created a similar discord in the army when he established a rival group called the Higher Military Revolutionary Council which was rejected by the FSA leadership and field units.[122] Earlier the Muslim Brotherhood had also tried to coopt the FSA but the leadership rejected their attempt.[330] Colonel Al Kurdi, the deputy leader of the FSA, dismissed the internal disputes and said that despite disagreements, the opposition remained united against the regime and in their call for arms.[330]


National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change

The FSA was recognized by the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change in September 2012.[331] The FSA dismissed the NCC's declaration, stating "this opposition is just the other face of the same coin".[332]

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^
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