The Free Syrian Army is splintering

As the United States moves closer to taking military action against the Syrian government, the leadership of the mainstream armed opposition force has chosen a curious time to appear to be on the verge of unraveling. Known generically as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), this assortment of mostly secular defecting Sunni Arab officers and mostly Islamist volunteers has attempted several reorganizations. The most recent of these is now seriously threatened by a resignation threat from senior commanders.

The most durable and potentially promising was the formation of the province-by-province military council (MC) system, formed in late 2011 and early 2012, and then the Supreme Military Council (SMC), established in December 2012. The SMC, whose joint staff is headed by General Salim Idriss, included commanders inside the country as well as exiles and was intended to overcome the gap between commanders on the ground who hold real power and the exiled opposition.

On August 22, four of the five front commanders threatened to resign from the SMC, promising to break “red lines” and work “with all forces fighting in Syria,” a clear reference to the war’s growing Salafist-Jihadist contingent. The statement was read by Colonel Fatih Hasun, who is the commander of the SMC’s Homs Front and the deputy chief-of-staff, that is to say, Idriss’s deputy and the most senior officer inside the country. Hasun added that rebels would no longer respect demands by outside powers that they not attempt to take over government-controlled chemical weapons sites. In addition to demanding action in response to the government’s use of chemical weapons in Damascus, Hasun also demanded better weapons and said they were tiring of the “false promises of those who call themselves Friends of Syria.”