Rebels vow to turn Syria into a second Afghanistan
GAZIANTEP (Turkey) - Syrian armed opposition groups, vowing to turn Syria into a “second Afghanistan” for the Russians, called on their Western and Gulf Arab allies to supply them with anti-aircraft missiles to deter Moscow’s air strikes.
Accusing Russia of indiscriminately targeting all opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the opposition warned against letting the Syrian people down and leaving them alone to face what they called this “criminal episode” in the Syrian civil war.
Sobhi al-Rifai, head of the executive bureau of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), said, “International circumstances were going against the revolution of the Syrian people at present.” However, he discounted the possibility that an alliance to deter Russian military involvement could soon be formed.
“Opposition forces should be supplied with sophisticated weapons, in case the Russians get more deeply involved in the Syrian quagmire. Then, they will be stunned by the rebels’ fighting capacities,” Rifai told The Arab Weekly in a telephone interview.
Rifai, who attended a meeting of opposition leaders and their supporters in Riyadh, said he did not expect modifications in the rules of engagement of opposition allies in Syria, denying that rebels had already been supplied with anti-aircraft missiles.
The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces accused Russia of targeting civilians in rural Homs in its first sorties, killing more than 39 people, including children.
A coalition statement charged that Russia was helping Assad’s regime recover from defeats it suffered at the hands of the rebels, rather than fighting terrorism. It said Russian air strikes coincided with heavy bombardment of the rebel-held al-Waer neighbourhood in Homs, as regime forces, backed by mercenaries from Iran and Afghanistan, massed in an apparent preparation to assault adjacent al-Rastan and Talbiseh.
Damascus-based Western sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Syrian Army’s 47th Brigade positioned in Homs province has been placed on high alert after receiving sophisticated Russian arms, including tanks, multi-barreled rocket launchers and heavy weaponry.
“Russian troops and officers were also dispatched to Homs but are not expected to participate in actual combat but rather provide fire coverage,” the sources said, asserting that four combat units from North Korea were fighting alongside regime forces in addition to the Iranians, Afghans and Lebanon’s Hezbollah fighters.
Major Jamil Saleh, a former army officer and commander of the Tajamo Al-Ezza, a faction of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that was part of the US train-and-equip programme, argued that “Russia’s aim from attacking the FSA is to eliminate the Syrian revolution and moderate factions in order to claim that all rebel groups in Syria are terrorist”.
He said revolutionary groups are capable of defeating the regime and its Russian allies but they need advanced anti-aircraft weapons and armoured vehicles, including tanks.
Mohamad Said Masri, a former army officer and commander of the Nur al-Din al-Zinki Islamic Brigades, stressed that the rebels did not get military support to confront “the Russian aggression against Syria”.
“Moscow’s position is not new. They have always backed the regime and its militias but the Free Syrian Army will retaliate strongly and prevent Moscow from continuing its aggression,” vowed Hisham Marwah, vice-president of the Syrian National Coalition, stressing that the rebels were preparing “qualitative retaliatory operations” against the Russians, the regime and their allies.
Marwah argued that Moscow’s intervention is aimed at reinforcing the regime’s negotiating position ahead of negotiations scheduled for around year’s end. “I reckon they want to recover certain positions, including Palmyra, north rural Homs and Jisr al-Shughour, but if Russian tanks succeed in entering those regions they will be totally destroyed,” he warned.
While Russian air strikes are concentrated on the northern fronts of Syria, rebels have been advancing on the southern front, seizing territory from regime control in Quneitra province. Opposition sources said they did not expect Russia to hit the southern area in view of its proximity to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Despite the Russia’s military might, rebel leaders appear unintimidated. “The Russian bear’s attempt to salvage Assad’s regime will fail, the same way previous efforts by Hezbollah and the Iranian and Iraqi Shia enemies had flopped,” said Abu Anas al-Joulani, a rebel commander in Quneitra.
“It is only a matter of time until the Russians acknowledge that they have fallen into the quagmire of a second Afghanistan but this time the losses will be much bigger and painful,” Joulani added, in reference to the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan.
More than 15,000 Soviet troops were killed in Afghanistan from 1979 through 1989. The Soviet Army also lost aircraft and other equipment worth billions of dollars.