Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate, together in the city of Ma’arrat al-Nu’maan (Credit: Voice of America)

UN Syria inquiry in 2013: “FSA has remained a brand name only”; foreign intervention led to Salafi “radicalization of the insurgency”

It is exceedingly difficult to break through the extreme Western and Gulf propaganda on the horrific war in Syria, simply given how much of it there is and its utter ubiquity.

The regime change fairy tale portrayal of the Syrian Civil War pits benevolent, freedom-loving “moderate” rebels against a tyrannical, mustache-twirling cartoon dictator. Unsurprisingly, the reality is much, much more complex.

In fact, less than two years into the war, the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic reported that the armed opposition in Syria had already been radicalized, with the weight shifting toward foreign-backed, far-right, hyper-sectarian Islamist extremists.

Moreover, the UN independent inquiry pointed out that the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), the fighting force that supposedly represented the so-called moderate opposition in Syria, hardly existed as a unified entity.

“The FSA has remained a brand name only,” the inquiry acknowledged in its February 2013 report on the war.

Despite the utter lack of cohesion, thousands of ostensible “FSA” fighters — many of whom later joined forces with, defected to, or collaborated with Islamist extremists, including al-Qaeda and ISIS — received billions of dollars worth of weapons, training, and support from the US Central Intelligence Agency and true freedom-loving democratic allies like the hyper-repressive theocratic monarchies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian Turkey.

“The intervention of external sponsors has contributed to the radicalization of the insurgency as it has favoured Salafi armed groups such as the al-Nusra Front,” the UN independent inquiry report continued. It added that foreign intervention had “even encouraged mainstream insurgents to join them owing to their superior logistical and operational capabilities.”

This foreign intervention took the form of “significant quantities” of “weapons and ammunition.”

The relevant passage from the February 2013 UN report follows in full below (emphasis mine):

2. Anti-Government armed groups

23. Despite its persistent divisions, the insurgency continued to mature into a fighting force increasingly able to challenge Government control of the country and to strike at strategic targets, such as oil fields and airports.

In the northern and central provinces, these groups extended their control over increasing swathes of territory, while struggling in the southern and coastal governorates.

24. Despite multiple endeavours to unify and structure its ranks, the armed opposition remained fragmented and unable to designate a reliable leadership. This fragmentation was aggravated by — if not the result of — the fact that the financial and material external support delivered by different sponsors, instead of promoting integration, has generated divisions and exacerbated competition among different groups.

25. The FSA has remained a brand name only, despite efforts of its leadership and supporters to create a central command and to link it to regional and local military councils. Meanwhile, there are also independent military alliances, which vary from more moderate to more extreme groups, which have managed to integrate several armed groups in specific circumstances and areas. The differences between the self-identified FSA and independent groups have not, however, significantly hindered their cooperation as they have continued to cooperate operationally to achieve their common objectives.

26. The intervention of external sponsors has contributed to the radicalization of the insurgency as it has favoured Salafi armed groups such as the al-Nusra Front, and even encouraged mainstream insurgents to join them owing to their superior logistical and operational capabilities. The support provided by external sources usually depends on the operational effectiveness of the groups and their willingness to embrace the language and symbols of their sponsors.

27. The number of foreign fighters has increased, but still accounts for a small proportion of the ranks of anti-Government armed groups. Their expertise and experience in insurgency warfare has been important to the opposition’s tactical effectiveness. They are drawn from countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, with many from Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt.

28. Anti-Government armed groups have improved their access to weaponry, albeit unequally. Besides the military equipment looted from army bases, weapons and ammunition have also been provided by external sources and smuggled in across borders with neighbouring countries in significant quantities and on an increasingly regular basis.

3. Other forces

29. Tensions between anti-Government armed groups and Kurdish militia mainly affiliated to the Democratic Union Party have increased in the predominantly Kurdish areas. After capturing most of the Kurdish towns without major resistance, the new Kurdish Popular Protection Units have periodically clashed with anti-Government armed groups owing to the latter’s unwanted intrusion into what they consider to be their territory.

(h/t Number10/ElwinWay)

Originally published at on February 26, 2017.

Benjamin Norton is an independent journalist reporting on geopolitics. // Benjamín Norton es un periodista independiente informando sobre la geopolítica.