November 17th, 2011
12:45 PM ET

Who and what is the Free Syrian Army?

A group of military defectors called the Free Syrian Army has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on an air intelligence base in Harasta, an eastern suburb of Syria’s capital.

It says it has declared war on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and “is capable of striking them in any place and at any time we want.”

The group emerged amid an eight-month-long crackdown on protesters by the Syrian government, a grinding civil conflict that the United Nations says has left more than 3,500 people dead.

The Free Syrian Army has reported recent operations in other cities, including Hama, Homs and Daraa, but the sophistication of Wednesday’s attack signals “a new era of the conflict,” said Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“Until now,” Tabler added, “most of the protests have been peaceful.”

The Free Syrian Army surfaced in July, when seven Syrian military officers - believed to be the group's original members - appeared on a YouTube video announcing their defection. They promised to wage guerrilla war against al-Assad.

Tabler said the Free Syrian Army is made up of soldiers who've left their posts instead of obeying orders to fire on protesters. CNN recently spoke to one of them in Lebanon; he said there was "too much killing."

"We were always in the streets,” the soldier said.

One of the defectors in the YouTube video, Col. Riad Al-Assad, said he leads a force of about 10,000 defectors hidden in Syrian cities. The number is impossible to verify. But even if it’s accurate, it would pale in comparison with the Syrian military, which has hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

The group’s leaders are among the Syrian opposition members calling on the United Nations to declare a no-fly zone to protect protesters. They say a no-fly zone could help them establish a base of operations and overthrow al-Assad, similar to what happened in Libya this year.

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Filed under: Syria
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Osama

    It's me, of course

    November 18, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miami1111

      Trying to sound clever, but unfortunately that post makes you look stupid. Try something better next time.

      November 18, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. zz

    Oh joy, another eastern hemisphere police action. Bring back the Monroe Doctrine.

    November 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Big Al

    America is evil because they interfere in the affairs of poor, oppressed, sovereign, independent Arab nations. America is evil because they do not come to the aid of poor, oppressed, sovereign, independent Arab nations.

    Pick your poison, Muslims. One way or another, you always find a way to hate America and blame everyone but yourselves. Please copy/paste one of the above sentences as your complaint of choice. Thank you.

    November 18, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kareny

      Agreed, these uneducated muslims want a no fly zone without knowing what it entails. A no fly zone means 1. there needs to be UN personnel on the ground first to secure the area logistically so that the military airplanes can take off & land safely. 2. remember there were civilian casualties in Libya.

      November 19, 2011 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
  4. Tariq Ziad

    In Syria, both the govt. and opposition are acting in such a way that US CIA is getting all the benefits. The Arab League is nothing but a Dirt Bag. Arab League has NO brain, they never had one. CIA is the Arab League's brain and CIA is instructing the League to act the way they are. When CIA give order to Arab League, the league shake their tail like a Dog and do it.

    November 19, 2011 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  5. jsf12

    The whole "no fly zone" phrase has become a giant lie. We don't have practical technology to shoot down planes from a distance through airspace controlled by our opponent.
    Even though Libya had relatively little air defense, establishing a "no fly zone" in Libya meant massive bombing of ground targets to destroy communications and air defense to get control of the air space. That involved inflicting massive casualties on the government and the civilians supporting the government. So there was little real change when we switched from bombing to gain air superiority into bombing to destroy government ground forces and make the rebels win.
    Syria has a much more effective air defense system. A far higher level of bombing of ground targets would be required in order to establish air superiority. Those requesting a "no fly zone" fully understand that.
    As in Libya, the government is supported/approved by a minority of citizens while the rebels are supported/approved by a much smaller minority (most citizens have no illusions about being able to get a better government and just want to avoid becoming collateral damage).
    The rebels need a massive bombing campaign by foreign powers to have any hope of defeating the more powerful government military. But they want to create the illusion that such a bombing campaign is not the bulk of the total war effort. Thus the intentionally misleading phrase "no fly zone".

    November 19, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. mike

    If they want help from NATO, the Free Syrian Army has better be looking for oil.

    November 20, 2011 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. Change

    I just wonder how the GOP would go about handling this crisis since President Obama's foreign policy strategy seems to be a total failure. Perhaps they would drag their feet and do nothing while citizens are being murdered by the Syrian government. So how would the GOP go about defusing this crisis? Any answers from you rightwing teapugs?

    November 20, 2011 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • jsf12

      This is a topic on which the right is clearly divided. The sane conservative view is that the US doesn't have the right, the responsibility, a national interest, nor even the ability to solve the problem in Syria.
      Certainly we have the ability to do to Syria what we did to Libya, slaughter enough government supporters to destroy the old oppressive government in favor of a new more oppressive government. But that doesn't really solve any problem.
      Syria is not unique nor even the extreme of killing their own subjects to suppress dissent (though they are far worse that Libya ever was). The US should use its economic power to show our disapproval of all the governments that behave that way (not follow the whims of the news media to arbitrarily focus on one). Present sanctions against Syria are too weak to be meaningful.
      But the military action we took in Libya is wrong and doing the same in Syria would be equally wrong.

      November 20, 2011 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  8. Change


    I believe that is the key word..."DIVIDED." And I believe that it is this division in our congress that is stiflying and stalling economic growth at home as well. The reality is that as a nation, we will continue to struggle to move the country forward at home and get things done abroad simply because the GOP seems to believe that everything that the Obama administration tries to do at home or abroad is solely for the purpose of scoring political points as opposed to forging ahead. When President Obama took office in 2009 and the GOP started stalling progress, he reminded them on numerous occasions that the election was over and it is time to put politics aside so that things can get done. Unfortunately, the President had to do so again following the midterm election and now that the 2012 election is approaching, the political game is in full trottle.

    Perhaps Hosni Mubarack didn't take seriously President Obama's advice to give in to the protesters demands for reform sooner because he saw how DIVIDED our congress was and contrary to everything President Obama was telling him to do. And perhaps it was again this same DIVISION that gave Moammar Gadhafi hope to continue his defiance until the bitter end. However, when it comes to Syria, I just wonder what Asad would thing if he was to see our congress totally UNITED and and on the same consensus for him to shape up or ship out. I believe there comes a time when we have to set aside politics and political games for the sake of promoting peace and prosperity at home and abroad. Unfortunately that is something the right hasn't seem to fully grasp yet.

    November 20, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  9. cornholio

    the free syrian army- isn't that the revolutionary bank robber gang that Patty hearst ran around with?

    November 21, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
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