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. RUFFNUTT ( PEOPLE FOR FREE AIR ON MARS & MUNTANT RIGHTS ACTIVIST )

    Free Syrian Army... wow... their free.. i wish we had a free army.. then we wouldn't owe so much money.

    November 17, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. George Patton

    I bet 2 to 1 that this so-called "Free Army" in Syria is just another creation by the C.I.A. just like the Iranian S.A.V.A.K. was some 30 years ago. This the friggin' C.I.A. is very good at!!!

    November 17, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matty13

      I work in the CIA. It's not us.

      November 17, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • pluto

      I work for NSA and it is definitely not us.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • HallofShadow

      If I told you I'd have to disappear you, but nope, not us either.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • john swanson

      Damn,im glad you know all about it,were you in IRAN in those days?Or did you work for the CIA,FBI,NSA,FAA,Plz tell us all about it.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • pluto

      One word CHINA.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maltese Falcon

      You are lying.

      November 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Raider17

    So you think the men and women in the armed forces should not be paid.... Your obviously not in the military nor appreciate the selfless sacrifice that they make every single day despite their belifs of the war. Remember they arent just mindless robots they are citizens of the country as well and have families to support too jerk.

    November 17, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. RUFFNUTT ( PEOPLE FOR FREE AIR ON MARS & MUNTANT RIGHTS ACTIVIST )

    i like ruffles... they have ridges..

    November 17, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ernest T. Bass

    It's me! It's me!
    It's Ernest T!

    November 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bill in Florida

    Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and now Syria. The rights of the people to self-govern cannot be prevented forever. Eventually the people will revolt against dictatorial regimes.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    It's interesting that they're showing their faces. It seems they want to be treated as an actual army, not a terrorist or criminal group. It might also be a tactic to get others in the armed forces to defect to their side, by letting themselves be recognized by their old comrades.

    November 17, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jon

    Fun fact – if you *know* who's in a guerilla resistance movement, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      It's called balls, you may be unfamiliar with it.. Especially in assad's regime.. Hehe.. Ass..

      November 17, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. leeintulsa

    This is long overdue.

    This is just an awesome time for us. Like the berlin wall coming down, and we're there.. There are a noisy few squawking about brotherhoods and al-qaeda. And they will say *i* am a fool, not seeing the nose before my face. I think they are the fools. Kinda cheering for failure, which certainly will not do us any good.

    You do not know these people. You have nothing to go with but prejudice and 'what you've heard'. In a society that doesn't even allow foreign journalists.

    I said it when this all began. The arab world is trying to shake off it's third world nature. The world is changing. In libya, we learned we can help *without* overwhelming numbers, and it's about time.

    Saddam got the noose, mubarak is on trial – his heart will probably give before he does, mo got the knife up his ass.. How does assad want it?

    What's really awesome? Every time you say assad, you say 'ass'.. Hehe.. Hehe.. Yeah.. Hehe..

    I will choose to be optimistic about the arab spring.

    And, as much as i hate to give anything to W, i think he might have set this row of dominos to fallin'. Imagine...

    November 17, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      who is this 'mo'?

      November 18, 2011 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @john: qadaffi. I've seen it spelled a hundred different ways.. I just go with mo.

      November 18, 2011 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jack Mihov

    Same crap that brought the Assad family to power, same crap different family will emerge

    November 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. canadiansyrian

    and i hope your gonna eat what your making

    November 17, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. canadiansyrian

    what took them so long , its 40 damn years dictatorship , if i were them , i`d ask Isreal , NATO , devils , satan , anybody.

    November 17, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Maltese Falcon

    A bunch of CIA controlled murderers.

    November 18, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Maltese Falcon

    A lot of these people must belong to the secretive O'Bama Is Irrelevant Project.

    November 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Andreas Moser

    Brave!

    November 18, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
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