Last Thursday, according to the Daily Beast, Secretary of State John Kerry told Syrian opposition leaders, including Syrian Opposition Coalition president Ahmad Jarba, in a private meeting at the State Department that the international community “wasted a year” because they did not coordinate their efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Participants in the meeting included Kerry, Jarba, State Department officials, at least one National Security Council staffer, and members of the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the Supreme Military Council. Three participants, on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Beast the discussion centered on how to send aid and weapons to the Syrian opposition. The “moderate” Free Syrian Army (FSA) has apparently been battling not only Assad’s forces but the Islamic Stae of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) and is trying to address concerns that any military aid might fall into the hand of more hard-line groups.
Several intelligence chiefs of Arab countries held a meeting months ago to address that problem; soon after, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir was appointed the leader of the FSA’s Supreme Military Council. Only recently American-made anti-tank missiles have been delivered to the FSA in a “pilot program” to see if they can prevent the missiles from falling into the hands of ISIS and assorted hard-line Islamist groups.
Bashir told The Daily Beast that he wanted anti-aircraft weapons to protect Syrian civilians from air strikes launched by Assad and asked the U.S. to head that effort. Kerry would not commit to that, instead simply giving emotional support. Bashir said, “Secretary Kerry was very emotional and sympathetic to the Syrian cause, and he supports the Syrian revolution and the Syrian people. We have so much hope that there will be changes in the policy.” He added that the U.S. had already given the FSA TOW anti-tank missiles, which were not taken by the Islamists, so anti-aircraft weapons should also be provided:
The FSA has been dealing very well with the TOW missiles. Under our protection, people are trained to use them, and it is with the collaboration and under the supervision of the United States. The main purpose for our visit is to get anti-aircraft weapons to protect innocent civilians inside Syria, and we are hoping the United States is going to help us push aside Assad’s air force.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Jarba said he would ask Pentagon and White House officials for anti-aircraft weapons this week, asserting that they won’t be lost to extremists.
Bashir was insistent that the U.S. head the effort to provide anti-aircraft missiles by coordinating the international effort and leave the control of the weapons to the Supreme Military Council, which is planning to build two central coordination units inside Syria, one in the south and one in the north. He admitted that he and his people do not have control over the arms flows as yet.
Bashir noted that the Syrian Opposition Coalition has proven that Assad and ISIS are cooperating. He stated, “We consider ISIS an arm of the Syrian regime. We ask the United States to give us sophisticated weaponry or at least to give other allies the green light to give us sophisticated weaponry, because that has not been the case thus far. If the United States doesn’t help us with sophisticated weaponry, Syria is going to be dominated by al Qaeda, and that is going to be a threat to the entire world.”
Some legislators in Washington are considering the possibility of a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, or U.S. strikes on Assad’s air force, but Bashir said anti-aircraft weapons would obviate those options, saying, “If you provide us with anti-aircraft missiles, there’s no need for a no-fly zone. We are not asking for you to send American men and women to fight in Syria.” He concluded, “There’s a Syrian saying that you can’t hide the sun with a screen, and you can’t hide the fact that the United States is the one that can decide when this war ends, and we hope that the United States will put an end to this.”