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US demands shake-up of rebel leaders in Syrian war

Friday, 2 November 2012 - 4:17pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

The US has made its boldest public intervention in the Syrian civil war by demanding a major shake-up of the rebel leadership.

The US has made its boldest public intervention in the Syrian civil war by demanding a major shake-up of the rebel leadership.

Weary of months of infighting within the Syrian National Council, the exiled Syrian opposition, the Obama administration has cast aside its policy of "leading from behind" to intervene directly in the make-up of the dissident leadership.

"There has to be a representation of those who are in the front lines fighting and dying," Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said on Wednesday night.

"This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but who, in many instances, have not been inside Syria for 20, 30, 40 years."

The policy change, which has been planned for months, comes ahead of a US-led leadership conference in Qatar's capital, Doha, at the start of next week, as well as next week's presidential election.

The State Department contacted members of the opposition Local Coordination Committees and rebel military commanders. "We have recommended names and organisations that we believe should be included in any leadership structure," Clinton said. "We've made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition."

Some SNC members will be included in the meetings, and the body will reportedly also run meetings in Doha alongside the US-led venture.

"The SNC has been talking about restructuring for a long time. Now the US has the knife under their throats," said a contact in the opposition body, asking to remain anonymous.

The SNC chairman yesterday hit back against the announcement and Clinton's criticism that the SNC had failed to "strongly resist the efforts by the extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution".

"The international community is responsible, through its lack of support for the Syrian people, for the growth of extremism in Syria," said Abdel Basset Sayda. "The international community should criticise itself, and ask itself, 'What did it give the Syrian people? How has it helped the Syrians to stop the regime's crazy killing?'?"

If successful, the new dissident leadership would likely move to establish a presence in "liberated" parts of northern Syria, and ask for international recognition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, similar to the Libyan conflict, becoming a focal point for international funding.

The new leadership, to be announced after the conference ends, already has the backing of the opposition's allies in the international community.

A Syrian source close to the US administration told The Daily Telegraph: "What is confirmed is that the international community has agreed to back the opposition movement. They are going to support it with a lot of money.

"This is the first time that the US are openly putting their hands in the game and now they have to make it a success."

Gaining credibility on the ground will be a chief obstacle. After months of bitter fighting, often led by local men with no military experience, loyalties have become more frayed. Rebel officers ask why they should take orders from "people sitting in five-star hotels" abroad.

Abu Tawfiq, the acting head of the biggest rebel brigade in Aleppo, said he respected representatives of the Free Syrian Army Military Council, the body recognised by the international powers, but operated independently. He said he would "inform" the council of any attack undertaken, but made his own decisions in consultation with local brigade chiefs.

On the ground, Syrian rebels killed 28 soldiers in attacks on three army checkpoints on the main road from Damascus to Aleppo, in some cases executing wounded prisoners, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Five rebels were also reportedly killed in the attacks. Separately, a car exploded outside a military barracks in a southern Turkey town near the Syrian border, injuring four.


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