Additional information about Syrian rebels and a continuation of Regarding the Syrian Rebels.
Opposition: the Western-recognized political opposition, predominately made up of the exile opposition with the local opposition having little representation.
Armed Opposition: opposition forces, rebels.
FSA: originally, and correctly, a specific organization; often incorrectly used to refer to the Syrian armed opposition in general.
Armed Opposition Organizational Structures:
Local Rebel Groups: small groups of local rebels formed in villages or neighborhoods.
Councils: a system of provincial-level or local organizations, often affiliated with the FSA, which developed in 2012 ostensibly to encourage and coordinate rebel cooperation and to organize logistics within their areas of operation, generally not successful due to local rivalries, ideological differences, and the multiple sources of funding for rebel groups and the competition between rebel groups for this funding.
Battalions: localized rebel groups which operate in a limited geographical area.
Brigades: rebel groups with operations in multiple geographical areas who also sometimes lend their names to battalion level rebel groups.
Alliances: groups of battalions and brigades which often coordinate their operations.
Fronts: rebel groups or alliances which claim to operate nation-wide, SIF and SLF are two alliances which operate as fronts.
Command Councils: organizations located in Turkey whose stated objective is to command and control the armed opposition in Syria.
Terms which are used to describe Syrian rebel groups:
- Criminal / Lawless (looters, kidnappers, smugglers, warlords)
Understanding rebel groups names:
Sariya-t / Saraya : battalion, battalions
Katiba-t / Kataeb : brigade, brigades
Liwa, Alwia-t / : division, divisions
al-Sham : can refer to The Levant, or the city of Damascus, or Syria
Jabhat : front
Jaish / Jeish : army
Jund : soldier, soldiers
Majlis : council
Harakat : movement
How many rebels and rebel groups are there?
On Tuesday at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Syria, SoS Kerry said:
... in terms of the opposition numbers, you see ranges up to 80(,000), 90,000, 100,000 in total opposition. You see ranges from -- well, I don't want to go into all the numbers, but in the tens of thousands in terms of operative, active combatants. The -- I've seen some recent data on the numbers of the extremists in al-Nusra. They're actually lower than former expectations.On Wednesday at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Syria, SoS Kerry said:
I just don't agree that a majority are al Qaeda and the bad guys. That's not true. There are about 70,000 to 100,000 oppositionists ... Maybe 15 percent to 25 percent might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys.In July The New York Times reported that David R. Shedd, the deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said:
Mr. Shedd offered a sobering assessment of America’s ability to draw distinctions among an opposition that he said numbered about 1,200 groups.William R. Polk, in his analysis in The Atlantic, wrote:
5: Who are the insurgents?The non-monolithic Syrian armed opposition
We know little about them, but what we do know is that they are divided into hundreds— some say as many as 1,200—of small, largely independent, groups. And we know that the groups range across the spectrum from those who think of themselves as members of the dispersed, not-centrally-governed but ideologically-driven association we call al-Qaida, through a variety of more conservative Muslims, to gatherings of angry, frightened or dissatisfied young men who are out of work and hungry, to black marketeers who are trading in the tools of war, to what we have learned to call in Afghanistan and elsewhere "warlords."
The non-monolithic nature of the Syrian armed opposition can be summarized by breaking it down into four basic groups.
1) The Western-recognized SMC which is ostensibly the command and control organization for all of the armed opposition in Syria but in reality consists of:
- the FSA which is ostensibly the command and control organization for a number of councils, battalions, and brigades which are described as being predominately nationalist and secular, and
- a number of battalions, brigades, and fronts which are described as being soft Islamist, mainstream Islamist, or pragmatic salafi.
2) A loose, but large, alliance of Islamist and salafi battalions, brigades, and fronts.
3) An alliance of radical salafi-jihadi and al-Qaeda affiliated rebel groups, its most well-known members being al-Nusrah and ISI(S).
4) Independent local rebel groups, battalions, and brigades.
Note: Many of the Islamist and salafi battalions, brigades, alliances, and fronts in the second group have ties to and a history of cooperation with many of the soft Islamist, mainstream Islamist, or pragmatic salafi groups in the SMC and with al-Nusrah and ISI(S).
Can rebels be tried in international criminal tribunals?
The SMC (Supreme Military Council Command), the Western-recognized 'highest military authority in the Syrian Arab Republic' and self-appointed future Ministry of Defense, stated in its "Statement on the Formation of the Supreme Military Council Command of Syria" that:
18.The Council is not to allow international trials for any revolutionaries who carried a weapon against the regime. Such cases should be referred to a fair Syrian trial if necessary.