Foreign Backers and the Marginalization of the Free Syrian Army

A Free Syrian Army fighter fires his weapon against Syrian Army positions in Aleppo, Syria, March 2013. © EPA

In this new Policy Alternatives paper, Félix Legrand unravels the complexities behind the marginalization of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and proposes possible ways to restore its legitimacy, drawing lessons from the current battle to break the siege of Aleppo.

Legrand argues that since mid-2015, most non-jihadist rebel factions have been marginalized in the fight against the regime because their backers, including the USA and Turkey, ask them to de-escalate the fight against Assad forces to be able to redeploy against other enemies instead. However, this marginalization is not without consequences.

“There is a widespread perception in the West that the FSA does not exist anymore. This is generally untrue. The reality is that tens of thousands of FSA fighters have been pushed out away from the central fight by foreign backers, leaving the space wide open for both Assad and the jihadists,” said Félix Legrand.

The weakness of the FSA factions lies in their inability to define a common agenda or strategy, which leaves them exposed to pressure to serve foreign interests rather than to fight the Assad regime or to confront Russia. This has been compounded by the failure of the truces with the regime, contributing significantly to the FSA’s loss of local legitimacy to the benefit of the regime and jihadist rebels.

“Military support to key strategic FSA factions would give the FSA the opportunity to score a symbolic victory in the battle to break the siege of Aleppo and help restore its legitimacy among the revolutionary movement. Instead, the FSA only receives support for secondary battles, and the current attempts to break the siege is once again led by former al-Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham,” Legrand explained.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.