|Free Syrian Army
(الجيش السوري الحر)
Official logo of Free Syrian Army
|Active||29 July 2011 – present|
|Allegiance||National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces|
(August 2012 estimate)
|Nickname||Free Officers Movement
(Arabic: حركة الضباط الأحرار)
|Motto||Victory or death!
(Arabic: ننتصر أو نموت)
|Engagements||Syrian civil war|
|Deputy Commander-in-Chief||Colonel Malik Kurdi|
|Chief of Staff||Colonel Ahmad Hijazi|
|Military Council Head||General Mustafa al-Sheikh|
The Free Syrian Army (Arabic: الجيش السوري الحر, Al-Jayš Al-Suri Al-Ḥurr) is the main armed opposition group operating in Syria that has been active during the Syrian civil war. Composed of defected Syrian Armed Forces personnel and volunteers, its formation was announced on 29 July 2011 in a video released on the internet by a uniformed group of deserters from the Syrian military who called upon members of the Syrian army to defect and join them. The leader of the group, who identified himself as Colonel Riad al-Asaad, announced that the Free Syrian Army would work with demonstrators to bring down the system, and declared that all security forces attacking civilians are justified targets. The FSA was recently recognized by the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change; however the FSA dismissed the NCC’s declaration stating “this opposition is just the other face of the same coin”.
Riad al-Asaad has stated that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has no political goals except the removal of Bashar Assad as president of Syria. The FSA has also claimed that the conflict is not sectarian, that they have in their ranks Alawis who oppose the government, and that there will be no reprisals if it falls. On 23 September 2011, the Free Syrian Army merged with the Free Officers Movement (Arabic: حركة الضباط الأحرار, ħarakat al-ḍubbaṭ al-aħrar) and became the main opposition army group. By early December, there were an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 defectors from the armed forces according to activist and media sources, western intelligence sources estimated greater than 10,000 defectors. The actual number of soldiers defecting to the Free Syrian Army is unknown.
The FSA operates throughout Syria, both in urban areas and in the countryside. Forces are active in the northwest (
The Free Syrian Army traces its origin to early defectors from the Syrian army who refused to shoot on unarmed protesters during the Syrian uprising. The first defections occurred when the army was sent into Daraa to quell ongoing protests. There were reports that different units had refused to shoot on protesters and had split from the army. Video footage showed civilians helping defecting soldiers who had been shot for refusing orders. Defections continued throughout the spring as the government used lethal force to clamp down on protesters and lay siege on protesting cities across the country such as Baniyas, Hama, Talkalakh and, Deir ez-Zor. Many soldiers who refused to open fire against civilians were summarily executed by the army. In July 2011, seeing the need for action Riad al-Asaad and a group of officers announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army with the goal to protect unarmed protesters and to help overthrow the regime.
On 29 July 2011, Riad al-Asaad announced the opposition army’s formation. He explained that the free army’s formation resulted from the defecting soldier’s nationalistic duty, loyalty to the people, a sense of the need for conclusive decisions to stop government killings, and the army’s responsibility to protect the unarmed free people. He proceeded to announce the formation of the free Syrian army to work hand in hand with the people to achieve freedom and dignity, bring the government down, protect the revolution and the country’s resources, and stand in the face of the irresponsible military machine that protects the system.
Asaad called on the officers and men of the Syrian army to “defect from the army, stop pointing their rifles at their people’s chests, join the free army, and form a national army that can protect the revolution and all sections of the Syrian people with all their sects.” He continued that the Syrian army “[represents] gangs that protect the regime” and declared that “as of now, the security forces that kill civilians and besiege cities will be treated as legitimate targets. We will target them in all parts of the Syrian territories without exception.”
Since the summer of 2011 there has been a steady flow of defections to the Free Syrian Army which have been documented in defection videos.
|Idlib, Syria, 21 February 2012, About 500 soldiers defect from the Syrian army’s 17th Regiment and join the opposition Free Syrian Army.|
In January, high-ranking defections continued.
General Mustafa al-Sheikh told 
On 21 February 2012, it was reported that General Fayez Amro of the Syrian air force, who is originally from the Bab Amr district in Homs and of Turkmen origin, defected to the opposition. Another intelligence general from the Syrian army also defected at this time to Turkey. His name was not disclosed due to security reasons. This was at the same time that a defected lieutenant who worked in the chemical weapons department claimed that “BZ-CS, Chlorine Benzilate, which damages people’s nerves and makes them fade away, is being used in Bab Amr.” He said that some Syrian soldiers had been supplied with gas masks for protection.
On 24 March 2012, the Free Syrian Army united with the Higher Military Council. The groups agreed to put their differences behind them, and in a statement said: “First, we decided to unite all the military councils and battalions and all the armed battalions inside the country under one unified leadership of the Free Syrian Army and to follow the orders of the commander of the FSA, Col. Riad al-Asaad.”
The Free Syrian Army is the military wing of the opposition movement,
The Free Syrian Army’s armed actions focus on the government’s combat advantages, which include the ability to mount coordinated operations on a large scale, the ability to move its forces at will, and the ability to employ heavy firepower.
The Free Syrian Army on the local level engages and 
The Free Syrian Army is mainly armed with 
Col. Riad Asaad has asked the international community to supply the FSA with arms to alleviate the organization’s supply issues.
The Free Syrian Army operates throughout Syria, both in urban areas and in the countryside. Forces are active in the northwest (Idlib, Aleppo), the central region (Homs, Hama, and Rastan), the south (Daraa and Houran), the east (Dayr al-Zawr, Abu Kamal), and the Damascus area. The largest concentration of these forces appears to be in the central region (Homs, Hama, and surrounding areas), with nine or more battalions active there.
The free army uses 
In May, 
 Command structure
 Head command
Prior to September, 2012, the Free Syrian Army operated its command and headquarters from Turkey’s southern Hatay province close to the Syrian border with field commanders operating inside Syria. On September 23, 2012, the FSA announced that it had moved its headquarters to Idlib Governorate, inside Syria. The army is led by Riad al-Asaad who is the Commander-in-Chief, Colonel Malik Kurdi is his deputy, and Colonel Ahmed Hijazi is the Chief of Staff. The army’s strategic planning and arms procurement is handled by its military council which is headed by General Mustafa al-Sheikh and 10 other generals.
 Regional command
The Free Syrian Army has field units located across the country. The field units are under the direct command of nine regional commanders which are based in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Idlib, Deir al-Zor, Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia. The regional commanders include Colonel Qasim Saad al-Din who directs military operations in Homs province and Colonel Khaled al-Haboush who directs military operations in the capital. The regional commanders are under the direct operational command of Colonel Riad Asaad and hold conference calls almost daily.
 Field units
|Col. Qassim Suad al-Din||Homs|
|Col. Abdel Hamid Alshawi||Hama|
|Col. Afeef Suleiman||Idlib|
|Col. Khaled al-Haboush||Damascus|
|Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi||Aleppo|
|Capt. Qais Qataneh, Lt. Sharif
Kayed (council members)
The Free Syrian Army has adopted the configuration and tactics of a guerrilla force. A typical field unit such as the Tel Kalakh Martyrs’ Brigade numbers between 300 to 400 fighters split into combat units of six to 10 men. Each man in the unit is armed with a light weapon, such as an AK-47, and the combat unit as a whole is equipped with an RPG launcher and a light machine gun. Communication inside the battalion unit is carried out by walkie talkie.
|Lt. Col Abdul Satar Yunsu||Hamza Khateeb|
|Capt. Ammar al-Wawi||Ababeel|
|Capt. Ayham al-Kurdi||Abu Fida|
|Capt. Ibrahim Majbur||Hurriya|
|Capt. Riyad Ahmad||Samer Nunu|
|Capt. Qais Qata’neh||Omari|
|Lt. Abdelrazzaq Tlass||Farouq battalion|
|Lt. Mazen al-Zein||Qassam|
|Maher al-Rahmoun||Moawiyah Bin Abi Sufian|
|Muhammad Tayseer Ousso||Suqur|
|Wassim al-Khalid||Abu Obeidah bin Al-Jarrah|
|Ahmad al-Arabi||Dawn of Freedom|
The army’s 
|Battalions and Location|
Free Syrian Army units specialize in different tasks. Units close to the borders are involved with logistics and the transport of injured soldiers out of the country and also with the transport medical equipment, material supplies and weapons into the country.
 Armed action in 2011
 Battle of Rastan
From 27 September to 1 October, Syrian government forces, backed by tanks and helicopters, led a 
 Jabal al-Zawiya clashes
By the beginning of October, clashes between loyalist and defected army units were being reported fairly regularly. During the first week of the month, sustained 
 Continuing clashes in Idlib province
On 20 October, the opposition reported that clashes occurred between loyalists and defectors in Burhaniya, near the town of 
On 29 October, the opposition reported that 17 pro-Assad soldiers were killed in the city of Homs during fighting with suspected army deserters, including a defected senior official who was aiding the rebel soldiers. Two armoured personnel carriers were disabled in the fighting. Later the number of casualties was revised to 20 killed and 53 wounded soldiers in clashes with presumed army deserters, according to Agence France Presse. In a separate incident, 10 security agents and a deserter were killed in a bus ambush near the Turkish border, opposition activists reported. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights reported that the bus was transporting security agents between the villages of Al-Habit and Kafrnabuda in Idlib province when it was ambushed “by armed men, probably deserters”.
On 1 November, dozens of armored vehicles converged on a village in the Kafroma in 
 Defections and checkpoint raids
More army defections were reported in Damascus on 10 November, three out of at least nine defectors were shot dead by loyalist gunmen after abandoning their posts. The same day, clashes reportedly resulted in the death of a fifteen year old boy in Khan Sheikhoun, when he was caught in crossfire between Assad loyalists and the free army.
In November, there were conflicting reports of the number of Syrian soldiers injured and killed. On 11 November, 
 Damascus Intelligence complex attack
On 16 November, in a 
According to Reuters, two rocket propelled grenades hit a Baath party building in Damascus on 20 December. This if true is highly significant; it is the first attack of this kind within the capital itself and would lend weight to the Free Syrian Army’s claim that it can strike anywhere in Syria. According to Reuters, a witness said: “Security police blocked off the square where the Baath’s Damascus branch is located. But I saw smoke rising from the building and fire trucks around it.” The building was reportedly mostly empty in the attack which took place before dawn and was seemingly a message to the regime.
 Homs airbase attack
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, on the 24 November soldiers and 
In an 
 Army convoy ambushes
Sustained clashes in Idlib province began on 26 November between loyalist and opposition fighters. At least 8 soldiers were killed and 40 more wounded that day when the free army attacked them in Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. “A group of deserters attacked a squad of soldiers and security agents in a convoy of seven vehicles, including three all-terrain vehicles, on the road from Ghadka to Maarat al-Numaan”, the Britain-based watchdog said. “Eight were killed and at least 40 more were wounded. The deserters were able to withdraw without suffering any casualties,” it added. The FSA claimed to be behind the attack.
Syrian human rights activists claimed that the Free Syrian Army had killed three loyalist soldiers and captured two others on 29 November, although they did not specify where.
 Idlib intelligence building raid
On 1 December, FSA troops launched a 
 Escalating clashes in Daraa
A military tank was destroyed in Homs on 9 December.
 Urban fighting in Homs
Syrian army defectors, who operate under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, say that a senior army officer was killed on 11 December after refusing to fire on civilians in Homs. Maher al-Nueimi, a spokesman for the FSA, said that Brigadier-General Salman al-Awaja was given instructions to fire on residents of al-Quseir in Homs. When he refused, Nueimi said, he was killed. The FSA says that a large number of defections took place after the killing, as clashes broke out between al-Awaja’s supporters in the army and the other soldiers who killed him.
 Unsuccessful defection in Idlib
On 19 December, the FSA suffered its largest loss of life when new defectors tried to abandon their positions and bases between the villages of Kensafra and Kefer Quaid in Idlib province. Activist groups, specifically the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, reported that 72 defectors were killed as they were gunned down during their attempted escape. The Syrian Army lost three soldiers during the clashes. The next day, S.O.H.R. stated that in all 100 defectors were killed or wounded. The clashes continued into the next day, and another report, by Lebanese human rights activist Wissam Tarif, put the death toll even higher with 163 defectors, 97 government troops and nine civilians killed on the second day alone as the military tracked down the soldiers and civilian that managed to initially escape. On 21 December, it was reported that the FSA had taken control over large swathes of Idlib province including some towns and villages. It was also reported on 24 December that the FSA stronghold in the Bab Amr neighbourhood of Homs was under attack by security forces, with two FSA soldiers killed. A week later, a minute long fire fight erupted between FSA forces and government security forces, on a road near the village of Deal in Daraa province. Four government soldiers were killed in the ambush.
 Armed action in 2012
 Clashes around Damascus
Syrian forces clashed with army deserters in an area near the capital Damascus, opposition activists said. The town of Reef Damascus saw fighting on 1 January as the government forces were hunting for suspected defectors, according to the activists. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
 Battle of Zabadani
In mid-January, the FSA managed to take control over the border town of Zabadani, just 14 miles away from the capital, Damascus. Regular army forces tried to assault the town several times but as of 16 January all attacks were repelled.
 Battle for the Damascus suburbs
By 26 January, the Damascus suburb of Douma had 
Between the 29 and 30 January, government forces massed over 2,000 troops and at least 50 tanks and launched a major offensive to reclaim the northern suburbs – held by the FSA – and drive them from the city. By the end of 30 January, it appeared that the operation had been mostly successful, and the FSA had made a tactical withdrawal.
On 31 January, the Syrian army continued to advance in order to remove the last FSA pockets.
 Second battle of Rastan
The FSA during the Second Battle of Rastan retook complete control of the city of Rastan around early February.
 Damascus suburbs
On 1 February, the Syrian army extended their operations around Damascus, with more troops moving into the mountainous area of Qaramoun, north of Damascus. Further north, the troops which took the control of Rankous, started to extend their control into farmland surrounding the city. In the eastern suburbs of Mesraba, activist reported that army snipers were positioned and that tanks were in the streets.
According to the 
 Homs bombardment
On the night of 3 February and in the early hours of 4 February, government forces launched a major offensive against Homs, leading to over 200 deaths and 800 injuries. FSA forces engaged loyalist forces and threatened reprisals particularly in Damascus.
 Battle of Al-Qusayr
Heavy fighting had taken place in the town of Al-Qusayr in Homs since 13 February, when the FSA captured the headquarters of the secret service in Homs, killing five agents in the process. Remaining government troops retreated to the town hall and hospital in the city. Four tanks came to reinforce them. However, 1 of the 4 tanks as well as 30 soldiers defected to the opposition, where the tank, aided by tractors and trucks, took out remaining government positions and the other 3 tanks. During the Battle of Al-Qusayr, FSA fighters were able to establish full control of the city. They said 20 government soldiers had been killed and 80 had fled. FSA fighters said 1 of their men had been killed and another 6 wounded during the battle.
 Battle of Baba Amr
Baba Amr district in Homs fell to government forces on the morning of 1 March, as the Free Syrian Army claimed they had made a “tactical retreat” from the area, after running low on weapons and ammunition. They made the decision to withdraw from Baba Amr and into other parts of Homs because “worsening humanitarian conditions, lack of food and medicine and water, electricity and communication cuts as well as shortages in weapons.”
 Second unsuccessful defection in Idlib
Shortly after their retreat from Baba Amr in Homs, the FSA suffered another setback on 3 March, when a defection of 50 soldiers from the Abu Athuhoor Military Airport in Idlib province was foiled after their plans were discovered. 47 of the soldiers were executed
 Raid in Mezze
A raid was held in the Mezze area of Damascus, involving machine-gun fire and rocket propelled grenades. A defecting general was escorted from the area. A military helicopter flew over the area leading to the detection and deaths of 7 FSA fighters. However, neither the opposition-affiliated SOHR activist group or any independent media confirmed the high number of government casualties in the clashes.
 Homs situation
By late April 2012, despite a cease-fire being declared in the whole country, heavy fighting continued in Al-Qusayr, where rebel forces controlled the northern part of the city, while the military held the southern part. FSA forces were holding onto Al-Qusayr, due to it being the last major transit point toward the Lebanese border. A rebel commander from the Farouq Brigade in the town reported that 2,000 Farouq fighters had been killed in Homs province since August 2011. At this point, there were talks among the rebels in Al-Qusayr, where many of the retreating rebels from Homs city’s Baba Amr district had gone, of Homs being abandoned completely.
Despite the UN ceasefire, fighting between the Free Syrian Army and Syrian government forces continued throughout May. The FSA had used much of early May to regroup
The Free Syrian Army announced on 4 June it was abandoning its ceasefire agreement. Spokesman Sami al-Kurdi told Reuters that the FSA had begun attacking soldiers to “defend our people”. At least 80 government soldiers were killed in escalating violence over that weekend.
It was reported on 28 June that the opposition almost entirely controlled the city of Deir ez-Zor, while the government army had shelled it, trying to take it back. Human rights groups said that this assault with tanks and artillery had killed over 100 residents. The government also reportedly told doctors not to treat people at local hospitals and targeted hospitals that refused with mortar rounds. Humanitarian aid workers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were targeted by the army, one worker was killed. In Homs, the FSA held out against government forces bombarding large parts of the city, including the opposition bastion of Khaldiyah. Also, renewed fighting between rebels and loyalists was reported in the Baba Amr neighourhood of Homs.
In July, it was reported that the Free Syrian Army had taken control of a number of suburbs north of the capital Damascus, including Zamalka and Irbeen. FSA fighters openly patrolled the streets of the suburbs, and clashes occurred less than 10 kilometers from the center of Damascus city itself.
It was reported that the Free Syrian Army also took control of a commercial crossing in Bab al-Hawa in Syria’s northern frontier. FSA fighters had fought government forces there for ten days until they won. FSA fighters were seen in video footage, destroying portraits of Assad and celebrating their victory.
 Battle of Aleppo
On 19 July, the FSA launched an operation in an attempt to capture Aleppo city. The battle is still ongoing.
 International support
In February 2012, British foreign secretary 
By the end of February 2012, there was extensive talk by Gulf States of arming the Free Syrian Army. The FSA leadership, however, reported in March that it had not yet received any funds, weapons, or equipment from any government despite recent pledges to help support their armed struggle. In an interview with the 
On 1 March, 
 Foreign combatants
The number of foreign Sunni militants active within the FSA is hard to assess. In late May 2012, based on interviews with FSA fighters, it was reported that 300 Lebanese had joined the FSA. The presence of Algerians, Tunisians, Jordanians and fighters from Saudi Arabia was also confirmed.
There are dozens of Kuwait‘s volunteers entering from Turkey that are fighting in ranks of the FSA. The volunteers are given Syrian IDs as a precautionary measure in case they are arrested, before they are armed and sent to fight in different locations across the troubled country.
 War crimes allegations
In a video uploaded to the Internet in early August, an FSA representative announced that, in response to international concerns, FSA units would follow the Geneva Convention’s guidelines for the treatment of prisoners and would guarantee its captives food, medical attention and holding areas away from combat zones. He also invited Red Cross workers to inspect their detention facilities.
The UN also noted some credible allegations that rebel forces, including the FSA, were recruiting children as soldiers, despite stated FSA policy of not recruiting anyone under the age of 17.
The FSA has been accused of summarily executing numerous prisoners whom it claims are government soldiers or shabiha,
Witnesses have also reported rebels conducting ‘trial by grave’ in which an alleged government soldier was given a mock trial next to a pre-made grave and executed on the spot by members of the FSA Amr bin al-Aas brigade. One rebel said: “We took him right to his grave and, after hearing the witnesses’ statements, we shot him dead”.
The Daoud Battalion, operating in the Jabal-al-Zawiya area, has reportedly used captured soldiers in 
 Timeline of Alleged War Crimes
On 20 March 2012, Human Rights Watch released an open letter to the opposition, criticizing the opposition, including the FSA, for kidnappings, torture and executions and calling on them to halt these unlawful practices.
On 22 May 2012, an FSA brigade kidnapped 11 Lebanese pilgrims coming from Iran.
On 20 July 2012, Iraq’s deputy interior minister, Adnan al-Assadi, said that Iraqi border guards had witnessed the FSA take control of a border post, detain a Syrian Army lieutenant colonel, and then cut off his arms and legs before executing 22 Syrian soldiers.
On 21 July 2012, Turkish truck drivers said that they had their trucks stolen by members of the FSA when it captured a border post. They said that some of the trucks were burnt and others sold back to their drivers after the goods were looted.
On 13 August 2012, a series of three videos surfaced showing executions of prisoners, apparently by rebel forces, in Aleppo province. In one video, six postal workers were being thrown off the main postal building in Al-Bab to their deaths, purportedly by Free Syrian Army fighters. The gunmen claimed they were shabiha.
On 9 September the FSA exploded a car bomb near al-Hayat Hospital and the Central Hospital in Aleppo. According to Syrian state media, at least 30 people were killed
On 10 September the FSA’s Hawks of Syria brigade executed more than 20 Syrian soldiers captured in Hanano military base.
On 2 November the FSA’s al-Siddiq Battalion kidnapped and executed prominent Syrian actor 
 Relationship with Islamists
 Presence of Islamists in the Syrian Civil War
Various Islamist groups have arisen as rebel factions in the anarchic climate that has categorized the Syrian Civil War. These groups include Al-Nusra Front with between 6,000 – 10,000 troops, Ahrar al-Sham and Al-Qaeda in Iraq. These groups have frequently fought alongside Free Syrian Army units in various battles.  
Interviews with the FSA in August 2012 suggested that its top commanders see the Islamists as “a threat to stability post regime change”.
One FSA commander has claimed that their fight is an Islamic struggle against a secular government, though qualified that they were fighting for all of Syria’s religions and sects: Christian, Muslim, Alawite, Sunni, Druze, Shia.
The leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has voiced his support for the Syrian rebels and called upon Syrians to retaliate against the government. He also called on militants in neighboring countries to help those in Syria. In one video a group of masked individuals proclaim the establishment of al-Bara’ ibn Malik Martyrs Brigade. The brigade holds the same name of another brigade of the al-Qaeda in Iraq. The group was seen raising al-Qaeda banners in the same video.
 Actions by Islamists in the Syrian Civil War
According to 
In late May 2012, based on interviews with FSA fighters, it was reported that 300 Lebanese had joined the FSA with the goal of waging “
In mid-June 2012, a report stated that in March an ill-fated “Islamic Emirate of Homs” was declared by a Lebanese Islamist radical, Al-Boustani, who appointed himself the Emir. Al-Boustani reportedly engaged in kidnapping and murder while claiming to wage jihad against the Syrian government. The “Emirate” lasted only a few weeks. Eventually, a local FSA brigade executed Al-Boustani amidst accusations that the jihadist was not only a traitor to the Syrian opposition but also a Syrian government agent.
In July 2012, the FSA rescued a British and Dutch photojournalist from their Islamist captors. The journalists, John Cantile and Jeroen Oerlemans, were held hostage for a week by Islamists who accused them of working for the CIA. The FSA stormed the camp, freed the journalists and scolded the hostage-takers. Oerlemans commented: “Where the FSA seems to be fighting for democracy, these foreign fighters don’t want anything more than imposing sharia on Syria”.
 Position towards SNC
At the beginning of December 2011, the Free Syrian Army agreed to coordinate its activities with the 
In late February 2012, the 
 See also
- Alliance of Yemeni Tribes
- National Liberation Army (Libya)
- Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant
- Syrian Liberation Army
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