The National, citing Free Syrian Army officers, has posted details of the foreign-staffed command center in Jordan working with the FSA on operations in Syria.
The sources said the operations room is staffed by military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations, and Gulf States.
The US, which pulled back from public armament of insurgents this summer, and European states do not supply weapons. These come instead from the Gulf States, who also provide most of the financial support.
The FSA gives the command center advance notice of planned operations. Weapons are only handed over if the center approves the attacks. An FSA officer said:
When we want to make an operation, we arrange for one of our men to have an informal meeting with a military liaison officer from the operations room and they meet up, in a hotel or somewhere in Amman, and talk through the plan.
If the liaison officer likes our idea, he refers it to a full meeting of the operations room and a few days later we go there and make a formal presentation of the plan.
He said Western and Arab military advisers at the command centre make adjustments to tactics and help determine when and how the operation should go ahead, allocating weapons and supplies if the attack is approved.
“We run through all the numbers, what we need in terms of men and weapons, and when we’ll get it. It’s all detailed, it’s done in a very exact way,” the FSA officer said.
Factions outside the FSA are not involved with the operations room and do not directly receive weapons or military advice.
The sources said that not all FSA operations in Deraa are approved by the command centre and that FSA units sometimes prefer to carry out operations alone.
“We cooperate with one another, they do not control us and we don’t always do as they tell us. It’s more like they give us advice and sometimes we take it and sometimes we don’t,” said an FSA commander.
The center has supplied insurgents with rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar-firing tubes, bombs, and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition for heavy calibre machine guns. In the past two months, FSA units have also been received vehicles, equipped with heavy machine guns mounted on the rear bed.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has been leading the training of the insurgents:
There were 80 fighters sent to Saudi last month for training in military communications. In total there have been a few hundred getting training. They come back fully equipped – each with a personal weapon, a pickup lorry for every squad of five men, a heavy machine gun for each squad, plus clothing, boots and that kind of thing.
There was training before but it is getting better now.
A western diplomat based in the Middle East said the US and European countries were not supplying munitions to rebels but have liaison officers in regular contact with the FSA.
FSA units in Daraa Province said the international backing came with too many restrictions and was not sufficient to let them make major advances. An FSA fighter said:
In the summer there was a meeting with the operations room and all of the FSA units in Deraa and we were told very clearly what the rules are. They [the command centre] said we are not to attack major regime military installations without approval, that we are only to engage in hit-and-run operations and should not try to hold territory because the regime’s air power means it can hit us if we do.
FSA units also had to pledge they would not transfer weapons to Islamist groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra.
“The command centre has been good for us, it has helped a lot, but we’d like more commitment from them. They don’t really share intelligence information with us, they don’t give us enough weapons to do the job,” said an FSA commander.
“We all think they want to keep Assad stronger than us, they want to keep a balance – we get enough to keep going but not to win,” he said.