Monday 17 June 2013

Interview With Colonel Aqidi Of The FSA On Qusayr, Jihadists, And The Supreme Military Council

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a group of opposition fighters who had just reached the center of Qusayr, which was at that time under siege by Syrian government forces, including Hezbollah, and the National Defence Force.  Shortly after their arrival, opposition forces retreated from the area, allowing government forces to take control of the town.

One of the people with the reinforcements was Colonel Abdul-Jabbar Mohammed Aqidi, a senior member of the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council, who has now given an interview giving his version of events, which I've had translated into English.  In it he talks about attempts to reach Qusayr, the situation he found in Qusayr, the retreat, Islamist and Jihadist groups, and the status of the Supreme Military Council.

0:01 Interviewer: we would like to know what happened in Qusayr.

0:04 Aqidi: We arrived at Qarah Mountains (جبال قارة) in Qalamoun (القلمون) area and we set up a camp.

The initial plan was to enter Qusayr through Josiyah (جوسية) or al-Abboudiyah (العبودية) or through Shamseen (شمسين) in order to lift the siege of the town and relieve our comrades there. I am going to tell what really happened at that point. Unfortunately, the military council of Qalamoun did not cooperate with us and we found that many fighters there are smugglers and not true revolutionaries.

We stayed there a period of three or four days during which we reconnoitered the area and set up plans. Unfortunately, the fighters in Josiyah and Sheikh Ahmad Ammon denied us support. We decided to enter Qusayr at all costs and though we do not know the area very well.

Our first attempt to enter the town failed due to lack of scouts, and I told my men that we are going on a suicidal mission, and that I welcome all those who want to go with us. In the second time, we crossed the highway and then we lost the scouts.

On our way to the town, land mines destroyed three vehicles and killed thirteen men. After two days, we arrived in Qusayr, and we found that some commanders had already decided to retreat, but they changed their minds under pressure from the civilians, who rejoiced at the news of our arrival. The commanders’ reaction to our arrival was unlike those of the civilians and the fighters.

Anyway, on the following day we held a meeting with the commanders of the seventeen formations that were fighting in Qusayr. During the meeting, al-Saleh and I told the local commanders that we were there to fight under their command as soldiers not commanders. However, fourteen local commanders voted for retreat from the town. I then told them that we were going to die in the town and would not retreat. This made them feel that they should not give up the town and decided to stay and fight. We set up headquarters the following day and started preparing ourselves for the battle.

We noticed that the senior officers who defected from the Assad army were marginalized and did not have a say in the decision-making process. After the meeting, every senior officer was tasked with holding a sector in the town. We also set up a legal court in order to penalize wrongdoers and defeatists who we expected may flee the battlefield. In spite of all our well-organized preparation, some local commanders were still thinking of retreat.

Honestly, we started to understand their primary concern, which was the high number of wounded civilians and fighters. The problem of the wounded was the most worrying for the local commanders who sometimes insisted on evacuating them.

The next day I took a tour to the front lines, and sometimes I was just few meters from the enemy. The fighters’ morale was greatly boosted by my tour.

On the third day, we launched an attack on al- Daba’a (مطار الضبعة) air base, killed thirty-five enemy fighters besides destroying two tanks, and captured a tank and a 106 mm gun. However, enemy forces attacked the southern side of the town on the fifth day and we suffered many casualties, which led to deterioration in the morale of our fighters.

At this point, the commanders held a meeting and discussed the next steps. The discussions were intense and the commanders were extremely nervous that they showed disrespect of each other, so al-Saleh and I left the meeting, though Doctor Mazen Matar and others tried to calm the situation down and persuaded the commanders to hold their ground.

Two or three hours later came the head of the military council and urged me to leave the town because, according to his words, al-Saleh and I were two symbols of the revolution and that he was concerned about our safety . At first, we refused to leave but three hours later we knew that almost all the local fighters had retreated. Then we were forced to retreat to the village of al-Dabha (الضبعة) where civilians and fighters gathered. The village was under artillery and aerial shelling. The fighters planned to evacuate the civilians on foot and leave weapons and vehicles behind.

After sunset on that day, we began retreating but the severe shelling from all sides forced us to seek protection in the orchards. There were more than ten thousand people hiding there including fighters. The enemy was encircling us from all directions and those who fought back were fighters from Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and al-Nusrah Front and few local fighters. It was like doomsday but we managed to escape.

Honestly, holding Qusayr was very much like a suicidal attempt and local commanders were excused to leave the town due to high casualties besides the huge psychological pressure they were put under. The situation of the wounded was beyond description and their wounds were terribly infected. The enemy was applying a scorched earth policy by firing Iranian vacuum bombs, which caused whole building to fall down. This was forcing the fighters to retreat to another building. Other problems were the lack of proper communication between the commanders and their men as well as the absence of joint headquarters and the worst of all the distrust among the local commanders. We lost a battle but we did not lose the war, and what’s more important is that we should not make of Qusayr the symbol of the revolution. Though we have been fighting in Aleppo for over a year and a half, we have not seen much devastation and destruction like that we saw in Qusayr.

12:23 Interviewer:  What about your relations with Islamist battalions?

Aqidi: I have good relations with all of them and I am communicating with them as long as they fight against the Assad regime.

13:55 Interviewer: What about the execution of the fourteen-year-old boy in Aleppo?

Aqidi: Once I arrive in Aleppo, I am going to investigate it. I am sure Islamist groups are not behind this act.  Some groups claim to be Islamist or FSA but in fact, they are regime-made and consist of secret police and shabeeha. Last week a brigade commander was trialed and executed because his acts were doing harm to the reputation of the FSA. His name was Mahmoud [.........], he headed the Unified Army of Muhammad, and his deputy’s name was Abu Taleb.

(When asked about the latest call for Jihad in Syria)

Syria does not need foreign fighters because this will make it another Afghanistan, what we need is arms and money. We prefer arms to money because the latter is spoiling the revolution. Syrians alone can liberate their country and even Lebanon from its thuggish Hezbollah.

(When asked about the Supreme Military Council and General Idriss, commander-in-chief of the FSA)

Aqidi: First of all let me clarify that General Salim Idriss is not the head of SMC. General Salim is the chief of staff. SMC is composed of 30 persons, 6 from each front. 10 are officers, 19 are civilians. They’re detached from reality. They have no connections with inside at all. General Idriss is the chief of staff and we, like all other provincial military councils, are under his command. We communicate with him on a daily basis. (or sometimes every 2-3 days according to availability of communications) . As for the SMC they are located in Bab Al Hawa, and some of them are inside, some in Saudi, some in Lebanon… But majority are in Turkey. They’re disconnected from reality. In fact I’m a member of this SMC but I don’t attend their meeting and they don’t matter to me.  They lately held a meeting and cancelled my membership after I threatened to fight Hezbollah on their land in Lebanon. I regularly communicate with General Idriss.

I've also been told he also says that they tried to get him sacked because he said the FSA would attack Hezbollah inside Lebanon and that this came from Okab Saqr (who's a Shite from Lebanon) and Louay Miqdad whose mother is a Shite, and he ponders why they would want to have him sacked.

Thanks to Kristyan Benedict of Amnesty International whose donation to the Brown Moses Blog fundraiser guaranteed the continued existence of this blog.

Related posts
An Israeli Truck Reportedly Captured From The Syrian Opposition Reappears in Qusayr
Video Shows Opposition Forces And Wounded Retreating From Qusayr
Reinforcements And A Senior Free Syrian Army Member Arrive In Qusayr
Abu Sakkar Joins Mounting Casualties From The Fighting in Qusayr
Syrian Opposition Fighters (Including Abu Sakkar) Appear In A Video From Central Qusayr

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