The ‘Tac­ti­cal With­drawal’ Cri­sis Among Syr­ian Rebels

By: Adib Abdul­ma­jid


In the two-​year Syr­ian civil war in which most of the esti­mated 70,000 killed have been blamed on régime bru­tal­ity, the rebel Free Syr­ian Army (FSA) also has left a trail of civil­ian suffering.

The FSA, the main armed oppo­si­tion whose will is some­times car­ried out by its more extrem­ist Islamic allies, has adopted a method of burst­ing into towns and vil­lages, hold­ing brief con­trol, then stag­ing a self-​declared “tac­ti­cal withdrawal.”tion alive until today.

Enter­ing civil dis­tricts against the will of local res­i­dents became a con­tro­ver­sial issue between the polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion and the lead­er­ship of the FSA.

The rebels have been con­tin­u­ously crit­i­cized because of the ter­ror they spread among the pop­u­la­tion every time they declare con­trol over an area. In most cases, res­i­dents choose to flee their homes before the régime’s air force starts its arbi­trary shelling.

The city of Darayya out­side Dam­as­cus, is a shadow of its for­mer self. Here, res­i­dents would stage fre­quent anti-​régime protests despite arbi­trary arrests and sum­mary exe­cu­tions by the authorities.

But their mis­ery turned into tragedy after FSA rebels burst into the city in August last year. Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad’s army, and the Shabiha mili­tia allied with the régime, launched a con­cen­trated mil­i­tary oper­a­tion against the town that killed an esti­mated 900 peo­ple in less than a week.

The defeated FSA rebels claimed a “tac­ti­cal with­drawal” from the city.

The FSA is more orga­nized now, and appears to oper­ate under a united lead­er­ship. But the bit­ter expe­ri­ence of its “tac­ti­cal with­drawals” has not left the mem­o­ries of many Syrians.

Serekaniye, a Kur­dish town in south­east­ern Syria, wit­nessed a sim­i­lar mis­er­able exo­dus of hap­less refugees after FSA rebels — par­tic­u­larly the Islamist al-​Nusra Front – swept into the town. The major­ity of res­i­dents left their homes and sought sanc­tu­ary across the bor­der in Turkey.

The town, whose Arab names is Ras al-​Ain, turned into a deadly bat­tle­ground between the FSA and its allies, and the armed Pop­u­lar Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG), which refused to let non-​Kurds con­trol the country’s Kur­dish areas.

Despite a cease­fire agree­ment last month that fol­lowed deaths on both sides, the sit­u­a­tion there remains tense and volatile.

Some activists joked that, every time rebel forces storm a place, refugees flee­ing their homes are really stag­ing a “tac­ti­cal with­drawal” to allow both sides to freely con­tinue fighting.

Surely, there are many hor­ri­ble sto­ries from the ongo­ing war in Syria that have yet to be told. But how could the rebels’ strat­egy of “tac­ti­cal with­drawal” turn into a “pop­u­lar with­drawal crisis?”

 Absur­dity may be one of the things that has kept this anti-​tyranny rev­o­lu­tion alive untill today.

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