The problem begins with the fact that this is an authentic, bottom-up revolution. It arose spontaneously in different parts of Syria, and every area has spun off its own battalions, many seeking funding from wealthy Arabs in the gulf. Unless these militia-like groups can be gathered around a single source for money and weapons, they’re unlikely to mount a unified resistance to Assad.
Given the lack of coordinated military planning, terrorist attacks are one of the best tactics the rebels have: On the road north of Aleppo, I stopped at a celebrated shop called Sultan’s Sweets. It is famous because the shop owner poisoned his pastries, knowing they would be looted by Assad’s soldiers when they passed through town. The poison pastries are said to have cost the Syrian army 70 casualties and turned the sweetmaker into a martyr.
A new effort to help bring better organization to this chaotic rebellion has been launched by a Syrian-American organization called the Syrian Support Group. One of its founders, Yakzan Shishakly, traveled to Syria in February to meet officers of the Free Syrian Army and encourage them to gather the free-wheeling battalions into the military councils. Shishakly had credibility because his grandfather was a respected Syrian president in the 1950s.
By the summer, Col. Abdul-Jabbar Akidi emerged as the leader of the new military council in the Aleppo area; Col. Afif Suleiman headed a new council in Idlib province; Ahmed Berri commands the council in Hama. Shishakly introduced me to these three commanders in Syria last week. They say they’d like help from the United States, but that it hasn’t materialized. Without money or weapons to distribute to the fighters, these U.S.-friendly military councils will quickly lose their coordinating power.
The alternative power center in the revolution is the emerging Salafist jihadist network. It’s a mistake to see them all as al-Qaeda affiliates or wannabes. Many of them are simply pious Sunnis who know they can get funds to fight Assad by playing the jihadist card.