x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Syrians need more from West to defeat Assad

The deadlock in Syria cannot be broken without sustained military aid to the rebels.

In fits and starts the United States is moving ever closer to fully backing the Syrian rebels. During a major meeting of the contact group "Friends of Syria" in Istanbul on Saturday, Washington stepped up aid to Syrian rebels once more, in the form of a $123 million (Dh451 million) pledge.

But while the increased aid is welcome, the cascading crisis in Syria requires much more than humanitarian overtures and night vision goggles to bring a "peaceful end" to two years of war.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the US would provide material support to Syrian rebels in the form of body armour and other defensive tools of war. Hundreds of millions of dollars has been promised to Syrian rebels before. The trouble is that only a fraction of the promised aid has been delivered. The question now is whether the newly promised aid will make any difference.

Mr Kerry said that aid provided by the contact group this time around would be channelled through the general command of the Free Syrian Army, headed by General Salim Idris, who defected from Bashar Al Assad's army in July last year. Channelling money through Gen Idris's leadership could encourage Syrian rebels to unite under his command. Gen Idris's command structure has been supported by major countries such as the US, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The idea was to present a command-and-control structure to ensure an orderly transition if the regime falls, while preventing extremist forces from taking over.

That effort must be supported, but appropriately. Supporting the Free Syrian Army politically while failing to empower it could prove counterproductive. The FSA must be able to prove itself as an effective force with superior tools and strategies over extremist groups. Without doing that, the FSA will have no credibility or authority over the rebels.

But in other ways the support offered at the weekend was little more than rhetoric. For instance, the group called for a solution based on the Geneva communiqué, a peace plan signed by the friends grouping, Damascus and Russia. This will be meaningless without exerting efforts to force the regime to accept a safe exit for itself. No reasonable people dispute that Mr Al Assad is determined to fight until the end. The only effective way to make a political solution achievable is to enable the rebels to tip the balance and force Mr Al Assad and his circle out. Then and only then will a political transition be possible.

The situation in Syria is still a deadlock that will not be broken without sustained military aid to the rebels. Syria's true friends must combine aid with serious support to remove Mr Al Assad and save Syria.