Sunday, April 28, 2013

Conversations with the General

Talking to Syria’s rebel leader about chemical weapons, jihadi rebels, and the day after Assad falls.


SOMEWHERE IN NORTHERN SYRIA  On a chilly morning in late March, I met the Free Syrian Army (FSA) Chief of Staff Gen. Salim Idris at his headquarters.

But meeting the man in charge of coordinating a bloody uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime isn't easy. Haberturk, the news channel I work for, was the second news organization to shoot an exclusive interview with him, and we were given strict guidelines beforehand: No disclosure of the location, no revelation of the names and faces of his aides, no mention of how we got there.
Our trip to the compound was arranged by a group of FSA staff who met us at the Turkish-Syrian border. On the way, our guide, a burly man who spoke fluent Turkish and Arabic, guided us through tense crowds and hectic checkpoints. At the border, ambulances, hearses, and military vehicles sped past. A family that seemed to be fleeing with their possessions into Turkey waited by a car piled clumsily with colorful mattresses, blankets, and suitcases. A young, red-bearded jihadist with a green bandana covering his forehead randomly stopped cars and chatted solemnly with drivers. A worn-out billboard by the side of the road read: "Syria Duty Free: Waiting For You."
When we arrived at the base, we were greeted by a group of expressionless rebels dressed in beige-and-green military uniforms. The area we were in was safe, we were told -- except for airstrikes. Outside, one very young fighter wielded a gun almost as tall as himself, while the others chain-smoked and whispered among each other. Several cars, most of which had their license plates removed, were parked around the building. Not too far from the entrance, children wearing plastic slippers jumped on a dilapidated tank as if it were a trampoline. The general's entourage ushered us into the building.
Idris, a tall man with a quiet disposition and a kind smile, doesn't seem like someone leading an armed revolt. The pink curtains in his modestly furnished office were shut, a television set mounted on the wall was tuned to Al Jazeera. As my crew set up the room for the shoot, two FSA fighters served us dates and mirra, a bitter Arabic coffee served in small espresso cups.
The general defected last July, about two months after the Syrian army attacked his hometown of al-Mubarakiyah, near the city of Homs. Before he switched sides, Idris was a brigadier general in the Syrian army, and taught at the Military Academy of Engineering in Aleppo. But until he could figure out a way to escape from the country without endangering his loved ones, he kept quiet. He would later tell me that the right moment came "maybe a bit late," because he had to make sure his family was safe.
"It's very dangerous when you defect and leave the country," he said. "The regime will arrest your family and they will kill them."
In addition to fighting a conventional war, Idris has traded accusations with the Assad regime in the past months over the use of chemical weapons. On April 23, Idris received support from an unlikely source: A senior Israeli military intelligence officer claimed that the Syrian military had repeatedly used chemical weapons against its own people. If such reports are true, it would mean that the Syrian regime has crossed President Barack Obama's "red line," which could spark military intervention. The White House has so far remained cautious, demanding more evidence before taking any action.The United Nations has been waiting for a go-ahead from the Syrian regime to investigate such claims, yet the dispute over which sites a U.N. team might have access to is still unresolved. France and Britain have presented their own findings on the matter to the U.N.
Read the rest here.


Anonymous said...

It is a different new org. with the same name asshole. Get your facts straight before you post next time.

We'll be watching.


We are Anonymous.
We are legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.


Pastorius said...

What are you talking about?