Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Syrian Rebel Groups Expand into National Networks

A new phenomenon is emerging in Syria in which powerful rebel groups that were formally associated with a single city are developing national networks. Rebel networks including the Ahrar al-Sham Battalions and the Free Syrian Army have existed on a national level since the early stages of the Syrian civil war, but the expansion of networks that once revolved around a distinct region into nationwide organizations reflects the increasing complexity of Syrian rebel groups, the growing influence of several charismatic leaders, and the power of money.

The Ariha based Suqour al-Sham Brigade was one of the first to expand out of their province when they incorporated the Shuhada Halab L’Muham al-Khasa Battalion in Aleppo city during the spring. Abdul Razzaq Tlass’ Farouq Battalion, a dominant player in Homs, now claims the Farouq al-Shamal Battalion based around the Bab Hawa border crossing, as well as a group in Damascus that played a role in the bombing of a Syrian army general staff building on September 2. The Damascus-based Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade, which also took part in the September 2 bombing, recently announced the formation of a battalion in Idlib province named Suqour Jebel al-Zawiyah, giving the brigade a presence in the north.

Given their distinct areas of operation, it is unlikely that there is an operational relationship between the leaders of the brigades and their new far-flung battalions, but the satellite groups probably receive financial benefits from their well-endowed patrons. A recent video by the videographer Mani depicted Farouq Battalion commanders receiving a shipment of $100,000 in cash, while Ahmed Abu Issa, the leader of Suqour al-Sham, candidly told reporters in August that “people want to join us because we have enough weapons.”

Suqour al-Sham and the Farouq Battalions are both high-profile groups with charismatic leaders, allowing them to pull fighters, funders, and journalists into their orbits. It is also likely that Abu Issa and Tlass have political ambitions for the post-Assad era. The expansion of their networks beyond their immediate region gives them control of geographically widespread networks of supporters, allowing them to be national political leaders after the war.

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