The policies of the US and the coalition in the Syrian civil war have been met with disdain by Syrian opposition leader, Khaled Khoja. In a speech in France last week, he described US plans to arm Syrian rebels over the next three years as a “joke” and claimed that coalition support for Syrian rebels is flimsy in comparison to the backing that President Assad has from his Russian and Iranian allies.
Khoja does have a point; the West has repeatedly voiced its support for moderate Syrian rebels but has also repeatedly failed to live up to its promise to make any serious impact. The coalitions’ contribution pales in comparison to the financial strength ISIS enjoy, reportedly generating US$2million in revenue per day, according to the International Business Times. Whilst Khoja claims Assad’s forces are being significantly aided with men and aircraft from Iran. As the coalition’s involvement focuses on the destruction of ISIS, Assad is also effectively being indirectly aided in the conflict.
US Secretary of State, John Kerry stated that “we will have to negotiate in the end”, enforcing the view that Assad’s position has strengthened. The issue is: now that his position has strengthened and he no longer appears close to defeat, the negotiation and the solution is likely to have to involve him. This puts negotiators in a difficult position of trying to re-build a new government that involves Assad. ISIS has indirectly sealed the fate of Assad and Syria. Despite this, the opposition are unwilling to budge on their stance and are not keen on negotiating with Assad.
Clearly the defeat of ISIS has become the focus of coalition forces but more pressure needs to be exerted on Assad and Russia if any solution between other forces is ever to be reached. The rise of ISIS in Syria was a symptom of the civil war, and a power vacuum in some areas has allowed them to creep in and commandeer power and control. If there is any hope of a resolution, the roots of the conflict need to be addressed. His response, on Syrian television, to comments made by Kerry was telling: “Any talk on the future of the Syrian President is for the Syrian people and all the declarations from the outside do not concern us”. He is in a strong enough position at this point to dismiss the vague olive branch that Kerry has extended.
Despite Khoja’s best efforts at raising support, there is little left of the Free Syrian Army who seemed to have faded into obscurity. The money and success of more extreme groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS has led to thousands leaving the Free Syrian Army to join them. The lack of notable coalition backing can be blamed for this however it is still not too late to act.
Without the financial and military backing needed for success, the lure of ISIS becomes greater. Likewise, success of Assad’s forces makes joining any moderate rebel groups less appealing. There is no end in sight to the conflict as it stands but with over 200,000 dead and millions left homeless, we cannot simply assume that there can be no solution. Stefan de Mistura who obsessively pursued the Aleppo ceasefire has suffered a huge setback after the rebels rejected the UN brokered plan. Backing for rebels must be increased. Pressure on Assad is an important part of the battle against ISIS in Syria; if his position is weakened, he is more likely to enter into some form of negotiation - although the chances of that will be slim - thus allowing for a more focused effort against ISIS. A significant show of strength from any rebel faction could exert this pressure.