Libya transporting weapons and fighters to Syria: Americans, Moroccans, Libyans, Egyptians, Bosnians fighting alongside rebel forces

On February 19, 2013 by stratagem

Source: TML

According to a Libyan General National Council (GNC) advisor in charge of Libya’s disarmament program, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject, “getting weapons and radical Islamists out of Libya is our main concern, so now we have a disarmament program where part of it involves transporting weapons and fighters to Syria.”

Tens of thousands, if not more, of foreign fighters are making their way into Syria to join the rebel forces as they fight against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad as the civil war enters its third year. Among the non-Syrians reported to be fighting alongside the rebel forces are Americans, Syrians, Moroccans, Libyans, Egyptians, Bosnians, and others.

However, in conversations, it remains unclear whether their addition to the battle will be able to turn the tide against Assad’s army, with some already abandoning a battle they’re not certain they can win.

According to Basel, a Syrian living in Egypt with close ties to the Syrian military, who asked that only his first name be published for reasons of safety, “The Syrian army occasionally captures Egyptians [fighting with the rebels], but they’re not in the hundreds. The majority of [foreign] fighters are Tunisians and Libyans, followed by Afghans, Bosnians and some Americans. Libya has been providing training and weapons and has training camps and the vast desert where they can train in secret.”

However, another source who also asked to remain anonymous due to his sensitive position with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, told The Media Line that there are thousands of Egyptians fighting the Assad regime.

Citing Damascus-based political analyst Alaa Ebrahim, Iran’s PressTV reported that the number of foreign-backed fighters exceeds 10,000. But a Syrian military source who was not permitted to speak on the record cited much higher numbers. “There are around150,000 foreigners fighting against the Syrian regime in Syria,” he said. “The numbers are increasing. Last October, there were only around 70,000 foreign fighters, mainly from Tunisia, Libya, and Afghanistan.”

Lately the Egyptian media has begun running stories of its martyrs who were killed in Syria.  One of them was Mohammed Mehrez, an Egyptian political activist and doctor who died fighting in the Ashrafieh region, and is the brother of Yasser Mehrez, a leading figure in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, who according to the Egyptian daily Al-Wafd, is a member of its media team.

According to recent media information, Mohammed Mehrez, like other Egyptian fighters, entered Syria via this town on the Turkish border and joined Jabhat Al-Nusra, a radical group fighting against the Syrian regime.

Antakya, Turkey, is a border town with subtle Syrian ties and Arab atmosphere located12 miles from the Syrian border. Here, Firas, a former Syrian army special forces captain who holds dual Dutch-Syrian citizenship and now supports the Free Syrian Army (FSA), is found. A year ago, during the Libyan uprising, he was heard directly lobbying for the Syrian revolution among Libyans — raising money to fund the transporting of weapons from  Benghazi to Misrata, from where they made their way into the hands of the rebel forces.

Now, Firas is a “transporter” – someone who arranges for weapons, food, medicine and even people to cross into Syria illegally. He has also helped rebels wanted by the Assad regime to escape. His main customers are insurgents from Bosnia, Serbia, Egypt and Tunisia who are seeking to cross the border into Syria, along with journalists. He said he uses his skills honed in Syria’s special forces unit to help journalists differentiate between good and bad transporters. “’Good’ transporters won’t trade journalists for money offered by the regime,” he said.

Firas told The Media Line that Salafi Muslims are now in control of the checkpoints, stopping foreigners they suspect of being spies, for questioning. Touting his services to would-be customers, Firas says, “We just have to agree that you have to come with me, since I know the way and know how to deal with the Salafis at the checkpoints. We want avoid any conflicts.” Anticipating possible trouble, Firas asks his potential clients whether their passports contain Iranian or Israeli stamps. “I remembered these same issues from my time in Egypt and Libya during their revolutions, where many journalists were accused of being spies,” he said.

The presence of the Al-Qa’ida terror network was seen in the revolutions in Libya, Egypt, and Lebanon, and its presence is now being felt in Syria as well. Al-Qa’ida is hoping to mark their territory in the Arab Spring, to re-establish their Caliphate’s legacy, creating Islamic states. Firas said there was discomfort among the Syrian rebels due to the presence of Jihadist and Al-Qa’ida elements. “Rebels aren’t feeling completely safe.”

Syrian National Television calls Firas an arms trader, with his picture aired under the heading “terrorist” and termed a “traitor to Syria.” He shied away from openly admitting that he smuggles weapons, some of the rebels he was transporting offered stark confirmation. One claimed that each time she crossed the border, she hid six Kalashnikov assault rifles under her abaya, the cloak worn by veiled women in Syria. Firas says he’s no longer allowed back in his hometown of Latakia, and that Syrian intelligence has issued a warrant for his arrest.

On a flight from Antakya to Egypt, The Media Line correspondent encountered a rebel fighter from Morocco, two from Libya and a Syrian:  all claiming to have fought on the front lines in Syria and now traveling first-class for a few days of rest and relaxation and family visits. The said they received cash stipends from their rebel commanders, who are responsible for distributing the money “from the top down.”

“We don’t get much, just enough for our expenses,” one said. “I just get $200 a month. The commander of our battalion receives the money, and he takes care of giving it to us,” he explained.

The fighters told about their experiences in Syria. Basel, the Syrian, said he was twice detained by Syrian Air Force intelligence; another time by the Syrian police. He was released by the air force after being forced to exclaim that, “There is no God but [Syrian President] Bashar [Al-Assad].” Others would bribe their ways out.  He presented his release document in which he vows not to fight against the Assad regime again.

Basel said that he fought in the early months in Libya and received some battle instruction, and was trained to use an anti-aircraft machine gun, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and surface-to-air SAM-7 missiles.  “I went to support my Libyan brothers,” he said, adding that he participated in battles at both Benghazi and Brega.

Abd Al-Duhaimi, one of the two Libyans, told me that they were inside Syria for about three weeks, where they went on reconnaissance missions to identify targets for the rebel forces. He said it was difficult to engage the Syrian National Army because of their advanced training and weapons superior to those used by the rebels.

Basel said opposition troops were able to capture four 22 mm. artillery pieces from the Syrian army, but they were low on ammunition for them, “so they’re useless.”

He said Idlib in the northwest is the only liberated city in Syria.  “They are totally free. They have their own police force, court system, and traffic police. The city is totally independent and the Assad regime cannot enter due to the mountainous nature of the city, with the rebels controlling the mountain tops,” Basel said.

According to the rebels, morale is down despite the large number of foreign fighters. Libyans Abd Al-Duhaimi Hamza opined that the fight “wasn’t worth it. There [was a] huge gap between our strength and that of the Syrian army. We just had Kalashnikovs and night vision goggles. They are an organized force. They made us go back to Libya.” He mentioned that compared to Libyan government forces during its revolution, the Syrian regime has better weapons, more expertly trained fighters, and a stronger determination to end the uprising.

According to a Libyan General National Council (GNC) advisor in charge of Libya’s disarmament program, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject, “getting weapons and radical Islamists out of Libya is our main concern, so now we have a disarmament program where part of it involves transporting weapons and fighters to Syria.”

The question now is whether the rebels can continue to make progress. If Assad is to suffer the same fate as former Libyan President Muammar Al-Qaddafi, the rebels clearly must continue to attract, and even increase, their international support.

But as the Syrian civil war stretches far longer than expected, some among the hunkered-down rebels seem to be losing their momentum and foresee defeat. For the moment, though, according to one fighter, they are “going home to see family. When the revolution is over, I will come back, but this isn’t working at the moment. It’s much tougher than Libya.”

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