Eight Arduous Years Passed on Dissident Officers ... What Fate Will They Face?
Dissident officers of the Syrian regime in Jordan are paid seven Jordanian dinars for a day's labor in agriculture or harvesting, while others have decided to return to military service under the guarantees of the 4th Armored Division, and the rest either sought refuge in Europe or engaged in military action with opposition factions inside the country.
"My desire to split from this regime was one of several reasons that made me volunteer in the army," said dissident captain Ammar al-Wawi, speaking to Rozana, while attributing his motives to the nature of the family he was raised in.
The dissident captain is one of the most hostile officers to the Syrian regime, according to his media statements. Al-Wawi, the third son of a family working in agriculture, has eight siblings, and all his male brothers have split from the army and left their civil and military posts.
With the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March 2011, following reports of the death of dozens of peaceful demonstrators in different parts of the country by the Syrian security services, many officers and members of the regime's forces have turned against al-Assad, announcing in video statements published on social media their decision, which came as the result of their refusal to participate in massacres against civilians.
The split of Walid al-Ghashimi, Republican Guard soldier, marked the first public secession announcement on 23 April 2011, expressed via video footage posted on the internet by Syrian activists. The soldier indicated the split from the army after he and some of his colleagues refused to shoot at demonstrators in the town of Harasta in the countryside of Damascus.
Walid al-Ghashimi’s secession announcement
After the split of Lieutenant Abdul Razzaq Talas on 7 June, a series of secessions announced with the extension of the regime’s military operations, including that of Lieutenant colonel Hussein Harmoush who announced his split from the regime forces two days after a crackdown on Jisr al-Shughur.
Harmoush initially fled to Idlib province, where he started organizing dissidents from the Syrian army. He then announced the establishment of the Free Officers Movement and called on army officers and soldiers to split and join his movement. Later, he was kidnapped in Turkey and then was handed over to the Syrian regime.
In the latest media statements, Harmoush's brother said that the news of the officer’s execution by the Syrian regime is still uncertain.
Lieutenant colonel Hussein Harmoush’s secession announcement
One of the most prominent dissidents in the intelligence security sector is Afaq Ahmed, an officer in the Air Force Intelligence Directorate.
He announced his split on 3 October 2011 and fled to Jordan, where he received at a military refugee center near the border with Syria.
An officer in the regime's army (who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons) told Rozana: "The percentage of dissidents from the regime's army between 2011 and 2012 did not affect the structure of the army because it is close to the usual proportion of deserters recorded annually."
Al-Wawi stated that "the percentage of Sunni officers does not constitute more than 10 percent of the regime's army officers. The Free Syrian Army secretariat’s data show that the registered number of dissident non-commissioned officers is more than 4500."
The Syrian regime has mobilized recruits since 2011, with the first cycle known as Batch 102, demobilized in 2018.
Political forces welcome jihadists.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) was formed in August 2011 by dissidents from the so-called “Free Syrian Army” in Turkey, led by Colonel Riad al-Assaad. Other armed movements quickly adopted the FSA’s slogan, but the FSA leaders had no control over what was happening in the Syrian territories.
In December 2012, some brigades announced their accession to the General Staff. At that time, Chief of Staff Salim Idris sought that the FSA becomes a stronger alternative to the jihadist opposition groups in Syria, but he did not succeed to do so.
It is noteworthy that the President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNC), Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, welcomed the jihadists’ presence in Syria at the Arab League Summit in March 2013, considering them as brothers and dignified guests. George Sabra confirmed in a media statement that the entire SNC had an anti-American stance by classifying al-Nusra Front as part of rebel fighters.
The clash between the Islamic factions and the dissident officers reached a peak before 2016, and one of these conflicts became apparent when a sex scandal involving Lieutenant Talas circulated, which led to sacking him from the leadership of the Farouq Brigades in 2015.
The SNC passed its assertion that Tahrir al-Sham is a terrorist organization in its statement of 14 January 2019, as part of its final report of the 43rd session of the General Commission of the SNC.
Sponsoring countries frustrated the Free Syrian Army’s efforts.
Emerging military bodies and assemblies did not undertake any role in the context of the military conflict, most notably the General Staff of the interim government headed by dissident Major General Salim Idris in 2012, elected by the opposition factions fighting at home with 550 votes. However, Idris’s dismissal came after the Islamic Front broke into the armories of the General Staff.
In 2014, the head of the Interim Syrian Government of the SNC issued a statement ordering the dismissal of FSA Chief of Staff Ahmed Berri, while dissolving the Supreme Military Council and referring its members to the Interim Government's Administrative and Financial Control Authority for investigation.
The General Staff remained suspended until 2017 when Jawad Abu Hatab was named Minister of Defense and Prime Minister.
The Free Officers Movement is a militarily inactive group on the ground, whose members are led by dissident Brigadier General Manaf Talas.
Despite thousands of figures cited by Ammar al-Wawi, FSA Secretary-General, the names of prominent non-military opposition faction leaders dominated the scene.
Among those prominent figures were Abdul Qadir al-Saleh, known as Haji Marea, the grain trader and leader of al-Tawhid Brigade, Zahran Alloush, the commander of the Army of Islam, and Sheikh Hassan Abboud, the general commander of Ahrar al-Sham Movement and the head of the political body in the Islamic Front. Thus, al-Saleh managed to gather all opposition armed factions under the command of one operating room in the 80th brigade battles near Aleppo military airport a few days before his death.
Commander of al-Tawhid Brigade Abdul Qadir al-Saleh
Colonel Riad al-Asaad is one of the most prominent commanders of the FSA, which formed on 29 June 2011. Today, he is close to the Salvation Government, which is considered the political facade of Tahrir al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front), and Abdel-Jabbar al-Oqaidi, head of the Aleppo Military Council, known for his famous statement about the good ties with ISIS in 2015.
Al-Oqaidi stated: "We are in daily contact with ISIS. There is a slander that they are extremists, but when we sat down with their leaders, we did not notice such a pattern of thought.”
In 2014, former US President Barack Obama made a remarkable statement accusing the "moderate" Syrian opposition of failing to offer an alternative to Bashar al-Assad's authority. At the time, President Obama expressed frustration with the Syrian opposition, saying that "the moderate Syrian opposition is not ready."
He continued: "Sending weapons to peasants, doctors and others who have not carried a weapon in their lives, and who have been forced to fight due to current circumstances, will not suddenly manage to overthrow a brutal regime like al-Assad’s.”
Colonel al-Wawi contradicted Obama's statement while telling Rozana that"the dissident officers have been marginalized, subjected to bargains by states, and the sponsoring states have curtailed the role of the military since the priority was to support civilians who adopted Islamic or extremist ideologies."
Dissident Colonel Ammar al-Wawi on one of the military fronts
Al-Wawi accused countries of supporting extremist factions to eliminate the FSA, pointing out that these countries "do not want armed opposition groups with a disciplined and committed military command."
He explained that the FSA secretariat had submitted a 2018 project to build a national army to the president of the SNC Riad Seif and Jawad Abu Hatab, head of the interim government. However, the project not considered.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia provided military support to the Syrian opposition. Thus, Reuters quoted Syrian opposition, intelligence, and diplomatic sources saying that in 2015, the opposition army in the south of Syria started using anti-tank missiles obtained from Saudi Arabia.
Interim Government and Military Support
Yasser al-Haji, a public relations official in the interim opposition government, said that if the interim government has relied from the start on the dissident officers, who have oppressed, the situation would have been different.
He added: "After one year, the last interim government has managed to assemble 38 different military factions in the northern countryside under the National Army, divided into three corps."
Previously, there were factions with multiple sponsoring states which were difficult to assemble into one army, al-Haji stated, considering such a detail as a focal reason why Idris and Berri could not establish a unified command.
Rozana tried to talk to Salim Idriss, but he declined to comment.
According to al-Haji, the selected military commanders among the faction leaders were Brigadier Adnan al-Ahmad, Deputy Defense Minister, Brigadier General Fadlallah Haji, Chief of staff, and Colonel Hassan Hamada, deputy chief of staff. Besides, a military college established, and officers will be upgraded according to due military ranks.
Al-Haji explained that the interim government manages border crossings and allocated 50 percent of the value of resources to arm the FSA.
Al-Haji also conveyed that the interim government does not reject projects that serve the national interest, adding: “It is not acceptable that whenever someone submits a project, and he does not appreciate our response, says that we are complacent.”
He justified his statement arguing that the implementation of projects needs high technology, skilled professionals, and credibility while working and communicating.
The Army of Islam and al-Rahman Legion, the largest opposition factions operating in Eastern Ghouta, collapsed after a siege that ended with their surrendering to the regime forces and Russia, despite all the military parades both camps carried out in Ghouta.
Perhaps the most significant battle was the one that the two factions fought against each other in June 2017, which was the outcome of a conflict over influence and interests between the Army of Islam, on the one hand, al-Rahman Legion, al-Nusra Front and the Army of Fustat, on the other, leading to the death of about one thousand fighters from the two factions.
Ajnad al-Sham elements dispersed in the eastern and western countryside of Ghouta accepted to withdraw to the north of Syria in the country of Idlib and Hama.
Scenes of fights between factions in Eastern Ghouta
Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement announced its dissolution and accession to the Syrian National Army formed by Turkey in the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch area near Aleppo, north of Syria.
Officers in the camps were distributed between Turkey and Jordan and placed under close surveillance.
The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported in 2014 that the Abayden camp in the town of Pushkin had 30 generals and 300 Syrian military and dissident police officers, since mid-2011 until the date of the news publication.
The camp marked by an unfortunate event in the memory of the officers residing there, following the abduction of Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Harmoush, commander of the Free Officers Movement, formed mid-2014, from inside the camp by the regime intelligence officers.
After seven years of his accession, Colonel Akram Abdullah al-Zubi is now working in harvesting crops for no more than six Jordanian dinars per day for seven and a half hours daily.
Colonel al-Zubi, who worked in the department of university training in Damascus, split from the army in 2012.
The Jordanian government closed the al-Rajhi refugee camp, which had been designated for dissidents a year ago. The 2500 deserters were distributed to Zaatari and Azraq camps, while the government granted them temporary residency.
Al-Zubi asserted: "During the university training period, a number of university students were summoned to suppress the demonstrations”, adding: “Violent engagement with civilian demonstrators, ignoring the voice of reason to resolve the crisis, and prioritizing the military solution were factors that led me to split from regime forces."
Al-Zubi did not tolerate the situation any longer, so he told one of his friends that he wanted to leave. As such, the dissident colonel was provided with logistic support until he reached Jordan.
After arriving in Jordan, the next morning, he was transferred to the camp known as al-Rajhi Camp, where officers, non commissioned officers, and dissident elements reside.
The camp was named al-Rajhi after a cement factory in the area, and there was a military administration working to provide the basic requirements of life and supervise the field residents daily.
The establishment of a military complex in a country outside Syria, such as Jordan, is difficult, he points out, attributing such difficulty to the need to obtain international security approval on this matter to achieve it.
Al-Zubi is not the only one who worked in the harvest of crops, whether in Jordan or Turkey. Many other officers were forced to secure their living by working in Turkish fields and farms, harvesting pepper and Jute mallow crops after being pursued by ISIS and Tahrir al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front).
Colonel Omar Abu Mohammad, who split from the regime's forces in mid-2012, fled to the north of Syria after an arduous journey from an al-Dumayr military airport in eastern Qalamoun, Rif Dimashq, to the town of Atme on the Syrian-Turkish border.
This airport is located east of the town of Dumayr in Rif Dimashq, about 50 km from the capital Damascus, and it is the second-largest airport in the country.
After splitting from the army, Colonel Abu Mohammad joined a military formation affiliated to Suqour al-Sham, led by Abu Issa al-Sheikh, who is active in Jabal Zawiya. However, he decided to leave for the Netherlands, two years after joining the faction.
He told Rozana: "I decided to leave because I was always objecting to the military plans of my battalion commander, who used to be a construction worker."
He added: "The leader's plans often resulted in our defeat and caused great loses among our fellow revolutionaries ... I could not continue in that faction. I do not want to be the cause of someone’s death in such a small way. I did not want that, so I decided to leave."
In mid-2014, Colonel Abu Mohammad crossed the Syrian border with Turkey from the city of Harem along with his wife and four children and decided to migrate to Europe by sea. He stated: “I had limited options in Turkey, no work to make a living ... So, I decided to cross the sea and risk my family’s safety."
Al-Wawi, who has been the FSA’s secretary for years, and one of the regime's first dissidents in August 2011, was forced to seek refuge in Germany months ago after receiving death threats.
Captain Abdul Salam Abdul Razzaq, an officer who split from the management of chemical warfare at the beginning of 2012, preferred to work in his field of expertise. So, he stayed within the ranks of the fighters and introduced weapons of mass destruction in his lectures and statements. Afterward, he joined Nour al-Din al-Zenki movement.
Captain Abdul Razzaq told Rozana that many dissident officers preferred to leave the country after ISIS and other organizations killed many of them. Thus, a large proportion of those officers fled to European and neighboring countries.
He continued: "But I preferred to stay, and chose not to leave, convinced that the faction I work in is patriotic and aims at achieving realistic goals in line with the people’s aspirations to freedom and overthrowing the regime.”
A dream washed out
After all these years, the officers, who lost their ranks, faced new conditions.
Intelligence officer Afaq Ahmed took refuge in the church to protect him and baptized, as the French government hesitated to grant him asylum papers, fearing he was involved in war crimes in Syria.
Colonel Abu Mohammad arrived by sea to the Netherlands after paying the smuggler what he had collected during 45 years of work. He said: “I paid the smuggler about 18,000 Euros, after being lost and suffering homelessness for weeks”. Thus, he ended up working in a grocery store run by an Algerian.