Appointment of new commander in al-Rukban sparks controversy

Appointment of new commander in al-Rukban sparks controversy
The Syrian rebel faction appeared to splinter over the removal of its long-time leader.
2 min read
04 October, 2022
Maghawir al-Thawra, the US-backed group which patrols the area around al-Rukban, is entirely dependent on the US for its funding and training. [Getty]

Apparent divisions have appeared in the Syrian rebel militia which patrols al-Rukban camp under the supervision of US forces after a new commander was appointed to lead the faction.

On 24 September, the US-led International Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State (IS), which controls the area around al-Rukban, appointed Mohammed Farid al-Qasim to be the new leader of Maghawir al-Thawra (MaT), which is the Coalition's local partner.

The former leader of MaT, Muhanned al-Talaa, was reportedly abruptly replaced, after travelling to Iraq and eventually being resettled in Turkey.

"After Brigadier General Muhannad al-Talaa traveled to Turkey, a letter of thanks was sent to him from the International Coalition, contained within the letter was his retirement," Abd al-Rizq, a spokesperson for MaT, told The New Arab.

Not all of the members of MaT accepted the decision to strip al-Talaa of his duties.

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On 2 October, the military council of MaT published a video denouncing the move, saying they reject "any foreign interference into the appointment of our leadership." It added that it did not approve of the appointment of al-Qasim, since he came from outside the ranks of MaT.

MaT also posted a (now-deleted) statement on its social media, saying that it "categorically denied" the attempt by any third party to dictate its leadership makeup and that it supported the "activism and sacrifice" of its former leader, al-Talaa.

"Of course, some people objected to the dismissal of the revolutionary leader, something which also caused an uproar among some civilians," Abd al-Rizq said. 

"A solution was reached among all, which was the appointment of Farid al-Qasim as the leader of MaT, after the International Coalition negotiated with those who rejected his appointment," he continued.

Both MaT and the Coalition later published statements welcoming al-Qasim to his new position.

MaT patrols the 55-kilometre area on the Syrian-Jordanian border where al-Rukban is located. The faction assists the Coalition Forces in its mission to combat IS and drug smugglers.

The group is entirely reliant on the US for funding, weaponry and training.

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The reasons for the leadership’s replacement remain unclear, however, a camp resident told The New Arab that allegations of corruption dogged al-Talaa’s tenure.

"Before, the Americans did not have contact with camp residents. When we met them, we told them what al-Talaa had been doing for more than six months," the resident said under the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

"The Americans' visit to the camp also helped them see the truth about al-Talaa," they said, referring to a rare visit of Coalition Forces to al-Rukban on 3 September.