US-backed Syrian opposition militia changes name amid reforms

US-backed Syrian opposition militia changes name amid reforms
The name change is just the latest in a series of changes for the opposition group.
2 min read
25 October, 2022
Despite initial protests by members of the opposition-militia, the appointment of the Free Syrian Army's new commander has not threatened the unity of the militia. [Getty]

The US-backed opposition militia formerly known as "Maghawir al-Thawra" changed its name to "the Free Syria Army" on Tuesday as part of a series of recent changes to the faction’s leadership and priorities.

The "Free Syria Army" is responsible for the 55-kilometer de-militarised zone on the Syrian-Jordanian border. The group's mission is to fight the so-called Islamic State (IS), drug smuggling and on occasion assist the al-Rukban IDP camp located inside the de-militarised area.

Abd al-Rizq, a spokesperson for the Free Syria Army, told The New Arab, that the militia's name was changed to reflect "what is demanded of it in the coming stages," without elaborating further.

The Free Syria Army alludes to The Free Syrian Army, which was the first unified standard-bearer of groups fighting against the Syrian regime during the country's civil war. The group has since broken up into smaller, loosely affiliated militias in the opposition-held enclave in northwest Syria.

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The title and symbol change came just a month after the appointment of a new commander by the US-led Coalition to Defeat IS.

The new commander, Farid al-Qassem, abruptly replaced Muhannad al-Talaa, the long-time leader of the faction, who was notified of his replacement while travelling in Turkey.

The reasons for the dismissal of al-Talaa are unknown, but residents of al-Rukban have alleged corruption under his tenure.

The appointment of al-Qassem sparked controversy within the militia, with members of its military council publishing a statement condemning 'foreign interference.' Dissent was quickly quashed, however, and al-Qassem has since led the militia.

The new commander's priorities include "raising the combat level" of the militia in order to confront IS, Abd al-Rizq said. Coalition forces regularly conduct training missions for the Free Syria Army in order to improve its fighting capabilities.

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The spokesperson also said that the faction is working to improve the humanitarian situation in the al-Rukban camp.

The camp of about 12,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) suffers from punishing living standards, with a complete absence of medical care, famine-like conditions and a lack of potable water. Both Jordan and the Syrian regime refused to let aid enter the camp from their territory.

Over the weekend, a ten-month-old girl died from a congenital birth defect due to the lack of medical resources in the camp.

Abd al-Rizq pointed to the group's subsidising of bread within the camp as part of the group’s new focus on humanitarian initiatives. He added that the militia was successfully able to reduce a bundle of bread from 3,500 (US$ 0.68) to 1,5000 Syrian lira (US$ 0.29).