Free Syrian Army facing hard times and desertions
Those groups loosely linked together as part of the Free Syrian Army(FSA) are experiencing high levels of desertion and low morale due to low pay and poor conditions.
An article in Al Jazeera describes the situation of five members of a single family who had all joined the FSA. The family member interviewed, Mohammad Matoh, deserted, two brothers went to Turkey after being injured, while two remained in the FSA. Mohammad deserted because of low pay that started at $36 a month. Another friend also left because of the salary, which at best reached $95 a month. Mohammad now works in a fast food restaurant in Aleppo. Another field commander said not only were salaries low but that sometimes they were unpaid because financial support was lacking. In contrast, foreign fighters reportedly receive salaries up to $1,000 a month for serving the Islamic State.The original FSA began in August of 2011 at the beginning of the Syrian war and was comprised mostly of defectors from the Syrian army. Al Jazeera claims the group is moderate compared with Islamist rebel groups that emerged later and refused to serve under the FSA. The description of "moderate" is relative. Overall in comparison to Islamist Groups such as the Islamic Front that rejects the FSA and its political associate the National Coalition of Syrian and Revolutionary and Opposition Forces perhaps the description makes some sense. However, in 2013 U.S. senior military officials anonymously reported that the Pentagon estimated that the number of extremist Islamist groups in the FSA was over 50 percent and growing. One article estimates the present strength of the FSA is about 35,000 fighters, split up into almost 2,000 smaller factions. Some may be quite secular but others are extremist themselves both in ideology and often in action as shown in the appended video. Around Aleppo, the FSA units work closely with the Al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front. The FSA members, whether moderate or not, were all appalled when the U.S. not only bombed IS positions in Syria but the Nusra Front locations around Aleppo, with fighters crucial in the battle against the Assad regime positions there.After the Islamic State captured large sections of Syria, U.S. policy concentrated on fighting IS rather than relying on the FSA, which was primarily interested in defeating Assad. A new program funded to the tune of $500 million was to train vetted moderate rebels outside of Syria and then send them back, but to exclusively fight the Islamic State. The program was a disaster with the two small groups that did enter Syria as part of the half-billion-dollar program resulting only in radical rebels gaining more U.S. equipment. The first batch were quickly run out of their base leaving their equipment behind. The second group simply surrendered their equipment on entering Syria. The Pentagon decided to ditch the program altogether and provide support and some training to already existing rebel groups committed to fighting the Islamic State theSyrian Democratic Forces.The group includes Kurds, Arabs and others fighting the Islamic State. The group was formally established only on October 11, 2015 and does not include the FSA.The recent Russia bombing in Syria has been against some of the FSA groups and other rebels as well as the Islamic State and no doubt has helped to weaken the FSA further. Some commentators, such as Robert Fisk who writes for the Guardian and Independent go so far as to say that there is no Free Syrian Army. Rami Jarrah also claimed:'There is no such thing as the Free Syrian Army, people still use the term in Syria to make it seem like the rebels have some sort of structure. But there really isn’t." Irish journalist, Patrick Cockburn, stated in October of this year that "The Free Syrian Army was always a mosaic of fractions and is now largely ineffectual." Whatever its status, the Free Syrian Army seems to be declining in importance in the Syrian conflict and struggling to retain fighters within the loose alliance.