Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Fee Syrian Army, aided by moderate Islamist brigades, launched an attack on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in northern Syria after receiving new weapons, including anti-tank missiles, amid doubts about their ability to defeat the organization.
The latest campaign follows reports that Washington is planning to expand its support for non-jihadists among the ranks of Syrian rebels.
Speaking at a NATO conference in Wales last week, President Obama told reporters that the US and its NATO allies would consider enlisting “moderate” Syrian rebels in the struggle against the organization, while giving no indication if he would authorize US air strikes on Syrian territory.
Opposition sources in northern Syria refused to comment on the issue of links with the US. A spokesman for one rebel group calling itself the Fajr Al-Hurriyah Brigades, Abu-Jad Al-Halabi, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “There is no information which can be revealed about communications with the Americans.” Halabi said the Fajr Al-Hurriyah Brigades were formed more than a year ago and were led by a dissident military field commander known as Abu-Fouad.
Syrian opposition fighters began to attack ISIS positions last week, forcing the extremist group to retreat from some areas north of Aleppo.
Meanwhile, Rami Abdulrahman, head of the UK-based monitoring organization the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, said: “Opposition fighters were training to use new advanced weapons which recently arrived in the north, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.”
However, Abdulrahman cast doubts over the opposition’s ability to defeat ISIS, saying “the real test facing the opposition starts in the next battle planned in the town of Al-Bab, north of Aleppo.”
“The only fighters who can make progress against ISIS are the Kurds and the [Kurdish] People’s Protection Units (PYG) in the areas of northern Syria under their control, which are the border areas with Iraq,” he added.
Clashes between ISIS and other rebels began in earnest last spring, when the group launched attacks in the northern areas of the governorate of Aleppo, occupying a number of villages.
Abdulrahman said: “It is not possible to launch attacks on ISIS to force it to retreat without air cover . . . ISIS’s control of strategic hills in the northern Aleppo suburbs enable it to repel any attack from the opposition.”
He also said that ISIS was heavily armed, and that its arsenal included “anti-aircraft weapons which it has not used so far.”
Opposition brigades, however, said the reason for their ability to defeat ISIS was the fact that they were outgunned.
Halabi told Asharq Al-Awsat that his group and other rebels suffered from a “lack of advanced weapons, which enables us to launch wide and simultaneous attacks on ISIS positions in a number of areas.”
“The reinforcements and ammunition we have received are enough to repel ISIS attacks, but not enough to attack it at the moment,” he added.
He denied that the opposition needed air cover, saying: “We are the people of this area and we make up the absolute majority among the brigades, and we are able to face ISIS without air cover in northern Aleppo if we receive advanced weapons which compare to those ISIS has.”