Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Free Syrian Army [FSA] commander Brigadier General Hussam Awak, who previously defected from the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate, revealed that an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp [IRGC] armored brigade is fighting alongside al-Assad regime forces in Syria. He also claimed that Hezbollah armed brigades – that specialize in snipers, explosions, and guerilla warfare – are supporting the al-Assad regime in suppressing the Syrian revolution. General Awak stressed that these forces are counteracted by increasing numbers of defectors joining the FSA seeking to overthrow the al-Assad regime.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat conducted in Cairo, FSA Brigadier General Hussam Awak revealed that an increasing number of Syrian army forces are defecting from the regime and joining the FSA, in addition to Syrian civilians themselves taking up arms to fight al-Assad regime forces. He also stressed that the Syrian popular resistance forces that are supporting the FSA are undertaking dangerous operations and they have proved their worth on the battlefield.
As for the FSA’s sources of funding, General Awak said “we continue to rely on our own private relations with Syrian businessmen and charitable organizations, as well as arms dealers within Syria, and occasionally foreign arms dealers.” He also revealed that the FSA had received some support from Libya; however this ended recently due to the internal situation in Libya.
Asked about whether the FSA receives financial support from Gulf states, the FSA commander told Asharq Al-Awsat that “I have visited a number of Gulf states…we were made promises but until now there has been nothing new, however some Gulf States have promised us support in the coming period, and we are waiting [for this].”
Commenting on Cairo’s position on the Syrian revolution, he said “we continue to wait for real Egyptian support which will improve the situation in Syria…we consider ourselves a part of the Egyptian army since the era of Egyptian – Syrian unity during the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser” adding “we welcome any support from Egypt.”
Responding to reports that foreign Arab nationals have joined and are fighting with the FSA, Brigadier General Awak said “it is well known that Syria is a country for all Arab, and this incorporates the many Arab nationalities that are working and living in Syria, including Egyptians, Libyans and Tunisians. Therefore, these people who were in Syria have seen how the al-Assad regime forces are killing the Syrian people with their own eyes” adding “what is happening in Syria cannot be accepted by any Arab with a conscience.”
The FSA commander stressed that these foreign Arab nationals who are present in Syria “have revolted with their Syrian brothers”, whilst he strongly denied the presence of any Al Qaeda elements in the ranks of the Syrian opposition.
As for reports that the IRGC is fighting alongside the al-Assad regime force, FSA General Hossam Awak told Asharq Al-Awsat that “on more than one occasion, we have captured IRGC officers and Iranian experts” adding “there is a full armored IRGC brigade operating on Syrian soil and present in the Ahmed Jibril [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command] camps in the Deir al-Ashayar region along the Lebanese – Syrian border. He stressed that “this is information that we are revealing publicly for the first time, although they [the IRGC armored brigade] have been present there since 2007, following Hezbollah’s war with Israel.”
Brigadier General Awak also revealed that Hezbollah fighters are present on Syrian territory and are fighting alongside the al-Assad regime forces. He claimed that Hezbollah Brigade 101, Brigade 102, and Brigade 103, are present in the country. He claimed that Hezbollah Brigade 103 is a terrorist brigade that specializes in assassination and bombings. He added “Hezbollah Brigade 101 specializes in street battles and sniper attacks, and Bashar al-Assad is utilizing this brigade against the Syrian people.”
As for the FSA’s strategy to confront the al-Assad regime, General Awak said “we are following different tactics than those adopted by the al-Assad regime forces which focus on gaining control of specific areas…we are using different methods based on evasion and maneuver…so the battle might be taking place in a specific area and then we might open a new front in another area where we can achieve victory.”
General Awak also spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about Baghdad’s position on the Syrian revolution, particularly as the next Arab summit is scheduled to take place in Iraq later this month, revealing that “the news coming out of Iraqi Kurdistan indicates that they [Iraqi Kurds] understand the Syrian revolution.”
He added “as for the Nouri al-Maliki government, we do not know its position, but this appears to be a government that is affiliated to Iran. However with regards to direct contact with us, the Iraqi government has not issued any position opposing the Syrian revolution, but we hope they understand our situation, particularly as they suffered under Saddam Hussein and Baathism.”
The FSA commander also stressed that “as for the Iraqi Shiite brigades that are trying to reach Syria [to aid the al-Assad regime], we are warning them for the hundredth time not to interfere in Syrian affairs.”
He also claimed that Syrian revolutionary sleeper cells are present in Damascus and that “they will carry out operations in the future”. He stressed that “operations will soon be carried out in Damascus, and we will soon be in control of Syria’s airports.”
As for his views of resolving the Syrian crisis, FSA Brigadier General Hussam Awak told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this can only be solved in two ways: politically or militarily” adding “we do not want to see a repeat of the Libyan scenario, in terms of death toll and injuries, and we are trying to avoid bloodshed, which is why we have partnered with politicians, however if the situation requires a military confrontation then we are ready for this.” He stressed “we have called on Bashar al-Assad to hand over power; however he has fought us and continues to kill our children.”