Abdul Ilah al-Bashir

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Military Chief of the Free Syrian Army

You are Abdul Ilah Al-Bashir, Military Chief of the Free Syrian Army.

You are a member of a Bedouin tribe found across the region called the Al Nuaim. You are a Sunni Muslim, described as a moderate Islamist. You are a former regime loyalist who defected to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) early in July of 2012 along with a number of Al Nuaim people. You were a loyal soldier, but without seeing any end to the fighting, you decided to side with those you grew up with and take arms against the government. Since joining the rebel Free Syrian Army you were commander of FSA forces in the southern regions that include Daraa, where the civil war first broke out, and Quneitra, on the border with Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

There were at least three noteworthy things associated with your appointment to this leadership role, and the first seems connected to the fact that little was written about you, especially in Western papers. This secrecy seems linked, at least in part, to a great deal of speculation that you actually did military training in Israel in the period leading up to your taking this position. Much of this speculation seems to have originated with the Assad government, however, and may well represent a bold attempt to discredit you in the eyes of all Syrians, by linking you with Israel. It was also reported that you found out about your appointment by reading about it online. This, in turn, may well have been linked to what was described as chaos among the Free Syrian Army leadership in late 2013 and early 2014. By all accounts, the FSA was in increasingly desperate straits in the weeks and months leading up to your appointment, increasingly marginalized by a revitalized Syrian Army, the better-organized Islamic Front, and the increased presence of Al Qaeda and ISIS militants.

Through hard work and perseverance you were chosen by an assembly of officers and diplomats to take over as the leader of the Free Syrian Army. It is from this post that you will try to save your people and your country.

The Free Syrian Army and your Rise

It is important to briefly go over the Rise of the Free Syrian army. The Free Syrian army was formed on the 27th of July 2011 when a large contingent of soldiers, under Reyad Al-Assad, defected from the Syrian Military. The FSA is comprised of mainly secular soldiers who refused to take arms against the Syrian populace, and sided with the protesters in Syria. As the revolution spread, however, more and more groups have taken up arms alongside the FSA. This has been both a challenge and a blessing. The FSA was once seen as the sole rebel group fighting Assad. This made it easy to show to the world that the Syrian opposition could be trusted and supplied. However, some of the new groups sprouting up are not secular, and some are quite fervently Islamist. This has given many donors cold feet about supplying the FSA and other secular groups with weapons; they fear that these weapons might find their way into the hands of Islamist extremists. This is a major hindrance to your acquisition of arms and ammunition. What makes things even worse is that you need the Islamists. Though they have different motives, they are fighting the same enemy as you are, and you cannot fight both them and Assad, nor can you defeat Assad’s army without their help.

While things look difficult, the situation was made even worse by the first person to hold this position. Riyad Al-Assad, the Commander who led the defection, established bases in Turkey from which to launch attacks into Syria. However, this left a gap in presence within Syria itself. Other groups moved in and the FSA began to look marginalized. Seeing the flaw in this plan, the FSA relocated all of its resources into Syria, demonstrating that it is in the fight for the long haul. Still, the damage had been done, and numerous splinter groups jumped into the void. This has resulted in a disorganized campaign and the ineffective dispersal of supplies across Syria.

This is where you come into the picture. Recognizing the fractured nature of the opposition, the U.S. and several other western groups pulled their support. The message was simple, get your house in order, control the Islamists, and then we will support you. Riyad Al-Assad, though highly respected, had burnt up a considerable amount of his own political capital, and he also made some comments that angered opposition members. The delegates realized that they needed to bring someone else into the mix, someone who was respected by the west but who could work with the Islamists. It was hoped that your predecessor, Salim Idris, would be that person, but he seemed to lack both the military and the political skills. It may have been that Idris was simply placed in an untenable position, as the Syrian Army, with military aid from Hezbollah and political support from Russia and China, was able to recover from what seemed to be a worsening situation, and to regain the military initiative across wide swaths of Syria. All is not lost for the FSA, as you have significant strongholds across Eastern Syria, especially in the area of Homs, but if you cannot convince the West to support you militarily, it seems unlikely that you will regain the upper hand. Indeed, it may be that your only serious hope rests in the power of the very extremist Islamist opposition forces that have taken the initiative from the FSA in so many places, and that have also won some stunning victories in Iraq. Perhaps the West will be so worried by the ascendance of the ISIS forces that it will provide you with some of the military assistance for which you’ve been pleading for a LONG time.

Role and Responsibility

The role of the Chief of Staff of the FSA has been expanded. While you owe your allegiance to the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, your role within the armed struggle has been expanded. In an effort to ease donor concerns, the FSA has brought some other actors under its umbrella. Some Islamists and others have agreed to work with the FSA, and have agreed to supervision by a civilian authority. The FSA exists to defeat Assad and to bring the nation to civilian rule. Your armed forces would then become the building block of a new Syrian army, not a military dictatorship.

While military action is a major concern, easing donor concerns is just as pressing. In order to wage your war you need external support. You need weapons, ammunition, intelligence, food, and medical supplies. The US and others will definitely not give you these things if they believe that you will misuse them. Your primary goal is to demonstrate that the forces of the FSA are under your command, and are responsible. In a splintered nation engulfed in a lengthy and brutal civil war, this will be no easy task.

Many of your soldiers are from predominately Sunni areas of the country. For decades they have been subjugated by an Alawite minority that has limited their chances for advancement within the military or within the government. The urge for retribution is only natural. This is also something that gives strength to the Assad Regime. The Alawite minority is powerful, wealthy, and entrenched. Fear that your forces will begin exacting revenge will drive them closer to Assad and make them much more willing to fight. This could be catastrophic, as not only will it lengthen the war, but it could lead to a geographical division of the nation. If the Alawites leave, they will take with them many of the Syrian peoples’ sources of revenue. It is key to the campaign that you comfort the fears of the Alawite business class, and assure them that revenge will not be taken against them should your forces win the day. You can do this by supporting the civilian councils and showing that you are answerable to civilian powers. By keeping a measured tone and not threatening the civilians you can also make it clear that you are not interested in revenge. Making clear that your objective is to remove Assad is key to earning the trust of the minorities, as is controlling the Islamist groups. The state controlled news media has made it its mission to demonize your group and portray you as Islamic radicals. This is, of course, not true. Only a small percentage of your active fighters are Islamists. However, to Syria, which is a predominantly moderate society, the fear of an Islamist resurgence is frightening. You must use the media to reach out to western backers to show that you are in control, and that Syria is headed for a civilian, secular government. Your challenge rests with the fact that you will need to work with all groups involved, whether Islamist or secular, in order to prevail, yet in doing so you cannot be seen as giving way to extremists. Your ability to tackle this significant challenge will demonstrate the skill and integrity of your government to those whose support you need, both in the short and the long term.

You must also contend with the fatigue factor, as the civil war enters its fourth year, and as the initial surge of energy and passion that fueled the resistance in its early months has waned in the face of the resilience of Assad’s forces. Your army, with so many of its members having defected from the Syrian Army, is now facing defections of its own, and problems of morale. Some of your fighters are joining other armies, or are giving up the cause and joining the exodus out of Syria. The combination of battle fatigue, more visible successes by other opposition forces, continued lack of military support from the West, and the ongoing perception that the FSA leadership has often not been present in Syria, gives you a complex set of challenges to face.

Role-Playing Notes

You were chosen for your post because you are known to be respectful of all groups. You know that for this new government to work, all groups must work together. This means that all groups must be listened to and have a voice. You were selected for this job because you are one of the few people able to balance listening to all groups and portraying to the international community that the government will be secular and civilian. For this unenviable task, you will need to work with everyone, avoid actions which will alienate international donors, and work with the civilian government to prove both the legitimacy of your government, and also that the Syrian people can trust you to take control. The battle you have undertaken is one that taps into your sense of nation, as you see Bashir Assad and his army as a brutal force that must be vanquished. The battle is also an intensely personal one, owing in part to the fact that your son, Talal, was killed during clashes with the Syrian Army in the Quneitra countryside in late 2013.

There is, in short, no shortage of reasons why this fight matters deeply to you. The question at this point is whether victory is attainable...this is the fight of your life.

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