In Syria, FSA is a failed brand while militias increasingly gain civilian leadership

Syria Deeply reports, “In January 2012, Syria Conflict Monitor (SCM)’s five-person team began cataloguing the thousands of Free Syrian Army (FSA) videos used for recruitment purposes that were being downloaded to the Internet.”

These are the three key things revealed in SCM’s latest data:

Since the beginning of 2013, nearly one in three videos Syria-wide has invoked Islamic rhetoric as justification for the fight against the regime.

“The nationwide declines in FSA affiliation among armed groups coincides with noticeable increases in the appearance of Islamist and religious rhetoric across Syria,” SCM said.

“In addition to the aforementioned failures of any alternative galvanizing force or concept, the consistent tactical, financial and symbolic success of religiously motivated armed groups is undeniably driving a growing number of armed groups to adopt similar rhetoric and shifting the tone of the conflict. It must be reiterated that these categories are not monolithic. Groups employing Islamist rhetoric or religious symbols may differ greatly from one another. Additionally, there may be a sizable number of groups that subscribe to political-religious ideologies that do not introduce such rhetoric or symbols into their formation videos for a variety of reasons.”

Since 2012, slightly less than one-fifth of groups publishing information videos on YouTube declare affiliation with the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army.

“Affiliating with or invoking the FSA brand in unit formation videos has significantly declined since 2012. The FSA label, with few exceptions, does not reflect real command and control or unit integration into a larger fighting group known as the FSA,” SCM said.

“Instead, the FSA label was traditionally invoked as a symbol of national solidarity with other fighting units. Based on the significant decline in FSA branding among formation videos, it is reasonable to conclude that the FSA label is no longer a symbol of unity between armed opposition groups. The FSA label in the context of formation is now likely a reminder of repeated failed attempts by figures outside of Syria to unite the armed opposition nationwide under the banner of the FSA.”

Within armed groups, there is a significant trend from military to civilian leadership.

For the first time beginning in the period of January to April 2013, a majority of videos in which declarations of leadership were made on camera were led by civilians.

“As the total number of fighting groups has increased, so too has the trend towards civilian control,” the group said. “This may reflect the insufficient number of available defected military officers to command opposition units and/or the growing aptitude of civilians to command units after two years of fighting.”

It said that civilian command of armed opposition units “carries important implications for armed group behavior … civilian command may blur the distinction between civilian and military structures on the ground, with many individuals assuming roles in local civilian governance structures in addition to armed units.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email