Gen. Salim Idriss, 56, heads the Supreme Military Council of the fragmented Free Syrian Army, and the Obama administration has anointed him as the sole conduit of weapons to the rebels, whether supplied by the United States or by allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which already have been sending arms.
The United States still has not committed to providing any weaponry, Idriss said Sunday in a phone interview from the Turkish capital, Ankara, after two days of talks with U.S. officials over what form the unspecified military assistance announced last week would take.
He urged the United States to move swiftly on the arms deliveries before opposition fighters suffer further setbacks on the battlefield.
“We need help. I can tell you very clearly, very urgently, we need it as soon as possible,” he said in the interview before heading back to his headquarters in the northern Syrian province of Idlib.
Recent advances by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have been facilitated by his allies Iran and Russia, which are providing vast quantities of arms and ammunition to prop up Syrian government forces, Idriss said. Fighters from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement are bolstering the ranks of Assad’s conventional army, which is weary from more than two years of battling the rebellion.
“We need to make a balance, and we need the help of our friends,” Idriss said. “The regime is supported by its friends, but our friends have been waiting. It makes the situation very difficult.”
U.S. officials have not spelled out how far the Obama administration is prepared to go in aiding the rebels. But Washington’s policy reversal is resonating across a region that had grown accustomed to the idea that the United States would not intervene in the conflict.
In comments carried by state media, the Assad government on Sunday attacked as “irresponsible” a decision by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to sever diplomatic relations with Syria; Morsi also called Saturday for the institution of a no-fly zone. Jordan’s King Abdullah promised “necessary measures to protect our country and people’s interests” after the Pentagon announced that the U.S. military would leave behind a squadron of F-16 fighter jets and a battery of Patriot missiles after military exercises in the kingdom conclude this week, stirring speculation that a no-fly zone is being prepared.
Idriss said the U.S. officials he met with told him that a no-fly zone would be “very difficult” and indicated that they were not prepared to contemplate imposing one. He said he also gave them a list of items the rebels need, including ammunition and guns, as well as the antitank and anti-aircraft weapons that opposition fighters have long sought to defeat the Syrian government’s superior forces.
A threatened regime offensive against the city of Aleppo has spurred concerns that the outgunned rebels could be on the brink of further defeats, after the capture of the strategically significant town of Qusair in Homs province this month.