The main organized armed group fighting the Syrian regime, the Turkish-backed “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), is reportedly facing a leadership struggle that could threaten its brief existence.
Internecine strife arose recently because the current FSA leader, Col. Riyad al-Assad, is no longer the highest ranked military defector since Gen. Mustafa al-Sheik joined the organization two weeks ago. Gen. Sheik is calling for the creation of a “military council,” which he would head, to command the FSA. Col. Assad insists he will remain in command since he defected first.
While the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s existing support for Col. Assad would normally give him considerable leverage, the continued influx of defectors from Syria means that some are joining the Assad faction, while a number of them are joining Sheik. Beyond that, Turkey has closed Col. Assad’s bank account, suggesting they might be switching to the new, higher-ranking defector.
A protracted leadership battle could mean the establishment of two separate groups, both operating under the belief that they will eventually conquer and rule Syria. Though clearly much of the final decision will be based on which of the two gains NATO’s support, the prospect of mass defections from a force already made up of defectors could further complicate an already unwieldy situation.