As UN diplomats in New York debate what to do about Syria, the fighting there rages unabated.
Guardian reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad discusses the gains made by rebels close to the border with Turkey, and some conflicts brewing between Syrian-born rebels and an influx of foreign fighters.
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Marco Werman: As we mentioned, Syria is the primary focus as the U.N. General Assembly gets underway. Today, the new International Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi painted a grim picture for the Security Council.
Lakhdar Brahimi: The situation in Syria is extremely bad and getting worse that it is a threat to the region and a threat to peace and security in the world.
Werman: Lakhdar Brahimi there on the job as special envoy to Syria for just three weeks. Guardian reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is in Istanbul now, but he recently returned from Syria where he spent time with various rebel factions. He says that one problem the U.N. may face in dealing with Syrian rebels is knowing which ones to deal with.
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad: They are working together but they are very, very diverse. They’re very fragmented. They don’t have a structure…they don’t have a command structure. They are in confrontation with each other. They compete with each other. Then you have the military council; then you have the Jihadi groups; then you have the Islamist groups, you have the Muslim Brotherhood. So, you have like a huge disarray of opposition forces functioning inside Syria at the moment. This is partly the reason why they are incapable of holding ground. This is why they are incapable of taking over Aleppo or actually muscling inner forces to control cities, towns because there is disarray and there is no commanding structure.
Werman: Now, you wrote in the Guardian newspaper yesterday, Ghaith, about the influx of foreign fighters. Talk about how that mix of non-Syrian and Syrian rebels is causing problems around the border crossings and other areas. I mean, are those problems making other conflicts grow even bigger?
Abdul-Ahad: Yes, of course. You know, Jihadi fighters when they want to go to Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan to fight, they have to really cross so many hurdles. They have to change passport, dodge military intelligence units. They have to avoid C.I.A., MI6, whatever security forces. To go fight in Syria, all they have to do is take a flight to southern Turkey, to [???], and then hike across the border and they are there in the middle of fighting. The rebels…the Free Syrian Army rebels cringe; they don’t want to admit the presence of foreign Jihadis. They know this is what really derails whatever support they have from the western or from the international communities. Yet, at the same time they are desperate for support. They need those guys because those guys are veterans of so many wars before that. So, the Jihadis are not more than 10-15 percent, but that’s a lot. That’s a lot on the grounds in Syria. I’ve seen them in eastern Syria. I’ve seen them in Aleppo and they are taking ground. They are taking ground because the Syrians are desperate for support. No one is supporting them so when the Jihadis come with their expertise, with their money, with their material support, they will take that.
Werman: We mentioned earlier that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says Syria is at the top of the agenda at the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week. So, tell us, if those diplomats in New York happen to be listening right now, what should they know about what’s happening on the ground in Syria? What’s getting missed in the whole debate?
Abdul-Ahad: You know, Lebanon was on top of the agenda for 15 years. Iraq was on top of the agenda for 10 years, 15 years. I don’t think there is…that our people down in Syria will have much hope in Lakhdar Brahimi or Ban Ki-moon or Kofi Annan or anyone. There is so much cynicism down there on the streets of the frontlines of Syria. The longer it takes, the more it becomes complicated, the more Jihadi elements take over. So, while guys are talking in the U.N., the situation is becoming really, really drastic and complicated on the ground. We’ve seen this so many times before. Weâ€™ve seen it in Rwanda, we’ve seen it in Iraq, we seen it in Lebanon. But, as long as this stalemate happening between the Russians and the Americans, the Iranians and the Western community, Syria will continue to be a quagmire.
Werman: The Guardian’s Ghaith Abdul-Ahad speaking with us from Istanbul about the current situation in Syria. Thank you as always Ghaith.
Abdul-Ahad: Thank you Marco.
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