Exclusive: Free Syrian Army leader talks about challenges of fighting the Islamic State
File photo. Photograph: (AFP)
By: Anchal Vohra
Col. Haitham Afise is leading the 51st division brigade of the Free Syrian Army and is directly in touch with the Pentagon. One of the top Free Syrian Army leaders, he is coordinating the attack in Al Bab with the Pentagon and says his men are making fast progress. Post Al Bab he wants to take Idlib infested with Al Qaeda affiliates but not Raqqa yet. He spoke to WION's Anchal Vohra in Turkey.
Anchal: Thank you very much for speaking with us. Has the Free Syrian Army established any contact with the India government and what are your expectations from them?
Col. Afise: May peace be upon you. You are welcome. We were expecting from the Indian government to support us but they are supporting the regime. India is a symbol of freedom. We were peaceful in our demonstrations like Gandhi who fought the British, we took inspiration from him but India, may be, forgot its history and Gandhi. We started the revolution in a peaceful way but the regime attacked us and shot us. That is why I defected from the army to support the Syrian people and get our freedom.
Anchal: You say you want India's support but Syrian government says the protests were not peaceful. They were violent. They show videos of protestors beheading Syrian army. How do you respond to that?
Col. Afise: India is a superpower and they have good intelligence. It is impossible that the Syrian regime tells lies to the Indian government. They have to know the truth because they are a superpower and have great intelligence network.
On Syrian government's lies
Anchal: The Syrian government also said that the protesters asked for extremists to be released from the prison and because of that these terrorists are on the ground. Why did you ask for these terrorists to be released?
Col. Afise: We didn't ask for the criminals to be released. We asked Assad to release people who got arrested in the revolution. The extremists were arrested before the revolution. They were released by the regime and then they formed different terror groups and became their leaders. Assad knew if these extremists are released they will destroy the revolution.
Anchal: You are saying the defectors never asked for the extremists to be released?
Col. Afise: We didn't ask the government to release them. They were in the jail. They were not only in Sednaya military prison in Syria but 950 came from prison in Iraq. Al Maliki claims they escaped the jail but Al Maliki did this so that they can join the war and the Islamic State.
Anchal: So are you saying that Assad and Maliki created the ISIS problem?
Col. Afise: Not only Bashar al-Assad and Maliki but also Iran. The plan between Iran, Assad, Maliki and Hezbollah is to create a Shia country from Iran to Bahrain.
On Al Bab
Anchal: What is the situation in Al Bab and if your figters are in Al Bab?
Col. Afise: I am involved in the Operation Euphrates Shield. We kicked ISIS from the north of Al Bab and we are fighting in Al Bab. Now we are in the middle of Al Bab.
Anchal: How long before your fighters will take Al Bab?
Col. Afise: We took the biggest part of Al Bab and by tomorrow we take all of it. Very soon Isha Allah.
On Penatgon and Raqqa
Anchal: Is there any conversation that you have had with the Pentagon on Raqqa?
Col. Afise: We all know that America supports Kurdish forces and they call them Syrian Democratic Forces. If they ask me to fight beside Kurdish forces against ISIS, I will never accept that because they are against our ideology and they don't support the Syrian revolution.
Anchal: The Russians invited you to meet with them. What did they talk about?
Col. Afise: I met them but Russia won't be involved in finding peaceful solution in Syria because they support the Assad regime.
Anchal: What about the Russians? Are they more interested in fighting ISIS or Jabhat Al Nusra?
Col. Afise: Russia doesn't care about ISIS. They only care about Nusra. The proof is that they don't attack ISIS and only Nusra and the Free Syrian Army. The reason is because Chechen people joined Nusra and they don't want them to come to Nusra.
Anchal: What about America? Is America's focus ISIS, Nusra, Al Qaeda or all?
Col. Afise: United State's only focus is to fight ISIS, not Nusra.
Anchal: What about you?
Col. Afise: For me, I have too many enemies -- Syrian regime, Nusra, ISIS and Kurdish militia but other countries, they have only one enemy.
Anchal: So, can you fight with so many enemies? Or will you crack a deal with the devil and join hands with some of these groups?
Col. Afise: I will continue fighting all the enemies of the Syrian people. I deal with other countries. The deal depends on the goals of the revolution, goals of my country. If useful, I will crack a deal. In politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies. As long as the deal is useful for the Syrian revolution.
On biggest challenge
Anchal: What is your biggest challenge in order to fight ISIS and Nusra?
Col. Afise: We need good quality weapons. To fight ISIS and Nusra, we have weapons but they are not of good quality.
Anchal: Exactly what weapons and how many do you need?
Col. Afise: We need anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles but of good qauality and we need long range weapons. If we get this, you won't find ISIS and Nusra type groups here. Before we were fighting like gangsters fight on the streets. Now, it's a fight between cities. So, we need such weapons. We have a huge goal and we can't decide how much we need.
Anchal: But your weapons have gone in the hands of ISIS and Nusra in the past?
Col. Afise: We are a power on the ground now and will not let anyone take our weapons.