The scattered rebel groups fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad of Syria have found themselves in a difficult position. 14 months ago, the rebels created a central body of top insurgent commanders to handle the major decisions of the campaign. This central body, known as the Supreme Military Council, was supposed to coordinate military campaigns, direct foreign support and serve as a unifying force for the movement. Today, the Supreme Military Council is in disarray and is struggling to coordinate an effective fighting force against President Assad.
The mistrust and internal rivalries between Syria’s rebels and their powerful foreign backers have consistently undermined their ability to form a united front against Mr. Assad. Recent interviews with nearly 20 rebel commanders, fighters, logistics officers and opposition officials have shown how the movement has been handicapped by infighting. While rebels across Syria share the goal of changing the government, many have accused their colleagues of choosing expansion of their own power over the fight against the government.
One of its biggest problems that the rebels have faced is that Islamist groups have seized its weapons storerooms. Another big issue is that its members have stolen or sold its supplies. One prominent commander of the Supreme Military Council has publicly joined an offshoot of Al Qaeda and has armed and equipped them. Internationally backed talks aimed at ending the war have failed to make progress.
A group of members of the Supreme Military Council decided at a secret meeting to oust its chief of staff, Gen. Salim Idris, and put another man in his place. The transition took place shortly after the meeting. The opposition’s exiled leadership, the Syrian National Coalition, quickly congratulated the new leader, who was surprised to find himself in his new position.
The new leader apparently had not even known he was in the running for the top job. In an interview after his appointment, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir said, “My friend called and told me, ‘Congratulations!’ I asked him, ‘Good news?’ He said to turn on the television.” He added, “I swear to God, no one was in touch with me. I knew nothing about it.”