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Opposition leader admits command problems

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 7:57 p.m.

ANTAKYA, Turkey ­— The defected Syrian general whom the United States has selected as its conduit for aid to the rebels has acknowledged that his movement is badly fragmented and lacks the military skill needed to topple the government of President Bashar Assad.

Gen. Salim Idriss, who leads what's known as the Supreme Military Command, admitted that he faces difficulty in establishing a chain of command in Syria's highly localized rebellion, a shortcoming he blamed on the presence within the rebel movement of large numbers of civilians without military experience.

“It is difficult to unify the (rebels) because they are civilians and only a few of them had military service,” Idriss said.

Idriss has become the key man in the international coalition that's battling to end the Assad regime. The United States announced in April that it would funnel $123 million in nonlethal aid through his group, an operation that's begun. At the same time, U.S. allies, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, agreed at a meeting in Istanbul that all lethal aid destined for the rebels would pass first to Idriss.

He acknowledged that he has little influence over what the rebels do in Syria and no direct authority over some of the largest factions, including the Farouq Brigade, whose forces control key parts of the countryside from Homs to the Turkish border.

Asked to delineate which battles his group had been active in coordinating, he spoke of fights in the northern and central parts of the country, including the siege of air bases near Aleppo and a fresh operation around the city of Hama.

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