The Voice of Russia Radio Company has managed to reach the commander of the Free Syrian Army Riad al-Asaad and get an exclusive interview about the course of military operations.
The colonel has been in Turkey since he deserted from the Syrian army in the summer of 2011. He says that the fight for Syria is continuing, and the statements about Al-Qaeda terrorists inside the Free Syrian Army are made up.
Do you confirm the information of the Syrian government that the opposition had to surrender Aleppo?
No, absolutely not. The battle for Aleppo is continuing. The government has pulled powerful forces there. Part of the troops still remains on the outskirts of Aleppo where heavy fighting is going on. At the same time, battles are taking place in several parts of the city. Our troops were able to surround them going from the rear. Government forces are losing people and armored vehicles. The governmentís attempt to take Aleppo under control has failed.
What about the capital? Judging by the governmentís reports, there is no armed opposition there.
The regime resorts to disinformation. In reality our fighters also remain in the capital. There is no area in Damascus fully controlled by the government forces. The regime is weakening day after day. Thatís why itís trying to act harder.
How many soldiers and officers are there in the Free Syrian Army? I am asking because the numbers differ a lot. Some say that there are 5,000, some give the number of 30,000 people. What is your number?
A lot more. There are already 1,500 officers who have broken away from the regime. And itís just those who are fighting. But there are also several thousand officers who wanted to desert but did not manage to as they were suspected and imprisoned. The overall size of the Free Syrian Army is more than 100,000 people. Today the whole country is under fire. We are aiming at ending the occupation of Syria. We believe that Assadís clan has occupied Syria.
The highest and the most popular of military defectors is General Manaf Tlas. Some oppositionists offer his candidacy for the post of the head of the interim government of Syria. Do you favor that offer?
We are hearing a lot of different offers from everywhere now. But many of them are not quite adequate. Does somebody really think that it is possible to impose someoneís will on the people who rebelled against the autocratic regime? People will decide themselves and say the main word.
Many donít trust the opposition, also because you are not offering a clear plan for the future. So itís not clear, for example, who, in your opinion, should rule Syria. Does that mean that the alternative to the Assad regime is a political vacuum and political chaos?
It is not so. The opposition has its plan for the future. And there are people who are able to rule the country. We offer to form the Government of National Unity in Syria. But, politicians who will enter it are not to represent themselves but the movements which are fighting against the regime.
You are in Turkey right now. Some journalists, including western, report that you and some of your allies are under close supervision of the Turkish secret services. Is that true that you are always followed and your movements are controlled?
No. I have full freedom of movement. And I have security and escort just for safety. They have attempted to kill me several times, there have been several assassinations. So they are protecting me. But I can go anywhere I want. However, I do not go to Syria now. I send my officers there. I have sent my deputy there, Colonel Malik al-Kurdi. He went there from Turkey and now is leading the battle in Aleppo.
Why did the Syrian opposition let the elements of international terrorist organization Al-Qaeda in? Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that Al-Qaeda terrorists are already acting in Syria.
No such elements got into the opposition forces. Syrian opposition will not allow Al-Qaeda to get into it, because we are against any kind of extremism. But another thing is that individuals can act in Syria on their own initiative now. Donít forget that there is a complete mess now in Syria. And the longer this resistance lasts, the worse the safety situation will be. We lay the responsibility for this not only on the Syrian regime, but also on the forces in the international arena that supported it all this time. For example, we blame Russia. And we donít understand why the leadership of the Russian people, who always had a friendly attitude towards the Syrian people, opposes their aspirations today.
Letís then talk about Syria. There is much disagreement in the ranks of the Syrian opposition. Even the Free Syrian Army is far from being united. For example, Colonel Kasim Saaduddin recently stated that you donít control the situation inside Syria, and that fighting forces of the opposition in Syria do not obey you. In other words, that you represent only yourself.
Thatís not true. Itís a pity that some irresponsible people make such statements. Itís only to the regimeís advantage. The Free Syrian Army obeys only the unified command, and the commander is myself using the support of my allies. All opposition armed forces are included in the Free Syrian Army which is a unified whole. Oppositionists sometimes have different political views and freely express them, which is normal and natural. Thatís how it is supposed to be, but at the same time, and it especially relates to military issues, there should be discipline.
Is the political settlement of the conflict still possible?
Political resolution of the conflict in Syria is already impossible. However, we are sure that it will end soon. And we will seek that todayís leaders appear before the international tribunal for everything they have done.
By the way, are you still colonel? Or maybe already general?
I am Colonel of the Syrian army and I am proud of it. I am ready to sacrifice myself for the Victory of the revolution. It would be a great honor for me.
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