Newspaper article The Canadian Press

More Rebel Fighters Needed to Aid Air Campaign, Says Syrian Canadian Activist

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

More Rebel Fighters Needed to Aid Air Campaign, Says Syrian Canadian Activist

Article excerpt

More rebel fighters needed: Syrian Canadian

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OTTAWA - A leading Canadian activist for Syria says it is time to step up the training of a rebel force capable of leading a ground war against both Islamic militants and the Assad government in Damascus.

Faisal Alazem, spokesman of the Syrian Canadian Council, says the Harper government's decision to extend bombing into Syria doesn't go far enough.

Alazem, who has travelled regularly to Syria and the region to advocate on behalf of its besieged civilian population, says air raids alone will only empower Syrian President Bashar Assad in his ruthless campaign against his own civilian population.

He says that even if the campaign that targets the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) ultimately succeeds, it will only create a power vacuum that gives rise to something worse, or strengthens Assad's grip on power.

Alazem says there are 10,000 moderate Syrians in Turkish refugee camps who are ready to carry the fight to ISIL -- double the 5,000 Syrian rebels the Pentagon hopes to train over the next year.

The training of a proxy ground force is a key element of the U.S.-led coalition's strategy for defeating ISIL. But as The Canadian Press has reported, the training of northern Iraq's ground fighters -- the Kurdish peshmerga -- has been slow with only 650 trained in six months.

A government briefing last week for New Democrat and Liberal MPs included information that Canada will confine its training to the Iraqi side of the border, while relying on the U.S. and their Arab allies to train Syrian fighters. The Harper government has been reluctant to arm Syrian rebels in the past because it says there are militant jihadists in their ranks.

"In Iraq, the strategy is clear: we allied ourselves with the peshmerga, with the Iraqi government," said Alazem. But there's no credible coalition counterpart on the ground in Syria, he added.

"If you want to solve Syria, you have to really start working with the nationalist democrats who have paid the ultimate price and we have ignored for the last four years. …

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