NPR

Rebels Were 'Eager' To See U.S. Strikes On Syria

Steve Inskeep talks to General Salim Idriss, commander of the Free Syrian Army. They discuss Syrian opposition reaction to President Obama's address to the nation this week, the Russian diplomatic initiative and what assistance the general is hoping to receive from the United States.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama's decision to hold off on striking Syria dismayed Syria's rebels. This morning we reached General Salim Idriss, commander of the Free Syrian Army.

INSKEEP: He says that by negotiating over Syria's chemical attacks, the United States is missing the point.

GENERAL SALIM IDRISS: When we only talk about chemical weapons and putting these weapons under international control, then our citizens in Syria, they will think the international community, they don't have any kind of interest about the bloodshed, the destruction, about the eight million people who are refugees now.

INSKEEP: General Idriss spoke with us via Skype from Syria.

While some rebel groups are considered extremists, the Free Syrian Army is aligned with the United States. And though U.S. air strikes were not explicitly designed to aid them, the Free Syrian Army was eager to see them.

Were you poised to act in some way on the battlefield in coordination with U.S. strikes had they happened?

IDRISS: Yes. When Mr. - President Obama talked about the strikes, we did a meeting with the commander of the fronts. We told them to be ready to have control or to control the locations that will be targeted. We are ready, our forces are ready, our fighters are ready, and we were and still waiting for these strikes. And we hope that these strikes will be done in a short time because really the Russia initiative is just a lie and the Russian administration, especially the President Putin and Sergey Lavrov, are playing games.

They know that the regime in Damascus is a criminal regime. He is killing his own people. He's using his Scud missiles, chemical materials, the air force to destroy everything.

INSKEEP: What has happened to morale among your troops now that they know the strikes are not coming, at least not soon?

IDRISS: Yes, now it is very difficult. On the ground it is very difficult. And yesterday I had a meeting with my commanders of the five fronts and we discussed the situation after the Russian initiative. Our people are very frustrated and they think that our friends will leave us alone. And they told me yesterday we can't understand why the Russians and the Iranians are supporting the regime so clearly, and our friends are delaying and hesitating. We don't know.

I told them, let us wait. We respect the decision of the president and we know how decisions are taken in the democratic countries. Let us wait and we hope that our friends, at the end of the day, will be with us and will help us.

INSKEEP: General, what kinds of weapons, if any, have you received from the United States up to this point?

IDRISS: Yes, we received support from our American friends. And what we received really is humanitarian aid - food and the medical materials. We received bulletproof jackets. We received some types of flight(ph) vehicles and ambulances, night vision goggles, communications equipment, computers and satellite Internet equipment. Lesser materials, we didn't receive any kind of lesser materials from our American friends.

INSKEEP: Even up to today, you have received nothing, you're saying.

IDRISS: Yes. Yes. No military support, no direct military support.

INSKEEP: Because here I'm looking at the Washington Post from earlier this week, September 11, saying the CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria ending months of delay. You're telling me that if any weapons are getting to any rebels, they're not getting to you. Is that correct?

IDRISS: No. No. That is correct. We didn't receive any weapons from our American friends.

INSKEEP: Because Americans have been under the impression that the policy was to deliver weapons to the rebels at this point. Why is that not happening?

IDRISS: We were waiting and still waiting to receive weapons and ammunition. And we told our friends in the United States we hope that you will support us. We are in most need for anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft missiles. They told us that it is very difficult to support us with anti-aircraft missiles. But we discussed with them the military support. They say that they will go back with these ideas to Washington and discuss that with the administration, and then we will get an answer.

We are in contact with our friends, American friends here. But till now, honestly and frankly, there is no military support.

INSKEEP: General Salim Idriss of the Free Syrian Army. General, thanks very much.

IDRISS: Thank you. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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