15 November 2013
Saudi Arabia plans, with the help of other states, to build a national army for the Syrian opposition
Saudi Arabia is planning to build a new national army for the Syrian opposition, aiming to create a force trained outside of Syria that is capable of defeating the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and countering the growth of jihadist rebel groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.
According to Saudi insiders, training involving some 5,000 rebels had already been under way in Jordan for several months with the aid of Pakistani, French, and US instructors, although Jordanian sources suggest a much lower number. Saudi Arabia reportedly plans to build a rebel army of 40,000–50,000 at a cost of ‘several billion dollars’. A high-level Saudi delegation visited Paris in October to negotiate contracts for arming and equipping both the Free Syrian Army and the new national army.
According to Yezid Sayigh, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center, competition for external funding is a powerful driver of organisational dynamics within Syria’s armed rebellion. Not all of that support comes from government sources however, private donors in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates also sponsor rebel groups of their choice.