Istanbul // A secret operations command centre in Jordan, staffed by western and Arab military officials, has given vital support to rebels fighting on Syria’s southern front, providing them with weapons and tactical advice on attacking regime targets.
Rebel fighters and opposition members say the command centre, based in an intelligence headquarters building in Amman, channels vehicles, sniper rifles, mortars, heavy machine guns, small arms and ammunition to Free Syrian Army units – although it has stopped short of giving them much coveted anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.
Officials in Amman denied the command centre exists. "We dismiss these allegations. Jordan is not a host or part of any cooperations against Syria. Jordan’s interest is to see a stable and secure Syria, one that is able to keep its problems inside its borders," said Mohammad Al Momani, minister of media affairs.
"We will not do anything that will feed violence in Syria," he said.
But Syrian opposition figures familiar with rebel operations in Deraa, about 75 kilometres north of Amman, said Jordan hosted the command centre and had tasked senior Jordanian intelligence officials to work with western and Arab states in helping rebels to plan missions and get munitions and fighters across the border.
The existence of a weapons bridge from Jordan to rebels inside Syria has been a poorly guarded secret since a New York Times expose in March, but few details of its workings have been revealed.
However, according to opposition figures, the command centre – known as "the operations room" – is a well-run operation staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations and Arabian Gulf states, the latter providing the bulk of materiel and financial support to rebel factions.
The command centre gets advance notice from the FSA of upcoming military assaults against forces loyal to Bashar Al Assad, Syria’s president, and only hands over weapons if officials at the centre approve of the attacks.
"When we want to make an operation, we arrange for one of our men to have an informal meeting with a military liaison officer from the operations room and they meet up, in a hotel or somewhere in Amman, and talk through the plan," said an FSA officer involved in the system.
"If the liaison officer likes our idea, he refers it to a full meeting of the operations room and a few days later we go there and make a formal presentation of the plan," the FSA official said.
Then, western and Arab military advisers at the command centre make adjustments to tactics and help determine when and how the operation should go ahead.
They also allocate weapons needed for the attack and, with the plan approved, set up supplies to ensure the FSA has them.
"We run through all the numbers, what we need in terms of men and weapons, and when we’ll get it. It’s all detailed, it’s done in a very exact way," the FSA official said.
Islamist factions outside of the FSA, including groups aligned to Al Qaeda, are not involved with the operations room and do not directly receive weapons or military advice.
Not all FSA operations in Deraa are approved by the command centre. Sometimes FSA units do not even approach it for support, preferring to carry out operations alone using whatever resources they have.
If they do not have the weapons they need, or if an attack is more complicated to plan, FSA officers will seek support from the command centre.