Rebel leadership announces move from Turkey to Syria

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CNN  — 

The leadership of the rebel Free Syrian Army is moving from Turkey into Syrian territories its fighters seized, its leader said Saturday.

FSA head Riad al-Asaad made the announcement in a video posted online. The move is a milestone for the rebel group, which formed last year. It grew steadily as soldiers defecting from President Bashar al-Assad’s army signed up to fight against the regime.

Over the months, the FSA leadership had been based in Turkey, making it tough to coordinate with rebel brigades across Syria.

“We tell all of you that the leadership of the Free Syrian army has entered into the liberated areas,” al-Asaad said.

He didn’t say precisely where the command will be based.

The next step, he said: “Start the plan to liberate Damascus soon.”

Jeffrey White, a defense analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, recently cited “improving rebel military capabilities in terms of organization, numbers and weapons.”

In an August essay, he said recent battles in Damascus and Aleppo show the “regime can no longer be confident of securing even the most critical parts of the country.”

“The fighting also demonstrates how far the armed opposition has come, and how difficult the regime’s military position has become,” White wrote.

“From a small number of isolated, indifferently armed and ill-trained “battalions,” a much more competent armed opposition has emerged – one capable of challenging the regime in critical areas despite its own persistent faults.”