Ahmed Nehmeh, a former Syrian air force colonel who defected to become a key link between Western and Arab intelligence agencies and moderate rebels in southern Syria, said the defeat in the strategic town of Khirbet Ghazaleh, last May, was deliberately arranged by the rebels’ international backers.
Col Nehmeh, head of the Free Syrian Army’s Derra Military Council (DMC), was taken prisoner by Jabhat Al Nusra after an ambush in Deraa on Saturday, and is to stand trial in a rebel court on charges of treason.
He appeared on Tuesday in the video confession uploaded to a Facebook site and on YouTube, looking tired and bruised after three days of interrogation. He had clearly been beaten.
It was not possible to verify whether the confession was extracted under torture.
According to Col Nehmeh’s confession, “the donor countries” – a reference to Western and Gulf states that have poured billions of dollars into the war – contacted him and he enacted their orders to pull rebel units out of the town.
The rationale for the move, he said, was that Al Nusra forces were playing a major role in the Khirbet Ghazaleh attack and stood to increase their influence on the southern front.
Rather than allow Al Nusra to make gains, Western and Arab intelligence agencies engineered a victory for forces loyal to the president, Bashar Al Assad.
That explanation dovetailed with rumours that have swirled around the Khirbet Ghazaleh debacle since it happened. The defeat, snatched from the jaws of victory, was widely seen as suspicious by rebels and opposition supporters in Deraa. It sparked serious divisions within what had been broadly united groups.
Bashar Zoubi, the leader of the Yarmouk Brigade, a powerful rebel unit ostensibly under Col Nehmeh’s command publicly called for him to face trial for mismanagement.
Col Nehmeh specifically named Jordanian intelligence, with which he was closely affiliated, living in Amman in a building protected by government agents. Jordan hosts the secretive Military Operations Command (MOC), an operations room staffed by Western and Gulf intelligence units dealing with the Syria crisis. Jordan officially denies the MOC’s existence.