An underground network of Syrian opposition activists is receiving training and supplies of vital equipment from a combined American and British effort to forge an effective alternative to the Damascus regime.
Dozens of dissidents have been ferried out of Syria to be vetted for foreign backing. Recipients of the aid are given satellite communications and computers so that they can act as a local “hub” linking local activists and the outside world.
The training takes place in an Istanbul district where handsome apartment blocks line the steep slopes and rooftop terraces boast views over the Golden Horn waterway.
Behind closed doors the distractions of outdoor coffee shops and clothing boutiques gives way to power point displays charting the mayhem sweeping Syria.
“We are not ‘king-making’ in Syria. The UK and the US are moving cautiously to help what has been developing within Syria to improve the capabilities of the opposition,” said Alistair Harris, a British political consultant overseeing the programme. “What’s going to come next? Who is going to control territory across Syria. We want to give civilians the skills to assert leadership.”
Once up and running dissidents can expect help to deal with local shortages and troubleshooting advice from sympathisers.
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