British and Qatari special operations units are operating with rebel forces under cover in the Syrian city of Homs just 162 kilometers from Damascus, according to DEBKAfile’s exclusive military and intelligence sources. The foreign troops are not engaged in direct combat with the Syrian forces bombarding different parts of Syria’s third largest city of 1.2 million. They are tactical advisers, manage rebel communications lines and relay their requests for arms, ammo, fighters and logistical aid to outside suppliers, mostly in Turkey.
This site is the first to report the presence of foreign military forces in any of the Syrian uprising’s embattled areas. Our sources report the two foreign contingencies have set up four centers of operation – in the northern Homs district of Khaldiya, Bab Amro in the east, and Bab Derib and Rastan in the north. Each district is home to about a quarter of a million people.
The presence of the British and Qatari troops was seized on by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan for the new plan he unveiled to parliament in Ankara Tuesday, Feb. 7. Treating the British-Qatari contingents as the first foreign foot wedged through the Syrian door, his plan hinges on consigning a new Turkish-Arab force to Homs through that door and under the protection of those contingents. Later, they would go to additional flashpoint cities.
In the close to eleven months of the Syrian revolt, Erdogan has hatched more than one scheme for countering the Assad regime’s savage crackdown on dissent. His most persistent was a plan for the creation of military buffer zones to shelter rebels and civilians persecuted by the Syrian authorities. But nothing came of those plans because, every time they came up, Assad reinforced his contingents on the Turkish border and deployed air defense and surface-to-surface missile batteries. He made it clear that the first Turk crossing the border would spark a full-scale war.