Turkey’s Afrin Offensive and Russia’s Policy in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 21 January 2018

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, threatened on Jan. 13 to begin a military operation “in about a week ” to evict Kurdish militants from Afrin in northwestern Syria. Erdoğan has repeatedly threatened to “cleanse ” Afrin of the fighters over the last two years. It turned out he really meant it this time: on Jan. 20 Turkey commenced Operation Olive Branch against Afrin.

Kurdish forces, affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), have constituted an important element of the Coalition’s ground force in Syria against the Islamic State (ISIS) since late 2014, expanding their “Rojava” statelet by capturing vast swathes of territory from ISIS in northern and eastern Syria that is connected to Afrin under a deal with the pro-regime coalition—Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and Russia.

Any Turkish government would see this situation as a threat, and be angry at the United States for supporting the Kurds. The PKK regards Rojava and the ruling Democratic Union Party (PYD) as strategic elements in its long war against the Turkish state. Indeed, Kurds in Rojava have already provided at least logistical support for PKK attacks inside Turkey. Continue reading

Former Al-Qaeda Group Continues Its Efforts To Annex The Syrian Revolution

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 17 January 2018

Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani), the leader of the Syrian jihadi group, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), released an audio speech, entitled, “Their Plot Will Not Harm You At All” or “Not The Least Harm Will Their Cunning Do To You” [Ali Imran (3): 120], on 16 January 2018. The speech is a continuation of themes HTS—even under its previous names, Jabhat al-Nusra and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham—has used, namely that it saw through the “peace processes” from the beginning as a conspiracy against the revolution, and that only it has the will and capacity to fulfil the desires of those Syrians who want to be free of Bashar al-Asad’s tyrannical regime. The recent insurgent counter-offensive in Idlib is taken by HTS as vindication, and as an opportunity to draw what’s left of the northern rebellion out of Turkey’s orbit and under its influence. A pro-HTS Telegram channel put out a transcript of the speech, which is reproduced below with some syntactical edits.
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Al-Qaeda Encourages Jihadi Unity, Says Syria Is The Central Front In Its War

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 11 January 2018

Al-Qaeda’s General Command issued a statement on 8 January 2018, entitled, “And it is Due from Us to Aid Those Who Believe”. The statement is reproduced below. Continue reading

The Islamic State Was Engaged in Insurgency Long Before the Caliphate Collapsed

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 11 January 2018

Al-Naba 43, page 3

The Islamic State (IS) brought out the forty-third edition of Al-Naba, its newsletter, on 16 August 2016. On page 3 was an article that made reference to IS’s insurgent activities, which had already begun in areas it had lost. A rough copy is reproduced below.

At that time this article was published, IS was on the verge of losing Minbij, and had issued statements in May 2016 and June saying that the loss of the caliphate would not be the end of the group. By early 2017, IS’s insurgent operations were visibly mature, long before the formal declaration in October 2017 that IS was giving up its statelet and recommencing all-out insurgency. Continue reading

Islamic State’s First Leader Denies He Has Been Captured, West Wonders If He Exists

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 6 January 2018

Iraqi soldiers from the 1st Iraqi Army Division and U.S. Soldiers board a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter at Camp Ramadi, 15 Nov. 2015 (DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel St. Pierre, U.S. Air Force)

The leader of the Islamic State (IS) when it was declared in October 2006 was Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi). Al-Zawi was killed in April 2010 and replaced in May 2010 by the current leader of the IS movement, Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), who more explicitly embraced the title of “caliph”. On 12 May 2009, al-Zawi gave his seventeenth speech, entitled Umala Kadhabun (عملاء كذابون), which translates to something like “Lying Agents” or “Deceitful Spies”. The speech was released by IS’s Al-Furqan Media Productions and a translation was made by a pro-IS online outlet, The Jihadist Media Elite. The transcript is reproduced below. Continue reading

The Continuing Syrian Efforts to Resist Jihadism

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 1 January 2018

Opposition protests against Jabhat al-Nusra, Marat al-Numan, March 2016

A recording was leaked on 28 November of a Syrian cleric, Abdul Halim al-Atwan, giving a lecture to Syrians in Idlib, condemning the current leader of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the descendant of al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch Jabhat al-Nusra, for having distorted and destroyed the Syrian rebellion by infecting it with extremism and intra-insurgent fighting. Al-Atwan, the uncle of HTS leading shar’i Abdurraheem Atun (Abu Abdallah al-Shami), notes that al-Nusra intruded into Syria as a wing of the Islamic State in 2011. This is only a small demonstration of the continued resistance among Syria’s armed opposition to being co-opted by the HTS jihadists. Continue reading

The Official Declaration that Made Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Leader of the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 30 December 2017

The leader of the Islamic State, Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), speaking at the Zengi Mosque in Mosul, 4 July 2014 (AP Images)

The current leader of the Islamic State (IS), Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), was appointed as al-amir al-mu’mineen (the commander of the faithful or prince of the believers) on 16 May 2010, after his predecessor, Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi), was killed on 18 April 2010 in the company of his deputy and “war minister”, Abdul Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir). The official statement appointing al-Badri is reproduced below. Continue reading