It was announced on 15 November that Talal Ali Silo, the official spokesman of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), had fled to the EUPHRATES SHIELD zone in northern Aleppo, run by rebels operating under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brand that are dependent on Turkey. The SDF is the partner force in Syria for the U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS). Though the SDF presents itself as a multi-ethnic coalition of Kurds and Arabs, it was initiated as a front for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). By attaching non-Kurdish units to a PKK core and using the SDF banner, it circumvented various legal and political obstacles for Coalition states. But all real power has remained in the hands of the PKK, which has systematically purged all genuinely independent power centres within the SDF. Silo, a Turkoman, helped further the narrative of the SDF’s ethnic inclusivity, and his defection underlines the reality of the organization’s political exclusivity. Continue reading →
Ali al-Aswad (Abu Ayman al-Iraqi), al-Naba, 20 July 2017
In the ninetieth edition of its newsletter, al-Naba, released on 20 July 2017, the Islamic State (IS) published an obituary for one of its most senior operatives, Ali Aswad al-Jiburi, much better known as Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, who had been serving as the caliph’s “security advisor” when he was killed on 18 May 2016. Continue reading →
The Turkish government has gotten more and more deeply involved in Syria since the uprising began in 2011. But Turkey now finds its original aim, namely the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, unattainable, creating tensions with the Syrian armed opposition, its primary lever inside Syria, and there are considerable problems stabilizing the zone of Syria that came under Turkish occupation after Ankara’s direct intervention in 2016. The defeat of Turkey’s primary objective has been accompanied by the rise of further problems, notably the exacerbation of its longest-standing internal security threat, that posed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan – PKK), and the generation of new internal threats, from the Islamic State (IS) and potentially from al-Qaeda-linked groups. The options for solving these problems are constrained and unpalatable. Continue reading →
A statement from Issam al-Barqawi, far better known as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the Jordan-based Palestinian jihadi-salafist cleric, was released in English on Telegram on 15 August 2017. The statement dealt with his view of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), highlighting again the questions around this Syrian-based jihadi group and its relations with al-Qaeda. Continue reading →
The offensive to expel the Islamic State (IS) from its primary urban stronghold in Syria, Raqqa city, began on 6 November 2016 with shaping operations and commenced in earnest on 6 June 2017. Backed by the U.S.-led Coalition, the operation, known as EUPHRATES WRATH, is being carried out on the ground by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or Quwwat Suriya al-Dimoqratiyya (QSD). The SDF is formally a coalition of Kurds and Arabs—its announcement of the Raqqa operation named eighteen distinct sub-units. But the predominant force within the SDF is the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Arab SDF play a “secondary role of maintaining local security,” which is to say providing an acceptable face for the PKK’s administration in the Arab-majority areas it has captured. Examining the SDF’s composition, and the recent marginalization of Arab SDF groups, underscores the point. Continue reading →
We are now on the eve of the operation to evict the Islamic State (IS) from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, and, as expected, the United States will partner with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the front-group for the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which President Donald Trump’s administration has committed to directly arming.
Many of the doubts voiced about this course relate to Turkey, since the PYD/YPG is—despite continued efforts to obfuscate the fact—the Syrian department of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the premier internal security threat to Turkey for many decades. The discussion then tends to fall into one of two grooves. Continue reading →
In response to the recent rounds of the Russian-organized “peace” talks in Astana, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), al-Qaeda’s restructured presence in Syria, put out a statement through its Fatwa Council on 9 May 2017, “The legal position concerning the latest events and developments facing the Syrian revolution”. HTS’s fatwa was a declaration of war against all parts of the rebellion participating in the Astana conferences, which HTS labelled a conspiracy to defeat the revolution and secure Bashar al-Assad in power. The statement is clearly intended against the mainstream rebellion, which operates under the colours of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and has shown signs of coalescing into an anti-HTS alliance. HTS’s paranoia about the rebels being repurposed against it has led to previous “pre-emptive” attacks that might well have precipitated the very thing it feared. Perhaps most interesting, however, is HTS saying that it would treat as an enemy actors who “allow [the Astana-compliant factions] to work under their banner”. The reference here is to Ahrar al-Sham, a heretofore close ally of HTS, its key enabler in infiltrating and co-opting large sections of the northern insurgency, which in January sheltered various groups that survived the first wave of HTS attacks to prevent their destruction. The statement was translated by al-Maqalaat and is reproduced below with some editions in transliteration and the key sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading →
The U.S. State Department added two Canadians to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) on 13 April. One of them, Tarek Sakr, of Syrian descent, is associated with Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, which has since been through two rebrands to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS) and currently Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). The other, Farah Mohamed Shirdon, of Somali background, is a member of the Islamic State (IS). Continue reading →
A burnt-out vehicle on a destroyed street in al-Bab on 23 February 2017 (Nazeer al-Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkey intervened in Syria in August 2016 with Operation Euphrates Shield (OES), which involved special forces, some regular troops, and the mobilisation of Syrian rebels to clear its border of terrorist threats by pushing ISIS (the Islamic State) away from the frontier and preventing the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) creating a state-let on its border that could be used as a harbour and launch-pad for attacks inside Turkey.
To secure this mission, on 13 November 2016 OES began an assault on al-Bab in the eastern countryside of Aleppo Province, just 15 miles from Turkey’s border and ISIS’ last major urban centre in Syria outside its capital, Raqqa. Some 102 days of combat later, on 23 February, al-Bab fell. What happens next could determine the course of the war as Turkey competes with the PKK to be the U.S.-led Coalition’s partner in clearing ISIS from Raqqa. Continue reading →
A series of clashes broke out on 19 January between al-Qaeda’s rebranded Syrian branch, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), and its heretofore close ally and portal into the Syrian rebellion, Ahrar al-Sham. By 23 January, JFS had expanded its targets, engaging in hostilities with mainstream rebel groups in the “Greater Idlib” area, and specifically trying—and succeeding—in dismantling the positions of Jaysh al-Mujahideen, a moderate group, west of Aleppo. The crisis continued to escalate, forcing many groups to merge with Ahrar al-Sham for protection, until 28 January, when a JFS-led merger was announced under the banner of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), or the Syrian Liberation Committee. HTS announced a ceasefire, and since then individuals and groups—including a significant number from Ahrar—have given allegiance to HTS. This radical reshaping of revolutionary dynamics in northern Syria has undoubtedly created antibodies going forward against al-Qaeda that could be capitalized on by the international community, but the present situation is highly favourable to al-Qaeda. Continue reading →