US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the Trump administration’s vision for Syria, making clear that, contrary to the expectations of many, the United States will stay in Syria beyond the collapse of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) self-proclaimed caliphate, holding the jihadists at bay and establishing an order compatible with US interests.
Crucially, Tillerson—in a sharp break with US President Donald Trump’s predecessor—specified that countering Iranian influence within Syria was a central US objective. The problem with the strategy is that it seems to rely on repurposing the United States’ anti-ISIS Kurdish militia allies against the Iranian revolution. Continue reading →
Last night, The New York Timesreported and Reutersconfirmed that two British Islamic State (IS) jihadists, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, both of them designated terrorists by the United States, have been arrested in Syria. Kotey and Elsheikh, along with the late Mohammed Emwazi (Abu Muharib al-Muhajir) and Aine Davis, formed a four-man cell that has become known as “The Beatles”—hence Emwazi being near-universally known as “Jihadi John”—that guarded, abused, and murdered hostages for IS from before the “caliphate” was founded in 2014. Continue reading →
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 →
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. Continue reading →
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 →
Maghaweer al-Thawra fighters next to American forces at at-Tanf. (Hammurabi’s Justice News/AP)
The U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS) has killed several more leaders of the terrorist group, but continues to find that the campaign is hindered by the incompetence and/or complicity of the regime of Bashar al-Asad and his supporters in Iran and Russia. Continue reading →