Two days ago, PBS’ FRONTLINE released a map [above] that purports to show which groups dominate regions in the Syrian civil war. FRONTLINE said the map was “assembled from data shared with FRONTLINE by researchers who have consulted extensively with Syria’s armed groups” and that it “shows the best available information about the main actors’ areas of control as of early February 2014.”
The groups are identified as: “government,” “opposition,” “ISIS” (Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham), and “Kurds.”
So what is wrong with this map?
The answer is simple: FRONTLINE makes zero effort to document areas controlled by the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, which is an official al Qaeda branch in Syria. The Al Nusrah Front’s emir, Muhammad al Julani, reaffirmed his allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri in April 2013, and has followed al Qaeda’s guidance throughout. But for the makers of FRONTLINE’s map, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria is considered to be merely part of the “opposition.”
Additionally, the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist brigades that are allied with the Al Nusrah Front and constitutes the largest rebel force in the civil war, is also lumped into the FRONTLINE map’s “opposition.” Keep in mind that Abu Khalid al Suri (a.k.a. Mohamed Bahaiah), who is a senior leader of Ahrar al Sham, one of six brigades in the Islamic Front, currently serves as Zawahiri’s representative in Syria. Al Suri has also served as Osama bin Laden’s courier, and is accused by the Spanish government of passing surveillance tapes of the World Trade Center and other American landmarks to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Afghanistan in early 1998. [See LWJ reports, Syrian rebel leader was bin Laden’s courier, now Zawahiri’s representative, and Statement from Zawahiri’s representative shows Syrian rebel group tied to al Qaeda.]