Jihadist-led coalition launches counteroffensive in Syria’s Aleppo province

15-11-23 Ahrar al Sham map of Aleppo

Ahrar al Sham released this map showing the areas Jaysh al Fateh’s forces are assaulting during its counteroffensive in the southern countryside of Aleppo.

The Jaysh al Fateh coalition, which is led by jihadist groups, claims to have overrun several towns and villages in the southern part of Syria’s Aleppo province in the past 24 hours. Leading factions in Jaysh al Fateh, including Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham, have posted a series of videos and images on social media from the areas they say have fallen.

The alliance launched the counteroffensive in the past few days in an attempt to thwart the advances of Bashar al Assad’s regime and its allies, including Russia, which has been bombing targets in Aleppo as part of its air campaign.

The Sunni jihadists from Al Nusrah and Ahrar al Sham have been battling their Shiite counterparts from various militias, which are backed by Iran and Assad. As part of Jaysh al Fateh’s propaganda campaign surrounding the ongoing battles, its constituent groups have published pictures of identification cards, money and other spoils purportedly captured from the Shiite militias, Iranian forces, and members of Assad’s regime.

In a series of tweets from its so-called correspondents’ network, Al Nusrah Front, which is an official branch of al Qaeda, says that its fighters have advanced on Al Aziziyah, Tall Mamu, and several other villages. One video published by Al Nusrah shows “mujahideen” tanks approaching the villages. Two other videos show Al Nusrah’s jihadists shelling Tall Mamu, attacking it with armored vehicles and then the village after its “liberation.”

Separately, Ahrar al Sham has published its own propaganda from the fighting. A map, seen above, illustrates the areas Jaysh al Fateh’s forces are storming in the southern part of the Aleppo province.

All of the photos and videos are watermarked with both the logos of the individual group and Jaysh al Fateh. The counteroffensive is the latest evidence that Jaysh al Fateh has survived the disputes that broke out between a few of its member groups. In particular, Jund al Aqsa, another al Qaeda-linked group, broke away from the alliance in recent weeks after it objected to some of Ahrar al Sham’s practices. Jund al Aqsa claimed that Ahrar al Sham was way too cordial with the West and regional nations, and was pressuring the jihadists to fight the Islamic State. Although Jund al Aqsa rejects Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s “caliphate” and remains loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri, the group believes that sharia law prohibits any attacks on its jihadist cousins in the Islamic State. It is not clear what role, if any, Jund al Aqsa is playing the Aleppo fighting.

Jaysh al Fateh’s reunification was reportedly brokered by Sheikh Abdullah Mohammed al Muhaysini, a popular Saudi cleric who is, at a minimum, pro-al Qaeda.

A number of other organizations are participating in Jaysh al Fateh’s counteroffensive, including the Sham Legion, which is itself a coalition of Islamist groups in the area.

Screen shots from Al Nusrah Front’s videos of the fighting in the southern part of the Aleppo province. One video shows Al Nusrah’s tanks approaching Al Aziziyah and Tall Mamu. The video is shot from the perspective of the vehicle:

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 3.10.26 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 3.09.56 PM

Another video shows Tall Mamu after its “liberation” from “Iranian forces” and Shiite militias:

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 3.47.07 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 3.47.26 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 3.47.45 PM

Al Nusrah claims these identification cards and other belongings were seized from members of Iraqi Shiite militias and others in the Assad-Iran axis who fled the fighting. Only some of the images posted by Al Nusrah are included here:

Al Nusrah images 1

Al Nusrah images 6

Al Nusrah images 5

Al Nusrah images 4

Al Nusrah images 3

Al Nusrah images 2

Ahrar al Sham’s photos from the fighting in the southern part of Aleppo province:

15-11-24 Ahrar al Sham fighting in Aleppo 1

15-11-24 Ahrar al Sham fighting in Aleppo 2

15-11-24 Ahrar al Sham fighting in Aleppo 3

Members of the Sham Legion pose with a truck captured during the fighting in Aleppo. The flag on the hood of the truck appears to be the one used by Hezbollah:

15-11-24 Sham Legion with Shiite vehicle in Aleppo

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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8 Comments

  • Dennis says:

    Tom,..do you honestly believe that inaction on the u.s. part, will make a difference as these other groups chew each other up? I also think you do a good job.

  • K Maag says:

    How are ISIL members and deemed civilian prisoners or defectors being processed by the various groups taking them?

    Does biometric processing include DNA swab, fingerprints, and photography too? (No public source definition of the term seems to include these points.) Is it being used by the various militias and other troops too?

    If the various land sea and air heavy weapons can be said to be the hammer for the anvil ground forces, then what psych warfare methods are in play to disaffect as many ISIL people as possible?

    ???

  • Confused says:

    Were those Iraqi Golden Division Patches??? The picture with the SWAT Patches in particular?

    Aren’t they a long way from home.

  • Arjuna says:

    I wonder if Zawahiri has Muhaysini and Saif Al Adel working together. I smell more than a sneaky Saudi at work here. Too much good military strategy unfolding. I bet the suicide bombing of Abu Ali Al Baradi was part of this “diplomatic” effort.
    This video is telling.
    http://heavy.com/news/2015/11/new-isis-islamic-state-al-qaeda-al-nusrah-front-news-pictures-videos-battle-of-the-trench-syrian-mass-execution-genocide-full-uncensored-youtube-screenshots/
    No such thing as a kinder, gentler jihadi. I am ashamed to know that disgraced former DCI Petraeus suggested we consider allying with them against Assad. The United States is at war with itself. The immoral CIA will get in bed with anyone if it serves their short-term tactical goals. They break the law and destroy evidence just like the Chicago PD.

  • bob says:

    unfortunately it seems that everyone who has written on this subject has missed the point of Jund Al Aqsa’s withdrawal from the Jaysh al Fath alliance, they didn’t leave just because some of the groups within the alliance are fighting IS, how is that possible? All of the groups have been fighting IS since late 2014, so it would be extremely hypocritical for Jund to withdraw now, wouldn’t it? so we are obviously missing a key point here, which is that Jund Al Aqsa (just like Al-Nusra) have rejected the ‘Islamists’ (Ahrar & co) cooperation with Turkey which, in the eyes of Jund & Al-Nusra is a non-Muslim country and its leader Erdogan is an apostate from Islam and a ‘Taghut’ (False God) as he legislates laws which are man made and not derived from the Shari’ah. So therefore according to the Jihadists it is not permissible for any Sunni group to seek what they call ‘Isti’ana’ (assistance) from Disbelievers (the Turks). So Jund’s and Al-Nusra’s position on these Islamist groups that have aligned with Turkey is that they are still Muslims but who have a misinterpretation (Ta’wil) in regard to seeking assistance from non Muslims. They also hold that the ‘Kharijites’ (IS) are to be fought by the Muslims and no one else because if they were to unite with any one they regard to Disbelievers to attack other Muslims they would be committing the 11th nullifier of Islam, which can be found in the work of Muhammed ibn Abdul Wahhab called ‘Nawaqid al Islam’

    • Arjuna says:

      Fascinating. I wonder precisely where you think the Turkmen who shot down Putin’s plane fit in this matrix… Does their group have a name? Do they take their orders from the MIT or some jihadi commander?

    • Arjuna says:

      Correction: I meant Putin’s chopper, the one he sent to pick up the pilots.

      • Arjuna says:

        Apparently the ugly guy pilot killer’s name is Alparslan Celik. He is not just any old terrorist, but a member of the Grey Wolves and a relative of a Turkish politician. As Putin says, when it walks like a terrorist and talks like a terrorist and fights like a terrorist, then it is a terrorist! Hope he was on the receiving end of some very dumb bombs. Putin is protecting Assad and their respective assets. He won the plane downing because now he has S-400s in theater. And a huge boost morally and politically. 17 seconds was too aggressive. Perhaps 17 on a vector straight for Ankara. This was different. Turkey is a liability, even w the third largest military in NATO.

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