Jihadists in the Jaysh al Fateh (“Army of Conquest”) coalition are claiming victory in the town of Ariha, one of the Assad regime’s last strongholds in the province of Idlib.
The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, plays a leading role in the Jaysh al Fateh alliance. Al Nusrah posted the map shown above on one of its official Twitter feeds earlier today. The map, showing the jihadist-controlled territory in green, was accompanied by a short note saying that Ariha had fallen. A map posted just hours earlier showed the Assad regime in control of much of the town.
Similarly, the official Twitter feed for Ajnad al Sham, another member group in Jaysh al Fateh, has announced that Ariha is now under the mujahideen’s control. Ahrar al Sham, an al Qaeda-linked group that helps lead the alliance, has also posted videos and other images from the fighting.
An image posted by Ahrar al Sham earlier today advertised the offensive, which successfully pushed the Assad regime’s forces out of the town in a matter of hours. The photo can be seen on the right.
While the ground assault was a swift success, Jaysh al Fateh’s forces began laying the groundwork for the battle days, or even weeks, ago. The jihadists cleared out pockets of regime fighters around the town earlier this month. And in the past few days they have shelled regime forces inside the town from the high ground outside of it.
The jihadists’ capture of Ariha is the latest in a series of stunning advances since late March. The Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham and several other groups announced that they had established Jaysh al Fateh shortly before they stormed the city of Idlib, which served as the province’s capital. Assad’s forces were routed in a matter of days.
One month later, in late April, they took the city of Jisr Al Shughur, which was considered another key city in the battle for control of the province. The coalition of groups that captured Jisr Al Shughur differed a bit from Jaysh al Fateh, calling itself the “Battle of Victory.” However, the Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham were key to this grouping.
In mid-May, Jaysh al Fateh overran the Al Mastoumah military camp in Idlib. Regime fighters reportedly retreated from the camp to Ariha and its surrounding areas, making today’s defeat all the more important.