Jihadist-led coalition continues to make gains in Idlib

Jaysh al Fateh (“Army of Conquest”), a jihadist-led coalition of several groups, swept through several towns and villages in the Syrian province of Idlib in recent days. The coalition’s military successes began in March, when the alliance was announced and quickly overran Assad’s forces in the city of Idlib.

The newly captured residential areas are near Jisr Al Shughur and Ariha, two cities that fell to the jihadists in recent months.

The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, is one of the key groups in Jaysh al Fateh. Al Nusrah has posted pictures and videos from the newly “liberated” areas on its Twitter feeds. A sampling of these images can be seen below.

The towns and villages seized by Jaysh al Fateh include A’yn al Hamra, Basnaqul, Muhambel, and Sanqara. Other military checkpoints fell as well.

As is customary after their military successes, the jihadists posted pictures of the “booty” they captured from the Syrian government, including arms and armored vehicles.

Some of the photos posted on Al Nusrah’s social media sites highlight the fact that the recent gains give its fighters much easier access to the neighboring coastal province of Latakia, which has long been a stronghold of the Assad family. The images include pictures of Syrian soldiers laying dead on the highway between Idlib and Latakia.

The Syrian regime has conceded that its forces retreated from the area. Agence France Presse (AFP) cited a “military source” as saying that “the army evacuated several military sites around the town of Muhambel in Idlib province.” And SANA, the regime’s propaganda news agency, said Assad’s fighters “relocated to new positions and lines more suitable for the implementation of subsequent combat missions.”

Jaysh al Fateh’s latest surge in Idlib comes at a time when key member groups in the coalition are redeploying some of their fighters to battle the Islamic State in Aleppo. The Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham, and others in Jaysh al Fateh sent forces to Aleppo after the Islamic State seized territory from the Levant Front, another coalition of several groups.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 4.47.21 PM

This has forced Al Nusrah, Ahrar al Sham and other groups to battle the Assad regime and the Islamic State at the same time. Al Nusrah has posted pictures of tanks and other weaponry being used in the fight against Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization online. One such photo can be seen on the right.

The anti-Assad jihadists openly worried that the Islamic State’s latest push into Aleppo would compromise their ability to continue the offensive against Assad in Idlib and elsewhere. Thus far, Jaysh al Fateh has enough fighters to staff both fights. However, the recently captured territory did not require as many fighters as would be necessary for a major push into Latakia.

Photos posted by Al Nusrah Front from the fighting in Idlib province

This image shows the towns and villages under the Assad regime’s control (in red) before the latest offensive:

Before photo

And this image shows the newly “liberated” areas (in green) taken from the Assad regime:

After offensive

This picture shows the highway leading to the coastal province of Latakia, which Jaysh al Fateh’s forces threaten:

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 4.51.04 PM

The following two photos show the “booty” captured by Al Nusrah in Muhambel:

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Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 4.53.48 PM

This image is a screen shot taken from a video showing Al Nusrah’s fighters in the “liberated” village of Basnaqul:

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 4.56.38 PM

The Al Nusrah Front’s black banner is propped up on top of a building in Sanqara:

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 4.58.45 PM

Al Nusrah fighters in the village of A’yn al Hamra:

Al Nusrah fighters inside A'yn al Hamra

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

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6 Comments

  • mike merlo says:

    good for Al Nusrah & their ‘Brothers In Arms.’ With Iranians having now upped their manpower presence in the Syrian Iraqi Theater significantly, particularly in Syria, it is Al Nusrah & their Allies most likely to engage them, before ISIS/ISIL, in some seriously heavy combat due to their geographical proximity. Either way I hope they all suffer severely

  • James says:

    So, the “Jihadist-led coalition continues to make gains in Idlib”. Well, good for the ‘Jihadist-led coalition’. Our most pressing problem right now is ISIS. The ‘Jihadist-led coalition’ should be A$$ad’s problem and should have to wait until after we’ve eliminated the imminent threat of ISIS.

  • Oberron says:

    Darwinian Learning in action. The stupid ones die, the smart ones learn and teach others.

    Safe to say “Moderate Rebels,” no longer exist and USAF is now providing Air Support to JAN against IS in fighting around Sawran and Mare…

    Is this what Obama has now been reduced to??? Providing air support to Anti-US Organizations, who make it clear they aren’t our friends, to fight an emerging State that has emerged out of the failed States of Syria and Iraq???

    My Brain hurts.

  • The description of the supposed Army of the Conquest as being a “jihadist led coalition” is somewhat disingenuous and completely incorrect as according to the Brookings Institute, The Army of Conquest is being commanded by the US Military from bases in Southern Turkey and Northern Jordan.
    //www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2015/05/05-assad-losing-syria-lister?cid=00900015020149101US0001-0507
    Quote: “Several commanders involved in leading recent Idlib operations confirmed to this author that the U.S.-led operations room in southern Turkey, which coordinates the provision of lethal and non-lethal support to vetted opposition groups, was instrumental in facilitating their involvement in the operation from early April onwards. That operations room — along with another in Jordan, which covers Syria’s south — also appears to have dramatically increased its level of assistance and provision of intelligence to vetted groups in recent weeks.” It is worth noting that the whole “vetted groups” thing is a smokescreen to have cutouts supply the al Nusra front (al Qaeda in Syria) with weapons.
    The US is actually fighting on both sides simultaneously in the same war! That makes sense right?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    James, the Brookings report is flat out wrong. Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham are the dominant organizations in Jaysh al Fatah and provide the leadership and muscle. Believe the Brookings report at your own peril.

  • Honza Prchal says:

    As Harry Truman is apocryphally remarked to have said of the Nazi Soviet war … “It’s a shame they can’t both lose.”

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