With sudden advances in Aleppo, Islamic State provokes counteroffensive

The Islamic State has launched yet another new offensive in Syria, just weeks after its fighters captured the ancient city of Palmyra and the Iraqi city of Ramadi. The so-called “caliphate” is attempting to take more territory from anti-Assad rebels in the province of Aleppo, not far from the Turkish border.

The sudden, coordinated attacks have caused Syrian insurgency organizations to scramble to form a counteroffensive.

Most of the Islamic State’s territorial gains inside Syria have come at the expense of insurgents seeking to topple the Assad regime. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization has devoted more of its resources to fighting the rebels than it has to attacking Assad’s forces.

The Islamic State’s latest offensive has targeted fighters who belonged to the Levant Front, a coalition of several organizations in Aleppo. The Levant Front was formed in late 2014, but was reportedly dissolved in April. Still, the coalition’s members have fought on in some capacity. The Wall Street Journal cites the alliance’s spokesman as saying that the Islamic State has beheaded several people in the newly-captured villages.

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One video released by Baghdadi’s followers shows them manning a checkpoint in the town of Sarwan shortly after overrunning it. At the end of the video, an Islamic State jihadist holds up the Levant Front’s flag, which is then burned. A screen shot from the video can be seen on the right.

Fighters who were part of the Levant Front reportedly had some success against the Islamic State in mid-May. Videos posted online purportedly show the coalition’s fighters taking turf from Baghdadi’s men at the time.

But the Levant Front and its former constituents were not able to withstand the Islamic State’s new push into several towns and villages in Aleppo. Therefore, other organizations have redeployed their forces to take on the “caliphate.” One of them is Jaysh al Islam (“Army of Islam”), which has a large paramilitary army.

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For months, Jaysh al Islam’s Twitter feed has advertised its repeated clashes with the Islamic State. One video posted online earlier today shows a Jaysh al Islam convoy of men being sent to northern Aleppo as reinforcements. A screen shot of the convoy can be seen on the right.

A spokesman for the group tweeted that the Islamic State “should be ready to taste defeat in Aleppo as they did in Ghouta,” because Jaysh al Islam is prepared to “fend off” its “cowardly attacks on the north.” Earlier this year, Jaysh al Islam battled the Islamic State’s fighters in Ghouta, just outside of Damascus.

The Islamic State’s assault on towns in Aleppo drew a quick response from Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, a jihadist ideologue who backs al Qaeda. Maqdisi was asked if Muslims in neighboring towns should assist those on the front lines against the Islamic State. In a written reply posted online, Maqdisi argued that nearby residents would be wise to help repel the Islamic State now, as their towns and villages will likely be next. Sami al Uraydi, Al Nusrah Front’s chief sharia official, endorsed Maqdisi’s response on Twitter.

On one of its own official Twitter feeds, the Al Nusrah Front has also posted several images of its jihadists being dispatched to assist their “mujahideen” brothers. One image, included below, shows snipers and medical workers from the group being sent to the Aleppo countryside. In another photo, the al Qaeda fighters diagnose the situation using a map.

Ahrar al Sham, another al Qaeda-linked insurgency organization, has sent men to counter the Islamic State’s aggression as well. One video posted online shows an Ahrar al Sham commander preparing his men for battle.

The latest moves appear to be timed to break the momentum of the Islamic State’s rivals, including those groups belonging to Jaysh al Fateh, a jihadist-led coalition that took over much of Idlib beginning in March. Unconfirmed reports on social media suggest that the Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham and other members of Jaysh al Fateh were planning to open new fronts against the Assad regime in the coming days and weeks. If so, this wouldn’t be the first time that the Islamic State has disrupted the insurgency’s plans.

Images posted by the Al Nusrah Front showing its fighters being redeployed in the Aleppo province

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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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12 Comments

  • Telh says:

    Well, on the positive side infighting among Islamists can only be good for the rest of the world. Maybe there are some Muslims who will question the validity of their religion as the Muslim verses Muslim death toll continues to rise. It my even inspire some to actually read the Koran in a language they understand and discover just what a load of incoherent nonsense it is.

    • idi says:

      have you ever read Kora at all? if so , can you tell me only one incoherent thing in koran?

      • mike merlo says:

        @ idi

        try reading about “The Night Journey.” Not only is it confusingly “incoherent” its one of the most nonsensical ridiculous Surah(chapters)/Ayat(verses) I’ve ever read.

        • cessch says:

          its not more incoherent then to say the Creator has taken a human as a son. now that is just silly.

          • mike merlo says:

            @ cssech

            No. What’s “silly” is one’s inability to stay on ‘subject.’

  • Hispanic says:

    What is the theological justification of al-Maqdisi’s authorization to attack Baghdadi et al? Has he labelled them Khawarij or made Takfir of them? When did he switch from being anti-Fitnah to this new stance? Aren’t there pro-Jabhat an-Nusrah Mujahidin who oppose fighting Baghdadi? Are they that much of a minority?

    • James says:

      @Hispanic

      “What is the theological justification of al-Maqdisi’s authorization to attack Baghdadi et al?”

      What is bedridden baghdoggy’s theological justification in attacking anyone that won’t take an oath of obeisance to him or his narrow-minded interpretation of Islam?

      “Has he labelled them Khawarij or made Takfir of them?”

      Why has bedridden and closet-case baathist baghdoggy decided to allow his minions to become a proxy force for the scarecrow army of A$$ad?

  • Oberron says:

    Not the only offensive. IS is hitting SAA at Hasakah using 300 Kornet missiles they captured at Baiji Refinery… Why ISF did use them and claim they had no ATGMs or Ammo when IS vids from Baiji Refinery clearly show large ammo stocks…

    Is ISF, Peshmerga, and SAA ammo bookkeeping that bad? All their soldiers say they lack ammo, but its so prevalent in cap…

    My brain hurts.

    • cessch says:

      if they admit having ammo then they have to explain why they didnt fight. at the end of the day they have no conviction in their cause. that why 1000 IS soliders can send 10000 ISF to flight. put 2 n 2 together brother.

  • snackbar says:

    “anti Assad rebels”= al qaeda? congratulation

  • mike merlo says:

    Russia and Iran will sit down with Assad and give him an ultimatum which will entail him sharing power with one or two other people and possibly coming to some kind of an arrangement with ISIS/ISIL involving some kind of a cease fire. Probably temporary at 1st with something more permanent in the offing, maybe even recognition as a ‘State.’

    Iran is also mobilizing Tens of Thousands of Troops, in addition to the few Thousand they already have there, to place in Syria to shore up its Defenses.

  • C-Low says:

    Funny. ISIL ISIS or ole school ISI was supported by Iran via Syria during the US years of war in OIF despite the Shia/Sunni myth. Now today once the insurgency in Syria threatened to put Assad against the wall suddenly show back up pulling off a some base captures that oddly were full of weapons. Then after they broke the syrian rebels rear while breaking the moderate elements they turn east onto Iraq. There they have broken the Iraqi army while opening the door to Iraqi acceptance of Shia militias owned lead by Iran.

    But Iran is a enemy of ISIL right? shia/sunni right?

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis