Islamic State claims gains in Aleppo province during chaotic fight

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The Islamic State has issued a statement (seen above) claiming that is fighters have seized key several towns north of the city of Aleppo. In addition, the group’s propaganda arm has released a series of photos documenting its newly-gained territory. The photos can be seen below.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization made few gains in the Aleppo province over the preceding months, as a complex multi-sided fight had prevented the “caliphate” from claiming any definitive victories. But Russia’s intervention has changed the balance of power, even if only temporarily.

It remains to be seen if the Islamic State’s surge in the province results in long-lasting territorial gains. However, the group is clearly taking advantage of the Russian-led bombing campaign in the short run. Russia has mainly focused on the insurgents opposed to both the Islamic State and the Assad regime.

“Greater than 90 percent of the strikes that we’ve seen them take to date have not been against [the Islamic State] or al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said earlier this week. “They’ve been largely against opposition groups that want a better future for Syria and don’t want to see the Assad regime stay in power.”

On Oct. 7, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigade named Suqour al Jabal uploaded a video to YouTube documenting the effects of Russia’s targeting. Suqour al Jabal has reportedly received assistance from the CIA, including American-made TOW missiles. But along with other FSA units it was targeted early on in Russia’s aerial assault. Russia and the Assad regime aren’t the only ones opposed to Suqour al Jabal. The Islamic State is as well.

“Russian jets are bombing the depots of Suqour al Jabal in Aleppo while DAESH [a derogatory acronym used to describe the Islamic State] simultaneously targets the headquarters with car bombs,” a man in the Suqour al Jabal video says, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. He points out that the group’s ammunition stores and multiple vehicles were destroyed by Russia’s bombs.

Suquor al Jabal’s commander, Hassan Haj Ali, also told Reuters that Russia’s bombs had destroyed its main weapons depots.

The fight for Aleppo province isn’t as simple as Russia and Assad versus American-backed rebels, however. Suqour al Jabal is one of more than two dozen rebel groups in the Fatah Halab (“Conquest of Aleppo”) alliance. The coalition excludes Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, but does include Ahrar al Sham, which is closely allied with Al Nusrah and has its own links to al Qaeda.

In early July, Al Nusrah Front formed its own coalition in the Aleppo province. The alliance was named “Ansar al Sharia” (Defenders or Partisans of Sharia law), a brand that has been adopted by other al Qaeda groups in Yemen and North Africa. [See LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front, allies form new coalition for battle in Aleppo.] Ansar al Sharia launched its own offensive in Aleppo in July, and had some early successes. It is not clear, however, how much ground Ansar al Sharia currently controls, especially after Russia’s intervention.

Both Fatah Halab and Ansar al Sharia have opposed the Islamic State’s expansion in Aleppo.

Further complicating matters, Kurdish forces are involved in the fight for Aleppo, repeatedly clashing with Al Nusrah and other insurgents. And Al Nusrah also recently engaged in skirmishes with at least one of Fatah Halab’s constituent organizations.

The Islamic State has repeatedly taken territory from other rebel groups. Indeed, the group’s push into Syria in 2013 was mainly at the expense of other forces fighting Assad’s regime. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Islamic State would seek to add ground to its “caliphate” now.

The photos below purportedly show areas north of the city of Aleppo that are currently under the Islamic State’s control. The photos also show an aircraft flying overhead and an image from the fighting.

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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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9 Comments

  • mike merlo says:

    so it would appear that at least for the time being Kurdish Forces are being left unmolested by the Russians & their Allies

  • James says:

    Just let them nuke it out ! ! !

  • m3fd2002 says:

    Thomas: “Chaotic” is the perfect adjective. Why would any rebel faction have significant weapons stores in a few large locations is beyond me. Those assets should be forward deployed in the field and not much should be above ground if idle. Maybe Hassan Haj Ali is lying to get more stuff from his suppliers after he sold it on the black market. From what I’ve seen when rebels overrun any SAA depots they quickly remove the spoils and disperse, as any rational person would do given the chance for reprisal air raids.

  • James says:

    This is what I predict may very well happen in the short term (if it isn’t happening already). ISIS is waiting for the moderates to exhaust their supply of antitank weapons fighting a$$ad and pukin. If we don’t resupply them, you may very well see a repeat of what happened in Ramadi. You will see a series of complex VBIED attacks launched by ISIS against the moderates. Without the antitank weapons, the moderates will be like sitting ducks against those type of attacks. The moderates are now having to fight a war on two fronts. This situation is just deplorable. It is shameful.

    If I were a Syrian moderate, I’d be seriously considering the option of joining Al Nusrah. Why? Not because I’m a terrorist (or ever plan on becoming one), but because it would be a matter of survival. Only the fittest survive (in war).

    • mike merlo says:

      @ James

      ISIS has been quite savvy to date. For all their savagery & barbarism they’ve been rational players. When it comes to Al-Nusrah & the rest of the Terrorist Groups opposing Assad ISIS will play every angle with a wary eye to Nations/Forces supporting Assad & the Iraqi Government. While many Muslims are thoroughly convinced of an ‘End Times’ scenario, particularly among the ranks of the Terrorist Armies & Groups, I’m also convinced that there are those among their ranks who don’t subscribe to this moment as a manifestation of the
      Yawm al-Qiyamah (End Times). Most importantly individuals within the upper hierarchies/leadership not buying into ‘End Times.’ Without a doubt Baghdadi takes his Faith seriously but I’m sure he’s intelligent enough to appreciate that this time in history in which he’s a principal is not a ‘End Times’ moment. That being said I have the feeling Baghdadi has no problem with playing the Martyr. Then again maybe he’ll just wind being caught wearin ah Burka carryin a baby or herdin some goats.

      ISIS will use the carrot & stick approach when dealing with their competitors. Some they’ll murder, some they’ll slaughter, some they’ll torture, etc., & some they’ll make common cause with. No matter everything they’ll do will be predicated on their own survival. Without Al-Nusrah & the other Terrorist Groups ISIS is at odds with ISIS looses a land buffer. //www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Syria%20Control%20Map%2018%20JUN%2015.pdf.
      //www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian-Airstrikes-05-OCT.pdf.
      The more time, manpower & resources Russia, Iran, Syria & Hezbollah have to dedicate to eradicating ISIS competition then that’s just that much less devoted to focusing on ISIS. Although I wonder just how dependent ISIS is on maintaining physical presence along Turkey’s Southern Border. Presumably Foreign Manpower & ‘material’ is still sieving through the Turkish Border making their way to ISIS controlled territory. I’m ‘banking’ on from now till next year how much the Russians, Iranians, Syrians & Hezbollah can ‘throw’ at the situation & how fiercely able can Al-Nusrah & their Allies resist will determine how ISIS responds.

      I wouldn’t be surprised that if all is going well from an ISIS POV [I always wanted to use a porn acronym when unavoidably appropriate] they’ll be up to their ole shenanigans targeting Al-Nusrah & their Allies with particular emphasis on Al-Julani. If the opposite is proving true I wouldn’t be surprised to ‘see’ ISIS throw a ‘wild card’ in the mix. Presumably by having a squad of VBIED’s designed stop, stall or stunt a Syrian Offensive exhibiting serious indicators of success whose outcome will have a direct impact on ISIS in a negative way.

      Either way at the very least workin some snipers/’hit’ squads/suicider’s into the environment just for kicks to kill a VIP like the recently killed Iranian General. Also no matter how this evolves the Russians & Iranians are going to get stretched & squeezed. War Fighting Material, Manpower & Time & if ISIS should manage pull off some seriously threatening breakthroughs in Iraq possibly even bringing the fight to Iran itself that could possibly alter this Offensive in Syria. Lest anyone forget ISIS has physical armed presence in Afghanistan, the Carrier USS Roosevelt is in the process of leaving the Persian Gulf & the Houthi’s are lobbying the UN for a Cease Fire in Yemen. Halloween, Thanksgiving & the Christmas/New Year Holidays should be highly entertaining.

  • paul d says:

    Kurds are our only allies in the region.Forget about Saudi and the Gulf.look at freedom of religion in the gulf states especially Saudi.they hate the west freedom of religion and want no churches in the gulf.this was confirmed by their grand mufti.

  • Paul says:

    Russia is playing the good cop role inside Syria, US needs to swallow a little pride here @ acknowledge & even aid their efforts.

    • James says:

      Putin needs to be convinced that a$$ad must go. As long as a$$ad remains in power over there, the misery the Syrian people and the Syrian army are going through will never end (and it may become worse, possibly much worse).

  • David H says:

    All I can say is the old adage “better the devil you know ” in respect to Assad. Recent history adds weight to that. If/when he goes the implications are terrifying, I just don’t understand why U.S et al don’t see this, the scene is set for a war that is never going to end. More terrorist attacks provoking military responses from the attacked country/ies, and forever escalating into god forbid a world war!

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis