The State Department announced yesterday that two Canadian citizens have been added to the US government’s list designated terrorists. Tarek Sakr has been “linked” to al Qaeda’s “affiliate” in Syria and Farah Mohamed Shirdon is a member of the Islamic State. According to press reports, jihadists associated with Sakr are suspected of playing a role in the kidnappings of two Americans in Syria.
The policy debate concerning Syria must reflect on-the-ground realities. The war is a complex, multi-sided affair with no easy solutions.
Jihadists, Islamists and rebel groups affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) launched a new offensive against Bashar al Assad’s regime in northern Hama province earlier this week. Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, al Qaeda’s joint venture in Syria, is playing a prominent role in the fighting, dispatching several suicide bombers and its “special forces.” Upwards of 10 or more FSA-branded groups are participating as well.
Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), Ahrar al Sham, and the Free Syrian Army-affiliated Faylaq al Rahman launched a surprise offensive against Bashar al Assad’s regime in Damascus yesterday. HTS, an al Qaeda front group, has been stepping up its attacks in the Syrian capital in recent weeks.
As each side converges on the Islamic State-held city of al-Bab, a military confrontation between Turkish-led rebels and pro-regime forces appear inescapable. In the meantime, tensions between Ankara and Moscow are rising yet again, risking pulling the United States and NATO further into the Syrian theater.
Al Qaeda’s rebranded guerrilla army in Syria is fighting alongside other jihadists, Islamists and Free Syrian Army-branded rebels in an offensive intended to break the Assad regime’s siege of Aleppo. Most of the participating groups belong to two coalitions: Jaysh al Fath (“Army of Conquest”) and Fatah Halab (“Aleppo Conquest”). These same two alliances tried and failed to break the siege earlier this year.
Jund al Aqsa, an al Qaeda front group, is playing a major role in the rebel offensive in Hama province. The group released a video earlier today showing one of its drones dropping a small, unguided bomb on Syrian regime forces. Jund al Aqsa has endorsed Al Nusrah Front’s relaunch as Jabhat Fath al Sham (“Conquest of the Levant Front”), saying that al Qaeda’s senior leadership must have determined that it was in the best interests of the people and the jihad in Syria.
More than 20 jihadist, Islamist and other rebel organizations took part in the offensive to break the siege of Aleppo. It was likely one of the largest combined efforts in the history of the Syrian war.