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An Analysis of Jaish al-Thuwar (The Army of Revolutionaries) – A Component of the Syrian Democratic Forces

On May 3, 2015 a new Free Syrian Army coalition was established, the Army of Revolutionaries (Jaish al-Thuwar), aiming to fight both the Syrian regime and ISIS. The coalition claimed operations on front-lines in Idlib, Hama, Homs, Aleppo, Latakia and Raqqah provinces. It was an ambitious grouping, uniting Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens together and was notable for containing several brigades once affiliated with both the Syria Revolutionaries Front (SRF) and the Hazm (Steadfast) Movement as well as brigades aligned with the Kurdish YPG. The Army also contained Christians in its ranks. Containing seven original groups, several more brigades joined in the following weeks and the Army claimed a total of around 3,000 fighters making it a notable presence by Syrian rebel standards. The group claimed to reject sectarianism and any efforts to divide Syria. Due to the inclusion of Kurdish brigades many charged that the Army was affiliated with the PYD, but the Army had stressed it was a part of the rebel mainstream. The original seven components of the Army are as follows:

  • Homs Revolutionaries Grouping (Tajammu Thuwar Homs)
  • Northern Sun Battalions (Kata’ib Shams al-Shamal)
  • Special Operations Brigade (Liwa al-Maham al-Khassa)
  •  Regiment 777 (Fawj 777)
  • Kurdish Front (Jabhat al-Akrad)
  • 99th Infantry Brigade (Liwa 99 Masha’)
  • Sultan Selim Brigade (Liwa al-Sultan Selim)

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The Moderate Rebels: A Growing List of Vetted Groups Fielding BGM-71 TOW Anti-Tank Guided Missiles

This analysis was originally published on the NotGeorgeSabra Blog

 

The most notable form of direct American support to the Syrian opposition has been the supply of BGM-71 TOW tube launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided anti-tank missiles to rebel groups, vetted by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The missiles themselves come from Saudi Arabia’s stockpile, although by law the supply of American-made weapons to a third party must be approved by the U.S. Reports indicate that the TOWs are handed out to groups by the Northern and Southern MOC (Military Operations Command) based in Turkey and Jordan respectively. These command centers that are run by Western and Arab intelligence agencies. Groups apply for missiles for specific operations, and small batches are supplied by the MOC as needed. No more than a handful are given to a group at any time. In order to prove the rebel groups are not selling them or giving them away, each launch must be recorded and spent casings returned to the MOC. It is due to these requirements that there is such a wealth of knowledge regarding which groups have been supplied with and fielded these weapons.

While the TOWs themselves are not a super-weapon by any means, and are comparable to other ATGMs that are present in Syria they indicate a visible form of American involvement. Several hundreds of missiles have been supplied to opposition brigades, and the program is now a common and devastating fixture on the battlefield. However because each launch must be recorded, a false impression is created that the TOWs are more influential in the war than they actually are. The Syrian rebels have at their disposal a wide variety of anti-tank weaponry, almost entirely captured from Syrian government stockpiles, none of which are required to be recorded and uploaded onto the internet with each launch. These include guided missiles such as the Russian-made 9M113 Konkurs, 9K1152 Metis-M, 9M133 Kornet, Chinese-made HJ-8 (supplied by Qatar), French-German MILAN ATGM as well as non-guided anti-armour weaponry.

This covert and highly successful TOW program is run by the CIA and is separate from the American Department of Defense’s highly publicized and now-failed train-and-equip program that sought to counter only ISIS. Despite the safe measures put in place by the MOC, both the Al-Nusra Front and Islamic State have captured a small number of these weapons. Regardless the program seems to not only be continuing but constantly expanding. The following is a list of all rebel groups that have used TOW missiles. The groups approved by the CIA to take part in the TOW program overwhelmingly belong to the FSA and all have stated their commitment to letting the Syrian people decide their own future. The strengths of these groups range from several hundred to several thousand fighters.


List Overview: 

13th Division (Forqat 13)

101st Division Infantry (Forqat 101 Masha’a)

Northern Division (Forqat al-Shamali)

Mountain Hawks Brigade (Liwa’ Suqour al-Jabal)

Army of Victory (Jaish al-Nasr)

1st Coastal Division (Forqat al-Awwali al-Sahli)

2nd Coastal Division (Forqat al-Thani al-Sahli)

Army of Glory (Jaish al-Izza’)

Central Division (Al-Forqat al-Wasti)

Army of Liberation (Jaish al-Tahrir)

Sultan Murad Brigade (Liwa’ Sultan Murad)

16th Division Infantry (Liwa’ 16 Masha’a)

Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, (Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki)

Mujahideen Army/Army of Holy Warriors (Jaish al-Mujahideen)

Revolutionaries of al-Sham Brigades (Kata’eb Thuwar al-Sham)

Fastaqem Kama Umirta Union (Tajammu Fastaqem Kama Umirta)

Elite Islamic Battalions (Kata’eb Safwah al-Islamiyah)

The Sham Legion (Faylaq al-Sham)

1st Regiment (Al-Fauj al-Awwal)

Northern Thunder Brigade (Liwa’ Ra’ad al-Shamal)

Ahmed al-Abdo Martyrs’ Force (Quwwat al-Shaheed Ahmad al-Abdo)

2nd Infantry Division (Forqat al-Thani Masha’a)

1st Brigade (Liwa’ al-Awwal)

Al-Rahman Legion (Faylaq al-Rahman)

Martyrs of Islam Brigade (Liwa’ Shuhadah al-Islam)

Yarmouk Army (Jaish al-Yarmouk)

Lions of Sunnah Division (Forqat Usood al-Sunnah)

the 18th March Division (Forqat 18 Adhar)

Southern Tawhid Brigade (Liwa’ Tawhid al-Junoub)

Hamza Division (Forqat al-Hamza)

1st Artillery Regiment (Al-Fauj al-Awwal Madfa’a)

Syria Revolutionaries Front – Southern Sector (Jabhat Thuwar Souriya)

The First Corps (Faylaq al-Awwal)

Salah al-Din Division (Forqat Salah al-Din)

Omari Brigades (Tajammu Alwiyat al-Omari)

Unity Battalions of Horan Brigade (Liwa’ Tawhid Kata’eb Horan)

Youth of Sunnah Force (Quwwat Shabbab al-Sunnah)

Moataz Billah Brigade (Liwa’ Moataz Billah)

Sword of al-Sham Brigades (Alwiyat Saif al-Sham)

Dawn of Islam Division (Forqat Fajr al-Islam)

Supporters of Sunnah Brigade (Liwa’ Ansar al-Sunnah)

Emigrants and Supporters Brigade (Liwa’ Muhajireen wal Ansar)

Military Council in Quneitra and the Golan

Division of Decisiveness (Forqat al-Hasm)

46th Infantry Division (Forqat 46 Masha’a)

Partisans of Islam Front (Jabhat Ansar al-Islam)

Al-Furqan Brigades (Alwiyat al-Furqan)

Movement of Steadffastness (Harakat Hazm)

Syria Revolutionaries Front (Jabhat Thuwar Souriya)

United Sham Front (Jabhat al-Sham Muwahidda)


Groups in North-Western Syria (Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia, Hama Governorates):

13Div

13th Division (Forqat 13 – الفرقة 13): Formed in 2013, the 13th Division commands more than 1,800 fighters in the Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama governorates. The Division is divided into 10 companies and is headquartered in the town of Ma’arrat al-Numan in Idlib. It was among the first rebel brigades to begin receiving TOWs. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Al-Sa’oud, the 13th Division has fought in most major battles in the three governorates it operates in. It also participated in the 2015 Idlib and Ghab Plains offensives and has played a major role in the defense of the northern Hama salient against the October 2015 Russian-supported offensive. The Division has been credited with destroying dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles with TOW missiles. The group was listed as a part of the now-defunct Syrian Revolutionary Command Council, and was a member of the Fifth Corps before its dissolution. In Aleppo it operates under the Aleppo Conquest (Fatah Halab) Operations Room. The group also fields units in the Azaz-Mare’a pocket in the northern Aleppo countryside, where it is active in the fight against ISIS. The 13th Division receives funding from the MOC and it advocates the creation of a civil state. The Division has also had tensions with the Nusra Front in the past, and there have been instances when their commander Ahmad al-Sa’oud has been kidnapped by the Nusra Front (now known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham), only to be released after negotiations and mediation by other groups. Tensions boiled over into open fighting in early 2016 when the Nusra Front, assisted by Jund al-Aqsa fighters attacked 13th Division checkpoints and bases in Idlib. However they were unable to finish off the 13th Division due to the broad popular support the group enjoys in the town of Ma’rrat al-Numan, where civilians have created a protest movement against the excesses of the Nusra Front. While the 13th Division is no longer in open conflict with Al-Nusra (the two were involved in the August 2016 offensive to break the siege of eastern Aleppo), the protest movement continues. Social Media: YouTubeYouTube (old channel) (more…)

Muhajireen Battalion: Jamaat Ahadun Ahad Part II

By: Hasan Mustafa – This analysis has been published on the blog From Chechnya to Syria.

Flag of Jamaat Ahadun Ahad

Following further correspondence with a member of Jamaat Ahadun Ahad, important information regarding this new battalion has been revealed. According to Abu Fulan al-Muhajir, Jamaat Ahadun Ahad (Group of the One and Only) boasts around 250-300 fighters, with the leadership being mainly Chechen. Much of the group’s social media activities are conducted in English, Turkish, Arabic and Russian, with recruitment primarily targeting foreigners.

According to Khilafa.org, a Russian-language jihadist website, Jamaat Ahadun Ahad consists of four Chechen Muhajir groups and two Syrian Ansar groups (mostly Syrian Turkmens from Reef Latakia). The leader of the Jamaat was named as Amir Al-Bara Shishani. Little is known about Amir Al-Bara Shishani, and Abu Fulan al-Muhajir declined to give any further information stating, “We are actually not much into writing about individuals, that includes Al-Bara. We are only doing this for the sake of Allah. Not for the name of a group or Amir.”

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Muhajireen Battalion – Jamaat Ahadun Ahad

Hasan Mustafa

Following a trend among coalescing opposition brigades in Syria, a new Islamic muhajireen formation has been declared named Jamaat Ahadun Ahad (Group of The One and Only, in reference to the strict monotheism in Islam). Extremely little is known about the group, aside from whatever bits of information can be gleaned off of social media accounts. Jamaat Ahadun Ahad formed some time back, but has only been announced recently.

https://twitter.com/Fulan2weet/status/492970910404870144

The flag of Jamaat Ahadun Ahad

Figure 1: The flag of Jamaat Ahadun Ahad

What is know, is that Jamaat Ahadun Ahad is a smaller jihadist group consisting of several anonymous and independent muhajireen (foreign fighter) brigades. A number of Ansar (local Syrian) brigades have also joined the formation. Most of the constituent groups are unknown and not affiliated with either Jabhat al-Nusra or the Islamic State, or even the recently formed Jabhat Ansar al-Din. However they do share the ideological goal of these groups, which includes “making the word of Allah the highest” (instituting Islamic governance). (more…)

Examining the Causes of the Islamic State’s Resurgence in Iraq

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Originally written for Tahrir Souri – Hasan Mustafa

You can also download the report here.

Note:

ISF = Iraqi Security Forces

ISI = Islamic State of Iraq

ISIS = Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham

JAN = Jabhat al-Nusra

JRTN = Jaish Rijal al-Tariq Naqshbandi (Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Way)

JSOC = Joint Special Operations Command

VBIED = Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (colloquially known as car-bombs)

Examining the Causes of the Islamic State’s Resurgence in Iraq

In 2011 an article in the New York Times confidently asserted that the Islamic State of Iraq was “unlikely to regain its prior strength,” in reference to its peak in the Sunni insurgency of 2006 [1]. Analysts who subscribed to such thinking are being forced to eat their own words today as the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) has surpassed its prior strength and is among the most powerful militant groups in the world. Indeed, ISIS now controls vast swathes of territory and runs a pseudo-state in north-eastern Syria and western Iraq.

On June 9th 2014, fighters belong to the ISIS launched an attack on Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. By midday June 10th, the ISIS was in control of much of Mosul as resistance from Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) seemingly melted away. Tikrit was also reportedly seized on June 11th. In addition to these prizes, the ISIS has seized control of the entirety of the Nineveh Governorate, large parts of the Anbar Governorate including Ramadi and the infamous city of Fallujah, as well as parts of the Salaheddin and the Kirkuk Governorates. Under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, there is no doubt that the Islamic State has made a stunning comeback in Iraq. In its nadir in 2010, the organization had dwindled to only 200 “hardcore” fighters [2]. A far cry from the situation today where ISIS is able to control territory and exercise effective denial of area against the ISF. The Islamic State’s meteoric rise is not without explanation as many competing factors have contributed to this reinvigoration. Most prominent among these factors is Sunni marginalization by the Iraqi government, the extreme incompetence of the Iraqi Security Forces and a major change in ISIS operational tactics.

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