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Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham advance in northwestern Syria

The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, Ahrar al Sham, and elements of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army have advanced on regime positions in the northwestern province of Idlib.

The Al Nusrah Front, supported by jihadist groups Ahrar al Sham and Jund al Aqsa, and units from the Free Syrian Army, today claimed to have overrun Wadi Al Daif, a Syrian Army base located just east of the city of Maa'rat al Nu'man. In addition, Ahrar al Sham, Al Nusrah, and the Free Syrian Army also advanced on Al Hamadiya, which sits just south of the city; the groups claimed to have taken partial control of Al Hamadiya.

Control of the two bases is critical for the Syrian military as they straddle the M5 highway, the main road from Aleppo to Damascus. The military uses the highway to supply its forces in Aleppo, Idlib, and other areas in northern Syria. The Syrian military and rebels fought over the two bases from October 2012 until April 2013, when the military broke the siege of Wadi Al Daif and Al Hamadiya.

The recent round of fighting for control of the two bases intensified over the weekend. Yesterday, two regime checkpoints near the bases were reported to have fallen into the hands of the jihadists and the Free Syrian Army. And today, the Al Nusrah Front reported that its fighters completely overran the regime at Wadi al Daif, while Ahrar al Sham claimed its forces overran a large portion Al Hamadiya. In a video posted to YouTube, an Ahrar al Sham leader says that the group captured 10 tanks and killed dozens of regime soldiers during the fighting. The claims cannot be independently verified.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that at least 31 Syrian solders and 12 fighters from Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham, and "Islamic battalions" were killed at Wadi al Daif. The Observatory noted that fighting is still going on for the headquarters of the Al Hamadiya Camp.

The Al Nusrah Front claimed it committed significant resources during the fighting at Wadi al Daif. Yesterday, the jihadist group stated on its official Twitter page for Idlib operations that its fighters stormed Wadi Al Daif with 12 tanks. Other tweets detail the use of 23-millimeter cannons as well as mortars. In several photographs, Nusrah shows a number of its fighters moving to the front lines of the battle. The group also claimed that it destroyed several Syrian Army BMP infantry fighting vehicles during the battle.

Ahrar al Sham, a unit in the Islamic Front that is closely allied with al Qaeda's branch in Syria, coordinated with Al Nusrah by attacking the nearby Al Hamadiya camp. Tweets on the Islamic Front's official Twitter page feature photos and several YouTube videos showing Ahrar al Sham fighting in Al Hamadiya. Another video shows a T-55 tank operated by the jihadist group firing on regime positions near the camp. A video uploaded today showcases many weapons, including howitzers and tanks, that Ahrar al Sham captured during the fighting.

Units from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army also fought alongside the jihadist groups in Idlib. A Free Syrian Army group known as Division 13 aided Al Nusrah in Wadi Al Daif. In a video uploaded to YouTube, fighters from Division 13 fire a BGM-71 TOW antitank missile at a regime BMP. Another Free Syrian Army group, the Supporters of Truth Brigade, uploaded a video to YouTube that shows its fighters assisting Ahrar al Sham near the Hamadiya camp. A group from the Authenticity and Development Front, a coalition of rebel groups outside of the Free Syrian Army, also helped Al Nusrah at Wadi al Daif.

Free Syrian Army units have fought alongside the Al Nusrah Front and allied jihadist groups since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, and continue to do so to this day. Over the past several months, Free Syrian Army units have aided Al Nusrah and other groups on several fronts. On Oct. 7, the US-funded Hazm Movement assisted the Chechen-led Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar against the regime in Aleppo. On Oct. 5, several Free Syrian Army units utilized their TOW anti-tank missiles to help Al Nusrah and Ahrar in southern Syria. And in August, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front helped Al Nusrah and Ahrar in taking the Quneitra border crossing with the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

[Source: By Bill Roggio & Caleb Weiss, The Long War Journal, NJ, 15Dec14]

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small logoThis document has been published on 24Dec14 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.