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Jihadists and other rebels attack Syrian regime positions in Latakia province

The jihadist-led Jaysh al Fateh ("Army of Conquest") coalition and its allies launched a new assault on Syrian regime positions in the coastal province of Latakia on June 27. The offensive, named the "Battle of Yarmouk," involves a mix of jihadists and fighters affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham, the two most important constituents in Jaysh al Fateh, are both participating in the fighting. Al Nusrah is al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. Ahrar al Sham models itself after the Taliban and has its own connections to al Qaeda.

Another al Qaeda-linked organization, the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), has released images from the battle on its social media sites. Other Jaysh al Fateh member groups, such as Ajnad al Sham and Faylaq al Sham, have as well.

The 1st Coastal Division, 2nd Coastal Division, Jaysh al Izzah, Jaysh al Tahrir and Jaysh al Nasr are among the FSA-affiliated groups fighting alongside the Jaysh al Fateh coalition.

Some of these organizations have been armed with American-made TOW missiles. A video posted on YouTube purportedly shows the 1st Coastal Division targeting Syrian regime forces with a TOW missile near the town of Kinsabba. In another video, a Jaysh al Izzah member fires a TOW at what appears to be tank.

Much of the fighting has centered on strategically important areas in Latakia such as Mount Turkmen and Mount Akrad, both of which have witnessed numerous battles since the beginning of Syrian war. Russian airstrikes have also repeatedly targeted fighters in the area.

The jihadists and other rebels claimed gains during the early fighting, reportedly seizing several villages. The current status of the fighting is unclear, however, as some accounts say the rebels fell back from their forward positions before regrouping for a another push.

Sources close to Bashar al Assad's regime were quick to portray the offensive as a failure. According to Al Masdar News, the insurgents retreated as Russian warplanes bombed the area. One of the airstrikes reportedly struck a vehicle owned by the TIP.

The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), which is the Assad regime's propaganda arm, claimed that the offensive was thwarted. Syrian army "units in cooperation with popular defense groups repelled an assault by terrorist groups on a number of military posts" in the northern countryside Latakia, SANA reported on June 28. SANA also claimed that an Al Nusrah Front "field commander" and a military official for Ajnad al Kavkaz ("Soldiers of the Caucasus") were killed in the clashes. (The latter claim may be mistaken, as jihadists on social media disputed it immediately.) Ajnad al Kavkaz, a predominately Chechen jihadist group, is based in Latakia.

The fighting in Latakia is further evidence that jihadist groups, such as al Qaeda's official arm, are commingled with other organizations in the anti-Assad insurgency.

The Jaysh al Fateh coalition has fought in several areas of Syria, but Al Nusrah and Ahrar are always the leading parties. Their local partners change from battle to battle and sometimes those groups do not advertise their participation in the alliance for one reason or another. For example, Faylaq al Sham (or Sham Legion) often does not include Jaysh al Fateh's logo on its propaganda even though its members are undoubtedly fighting alongside the coalition's members.

The Jaysh al Fateh-led offensive in Latakia is the second to be launched by the joint venture this month. Jaysh al Fateh seized several villages in the southern part of Aleppo province in first three weeks of June.

[Source: By Thomas Joscelyn, The Long War Journal, NJ, 28Jun16]

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