NEW - #Ahrar al-Sham & Nour al-Din al-Zinki have merged, creating Jabhat Tahrir Souriya, branded with “green” revolutionary flag.

- Ahrar leader Hassan Soufan = leader
- #Zinki leader Tawfiq Shahbuddin = deputy

“JTS” calls on other groups to join for greater unity.
#pt: What does “JTS’s” formation mean?

- Unlikely to be a full merger, but closer Ahrar-Zinki coordinating ties have been clear for months.

- Northern #Syria’s two biggest non-#HTS factions are compiling (with Syrian Islamic Council backing) pressure on #Jolani & HTS.
I’m told that x4 sub-factions of #HTS have agreed to join the newly formed Jabhat Tahrir Souriya (#JTS) and at least x5 others are negotiating possible terms.

#Syria #Idlib
NEW - As expected, #HTS has attacked the newly-former #JTS (Ahrar al-Sham + Zinki), at least for now in Urum al-Kubra in Western #Aleppo.
After reports of #HTS attacks on #JTS, newly-formed JTS confirms simultaneous HTS arrest of JFS personnel at checkpoints across western #Aleppo & #Idlib, stating:

- "We will not stand silent amid any attack on [our forces]."

#pt: Intra-opposition dynamics in #Idlib/W. #Aleppo becoming increasingly complex & multi-layered… Same can be said for #Turkey-opposition & #Turkey-#HTS dynamics.

There’s been some atrocious analysis on NW #Syria lately - disregard anything that treats this all as black/white.
Interesting news from #Idlib:

- #HTS withdrew from important town of Marat al-Numan, after pressure from newly-former Jabhat Tahrir Souriya/#JTS (Ahrar al-Sham + Zinki).

See circle added on map (design by @FabriceBalanche)
#pt: This latest #HTS conflict w. rivals in NW #Syria comes amid x3 dynamics:

1. #Zinki expansion via mergers in W. #Aleppo

2. Ahrar al-Sham’s re-emergence at heart of new Turkish-backed, non-HTS operation room in #Idlib.

3. #Turkey’s expanding military presence in W. Idlib.
#pt: Amid repeated #HTS calls for anti-#Assad unity in NW #Syria, opposition groups have united their military efforts, but openly excluded HTS.

Plus, #Turkey’s expanding role in W. #Idlib is stirring up internal HTS tensions - making inter-factional attacks more attractive.
I asked a prominent #Ahrar figure what lay behind the formation of #JTS - he said:

- “This is what was needed in order to confront #Nusra - which has attacked the revolution repeatedly and left us few options - and of course the regime.
In addition to forcing #HTS out of Marat al-Numan in central #Idlib, #JTS has also taken control of Wadi al-Deif & #Ariha.

Meanwhile, JTS has also forced HTS retreats from the following areas in N. #Hama:

- Hawash al-Tawila
- Baarbo
- Hawash al-Qasabiya
NEW - Full confirmation now that #JTS (Ahrar al-Sham + Zinki) have captured Marat al-Numan in its entirety from #HTS.

Big developments in #Idlib & Western #Aleppo today - in sync with #Turkey’s broader strategy:

NEW: Reports from #Idlib claim #JTS has forced a total #HTS retreat from the Jebel al-Zawiyeh region.

The following areas are now free of #HTS:

- Marat al-Numan
- Khan al-Subl
- Kafrumah
- Khan al-Asal
- Kafranabl
- Ariha
- Ma’ar Dibseh

Fighting is ongoing in Darat Izza.
#pt: Following recent #JTS-led advances in the past 36hrs, #HTS’s main strongholds in #Idlib are now in:

- Khan Shaykhun
- Sarmada
- Jisr al-Shughour
- Rural Jarjanaz
#Idlib update:

Since the past 72hrs, #JTS now controls (i.e. #HTS has lost):

- Marat al-Numan
- Khan al-Subl
- Babila
- Kafrumah
- Khan al-Asal
- Sarjeh
- Kafranabl
- Ariha
- Tarmaleh
- Haas
- Ma’ar Dibseh
- Wadi al-Deif
Pressure rising on #HTS in NW #Syria:

- New Jaish al-Ahrar statement warns against any #TIP backing for HTS vs. #JTS (#Ahrar & #Zinki) & demands that #Jolani submit to a sharia court.

(Comes amid renewed infighting & sustained HTS territorial losses)
Fighting between #JTS & #HTS continues in #Idlib & western #Aleppo.

#TIP insists it’s neutral, but has threatened to defend #HTS if/when necessary.

#HTS has been using armed drones to drop munitions on #HTS positions. One was downed near Kafranaya, #Aleppo.
#JTS (Ahrar al-Sham + Zinki) is still advancing vs. #HTS in NW #Syria.

The [#Turkey-backed] objective here, I assume, is to limit HTS dominance to western #Idlib and to cut HTS's supply channels to the east, where TSK observation posts are being established.
#pt: Naturally therefore, #JTS has just arrived outside #HTS-held #Jarjanaz, east of Marat al-Numan - the capture of which would severely weaken HTS’s positions around Al-Eis (major TSK post).

=> Appears to be the #Russia-#Turkey de-escalation plan coming more clearly into view.
All those who claimed:

(1) #HTS is still organizationally loyal to Al-Qaeda
(2) HTS controls 100% of #Idlib
(3) All groups in northern #Syria are subservient to HTS

... are being unusually quiet about recent developments.

I wonder why?
My latest work - the CTC Sentinel cover story - a deep dive into 2yrs of internal #AQ/#Nusra/#JFS/#HTS dynamics.

Check it out!

- How al-Qaeda Lost Control of its #Syria Affiliate: The Inside Story

ctc.usma.edu/al-qaida-lost-…
The #JTS advance against #HTS in NW #Syria continues…

- JTS is now in control of Kafrayamoule & Marat Misrin, #Idlib.

- As HTS defensive lines weaken, local #FSA units are now joining JTS operations in western #Aleppo.
#pt: #JTS has also released “Wanted” posters for x4 leading #HTS figures - accused of terrorism, criminality & conspiracy to kill #Syria civilians:

- Abu Mariya al-Qahtani
- Abu al-Fateh al-Farghaly
- Abu Mohammed al-Jolani
- Abu al-Yaqhzan al-Masri
#pt: Meanwhile, at least 4 more #HTS sub-factions have defected & joined #JTS in the last 24hrs,

- 12+ have defected since JTS’s creation.
- 6+ defected earlier in 2018.

#Idlib #Syria
#HTS losses in 5 days:

- Marat al-Numan
- Khan al-Subl
- Al-Qasabiya
- Babila
- Kafrumah
- Khan al-Asal
- Sarjeh
- Kafranabl
- Ariha
- Maghara
- Tarmaleh
- Haas
- Ma’ar Dibseh
- Wadi al-Deif
- Kafranaha
- Marat Misrin
- Deir Sunbul
- Hawash al-Abidin
- Hawash al-Tuwala
- Hazarin
#HTS continues to lose ground as the #Turkey-backed #JTS (& others now) advance in western #Aleppo & #Idlib. New losses:

- Darat Izza
- Kafrantin
- Kafranaseh
- Batabo
- al-Qah
- Marshurin
- Sheikh Barakat

+ fighting ongoing in Hazano & highway btw Marat al-Numan & #Saraqeb.
NW #Syria dynamics are being transformed at a rapid pace. In 7 days, #HTS has lost the following territory - almost cutting off multiple critical supply lines:

#Syria #Idlib #Aleppo
#pt: #Turkey military & financial support continues to flow to all x11 members of the “Repelling the Invaders” ops room in #Idlib (esp. Ahrar al-Sham) & #FSA “Olive Branch” factions are now laying out their intentions to [eventually] join anti-#HTS moves:

The #Turkey-supported #Syria Islamic Council (SIC) has issued a new statement, labelling #HTS as “mercenaries” and “aggressors” & calling for a general “uprising” against them across NW #Syria:
Early reports of possible #HTS evacuations from the #Atmeh area, bordering with #Turkey.

Pics here show celebrations in Darat Izza, after HTS’s expulsion.

#Idlib #Aleppo #Syria
Very significant development:

- #HTS has been “expelled” from the #Idlib border town of #Atmeh by #JTS (Ahrar al-Sham/Zinki).

The green “revolutionary” flag is back up.

Amid further #JTS territorial gains, activists report that #HTS leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani has fled his personal home outside Harem in rural #Idlib, destined for the mountains in #Latakia.
UPDATE on #HTS losses across #Idlib & western #Aleppo.

#JTS continuing its advances, now backed by several #FSA groups, plus Suqor al-Sham.
NEW - #Turkey’s “Olive Branch” operation in #Afrin has connected with territory newly captured by #JTS from #HTS (see map on left).

This was coordinated.

Meanwhile #HTS has lost yet more territory in NW #Syria - new updated list on right.
In 7 days, former AQ affiliate #HTS has lost 36+ strategically valuable towns across #Idlib & NW #Aleppo, as mainstream opposition & #Turkey begin to transform dynamics in NW #Syria.

My latest Monday Briefing comments for @MiddleEastInst:

mei.edu/content/flash/…
UPDATE on yet more #HTS losses to a continued #JTS (Ahrar+Zinki) advance in NW #Syria.

(New areas lost are below & total losses from 8 days in image):

- 46th Regiment
- Taftanaz
- Kafrlusin
- Kafrajum
- Urum al-Kubra
- Tel As
- Hish
- Khan al-Asal
- Kafrakarmin
- Urum Sughra
Excellent map by @Nawaroliver shows extent of #HTS losses since Feb 20.

My theory?

- #HTS is retreating west to consolidate around #Salqin, #Jisr al-Shughour & #Latakia.

- The #JTS offensive will be framed as a foreign plot (partly true), to convince TIP & co. to join #HTS.
#pt: A large contingent of #HTS militants arrived in #Idlib city early this morning - after earlier withdrawals from areas east - amid recent anti-HTS protests in the city.

#JTS vs. #HTS fighting is also underway in Khan Sheikhoun.

#Syria #Idlib
NEW - #HTS has negotiated full withdrawals from two major #Idlib towns: #Saraqeb & Khan Sheikhoun.

HTS also left Babulin, Kafrsajna, Rakaya & lost control of Anadan & Hreitan after its forces there defected.
Make no mistake: this is *not* a total military collapse of #HTS, but it *is* evidence that the former AQ affiliate is not as all-powerful as some suggested.

HTS is clearly pivoting its core loyalists west to consolidate its most defendable areas from internal & external attack.
#pt: An #HTS move west towards Jisr al-Shughour & #Latakia makes strategic sense.

So too does HTS’s collapse elsewhere in NW #Syria - where its credibility was rock-bottom & #Turkey has methodically sought to catalyze different dynamics by challenging/undermining HTS internally.
#pt: #HTS is ridden by internal divisions & contradictions due to:

1. AQ-HTS breakup
2. Nusra & JFS unity failures
3. HTS erosion through multiple defections
4. #Turkish military deployments
5. #Turkey’s renewed support to non-HTS groups
6. Prospect of worse-case #Idlib scenario
#pt: #HTS has shrunk somewhat in size due to these internal divisions & contradictions, but it’ll eventually re-emerge as a more united, more determined & aggressive force.

The key here is whether geopolitics manages to consolidate an irreversible new de facto NW #Syria reality.
#pt: This isn’t about (1) the nature of jihadists or (2) some all-knowing jihadi conspiracy - it’s about a very complex set of visible & invisible inter-linked internal & external developments, drivers, contradictions & constraints that have emerged in recent months in NW #Syria.
#pt: It’s also no coincidence that as #HTS weakens, its main jihadi rival -- al-Qaeda -- is finally re-establishing its official presence in NW #Syria:

- "Tanzim Huras al-Deen" (aka The Organization of Religious Guardians), led by senior Nusra/JFS defector Abu Humam al-Shami.
As was to be expected, #HTS is now putting up a strong fight (using tanks & artillery) vs. #JTS, as fighting frontlines approach Bab al-Hawa & other key border areas close to #Turkey.

= Heavy fighting today around #Harem, Al-Dana & #Aqrabat.

#Syria #Idlib
Very interesting:

- Several senior #HTS leaders, including Abu Yaqzhan al-Masri (very hostile to Ahrar al-Sham) attempted to escape NW #Idlib to #Turkey.

They were stopped & are now in hiding in #Harem (Jolani’s former hometown).
#JTS issued a statement overnight promising to confront #HTS until they are defeated or submit themselves to judicial proceedings.

JTS also warns other armed groups against asserting their neutrality, which will be deemed support to #HTS.
#pt: Consistent with #HTS’s strategic retreats westwards - towards Jisr al-Shughour, #Salqin, #Darkoush, Al-Dana, Harem etc. - the group withdrew from #Morek in northern #Hama overnight, leaving #JTS & others with oversight on the M5 highway running into #Assad regime areas.
Reports: #HTS militants just assassinated a senior Jaish al-Ahrar sharia leader, Abu Turab al-Masri, in #Idlib.

He was reportedly traveling with his family at the time. #Syria
1. After withdrawing from 50+ towns across NW #Syria (#Idlib, W. #Aleppo & N. #Hama) in recent days, where does former Al-Qaeda affiliate #HTS stand going forward?

I’ve been speaking to a number of directly-involved sources & some interesting points emerged:
2. #HTS sustained large losses fighting regime forces in N. #Hama & SE #Idlib in recent months = it’s capabilities in these areas (a) were heavily degraded; (b) increasingly outnumbered by a new #Turkey-backed operations room; and (c) undermined by #Turkey’s new military posts.
3. #HTS leader #Jolani has faced heavy internal censure for allowing #Turkey’s military to enter #Idlib & this internal unity has been further challenged by the very public breakup with Al-Qaeda, along with questions over Jolani’s dedication to a pure, jihadi project.
4. #Ankara's greatest fear for #Idlib is a sustained, brutal regime conquest, which’d force huge numbers of IDPs to #Turkey’s borders. Therefore, Turkey has sought to reshape NW #Syria’s dynamics in such a way as to remove a “counter-terror” motive for carpet bombing Idlib.
5. As I wrote back in Oct 2017, #Turkey has sought to reshape #HTS into a more manageable #Taliban-like entity, by simultaneously engaging (meetings, military arrangements etc.) with some “open” wings & subverting (financing assassinations, backing rivals) the troublesome ones.
6. By merely engaging with the “open” wings, #Turkey opened a hornets nest within #HTS, revolving around the issue of working with foreign (apostate or not?) governments.

To settle some nerves, #Jolani cracked down on pro-AQ defectors, but that exacerbated internal tensions.
7. When #Syria’s airforce & #Iran-backed troops began a ground offensive in SE #Idlib earlier this year, it sapped #HTS’s strength & forced #Turkey to turn the taps back onto non-HTS groups… => eventually shifting the HTS-opposition power balance in that region (also N. #Hama).
8. When #Turkey launched the #Afrin operation, plans were drawn up intending to linkup territory w. areas under #HTS & Nour al-Din al-Zinki influence.

=> Zinki placed itself back under #Ankara’s tutelage; benefitted from renewed support & upped the pressure on #HTS in W #Aleppo.
9. Eventually w. #Turkey’s encouragement, Ahrar al-Sham & Zinki agreed to unite their military efforts (not a merger, per se) under Jabhat Tahrir al-Souriya (#JTS) - both factions had something to gain from confronting #HTS.

They also knew HTS was unlikely to fight back in full.
10. Faced by multiple linked & independent external & internal challenges, #HTS saw no interest in fighting back against #JTS, who began by seeking control of areas (a) where HTS had recently been weakened or (b) which had become of less *long-term* value to its jihadi project.
11. Multiple well-placed sources tell me #HTS *is* losing territory due to weakness, but that HTS itself is still a very potent force. It has chosen to fall-back and consolidate itself in #Idlib’s west, along #Turkey’s border areas, and in #Latakia.

This is HTS’s "new phase."
12. Potentially spurred on by #HTS’s territorial retreat, Al-Qaeda loyalists have gathered to form a new group: "Tanzim Huras al-Deen" (aka The Organization of Religious Guardians) - led by AQ veterans like Abu Humam, Abu Julaybib, Sami al-Oraydi, Abu Khadija, Abu al-Qassam etc.
13. Al-Qaeda is attempting to mount a comeback in NW #Syria, focused on covert, guerrilla operations. They are now working intensively to recruit from #HTS’s retreating factions.

I’m told several hundred have already joined the new AQ group, Huras al-Deen. (Let’s see).
14. So what does #HTS do now?

- 1st, they seek to defend strategically core areas (Jisr al-Shughour, Harem, Bab al-Hawa, Aqrabat, Salqin etc) & assert new red lines.

- 2nd, they embolden a narrative of “foreign conspiracy” & project #JTS as corrupt actors hostile to the jihad.
15. Eventually, #JTS will fizzle when faced by #HTS’s more determined defenses = expect talk of “sharia courts” and a gradual calming.

Here’s where it gets interesting/weird:

I’m told #Jolani intends to pitch an “anti-AQ” proposal to #Turkey, in exchange for legitimacy.
16. #Jolani is desperate to achieve legitimacy in the eyes of potentially friendly governments, especially #Ankara. He knows that killing AQ loyalists (Tanzim Huras al-Deen) is a potential source of leverage.

It carries huge risks re. #HTS's internal unity, but "he’s desperate."
17. All of this is entirely theoretical & depends heavily on #JTS’s decisions, #Turkey’s shifting calculus, #Assad’s immediate intentions in #Idlib, the fate of the #Afrin op & more.

Points are:

- #HTS is not going away; it’s changing tack.
- AQ is back.
- Don’t discount #JTS.

• • •

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More from @Charles_Lister

Sep 21, 2018
My goodness: here's a prime example of policy advocacy on #Syria based either on ignorance, or [hopefully not] malign intent.

This is *riddled* with inaccuracy & misinformation.

@steelejourno says the West should force an opposition surrender in #Syria:

theguardian.com/commentisfree/…
@steelejourno #pt: @steelejourno says the US, UK & #France are “less honorable” in seeking to delay #Syria & #Russia’s “success” in regaining territory.

- They seek to enable a meaningful political process, in which there’s an opposition entity to sit at the table. I’d say that is honorable.
@steelejourno #pt: Here, @steelejourno says UK, US, France & "Gulf Arab monarchies” want ceasefires to protect rebels, not civilians.

In #Idlib, nothing could be further from the truth. None of those countries have *any* ties to rebel groups in #Idlib, who only equal ~0.5% of the population.
Read 10 tweets
Sep 20, 2018
Absolutely extraordinary.

#Syria’s air defense systems have no way to determine “friend” from “foe.” #Russia doesn’t export that tech.

Within a complex & unpredictable environment, that raises the risk to civilian aircraft
significantly.
#Israel says #Syria’s air defense fired “dozens” of anti-aircraft missiles from several batteries across the country over the space of 40-mins… *after* #IAF planes had returned to #Israel.

One took down #Russia’s IL-20.

timesofisrael.com/syria-fired-mi…
To me, this looks like messaging more than a truly dramatic change in reality/dynamics:

- S-300s already deployed in #Syria.

- #Israel (& US) uses encrypted radar/GPS; less vulnerable to counter-measures

- #Russia has been “jamming” for 2+ yrs.

- #Israel fires most from Med.
Read 5 tweets
Sep 17, 2018
BREAKING - Likely #Israel airstrikes just hit a scientific research center - reportedly linked to the SSRC - in #Latakia.

#Assad regime air defenses were allegedly activated in multiple provinces: #Latakia, #Tartus, #Homs & #Hama.
Mabrouk #Assad - your invincible air defenses shot down an aircraft!

... a #Russia IL-20 reconnaissance plane was shot down over #Syria tonight - amid #Israel airstrikes in #Latakia.

#OwnGoal

Tonight’s developments vis-a-vis #Israel & Russia are a pretty big deal.

It would seem #Israel may have acted without giving #Moscow prior warning = big challenge to their prior arrangement.

Or, #Russia did know, but got attacked by their errant ally in #Damascus = humiliating.
Read 7 tweets
Aug 22, 2018
Fascinating work by @HaidHaid22 - looking at initiatives (or a lack, thereof) by the #SDF & the #FSA to reconcile/rehabilitate/reintegrate #ISIS detainees in northern #Syria.

Really important backgrounder:

icsr.info/2018/08/20/rei…
@HaidHaid22 #pt: According to @HaidHaid22’s work for @ICSR_Centre, one’s decision to join #ISIS in #Syria was driven primarily by x4 factors:

1. Financial benefits
2. Protection
3. Military capacity
4. Ideology

Less than 20% of recruits joined for ideological reasons.
@HaidHaid22 @ICSR_Centre #pt: @HaidHaid22 raises a number of important questions for @CJTFOIR & its #SDF partner:

- Surging strains on the #SDF's makeshift prison network holding 1,000s of #ISIS prisoners, raises risks of eventual #ISIS attacks, aimed at replicating #Iraq’s 2012-3 “Breaking the Walls.”
Read 4 tweets
Aug 20, 2018
Here, a @UKLabour MP praises a notorious conspiracist who says meeting Bashar al-#Assad was her "proudest" moment.

She's justified incendiary weapons & barrel bombs on civilian targets; suggested 9/11 was a false flag; Zionists rule #France & the #CharlieHebdo attack was fake.
@UKLabour Extraordinary.

@UU_University invited notorious conspiracist Vanessa Beeley to lecture on “War Reporting.”

Her claims were so outlandish, the students walked out & boycotted the course, calling it “a propaganda camp.”

news.postimees.ee/4511277/top-un…

(PS - Look at the pictured slide)
@UKLabour @UU_University #pt: Among Beeley’s claims at @UU_University:

- @hrw is run by a secret “Jewish organization called the #Washington elite.”

- #Russia only promotes international peace

- #Syria’s opposition "tear pregnant women in half, betw'n cats”

- All media (e.g. @guardian) are govt tools
Read 4 tweets
Aug 17, 2018
Images of White Helmets weeding and cleaning the exterior of a Church in #Idlib appear to have terrified the pro-#Assad community.

Nothing short of hysteria coming from the regime loyalist crowd over the last 12hrs. #Syria
This “veteran correspondent” is losing it.

#Syria #Idlib
St. Joseph’s Church in the village al-Quneya - the one cleaned by White Helmets - in west #Idlib suffered substantial damage when it was bombed by #Assad regime forces in April 2013.

So much for being the protector of Christians & #Syria’s minorities.

Read 5 tweets

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