Posts Tagged ‘al-Nusra Front’

A Strategy for the Post-ISIS Middle East

November 8, 2017

The stakes are highest, and the current dilemmas most acute, in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan.

With Islamic State nearly vanquished in Syria and Iraq, it’s time for a serious debate about the broader U.S. security strategy in the Middle East. Leaving aside the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and its unpromising near-term prospects, this debate must address the array of issues affecting American interests in the region: violent conflict, alliances, political and economic reform, and the central challenge of dealing with Iran.


The U.S. currently leads a military coalition in support of the Iraqi government and moderate insurgent forces finishing off ISIS in Iraq and Syria. American naval and air power ensures the free flow of oil through Persian Gulf waterways. Working with the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, the U.S. bolsters regional defenses against ISIS, al Qaeda and Iran. And it wisely tries to de-escalate disputes among its coalition partners, such as the ugly row pitting Qatar against Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni-majority states.

But the U.S. and its allies struggle on other fronts. Most glaring is a lack of a promising strategy to end the region’s civil wars and strengthen the states suffering internal conflict. Also missing is any serious plan to advance economic and political reform in the region, which is essential for long-term stability. The stakes are probably highest, and the current dilemmas most acute, in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. Here is what Washington, working with allies and regional partners, should attempt in each:

• Pledge a longer-term U.S. military presence and aid package for Iraq, ideally supported by the Gulf states and NATO allies. Iraq has suffered generations of war and misrule, and years of low oil prices. With ISIS-held cities mostly liberated, a successful rebuilding effort engaging Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds and preventing a return to civil war or the arrival of ISIS 2.0 is urgent. The stakes, and America’s previous investment, warrant aid levels comparable to those showered on Afghanistan and Egypt. In the coming months Iraq will need significant help monitoring and restraining Iran-backed Shiite militias as they are disbanded and partially incorporated into Iraqi Security Forces.

• Similarly, limiting but not excluding Iran’s influence in Iraqi Kurdistan would help bridge the internal political schisms that created opportunities for Tehran in the first place. With President Masoud Barzani out of office, there is a fresh opportunity to make this diplomatic démarche in a way that restores cooperation between the Kurds and the rest of Iraq. A wise policy should insist on an end to land grabs by both sides.

• On Syria, the key word is regionalism. President Bashar Assad isn’t going anywhere soon, yet the U.S. cannot work with such a monster. He has permanently discredited himself in the eyes of much of the world. The U.S., its allies and global aid agencies should work around his government to secure and rebuild the regions free of Assad’s rule and ISIS’ interference. Some areas should be treated as temporary autonomous zones. The West needs more leverage in and around Idlib, where the al Qaeda affiliate formerly known as the al-Nusra Front remains active and our allies are vulnerable.

• The Yemeni civil war has spawned yet another humanitarian catastrophe in the Middle East. Since its 2015 invasion, a Saudi-led coalition has been stuck in a quagmire. More than half the country’s population has been displaced. Malnutrition is severe and widespread. The country is experiencing the world’s worst cholera epidemic in 50 years. The crisis presents a strategic opportunity for Iran as well as al Qaeda and perhaps ISIS. Washington and Riyadh must try to advance a durable peace process with support from diplomatic partners in Europe and elsewhere. The watchword here is compromise—no outright military victory appears to be within anyone’s reach. A national unity government could stop the killing and enable the kind of humanitarian and reconstruction effort necessary to avoid future violence.

• Elsewhere in the region, America should encourage political and economic reform. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is not the ideal American ally but he is preferable to chaos or extremism in that country. He has preserved the Israeli security partnership. But long-term progress will require respect for the law and political pluralism. American aid should be cut in half until Mr. Sisi establishes meaningful institutional protections for basic human rights. With strong Saudi and Emirati support, the Sisi government will survive such a cut, but American pressure can help restrain Egypt’s decline into authoritarianism.

• Jordan, which has absorbed 1.4 million Syrian refugees into a population of eight million, should become the anchor of a new, multilateral Marshall Plan. That term is often tossed around casually, but Jordan’s government is trustworthy enough to help steward a major inflow of resources. Winding down the Syrian civil war would ideally create an opening—and provide an imperative—for historic investment in the development of the Middle East and its people. Along with allies in Europe and the Gulf, Washington should spearhead a reconstruction program providing jobs to the region’s youth and reducing the appeal of radical Islamic fundamentalism.

The sum total of a serious U.S. strategy for the Middle East will require a greater financial investment by the American people—perhaps as much as a few billion dollars annually—and modest increases in Central Intelligence Agency and military involvement, in Syria in particular. It will not, however, bust the bank or drag American forces into another protracted war.

Ms. Maloney is deputy director and Mr. O’Hanlon is research director in the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution.


Saudi Commander of Tahrir Al-Sham Assassinated in Idlib

September 14, 2017



Saudi Commander of Tahrir Al-Sham Assassinated in Idlib

TEHRAN (FNA)- A Saudi commander of Tahrir al-Sham Hay’at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) was assassinated in the Eastern parts of Idlib province.

News websites affiliated to the terrorists reported that Abu Mohammad al-Share’i was killed by unknown assailants in Saraqib city in Eastern Idlib.

Image result for Abu Mohammad al-Share'i, photos

They added that he was formerly a commander of Jund al-Aqsa terrorist group.

Relevant reports said on Tuesday that Abdullah Muhammad al-Muhaysini, the commander and Mufti (religious leader) of Tahrir al-Sham Hay’at has left the terrorist group only hours after leaked audio files indicated widening of rifts among the commanders of the Al-Nusra Front (Tahrir al-Sham Hay’at or the Levant Liberation Board), reports said.

Al-Muhaysini together with another mufti of Tahrir al-Sham named Mosleh al-Aliyani in a statement released on social networks on Monday declared their separation from the terrorist alliance, the Arabic-language media reported.

Al-Muhaysini and al-Aliyani mentioned the reason behind their separation as to be recent clashes between Tahrir al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham in Idlib province and also leakage of the audio files and disrespecting the religious leaders (muftis).

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Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (Arabicهيئة تحرير الشام‎‎, transliterationHayʼat Taḥrīr al-Shām,[21] “Organization for the Liberation of the Levant” or “Levant Liberation Committee“),[19][20] commonly referred to as Tahrir al-Sham and abbreviated HTS, is an active Salafist jihadist militant group involved in the Syrian Civil War. The group was formed on 28 January 2017 as a merger between Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front), the Ansar al-Din FrontJaysh al-SunnaLiwa al-Haqq, and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement.[2] After the announcement, additional groups and individuals joined. The merger is currently led by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and former Ahrar al-Sham leaders, although the High Command consists of leaders from other groups.[22][23] Many groups and individuals defected from Ahrar al-Sham, representing their more conservative and Salafist elements. Currently, a number of analysts and media outlets still continue to refer to this group by its previous names, al-Nusra Front, or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.[24][25]

Despite the merger, Tahrir al-Sham has been accused to be working as al-Qaeda‘s Syrian branch on a covert level.[26][27] However, Tahrir al-Sham has officially denied being part of al-Qaeda and said in a statement that the group is “fully independent and doesn’t represent any foreign body or organization”.[28] Furthermore, some factions such as Nour al-Din al-Zenki, which was part of the merger, were once supported by the US.[29] Some analysts reported that the goal of forming Tahrir al-Sham was to unite all groups with al-Qaeda’s extreme ideology under one banner, and to obtain as many weapons as possible. They also reported that many of the former Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters still answered to al-Qaeda, and held an increasing amount of sway over the new group.[11] It has also been claimed that despite the recent formation of Tahrir al-Sham, the new group secretly maintains a fundamental link to al-Qaeda, and that many of the group’s senior figures, particularly Abu Jaber, held similarly extreme views.[26][better source needed] Russia claims that Tahrir al-Sham shares al-Nusra Front’s goal of turning Syria into an Islamic emirate run by al-Qaeda.

Lebanese army launches offensive against an Islamic State enclave on the northeast border with Syria

August 19, 2017


© STRINGER / AFP | A picture taken on August 17, 2017, during a tour guided by the Lebanese army, shows soldiers holding a position in a mountainous area near the eastern town of Ras Baalbek during an operation against jihadist fighters


Latest update : 2017-08-19

The Lebanese army launched an offensive against an Islamic State enclave on the northeast border with Syria, a Lebanese security source said on Saturday, as Hezbollah and the Syrian army announced an assault from the Syrian side of the border.

The Lebanese army was targeting Islamic State positions near the town of Ras Baalbek with rockets, artillery and helicopters,the source said. The area is the last part of the Lebanese-Syrian frontier under insurgent control. “We started advancing at 5 a.m. (0200 GMT),” the Lebanese source said.

The operation by the Syrian army and Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Lebanese group, was targeting Islamic State militants in the western Qalamoun region of Syria, the
Hezbollah-run al-Manar television station reported, an area across the frontier from Ras Baalbek.

Last month, Hezbollah forced Nusra Front militants and Syrian rebels to leave nearby border strongholds in a jointoperation with the Syrian army.

The Lebanese army, a major recipient of U.S. military aid, did not take part in the July operation, but it has been gearingup to assault the Islamic State pocket in the same mountainous region. A military source said around 500 IS fighters were holed up in the enclave.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun was following the army operation, called “Jroud Dawn”. “Jroud” refers to the barren,mountainous border area between Lebanon and Syria.

Lebanese security sources have previously said the army intends to fight Islamic State in Lebanese territory on its own,in response to suggestions Hezbollah or the Syrian army may help it.



Lebanon army says to begin offensive against IS on Syria border

August 19, 2017


© Hezbollah media office/AFP/File | Smoke billows in Lebanon’s Jurud Arsal, a mountainous region bordering with Syria

BEIRUT (AFP) – The Lebanese army announced Saturday the start of an offensive against the Islamic State (IS) group close to the Syrian border in the east of the country, where jihadists have been operating for several years.

“In the name of Lebanon, in the name of kidnapped Lebanese soldiers, in the name of martyrs of the army, I announce that operation ‘Dawn of Jurud’ has started,” army chief General Joseph Aoun said, referring to the mountainous Jurud Arsal border region.

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General Joseph Aoun

Hezbollah, which provides military support to Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, launched last month an offensive to eliminate Syrian rebels as well as all jihadists formerly linked to Al-Qaeda from the region.

After six days of fighting, a ceasefire deal between Hezbollah and fighters from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, previously known as the Al-Nusra Front, was announced.

Nearly 8,000 refugees and jihadists from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian branch were bused back to Syria following the deal and on Monday the last Syrian rebels were evacuated from the region.

The army is now launching an offensive against the IS fighters still operating in the area.

Jurud Arsal had been used for years as a hideout by Syrian anti-regime militants but was also home to an unknown number of refugees seeking shelter from Syria’s six-year war.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said that IS holds around 296 square kilometres (115 square miles) on both sides of the border, of which around 140 square kilometres are in eastern Lebanon.


Saudi-Qatar crisis puts Syria rebels in tricky position

June 17, 2017


© AFP / by Sammy Ketz | Smoke rises from buildings following a reported air strike on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, on June 14, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – A diplomatic crisis pitting Saudi Arabia against Qatar has put Syrian rebels in a difficult position, analysts say, after rivalries between Gulf backers had already weakened the opposition.

Both Sunni-ruled monarchies sided with the protesters in March 2011, when the war started with the brutal repression of anti-government demonstrations.

They continued supporting the mostly Sunni rebels when unrest spiralled into conflict between the armed opposition and troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, who hails from the country’s Alawite Shiite minority and is backed by Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran.

But six years later, the rebellion has been plagued by rivalries between Riyadh and Doha, as well as weakened by Russia’s military intervention in support of Assad’s forces.

Moscow’s support for regime forces led to a series of setbacks for the rebels, including their landmark loss in December of second city Aleppo.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and allies, including the United Arab Emirates, severed or reduced diplomatic ties with Qatar over accusations the emirate supports extremism, claims Doha has denied.

“The current rupture puts the Syrian opposition in a very awkward position politically, as nobody wants to have to take sides publicly nor can afford to alienate either side,” said Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Centre.

A rebel official in the opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus said he hoped the crisis between Doha and Riyadh was just “a temporary storm”.

– ‘Sensitive’ issue –

“Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have supported the revolution of the Syrian people and shown solidarity throughout years of tragedy,” the rebel official said.

In a sign of the embarrassment the crisis is causing, several rebel groups approached by AFP refused to comment, saying it was a “sensitive” issue.

But Sayigh said the latest flare-up in relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia will have a limited impact on the Syrian conflict.

“It probably won’t have a major financial impact, nor a military one since the US and Turkey have stepped up their support for factions that previously were close to Qatar or to Saudi Arabia,” Sayigh said.

Riyadh “reduced its funding sharply starting” from the summer of 2015 “after it launched its intervention in Yemen” earlier in the year, he said.

Six years into the war, Syria’s fractured rebellion controls just around 10 percent of the war-torn country, with backing from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan and the United States.

Pro-Doha rebels including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham group are present in the north of the country.

In Eastern Ghouta, pro-Doha opposition groups exist alongside the pro-Riyadh Jaish al-Islam rebel alliance.

Rebels in the south, meanwhile, are trained by Amman and Washington.

Another influential player is Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, which now leads the Tahrir al-Sham group and which some analysts and Syrian factions say has links with Qatar, although Doha has denied this.

– Tensions in Eastern Ghouta? –

Qatar led most mediation efforts to obtain the release of hostages held by the group formerly known as Al-Nusra Front.

In Eastern Ghouta, even before the Gulf crisis, factions supported by Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other had already clashed, killing hundreds of fighters.

Raphael Lefevre, a researcher at the University of Oxford, said the latest Saudi-Qatari crisis could well spark further tensions between rival groups in the rebel enclave.

In 2013 and 2014, “Qatar and Saudi Arabia competed for influence within exiled opposition bodies, each by supporting different factions and leaders, something which largely contributed to paralysing and fragmenting the Syrian opposition,” he said.

But the consequences of the latest spat “could be much bloodier, especially as the two countries support rival rebel factions in areas already marked by a great degree of opposition infighting and regime violence such as the Eastern Ghouta”, Lefevre said.

Syria expert Thomas Pierret however said “local dynamics rather than external patrons determine alliances” in Eastern Ghouta.

He said Ahrar al-Sham risked “suffering financially from a reorientation of Qatari politics”, even if it continues to enjoy support from Turkey, which has intervened as a mediator in the Gulf dispute.

Syria’s exiled political opposition is also fractured. The High Negotiations Committee is based in Riyadh, while the National Coalition work out of Istanbul.

by Sammy Ketz