Fareed Zakaria goes 1-on-1 with Syria expert Joshua Landis to discuss an innovative solution to the ongoing Syrian crisis

Fareed Zakaria goes 1-on-1 with Syria expert Joshua Landis to discuss an innovative solution to the ongoing Syrian crisis.

This short clip comes out of the longer interview I did with Danny

How do gains by al-Nusra affect U.S. strategy in Syria? – Part 2 | PBS NewsHour
Joshua Landis & Andrew Tabler discuss what this means for US policy with Judy Woodruff

Part 1 of the PBS show = The set up of news clips which also includes some excellent graphics explaining which describe the disposition of forces on the ground.

U.S. navigates complicated cast of opposition groups in search of partner to fight Islamic State – Part 1

Over the weekend, the al-Nusra Front seized a major weapons cache from U.S.-backed Syrian rebels — a blow to Washington’s effort to keep territory out of militant control. President Obama said the U.S. and its allies must tread carefully to find an ally among all of the different factions. Judy Woodruff takes a look at some of the major groups fighting in Syria.

Nusra’s Offensive in Idlib & its Attempt to Destroy Washington’s Allies. November 2014

Jabhat al-Nusra’s Offensive in Idlib province and its Attempt to Destroy Washington’s Allies. (November 2014)
Posted by Joshua Landis

The following information about Jabhat al-Nusra’s offensive against the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front and Hazm Movement in the Jabal al-Zawiya region comes from a well informed source who has been in the area over the last several weeks. The following information about Nusra’s ambitions and movements was relayed by him.

After a week of deadly fighting for turf in Idlib province, Jabhat a-Nusra and the US-backed Syrian Revolutionaries Front declared a truce on Thursday. Here, a closer look at the battleground - SyriaDirect

After a week of deadly fighting for turf in Idlib province, Jabhat a-Nusra and the US-backed Syrian Revolutionaries Front declared a truce on Thursday. Here, a closer look at the battleground – SyriaDirect

Jabhat al Nusra (JN) continues to advance in the villages of Jabal Al-Zawiya, including AL-Bara , Kansafra, Ehsim, Der Sunbul (Jamal Maaruf’s home town).

Blin, Bluin, Bsqala, Binnish, and Saraqib are under the control of Jund Al-Aqsa, a  group loyal to Ayman Al-Zwahiri.

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JN has advanced west of the main Damascus-Aleppo highway to Kafr Ruma and east of the highway to Tal Manis, Maarat Shurin along with Filaq AL-Sham brigade.

Nusra also controls Ma`saran village where they are led by, Hamido, a 42 year old local who was a FSA fighter until 10 days ago, when he joined Jabhat al Nusra and became its PR director and local negotiator. JN also captured the villages of al-Tamanah east of  the Khan Shakhun area.

JN is in alliance with the Islamic Front and with Suqur al-Sham, a large militia that has been part of the Islamic Front in the past. JN has made a deal with Al-Khansa Liwaa which is led by Ahmad Al-Shaikh, the head of Suqur Al-Sham. He is the head of the Shura council of the Islamic Front. JN has also struck a deal with the Liwa Safwa group from Suqur Al-Sham.

JN also has an alliance with the Ahrar Al-Sham groups : Liwa Al-Abbas based in Bliun and  Abu Saleh Al-Tahhan, one of the main military leaders in Ahrar Al-Sham. He helped JN its recent campaign against the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front and Hazm Movement.

Why is the Islamic Front keen to deal with JN in Idlib?

According to some people on the ground, Ahmad Shaikh, the head of Suqur Al-Sham, is ambitious to become the dominant leader in the area. Jamal Maaruf was his main competitor causing him to team up with Nusra in order to drive out Maaruf. Nusra leaders also accused Jamal Maaruf of being a thug, who was not only corrupt, but who regularly tortured those who opposed him.

Nusra  announced that it took all the ammunition and weapons that belonged to the SRF.  But in reality they just took 1 tank from Hazem, BMB and ammunition.

The forces of separation قوات الفصل  are composed of 15 Islamic brigades which will send troops to keep peace in Jabal al-Zawiya area. They will also be called the ”al-Solh forces. “
They are from

  1. Jish Al-Mujhadeen
  2. Nor al Din Al Ziniki
  3. Filaq Al-Sham
  4. Firaqa 13
  5. Liwa Omar al-Mukhtar
  6. Hazm Movement
  7. Ahrar AL-Sham
  8. Liwa Al-Haq
  9. Syrian liberation Front
  10. Liwaa al -Awal
  11. Suqur al-Sham
  12. Jaysh Al-Islam

A few soldiers from each of these battalions participated in the force but not all of them were serious about their mission. Nusra agreed to their operation, but they were not able to stop Nusra from advancing to other villages.

In regards the mediation effort led by Ayman Haroush and Hassan  Dughem and others.  They started meetings in the area and consultations between the groups to stop the war between Nusra and the SRF but on the 26 of October.  Jund Al-Aqsa arrested Shaikh Muhamd Ezz al-Din Al-Khatab and other 2 judges who accompanied him at the time, and till now, no body know where the Shaikh and others are. Jund Al-Aqsa has refused to release them.

Most of the people who were trying to negotiate with Nusra are now in Turkey. They lost hope in arriving at any understanding. They insist that Nusra was not serious about negotiations. What is more, Nusra is difficult to reach its leaders refuse to use the internet.

According to Nusra’s leader, Joulani, he explained in his recent speech, “We want to finish Jamal Marouf and the SRF since they are dealing with Saudi Arabia and the USA” Joulani said that they’re not alone in this war, meaning that Suqur al-Sham and Ahrar Al-Sham are equally interested in doing away with Maaruf.

Joulani insisted that all other battalions would work with the Nusra. He stated that the US supports Maaruf and the FSA to fight Nusra but not Assad. Nusra is not interested to cooperate with IS in in Idlib province because Nusra hopes to build its own Emirate in Idblib province. Last month they only controlled Salqiin and Harem, but now they control most of the Jabal Al-Zawiya.

Once Nusra captured most of the strategic towns in the area, it announced that it would accept the Sharia court led by Abdulaha Al-Muhaysini, the Saudi Salafi Sheikh. Joulani said that Jamal Maaruf should be under this court until he gives up his alliance with the Syrian Opposition Coalition in Antakia and with Saudi Arabia and the US.  http://justpaste.it/hso5

Now Jamal Marouf is in Turkey. He has long meetings yesterday with FSA leaders in Rehanli.

Saddam Al-Khalifa who was a Motorcycle dealer from Hama before the war, is presently the leader of Uqab Al-Islam, a Salafi Jihadi militia, which close to ISIS, but not under its direct command. Al-Khalifa controls the area east of Idlib and Hama. It is largely populated by bedouin who belong to the Al-Mawali tribe among other. Saddam has very good relations with the people there and they trust him. There were Rumors that he would support Nusra but so far the region has stayed out of Nusra’s control.

The Syrian Organization of Human Rights (SOHR) reports that  trusted sources claim that “clashes renewed this morning between the fighting battalions around Der Sunbul village, which is the main stronghold of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and around Hantonen near M’rah al-Nu’man.

SOHR also reports that Jund al Aqsa, the group helping Nusra, still hasn’t found the body of its Qatari leader, Abo Abdul Aziz al- Qatari. He was kidnapped in January when fighting first broke out between ISIS and the rebels. The Qatari commander was allegedly killed by the SRF. It is believed that his body was thrown in a local well. Prior to these events, his son was killed by the SAA. Al-Nusra Front published videos that show men retrieving bodies from wells in Deir Sunbul, the hometown of its commander “Jamal Ma’ruf”. Al-Nusra Front, however, claimed that these bodies were those of civilians and fighters executed by the SRF. None were the Qatari leader of Jund al-Aqsa.

A Visit to the Tomb of Hafez al-Asad

Christian SahnerThe following is an excerpt from “Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present,” just out from Oxford University Press/ C. Hurst & Co. For further information on the book and the history of Syria, follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

The road from Latakia to Qardaha wound gently along the Mediterranean coast. From here, the blue waters seemed to race to an endless horizon, to a world still wider than crowded Damascus, over one hundred and fifty miles inland. But the beachside view obscured the intimacy of the moment. Plato referred to this sea and the cities perched on its shores as a pond crowded with frogs. In antiquity, as today, these frogs came in a dizzying menagerie of shapes and colors, yet their diversity disguised their essential unity. There was more uniting these far-flung peoples than dividing them. It was a sense of a common heritage held together by the relentless flow of merchants, philosophers, and missionaries across this small pond.

Latakia—ancient Laodicea—is Syria’s principal port. It is located along a narrow coastal strip in the northwest of the country, between the Lebanese and Turkish borders. With its beachside resorts, open-air cafes, and relaxed ambiance, the city was a salutary reminder that Syria—at least in these parts—was very much one of Plato’s frogs, a Mediterranean country with its eyes trained on the sea.

Mountains of northwestern Syria, with Mediterranean Sea, near Baniyas

Mountains of northwestern Syria, with Mediterranean Sea in the distance, Tartus Province (photo: author)

Nevertheless, not everyone who basks in the Mediterranean sun enjoys its riches. For just as Syria’s geography and culture are divided between coast and desert, there is an equally pronounced rift between the coasts and mountains, which rise mightily from the waters’ edge. Here, the rugged peaks shelter villages that form the once-destitute heartland of Syria’s ‘Alawi community, a region known as Jabal Ansariyya. One hot day in July 2009, I headed to one of the most important of these mountain villages—Qardaha—to try to understand how a once-marginal group came to control Syria during the course of the twentieth century.

About ten miles south of Latakia, the road began to climb steeply. I was riding in a rickety van that had crawled the streets of Beijing or Seoul in another life, but was now covered with kitschy images of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Asad. The van shook to the songs of a Lebanese chanteuse, but the volume waned as we hit a steep incline. I was the only foreigner in a cabin filled with locals, many of them chain-smoking and forlorn-looking. Between them sat crates of peaches, parsley, and what looked like bottles of arak, that alcoholic nectar of the Levant.

The road leveled off eventually and the electronic rhythms resumed their punishing pace. Amidst the rugged landscape, the Mediterranean became harder and harder to see. She appeared occasionally with a coquettish wink, her sparkling blue eyes disguised between olive groves and mountain wadis. Up here, the sea was only seven miles away, but it felt like hundreds. Qardaha and its people were born of a sense of isolation from Plato’s world, not of belonging to it.

Qardaha enjoyed little notoriety throughout history: it was one of many faceless farming communities that dotted the mountains of Syria’s northwest, whose ‘Alawi inhabitants made meager returns selling tobacco, lemons and other crops to coastal merchants. For centuries, poverty here was endemic. Families were sometimes forced to make ends meet by selling their daughters into servitude in the homes of Sunnis grandees down below. By all reports, Qardaha was not a happy place, or much of a place at all; as Gertrude Stein once remarked of a very different city, Oakland, California: “There is no there there.”

All this would change in the early twentieth century, when contacts between the mountain and the coast began to increase. Among the beneficiaries was a young man named Hafez al-Asad, born in 1930, destined to become Qardaha’s most famous son. He descended the mountain for schooling and never looked back. As an adult, he rose up through the ranks of the Syrian Air Force, Baath Party leadership, and the government, serving as defense minister. In 1970, he seized control of the state in a successful coup, ruling Syria with cruel determination until his death thirty years later. You can tell a lot about a man by where he chooses to be buried, and despite a career forged in the cut-throat government halls of Damascus, Asad wished his body to return here, to the mountain village where he was born.

The tomb of Hafez al-Asad, Qardaha, Summer 2009

Tomb of Hafez al-Asad, Qardaha, Latakia Province (photo: author)

After a forty-five minute ride, I stepped out of the bus: Asad’s mausoleum sat on the edge of Qardaha’s still-humble, even derelict looking downtown. The ragged streets improved as I approached his grave, with newly planted trees and flowers lining a wide boulevard. Despite the inviting entrance and luxurious appointments, the mausoleum was strange: an eight-pointed star surmounted by a flat, onion-shaped dome—reminiscent of a spaceship in an old science fiction movie. An intricate Arabic inscription ran along the façade of the building, and on a large wall facing the entrance hung a sepia-toned portrait of the deceased leader. In it, an elderly Asad wore a page-boy cap and a wry smile, with the Syrian flag billowing behind him. It conjured a sense of nostalgia for a bygone world—for your grandfather and mine—for the grandfather of all Syria, this sunny-looking dictator.

The otherworldly ambiance was undiminished inside the mausoleum. Asad’s grave lay in a shallow octagonal depression in the floor, beneath the main dome. The casket, draped in a rich green cloth, was surrounded by a wreath of fresh flowers, and a second band of green satin sheets. To the left was the grave of Basel, the dauphin of the house of Asad who died tragically in 1994 (after crashing his Mercedes on the airport road outside Damascus, for which he is remembered as a shahid, or martyr). There were other empty graves in the building, presumably awaiting the deaths of other Asad family members—including Hafez’s widow Aniseh and their son Bashar, who took over the family business in 2000.

The mausoleum of Hafez al-Asad was more of a cultic site than a grave. Here, ‘Alawi security officers dutifully tended the tomb when not oiling their pistols or sipping tea, and piles of flowers left by dignitaries and pilgrims lay strewn outside. It looked like the mourning had never ended. There was a strange dignity to the place: it was a memorial to a man of ferocious but incredible ambition, as well as to a community that had managed to emancipate itself from its mountain miseries and take center stage in modern Syrian history. The story of Hafez al-Asad—the Alawi peasant who would become king—has no parallel in its particulars across this country. But in its generalities, it sums up the experience of many minorities over the past hundred years. It is the story of the outsider made insider, of the particular who managed to carve out a place for himself by redefining the universal.

Christian Sahner is a historian of the Middle East. He is the author of the recently released book, “Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present” (Oxford University Press/ C. Hurst & Co). A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Oxford, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar, he is completing his doctorate at Princeton, focusing on the role of non-Muslims in medieval Islamic societies. His essays have appeared in The Times Literary Supplement and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.

Jabhat Ansar al-Din: Analysis and Interview

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

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Logo of Jabhat Ansar al-Din

Jabhat Ansar al-Din [Supporters/Partisans of the Religion Front] is a coalition of four groups originally set up in July of this year, comprising Harakat Sham al-Islam, Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar, The Green Battalion and Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya. Of these groups, Harakat Sham al-Islam was set up by Moroccan ex-Gitmo detainee Ibrahim bin Shakaran, who died in the Latakia offensive this spring. Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar (JMWA)- under Omar al-Shishani- was once part of what was then the Islamic State State in Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS), but following Shishani and his followers’ break-off to join ISIS in November 2013, the group has effectively become the Caucasus Emirate’s wing in Syria. The Green Battalion was an independent group set up in the summer of last year by Saudi fighters who wanted to stay out of the Jabhat al-Nusra-ISIS dispute but has since pledged allegiance to JMWA, while an amir, Shari’a official and some fighters have joined ISIS’ successor the Islamic State [IS]. Finally, one should note Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya is a native Syrian, primarily Aleppo-based faction.

As per the ‘manifesto’ of Jabhat Ansar al-Din, the coalition defines itself as ‘independent’ and striving to implement a state-building project with the rule of Shari’a [Islamic law] in its totality, illustrating a broader trend of jihadi groups forming their own state enterprises as IS and the regime increasingly take up territory. As I have mentioned before, one may ask why the members of this coalition have not simply join Jabhat al-Nusra (which strives for the same goal) in line with the precedent of the one-time Saudi-led independent jihadi group Suqur al-Izz: I submit that this is due to power-politics tension in the sense of not wanting to lose autonomy and be subsumed under Jabhat al-Nusra. The case of Harakat Sham al-Islam in particular seems to be one of an al-Qa’ida front project under Ibrahim bin Shakaran’s leadership but a change in direction after his death.

In keeping with the general ‘anti-fitna’ stance of jihadi groups (including al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM] and al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP]) when it comes to perceived non-Muslim/’apostate’ forces fighting a jihadi group (regardless of the power-struggles), Jabhat Ansar al-Din issued a statement denouncing the U.S.-led coalition against IS as part of a war on Islam and Muslims. The statement cites common grievances such as the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the prisons of Begram and Guantánamo with torture therein, “America’s support and aid for the Jews in Palestine…the Jews’ occupation of the al-Aqsa mosque,” crimes committed against Muslims in Burma and the Central African Republic, and supposed U.S. siding with “Arab tyrants” in Libya, Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia.

From these complaints, the statement affirmed that “the target of the Zionist-Crusader-Safavid alliance is Islam and Muslims in general and their mujahideen vanguard in particular.” Denouncing anyone who should enter into the alliance as guilty of apostasy, Jabhat Ansar al-Din concluded with a call for Muslim unity against “this oppressive intervention,” and asked God to “give victory to the mujahideen in Iraq, ash-Sham and every place.”

However, it is notable that unlike AQIM and AQAP (which admittedly tried to avoid the issue of whether al-Qa’ida groups regard IS as a state by simply referring to it as ‘the Islamic State’ rather than ‘the group of the state’ [jamaat ad-dawla]), Jabhat Ansar al-Din does not even refer to IS by name in the statement, which fits a wider pattern of non-al-Qa’ida-affiliated jihadi groups in Syria aiming to stay out of the al-Qa’ida-IS dispute as far as possible.

Indeed, to date, with the exception of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam (which has fought IS in Iraq anyway), none of the global jihadi groups outside of Jabhat al-Nusra- including the few remaining stand-alone ones such as Jaysh Muhammad in Bilad al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa- is known to have participated in actual fighting against IS. In the case of Jaysh Muhammad in Bilad al-Sham, the refusal to fight against IS sparked tensions with Northern Storm in Azaz and ultimately led to the group’s departure from Azaz. Corroborating the anti-fitna record is the fact that some of the components of Jabhat Ansar al-Din prior to the coalition’s announcement worked with what was then ISIS in early 2014 in besieging Kweiris airbase in Aleppo province under the initiative ‘And Don’t Separate’ (along with Jaysh Muhammad in Bilad al-Sham).

Whether Jabhat Ansar al-Din can truly maintain this ostensibly ‘trouble free’ policy of relations with other jihadis in Syria- particularly IS and Jabhat al-Nusra- remains an open question.

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Reflecting Jabhat Ansar al-Din’s state-building ambitions, video of a Shari’a institute run by Harakat Sham al-Islam.

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Jabhat Ansar al-Din’s JMWA purportedly conducting anti-aircraft operations in Handarat, Aleppo province.

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Harakat Sham al-Islam da’wah efforts reportedly in Latakia countryside.

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JMWA da’wah efforts for children reportedly in north Aleppo countryside.

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Friday sermon reportedly given by a Green Battalion member in Idlib countryside.

Below is an interview I conducted with Abo Mo’atesem al-Shami, a Jabhat Ansar al-Din media activist based in the Aleppo area, corroborating the points I made above.

Interview

Q: Does Jabhat Ansar al-Din want a Caliphate?

A: Yes. [Among] our goals are the project of an Islamic Caliphate and the rule of God’s law in the land.

Q: But why is Jabhat Ansar al-Din independent and does not join Jabhat al-Nusra which also wants a Caliphate?

A: The problem is with them, not with us: we are prepared to work with all upright factions whose goals are like ours. It is not hidden from anyone that the goals of the majority of factions are like our goals.

Q: In your opinion has Jabhat al-Nusra made mistakes on the ground?

A: In my personal opinion indeed we all make mistakes…and perhaps in Jabhat al-Nusra’s point of view it is not necessary to establish a Caliphate while the gangs of Assad exist in Syria.

Q: In which areas does Jabhat Ansar al-Din operate?

A: We operate in Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, Homs and Latakia. In Aleppo: al-Ramousa, Sheikh Said, Aziza, Air Intelligence, Handarat, Sayfat, and in the southern countryside: the area of Jabal ‘Azzan, al-Wadihi, Mu’amal ad-Difa’. In Idlib: the village of Wadi al-Deif, al-Qarmeed military camp. In Hama: the countryside to the north of the city of Hama. In Homs: the countryside to the north of the city of Homs. In Latakia: Jabal al-Akrad, Jabal al-Turkoman and Kassab.

Q: How are your relations with IS?

A: We have no relation with IS (original: ad-dawla). We don’t fight them and they don’t fight us. But anyone who says that Jabhat Ansar al-Din is affiliated with IS is lying.

The White Shroud: A Syrian Resistance Movement to the Islamic State

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

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Logo of “The White Shroud”

I have previously written on Sunni groups created within Iraq to fight against the Islamic State [IS], but what about in Syria? Some attention has been devoted to the group “Al-Kafn Al-Abyad” (The White Shroud), but on social media I have seen some controversy as to the nature of The White Shroud. For example, people ask: is it Jabhat al-Nusra, or ‘FSA’?

To answer this question, one needs to bear in mind that The White Shroud is an anti-IS outfit originally set up in the Deir az-Zor locality of Albukamal on the border with Iraq (now declared part of IS’ ‘Euphrates Province‘ spanning the borders, including al-Qa’im just over the border with Iraq): indeed describing itself as “the brigades of popular resistance in Albukamal.”

It will be recalled from my prior work that the town of Albukamal originally had six factions, listed below with their wider affiliations where applicable:

– Liwa Allahu Akbar (SMC/Hayat al-Arkan)
– Kata’ib Allahu Akbar (Authenticity and Development Front)
– Liwa al-Mujahid Omar al-Mukhtar (independent; one-time pro-Ahrar al-Sham)
– Liwa al-Qadisiya al-Islamiya (independent; pro-Caliphate, tied to seeing the Syria and Iraq struggle for Sunnis as one)
– Katiba Bayariq al-Sunna (independent; pro-Caliphate)
– Kata’ib Junud al-Haq (Jabhat al-Nusra; evolved from Katiba Junud al-Haq)

Note that there were other factions in the wider area that emerged over time with influence such as Liwa al-Fatah al-Mubin which belonged to the now defunct coalition Euphrates Islamic Liberation Front, which had once played a role in the fight against IS in the northern Euphrates area in Syria.

Of the six main groups of Albukamal, Liwa Allahu Akbar became part of what was then the Islamic State in Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) after the November 2013 defection of leader Saddam al-Jamal (also known as Saddam Rakhaytah), who had clashed with Jabhat al-Nusra in September 2013. The Authenticity and Development Front is a Salafi coalition backed by Saudi Arabia that only conceives of Syria as an Islamic state within a national framework, while Liwa al-Mujahid Omar al-Mukhtar did not have a political program beyond the fall of the regime despite the one-time affinity with Ahrar al-Sham that was subsequently disavowed in rejection of fighting ISIS at the end of January 2014. Kata’ib Junud al-Haq had defected to ISIS when ISIS was first announced by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but re-defected to Jabhat al-Nusra after Zawahiri’s call to annul ISIS.

It will be noted in the picture of the logo above (taken from The White Shroud’s official Facebook page) that members of three of the factions I have just mentioned are included within The White Shroud: Liwa al-Mujahid Omar al-Mukhtar, Authenticity and Development Front, and Liwa al-Qadisiya al-Islamiya. Of the other factions, two other sources from Albukamal- one the former spokesman for the defunct Kata’ib Junud al-Haq- have told me that Katiba Bayariq al-Sunna members all became part of IS once the town fell under IS control (undoubtedly ideological overlap played a role), while no members of Kata’ib Junud al-Haq are known to have joined The White Shroud thus far. Some of course will have become part of IS (again something undoubtedly facilitated by ideological overlap), but others will have simply laid arms aside as part of declaring ‘tawba’ (‘repentance’) before IS and then returned to civilian life with acknowledgment of IS’ supremacy. Others too- even of those factions now part of The White Shroud- simply fled the Albukamal area to head to other fronts: this was the case for the leader of a local Albukamal Authenticity and Development battalion- Liwa Basha’ir al-Nasr- who fled to Qalamoun in Damascus province after the fall of Albukamal.

The operations conducted by The White Shroud, like those of the anti-IS Sunni resistance movements in Iraq, have mostly been small-scale claimed assassinations so far, but apparently the group has been trying to expand its activities in Deir az-Zor province, with a contingent supposedly now in Deir az-Zor city in a video released by the Authenticity and Development Front. It will certainly be of interest to see if The White Shroud develops into a broader umbrella front for a variety of former rebel factions in Deir az-Zor province of a variety of orientations.

Update and Further Note

My friend and colleague Alfred Hackensberger, drawing on his own sources, contends that The White Shroud is not a real group. I would disagree with this notion but a more general point needs to be made about real manpower and capabilities. In truth, I do not think The White Shroud at present has any more than a few dozen fighters. Indeed, it has to be remembered that the component battalions of The White Shroud lost significant numbers of members to an ISIS assault on the town of Albukamal in April. Not overstating manpower and capabilities also applies to other anti-IS resistance movements: if, for example, a Kata’ib Mosul component representative gives contingent numbers into the hundreds, it is a safe bet to downgrade the actual manpower by several factors. As far a operations go, nothing suggests the attacks on IS- even if successful- have truly damaged the group’s power base in the areas it controls.

Also in my own experience, though Abu al-Layth of the Dawn of Freedom Brigades affirmed to me that 250 fighters of his coalition had been sent to Kobani to aid the YPG in its fight against IS, he affirmed that this number had declined to 160 in a subsequent conversation. Meanwhile, a representative of the Sun of the North/Northern Sun Battalions- the contingent of Dawn of Freedom Brigades in Kobani- only affirmed the presence of some 70 fighters for the group in a 12 October conversation with me.