Terrorist groups fighting Syrian government forces have co-opted rebel militias in Aleppo by absorbing them into a large coalition, effectively mitigating moderate opposition in Syria.
Strictly speaking the coalition is a combination of two smaller groups, Jaysh al-Fateh (Army of Conquest) which was formed by the group formerly known as Nusra Front, and Fateh Halab (Aleppo Conquest), a mix of Islamist and Free Syrian Army (FSA) units. Terrorist groups heavily dominate the coalition, which was formed to break the Syrian government’s siege of Aleppo, one of the country’s largest cities and a key battleground in the five-year civil war.
Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), formerly known as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, played a major part in forming the coalition, which was able to break the siege Saturday.
“The victory improves the Syrian public’s perception of the Islamist groups, even Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formally the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front, while hurting their perception of United States because it did not intervene,” wrote Saleem al-Omar, a veteran Middle East journalist in a post for the Atlantic Council.
Indeed, ending the siege has already earned terrorist elements significant support from the population in Aleppo and elsewhere. Mustafa al-Abdulla, a Syrian activist who follows Islamic terrorist groups involved in the civil war, warned that Nusra’s rebranding to “JFS” and subsequent split from al-Qaida on July 28 would lead to further support for the terror group.
“The resumption of fighting in Syria and the besieging of Aleppo have pushed many people to either join al-Nusra or to at least consider it,” al-Abdalla told Haid Haid, a Syrian security researcher. “The split will likely push more people, who were hesitant to be affiliated with al-Qaeda, to join the new group.”
Al-Abdalla may have been correct, with a groundswell of support for the Army of Conquest becoming transparently evident only days after the coalition victory over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“My dream will come true soon, I’ll see [my family] soon, thanks to Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest), thanks to everyone who helped civilians and rescued them from Russia and Assad’s siege,” Mumina Samar, a Syrian woman who works for a local humanitarian organization, told al-Omar. Samar’s sentiments are shared by other mothers living in Aleppo who have seen wanton death and starvation since the siege began.
Increased support for JFS has in turn led to a loss of confidence in the intransigent U.S. policy on Syria put forward by the Obama administration.
“The West, especially America, lied to us,” said Samar. “They promised us that al-Assad would leave within days, but days turned into years, and we realized that he’s their strategic ally in the region.”
Samar noted that she supports any group, terrorist or otherwise, that has a definitive policy of removing Assad.
“The important this is we keep our distance from any foreign support, especially support contingent on America’s conditions, which would be humiliation.”
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