Sunday, August 7, 2016

List of Syrian Factions

Following a break in the siege of Aleppo, The Guardian assembled a list of various elements of the Syrian civil war. Go to the link for more content, but this part jumps out to me.
Both sides are throwing everything they can at the four-year battle for the city – a fight that has come to define the Syrian civil war, because each believes the fate of Aleppo will decide the outcome of the conflict. 
“This battle’s results exceed simply opening the road for besieged people; it will overturn the balance of the struggle in the Levant,” said Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, leader of the powerful Jabhat al-Nusra faction that, until last month, was the official al- Qaida franchise in Syria. 
Last month, the faction severed those ties, changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and renounced international jihad, although observers said there was little sign of a parallel shift in ideology. Instead, experts reckoned the move was probably aimed at getting it off US airstrike target lists and easing coalitions with other factions. 
That rebranding put the group in a strong position to capitalise on last week’s campaign, particularly if it can consolidate a victory that casts it as a champion of Aleppo’s battered civilians. 
“We urge our people in Aleppo to remain steadfast,” Jolani added in the audio recording released on Friday. “The mujahideen will not fail you.” 
The contrast with western powers, which condemned the siege but said they were powerless to stop it, is unlikely to be lost on Syrians, analysts warned. 
“The world abandoned Aleppo; the jihadis came to the rescue. Al-Qaida’s rebranding could hardly have asked for more,” analyst Kyle Orton, from the Henry Jackson Society, said on Twitter.
Syria’s rebels unite to break Assad’s siege of Aleppo
A lifeline has been re-established to the opposition-held city. But will hardline jihadis reap the rewards for leading the successful offensive?

Assad and his allies

Regime forces
The Syrian army numbered 300,000 before the war but, after five years of fighting, it is barely a third of that.

Hezbollah began to support Assad covertly soon after violence broke out and, in 2013, its leader publicly declared it had joined the war. It is believed to have lost hundreds of fighters, including its top military commander.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards
Iran firmly supports Assad, whom it sees as a key ally in a regional power struggle, and is supplying arms, fuel and hundreds of soldiers. Last year, it released photos of its most celebrated commander on the ground in Syria.

Shia militias
Iranian troops are fighting alongside, and coordinating, Shia militias recruited from across the region, including from Iraq, Afghanistan and even Pakistan.

Russian air force
Last autumn’s Russian air campaign was key to turning the tide of the war in Assad’s favour. Its planes can fly in weather that grounds the Syrian air force and have more powerful and accurate weapons.

Anti-Assad forces in Aleppo

Free Syrian Army
The moderate FSA, made up of many smaller groups, was the dominant opposition force in the first two years of the war. It was initially backed by the Arab states and got cautious US support. After years of disunity and faltering advances, its influence and territory has shrunk, while Islamist groups have grown.

Jaysh al-Fateh
A broad coalition of Islamist factions that came together to fight Assad last year, when its advances forced Russia to come to his aid. Jaysh al-Fateh has been at the heart of the campaign to break the siege on Aleppo. The two most influential groups are as follows.

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) 
The reconstituted al-Qaida affiliate renounced its ties to the global terror group last month and changed its name, but few observers believe that will herald any change in its ideology.   [See quote above.]

Ahrar al-Sham
Formed by hardliners with Muslim Brotherhood links, who aim to establish a Sunni theocracy in Syria, Ahrar al-Sham fought with Nusra when it was still part of al-Qaida, but rejects international jihad itself. It has a strong support base in Syria.

 President Bashar al-Assad. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

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