by Sean MacCormac
With Idlib in rebel hands, the entire province is now out of the control of the Syrian government, and an attack on the loyalist stronghold of Latakia, and perhaps even further support for the battle in Aleppo, is possible.
A group consisting of fighters from al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) and US-backed rebel groups captured the Syrian town of Jisr al Shughur in the Idlib province Saturday in an offensive dubbed by the rebels “The Battle of Victory.” The rebels took the city rapidly after a four day battle partly by utilizing American-made TOW missiles and other advanced weaponry. Much of the American weaponry has ended up in the hands of the Nusra Front after the Islamist group defeated US-supported rebel forces.
This victory comes in the wake of a recent alliance between Sunni Islamist groups not affiliated with Islamic State. The alliance is named “Army of Fatah” after the original conquering Muslim army of the seventh century. Rebel forces launched the offensive with a three pronged assault on Jisr al Shughur. Government forces expected an attack on Ariha rather than an assault on Jisr al Shughur from the west. Reports from loyalist troops state that the rebels were assisted by a significant number of guerrillas who came over the Turkish border. The Turkish government has been accused in the past by the Kurds of giving support to the Nusra Front.
The loss of Jisr al Shughur prevents the Syrian government from supplying the surrounded western bases of Mastuma and Ariha via ground, hampers loyalist travel from Latakia to Aleppo, and is the second major loss for government forces in the past month since the fall of Idlib, the capital of Idlib province, to rebel forces on March 28. With Idlib in rebel hands, the entire province is now out of the control of the Syrian government, and an attack on the loyalist stronghold of Latakia, and perhaps even further support for the battle in Aleppo, is possible.
With Al-Qaeda making an effort to retake their former position as the premier Sunni jihadist organization from Islamic State, the United States should be more careful about arming Syrian rebels, even if they profess to be moderates. Given the U.S. track record in arming Syrian Islamists, who have repeatedly either failed to defeat, or else willingly cooperated with Al Qaeda, there’s no reason to believe that we will be more successful at the vetting process at this late stage.
The U.S.’s decision to create false distinctions between Syrian Islamist militias, Al Qaeda, and Islamic State, has created an incoherent policy where one Global jihadist organization (Islamic State) is facing airstrikes and a popular campaign to role it back, while the other, (Nusra Front) , is at best being ignored, or at worst, knowingly aided by a confused Syria policy.
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