Military Review

Big Idlib. The imminent advance of the Syrian Arab army is inevitable


Hotbed of radicalism

After more than 8-year war, the province of Idlib and its surrounding areas remain the key stronghold of radical militants in Syria. In recent years, anti-government armed groups have suffered a number of defeats across the country and retreated to northwestern Syria. The decision of the Syrian army to allow the surrounded militants to go in the direction of Idlib saved the thousands of civilians who were used by the latter as a human shield in areas such as the cities of Aleppo and East Ghouta. At the same time, this significantly increased the already high concentration of Islamists in Greater Idlib, turning it into a hotbed of religious radicalism and terrorism.

The subsequent attempts to separate the radicals from the so-called moderate opposition and then neutralize them, which took place within the framework of the Astana format with the participation of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Russia, were unsuccessful. The network of Turkish and Russian observation posts along the contact line prevented the establishment of a proper ceasefire on the border between the government-controlled area and the territories controlled by illegal gangs. The offensive of the Syrian army in August 2019 in North Hama and southern Idlib led to the liberation of most of both provinces from the Mujahideen. However, strategically, the situation remained the same.

Idlib serves as a refuge for a number of disparate groups that are constantly fighting for influence and resources. The most notable of these are the following terrorist associations.

"Hayat Tahrir ash-Sham"* (HTS was formerly Jabhat al-Nusra *, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda *) - the most influential group in Greater Idlib.

The National Liberation Front is a pro-Turkish military alliance created around Ahrar al-Sham * * to be an alternative force of the KhTS * and to promote Turkish interests in this part of Syria.

Turkestan Islamic Party* - Al-Qaida-affiliated * paramilitary group founded by foreign jihadists, mostly Uyghurs. Key ally of Khayyat Tahrir al-Sham *.

«Hurras ad-Din pro Al Qaeda"* - a combat brigade in alliance with the HTS *. The main difference between Khurras al-Din * * and his older brother is that this group is not trying to hide its existing ties with al-Qaeda *.

Different sources cite different numbers regarding the size of the aforementioned armed groups operating in Idlib. Even the leaders of these groups themselves constantly give a contradictory, often greatly exaggerated, number of sponsored militants to increase popularity and intimidate rival gangs, receiving additional funding from Western curators.

In 2018, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, calculated that there were about 20 — 30 thousand militants in Idlib. In the 2019 year, the UN unveiled the number in the 20 of thousands of mujahideen of the KhTS * in Idlib. Sources associated with the Islamists say that the KhTS has about 31 thousands of trunks. The same sources claim that the total number of militants in Idlib is about 60 thousand people. Most warehouses used by local terrorists weapons and ammunition, tunnel networks, repair facilities, headquarters and other infrastructure are located in the rural areas of Idlib, as well as in the cities of Sarakib and Maarrat El Numan. The militants intentionally place them near civilian areas, using the people living there as a living cover.

Despite the observed diversity of illegal gangs, none of them, apparently, can challenge the dominant position of Khayyat Tahrir al-Sham *. In the period from 2016 to 2019, the group made active efforts to strengthen its military, political and economic presence in the region. Competing groups were absorbed or simply forced to accept the rules established by the HTS *. Even unofficially supported by Ankara, the National Liberation Front, created in May 2018 of the year, could not shake the supremacy of HTS * and was forced to be content with the role of a younger brother.

In 2017, Khayyat Tahir al-Sham * created the Syrian rescue government to manage the territory of Greater Idlib. The structure of this authority included eight ministries. Among them are the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Religious Expositions, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the municipality, and the Ministry of Economic Development. This government also has its own police force, which, however, has limited responsibilities, such as driving, catching criminals, and resolving disputes. However, any notable security efforts in the area, such as the reprisals against ISIS * cells, which have a rather complicated relationship with the main field commanders of this Syrian province, always include HTS * forces.

All this allowed Khayyat Tahir al-Sham * to take control of the economy of the region by controlling all key roads (primarily the M5 highway) and trade crossings both with Turkey and through the front line to areas controlled by the pro-government coalition. When the Al-Ais checkpoint in Aleppo province was opened, the HTS * collected taxes from those who entered and left Idlib. The group also collects taxes from people who want to leave the Idlib zone through humanitarian corridors opened by official Damascus with the help of the Russian military police.

The main source of income is the border in the area of ​​the village of Bab al-Hawa with Turkey. HTSh * introduced duties on all goods entering Idlib. These include clothing, food, fuel and its derivatives. The militants have established strong ties with a wide network of traders and are reported to have ties even to the oil company Watad, which owns a monopoly on the import of hydrocarbons from Turkey. In addition, Mujahideen collect money through direct and indirect taxes levied by taxes on businesses, shadow schemes of financial transfers and currency exchangers. Enterprises are required to comply with these conditions so that they can continue their business. Control over the flow of funds, fuel and spare parts allows the KhTSh * to be the most well-equipped and well-armed formation in Idlib, which has the largest fleet of heavy military equipment.

According to available data, part of the funding of Hayat Tahir al-Sham * comes from external sources. Most of the funds came from Salafi charitable foundations in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, as well as from high-ranking clergy and wealthy businessmen in Jordan and Turkey who sympathize with the ideas of Salafi Islam. According to experts, the flow from foreign sources decreased after the phase of active clashes in Syria in 2018 ceased. For the same reason, the financial flow collected by armed groups through crowdfunding on social networks has decreased. Therefore, HTS * and other illegal gangs were forced to rely more and more on local financial sources.

Before the conflict, about one and a half million people lived in Idlib province. According to the UN, currently the population in Idlib has doubled. Most of the inhabitants are Sunni Arabs plus Syrian Turks. Most members of other ethnic and religious communities, such as Shiites or Christians, were forced to flee the area or were killed by radicals controlling the province. According to reports, about 40% of people currently living in Big Idlib come from other areas previously held by militants. These are current and former members of paramilitary groups, their families and relatives. This predetermined the position of Idlib as the main center of terrorism in modern Syria.

Goal: victory of the "revolution"

From a political point of view, the vast majority of the leaders of the Idlib militant groups and related entities coordinate their policies with the position of Turkey. They publicly declare that the main goal of their efforts is the victory of the so-called Syrian revolution and the reform of the Syrian system of government in accordance with Sharia law. However, these statements are only a formal part of the official propaganda of the militants. The actions of the HTS * and its allied groups in recent years indicate that they are actually striving to create a de facto independent quasi-state under their control and a partial protectorate of Turkey. If the current situation in northwestern Syria remains the same over the next 3-5 years, it is likely that Turkey will be trapped in the conditions in which it will have to try to annex this territory.

The irony of the situation is that Khayyat Tahir al-Sham * and its allies violate this scenario with their own policies. In the current context, the Idlib zone is a constant source of terrorist threats and instability. In all previous cases, when the Syrian and Pro-Syrian forces stopped offensive operations and began to unilaterally implement ceasefire agreements, Idlib armed groups, on the contrary, immediately began military operations. They attempted to seize new areas or attack pro-government forces, and also resumed preparations for terrorist operations in territories controlled by a legitimate government. In addition, the most bloodthirsty part of the so-called opposition is concentrated in the Idlib zone. The core of the "Idlib opposition" is made up of mercenaries, criminal groups and radicals. The unilateral ceasefire announced by the Syrian army in southern Idlib on 31 August is not expected to drag on for long. In the first half of September, militants have already carried out several armed attacks with unmanned aerial vehicles against the positions of the Syrian army and even the Russian air base Khmeimim.

Turkey seeks to prevent any possible government offensive in Idlib. Therefore, she advocates further diplomatic cooperation with Russia and Iran in order to facilitate a “non-military” solution to the issue. However, Ankara does not seem to have sufficient influence on the Idlib paramilitary groups, in particular, the KhTS * to impose a ceasefire on them at present. Turkey could take control of the situation, but it would take a year or two, which it does not have. Therefore, judging by what is happening in the region, a new round of military escalation in the Idlib zone is just around the corner, and the units of the Syrian Arab army are destined to solo in it.

* A terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation.
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  1. samarin1969
    samarin1969 23 September 2019 05: 46
    And where is the most "revolutionary" "free Syrian army"? Where are these fighters for "democracy" from among the former military of Assad? They would have established a "democratic dictatorship" long ago and driven out the terrorists. laughing
    ps There, a war has long been going on between factions on ethnic and religious grounds for their lands and families. Journalists simply paint in different political colors the Sunni Arabs, Shiites, Alawites, Turkamons, Kurds, Druze, etc. ... This war will not be allowed to end.
    1. Civil
      Civil 23 September 2019 07: 47
      Turkey is ready to start an operation in Syria in the next 2 weeks

      Rajap's friend is ready too. Probably this Idlib sawed in parts.
    2. Nyrobsky
      Nyrobsky 23 September 2019 08: 17
      Quote: samarin1969
      And where is the most "revolutionary" "free Syrian army"? Where are these fighters for "democracy" from among the former military of Assad? They would have established a "democratic dictatorship" long ago and driven out the terrorists.
      They graze where the main oil fields are located i.e. in zaefratya. You know that where there is oil, "democracy" rushes there - on bayonets.
  2. Gardamir
    Gardamir 23 September 2019 07: 29
    And that the Kremlin’s partner Erdlgan will allow the Syrians to poke around in the territories that he considers his own.
  3. Ros 56
    Ros 56 23 September 2019 08: 21
    It's time to put things in order.
    1. Nestorych
      Nestorych 23 September 2019 09: 37
      The CAA has long been gone, our guys and the Iranian guys will go to restore order, then they will bring a couple of Syrian "falcons" for shooting. We need it ?!
      1. Astra wild
        Astra wild 23 September 2019 11: 23
        Colleague Nestorych, I believe you exaggerate the calamities of SAA. Yes, she’s not the same one that was 9 years ago, but also not the same one that was 2 years ago, they already know how to think something (from the prompts of Russian Vania) and fight relatively well
        1. Warrior2015
          Warrior2015 23 September 2019 19: 47
          Quote: Astra wild
          Colleague Nestorych, I believe you exaggerate the calamities of SAA. Yes, she’s not the same one that was 9 years ago, but also not the same one that was 2 years ago, they already know how to think something (from the prompts of Russian Vania) and fight relatively well

          He does not exaggerate anything, unfortunately, I would say - understates. Watching some videos with combat episodes of the 1-2 summer even ago, I do not see much growth in the combat effectiveness of the Syrian government troops. The guys from there say about the same thing.

          The fate of Idlib is unclear who will decide how; but it’s certain that this will be a compromise decision of several states, and, apparently, without taking into account the opinion of official Damascus (its representatives are not invited to many international conferences on Syria).
          1. Astra wild
            Astra wild 25 September 2019 18: 41
            I heard from senior officers that ALL Arabs are pretty mediocre fighters
  4. steelmaker
    steelmaker 23 September 2019 08: 37
    This is not our war! But since we got involved, we must finish it faster, and not arrange a cease-fire and all sorts of zones. The civilian population will suffer in any way, so it has always been in war. USA Rakku erased to ashes, but we can not what. All the same, you can’t do without bombing. The conclusion is to bomb, bomb, bomb and quickly clear the territory.
    "Good cannot be without evil,
    because they create by destroying.
    Good and evil cannot live
    without interfering with each other. "
  5. Chaldon48
    Chaldon48 23 September 2019 10: 34
    The bandits have taken control of the territory, and now they are looking for sponsors who agree with the rules that they established there according to their concepts.
  6. Astra wild
    Astra wild 23 September 2019 11: 15
    Turks want to "try to annex this territory".
  7. Lexus
    Lexus 23 September 2019 12: 38
    The fifth year is coming and still will not come ...
    1. Constructor68
      Constructor68 24 September 2019 21: 09
      The fifth year is coming and still will not come ...

      You would be commanders, so you would all: bam, bam ... only who would help get off the couch
      1. Lexus
        Lexus 24 September 2019 21: 12
        Honestly won back already. So do not hesitate. Leave the sofa for yourself.
        1. Constructor68
          Constructor68 24 September 2019 21: 16
          Honestly won back already. So do not hesitate. Leave the sofa for yourself.

          Looks like in the railway troops. Because you deftly translate the arrows - why do I need a sofa, I don’t give an "expert" assessment of the strategy of the Interior Ministry in Syria, but you .... ayah-ya-yay, not good.
          1. Lexus
            Lexus 24 September 2019 21: 23
            Looks like in the railway troops.

            No, I'm not your colleague, so I have nothing more to support communication.
            1. Constructor68
              Constructor68 24 September 2019 21: 32
              No, I'm not your colleague

              And, fortunately, not my colleague. We do not need "lightning strikes ehperts" in KB))) our work is painstaking and consistent. Arrows don't leave on colleagues laughing
  8. Livonetc
    Livonetc 23 September 2019 13: 14
    There will be no one-offensive.
    Active counterattacks against the actions of presumptuous militants will continue, with the liberation of certain territories.
    After will be the howling of the Turkish partners, with vows to pacify the militants on their own.
    And then everything will happen again.
    Yes, in fact, the CAA, even with Iranian support and the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, does not have enough forces for a full-scale offensive.
    By the way.
    Something has not been heard for a long time about the actions in Hezbollah in Syria.
    Is their action hushed up or have they left Syria?
    1. vladcub
      vladcub 23 September 2019 16: 00
      Ask Israeli comrades: they better know
  9. high
    high 28 September 2019 23: 30
    The situation in Syria is complicated by the fact that Assad’s regime is not recognized by the world community, Assad’s dictatorship is held in power thanks to foreign armies.
    The Syrian opposition, among which there are both moderate forces collaborating with the United States and Islamists allied with Turkey, considers itself a real representative of the Syrian people, and not the ousted Assad people.
    Alas, the end of the war in Syria is not visible until Assad leaves his post. ...
  10. Free wind
    Free wind 29 September 2019 11: 13
    What kind of tank, tell me, on the last photo from the right.