Analysis: Al-Qaeda’s absolute defeat in Aleppo, Syria

Analysis: Al-Qaeda’s absolute defeat in Aleppo, Syria

Some of the key leaders of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham were killed in an air strike. This group, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, is led by Mohammad al-Julani, and is considered to be the most important group that is currently active in the northern regions of Syria.

(AhlulBayt News Agency) - Some of the key leaders of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham were killed in an air strike. This group, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, is led by Mohammad al-Julani, and is considered to be the most important group that is currently active in the northern regions of Syria.

Mohammad al-Julani had publicly pledged allegiance with the al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was also able to marginalize other militant groups in Syria and take command of most of the important battles. But after the field developments in the past year, especially after the arrival of the Russians, the power balance altered in favor of Damascus and plans of the West and som regional countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey failed. As a result, al-Julani was forced to rebrand al-Nusra as Jabhat Fateh Sham and pretend that the group has cut off ties with al-Qaeda, in order to gain access to support from Riyadh, Doha, Ankara, and Washington.

 Before, these countries had united the al-Nusra Front with Ahrar al-Sham to form the coalition of Army of Conquest (Jaish al-Fatah), which had succeeded in taking control of a large portion of northern regions of Syria, including almost all of the Idlib province. These internal developments in the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, coincided with the arrival of the resistance forces to the Castello road. The Syrian resistance forces were backed by Russian warplanes and their arrival resulted in complete blockade of areas under control of al-Nusra Front in the east of Aleppo. The Syrian resistance was also able to blockade western regions of this city, in January 2016. Following the blockade of east of Aleppo, Aron Lund, expert on the issues of Syria wrote the following in Carnegie institution’s website: “... it could trigger a more dramatic shift by finally convincing opposition groups that they have lost the war.”

In such situation, al-Julani appeared in front of camera, and for the first time he was not covering his face; he stated that he is changing the name of al-Nusra Front to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. He also declared that he has no ties with foreign groups (referring to al-Qaeda). By declaring independency from al-Qaeda he aimed to get his group’s name out of the list of terrorist organizations, in order to receive further support from regional countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Three days after changing the name, Syrian rebels led by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham started an operation to break the siege of the eastern region of Aleppo. In the meantime, western media outlets supported the rebels by declaring Jabhat Fateh al-Sham as the new heroes for saving people from the siege of Aleppo. These media outlets provided great coverage for a terrorist group that had only changed its name. The achievements of rebels’ operation in east of Aleppo is close to nothing, as said by military analyst, W. Patrick Lang. Even though the rebels, with heavy casualties, were able to take control of al-Ramouseh district in south east of Aleppo, they never managed to open up a safe way to gain support for themselves, since the Syrian resistance has kept this area under fire.

At the time of these field developments, two other events from outside of Syria played important roles in altering the direction and alliances of the war in this country. With changing its interests (everything from Assad's removal to preventing the formation of an independent Kurdish region along the southern border of Turkey) Turkey managed to revive its relations with Damascus’ allies, especially Russia. The failed coup attempt also brought the leaders of Russia, Iran, and Turkey closer, because Ankara found the US responsible for the coup, and publicly declared that Turkey was stabbed in the back by its allies.

These developments go completely against the interests and agendas of the US in Syria. The clash of Washington-backed forces with each other in the northern region of Syria, after Turkish military entered Jarabulus, is at the peak of the problem caused for the US by these developments. Since Turkey is one of the key members of NATO, the conflict between the US-backed Kurds and the Turkish military, stopped Washington from further influencing the field developments.

Such situations, caused US to have less bargaining power than the Russians. Washington was protesting Russia and its allies’ attacks in Aleppo, while it could not deny the presence of terrorist groups such as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in these regions. In fact, US’ support of groups that are considered to be terrorist groups even by US itself, clearly shows the double standard policies of this country. It seems that Russia is firing shots at US because such policies are being practiced by Washington. Moscow has repeatedly asked US to separate the groups that are considered moderate by Washington, from terrorist groups. However, in an interview with Bloomberg, Vladimir Putin declared that Russia has not faced backlash from US for these demands, but still, US is ignoring them.

US’ inability in separating the moderate groups from terrorist groups makes Damascus’ allies emphasize more strongly that the West has no acceptable alternative for President Bashar al-Assad. This is an issue that even Washington, and more importantly Turkey, have recently admitted, which has caused them to step down from their demand of Assad’s resignation.

A few days before the G20 meetings in China, it was clear that Russia and the US have reached an agreement on Syria, unlike the Russians however, Washington was not happy with this agreement. According to the reports, the most important part of this agreement for Russia was persuading the US to agree on an intelligence cooperation for targeting al-Qaeda leaders. Russia believes that with this cooperation, they will be able to force Washington to go towards Moscow's demands. However, the US could not abandon al-Qaeda and at the last moment, declared that they have not yet reached an agreement with Russia on the issue of Syria.

Immediately after US’ withdrawal from the abovementioned political agreement, Moscow and its allies planned to intensify ground attacks, and Syrian resistance forces successfully took control of al-Ramouseh district and cut the only support beam for the US-backed armed groups in Aleppo. On the other hand, it seems that through coordination with Moscow, Turkey is trying to isolate the extremist forces in this area. It has been reported that Ankara has stopped its donations to the Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) and is preventing the return of rebel groups from participating in the battle of Aleppo.

While looking at the battle map in Aleppo, it is clear that the chances for the armed groups to break the siege is close to zero, and they are almost finished in Aleppo. Also, since they no longer have practical use, it is clear that these armed groups have reached their expiration date. In such circumstances, if the senior leaders of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham get killed by the US, Russia, or even by internal forces, it would be the last nail in the coffin of al-Qaeda in Aleppo.



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