Army of Conquest

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Army of Conquest
جيش الفتح
Participant in the Syrian Civil War
Emblem of the Jaish al-Fatah.svg
Active 24 March 2015[1] – 27 January 2017
Ideology Sunni Islamism[2]
Salafi jihadism
Groups
Headquarters Idlib, Syria
Area of operations Syria
Size 50,000+[8][better source needed]
Allies
Opponents
Battles and wars

Syrian Civil War

The Army of Conquest (Arabic: جيش الفتح‎) or Jaish al-Fatah, abbreviated JaF, was a joint command center of Sunni Islamist Syrian rebel factions participating in the Syrian Civil War.

The alliance was formed in March 2015 under the supervision and coordination of Saudi cleric Abdullah al-Muhaysini. It consists of Islamist rebel factions mainly active in the Idlib Governorate, with some factions active in the Hama and Latakia Governorates.[2] In the course of the following months, it seized most of Idlib Governorate.[12][13]

In an October 2015 publication, the Washington D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War considered Jaish al-Fatah as one of the "powerbrokers" in the Idlib, Hama, Daraa and Quneitra Governorates, though not in the Damascus Governorate, and described it as primarily "anti-regime" and "anti-Hezbollah" but not necessarily "anti-ISIS".[14]

Participants[edit]

At its founding, Jaish al-Fatah contained seven members, three of whom (al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jund al-Aqsa) were directly connected to al-Qaeda or had a similar ideology.[13][15][16] With Ahrar al-Sham being the largest group,[17] al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham together were reported to represent 90 percent of the troops.[16] Another prominent Islamist faction in the operations room was the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria-linked Sham Legion (Faylaq Al-Sham). The remaining three founding members were Jaish al-Sunna; Liwa al-Haqq, and Ajnad al-Sham. Jaish al-Fatah collaborated with more moderate Free Syrian Army factions such as Knights of Justice Brigade.[18]

The coalition's initial success has been attributed to its strong coherence, with the name of individual factions being forbidden when the group conducts joint operations.[19]

Since the inter-rebel conflicts across Idlib, which led to Ahrar al-Sham clashing with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and the defections and mergers which started on 21 January 2017, the Army of Conquest has become defunct.

History[edit]

Formation[edit]

Jaish al-Fatah declared its formation on 24 March 2015.[1] On the same day, a pro-opposition source claimed that about fifty Syrian government soldiers defected to the new group.[1] As columnist David Ignatius reported, Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia were the primary sponsors of the new coalition that was led by al-Nusra.[20][21] Since the very beginning, the three states allegedly provided conspicuous material support to the group, mostly consisting of weapons and military equipment.[20][21] In 2016, shortly after al-Nusra changed its name in Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, Financial Times reporter Erica Solomon quoted rebels and activists claiming that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were consistently ferrying in cash and supplies to support a military offensive in Aleppo directed by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.[21][22]

In general, over the past years Qatar’s support for the al-Nusra front has remained constant in spite of the group’s rebranding operation and several strategic alliances and mergers.[21][23][24][25] In fact, Qatar’s sponsorship for the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria was in line with Doha’s strategy to expand its regional influence by investing on the increasing role of key actors – including extremist and terrorist entities – in a number of international arenas.[21][25][26]

The Army of Conquest captured Idlib City on 28 March 2015.[27] In the following months, they spearheaded an offensive that drove out government forces from almost all of Idlib Governorate.[12] Following this success, additional branches of the Army of Conquest were established in other parts of Syria.[28]

The Army of Conquest coalition was partially modelled upon the success of the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army,[29] and in turn newer coalitions, like the Battle of Victory, were modelled on the Army of Conquest.[30]

Saudi cleric Abdullah al-Muhaysini played a key role in the early history of the Army of Conquest. In fact, Muhayisini coordinated and supervised the establishment of the group, for which he also served as a religious judge and leader. He was targeted by U.S. Treasury Sanctions on November 10, 2016, for his role as mediator and recruiter on behalf of the al-Nusra Front.[31][32] Notably, Muhaysini also collected material and financial support for al-Nusra from the Gulf, especially, Qatar, and was known for his public endorsement of Qatar-based “Madid Ahl al-Sham”, a most effective fundraising campaign which al-Nusra itself acknowledged as “one of the preferred conduits for donations”.[32][33][34][35]

Expansion to other parts of Syria[edit]

In early May 2015, the Army of Conquest formed a new branch in Western Qalamoun, called Army of Conquest - al-Qalamoun.[28] On 1 October 2015, after defeats by pro-Assad forces, Army of Conquest in Qalamoun was replaced by an independent faction called Saraya Ahl al-Sham, which aims to unite all rebel factions in Western Qalamoun. However, the al-Nusra Front was not included in Saraya Ahl al-Sham, although the two groups continued to cooperate.[36]

The following month, the al-Nusra Front issued a statement calling on the opposition in the Eastern Ghouta area of Damascus to form a similar coalition,[37] but this call was rejected by the Unified Military Command of Eastern Ghouta,[38] a grouping which includes the most prominent factions in the area.

In October 2015 Army of Conquest members al-Nusra Front and Ahrar ash-Sham (also a member of the Unified Military Command of Eastern Ghouta), along with other groups formed Jund al-Malahm, an operations room in the Eastern Ghouta area of Damascus, in direct competition with the Unified Military Command of Eastern Ghouta operations room.

On 20 June, the Army of Conquest in the southern region was established[39][40] and immediately took part in the campaign in Quneitra.[41] The coalition includes Ahrar al-Sham, al-Nusra Front, the Fatah al-Sham Coalition, Ihyaa al-Jihad Brigade, Mujahideen of Nawa Gathering, Lions of Unity Brigade, Ansar al-Haq Brigade, and the Islamic Brigade of al- Omarein.

On July 2016, the al-Nusra Front renamed itself as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, restructured the group further, and began to create propaganda to support their offensives across the Aleppo Governorate.

Restructuring[edit]

On 23 October 2015, Jund al-Aqsa announced a split from Jaysh al-Fatah,[42] reportedly due to disagreements with Ahrar al-Sham over the application of Islamic law in areas under their control. Following this development, there were unconfirmed reports that al-Nusra Front, in an act of solidarity with Jund al-Aqsa, left the coalition,[43] or that Jund al-Aqsa would be rejoining Jaysh al-Fateh.[44] In January 2016, the Sham Legion announced it was leaving the group, ostensibly to redeploy its forces to Aleppo, but also due to tensions with Jund al-Aqsa.[6][45]

In May 2016, the Army of Conquest announced it was restructuring, ending ties with Jund al-Aqsa while readmitting the Sham Legion. It was also joined by the Turkistan Islamic Party, a jihadist group composed of Uyghurs from Xinjiang.[6]

On 24 September 2016, Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement joined the group.[46] Several days later, the Suqour al-Sham Brigade also joined the group.[7]

On 9 October, Jund al-Aqsa rejoined Al-Nusra Front, thus rejoining the Army of Conquest, though on 23 January 2017 they were kicked out of Al-Nusra and by extension the Army of Conquest.

On 23 January 2017, the al-Nusra Front attacked Jabhat Ahl al-Sham bases in Atarib and other towns in western Aleppo. All the bases were captured and by 24 January, the group was defeated and joined Ahrar al-Sham.[47]

Battles[edit]

Date Battle Place Against Result
24–28 March 2015 Second Battle of Idlib Idlib  Syrian Arab Republic Victory
22 April – 14 June 2015 Northwestern Syria offensive (April–June 2015) Idlib and Hama Governorates  Syrian Arab Republic Victory
4 May – 21 June 2015 Qalamoun offensive Qalamun Hezbollah
 Syrian Arab Republic
Defeat
28 July–28 August 2015 Al-Ghab Offensive Idlib Governorate  Syrian Arab Republic Victory
28 March 2015 – present Siege of Al-Fu'ah and Kafarya Idlib Governorate  Syrian Arab Republic Ongoing
March – 9 September 2015 Siege of Abu al-Duhur Airbase Idlib Governorate  Syrian Arab Republic Victory
7 October – 10 November 2015 Northwestern Syria offensive (October–November 2015) Hama Governorate  Syrian Arab Republic Indecisive
1 April – 18 June 2016 2016 Southern Aleppo campaign Aleppo Governorate  Syrian Arab Republic Victory
27 June – 12 August 2016 2016 Latakia offensive Latakia Governorate  Syrian Arab Republic Defeat
31 July – 6 August 2016 Aleppo offensive (July–August 2016) Aleppo Governorate  Syrian Arab Republic Victory
11 August – 11 September 2016 Aleppo offensive (August–September 2016) Aleppo Governorate  Syrian Arab Republic Defeat
22 September – 16 October 2016 Aleppo offensive (September–October 2016) Aleppo Governorate  Syrian Arab Republic
 Russia
 Iran
Defeat
28 October – 12 November 2016 Aleppo offensive (October–November 2016) Aleppo Governorate  Syrian Arab Republic
 Russia
 Iran
Defeat
15 November – 22 December 2016 Aleppo offensive (November–December 2016) Aleppo Governorate  Syrian Arab Republic
 Russia
 Iran
Defeat

War crimes[edit]

On 11 June 2016, the al-Nusra Front killed at least 20 Druze villagers in Qalb Lawzeh in Idlib province.[48]

On 12 May 2016, pro-government sources reported that rebels led by al-Nusra Front and Ahrar ash-Sham massacred 42 civilians and seven NDF militiamen while kidnapping up to 70 people after taking control of the Alawite village of Zara'a in Southern Hama.[49][50][better source needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "News Update 3-25-15". Syria Direct. Retrieved 25 March 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Rebels seek to storm Idlib amid chemical fears". NOW. 25 March 2015. 
  3. ^ "Hoping to break into encircled east Aleppo, rebels surprise with attack from southwest". Syria Direct. 1 August 2016. Retrieved 7 August 2016. 
  4. ^ "Jund al Aqsa". Standford Mapping Terrorism. Retrieved 7 May 2018. 
  5. ^ 24 Sep 2016 (2016-09-24). "Mark on Twitter: "Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki join Jaish al-Fatah in northern". Twitter.com. Retrieved 2017-03-02. 
  6. ^ a b c "Jaysh al Fath coalition launches new offensive in Aleppo province". The Long War Journal. 
  7. ^ a b "Hassan Hassan حسن on Twitter: "Zinki and Suqour al-Sham (recently defected from Ahrar al-Sham) join Jaish al-Fateh (which includes Ahrar al-Sham)."". Twitter.com. 2016-09-27. Retrieved 2017-03-02. 
  8. ^ Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham: Hardliners take over Syria's opposition, The Week, 29 August 2017
  9. ^ "Syrian rebels combat ISIS, Hezbollah in Qalamoun". ARA News. 15 May 2015. 
  10. ^ a b "Jihadist coalition captures checkpoints around city of Idlib". Long War Journal. 27 March 2015. 
  11. ^ "Al Qaeda and allies form coalition to battle Syrian regime in Idlib". Long War Journal. 24 March 2015. 
  12. ^ a b Ryan Rifai (6 June 2015). "Syrian group claims control of Idlib province". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  13. ^ a b Kim Sengupta (12 May 2015). "Turkey and Saudi Arabia alarm the West by backing Islamist extremists the Americans had bombed in Syria". The Independent. 
  14. ^ Jennifer Cafarella; Genevieve Casagrande (7 October 2015). "Syrian Opposition Guide" (PDF). Backgrounder. Institute for the Study of War: 3. 
  15. ^ "U.S. sanctions jihadist Syrian rebel group Jund al-Aqsa". Reuters. 20 September 2016.
  16. ^ a b "Gulf allies and 'Army of Conquest". Al-Ahram Weekly. 28 May 2015. Jabhat Al-Nusra and Ahrar Al-Sham represent 90 per cent of the troops. The Saudis and Qataris are to provide funding for 40 per cent of the coalition’s needs 
  17. ^ "Syrian rebels fight Syrian army near Assad heartland". Newsweek. Reuters. 30 April 2015. Retrieved 1 May 2015. As the biggest group in Army of Fatah, Ahrar al-Sham appears to hold the key to preventing infighting. 
  18. ^ "'Army of Conquest' rebel alliance pressures Syria regime". Daily Mail. AFP. 28 April 2015. Retrieved 2 May 2015. The coalition, whose formation was announced in March, comprises a range of mostly jihadist and Islamist groups, the most prominent being Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and the powerful Islamist Ahrar al-Sham [...] Other important members include Faylaq al-Sham, a coalition of Muslim Brotherhood-linked battalions, and Jund al-Aqsa, a small jihadist group. 
  19. ^ "Syrian Insurgent gains expose Assad Weaknesses"[permanent dead link] AP sourced article in The New York Times. "Muayad Zurayk, an activist in Idlib city, attributed the opposition's success in the province to the joint operations room [...] "All operations stemming from the coordinated command center are done in the name of Jaish al-Fatah," he said, referring to the unified command. "It is forbidden to mention the name of any faction.""
  20. ^ a b Ignatius, David; Ignatius, David (2015-05-12). "A new cooperation on Syria". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-03-14. 
  21. ^ a b c d e http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/11717_Weinberg_Qatar_Report.pdf
  22. ^ "Subscribe to read". Financial Times. 
  23. ^ "Al-Nusra's New Identity Presents Qatar With Unprecedented Opportunity". Consortium Against Terrorist Finance. Retrieved 2017-03-14. 
  24. ^ "Infighting Erupts Between Turkey and Qatar Sponsored Groups in Syria: Will JFS Take Over?". Consortium Against Terrorist Finance. Retrieved 2017-03-14. 
  25. ^ a b https://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/publications/Qatar_Part_I.pdf
  26. ^ "Gulf crisis seen widening split in Syria rebellion". Reuters. 
  27. ^ "Qaeda, allies seize Syria's Idlib city in blow to regime". AFP. 28 March 2015. Retrieved 4 April 2015. 
  28. ^ a b Pollard, Ruth (9 May 2015). "New coalition shakes Syria's Assad regime". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 November 2015. The model is now being copied in areas such as the Qalamoun – the mountain ranges between Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and Syria 
  29. ^ "In Syria, Support for Rebel Unity Carries Risks". Stratfor. 30 April 2015. Retrieved 1 May 2015. With the Southern Front success as a model, rebel backers then sought to deploy similar methods in the north. 
  30. ^ Jocelyn, Thomas (23 April 2015). "Al Nusrah Front, allies launch new offensives against Syrian regime". Long War Journal. 
  31. ^ "Treasury Designates Key Al-Nusrah Front Leaders". www.treasury.gov. Retrieved 2017-03-14. 
  32. ^ a b "US Treasury designates Saudi jihadist cleric, three others in Syria | FDD's Long War Journal". FDD's Long War Journal. Retrieved 2017-03-14. 
  33. ^ "Al-Nusra and its Gulf Financiers: The Political Cost of a Long-Running Alliance". Consortium Against Terrorist Finance. Retrieved 2017-03-14. 
  34. ^ "Syrian conflict said to fuel sectarian tensions in Persian Gulf". Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-03-14. 
  35. ^ "Chapter 2. Country Reports: Middle East and North Africa Overview". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2017-03-14. 
  36. ^ "Syria rebels form new Qalamoun coalition". NOW. 1 October 2015. 
  37. ^ Yousef, Sarbaz (11 June 2015). "Nusra demands Syrian rebels to unite against Assad in Damascus". ARA News. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  38. ^ sohranas. "The Unified Military Command of the Eastern Ghouta refuses the invitation of Jabhat al- Nusra to establish "al- Fateh Army in the Ghouta" calling it to disband its judicial councils and join "the Unified Command"". Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. Archived from the original on 26 June 2015. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  39. ^ "فصائل سورية تشكل فرعا لجيش الفتح بالمنطقة الجنوبية". 
  40. ^ sohranas. "Some factions establish "al- Fateh Army" in the south of Syria". Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  41. ^ "Charles Lister on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  42. ^ "Al Qaeda front group claims success in key Syrian town". Long War Journal. 5 November 2015. Retrieved 9 November 2015. 
  43. ^ "Reports: Al-Nusra Front leaves Jaish al-Fatah coalition in Syria". Middle East Eye. 
  44. ^ Sam Heller (9 November 2015). "The End of the Army of Conquest? Syrian Rebel Alliance Shows Cracks". Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  45. ^ "Syrian rebel group says exits Islamist alliance to refocus fight". Reuters. 3 January 2016. Retrieved 3 January 2016. 
  46. ^ 24 Sep 2016 (2016-09-24). "Mark on Twitter: "Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki join Jaish al-Fatah in northern"". Twitter.com. Retrieved 2017-03-02. 
  47. ^ منذ 3 اشهر. "وكالة قاسيون للأنباء | جيش المجاهدين يعلن انضمامه لحركة أحرار الشام". Qasioun.net. Retrieved 2017-03-02. 
  48. ^ AP. "Activists: Al Qaeda affiliate kills 20 members of minority sect in Syria". Fox News. 
  49. ^ Leith Fadel (12 May 2016). "Syrian opposition forces massacre, kidnap 120 civilians in southern Hama". Al Masdar News. 
  50. ^ "Islamists agree to hand over corpses of civilians massacred in northern Homs". Al-Masdar News. 24 May 2016.