November 6, 2014
By Brent Eng, Mohammed al-Haj Ali and Moutasem Jamal
AMMAN: The US-led coalition reportedly conducted airstrikes against Jabhat a-Nusra and an Ahrar a-Sham base in Idlib province near the Turkish border Wednesday night as analysts warn that America is misplaying its hand.
“Ahrar is the most popular militia of the rebellion,” said University of Oklahoma professor and Syria expert Joshua Landis over Twitter on Thursday.
The strikes mark the first time the coalition has targeted rebels other than Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate and the Islamic State inside Syria, reported the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The US may have now lost Syria,” said Brookings weapons specialist Charles Lister.
“If the US coalition hit Ahrar a-Sham in Syria as some reports suggest then the ‘moderates’ might as well give up and go home at this point,” tweeted Eliot Higgins, a Britain-based war analyst known as Brown Moses.
“If reports of US strikes on Ahrar a-Sham are true, it marks a new low point,” said Noah Bonsey, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.
The aftermath of US airstrikes in Idlib province on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Halab Today TV.
The attacks also killed four children in addition to a number of Nusra and Ahrar a-Sham fighters, reported pro-opposition news outlet Smart News Agency.
A losing battle
The airstrikes against Nusra and Ahrar a-Sham follow their success over the weekend capturing Jabal a-Zawiya in south Idlib province and driving out the American-backed Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), led by Jamal Maruf.
Maruf’s current location is unknown, though he is rumored to be on the Turkish side of the Syrian border.
The SRF, while popular with the US and its allies because of its ostensibly moderate stance, may not have been popular with Syrians under its rule.
“[The SRF] only provided support to their soldiers, they weren’t interested in anyone else,” Ala a-Din al-Khatib, a citizen journalist living in Jabal a-Zawiya told Syria Direct Wednesday.
“We hated the so-called SRF and Harakat Hazm [another US-backed moderate rebel group] because they were accustomed to looting and stealing.”
Jamal Maruf and the SRF rose to prominence earlier this year when they drove the Islamic State, then known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, out of Aleppo province with the help of aid from the US and Saudi Arabia.
While Nusra was the principal actor in this weekend’s attack against the SRF, Ahrar a-Sham contributed to the capture of the SRF base on Saturday, Nusra chief Abu Mohammed Jolani said in an audio recording released Tuesday.
“After repeated attacks on our people and our men in Idlib [by Maruf], Nusra, Ahrar a-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa [a militant Islamist rebel group] and the people of the region made the decision to end the SRF,” said Jolani.
Two months ago, before the US-led attacks on Syria began, Ahrar a-Sham was reportedly considering joining a council of moderate rebels when an explosion at a meeting to discuss the possibility killed at least 28 high ranking members, including its then-leader General Hassan Aboud.
No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing.
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