Fri 17 Aug 2018

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Al-Assad Gets Hold of Southern Syria

Assad’s forces troops on the borders of the occupied Golan Heights- July 2018 (AFP)

Assad’s forces troops on the borders of the occupied Golan Heights- July 2018 (AFP)

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Without casualties, of any sort, Assad’s forces got hold of Southern Syria, after they regained complete control over the opposition-held areas and the “Islamic State’s” in the two governorates of Daraa and Qunitera. The battle of Southern Syria has no liking, as it resembled none of the battles that happened in the other Syrian areas, neither in its duration nor the movements planned for it.

Since the first day of the military operation, late in June, Assad’s forces initiated their action with reconciliation and “legalization” agreements with opposition factions’ leaders. These deals helped them regain control over all the areas which they lost in the first years of the revolution. Russia was there, as Assad’s forces main source of support, and presented itself as a guarantor to the agreements’ terms with the area’s civilians and fighters alike.

The guarantees Russia has provided the people and the fighters of Southern Syria under the sealed agreements will be tested only at application, facing talks about the regime’s preparations to impose a new military and security policy, which it started with sweep campaigns in the areas controlled by its forces in the eastern rural parts of Daraa.

 

Capitulation Deal in the Yarmouk Basin

The area of Yarmouk Basin was the last of the areas controlled by Assad’s forces in Southern Syria following two weeks of the battles against the “Islamic State” (ISIS).

Contrary to the expectations, the jihadist organization did not resist a lot, for the military development accelerated to the advantage of Assad’s forces, which were joined by former groups of the “Free Army.” These groups were the spear head of the on-ground operations, since they have been receiving “painful” blows from the “Islamic state” and now they have been provided with the chance to “revenge.”

The control over the Yarmouk Basin was introduced by a capitulation deal, under which “ISIS” had to surrender before the “legalization” groups and the Syrian regime, as a first of its kind incident, knowing the “Islamic State’s” policy. Two weeks from the confrontations beginning point, more than 100 fighters surrendered themselves, of whom 25 troops were extrajudicially executed and others were transported to a regime’s security concentration center.

 

Russian Troops Deployed in Golan Heights

In the governorate of Qunitera, which Assad’s forces entered after they finished with the western countryside of Daraa, Russia started preparing to spread its forces in the Golan Heights and establish eight supervision points there as to prevent any provocations against the UN positions.

“Interfax,” a Russian news agency, has reported on, August 2, that Russian police forces will be positioned along the “Bravo” line, which separates the occupied parts of Golan from the liberated parts.

Sergey Rodsqui, chief operating officer of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, pointed out that UN “peacekeeping forces” which suspended their activities in Golan Heights in 2012, can now resume action.

In Sync with the preparations to spread forces, Russia has sent Israel reassurances that none of “Hezbollah” troops would be deployed at the borders, for the Russian ambassador to Tal Aviv, Anatoly Antonov, stressed that the Syrian borders with Israel will be controlled only by the Syrian official army, without any foreign groups.

n an interview on the Israeli Channel 2, the ambassador stressed the presence of a deal that provides for the none deployment of forces other than the Syrian official army on the borders with Israel on the Syrian side, adding that “the priority is to guarantee Israel’s security. This is not mere words for the Russian foreign policy.”

A map showing the military control over Southern Syria – July 4, 2018 (Livemap)

A map showing the military control over Southern Syria – July 4, 2018 (Livemap)

 

 “Khalid ibn al-Walid Army”: Formation, Pledge of Allegiance and Submission

“Khalid ibn al-Walid Army” was formed in May 2016, through the merger of two major factions, the “Yarmouk Martyrs” Brigade and the “Islamic Muthanna Movement,” as well as the “al-Mujahideen Movement.”

The Army’s adopts, in terms of doctrine and thought, a vision based on the Salafist Jihadist Current.

In its founding statement, signed with “Yarmouk Basin Sector,” the “Army” declared that the title “Quarters 105” will be cancelled to be called “Al-Andalus”, and then “Quarters106” will be terminated entirely.

The two centers mentioned above are security centers affiliated with the “Yarmouk Martyrs” Brigade in the area, from which battles against the opposition factions in Daraa governorate were led.

The merger of the “Yarmouk Martyrs” and the “Muthanna Movement” was headed by a joint military alliance, against the opposition factions in the southern area. Back then, the opposition factions accused the two formations of affiliation with the “Islamic state.”

As for the “al-Mujahideen Movement,” this is a new name bestowed on “Saraya al-Jihad,” which was previously positioned in the area of al-Qahtaniyah, rural Quneitra, and was militarily persecuted by “al-Nusra Front” on the ground of pledging allegiance to the “Islamic state.” Battles between the two sides took place in 2015 leading to the death of about 100 troops from both sides, before the faction retreated to the Yarmouk Basin.

In the movement’s first foundation statement, the terms were totally oblivious of the Syrian regime and the battles against it and stressed that the “Al-Andalosu Quarters’” (Internal Security) responsibility is “combating the attempts of treasury and perfidy by the apostates (opposition factions),” this quarter’s frame of reference will be the “Islamic Court.”

The “Islamic State” has assigned a new prince following the declaration of the new body in the Yarmouk Basin area, called “Abu Uthman al-Shami” as a successor to the former prince “Abu Abdullah al-Madani.” At that time, activists pointed out that the decision of assigning “Abu Uthman al-Shami” came as a direct order from the head of the “Islamic state,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

 

Blows Directed at Princes

The jihadist organizations’ journey witnessed the regain of a number of commanders and princes and received the greatest blow ever in August 2017, when three of its princes were killed in two months by air raids.

The first prince to be killed is “Abu Mohammad al-Maqdesi,” who came in command after the death of his former leader “Abu Hashem al-Idlibi” in October 2016, who was killed by an explosive device that targeted his car.

Al- Maqdesi led the “Islamic State” in the area of Al-Dumayr, in the eastern rural parts of Damascus, which he exited under the agreement sealed with the Syrian regime that provided for the “Islamic State’s” retreat to the desert which started to be applied at the beginning of April 2016.

Following the formation of “Khalid Army” in the Yarmouk Basin, May 2016, al-Maqdesi joined the formation to become its leader before being killed in an air raid on June 7, 2017, along the army’s military commander “Abu Auday al-Homsi” and the leader “Abu Dujanah al-Idlibi.”

The second leader that the “Islamic State” lost is “Abu Hisham al-Rifai,” from the town of Tell Shihab in the western rural part of Daraa. Al-Rifai worked as a military prince for the “Yarmouk Martyrs” and was one of the key companions of “Abu Ali Al-Baridi” dubbed al-Khal (the uncle), the founder of the brigade.

In June 29, 2017, a “Tomahawk” (missile), likely to have been launched from a U.S. military battleship positioned in the Mediterranean Sea as informed sources have told Ebab Baladi, targeted a meeting that joined the Army’s leaders, which led to the death of al-Rifai, in addition to other prominent ten leaders.

“Abu Taim Inkhil” is the third key leader, with the death of whom the “Islamic State” received a “massive” blunder. He was born in the town of Inkhil, rural Daraa. He left the “Free Army” and joined “al-Jihad Army” three years ago, which in May 2015, fought a battle against “al-Nusra Front” and the “Free Army” in rural Qunitera, based on the accusations that linked it to the “Islamic State.”

 

Ambush-Based Strategy

Since the first day of “ISIS” control over the Yarmouk Basin, the opposition factions failed to make any progress in the area despite the military operations and battles they waged against it every now and then.

“Khaild Army” came to be considered as an obsession to the opposition factions, which lost hundreds of troops in the surprising attacks that the “Islamic State” launched at intervals and with every attack it managed to get hold of weaponry and munition.

The greatest assault that “Khalid Army” has conducted was in February 2017, through which it seized villages and hilltops, on top of which are Saham al-Jawlan, Tasil, Tall al-Jumu, expanding its map of control in the north-western part of the city of Daraa.

“Khalid Army” has adopted the hit-and-run method in its attacks in the area of the Yarmouk Basin, and the opposition factions could not make any progress at its expense in the past months, as it resorted to ambushes.

Since the beginning of 2018, the “Daraa Martyrs Documentation Office” has documented the death of more than 100 fighters from both sides (opposition and Khalid Army), in addition to hundreds who died in 2017.

 

Copying the “Islamic State”

Even though “Khalid Army” has not announced the doctrine it follows in the Yarmouk Basin, the procedures it undertook were enough to prove its affiliation to the “Islamic State”, especially in terms of executions it implemented and the penalties it issued against the militants and civilians based in its area of control.

The accusations were many due to which the Army executed civilians, on top of these came “dealing with the regime, the Free Army, magic, apostasy and insulting the deity,” and others.

In January 2017, Enab Baladi quoted informed sources from the Yarmouk Basin, that “Khalid Army” ordered that its prisons, in the areas of its control, be emptied.

The sources at that time pointed out that about 20 detainees in its prisons might face death, execution verdicts in the coming period.

The executions did not target civilians only, but they have also affected leaders of the organization itself. In June 2017, sources from the Yarmouk Basin reported that the “Islamic State” has implemented “qisas verdict” against a number of its former leaders and troops who fought in its lines on the accusation of “treason” and the assassination of its leaders, in addition to civilians.

Among the leaders whom the faction has executed are Abu Auiada Qhtan, Abu Hssan al-Nawawi, Khalid Jamal al-Briadi and Abu Tahrir al-Falastini

About a year later, the faction declared the leaders it executed innocent, saying: “the defendants are Muslims whose treason was not proven, neither involvement in the killing of Abu Hashem al-Idlibi. The truth lies in their being innocent and that they were killed unjustly. Their money that was confiscated will be given back.”

 

Pledge of Allegiance

“Khalid Army” kept its identity a secret without clarifying the entity it follows until June 2018, where it admitted affiliation with the “Islamic State,” in a statement published in the latter’s public relations office.

The faction’s confession of affiliation with the “Islamic State” correspond to the military operation that Assad’s forces initiated in Daraa governorate against the opposition factions, the first movements of which took place in the eastern rural parts, the al-Lajat area in particular.

“Khalid Army’s” announcements differed, and the news of its battles shifted from its official platforms to those of “ISIS” affiliate “Amaaq” agency, using “Hauran State” in the news addressing the Yarmouk Basin.

Corresponding to Assad’s forces progress at the expense of the opposition factions in Daraa, “Khalid Army” exploited the opportunity and hosted dozens of the civilians from the areas that were shield by the Russian air forces and enlisted them in training camps, in a proactive step to resist the military operation triggered against it.

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