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Attempts to create Unified Military Council in rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib 

The graduation of a new batch of fighters from the preparation and training camps of the "National Liberation Front" - 25 October 2020 (Azaaeem)

The graduation of a new batch of fighters from the preparation and training camps of the "National Liberation Front" - 25 October 2020 (Azaaeem)

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Enab Baladi – Exclusive 

Opposition factions have taken several steps and initiatives to form a unified military body in its area of control. However, followed by Turkey’s attempts and pressure, some succeeded in establishing military gatherings under different names. Still, they were a consolidation process, not integration, which opens the door easily for their future failure and indiscipline. 

Although there were many attempts at the level of the military organization, all of them ended in failure for many reasons, including “the first and second defense staff,” gatherings, and operation rooms, as highlighted by Captain Abdul Salam Abdul Razzaq, a leader in the Syrian National Army (SNA), in an interview with Enab Baladi

Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which has the greatest influence in Idlib governorate and part of the western countryside of Aleppo, along with the Sham Legion and the National Liberation Front (NLF), is seeking to form a Unified Military Council (UMC) to manage military operations in Idlib governorate and part of the countryside of Lattakia, the western countryside of Aleppo and the northern countryside of Hama, which are controlled by the opposition.

The UMC is considered a higher stage of coordination and management that is currently in the al-Fateh al-Mubin (The Great Conquest) operations room, which includes Syrian rebel and jihadist factions such as HTS, NLF, and the Army of Glory, but it does not reach the stage of integration and fusion. Thus, names included in the UMC disappeared, and new names appeared. 

Enab Baladi tried to access detailed information about the UMC formation but did not receive a response from the NLF’s media office. On the other hand, the communication director at the HTS, Taqi al-Din Omar, apologized that he cannot make an announcement in accordance with directives about the formation of the UMC until the stages of the inter-factional agreement are over. 

Enab Baladi monitored that the leadership of the UMC includes representatives, namely Captain Inad Darwish, aka “Abu al-Mundhir” from “Ahrar al-Sham,” “Abu Hassan 600” from “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham,” and Muhammad Hourani from the Sham Legion. 

Success and failure are tied to work on ground 

Captain Abdul Salam Abdul Razzaq highlighted that the UMC’s failure or success could only be determined by working on the ground, indicating that the fundamentals for the failure of most projects are fanaticism to factionalism and advancing the interests of the faction.

Abdul Razzaq said, “I do not understand the seriousness of building a strong military body capable of protecting the land and the revolution, except in the absence of designations. Besides, the military institution must be established in accordance with the standards of armies.” Otherwise, the matter is a tactic for a stage.

The idea of unifying military efforts within a single organizational framework has implications for improving response to military risks if an understanding and harmony take place between the components of the UMC, and an efficient military leadership has taken over the movement of the UMC on the ground, Muhammad Sarmini, director of Turkey-based Josoor Center for Studies told Enab Baladi.

Sarmini ruled out that there would be merging and melting between the factions of the UMC unless the various formations were fully convinced that they would work within one entity and unify the financial and logistical resources confining them to an agreed leadership.

The “Army of Conquest” is considered one of the most prominent military formations that resulted from the unification of several military factions on 24 March 2015, and it played a major role in the opposition’s control of Idlib governorate in 2015, and the battles to lift the siege on the city of Aleppo in 2016.

Adding to that, the NLF was formed in May 2018 from 11 factions of the opposition forces, most notably “The Sham Legion,” “Ahrar al-Sham,” and “The Mountain Hawks Brigade.”

The NLF is part of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) formed in December 2017. The NLF belongs to the Staff Command of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG).

Does HTS exploit UMC or unit efforts?

Researcher Abd al-Wahhab Asi said on his Telegram channel that the HTS is trying to invest the UMC in two basic issues. 

First, the HTS uses the UMC as a maneuver to avoid the pressures exerted by Turkey to dissolve it.  The HTS could present the UMC as a new entity, but at the same time, the HTS will remain the upper hand. 

The second issue is the HTS’s endeavor to invest the UMC in legitimizing the political role to become internationally acceptable, given that the UMC will not hold the name of “the HTS.”

 The HTS will later announce political representation for the factions of Idlib.

Researcher Muhammad Sarmini believes that the UMC is most likely one of the HTS’s means to consolidate its hegemony in Idlib at the expense of the other factions, which will weaken their influence and military weight, especially with the presence of a wing inside “Ahrar al-Sham” that supports full identification with the HTS’s vision, regarding the work of the UMC.

According to Sarmini, this wing is now receiving support from the HTS, and it has monopolized the representation of “Ahrar al-Sham” within the UMC. Thus, the HTS now has two votes within the UMC against one for the NLF. 

Ahrar al-Sham movement experienced an internal split between a supporter of the General Commander, Jaber Ali Pasha, and Hassan Soufan, whose name returned to Ahrar al-Sham’s leadership after the commander of the military wing, “Abu al-Mundhir,” refused the leadership’s decision to dismiss Soufan and nominate him as the leader of Ahrar al-Sham, which is what Pasha considered a coup against the movement’s leadership.

The HTS  was accused of supporting “Abu al-Mundhir” and Soufan at the expense of the General Command Jaber Ali Pasha, but the HTS denied its support for any wing against the other.

The idea of ​​forming a UMC, according to what researcher Abbas Sharifa said in a previous interview with Enab Baladi, belongs to leader Hassan Soufan, while the Shura Council officially called for it in Idlib last May.

 

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