Honors reflect HTS pursuit of loyalty and backup in northern Syria
Enab Baladi- Hassan Ibrahim
Powerful Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has honored top commanders and fighters in its various military formations in northwestern Syria in repeated boasting conduct faced by criticism raising speculations about the causes and the consequences.
The Islamist group that controls parts of Syria’s northwest has a military presence in Idlib governorate, part of the western countryside of Aleppo, the countryside of the coastal Latakia region, and the al-Ghab Plain, northwest of Hama governorate.
Honoring in soaring pace
On 5 February, Tahrir al-Sham honored its first fighters during the graduation of the Battalions Leaders training course. The media wing of Tahrir al-Sham, Amjad Foundation, published a video recording of the honoring ceremony, which witnessed the presence of the General Commander of Tahrir al-Sham, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, and leaders working in the HTS ranks.
The formerly known as the Nusra Front honored on 13 February the outstanding fighters within the Saraya Leaders training for the military wing brigades in the presence of its Commander Abu al-Hassan al-Hamawi.
The HTS faction honored fighters within its ranks in the Automated Fortification and Manual Fortification section, on 20 February, in the presence of the senior commanders of the military wing.
The HTS, on 22 February, honored fighters who excelled in the Raising Readiness training for the fighters of Omar Ibn al-Khattab Brigade.
Also, on 28 February, the HTS honored the outstanding fighters in the Sharia courses within the Reserve Artillery Brigade in the presence of the faction leaders.
HTS seeks popularity
Dr. Abdullah al-Assaad, head of the Rasd Center for Strategic Studies, told Enab Baladi that the honoring operations are a step among the projects implemented by the HTS, such as the establishment of military institutions and the inauguration of service facilities.
Tahrir al-Sham established last May the Military Conscription Department, with eight recruitment branches, distributed within its areas of control over key towns and large areas.
On 7 January, the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), the political umbrella of Tahrir al-Sham, set up new road links between Aleppo province and Bab al-Hawa border town, in the presence of al-Golani.
Al-Assaad considers that the purpose of Tahrir al-Sham’s honors is to occupy an advanced position in the hearts of the group’s leaders and to have its name repeated in the region, drawing attention to its presence and size in the light of the fact that it is greater than all other factions.
The Tahrir al-Sham held honors to gain popularity and strengthen the morale of the military factions and their elements and members, according to al-Assaad, who believes that this behavior is not absurd, but rather a behavior that relies on psychological methods affecting the military and civilians, in order for Tahrir al-Sham to have a great impact on them.
To shape morale influence
The head of Rasd Center said the honoring also aimed to make way for a distinction between Tahrir al-Sham and the rest of the factions, such as the Syrian National Army (SNA), to show the HTS as a distinct and disciplined military group. It has become in the form of an organized and coordinated entity that does what it entails and an entity able to be in the region as a form of government.
Other factions, especially the SNA in the opposition-held countryside of Aleppo, the towns of Ras al-Ain, northwest of al-Hasakah and Tal Abyad, north of Raqqa, have been criticized for the lack of centralization in military matters and decisions, the multiplicity of factions and names, and the large number of mergers and military formations under their umbrella.
The apparent manner of the Tahrir al-Sham is called the mass media influence on the citizens, according to al-Assaad, who thinks that the group is following, and it is an aspect of moral guidance that has to do with morale, and in order to cover the negatives underneath, and “hidden” attitudes that are followed by Tahrir al-Sham.
Hassan al-Nifi, a researcher and political analyst, told Enab Baladi that the honors witnessed by the ranks of Tahrir al-Sham take place within another unusual employment, as usually any honor within the ranks of the military means a reward for an achievement, but the HTS honors came in the sense of contentious loyalty.
The honoring operations increased after the HTS extended its military control, after many disputes with other factions, which began in 2014 with a dispute between Tahrir al-Sham, the Syria Revolutionaries Front, and some units of the former Free Syrian Army (FSA).
These internal disputes led to the dissolution of many formations affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, as the HTS detained a large number of FSA fighters and confiscated their weapons at that time, and the disputes continued gradually until HTS was able to extend its influence over the region, to be the only dominant military body and the influencer.
Tahrir al-Sham’s activity was not limited to displacing or expelling the other opposition factions or integrating them into its ranks. Instead, it worked on training members in military training courses, graduating several batches of these courses, and honoring the first fighters there.
Al-Nifi explained that when a leader in the ranks of the HTS resorts to honoring a person, this means a reward for his loyalty and not for his achievement, especially since al-Golani appears these days in need of his military entity to the issue of internal cohesion, and this is only translated through the build-up of group’s cohesion based on the amount of loyalties, not institutional uniformity.
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