Rebels Launch Attack on Vehicle Base Near Damascus

East Ghouta - 15 Nov 2017.png

On 14 November 2017, Ahrar al-Sham, Faylaq al-Rahman, and Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), began an offensive against a Syrian Army vehicle base east of Damascus. The base is located in a wedge of government-controlled territory between the rebel-controlled cities of Harasta and Irbin. Yesterday’s was the first major attempt by the rebels to seize the base since August 2015.

The attack was initiated with an HTS SBVIED. It then proceeded  from two points – Ahrar al-Sham attacked from their stronghold of Harasta and Faylaq al-Rahman attacked from Madyara.

The most significant advance came from the north. Rebels reportedly cleared all of al-Ajmi district and also took a command centre on the northern edge of the base.

The close cooperation between Ahrar al-Sham and Faylaq al-Rahman is interesting considering the major clashes that took place in Irbin between the two groups in early August. Those clashes followed months of hostility that began in May when Rahman attacked Ahrar buildings in Irbin. They ended on 9 August with a truce agreement.  The current offensive is indicative of rapprochement between the former foes. The relationship between Rahman and Douma-based Jaysh al-Islam (JaI) remains strongly adversarial, with JaI releasing a statement just a week ago condeminging Rahman and HTS. Ahrar was not mentioned in the statement, demonstrating that JaI still considers Ahrar an ally in spite of Ahrar’s improved relations with Rahman.

As of now, the base has not fallen, but government forces have taken significant losses and have not yet recovered lost positions.

A total of 12 pro-government fatalities have been identified via social media. It is likely that the true number is higher, as six more deaths were reported today (15 November) and some fatalities are never reported.

Ahmed Ali Suleiman.jpg
Ahmed Ali Suleiman, from Wadi al-Baraka, Tartous Governorate
Ali Murshid Ismail
Ahmed Murshid Ismail, from Sreijis, Tartous Governorate
Azzam Ismail Ahmed
Colonel Azzam Ismail Ahmed, from al-Sindiyana, Hama Governorate
Bassel al-Sultani
Bassel Khayrat al-Sultani, from Qardaha, Latakia Governorate
Ghadir Ibrahim Saeed
Ghadir Ibrahim Saeed, from al-Qutailibiyah, Latakia Governorate
Ghadir Habib Ibrahim
Ghadir Habib Ibrahim, from Qabu Sukus, Latakia Governorate
Hatem Rashid Balul
Hatem Rashid Balul, from al-Tawanin, Tartous Governorate
Khadr Ghassan Ismail
Khadr Ghassan Ismail, from al-Hattaniyah, Tartous Governorate
Marah Nadir Salman
Marah Nadir Salman, from al-Dulaybah, Hama Governorate
Maytham Hassan.jpg
Maytham Mashabik Hassan, from Qarqafti, Tartous Governorate
Mayhub Ali al-Aitah
Mayhub Ali al-Aitah, from al-Eidiyah, Latakia Governorate
Walid Khawashqi
Major General Walid As’ad Khawashqi, from Jawbat, Latakia Governorate

Note: a few reports state Mr. Balul was actually killed in the Beit Jinn area, but most claim Harasta.

ٌRebel casualties have not been reported but are believed to be heavy.

A full-sized version of the above map, which was created using Google Maps, can be found here.

 

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Rebel Infighting in East Ghouta: Map and Analysis

Rebel Infighting in East Ghouta Final

The past few days have witnessed the fiercest infighting in rebel-held East Ghouta in a year. The participants include the usual suspects – Faylaq al-Rahman (Rahman Legion) and Tahrir al-Sham (Sham Liberation Committee) on one side and Jaysh al-Islam (Islam Army) on the other.

East Ghouta has a long history of rebel infighting. This article will provide a brief overview of said fighting. For a more in-depth look, read “Into the Tunnels” by Aron Lund, which covers the history of the region back to 2011.

In November 2015, after a relatively stable period of about a year, the Syrian Army and its allies began whittling away at the East Ghouta pocket. In December, Zahran Alloush, the leader of Jaysh al-Islam and the most powerful man in East Ghouta, was killed. This greatly upset the power balance in the pocket, and tension between groups began to rise. In February 2016, Ajnad al-Sham, an Islamist group reportedly with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, merged with Faylaq al-Rahman. In March, Jabhat al-Nusra formed an unlikely alliance named Jaysh al-Fustat with Fajr al-Umma, an ideologically ambiguous Harasta rebel group which is more concerned with profiting from smuggling tunnels than fighting the regime. Together, these two coalitions were enough to challenge Jaysh al-Islam’s hegemony.

In late April, a coalition of Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaysh al-Fustat attacked Jaysh al-Islam. Rahman and Fustat are generally regarded the victors of the 2016 clashes, as they seized weapons and ground from Jaysh al-Islam. Jaysh al-Islam was expelled entirely from Jobar, Irbin, and Zamalka. A new frontline formed on the northern edge of the village of Mesraba.

In the midst of the infighting, the Syrian Army scored a major victory, capturing all of al-Marj, the breadbasket of East Ghouta. After this, the warring rebel factions signed a truce. From this point on, tensions remained high in the pocket, but neither side dared launch an offensive against the other.

After the fall of al-Marj in May, the Syrian Army and its allies shifted their focus to the easternmost area of the pocket, an area controlled entirely by Jaysh al-Islam. The first town to fall was Bahariyah, in mid-June. Tal Kurdi, one of the most important Jaysh al-Islam strongholds outside of Douma, fell on 31 October. By January 2017, about a third of the pocket had been returned to government control, entirely at the expense of Jaysh al-Islam.

In spite of these losses, Jaysh al-Islam still was able to maintain a commanding presence in the pocket, owing to its continued control over Douma, the pocket’s largest city. In addition, Faylaq al-Rahman had problems of its own. To begin with, the group was little more than a loose alliance of local neighborhood FSA units. Beginning in mid-2016, smaller brigades began defecting. A group named Alwiyat al-Majd (Glory Brigades), established on 25 October, was the largest of these defectors.

Faylaq al-Rahman was further weakened along with its ally Tahrir al-Sham (the successor to Jabhat al-Nusra) in March 2017, when together they took heavy losses during a failed offensive against the Syrian Army in Jobar. Presumably, some of the manpower used in this offensive was taken from the front with Jaysh al-Islam, creating an imbalance of power which directly led to this week’s events.

On 28 April, the one-year anniversary of the start of the 2016 clashes, a new war broke out. This time, Jaysh al-Islam was on the offensive. During the first two days, the group wrested control of Aftris, al-Ashari, Beit Nayem, Beit Sawa, Maydara, Mesraba, part of Hazeh, and, most importantly, the city of Irbin from Faylaq al-Rahman and Tahrir al-Sham. The latter groups’ positions in Hammouriyah, Saqba, and even Zamalka were threatened. In a counterattack on 30 April, however, Rahman managed to push Jaysh al-Islam out of Hazeh and recapture Aftris.

Thus far, fighting has remained localized in the southwestern portion of rebel-held East Ghouta, and has not spread to Harasta or to the Barzeh-Qaboun pocket. Liwa al-Awal and Fajr al-Umma, the local FSA outfits in Barzeh and Harasta, respectively, are allied to the Rahman/Tahrir coalition but have stayed out of the clashes.

Ahrar al-Sham, Alwiyat al-Majd, and some other, smaller factions have remained neutral.

A full version of the map, which was made using data from Google Maps, can be found here.