Even though al-Qaeda’s resurgence has been at the expense of Turkish-backed jihadis lite Turkey has failed to put an end to it meaning the Russians and the Syrians will have to step in. But al-Qaeda’s gains could also provide the US with a new rationale to cancel the withdrawal and stay on now that ISIS has been reduced to a couple of villages in the east
Al-Nusra front – al-Qaeda rebranded as HTS (Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham) – is expanding its influence and military control over entire Syrian cities and villages in northern and western rural Aleppo. Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, the ex- ISIS (the Islamic State terror group) Emir of Syria and the self proclaimed Emir of al-Qaeda in the Levant, is ordering his forces to move towards Idlib and its rural area, mainly against the cities of Ariha, Jabal al-Zawiya and Maarrat al-No’man. His aim is to complete the control by his jihadists of the entire area defined in the Astana talks – by Russia and Turkey – where a ceasefire was established last year in order to stop the advance of the Syrian army to recover the northern territory. Idlib and its surroundings is today the location where the greatest number of jihadists ever to be united in one single geographic area in the Middle East are gathered. They are fully armed with the most advanced US weapons, notably guided anti-tank TOW missiles and armed drones, together with hundreds of suicide bombers ready to fight and die.
Up to now, Joulani has managed to dissolve over 14 Syrian armed groups, described by the West as “moderate”. These groups were financed and equipped by Turkey, whose forces have not reacted so far and have allowed Joulani’s group to consolidate power. Turkey’s policy may undermine the Astana deal, which aims to eliminate the presence and force of jihadists in the north of Syria.
Meanwhile, the US president Donald Trump – who has claimed that ISIS is already defeated and that in Syria “there is only death and sand” – and his establishment are doubling back on the previously announced schedule of withdrawal from Syria: The President’s national security advisor John Bolton said on Sunday that the US will consider withdrawing when ISIS is defeated and Turkey ensures the safety of US-allied Kurdish fighters.