With the continuation of the Syrian war in its third year, there are five factions that are currently fighting in the Syrian war and the factions are the Syrian Government, Syrian opposition, al-Qaeda network and Rojava Kurds. How international community and regional powers are dealing with each faction will contribute to the formation of a new geopolitical map of Syria and the region. Here’s a brief guide to the factions in this conflict:
PART 2 – Syrian Opposition:
Syrian Opposition is represented politically by a coalition of opposition groups named National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces or Syrian National Coalition as it commonly named, it was formed in in Doha, Qatar, in November 2012 but it’s based in Turkey currently. Syrian National Coalition membership includes many opposition members from different religious and ideological backgrounds like Secularists and Islamisits from the Muslim Brotherhood.
The main aims of the Syrian National Coalition are replacing the Syrian government which is led by President Bashar Assad and its symbols and pillars of support, dismantling the security services, unifying and supporting the Free Syrian Army.
The first opposition structures to form in the Syrian uprising were local protest organizing committees. These formed in April, 2011, as protesters graduated from unstructured protests to protests organized by meetings beforehand. The Syrian uprising started peacefully for six months, from March 2011 until the start of August 2011, the opposition was characterized by a consensus for nonviolent struggle among the uprising’s participants. From 29 July 2011 the Syrian government decided to crush the nonviolent uprising military which made the opposition turn to armed struggle.
Syrian National coalition received support and gained recognition as the “legitimate representative of the Syrian people” from many countries and organizations like Arab league, European Union, USA, Turkey, Australia and many other countries. Despite all the support they receive, the Syrian National Coalition and Free Syrian Army [FSA] needs a huge International support to fight against the Syrian government and Islamic State in order to defeat them and to establish a democratic state in Syria.
Free Syrian Army [FSA] – Syrian Secularist Nationalist armed opposition that was formed on 29 July 2011 by a group of defecting Syrian Army officers. The purpose of the FSA was to defend the civilian protests from violence by the Syrian government and bring it down, they also called upon Syrian soldiers and officers to defect to their ranks. FSA coordinates with Syrian National Coalition.
Many Syrian soldiers deserted to join the FSA. By June 2013, the estimated number of soldiers who had defected to the FSA was about 40,000, but the manpower increased to 80,000 because many civilians also decided to pick up arms and join the FSA. Later in late 2013 many fighters defected FSA to join other opposition armed groups and Jihadist groups for ideological and military reasons which decreased the manpower of the FSA to 45,000 fighters.
FSA is commanded by Brigadier General Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir. In December 2012 a number of FSA brigades affiliated themselves to a newly-created Supreme Military Council [SMC]. The SMC’s chief of staff, General Salim Idris, wants it to be a more moderate and stronger alternative to the jihadist groups in Syria but FSA has become weak in the north-west of Syria since Nusra Front and other jihadist groups eliminated SFR and Hazzm movement. The FSA functions more as an umbrella organization than a traditional military chain of command, and its currently headquartered in Turkey.
FSA brigades participates with other Islamist opposition factions in fight against the Syrian army and other pro-Syrian government militias, but sometimes they co-operate with the jihadists in some areas for tactical and military reasons but they also clash with them in many occasions. FSA is allied with the Kurdish militia YPG and the Christian Coalition Syriac Military Council to unite their fight against the Assad government and the Islamic State.
FSA consists of many groups throughout Syria but the main ones are: Southern Front, Division 13, Knights of Justice Brigade, 1st Coastal Division, The Revolutionary Army, Raqqa Revolutionaries Brigade, Al-Qassas Army, Falcons of al-Ghab, 101st Division, Unified Levant front, Army of Qalamoun and Shields of the Revolution Council.
FSA operates throughout Syria, both in urban areas and in the suburbs, they are present in the northwest (Idlib, Aleppo), the central region (Hama, and Rastan), in the coast (around Latakia suburbs) and in the south (Daraa and Houran). They get external support from MOC [Military Operation Co-operation] it’s a military operation room that’s was created in 2013 by “Friends of Syria” countries like USA, UK, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan. The objective of this military operation room is to train the Syrian opposition fighters and to support them constantly in their fronts. This operation room is headquartered in Amman, Jordan.
Syrian allied militant groups:
Islamic Front – Syrian Islamist armed opposition that was formed by the merger of seven separate armed opposition groups on 22 November 2013. Islamic Front is the largest opposition faction in the Syrian war and brining 50,000-60,000 fighters under one command and it’s led by Ahmed Abu Issa.
Islamic Front consists of: Liwa Tawhid, Ahrar Sham, Liwa Al Haqq, Suqour Sham, Army of Islam, Ansar Sham and Kurdish Islamic Front. They are present in many locations across Syria like in Qalamoun, Daraa, Damascus Suburbs, Aleppo and its Suburbs and Idlib. This armed group is also considered to be one of the most organized opposition groups in Syria and has one of the most elite fighters fighting against the Syrian government troops, Shiite militia and Islamic State.
Islamic Front owns an armoured workshop which was established by Army of Islam which is used to repair and modify armoured vehicles and tanks, the workshop does not only fix and repair armoured vehicles but also make short range mortars and rockets. Islamic Front’s Medical offices have supported and opened many clinics in Idlib and Aleppo so they could heal both fighters and civilian patients. Islamic Front is reported to be backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The Islamic Front released its charter on their Facebook page in November 2013, outlining its aims and objectives, although the document avoided providing a clear vision of the future. It acknowledges the rights of ethnic and religious minorities that live in Syria, while also welcoming the foreign fighters who have joined the anti-Assad opposition militants and rejecting non-military means of ending the Syrian war but there also reports saying that there are hundreds of North Africans, Middle Eastern and Chechen fighters who joined the ranks of Islamic Front. Later a member of the political assembly of Islamic Front has stated that group could accept Syria as a democracy, as long as Sharia is implemented which means they could accept democratic rule.
Leader of Islamic Front, Ahmed Issa Al Sheikh said on a statement following its creation: “Islamic Front is an independent political, military and social formation that aims topple the Assad regime and build an Islamic state where the sovereignty of God almighty alone will be our reference and ruler.”
Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement – Syrian Islamist armed opposition that was formed in late 2011 by a religious figure Shaykh Tawfiq Shahabuddin in the Shaykh Salman area in north-west of Aleppo. The group is only located in the city of Aleppo are in its north-western suburbs. Nour al-Din al-Zenki took part in the early battles that started the Battle of Aleppo in July 2012 and capturing the Salaheddine neighbourhood. It’s also considered to be one of the most important opposition fighting force in Aleppo.
They’ve joined through almost every opposition alliance active in the Aleppo Governorate, including the Tawhid Brigade, the Authenticity and Development Front, and the Army of Mujahedeen but they are an independent opposition group. The group receives financial support from Saudi Arabia and it’s also received US made BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles as part a US program to support moderate opposition groups in Syria. Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement is estimated to have around 4,000 fighters of Arabs and Turkmens residents from Aleppo. This group is a member of Syrian Revolutionary Command Council and Fatah Halab operation room.
Syrian Turkmen Army – Syrian Turkmen Nationalist armed opposition that was formed in 2012 to fight against the Syrian government forces and its allied militant groups. Also they are protecting the Turkmen settlements and regions from Syrian Government forces, Islamic State and Kurdish militia YPG while participating in various offensives, sieges and also carrying out attacks on strategical positions for Syrian Opposition and respectively Turkey.
Syrian Turkmen Army are associated with Syrian Turkmen Assembly which is also part of the Syrian National Coalition, and they aim for a democratic state in Syria. The military command is also against a divided Syria after the collapse of the Syrian government led by President Bashar Assad.
The military structure of the Turkmen Army consists of several free or combined brigades, which are located around Latakia, Aleppo and Idlib. The Army is led by Colonel Ebu Bekir Muhammed Abbas and the army consists of many brigades like: Sultan Murad Brigade, Sultan Mohamed Fatah Brigade, 2nd Costal Division, Turkmen Falcons and Sultan Abdul Hamid Brigade. The Turkmen Army is estimated to have around 3,000 – 4,000 fighters, Turkish Special Forces Command, especially the Maroon Berets and military specialists are training Turkmens in Syria and also supplying them with weapons.
Army of Mujahideen – Syrian Islamist armed opposition that was formed on 2 January 2014 to fight against Islamic State and Syrian government forces. Army of Mujahideen is led by Cap. Mohammed Shakerdi, the group is also an affiliate of the Free Syrian Army and its only located in Aleppo, they have around 5,000 fighters that are participating in many battles in Aleppo and in its suburbs.
The group has suffered many defections due to internal disagreements and reduction in support it had received from foreign countries, three groups were the core of the alliance were FSA Division 19, Fastaqim Kama Umirt and the Nour al-Din al-Zanki Movement but after few months Fastaqim Kama Umirt and the Nour al-Din al-Zanki Movement left the group but they still coordinate with each other in battle. It’s also received US made BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles as part a US program to support moderate opposition groups in Syria. Army of Mujahideen have close relations with local civilian governing councils and with Syrian National Coalition. It’s also a member of Syrian Revolutionary Command Council and Fatah Halab operation room.
Islamic Union of Ajnad Sham – Syrian Islamist armed opposition that was formed in December 2013 to fight against Syrian government forces and later on it joined the opposition’s war on the Islamic State. Ajnad Sham is the second biggest armed opposition group in Damascus after Army of Islam.
They are based in Damascus and in its suburbs and they participate with other armed opposition groups in their offensives against Syrian government positions. The group is led by Abu Mohammed al-Fateh who is commanding about 8,000 fighters. The group calls for implantation of Sharia law within the state after the fall of Assad’s regime.
Ajand Sham is considered to be a rival to Jaysh Islam [Islamic Front] in Eastern Ghouta, they had many disagreements with them [Jaysh Islam] but all this ended when both sides and other opposition groups decided to establish “Unified Military Command of Eastern Ghouta” under the leadership of Zahran Alloush. Ajnad Sham is also a member of Syrian Revolutionary Command Council.
Sham Legion – Syrian Islamist armed opposition that was formed on 10 March 2014 to fight against Syrian government forces and Islamic State. Sham legion consists of 19 Islamist opposition brigades and it’s operated in Aleppo, Homs and Idlib. Sham legion is led by Mondher Saras and it has around 5,000 fighters and they have participated in many important battles with other opposition groups like the battle of Idlib, Morek and Aleppo. Sham Legion affiliated with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood which is a member of Syrian National Coalition also the group is part of Syrian Revolutionary Command Council and Fatah Halab operation room.
Alwiyat al-Furqan [Criterion Brigades] – Syrian Islamist armed opposition that was formed in 2013 to fight against Syrian government forces and later on it joined the opposition’s war on the Islamic State. Alwiyat al-Furqan was founded and led by Mohammed Majid al-Khatib who is a young commander commanding more then 2,000 fighters, the group is present largely in the southern Syria were it claims to be the largest Islamist armed opposition group in Quneitra and Daraa, the group also has a small presence in Aleppo and in the suburbs of Damascus. The group co-operates with other armed opposition groups and al-Qaeda linked jihadists in southern Syria, they played a big role in liberating almost all Quneitra province, Alawiyat al-Furqan is a member of Fatah Halab operation room.
Authenticity and Development Front – Syrian Islamist armed opposition group that was formed in November 2012 to fight against Syrian government forces, later it also joined the opposition’s war on the Islamic State. The group consists of Islamist fighters, military defectors, and civilian militants. It’s led by Khalid al-Hamad and its present in Aleppo, Damascus suburbs and Homs. The group is estimated to have around 9,000 fighters, it’s also known for its Confrontation against Islamic State throughout Syria especially in Deir Zour province. They co-operate with other armed opposition groups and jihadists, Authenticity and Development Front is heavily backed by Saudi Arabia. Authenticity and Development Front is a member of Syrian Revolutionary Command Council and Fatah Halab.
Jaysh Sham [Army of the Levant] – Syrian Islamist armed opposition that was formed in 10th October 2015 to fight against Syrian government and Islamic State. Jaysh Sham was founded by Yaman al-Nasser and Ayman Abu Tot with the support from Turkey. Commanded by former Ahrar Sham commander, Abu Abelrahman al-Suri who commands around 1,000 fighters who many of them are former Nusra Front and Levant Front fighters. The group operates in northern suburbs of Aleppo and Idlib, most of its battles have been against the Islamic State so far.