Syria Analysis: A New Insurgent Alliance — With New Weapons — Is Changing the War

February 13, 2013 | James Miller in EA Middle East and Turkey, Middle East and Iran

Rebel fighters gather men and firepower, including a Yugoslavian M-60 recoilless rifle, to attack the Hamidiyah base near Ma’arrat al Nouman. Yesterday’s dramatic news was the insurgency[‘s capture of an airbase, complete with working fighter jets, in Aleppo Province and the assault against the largest Assad base in the north, near Aleppo International Airport.

This surge is at least partially the result of new weapons and new organisation of insurgency groups in Daraa and Damascus, with ample evidence that the boost in arms is courtesy of foreign powers.

Now a new piece of evidence bolsters the assessment that these weapons are coming from outside Syria, and also gives insight into the modified organisation of insurgent groups. Eliot Higgins presents this video:

According to Higgins’ conversations with activists and Arabic speakers on Twitter, the video shows a group of secular Free Syrian Army troops being trained by the Al Farouq brigade, in an effort organised by the Kataeb al-Fajer faction.

This group appears to be called the “Dawn of Islam” Brigade, a coalition founded in late December.

This group in turn appears to be part of a larger effort to unify the Islamic brigades in the south and ally them with the Free Syrian Army — with the exclusion of the most extreme groups like Jabhat al Nusra. Zilal, an activist associated with the CFDPC, offers insight:

In the article it is said that there was a meeting of the Islamic groups that formed the “Free Damascenes Movement” that includes all the Islamic brigades in Syria.

One of the commanders of the Free Damascenes brigades said to Aksalser that this movement includes several brigades, among them the Dawn of Islam brigade, but not Jabhat Al-Nusra, who have not joined it.

These brigades fight against regime forces at the side of the [secular] Free Syrian Army.

At the end of the article, it is said that they received some criticism because there was someone trying to establish the Islamic Sharia law for the Syrian people.

Piecing together the various sources….

The Revolutionary Military Council, the local leadership of the military arm of the Free Syrian Army, appears to have organised a new alliance between the unified Islamist brigades, like Al Farouq, and the Free Syrian Army. That process appears to have started in late November and came to fruition in late December, approximately the same time we started to see the surge in foreign arms. This effort appears to have started in the south, in Daraa Province, with the eventual goal of liberating Damascus.

This also explains why yesterday we saw one of these weapons, the M60 recoilless rifle, in Idlib Province in the hands of Islamist brigades (possibly Al Farouq). These weapons have also appeared in Aleppo city, where a resurgent Free Syrian Army has led the way to the capture of several checkpoints, an entire neighborhood, and a military barracks. These efforts have taken pressure off other insurgent groups, including Jabhat al Nusra, who are fighting to the east of the city.

Fresh arms, new organization, and a retooled strategy — with the support, and possibly the active participation, of the US — has allowed the insurgentsto break through walls at which they have been steadily chipping for months.

Fierce battles remain, as none of the major cities are in the hands of the insurgents. However, the fight for Idlib, Deir Ez Zor, and Aleppo may be at hand. If one of these cities falls, the insurgent momentum which we have seen this will grow exponentially..