History of FSA Cooperation with Extremists 2014-2016
This article will show some of the many instances of the Free Syrian Army and other “moderate opposition” working alongside extremist groups. It will also make clear that cooperation between these groups is not a recent development. Extremist groups presented in this article include Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa and even ISIS.
Moderate rebel groups featured in this article:
Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki
Faylaq al-Sham- Islamist, but sometimes called moderate.
Free Syrian Army Groups:
101st Infantry Division
First Coastal Division
Zabadani Hawks Brigade
The most outrageous example of recent moderate cooperation with extremists occurred during the Battle of Zabadani in the summer of 2015. Zabadani is a small resort town in the Qalamoun mountains that has been a longtime rebel bastion. In mid-2015 the Syrian Army launched an offensive to capture the town, quickly putting it under complete siege. While Zabadani was never fully captured, its ability to serve as a launch pad for rebel offensives was eliminated.
The Free Syrian Army “Zabadani Hawks Brigade” defended Zabadani during the 2015 Syrian Army offensive. The FSA was not alone, however. Jabhat al-Nusra (Syrian al-Qaeda branch) and even ISIS also fought alongside the FSA in Zabadani. The FSA had been allied to ISIS until late 2013, however they were willing to cooperate once more for the battle of Zabadani. Pro-opposition twitter activists reported on the cooperation and praised it. ISIS’s Amaq news agency posted photos of its fighters in Zabadani, proving their presence in the town.
ISIS fighters who fought alongside the FSA in Zabadani. Pictures from the ISIS Amaq news agency.
Jabhat al-Nusra also fought alongside ISIS and the FSA. Picture from JaN’s Al-Manara al-Bayda news agency.
By October 2015 the Syrian had launched an offensive to retake much of Latakia province from the rebels. One of the most prized locations to capture was the town of Salma. Rebels defended Salma Fiercely, but were eventually forced to retreat from the town. Jabhat al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army “First Coastal Division” filmed themselves defending Salma from the Syrian Army advance.
Jabhat al-Nusra firing mortars at the advancing Syrian army.
The FSA First Coastal Division used TOW missiles on a Syrian Army tank and a BMP attempting to advance on Salma.
By January of 2016, the Syrian Army had retaken much of the Latakia province from rebels with the assistance of the Russian air force. The desperate rebels made a series of small counterattacks that would briefly recapture territory before being forced back again. One such counter attack managed to briefly recapture the village of Hawr, near the vital town of Salma. Rebels captured two T-55 tanks when they entered Hawr. Both Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch) and the US backed Free Syrian Army “First Coastal Division” were present when these tanks were captured. They had fought alongside each other, and were both at the scene when the tanks were captured.
FSA First Coastal Division filming the captured tanks.
Jabhat al-Nusra with the captured tanks.
In June of 2016, rebels launched a major counteroffensive to retake areas of Latakia. They managed to recapture several locations, the most significant of which was the town of Kinsabba. The attack on Kinsabba started at night, with several factions clearly coordinating with each other during the attack. Again we see the FSA First Coastal Division, as well as the Central Division, working alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and the extremist Jaish al-Fateh coalition. The FSA shelled Kinsabba in coordinating with al-Qaeda.
FSA First Coastal Division Grad MLRS shelling Kinsabba.
Jabhat al-Nusra firing on Kinsabba.
The FSA Central Division also took part in the coordinated night assault on Kinsabba alongside JaN.
Once Kinsabba was captured, Jabhat al-Nusra rolled through the town in celebration. The FSA First Coastal Division filmed them inside Kinsabba.
FSA film a Jabhat al-Nusra BMP-1 in Kinsabba.
The FSA Central Division also filmed themselves with T-55 tanks Jabhat al-Nusra captured.
The FSA First Coastal Division targeted Shilif Castle with TOWs while JaN captured it a day later.
In Hama, the Free Syrian Army has provided fire support to extremist groups using TOW anti-tank guided missiles. One such instance was the town of Morek. The Free Syrian Army Suqur Jabal brigade, Fursan Haqq and Jaish al-Izza targeted Government forces with TOW missiles around the town of Morek leading up to its capture by the al-Qaeda affiliated group Jund al-Aqsa.
FSA Suqur Jabal TOW strike.
Radical Jund al-Aqsa captures Morek.
The FSA Suqur Jabal Brigade fought at Bahsa alongside Jabhat al-Nusra using TOWs.
FSA Jaish al-Nasr and extremist Ahrar al-Sham firing rockets at mughayr, Hama.
In Idlib province the US backed FSA fought alongside Jaish al-Fateh, a coalition of extremists led by Jabhat al-Nusra. US supplied TOW missiles aided in the capture of the Idlib province in 2015. Dozens of armored vehicles belonging to the Syrian Army were destroyed by TOW anti-tank guided missiles, paving the way for the jihadists to advance.
The final assault on the besieged Wadi Deif Syrian Army base in Idlib. The FSA 13th Division used TOW missiles as Jabhat al-Nusra stormed the base with tanks and infantry.
Jabhat al-Nusra T-72AV advances on the base.
FSA Fursan Haq targets Syrian Army vehicles around Idlib city during the battle of Idlib, March 2015. The city was stormed and captured by Jaish al-Fateh/Jabhat al-Nusra.
FSA Suqur al-Jabal stormed Idlib city alongside Jabhat al-Nusra.
FSA targeting Syrian Army vehicles around Mastouma, just South of Idlib city.
Jabhat al-Nusra/Jaish al-Fateh capture Mastouma.
The FSA 101st Infantry Division firing on the Brick Factory checkpoint before Jabhat al-Nusra captured it.
Another major city that fell during the battle of Idlib was Ariha, located to the South of Mastouma. The FSA used TOW missiles on armored vehicles around Ariha beginning weeks before Jabhat al-Nusra would capture the city on May 28, 2015.
Just days before Jabhat al-Nusra’s final assault on Ariha, TOWs were still being used to soften up the Syrian Army defenses in the area. Seen below are the FSA 13th Division and Fursan Haqq firing TOWs.
Jabhat al-Nusra/Jaish al-Fateh captured Ariha on May 28. The path had been cleared by the FSA’s TOW missiles.
The FSA 101st Infantry Division also participated in JaN’s final assault on Ariha.
Even after Ariha was captured, the FSA Suqur al-Ghab targeted the Syrian Army to the West of the city with TOW missiles.
The FSA targeted Syrian Army tanks and position around Jisr Shughour, Idlib before Jabhat al-Nusra captured the city. Jisr Shughour was the second largest city to be captured in the Idlib offensive of 2015.
Tank destroyed by the First Coastal Division.
FSA First Coastal Division and 13th Division.
Jabhat al-Nusra captures Jisr Shughour.
Aleppo has seen extensive cooperation between moderates such as the FSA and extremists like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. Almost every battle around Aleppo has seen moderates working alongside extremists.
The FSA Suqur al-Jabal and Jabhat al-Nusra fighting at Shaykh Aqil, Northern Aleppo.
Some of the most intense fighting has taken place in the Southern Aleppo countryside. Once again we see the FSA giving fire support to extremist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.
Ahrar al-Sham and the FSA targeting Eis, Southern Aleppo.
FSA Thuwar al-Sham and JaN fighting to retake the town of Khalasah. Thuwar al-Sham is using a Fagot ATGM.
FSA Jaish al-Tahrir and JaN fighting to take the town of Birnah.
Rebel media man Abu Omar with Jabhat al-Nusra inside the recaptured town of Zitan.
Moad al-Shami, another FSA media activist filmed with Jabhat al-Nusra fighters in Southern Aleppo.
The FSA Central Division and JaN at Khalasah, June 14th.
The FSA Northern Division and JaN at Humayra.
FSA and JaN at Qarassi with a Fagot ATGM and BMP-1s.
The FSA 13th Division and Jabhat al-Nusra were photographed fighting together at Khan Tuman on April 9th 2016. This is after the 13th Division allegedly had disagreements with Jabhat al-Nusra in the 13th Division’s home base of Maarat al-Numan. Despite pro-opposition analysts cheering this narrative, the disagreements between the 13th Division and JaN seem to have had no effect on their cooperation on the ground.
Earlier fighting in Khan Tuman with the FSA Northern Division and JaN.
The FSA Central Division and Ahrar al-Sham fighting in Huways, June 15.
FSA Jaish al-Tahrir firing a TOW missile two days later around Huways.
Fighting in the Northern Aleppo countryside is also frequent. The fighting is for the towns and hills along the Castillo road, the only supply route to rebel held East Aleppo city. Mallah Farms and areas around Handarat have changed hands a few times over the years. Most recently a Syrian Army offensive captured Mallah farms and actually succeeded in cutting the Castillo road.
The FSA 13th Division fighting with Jabhat al-Nusra in Handarat.
A JaN T-55 tank targeting Handarat, and the FSA 13th Division at Handarat the following day.
FSA Fataqem Union and JaN in Handarat.
Mallah Farms was captured by rebels in April only for them to be driven out again in June. The Syrian Army recaptured Mallah and severed the Castillo road in June/July 2016. The FSA and JaN attempted to recapture the area but have so far failed. Rebels have gone all in, with JaN sending tanks and BMPs, while the FSA fires TOW missiles.
JaN and the FSA 16th Division during the capture of Mallah Farms.
JaN and the FSA Levant Front Using a Gvozdika and a T-55 attempting to drive the Syrian Army out of Mallah Farms.
FSA Central Division also fought at Mallah.
More clashes at Mallah, this time with the Zinki Movement alongside Jabhat al-Nusra. The Zinki Movement (Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki) is a US backed group that has received TOW anti-tank guided missiles.
JaN films the Mallah battlefield with a drone.
Zinki films a Jabhat al-Nusra BMP-1. Clearly they are coordinating and openly fighting alongside each other.
Zinki troops try to advance.
The most damning evidence of cooperation, a Jabhat al-Nusra media release plainly states that they fought alongside Zinki during the Mallah assault.
FSA “Revolution Syria” media man Moad al-Shami also covered JaN’s operation on Mallah Farms.
On the 20th of July 2016, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Faylaq al-Sham and the FSA group Jaish al-Thuwar launched another offensive to recapture Mallah Farms. Faylaq al-Sham and Jaish al-Thuwar struck the Syrian Army with Kornet and TOW ATGMs. Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham contributed a large number of tanks and BMP-1s to charge into Mallah, Faylaq al-Sham and Jaish al-Thuwar also contributed a few armored vehicles. The offensive failed, with the rebels abandoning a large number of their armored vehicles in the vicinity of Mallah.
FSA Jaish al-Thuwar and Jabhat al-Nusra flags found on captured tanks/BMP-1s. The FSA and al-Qaeda rode into battle together.
Rebel twitter accounts acknowledged the large amount of armored vehicles destroyed/abandoned, while also showing that the groups had coordinated at Mallah.
Photos of the groups in battle around Mallah.
Faylaq al-Sham with Kornet and TOW missiles. This group had not been known to previously operate TOWs. Either they recently acquired TOW missiles, or they belong to Thuwar al-Sham.
The FSA 16th Division and Ahrar al-Sham at Bashkoy.
The FSA 13th Division and Jabhat al-Nusra at Rityan.
The FSA 16th Division, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham at Bashkoy. February 1, 2016.
Western Aleppo rebel offensive. This offensive was launched on July 31, 2016 in response to the Syrian Army besieging rebel held Eastern Aleppo city. All factions seem to be working together for this offensive, extremists and “moderates” alike.
Extremists involved in the offensive.
1. Jaish Fath al-Sham:Rebranded Jabhat al-Nusra/al-Qaeda.
2. Turkistan Islamic Party: An al-Qaeda affiliate.
3. Ansar al-Islam: An al-Qaeda affiliate.
4. Ansar al-Din: Listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department.
5. Possibly Jund al-Aqsa: An al-Qaeda affiliate.
6. Ahrar al-Sham
T-55 tanks used by extremists and moderates together on July 31st, the opening day of the offensive.
Jaish fath al-Sham/Jabhat al-Nusra/al-Qaeda
Turkistan Islamic Party.
Zenki (US backed “moderates”)
FSA Suqur Jabal.
FSA Central Division ZSU-23-4 Shilka.
The al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Islam during the Aleppo offensive. Much of Ansar al-Islam consists of foreign fighters from Iraq.
The first major capture for the rebel coalition was the Hakima School. The FSA targeted the building with TOW missiles while al-Qaeda detonated VBIEDs and then stormed the building.
Maps released by moderate FSA Suqur Jabal, with extremist groups Jabhat Fath al-Sham and the Turkistan Islamic Party. This clearly shows that they captured these areas together.
Moderate Zenki and extremist Jabhat Fath al-Sham targeting Ramouseh District together.
On August 4th a rebel assault began on the Ramouseh Artillery Base. Again al-Qaeda affiliates fought alongside US backed moderate forces.
Jaish Fath al-Sham/rebranded al-Qaeda T-72AV.
Turkistan Islamic Party T-72AV.
Ansar al-Din film M-46 artillery inside the base.
FSA Fursan Haq fire artillery at the base.
Faylaq al-Sham using new TOW missiles.
The following day, August 6th, the Ramouseh Artillery base was captured by the rebels. Three US backed groups were seen inside the base.
Also seen inside the Artillery base with moderate forces was Ansar al-Islam, an Iraqi al-Qaeda affiliate.
Following the capture of the artillery base, Extremist and moderate rebels turned their attention to the Ramouseh District. The District was captured after a VBIED was detonated inside it by al-Qaeda. With the capture of this District the East Aleppo siege was broken, and Government Western Aleppo’s main supply route was cut.
Jabhat Fath al-Sham/Rebranded al-Qaeda VBIED on Ramouseh District.
The Distric was captured by rebel groups that included extremist Ansar al-Din, Ahrar al-Sham and moderate FSA Fastaqem Union.
FSA Fastaqem Union.
August 14, the FSA Levant Front and Ahrar al-Sham attack Zharaa District, Aleppo.
FSA Levant Front rockets.
Ahrar al-Sham VBIED.
August 19th, Jaish Fath al-Sham/rebranded al-Qaeda and the FSA Fastaqem Union repel a Syrian Army assault on the Ramouseh Artillery base.
August 23, FSA Suqur Jabal, Jaish Fath al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham launched a counter attack on Um al-Qara hill. The Syrian Army captured this hill days prior, cutting the rebel’s new supply road into East Aleppo city. The first rebel assault to retake the hill failed.
FSA Suqur Jabal fire a TOW missile.
Ahrar al-Sham Gvozdika shelling the hill.
JFS/JaN/rebranded al-Qaeda firing mortars at the hill.
August 27. FSA Levant Front and Jaish Fath al-Sham/rebranded al-Qaeda defend Ramouseh artillery base.
August 29. The al-Qaeda affiliate Jund al-Aqsa launch an offensive in Northern Hama with FSA Jiash al-Nasr ans Jaish al-Izza. The FSA groups used US supplied TOW missiles in the offensive. The groups announced the offensive together, in statements seen in the media releases below.
Jund al-Aqsa shelling with a 122mm howitzer.
Jaish al-Nasr TOW.
Jaish al-Izza TOW.
Day two of the Hama offensive, August 30 2016. Jund al-Aqsa, FSA Jaish al-Izza and Jaish al-Nasr captured several towns in Northern Hama. Jund al-Aqsa is known for being pro-ISIS, and its fighters were filmed in Hama with an ISIS-style black Tawhid flag. The FSA has no problem with this, and continues to back Jund al-Aqsa with fire support using US supplied TOW anti-tank missiles.
Map of Hama released by Jund al-Aqsa.
Jund al-Aqsa fighters with rebel media man Abu Omar displaying an ISIS style flag.
FSA Jaish al-Nasr using US supplied TOW missiles to support Jund al-Aqsa’s advance.
FSA Jaish al-Izza with a captured SAA position.
August 31. Jund al-Aqsa and the FSA continue their advance in Northern Hama, pushing toward Hama city. FSA Jaish al-Nasr continues its use of TOW missiles to support Jund al-Aqsa’s advance.
FSA Jaish al-Nasr with a US supplied TOW.
FSA Jaish al-Izza Gvozdkia shelling mhrada town.
Jund al-Aqsa inside the captured town of Soran.
FSA Jaish al-Nasr release a statement announcing an offensive to capture Maan village on September 4th, 2016.
The aftermath of the failed assault on the Maan/Kawkab area. Jund al-Aqsa BMP-1s were captured by the Syrian Army. Both the FSA and radical Jund al-Aqsa had launched the assault on Maan together.
September 6th. The rebel Hama offensive has screeched to a halt. However, the FSA continues to defend areas captured alongside Jund al-Aqsa using US supplied TOW missiles.
Further evidence from a pro-opposition news outlet that radical Jund al-Aqsa and Free Syrian Army Jaish al-Izza are cooperating in Hama.
September 11. After a pause in fighting, rebels captured the town of Kawkab. FSA Jaish al-Nasr targeted Syrian Army vehicles in Kawkab while Jund al-Aqsa used a VBIED before capturing the town.
Jaish al-Nasr firing a TOW at a target in Kawkab.
Jund al-Aqsa suicide bomber that drove a VBIED into Kawkab. The bomber was a Kuwaiti national.
On September 9th a founding Jabhat al-Nusa leader, Abu Hajar al-Homsi, was killed in an airstrike in Idlib. Many “moderate” rebel factions sent out condolences to al-Qaeda.
Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki statement on Abu Hajar al-Homsi’s death.
The Fatah Halab coalition sent out a similar statement. Fatah Halab is composed of several US backed FSA groups.
September 10. Rebels begin an offensive in the Southern province of Quneitra. The FSA Southern Front announced the offensive alongside Jabhat Fath al-Sham/rebranded al-Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham.
FSA Southern Front announces Quneitra offensive.
JFS/JaN/al-Qaeda targeting the Syrian army in Quneitra with an S-60 57mm.
Ahrar al-Sham ZPU-2 firing during the Quneitra offensive.
FSA Southern Front firing a D-30 howitzer, Quneitra.
September 24. Radical Jund al-Aqsa captures Maan village in Northern Hama with help from the FSA.
FSA “Conquerors in the land of the Sham.”
September 27. Several villages were captured by radical factions alongside the FSA in Northern Hama.
The FSA Central Division firing a US-supplied TOW.
Ansar al-Din, internationally designated terrorist group.
FSA Jaish al-Izza firing a TOW Northern Hama.
Finally, the FSA says aloud what this article has already made clear. Radical groups are the FSA’s brothers.