I’ve been writing some detailed pieces about the deployments of various Russian and Uzbek-speaking jamaats with HTS and Ahrar al-Sham in the counteroffensive against Syrian government troops in Idlib/Hama, and in doing so I put together some maps, which I thought I’d share here. I like seeing locations on a map as I write so I thought others might find them interesting.
First some notes. These are small groups, not huge armies, despite what social media or clumsy reporting might make you think. It’s important not to estimate their size based on what gets written on social media. Social media is marketing — of course groups want you to think they are larger / more powerful than they are (as IK said once when someone wrote that they had bigger numbers and certain weapons that they didn’t, “Let them write that, it’s good for us,” it gets support and support brings $$ and recruits. So what questions am I interested in looking at, beyond that? Inter alia I’m interested in assessing, as far as we can, how Syrian groups use foreign fighter groups in operations as well as how the groups themselves portray their participation. How do they understand their involvement? How do they portray this to their followers and why (why = money, support, recruits but not only that — I would include here reinforcement of belief, group mythology, larger ideas around jihad). How do they negotiate battlefield coalitions, with which groups, and why? How do they maintain their identity as discrete jamaats within a more powerful, local, Syrian, Arabic speaking group? To what extent do they have to integrate within these groups politically and ideologically or can they maintain some sort of political neutrality? How do the groups themselves use “ansars” within their own ranks? It’s not possible to obtain this detail from social media BTW . So that’s what I’m interested in, here are some maps of the where.
Anyway, as has been the case with previous operations, these small groups are tasked with specific operations within a small area; usually these are diversionary ops (as in this case) or zachistkas.
Here’s an overall map showing the locations of operations carried out by four (though really, three) groups: Liwa Muhajireen wal-Ansar (LMA) (HTS)/Imarat Kavkaz, Tawhid wal Jihad (HTS) and Imom al-Bukhoriy Katibasi (Ahrar as battlefield coalition/Taliban as bay’ah)
Liwa Muhajireen wal-Ansar (HTS) / Imarat Kavkaz (“Dagestani” (official) branch) (independent but effectively within LMA in the sense that they are fighting as part of this group. This is not surprising since that both of the groups are Dagestani-led, have maintained personal links since the JMA days and since both groups are small, though LMA is bigger with IK being just a handful of fighters). By the way fighters switch between groups a lot, but the core IK guys are true loyalists (and IK are SO excited about involvement in this counteroffensive).
Date: 8 January
Location of deployment: Ard az-Zarzour village, southeastern Idlib countryside (NB both LMA and IK reported this village to be in Hama province, but actually it’s within Idlib)
Role in operation: Diversionary operation against pro-government forces
Claims: “Over 20 Nuserites (they mean Alawites) killed,” one LMA fighter (Mukhammad Ingush) killed.
Date: 13 January
Location of deployment: Lweibdeh Shamaliyah, Maarrat an-Numan, Idlib)
Role in operation: diversionary op against pro-government troops
Claims: LMA claim to have killed “15 Nuserites” (i.e. “Alawites”). IK claimed that it and LMA liberated the village overnight on 13-14 January, and that “15 Shi’iteorussian mercenaries and shabihas were killed! Among whom was a high-ranking security official!”
Tawhid wal Jihod (HTS), Uzbek Jamaat
Date: 12 January
Location of deployment: Abu ad-Duhour airbase, Idlib province
Imom Buhoriy Katibasi (IBK) (independent Uzbek group with bay’ah to Taliban, in Syria fight as part of Ahrar al-Sham)
Date: 11 January
Location: Khuwayn al-Kabir in southern Idlib countryside
Details: Fighting alongside Ahrar al-Sham.
Date: 14 January
Location: Sham al-Hawa village in southern Idlib countryside
Fighting with: Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) — TIP were also present in the previous operation around Khuwayn al-Kabir. It’s possible that the two groups are fighting together because of size, but within the Ahrar battlefield coalition.
Date: January 15/16
Location: Atshan, in Hama (around 10km south of Khuwayn al-Kabir)
Fighting with: Ahrar al-Sham.
IBK also have a branch in Afghanistan, where (like in Syria) they are an independent, discrete jamaat but fight alongside the Taliban to whom they have bay’ah. I’m making a separate post showing maps of some of the group’s operations in Afghanistan.