Tag Archives: HTS

Turkey Balancing Between America and Russia

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 22 July 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting during the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, 29 June 2019 [image source]

The delivery of the first parts of the Russian S-400 anti-missile missile system to Turkey on 12 July has brought the crisis in the Turkish-American relations to a head. This long-simmering problem is intertwined with America’s and Turkey’s policies in Syria, specifically where the latter is responsive to the former, which has resulted in as serious rift within NATO and exposed Turkey to pressure from the Russian government. Continue reading

The Trial: The St. Petersburg Metro Attack Reaches Court in Russia

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) and Oved Lobel on 14 July 2019

Abror Azimov in court in Moscow in April 2017 [photo source] and Mukhamadyusup Ermatov [photo source]

When defense officials from Russia, the U.S. and Israel met for an unprecedented trilateral summit in Jerusalem recently, it was in large measure another attempt by U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to put into practice their long-running belief that Russia will help them deal with Iran and perhaps other counter-terrorist issues in Syria. Continue reading

Can the Europeans Help Reach Peace in Syria?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 27 October 2018

Today in Istanbul, four governments—Turkey, Russia, Germany, and France—are meeting for a summit over Syria, attempting to consolidate the Sochi Agreement signed by Russia and Turkey over Idlib, and re-invigorate the international political process. There is little reason to think that these talks can succeed on either front. Continue reading

The Strikes in Syria and America’s Path Forward

A version of this article was published in CapX

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) and James Snell on 8 May 2018

The Barzeh chemical weapons facility in Damascus, Syria, demolished by U.S. cruise missiles on 14 April 2018 (image source)

The United States and its allies, Britain and France, launched over 100 missiles at the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad in the early hours of 14 April. This was retaliation for the regime’s use of poison gas in the town of Douma, east of the capital, Damascus, exactly a week earlier, which massacred at least 43 people and wounded 500 more. The military strikes were an important signal and will likely be some deterrent against the future use of chemical weapons in Syria, but ultimately this was another missed opportunity by the West to meaningfully affect the course of the war. Continue reading

Insurgents Respond to America Declaring Syrian Taliban Unit A Terrorist Group

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 25 March 2018

Katibat al-Imam al-Bukhari (image source)

The United States Department of State designated Katibat al-Imam al-Bukhari (KIB), the Taliban-loyal insurgent unit in Syria, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) on 22 March. Over the last few days, KIB and other insurgent groups have issued statements in response. Continue reading

The Role of Turkey in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 16 August 2017

Recep Tayyip Erdogan (image source)

The Turkish government has gotten more and more deeply involved in Syria since the uprising began in 2011. But Turkey now finds its original aim, namely the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, unattainable, creating tensions with the Syrian armed opposition, its primary lever inside Syria, and there are considerable problems stabilizing the zone of Syria that came under Turkish occupation after Ankara’s direct intervention in 2016. The defeat of Turkey’s primary objective has been accompanied by the rise of further problems, notably the exacerbation of its longest-standing internal security threat, that posed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan – PKK), and the generation of new internal threats, from the Islamic State (IS) and potentially from al-Qaeda-linked groups. The options for solving these problems are constrained and unpalatable. Continue reading

Whither Al-Qaeda in Syria?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 15 August 2017

A statement from Issam al-Barqawi, far better known as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the Jordan-based Palestinian jihadi-salafist cleric, was released in English on Telegram on 15 August 2017. The statement dealt with his view of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), highlighting again the questions around this Syrian-based jihadi group and its relations with al-Qaeda. Continue reading

Al-Qaeda in Syria Linked to a Terror Plot in the United States

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 30 June 2017

Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud (source)

In April 2015, a United State Federal Grand jury in Ohio charged Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, also known as “Ayanle”, with three terrorism-related offences. Yesterday, court records were unsealed that revealed that Mohamud pleaded guilty to all charges, admitting to having fought with a terrorist organization in Syria and returned to the United States with the intention of carrying out an act of domestic terrorism. Mohamud was in contact with foreign terrorist operatives throughout the period he was plotting an attack within the United States. But—and this is the most significant aspect of the case—Mohamud was not in contact with one of the Islamic State’s intelligence operatives, who guide attacks in a manner now relatively well-understood. Instead, Mohamud was in contact with Jabhat al-Nusra, at that time al-Qaeda’s declared branch in Syria. Al-Nusra is now known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and claimed in July 2016 to have disaffiliated from al-Qaeda’s “central”, not that this has (nor will nor should) remove HTS from the terrorism list. Regardless of its formal status within al-Qaeda’s command structure, HTS retains significant links with al-Qaeda’s global networks, and a breakaway group from HTS in Syria has reaffirmed its loyalty to al-Qaeda. Mohamud’s case is an extremely important data point in assessing the risk these overlapping and mutually reinforcing entities pose to the West and the wider world. Continue reading

Australian Jihadi Spokesman Distances Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham From Al-Qaeda, Criticises America

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 March 2017

Mostafa Mahamed on Sky News, August 2016

Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) is a U.S.-designated terrorist, an al-Qaeda operative who has formally resigned from al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), which was previously Jabhat al-Nusra and has now reorganized itself as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Earlier this month, on 11 March, Michael Ratney, the U.S. special envoy to Syria, released an open letter (in Arabic) labelling all constituents of HTS as terrorists seeking to exploit the Syrian opposition, and incited divisions within the Islamist sections of the insurgency by including Ahrar al-Sham—heretofore a close HTS ally, though recently involved in clashes with the group—as part of the Syrian revolution. HTS issued a formal response on 12 March and, on 20 March, Mahamed issued his own response, which is reproduced below. The main themes were anti-Americanism and dissuading the Syrian armed opposition that the U.S. was an ally; arguing that HTS was different than JFS and unconnected to al-Qaeda; and the strong impression of a threat should the U.S. move against HTS—while explicitly denying that such a threat was being made.
Continue reading

Liberating Raqqa from the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 17, 2017

As the new administration of Donald Trump works through the United States’ options in dealing with Syria, and the Islamic State (IS) specifically, one option apparently under consideration is the use of greater numbers of combat troops to accelerate the expulsion of IS from its Syrian capital, Raqqa. While more U.S. troops would undoubtedly hasten the collapse of IS’s grip on its urban strongholds in Syria, such a policy risks continuing the failed U.S. policies of the past six years in Syria that have tackled symptoms of the conflict, rather than its causes, have tried to tackle elements in isolation from the wider conflict, and have placed too great an emphasis on military progress over politics. Continue reading