Aleppo’s frontiers are on fire, bringing back the memory of the first days of the liberation during the Ramadan of 2012, when the rebels managed to progress into the Eastern part of the city. Fierce battles are being fought on the Western front this time, though progress today is calculated in meters or buildings. It is of strategic importance to liberate the entire neighborhoods in the surrounding areas, given the large fortifications, which the rebels try to penetrate. With every new victory the name of the Ahl Al-Sham operations room appears. So what is this organization? When was this command center for military operations formed and by who was it composed?
The 24th of February 2014, the largest military opposition factions in Aleppo, represented by the Islamic Front, the Mujahideen Army and Jabhet Al-Nusra, published a statement. They had formed a common oprations room between the different rebel groups, which know carried a common name: Ahl Al-Sham.
The statement declared that the purpose of the unification and organization of resistance is to close ranks in order to repel attacks carried out by the regular troops. It also sounded the clarion for all factions to defend Aleppo, which is sealed off under an almost complete siege, similar to the sieges of Homs and Eastern Ghoutah (suburbs of Damascus). This statement followed a series of operations by the regime forces, which allowed the regime to reach the Sheikh Najjar area in the suburbs of Aleppo, which has since become the scene for some of the fiercest battles.
After announcing the Ahl Al-Sham operations room formation, things started to change in Aleppo and in the countryside nearby. For instance on the Sheikh Najjar front, rebels managed to stop the advance of Assad’s forces, and inflicted big losses onthe regular forces, in gear and soldiers. The Ahl Al-Sham union was able to regain control of several villages and now concentrates on some of the areas in the rural North-East of the governorate controlled by the regime.
Moreover, the command center struck an attack on the regime’s forces taking control over Mount Showehna, a strategically important area near Al-Rashdin, in the West of the Aleppo governorate. This may stand for an imminent move by Ahl Al-Sham to attack the regime’s strongholds in Western areas of the city.
The Organization’s paradigm shift occurred when launching the battle on the seventh day of this month – the battle, which turned the tables and tightened the rope around the regime’s head in Aleppo. This action meant that the Ahl Al-Sham operations room had moved the fighting to the Western fronts, which was previously characterized by long periods of calm.
Intense battles eventually led to the total control of the operations room over the Alleramoun area (Aleppo), additionally breaching the defense of the Air Force Intelligence branch, which is for the first time under direct crossfire from the rebel tanks.
In Aleppo, things started to change in the rebels’ favor, with striking development of military operations in Ramouseh, that fell between overnight, hence constituting a strong shock to the system and its supporters, as well as cutting across the main supply artery to the areas controlled by the regime in Aleppo. Assad’s forces did not react following the shock of Ramouseh until the rebels started attacking the strategically located village of Fidan, which cuts off the regime’s supply line reaching the city of Sefira in the East.
The magic is turning against the magician – after desperate attempts of the regime to besiege Aleppo, it ended up with a siege on the regime itself and the Lebanese militias (Hezbollah), the Iraqi and Iranian forces that support Assad.
The Ahl Al-Sham operations room has not stopped on the military level, but also goes along with media organization, consolidation sources and press releases, as well as clips, coverage and field reports following the operations and battles. It also pushes the supporters and activists to launch campaigns. Although it resulted in repeated closure of the website, Ahl Al-Sham reopens its website and publishes other reports that are stronger than the previous ones.
Significant strategic progress has been made, compared with the short time since the announcement of its formation, and the Ahl Al-Sham operations room has given a practical lesson in how to make use of coordination to achieve more successful outcomes. The importance of unification of military efforts, for a long time absent from the scene, has been reaffirmed.
Organization and coordination were and are still not the most important consideration of all revolutionaries in Syria. But once they are achieved, Syrians will step onto the road to victory.