VICE News: “US-Backed Rebels Struggle to Fend Off Islamic State Offensive in Northern Syria”

New from me at VICE News:

The U.S. and Turkey backed rebels to take ISIS-held Aleppo – it hasn’t worked. Inside the frustration and recriminations in north Aleppo, where rebels are now fighting just to survive.


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RFE/RL’s “Under the Flag” Blog: “Al-Qaeda’s Ayman Al-Zawahri Plays Politics”

New from me on al-Qaeda chief Aymen al-Zawahiri’s last message and its intended Syrian audience. (Hint: Not Nusrah.)

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Abu Ali al-Anbari: “They came to die.”

Below is a translated snippet from jihadist evangelist and fundraiser Abdullah al-Muheisini’s testimony case against ISIS’s irreligious conduct and the events leading to January 2014’s explosion of fighting between Syria’s rebels and the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Al-Muheisini’s account is republished from a Telegram group in which he argued his case against ISIS’s conduct with a number of ISIS supporters. In this excerpt, al-Muheisini unsuccessfully appeals to ISIS second-in-command “Abu Ali al-Anbari” to put a stop to the car bombs ISIS was deploying against Syrian rebels. The episode apparently took place after ISIS hit Liwa al-Tawhid’s Infantry School base with car bombs on February 1, 2014.

I don’t if there’s a bigger lesson to take from this, I mostly just thought it was a pretty wild anecdote about al-Anbari. (Who is now dead.)

Another episode: They [ISIS] sent car bombs [whose aftermath] I witnessed at the Infantry School [in Aleppo]. All of them were outside the school. And a third was in Ourum, where they targeted a checkpoint that belonged to [Harakat Nour al-Din] al-Zinki. A young man was killed, 17 years old, who had nothing to do with it.

So I went to go to [Abu Ali] al-Anbari, the second-in-command in the State, and I said to him, “Sheikh, get matters under control. Fear God for the sake of Muhammad’s nation.”

“We’ve experienced wars,” he said.

I said, “You have the politics of war, but we, as students of knowledge, we’re concerned with the matter of [religious] law! These car bombs are impermissible, they’re killing innocents.” And I told him the events I’d witnessed.

And he said something that would make mountains shake, and this is something to which I will swear. He said, “A car bombs kills twenty, and then the rest are terrified.”

I said, “Your men are killing themselves! They’re not even hurting those you call ‘apostates.’”

“The terror is enough,” he said.

And when things came close to exploding, I said, “Sheikh, save those with you and agree to a court that will rule between by God’s law. The brothers are being killed.”

And he said, “They came to die.”

Original text:

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VICE News: “‘The Regime Can’t Be Trusted’: Inside Syria’s Aleppo as a Shaky Truce Begins”

New from me and Avi Asher-Schapiro at VICE News:

Aleppo has a new truce, but only after weeks of bloodshed. We spoke to survivors on both sides, plus reps of local rebel brigades and Jabhat al-Nusrah who talked about the city’s deadly shelling and the Nusrah presence in the city’s eastern half that’s been snarling up a new deal.

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War on the Rocks: “The Tangled Web of the Syrian Jihad”

New: I review Charles Lister’s The Syrian Jihad for War on the Rocks.

The Tangled Web of the Syrian Jihad

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The Daily Beast: “One Kurdish Neighborhood in the Crossfire”

New from me on The Daily Beast:

While most of Syria got a ceasefire, Aleppo’s Kurdish al-Sheikh Maqsoud got two months of violence. Rebels and Kurdish forces each claim the other started the running battle on the edge of the neighborhood. Meanwhile, al-Sheikh Maqsoud’s civilians have been dying under apparently indiscriminate shelling – and now, Kurds allege, a chemical weapons strike – with no end in sight.

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VICE News: “Syrian Fighters Say the Ceasefire Is Getting Shakier and Shakier”

New from me on VICE News:

Syria is caught in a sort of half-war limbo. The internationally sponsored ceasefire remains in effect nationwide, but isolated clashes across the country seems to be escalating, and there are fears that a battle south of Aleppo city may be spiraling out of control.
But even as violence ticks up, it seems no one thinks the ceasefire will actually end. So long as Russia and the U.S. remain vested in a political solution, sources say, Syrians are locked in a war that’s mostly off, partially on.

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