Overview of Idlib’s political situation

An overview of the military and political situation in idlib starting from December 2016:

>the two biggest factions in idlib are Ahrar Al Sham (the free of the Levant) and the strong, Al Qaeda affiliated jabhat Al Nusra (the support front).
>ahrar Al sham are a pragmatic,salafi organization with a national orientation ( ie beheading western infidels isn’t too high on their priority list) while Al Nusra are a salafi jihadist group that believes in a world wide jihad against the enemies of Islam even though they claim to be satisfied for now with keeping their activity within the Syrian borders.
>these two factions formed together the powerful alliance that broke the siege of Aleppo some time ago.
>ideologically speaking, Al Nusra had always been more attractive for young fighters who view the faction’s beliefs and doctrines as more uncompromising than those of the other groups fighting in the country who came to be viewed by many as pragmatic gangs who are too willing to work with the west and who fight for authority rather than enforcing god’s righteous way of life.
>after the defeat in Aleppo, the more “moderate” of the idlib fighters accused their comrades of leaving the battlefield behind to fight for turkey in northern Syria when they were most needed. Thus, the image of Al Nusra as an uncompromising and committed fighting group was reinforced.
>therefore jihadist hardliners inside ahrar Al sham started expressing their desire for joining Al Nusra. When they were faced with refusal, they decided to form a new group named jaish Al ahrar (army of the free) who they claimed to be a new unit whose ideology was in line with that of Al Nusra yet at the same time would keep working within the frame of ahrar Al sham.
>however, there are mounting demands within this new formation to explicitly join the ranks of Al Nusra. The important thing to understand here is that Al Nusra and ahrar Al sham had been keeping a rough balance in idlib for quite some time now and if jaish Al ahrar decided to defect then ahrar Al sham would be put at a serious disadvantage.
>even worse than that, a successful merger between jaish Al ahrar and Al Nusra would trigger a wave of defects among the reluctant fighters among ahrar Al sham. You also have to keep in mind that america had promised to deliver a massive batch of new weapons to ahrar Al sham but given that they face the danger of having their numbers substantially reduced, these weapons are pretty much useless and will probably end up in the hands of the already powerful Al Nusra the moment they are delivered.
>so as you can see, in the light of the defeat the jihadis suffered in Aleppo, the Turkish pivot towards Russia, the preparations for a new SAA operation in idlib and the haunting thought of trump pulling the plug on the rebels’ arms supply, this supposed merger couldn’t have come at a worse time for ahrar Al sham who are frantically trying to stop it from happening knowing that all it takes for their fighters to jump into the arms of Al Nusra is one more Syrian army victory like the one in Aleppo.
>ahrar Al sham now has two options in case their diplomatic efforts fail: either dispose of the dissidents with force (which will surely trigger a Nusra reaction) or watch as Al Nusra swallows up their fighters while their prospects of receiving advanced american weaponry diminishes with each passing day. in either case, the rebels will find themselves in a highly precarious position.

(developments on 31/12/2016):
>sensing that trump is certain to cease arms supplies and that turkey had given up on them, the “moderates” now seem more willing than ever to join Al Nusra who are know exploiting the situation by publicly pushing for what might be the biggest merger in the entire history of the Syrian conflict (and perhaps the only effective one) and deliberately attempting to paint themselves on social media as morally superior by pointing out how they were left alone to defend the Syrian people after the other rebel factions signed a cease fire deal that put them in a position where they had to stand by and watch while their brothers were being slaughtered by the SAA around Damascus.
>if this merger happens and Al Nusra pushes Ahrar Al Sham over the border, Idlib will basically become Qandahar 2.0, a place so thoroughly under the absolute rule of Al Qaeda that even Charles lester won’t have the audacity to promote funneling weapons into.
>what needs to be understood here is that the prospect of american arms and training (or even direct air support) had always been the only thing keeping the rebels from defecting to Al Nusra. in the light of this, this move can only be explained by assuming that the rebels are now surely hopeless of these things. if this turns out to be true, Trump could’ve killed the Syrian “revolution” before even sitting in office.

Al Zinki group (the child beheaders) deny knowing about the merger fatwa:

ahrar Al sham reaction:

Developments on 2/1/2017:
the head of the “merger council” and prominent jabhat Al Nusra commander Abu Omar Al turkistany killed by a coalition drone strike in idlib.
two other jabhat Al Nusra leaders were also killed in similar airstrikes

Developments on 3/1/2017:
Leaked Nusra communications hint at what seems to be american efforts at neutralizing their leaders:

Unknown airstrikes target Al Nusra positions in sarmada, idlib. Between 20 to 35 militants reported dead:

Rebel supporters accuse some factions of attempting to preempt unity:

Apparently, the US is stepping in to weaken Al Nusra in the face of the “moderate” factions in an attempt to prevent the merger from happening (or it might be that Obama is just looking to improve his legacy before leaving office). Obviously, there’s someone on the ground feeding the Americans the information they need to conduct all these airstrikes.

Developments on 4/1/2017:
A commander in the Nusra afilliated “jund Al aqsa” group is killed in by an IED:

Developments on 5/1/2017:
SAA allies announce that Al Nusra is coordinating with high ranking Turkish officers inside Syria to start another offensive in Aleppo with the aim of putting more pressure on the Russians in the upcoming talks in Astana to include Al Nusra in any possible agreement.

Developments on 6/1/2017:
Drone strike kills three Nusra (jabhat fateh Al sham) commanders:

Developments on 7/1/2017:
A nusra (jabhat fateh Al sham) commander was killed by an IED near sinjar in idlib:

50 killed in a car bomb attack on the FSA held town of A’zaz in northern Aleppo

Developments on 8/1/2017:
JFS spokesman says that he’s not opposed to political solutions and that the movement does not have ties with any foreign entities:

Developments on 11/1/2017:
Drone strike kills 12 Nusra (JFS) fighters:

Developments on 12/1/2017:
The leader of ahrar Al sham says that he refuses the cease fire agreement and stresses the importance of the “brotherly ties” between his faction and jabhat fateh Al sham:

Developments on 18/1/2017:
US airstrike kills Tunisian top JFS commander:

Developments on 19/1/2017:
After clashes with ahrar Al Sham,JFS takes over several of their command centers in Idlib and arrests a number of their fighters:

Developments on 20/1/2017:
40 militants killed in an airstrike that targeted a joint JFS-Zinki camp in west Aleppo:

Pentagon announced that more than a hundred Al Qaeda fighters were killed in an air raid that targetted a camp in northwest syria on January 19:

Developments on 23/1/2017:

After two days of clashes between the JFS affiliated “Jund Al Aqsa” group and Ahrar Al Sham, the two sides decicided to make peace under the supervision of JFS:
5 JFS fighters were killed in coalition airstrikes that targeted arms depots and several sites across idlib countryside:
It looks like Ahrar Al Sham might have the upper hand in this from now on.

Developments on 24/1/2017:
Clashes erupt between JFS and Ahrar Al Sham. Nusra is mobilizing large columns and using tanks and suicide bombers. Ahrar Al Sham declared that they want piece but that they will also not stand idle in the face of aggression.

Ahrar Al Sham spokesman says that JFS has two options: either join the revolution or turn themselves into another Isis:

JFS takes over the town of Sarmada:

Developments on 26/1/2017:
Seeking protection from JFS, five rebel groups join Ahrar Al Sham:

So far JFS had only engaged small AAS affiliated groups. If they escalate further, they might find themselves in a direct confrontation with AAS.