Hassan Hassan writes: In January 2014 newly organised rebel factions in northern Syria declared war on Islamic State (Isis), and this culminated in the expulsion of the group from all of the city of Idlib and most of Aleppo. Rebel forces in Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor and Hasaka similarly rose up to root out the increasingly overbearing foreign organisation.
The anti-Isis offensive reportedly cost the rebels about 7,000 fighters. The group’s presence in Syria was seriously threatened, receding to Raqqa and pockets in Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and Hasaka, until the summer of that year, when Isis swiftly took over Deir ez-Zor and consolidated its presence in eastern Aleppo, southern Hasaka and Raqqa. It was helped by momentum and the advanced weapons it seized after it took over Mosul in mid-June and the Iraqi army there collapsed.
But the advancing hordes of Isis still failed to reclaim control in Idlib or the rest of Aleppo. That remains true today. Local rebel factions have resisted the group’s incessant attempts to return. The rebels’ resilience in those areas is remarkable, especially considering Isis’s control of al-Bab and Manbij west of Aleppo, two significant strongholds for, respectively, Isis’s economic activities and its manpower.
But what Isis failed to achieve with advanced weapons and momentum could be achieved with the changing military landscape in Aleppo and northern Syria at large. [Continue reading…]