Introduction and Analysis
Though the regime offensives backed by Russian airpower and Iranian-backed militias to supplement the manpower on the ground initially seemed to make little headway territorially, it is apparent that they have triggered manpower problems within the ranks of the rebels, most notably as several prominent leaders in a number of formations have been taken out. Combined with gradual regime advances in Aleppo and Latakia, these developments have prompted a number of mobilization calls and appeals for help. For example, in December 2015, Kata'ib Ansar al-Sham- one of the factions that have lost leaders in the recent offensives- issued a call for help in light of the high attrition being suffered on the Sahel [coastal] front. Sure enough, that statement proved to foreshadow the recent string of advances for the regime in Latakia, such that the insurgency now risks losing all footholds in the province.
In addition, and perhaps most controversially, the Idlib-based coalition Jaysh al-Fatah issued a general mobilization call very clearly advocating for foreign fighters. For factions with a more national framework, such as the Ikhwani Faylaq al-Sham, this call likely went too far, and so Faylaq al-Sham announced its withdrawal from Jaysh al-Fatah, ostensibly because Jaysh al-Fatah had fulfilled its objectives in Idlib and that the focus should be on the Aleppo fronts. However, this pretext is somewhat undermined by the fact that Jaysh al-Fatah has sent substantial reinforcements from Idlib to the south/west Aleppo countryside.
A flyer recently distributed in Aleppo calling for mobilization, offering numbers to contact on WhatsApp.
Around the turn of the New Year, fliers (above) were distributed in Aleppo calling for mobilization, offering numbers to contact on WhatsApp. The fliers were of obscure origin and superficially don't point to a particular factional affiliation. A connection by this author with one of the numbers on WhatsApp indicated that the recruitment attempt is probably a front for Jaysh al-Fatah, which the contact claimed was the dominant force (taken together with Jabhat al-Nusra) on the Aleppo front.
The latest statement for mobilization (obtained from a local contact in Azaz, in north Aleppo countryside near the border with Turkey) has been issued today by the Azaz branch of a relatively new Aleppo-based judicial body known as the Supreme Judicial Council, which announced the beginning of its operations on 30 July 2015 and was likely many months in the making as an accepted judicial body for some mainstream Islamist factions in Aleppo province like the Shami Front. The council declares itself to be independent and aiming to implement the "standard Islamic Shari'a rulings." Wishing to prevent excess localism, the Supreme Judicial Council requires all rulings on criminal cases to be referred to a single cassation room in the province. The branches of the Supreme Judicial Council are primarily in north Aleppo countryside and west Aleppo countryside: al-Ansari [Aleppo city], Azaz, Tel Refa'at, Marea, al-Qasimiya, Kafr Naha and al-Hadir.
The statement focuses on the latest regime attempts to advance. Undoubtedly the court has in mind the renewed initiatives to advance north of Aleppo city and break the sieges of the Shi'a villages of Nubl and Zahara', another cause in which the Shi'a militias aiding the regime are invested (besides the standard rhetoric about defending Shi'a shrines like Sayyida Zainab in Damascus). Strategically, if the goal is achieved, it is of huge significance, as it cuts off the rebels in Aleppo city from supply lines through to Turkey.
Towards the end of this new statement, there is a suggestion of a need for the mobilization of foreign fighters. There are indeed similarities of phrase, Islamic text citations and language (e.g. 'Rafidites'- derogatory for the Shi'a) with the Jaysh al-Fatah statement, but the Jaysh al-Fatah statement is explicitly addressed from the outset of the main body of text to the wider Ummah.
In all, these mobilization calls reflect an increasingly dire situation for the rebels, while for Russia, any losses from the financially-sustainable intervention have been relatively minor- contrary to claims of a 'quagmire' for Russia. It should also be noted that calls for jihad in Syria in the wake of Russian intervention have not led to a noticeable increase in the number of foreign fighters entering Syria, in contrast with the heavy spike that followed Hezbollah's announcement of its involvement in the fighting in Qusayr in 2013- something that also triggered mobilization calls. The difference now is mostly due to Turkey's tightening of the borders with Syria, whereby official crossings remain closed except for trucks and occasional allowances for Syrians and greater border security is implemented to crack down on smuggling. In addition, more efforts are made at Turkey's airports to profile and turn away those thought to be attempting to head to Syria, in a bid to stop suspected recruitment for the Islamic State in particular.
Text and Translation
Supreme Judicial Council
Central Court: Azaz
Announcement of General Mobilization
Praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds, and prayers and peace be upon our esteemed Muhammad and all his family and companions.
God Almighty says: "And if they seek your support in religion, you must aid them" [Qur'an 8:72]. And the Messenger of God (SAWS) says: "It is not for a [Muslim] man to abandon a Muslim man in a land in which his dignity is violated and in which he is deprived of his honour unless God- Almighty and Exalted is He- has abandoned him in a land in which he wishes to be supported."
And for what follows: it is not concealed from anyone regarding what is happening in north Aleppo countryside from the coming together of our enemies and at the head of them the Nusayri regime and the Rafidites of Iran, Lebanon and Iraq with the support of Communist Russian aircraft in an attempt on their part to extinguish our blessed revolution. So our battle is no longer with the regime but indeed it is a battle with the Rafidites who have come to support their falsehood from all sides. Despite that, our brothers from all the factions continue to record the most magnificent deeds of heroism and battles defending their land and Ummah against this aggression and gathering.
Today we call on all our people in Aleppo and its countryside to general mobilization with their men and wealth to stand in rank with their brothers in confronting this aggressor enemy that makes no distinction between the one who sits and the one who fights, or between young and old. And we call on the 'ulama of the Ummah to announce general mobilization to mobilize the Muslim youth, and we remind them of the words of God Almighty: "Oh you who believe, what is there for you when it has been said to you: 'Go forth in the path of God', and you cling to the earth?" [Qur'an 9:38].
Stand with your brothers, strengthen them, and be with them as the firm edifice, for by God your brothers have sworn that the aggressors and attackers should not reach you so long as they should breathe.
So show God that today you are doing good.
Date: 2 February 2016
Head of the central court: Azaz
Supreme Judicial Council
Leadership of the Shari'i court: Azaz
Update: 2 February 2016
The Supreme Judicial Council is not the only Aleppo judicial body concerning itself with mobilization in light of the situation. The Jabhat al-Nusra-linked Dar al-Qada of Hureitan has issued a statement announcing a suspension of operations and urging employees to join the ranks of the fighters, while encouraging mobilization among the people:
"Praise be to God who says 'Go forth, lightly and heavily armed, and wage jihad with your wealth and souls [/lives] in the path of God. That is best for you if you know" [Qur'an 9:41]. And prayers and peace be upon the our Prophet Muhammad and all his family and companions.
In view of what the area in north Aleppo countryside is being exposed to from violent bombing and fierce assaults from Russian aircraft and missile launchers, and with the attempt of the regime to advance on a number of fronts in the north Aleppo countryside, the Dar al-Qada in Hureitan announces the suspension of work in the Dar until Saturday 6 February 2016.
And we urge the brothers working in the Dar al-Qada (employees-admin guys) to join the ranks of the mujahideen and strengthen their brothers. Likewise we urge the brothers who are judges and students of 'Ilm [Islamic knowledge] to encourage the people to fight in defence of religion, land and honour.
"And God is predominant over His affair but most people don't know."
Head of the Dar al-Qada
Admin official of the Dar al-Qada
2 February 2016
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a research fellow at Middle East Forum's Jihad Intel project.