Syrian Ahrar al-Sham rebels targeted in US airstrikes

Syrian Ahrar al-Sham rebels targeted in US airstrikes
Airstrikes by the US-led coalition hit Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sham for the first time overnight, as well as al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syrian branch, a monitoring group said on Thursday.
3 min read
06 November, 2014
Islamic Front are a leading Syrian rebel coalition [Anadolu]
Fighters of the Syrian rebel group known as Ahrar al-Sham were among the targets of US-led coalition airstrikes for the first time overnight, a monitoring group said on Thursday. 

The group is one of the largest armed Islamist brigades and is part of the key Islamic Front coalition of Islamist rebels.

The bombing was carried out near the Turkey-Syria border, said the London-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Ahrar al-Sham is believed to have between 10,000 and 20,000 fighters and espouses a conservative ideology, though it has not expressed the same transnational jihadi aspirations as al-Nusra Front or the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS). 

Many of its top leaders are thought to have ties with al-Qaeda and the group has fought alongside al-Nusra Front against other "moderate" rebel groupings in parts of northern Syria.

The reported raids are a new blow for Ahrar, which saw 47 members of its leadership killed in a blast in Idlib province in Syria's northwest last month.

No group claimed responsibility for that attack, which wiped out most of Ahrar's senior religious and military chiefs.

Nusra targeted

Al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, also came under fire in a second bout of airstrikes in northwestern Syria, killing several al-Nusra fighters, and two children, the Observatory said.

Coalition aircraft carried out "several raids after midnight" targeting an al-Nusra vehicle and one of its positions, the Observatory said.

The militant group confirmed the strikes on Twitter, saying they were carried out by "the alliance of Crusaders and Arabs on al-Nusra positions, causing deaths, mostly of civilians".

The United States and a number of Arab states have been carrying out airstrikes against IS in Syria since September 23 in a bid to prevent the jihadi group from seizing more territory in the conflict-hit region.

On the first day of the strikes they also hit a group of al-Qaeda veterans that Washington dubbed "Khorasan", although analysts said that attack actually targeted al-Nusra.

There have been no reported strikes on groups outside IS since, but this second attack comes after al-Nusra made gains against Western-backed rebel fighters in the Idlib region.

Al-Nusra fighters drove the Western-backed Syrian Revolutionary Front from its bastion in Idlib province this week, and captured a town after the withdrawal of the Hazm movement, another moderate opposition group.

The advances were seen as a blow to US efforts to create and train a moderate rebel force as a counterweight to jihadis and the troops of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Elsewhere in the country, the coalition continued further strikes against IS, carrying out three raids against its positions in Tal Abyad on the Turkish border, the Observatory said.