As noted here, Sayfullakh Shishani’s jamaat in Jabhat al-Nusra has taken part in joint operations this week with Chechen-led Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, as well as the Islamic Front and Ahrar a-Sham, to battle Syrian forces in Balleramoun on the outskirts of Aleppo city, just south of Kafr Hamra. There is another account here (in Russian).
What is the significance of the joint operations? Some quick thoughts:
- Sayfullakh’s jamaat within Jabhat al-Nusra are undertaking joint operations with Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar. This in essence unites both factions against ISIS, who have strongly condemned JMA, and have tried to undermine that faction through video messages from fighters who claim to have left JMA.
- The faction is also fighting alongside both the Islamic Front and Ahrar a-Sham, the two groups that ISIS continues to criticize.
- The Chechen factions are keen to continue fighting the Assad regime and are not interested in fighting ISIS.
- The new military Amir of Sayfullakh’s jamaat, Mohammad Shishani, has been killed in the fighting,meaning that a new Amir will have to be chosen.
- Even though Sayfullakh’s jamaat has (well, had) a new Amir, it is still known as Sayfullakh’s jamaat and fighters still talk about missing him.
- ISIS, whose military amir is a Chechen, and whose structure contains a Chechen/ North Caucasian jamaat, appears to be isolated completely from its fellow countrymen. Not only are they not taking part in these battles against the regime, but their fellow countrymen and (in many cases) former comrades-in-arms from the time when Umar Shishani led JMA, have united and are fighting alongside the factions that ISIS denigrates.
- Apart from these interesting dynamics, there is also a military dimension — the battle in Balleramoun is gaining ground for the insurgents against regime forces on the northern edge of Aleppo city. In this, the Chechens are helping the insurgents push forward from gains in Kafr Hamra to the north west. (It is worth noting that Hraytan, the next town to the north of Kafr Hamra, was Umar Shishani’s “home base” since he came to Syria and is where Sayfullakh was based also.)