The ISIS weekend offensive against the Aleppo Province continued today, with their forces moving against the city of Azaz, a strategically important city next to the major border crossing between Turkey and Syria.
Azaz has been the site of fighting off and on for years, with secular rebels seizing it way back in early 2012. It has changed hands several times since then among various rebel factions, with the Islamic Front dominating the area now.
This latest battle for Azaz could be a decisive defeat for the Islamic Front, as it is the last site of serious value they control in northern Syria, and its loss would effectively mean that, apart from Kurdish-held sites like Kobani, the Syria-Turkey border is virtually entirely under the control of ISIS or al-Qaeda.
Azaz itself is a city of only about 30,000 people, but is on the main north-south highway in Syria, north of its pre-war industrial and financial capital of Aleppo. That highway goes right into Syria, and into the trading city of Kilis.
The Islamic Front had tried to present itself as the “moderate” Islamist movement in Syria, though some of its leaders openly brag about al-Qaeda ties. The group was at one point a significant power across Syria, but is increasingly marginalized after months of fighting with ISIS, in which they lost a lot of ground.
Desperate to hold off the ISIS advance, the Islamic Front is now courting the US, hoping to secure air strikes as a way to slow the ISIS offensive. The US may well offer some strikes against ISIS, but given their momentum it’s hard to see them changing the situation.