Infighting Threatens to Tear Syria’s Ahrar al-Sham Rebels Apart

Political and military leadership of once large rebel faction at odds

Once one of the most numerous rebel factions within Syria, the Ahrar al-Sham, or what’s left of it, is facing a new crisis, with infighting threatening to pull the group apart, centering on the political wing and the military forces.

Ahrar al-Sham was a major rebel group, heavily Islamist, but also presented by the West as a “moderate” group, despite the leadership speaking favorably of al-Qaeda. As with most rebels, they’ve been confined to northern Idlib Province. As a foreign-backed group they’ve ended up in the good graces of Turkey.

Political leaders seem to be trying to keep themselves separated from the fighters in the group, with one of their commanders recently relieved of political office. The commander has rejected, and threatened defiance, over the decision.

Making things even more complicated, the commander has been endorsed in this resistance by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is the local al-Qaeda affiliate. HTS is the biggest rebel force left in Idlib, and controls the most territory. They’ve tried to unite the rebels under their control, and Ahrar al-Sham would be a big acquisition in their effort to make themselves the last rebel faction

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.