Lack of necessary international support to eliminate Islamic State in Daraa leads to indecisive battles against organization
Opposition military factions have launched battles against the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army affiliated with the Islamic State(ISIS) in the Daraa governorate, Southern Syria. The fights were fruitless, indecisive and failed to eliminate ISIS due to the limited international support either in providing necessary equipment or air force by the International Coalition warplanes, which have always backed the Syrian Democratic Forces(SDF) against ISIS in Eastern and Northeastern Syria.
Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army formation and areas of control in the Daraa governorate:
In May 2016, the al-Muthana Islamist Movement and al-Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade merged, forming the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army. The Free Syrian Army(FSA) accuses the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army of being affiliated with ISIS that is globally a terrorist organization. The Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army took the al-Yarmouk area in Daraa as a major stronghold, in particular, the towns of Jamala and al-Shajara.
Jamal Abu al-Zain , the commander of the Ahl al-Azm Brigade of the al-Ahrar Nawa Division of the FSA, stated that upon its initial formation, the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army was not affiliated with ISIS as it was formed by groups of the FSA, which took of the al-Yarmouk area as stronghold for secure accommodation and fight against the Syrian government forces, whose existence in border areas is limited to small stations called al-Hajana(Border guards). The FSA groups formed what was formerly known as the al-Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade; however, the existence of foreign Islamist extremists in the brigade, contributed to swerve the unit out of its course. On the other hand, groups were forming another entity called the al-Muthana Islamist Movement that adopted the same extremist approach. The extremists of both bodies corrupted fighters by money provided by countries like Iran and the Syrian government that sought to divert the Syrian Revolution from its right course.
The FSA estimates the areas controlled by the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army at 70 square kilometers, which cover different geographic space and towns like al-Shajara and Jamla. As well as the villages of Koyeh, Beit Arah, al-Qusayr (adjacent to the borders with Jordan), and Abdeen, Saysoun, and a part of Said al-Hanout near the borders with Israel. Space also includes the villages of Sahem al-Golan, Tasil, Nafi’a , and Abu Raqa. The number of civilians in the areas controlled by the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army has estimated at 125,000 citizens most of them work in agriculture, according to Abu al-Zain.
The Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army included from 1000 to 1,500 fighters and was proven affiliated with ISIS through its approach and the outcomes of investigations of fighters, whom the FSA captured in battles. The Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army adopted slogans also proves affiliation with ISIS, according to Abu al-Zain.
A commander of the FSA in the Daraa governorate, who preferred to be unknown, said that the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army took al-Yarmouk basin area as a stronghold because the majority of the villages are small with little populations and are easy to be isolated and controlled regarding security.
Absent international support and time have not come to eliminate ISIS in Daraa.
Abu al-Zain, the commander of the Ahl al-Azm Brigade, said that “the International Coalition did not bomb the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army outposts because there is an international game that the states concerned about Syria play (...). The game is concerned about creating balances, especially in areas outside of the Syrian government forces’ control to keep the situation as it is until reaping the fruit of the existence of ISIS.” Abu al-Zain thinks that the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army will be eradicated soon because Abu al-Zain says,” time has come for the supporting countries to lift the ban of providing weapons for the factions or even to intervene directly to eliminate ISIS amidst ISIS fiasco and the loss of significant strongholds in Northern and Eastern Syria.”
Abu al-Zain confirmed that earlier, the countries forming the MOK Operation Room in Jordan( a group of countries like the United States, Britain, and some Arab states that support opposition military factions) ordered the wings in Daraa to fight ISIS. Abu al-Zain added,” the orders were just dead letters on paper because the MOK countries did not provide necessary and sufficient weapons for the factions. The countries aimed at showing the factions as unable to eliminate extremist ISIS by the interests of the countries.”
A commander of the FSA in Daraa, who prefers to be unknown, said that the International Coalition abstain from bombing the area controlled by ISIS because the coalition is willing for ISIS to still exists at this very time in order to keep the situation on tense and for ISIS to pressure the opposition factions in favor of the Syrian government.
Abu Bakr al-Hasan, the official spokesperson for the Revolution Army, stated that the International Coalition abstention from bombing ISIS outposts in the al-Yarmouk basin area by the time ISIS explosions the FSA outposts indicates the extent of cooperation and coordination between the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army and the International Coalition.
Limited capabilities and factions of disunification lead to unsuccessful battles against ISIS:
A commander of the FSA believes that fighting to eliminate the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army are fated to fail due to the lack of capabilities and engineering equipment of the opposition factions as well as the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army dependence on car bombs and landmines. The commander ruled out that the al-Yarmouk basin to become an area to gather ISIS fighters as ISIS lost essential strongholds in Northern and Eastern Syria. Another FSA commander ruled out the same point as the al-Yarmouk basin is adjacent to the borders with Israel and Jordan.
Commander Abu al-Zain attributed the reasons behind the FSA inability to eliminate the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army to the fact that the factions in Southern Syria are not united under a joint leadership as well as the lack of military support provided regarding quality and quantity.
Abu al-Zain considered that the existence of the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army in the area serves the interests of Israel and if this had not been right, Israel would not have tolerated with the existence of the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army on the borders with Israel for such long time”. Abu al-Zain added,” had the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army posed an even minimum threat against Israel and its interests, we would not have been to discuss this case now because the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army cannot stand against Israel even for an hour.”
An activist in the Daraa governorate considered that decisive battles are not launched against the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army because this entity is not created to be eliminated in the short term. The activist added that the situation in Southern Syria is still ambiguous and no one knows where things are going to. The activist noted that the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army occupies the strategic al-Yarmouk basin, which is rich with water and resources that Israel and Jordan benefit from. The activist said that the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army is meant to be a pretext for the Syrian government in case the latter decides to storm the Daraa governorate, which is the closest governorate to Damascus, and to get the factions involved in a war of attrition against the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army to kill as many fighters of the factions as possible.
Is preserving ISIS existence in Daraa so far considered a pretext for the Syrian government to storm the area?
Many of those concerned about the Syrian issue wonder whether the reason behind preserving the existence of ISIS in the Daraa governorate so far is for the Syrian government forces to exploit ISIS existence to bomb and storm Daraa. The wonders follow the recent statements by the United States, Russian, and Jordan (the states guarantors of the de-escalation agreement in Southern Syria). In late May 2018, the Russian troops at the Hmeimim airbase in Latakia stated that the end of the de-escalation agreement in the city of Daara would be inevitable as ISIS and the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham( Formerly al-Nusra Front) still exist in the area. A commander of the FSA considered the Russian troop's statements as an attempt to stir revolt. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, stated that the Syrian government forces are the sole side that should be deployed to the Southern borders of Syria with Jordan and Israel. Lavrov’s statements followed the United States’ threats to take firm measures against the Syrian government in case the latter violates the ceasefire agreement in Southern Syria.
On May 27, 2018, dozens of factions of the FSA in Southern Syria formed a new faction under the name “Salvation Army” in the governorates of Daraa and Quneitra. The Salvation Army formation followed the updates of the current phase as Russia and the Syrian government forces attack Southern Syria and continue to violate the de-escalation agreement.