The insurgency in Syria has recently lost significant ground to the forces of the Syrian government, which recaptured the strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib province. These developments have led to some internal debates about the reasons for these losses and the broader direction of the insurgency, though discussion on the latter issue has never entirely gone away.
The main insurgent group Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which officially severed its allegiance to al-Qa'ida, faces heavy criticism from many al-Qa'ida loyalists and more hardline jihadis on account of its strategy and relations with Turkey. Among its critics in this regard is the outlet Mu'assasat Ansar al-Furqan (Ansar al-Furqan Foundation).
To understand these perspectives further, I conducted an interview on 28 August 2019 with the Ansar al-Furqan Foundation. It is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: How do you assess the general situation in the field of al-Sham today? Why have the factions lost multiple areas recently?
A: The one who looks at the state of the field of al-Sham, sees in truth a rapid transformation of the field of al-Sham. In the beginnings of the jihad, there were specific principles in which the field of al-Sham was dyed, then they turned into another dye that has gained predominance over it in recent times.
For it has transformed from a field rising up against the global system, going out of its control and keeping it awake night and day, to a field considered to be a ground of practical experiments for the global counter-terrorism institutions, through which a number of practical experiments have been tried that resemble new methods in counter-terrorism. These things have most recently led to catastrophic results whose impact we find today in the field of al-Sham.
And these catastrophic results are what have caused multiple losses and defeats recently. Through them rigid developed methods have been followed to remove the field from the crucible of Islamic jihad, to the domains of Islamist politics, which have brought the factions into vortexes for which they are not suited, for they have squandered their mujahideen and their blood by engaging in the domain of the conspiracies.
For when they have exceeded God's command and abandoned it, and tried to abandon the cosmic Sunnan, they have been restored to them in a lowly state. For their Creator has given them the keys of success and victory and tamkin [being enabled in the land: i.e. exercising control and governance], and He has guided them to their causes, while leaving to Him management as well as deceiving the one who deceives them and plotting against the one who plots against them. And He has ordered them to comply with His Qur'an and the Sunna of His Prophet.
So when they have ignored His commands, taken upon themselves the domains of plotting and deception in what God did not order them, and abandoned the Shari'i causes of victory and tamkin, God has entrusted them to themselves so they have gone wrong and lost what their hands have earned so that they should be made to taste some of what they have done, that they may return.
For in practice they have been deceived above the tables of politics, and they have deceived them and made them fall into their traps even as they think they are doing well.
And the regrettable thing is that they are disdainful of that, and they attribute to themselves a false victory and claimed conquest, in order to convince themselves of the soundness of their path, so they have been stubborn in it, and they themselves have become convinced of it.
This is the main reason for the factions' losses of these areas: but from this negative thing has arisen the positive thing of widespread awareness that has come upon the youth of the mujahideen after years of jihad, such that there has arisen a wide slice of the mujahideen taking steps of caution in their work and dealing with other sides, on account of the sudden changes that have fallen upon the field in the last few years. And this is a positive aspect that was missing through the first years, which constituted an obstacle for us and wore us out in making the youth aware and directing them, because they excessively and uncommendably trusted in the decisions of those assuming the leadership even if they were not right in their open appearance.
So this positive aspect is one of those that we will rely on in the plan to correct the course by God's permission for the one who realizes the danger of the situation and deviation of the course of the field from a field rising up against the global system and going out of it to a field with a regional and practical subordination to clear and frank international interests.
Q: What is the correct position on the Turkish presence in the area? Do we consider the Turks an apostate party?
A: Regarding our correct position on the Turkish presence in the area and from the first moment it has been: outright rejection, implementing the Shari'i text, following it and conceding to the things it necessitates, which are direct confrontation far removed from predictions and analyses of pure materialism. For we are commanded also by the open meaning of the corroborated texts to confront, and place the entire weight on that, without considering the outcomes. And this is by divine wisdom that is requested and stipulated in the clear Shari'i text.
And there is no doubt that the Turks are upon plain kufr [disbelief]: they and those with him and those who support them, have gone in their convoys and shown their banner, or have been a reason for its appearance, and temptation of the people away from their religion and the Shari'a [Islamic law] of their Lord. And this is what we have written and supported in our articles relying on a Shari'i interpretation and detailing with precision, and praise be to God.
Q: What is the best strategy for the jihad in the field of al-Sham in the long-term?
A: Regarding the strategy we deem best for the jihad in the field of al-Sham: it is intensifying the special operations that strike the heart of the enemy through guerrilla groups and cells that inflict damage on the enemy by different types of damage hoped for, as the capabilities that are with us in light of the obligation to operate and paucity of ruse impose this method upon us in the present time, while entrenching ourselves. But this method needs strong preparation and preparedness.
We consider that the strategic places are to be targeted with focusing on them and placing weight in them, while neutralizing the special weapons of the disbelievers through methods and strategies of concealment. We must also take up the Shari'i causes to turn the table on the conspirators. We must get the Muslim mujahid youth out of the spirit of defeatism to the spirit of faith and jihad, upon which the Companions were in the first expeditions of the jihad with the Prophet (SAWS), the wars of apostasy, which were led by al-Siddiq Abu Bakr, and the conquests overseen by al-Faruq Omar.
Q: Can you talk a little about the Salvation Government project? Does this project implement God's law?
A: Of course the Salvation Government which is formed in a civilian form is in its truth an implementing hand for the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham group and a copy of it. The Hay'a directs most of its sectors, and uses it as its cover in the works for which the Hay'a is criticised for committing.
So it is a veil for it and an apparent form for implementing what the Hay'a is embarrassed to implement in its militant Islamist form.
And it is well known among those with review of the truth of the Salvation Government project that it is a project completely distant from implementing the correct and sound Islamic Shari'a: indeed the government is falling into multiple things that prove the deviation of its path, from imposing customs duties and taxes, to imposing licence permissions to hoarding sources of livelihoods to corruption of its judiciary, the injustice of its judiciary and its obstruction of a great number of the Shari'i rulings. Indeed sometimes it replaces them [the Shari'i rulings] with flimsy arguments. Further it has established deviant educational programs and likewise it has formed a legislative body the details of whose case we have mentioned along with the Shari'i response to it. And there are many other matters as well that disprove the claim of those leading the government that they want to implement an Islamic system through it. And in truth their words, deeds and its open signs are clear Shari'i violations, which remove it from the considered characterization of the Shari'i government.
And praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds.