Why Syrian Army Needs to Keep a Close Eye on Al-Nusra Front in Idlib

© Sputnik / Iliya Pitalev / Go to the mediabankSyrian army artillery soldiers in Idlib province in northwestern Syria. file photo
Syrian army artillery soldiers in Idlib province in northwestern Syria. file photo - Sputnik International
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) needs to understand that the al-Nusra Front terrorists and their allies will continue to adjust their tactics in the Idlib province and actively operate in different directions, targeting moderate opposition, Russian military analyst Andrei Koshkin told Radio Sputnik.

Al-Nusra Front terrorists are changing tactics to maintain full control over the Syrian province of Idlib and prevent the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) from establishing a de-escalation zone in the region thus undermining the peace process.

"One should keep in mind that the [al-Nusra] militants are ready to change direction, tactics, and to flow from one place to another," Andrei Koshkin, a military analyst and head of the Sociology and Political Science Department at the Russian Plekhanov Economic University, told Radio Sputnik.

He foresees that they will fight more actively against the "moderate" opposition: "They feel much more confident in this way than in the fight against government troops," he explained.

Jabhat al-Nusra fighter (File) - Sputnik International
Some 9,000 Militants Attempting to Capture Syria's Idlib Province - Russian MoD
The major goal of the terrorists is to dramatically expand their sphere of influence in the region, the expert emphasized.

On Friday Col. Gen. Igor Korobov, chief of the Russian General Staff's Main Directorate, reported that around 9,000 terrorists of the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham — formerly known as al-Nusra Front — are currently trying to take control over the Syrian province of Idlib.

"The total number of al-Nusra Front militants in northwestern Idlib stands at 9,000 people. Currently, the terrorists are trying to take control over the whole of its territory by intensifying combat actions against the moderate opposition groups," Korobov said at the Army-2017 forum.

The colonel general pointed out that the terrorist organization has managed to deal a heavy blow to the Syrian opposition forces, including Ahrar al-Sham, in the region. To complicate matters further, radicalized members within the opposition have recently taken the side of the terrorist organization to evade complete annihilation.

According to the military official, it's entirely possible that the leadership of al-Nusra Front is currently trying to prevent the SAA from creating the fourth zone of de-escalation in Idlib to disrupt the political process aimed at resolving the Syrian crisis.

A picture taken on March 22, 2017 near the town of Maardes in the countryside of the central Syrian province of Hama, shows rebel fighters walking past an armoured vehicle carrying the flag of the Tahrir al-Sham rebel alliance - Sputnik International
Over 25,000 Fighters Join Together in New Syrian Terrorist Merger - Russian MoD
Korobov highlighted that currently, al-Nusra Front remains the second most powerful terrorist group consisting of more than 15,000 militants, most of whom are Syrians.

In addition, the colonel general revealed that the terrorist organization plays a key role in the new formation called Hayat Tahrir Sham.

"At present, more than 70 factions, including from the ranks of the opposition which used to consider itself moderate, have joined together. The total strength of the Hayat Tahrir Sham group exceeds 25,000 militants," Korobov stressed.

More interestingly, in contrast to Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) which is seeking to create the "Islamic caliphate" from Morocco to Malaysia, the al-Nusra Front militants' priority is the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the transformation of Syria into an Islamist realm.

Given the fact that al-Nusra Front's units are actively operating in Homs, Eastern Ghouta and in the south of Syria, the SAA has a lot to focus on, Koshkin pointed out.

"[The SAA] cannot afford to relax, ignore the directions in which the [al-Nusra Front's] militants are concentrating," he told Radio Sputnik. "A similar situation emerged in Palmyra, when the [Syrian] government forces actively undertook the liberation of Aleppo, while more than 5,000 [Daesh] militants managed to capture the city [of Palmyra] for the second time."

"It is necessary to fight actively, deter terrorists in all directions and solve the most difficult tactical tasks for a possible breakthrough of militants in the directions where the 'moderate' opposition is located," Koshkin emphasized.

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