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Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF) /
Syrian Liberation Front

The 37,000-strong Syrian Islamic Liberation Front [aka Syrian Liberation Front] and the Syrian Islamic Front - which includes some 13,000 Salafi combatants - are two militant groups supported by Saudi Arabia. Qatar supports a separate Salafi group known as Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigade with around 15,000 combatants. They have fewer fighters than the Free Syrian Army and adhere to an Islamist ideology.

The Syrian Liberation Front is an alliance that wants Islamic rule in Syria, but is regarded as moderate and pragmatic. CIA arms shipments were intended to bolster the capabilities of the Supreme Military Council, an umbrella group headed by Gen. Salim Idriss and other former Syrian military officers who favor the creation of a democratic government, although the network includes Islamist groups such as the Syrian Liberation Front. The Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SLF/SILF) is also known as Islamic Front to Liberate Syria, Ahmad al-Sheikh, Front to Liberate Syria, Jabha Tahrir Suriya, and Islamic Front to Liberate Syria.

The Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF), initially known as the Syrian Liberation Front [jabhat tahrir souriya], was formed in mid-2012, incorporating the largest mainstream Islamist insurgent group. The SILF includes the Farouq Battalions (mainly Homs + Turkish border), the Tawhid Brigade (Aleppo), the Suqour el-Sham Brigades (Idleb), the Islam Brigade (Damascus), and others. Some of these formations were initially created in the name of the Free Syrian Army, but took on a more salafist hue as the war dragged on, reflecting both the mood of the rebel movement, and foreign funding requirements. Members include both opportunistic and principled Islamists, said to range from ideologically moderate "big-tent" fighters (Tawhid Brigade) to "rather grim-looking" salafis (Islam Brigade).

Aron Lund noted in February 2013 that Syrian Liberation Front was "pretty much the new mainstream face of the insurgency. Its certainly more important than any of the rival leaderships of the Free Syrian Army (Riad el-Asaad, Mustafa el-Sheikh, Qasem Saadeddine, etc), although given the media focus, one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. The problem is that while the FSA factions have leaders but no fighters, the Syria Liberation Front has a lot of fighters but no real leadership. It seems to be more of a political platform than an actual alliance, and the member factions go about their business much as they did before joining it. Of course, that could change with time."

Saudi Arabia backed Syria's rebels in a civil war that directly affected much of the region, but with little transparency in the kingdom, its precise role remains unclear. While many across the Middle East welcomed the September 2013 diplomatic push for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons, Riyadh, one of the strongest supporters of US military intervention against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was not happy about the switch from strikes to talks.

"[The Saudis] estimate that the deal over chemical weapons is, one, not feasible, but, two, makes it even harder to intervene and brings Bashar al-Assad back into the bargaining game, which is their biggest problem," says Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "They've spent the past two and half years trying to delegitimize Assad, and that deal turns Assad into a partner."

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Page last modified: 12-09-2014 19:32:12 ZULU