The organizational structure of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra
The structure of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham is headed by an emir as in all the organizational structures of jihadist movements, and al-Julani is still the general emir of the organization, whose names have varied since its inception until today. Each of Al-Nusra’s areas of influence has a military commander also called an emir”, and all of these emirs pledge allegiance to the general amir on hearing and obedience. Idlib governorate is unique in the presence of a general wali who stands at the head of the administrative hierarchy, and a special wali responsible for the Badia sector, both of which are independent of the other in terms of jurisdiction.
Al-Nusra Front has established military divisions in contrast to the traditional military division known to armies, as follows:
First: Groups: also called additives, consisting of (20-40) people, led by a military emir. The group elements pledge allegiance to emir to hear, obey and carry out the tasks assigned to the member without objection.
Second: The companies: It includes several groups, and the number of elements of each company ranges between (100-250) led by a military emir, the group leaders pledge allegiance to him, and he has a margin of independence in making military decisions in his sphere of influence without referring to the higher command, such as holding elements or emirs accountable groups in case of violation.
Third: The sectors: Al-Nusra has divided its areas of influence into sectors, including Idlib, Hama, Aleppo, the coast, the border and the rest of the areas under their control. Each sector has an emir who oversees military, advocacy, relief and judicial work. The emir enjoys wide powers within his sector, and the majority of them were of Arab nationalities until 2016, when most of the emirs became of Syrian nationality.
Fourth: The Mujahideen Shura Council: its members increased from (12 to 18) with the political and military developments in the organization’s structure. The most prominent of them until 2013 were al-Julani, al-Zawahiri, al-Baghdadi, Abu Ali al-Iraqi, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, Abu Maria al-Qahtani, and others. After al-Nusra had separated from al-Qaeda, al-Julani, Abu Firas al-Suri, Abu al-Fatah al-Farghli, Abu al-Yaqzan al-Masri and Abu Julaybib al-Urduni remained. After the dispute between al-Julani and al-Qaeda figures in the Shura Council, some of them were killed, others announced their resignation from the Council, and Al-Julani, Abu Maria al-Qahtani, and Abu al-Fatah al-Farghli remained from the first Shura Council.
Military formations of the Tahrir al-Sham
It is a special army for battles and support, which represents the central force of Al-Nusra, and the military wing of its leadership. One of the goals of establishing this military formation is to consolidate loyalty to the Nusra leadership, which is now suffering from some cracks and divergences in orientations.
Red Bands “Islamist commando”:
Its tasks are to carry out special operations behind enemy lines. At the end of 2016, Al-Julani entrusted the establishment, organization and training of this unit to a Blackwater Islamic company called Tactical Al-Malham.
Public Security Agency:
An independent security apparatus, which was called the (Security Force) working in coordination with the central administration of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, where Tahrir al-Sham appointed a person as Secretary General for each city or region. Under the supervision of the Secretary General, an unlimited network of security officials and detectives working in a civilian capacity works in all community institutions (health, education, local councils, municipalities, organizations, unions, etc.). They also monitor, transmit news and prepare reports, each according to his work location, to the Secretary General of the region to which they belong.
Al-Julani and the sectors’ emirs place military battle plans, within “military operations rooms”, located in the back lines of the fighting. The rooms are usually shared with other armed military factions, such as the experience of Jaysh al-Fateh in the Idlib battle, or rooms for al-Nusra in the battles against the Assad regime, or in battles against the opposition factions.
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham has a weapon that distinguishes it from other military formations in the Syrian opposition, with a huge number of booby-trapped vehicles and suicide bombers, often used against highly fortified sites. In addition to its arsenal of homemade “Elephant” missiles, which have a range of about 6 km, with a destructive power covering a radius of about 300 meters. It also has workshops for the manufacture of 120 and 160 mm mortar cannons and ammunition, which reflects positively in terms of availability, quantity of production and low cost, but negatively affects military performance and casualties. Tahrir al-Sham also possesses more than 160 tanks and armored vehicles, in addition to hundreds of vehicles equipped with heavy machine guns and 57 mm cannons.
A religious institution that supervises monitoring the behavior of military commanders, their adherence to Islamic law, and gives them legitimate lectures. A major religious authority called (the General Shari’a Judge) heads this institution in Al-Nusra Front.
The formation of a Salvation Government was announced in northern Syria on November 2, 2017. It is the soft political, administrative and civil wing of the Commission. It was formed from 11 ministerial portfolios headed by Muhammad al-Sheikh then, as well as the ministries of the Interior, Justice, Endowments, Higher Education, Education, Health, Agriculture, Economy, Social Affairs and Displaced Persons, Housing and Construction, and Local Administration.
The most prominent resources of Tahrir al-Sham now are:
Legal and illegal crossings:
Bab al-Hawa and Al-Ghazawiya. According to the sources, the revenues of Bab al-Hawa crossing amounted to more than 4 million US dollars per month through the introduction of goods by merchants and relief materials by organizations, not to mention transit and movements through the crossing.
Watad Petroleum Company:
Watad Petroleum Company was established in early 2018 in Idlib to import European oil and it is affiliated with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. Since its establishment, it has imported hundreds of trucks containing Ukrainian gasoline and introduced it into Idlib governorate, through Bab al-Hawa crossing, after the gasoline imported from the regime’s areas was cut off, for a period not exceeding seven days at that time.
The Salvation Government, the civil arm of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, regulates taxes and violations on stores and small shops, residential and municipal violations, traffic violations, water and electricity violations, and even the public lands of the displaced who wish to establish camps.
Scenarios for the future of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham
In light of the above, three scenarios can be drawn for the future of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. The first scenario: The Russian-Turkish alliance is likely to keep Idlib under the control of Tahrir al-Sham, for a limited period, until a specific plan to control the region is crystallized. This plan has been stalled so far as a result of multiple obstacles and impediments the humanitarian repercussions emerge as the most important obstacles that delay the battle. Especially after the European media excitement, which considered that if Russia mounted a war on Idlib and its surroundings, it may result in disastrous consequences for the population. The region may also witness a large population displacement towards Turkey and then to Europe, as well as encouraging the two warring parties to proceed with armed confrontation; which makes the situation worse. This was demonstrated by the Astana 15 Agreement, which emphasized the truce in the Idlib region. Consequently, abandoning the option of a military settlement to subjugate the areas under the influence of Tahrir al-Sham.
The second scenario: It is expected that the greatest danger that threatens Tahrir al-Sham bears an ideological dimension, in which the organization appears from the inside Dispersed among several parties. Some of them carry the ideology of Al-Qaeda, and the issue of its disintegration depends on the extent to which international and regional parties respond to containing it as a national party in the Syrian political scene. Otherwise, the continued classification of Tahrir al-Sham as a (terrorist) organization means the failure of the attempts of Al-Julani, and the rise of the extremist movement, which includes foreign fighters in large numbers within the organization.
The third scenario: It tends to the possibility of starting the implementation of the project of organizing the liberated area with a unified army that includes all the factions through the formation of the Military Council of Idlib Governorate in a participatory manner.