Center for Strategic Communication

More than 60 units of the Free Syrian Army that operate in the south recently broke off from the main military and political command, which is backed by the US and the West. At least one of the defecting units has fought with an al Qaeda branch, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant.

A commander from the Ansar al Sunnah Brigade, a group that fights President Bashir al Assad’s government in southern Syria, released a statement on YouTube yesterday claiming that 66 units formerly loyal to the Free Syrian Army and its political branch, the Syrian National Coalition, have defected to form their own command. A translation of the statement was obtained by The Long War Journal, and the names of the 66 groups are listed at the end of this article.

“[W]e, the commanders of the military and revolutionary formations in the southern governorates announce withdrawing our recognition of any existing political entity that claims to represent us, foremost of which is the Syrian Opposition Coalition [or Syrian National Coalition] and its command that relinquished the constants of the homeland and the revolution,” the Ansar al Sunnah Brigade commander said.

The commander did not indicate that the 66 groups were joining powerful Salafist-Islamist groups such as Ahrar al Sham or al Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front or the Islamist State of Iraq and the Sham (or Levant). Instead, he said the groups would form a separate command and seek to unite other groups in the “Syrian Arab Republic.”

“We also are working to unify the revolutionary forces militarily and politically in all the governorates of the Syrian Arab Republic,” he continued.

While it could not be confirmed that all 66 groups signed onto the statement, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army confirmed that the video “is authentic,” and the FSA is taking it seriously, The Associated Press reported. The spokesman said that General Salim Idris, the nominal commander of the Free Syrian Army, would reach out to the groups listed in the statement and attempt to bring them back into the fold.

At least one of the groups listed has recently fought with the Al Nusrah Front. In September, the Yarmouk Brigade teamed up with the Al Nusrah Front and the Aknaf Bait al Maqdis, or Defenders of Jerusalem, another jihadist group allied with al Qaeda that operates in Daraa, to overrun a border crossing point with Jordan. And in March, the Al Nusrah Front fought alongside the Yarmouk Brigade and stormed an air defense base and military checkpoints, effectively putting them in control of a 25-kilometer stretch of the border from the Golan to Jordan.

The defection of the 66 units is the latest blow to the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Coalition. At the end of September, three large Free Syrian Army brigades defected and joined an alliance with the Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham, and other large Islamist groups. The statement issued by the parties called for all rebel groups in Syria to “unite under a clear Islamic framework, set forth by the magnanimity of Islam, operating on the basis that Sharia [Islamic law] is the arbiter of governance and making it the sole source of legislation.”

List of groups that defected from the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Coalition this week:

Ansar al Sunnah Brigade
Tawhid al Janub Brigade
Al Shahid Brigade
Al Tahrir Brigade
Special Tasks Brigade
The Elite Brigade
Asifat al Janub Brigade
Al Mayzan Brigade
Shuhada al Hurriyah Brigade
Amud Hawran Brigade
Tabarak al Rahman Brigade
Salah al Din Brigade
Yusuf al Azmah Brigade
Tawhid al Lujah Brigade
Hawran Battalions Alliance Brigade
Hawran Commandos Brigade
A’ishah Brigade
Artillery and Rockets Regiment
The 1st Cavalry Regiment
The 2nd Cavalry Regiment
Al Mu’tazz Brigade
Fajr al Islam Brigade
Al Karamah Brigade
Shuhada al Yarmouk Brigade
Al Haramayn Brigade
Homs al-Walid Brigade
Asad Allah al Hamzah Brigade
Al Habib Brigade
Special Task Brigade
Asifat Hawran Brigade
Usud al Islam Brigade
Jaydur Brigade
Al Fursan Brigade
Saraya al Karamah Brigade
Imam al Nanawi Brigade
Al Ababil Brigade
Al Khansa Brigade
Anwar al Haqq Battalions Alliance
Dir al Lujah Brigade
Sanad Hawran Brigade
Rockets and Artillery Battalion
Luyuth al Furqan Alliance
Ali Bin Abi Talib Brigade
Abu Bakr Brigade
Mu’awiyah Brigade
Rijal al Sham Brigade
Al-Juwlan Commandos Battalion
Hamzah Abu Salah Battalion
The 2nd Division
Ababil Hawran Brigade
Shuhada Dimashq Brigade
Al Uhdah al Umariyah Brigade
Abdallah Bin Mas’ud Brigade
Ahfad al Umawiyyin Brigade
Al-Husun Brigade
Al-Fursan Brigade
Saqr Hawran Brigade
The Alliance of Western Countryside Brigades
Al-Masih Brigade
Al-Sahabah Brigade
Ahmad Khalaf Brigade
Shuhada al Islam Brigade
Bayariq al Islam Brigade
Fajr al Mujahidin Brigade
Fajr al Sham Brigade
Bayariq al Sham Brigade