- There are three arenas of conflict in northwest Syria, two focused on the Assad government - one around Aleppo City and the other to the south of Aleppo and around Idlib - and one against the Islamic State, in the Azaz-Marea pocket.
- The insurgency includes militias committed to a broad variety of ideological orientations - from Salafist Islamism to a pro-Western outlook - but the strongest groups are uniformly committed to Sunni political Islam.
- Jabhat al-Nusra's rebranding on 28 July was probably intended to enable the group to embed more fully in the Sunni insurgency against the Assad government and to improve relations with other powerful Islamist militant groups, primarily Ahrar al-Sham.
The insurgency in northwest Syria is facing a political and military landscape of far greater complexity than existed at the moment of its birth in 2011. When the first militias began to be organised, the insurgency's goal was relatively straightforward: it existed to bring about the defeat and destruction of the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
By contrast, a commander of the Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki militant group, speaking to IHS Jane's at the beginning of July 2016, stated that there were now four separate 'projects' being pursued in northern Syria. The insurgency against the Assad government was one of them. The other three, he claimed, were being pursued by the Assad government and its allies (Russia, Iran, and various Iranian proxies), the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (uniformly regarded by the militants IHS Jane's spoke to as representing a thinly disguised Kurdish separatist project), and the Islamic State militant group.
Later that month, Nour al-Din al-Zinki came to greater prominence following the release of a video on social media showing what appeared to be the decapitation of a child by some of its members. Reporting on the release of the video on 19 July, the Los Angeles Times noted Nour al-Din al-Zinki's 'General Command' had condemned the act, calling it "an individual error". This horrific situation again highlighted the bitter and fractured nature of the insurgency against Assad's government.
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