Analysis of Territorial Control in Northwestern Syria and the HTS’S Role

Recently, north western Syria witnessed many changes in the positions of control and influence, and these changes were usually linked to changes in the political and international reality regarding Syria. The current analysis will not clarify a date or timeline for these changes, but rather the current reality of the Idlib and Aleppo provinces and how control is distributed among the main international and local actors: Turkey, Russia, Iran, US, Turkish-backed opposition forces (SNA and NLF), Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the regime forces and the YPG/Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The report focuses in general on the areas of control and influences in the opposition-held areas in the Idlib and Aleppo governorates. The maps within the report show the controlling party over the most prominent residential communities and the most important roads and crossings in the two governorates, explaining the international role and influence in those governorates. The report also focuses in particular on the factional situation in the governorates of Aleppo and Idlib, also explaining the actual power of HTS and how it evolved, with reference to the administrative reality in Idlib and the role of the Salvation Government in managing the Idlib governorate. The report is the first of a series of reports that will discuss the military, security, and economic reality in the Syrian governorates.

In 2020, a large part of the Idlib and Aleppo provinces became the last strongholds of the Syrian opposition forces. By the end of 2019, the Syrian regime launched several operations to capture these areas with the help of local and foreign militias loyal to Iran on the one hand and the air support of Russia on the other hand. The military escalation was halted in early March 2020, after the Russian-Turkish agreement, which included a ceasefire, and conducting joint patrols along the M4 road to establish a safe corridor. Based on these events, a new reality of control has been  formed, which the report will clarify through the following map and tables. 

The explanations of the abbreviations used in the file are as follows:
- The Syrian National Army (SNA): The umbrella organization of armed opposition forces in the regions of Operation Euphrates Shield, Operation Olive Branch and Operation Peace Spring.
- The National Liberation Front (NLF): The umbrella organization of armed opposition forces in Idlib.
- The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF): The umbrella organization which the YPG/PKK establishes its backbone.
- The Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

The armed groups in the regions of Operation Euphrates Shield, Operation Olive Branch and Operation Peace Spring (SNA) merged with the armed opponents in Idlib (NLF) in October 2019 under the name of the National Army (Jays al-Waṭani) and were attached to the Syrian Interim Government Ministry of Defence. However, in order to reveal the distinction between the armed groups in operation zones and the armed groups in Idlib, the SNA and the NLF are given as two separate structures in the study.