On February 9, another large militant group, the Ansar al-Din Front, defected from the former branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), according to a report of the Syrian pro-opposition new outlet Enab Baladi.
The media outlet said that Ansar al-Din confirmed in an official statement released on February 8 that it is “an independent” force ending a long standing debate about the relationship between it and HTS.
The Ansar al-Din Front had announced in an official statement released on September 14, 2017 that it had defected from HTS due to internal problems and the disrespect shown by HTS towards its religious scholars. However, several Syrian opposition activists denied that the group really defected back then.
The Ansar al-Din Front, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, Jaysh al-Ahrar and many other armed groups dissolved themselves and joined HTS on January 28, 2017. However, most of the major groups defected from HTS recently including the al-Zenki Movement that defected on July 20, 2017 and Jaysh al-Ahrar that announced its defection on September 13, 2017.
The defection of Saudi Abdullah al-Muhaysini and many other religious scholars from HTS on September 9, 2017 as well as the recent setbacks of the radical group in southern Idlib encouraged these armed groups to abandon HTS.
However, it’s highly unlikely that the defection of the Ansar al-Din Front will effect the HTS position as the strongest force in Idlib governorate. No other group there has enough financial or military resources to challenge HTS’ dominance.