Hundreds of militants, who defected from so-called Jaysh al-Izza earlier this year, have joined the Turkish-backed Sham Legion.
Last October, more than 500 militants representing Jaysh al-Izza’s Central Force, the al-Hamza Brigade, the Ahrar al-Izza Brigade, the 1st Infantry Brigade, the Hazano’s Martyrs Battalion, the al-Atarib Battalion, the Murak Hawks Brigades, the Special Forces Battalion, the Anti-Armor Company and the artillery Company defected from the group.
Many commanders also defected from Jaysh al-Izza, including the group’s Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Cpt. Manaf Maarati, and official spokesman, Cpt. Mustafa Maarati.
The defectors announced in a statement released on December 14 that they have formed a new group, named the 5th Division, and joined the ranks of the Sham Legion.
The Sham Legion is a key member of the Turkish-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL). The Coalition is the only force operating in Greater Idlib, as well as in the Turkish-occupied region of northern Syria in the same time.
“We have joined the ranks of the al-Sham Legion, of the National Front for Liberation, to achieve the goals of our revolution, by overthrowing the regime and reaching freedom and justice,” the defector’s statement reads.
While the defectors attempted to present their decision as a national one, the reality suggests otherwise. The defection of these unit from Jaysh al-Izza was likely a direct result of the brutal defeat the group suffered from on the hands of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) last August.
The SAA inflicted heavy losses on Jaysh al-Izza, neutralizing most of the group’s assets and capturing all of its strongholds in northern Hama.
Beside financial reasons, the defection of these militants may have been encouraged by the growing radical influence within Jaysh al-Izza. The group’s Commander-in-Chief Maj. Jamil al-Saleh had allied himself to al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and reportedly rejected to join the NFL.
The defection of these large units left Jaysh al-Izza with nothing more than small units, fighting among the terrorists of HTS in southern Idlib.