Leader Profile: Abu Ammar Taftanaz

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On November 29th, 2016, Ahrar al-Sham’s primary spokesman Abu Yusuf al-Muhajir announced quite suddenly that a major change in the group’s leadership was coming.1.https://twitter.com/Moneer_Alssial/status/803616114211229696 On that very day, a media briefing prepared previously by Ahrar leadership officially stated that Abu Yahya al-Hamawi, the previous leader of the organization, would step down and be replaced by a man known as “Abu Ammar.”2.http://i.imgur.com/qizdJME.jpg Followers of the conflict immediately raised several questions, the most prominent among them asking, “who is Abu Ammar?”

An image of Abu Ammar Taftanaz from his initial speech as leader of Ahrar al-Sham.

The background, life, and childhood of Abu Ammar (born Ali al-Omar) remain nebulous, although it is known that he was born in Taftanaz, a town located northeast of Idlib. When the civil war broke out, Ali al-Omar took on the nom de guerre of “Abu Ammar al-Umar Taftanazi” when he joined Suquor al-Sham sometime in early 2012. Abu Ammar al-Umar was one of the key figures in the development of Suquor al-Sham’s more conventional combat strategies throughout 2012, and was promoted to deputy commander of the organization.3.http://bit.ly/2mVruvD

Abu Ammar fought among and led Suquor al-Sham until March 2015, when the group was absorbed into Ahrar al-Sham in a merger.4.http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=59471 Shortly afterwards, as Abu Yahya al-Hamawi succeeded Abu Jaber al-Hashimi as leader of Ahrar, several shifts in command were made to replace leaders killed in a Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) airstrike in the summer of 2015.5.http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/abu-yahia-al-hamawi-ahrar-al-shams-new-leader/ Abu Yahya al-Hamawi chose Abu Ammar al-Omar to become the new deputy commander, placing him within the upper echelons of the Syrian rebel leadership.6.http://en.eldorar.com/node/819

After the initial breaking of the Aleppo siege and the second failed attempt in early Novembfer 2016, there were rumours that Abu Yahya al-Hamawi would step down in favour of a younger primary commander. These rumours were confirmed on November 29th, as Ahrar al-Sham made their press release announcing the ascension of Abu Ammar al-Omar, now Abu Ammar Taftanaz, to the cusp of power within Ahrar.7.http://i.imgur.com/qizdJME.jpg A few days later, Abu Ammar spoke to his followers in a video cementing his new position, promising to continue fighting for control of Aleppo, and supporting the revolution.8.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6bES4zlZRw&feature=youtu.be

Abu Ammar Taftanaz, although clearly a competent commander, faces great challenges as he comes into full control of Ahrar al-Sham’s military might. Recent diplomatic manoeuvres by outside powers puts pressure on Ahrar’s leadership to take a stand against their more extremist allies (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, in particular), and there have been internal arguments regarding Ahrar’s backing of the Turkish-led Euphrates Shield operation in Northern Aleppo. Although he has been chosen for the position based on merit, he faces many conflicts as the new year dawns, and has not made his intentions known to anyone outside of the organization’s leadership. It is likely that Abu Ammar will be making several major decisions soon, and will likely stick with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and reject any notion of a ceasefire with the Syrian government.

Trent Schoenborn

Trent is an analyst and contributor who has worked with the IR since its inception. He specializes in Iraqi politics and the civil war in Syria, and has been studying the latter conflict since it began. He has previously worked on Syrian Civil War Map as well as some academic research projects related to the region. He can be contacted directly at tschoenborn.00@gmail.com.

References   [ + ]

1. https://twitter.com/Moneer_Alssial/status/803616114211229696
2, 7. http://i.imgur.com/qizdJME.jpg
3. http://bit.ly/2mVruvD
4. http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=59471
5. http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/abu-yahia-al-hamawi-ahrar-al-shams-new-leader/
6. http://en.eldorar.com/node/819
8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6bES4zlZRw&feature=youtu.be