Yarmouk Valley: The Formation of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed?
23 August 2016
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
The ongoing fighting in the Yarmouk Valley in southwest Deraa on the border
with the Golan Heights between Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk (LSY) and Harakat al-Muthanna
al-Islamiya (HMI) on one side versus southern FSA factions and the southern
Jaysh al-Fatah on the other is more or less at a stalemate. While the latter
have succeeded in reversing the gains of LSY and HMI, pushing deeper into the
Yarmouk Valley has proven more difficult but life has become increasingly
difficult for Yarmouk Valley residents with rebel bombardment and price hikes
through siege conditions. Until now, there has also been the question of why
LSY and HMI have not formally united. A statement declaring a merger of HMI
under LSY last month turned out to be fake. I myself have speculated that this
may be because HMI has wanted to preserve an identity independent of LSY,
which is clearly linked to the Islamic State and has undoubtedly tried to push
HMI into its orbit.
The situation may have changed now. Recently there has been some romanticising
on LSY social media of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed ("The Army of Khalid ibn al-Waleed"),
referring historically to Khalid ibn al-Waleed's leadership of the Muslim
armies in the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 CE that led to the Muslim conquest of
the Levant, having inflicted a heavy defeat on the Byzantine Army. Thus,
Muhammad Mardini (aka Omar Mardini, who is in the LSY media office) wrote on
his private page on 22 May 2016:
"When the Romans [Byzantines] attacked the army of the Muslims in Tel al-Jabiya,
the army withdrew and reconcentrated itself in the Yarmouk Valley and Khalid
ibn al-Waleed- may God be pleased with him- took over the leadership of the
army of the Muslims after the withdrawal of Abu Obeida ibn al-Jarah, and the
army of the Muslims was less than 35000 fighters while the Romans more than
240,000 so there was the battle of Yarmouk in which God gave victory to His
Muslim servants over the land of al-Sham entirely.
How similar today is to yesterday...in the names, numbers and land of battle,
and rejoice with the conquest itself by God's permission, rejoice for the men
of Khalid ibn al-Waleed are here, rejoice for the men have sold their dunya
and purchased the contentment of God, rejoice for the army of Khalid ibn al-Waleed
has returned: the army of Khalid ibn al-Waleed has returned."
Similarly, Abu Ali Saraya, head of the LSY Shari'i court, wrote (in part
quoting the nasheed by Abu Abd al-Malik):
"Ummah of Islam, good tidings, for indeed we notice a dawn in youth who have
built up a most great awakening for the religion. The army of Khalid ibn al-Waleed."
This talk of the army of Khalid ibn al-Waleed, clearly reflecting the fact
that LSY and HMI are outnumbered by their enemies, apparently points to a
merger of the two groups under a new formation by this name, headed by a new
amir. This apparent merger is reflected in a purported statement that has come
to light today:
"Yarmouk Valley sector
Khalid ibn al-Waleed
Date: 14 Sha'aban 1437 AH
Statement for distribution
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Beginning from God Almighty's words: "Indeed God loves those who fight in His
path in one rank as though they were a structured edifice."
And His words: "And cling to God's rope entirely and do not separate, and
remember God's blessing upon you, when you were enemies but He gathered your
hearts together and you became brothers by His blessing, and you were on the
edge of the pit of Hellfire but He saved you from it and likewise God makes
clear to you His signs, perhaps you will be guided."
By God Almighty's favour:
1. The formations present in the Yarmouk Valley have been restructured under
the name of the army of Khalid ibn al-Waleed.
2. The name of base 105 has been changed to al-Andalus and base 106 has been
cancelled for good.
3. The responsibility of internal security (al-Andalus) has been defined as
resisting attempts at treachery and betrayal from the hands of the treacherous
apostates and the basis of operation of internal security will be from the
Shari'i court by God's permission.
And God is the one behind the intention.
Yarmouk Valley sector official
The statement itself raises some questions because until now it has not been
featured on LSY or HMI's official media channels. Rather it has so far only
been put up on fake/unofficial accounts. However, two LSY members earlier
today affirmed to me that the statement is authentic, while Omar Mardini told
me he could not determine the statement's authenticity: "No new statement for
distribution has reached us [i.e. the media office] and the matter may only be
a suggestion until now." Even so, posts subsequently put up by Omar Mardini on
his page speak of the end of HMI and LSY as distinct names and deride the idea
that one should feel sad at their loss. This confirms that at least some kind
of merger under the moniker of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed is happening.
Furthermore, one of HMI's official pages affirmed the merger about an hour
ago. It may thus be that the above document is a prematurely released rough
draft of the merger.
So what is going on here? It would appear that IS is making an attempt to
reorganize and revitalize the southern front against rebel factions following
the failure of the first offensive that began in March 2016 and was preceded
by the surprise appointment of a Saudi known as Abu Abdullah al-Madani as amir
of LSY. As I explained at the time, he was sent by IS to take over LSY partly
because Abu Obeida Qahtan was not successful in administration, and it is
clear IS was gearing up to activate the southern front with a new offensive.
In this case, IS has now dispatched another amir to head Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed,
something confirmed by the two LSY members who affirmed the above statement to
be authentic. This line of analysis is also corroborated by sources speaking
to Step News Agency, who gives the new amir's name as Abu Othman al-Idlibi
(one of the LSY members though says that the name of this amir is Abu Hashim
al-Shami as per the document, but it could be two kunyas for the same person).
In any case there is no dispute of the IS role in sending this new amir to
Step News Agency also makes an interesting claim that would seem to
corroborate my previous consideration of the existence of HMI resistance to
merging with LSY. Namely, one of HMI's official channels recently reported the
death of one Abu Omar Sawa'iq, killed by an IED in his home by mistake. Step
News Agency notes he was the number two man in HMI after Abu Ayyub al-Masalama
but had resisted the idea of merging with LSY. With his death and HMI's
dependence on LSY for survival, it seems that no further impulse remains to
retain an independent identity.
Can Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed achieve much? As the name suggests, the
historical precedent is based on the idea of being vastly outnumbered by the
enemy. IS knows the southern front is in a bad situation and seems to be
trying to reinvigorate the momentum in favour of its allies. However, the most
reasonable assessment will conclude that Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed will get
no further than its predecessors in the fight against the rebels.