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Islamism and Extremism
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"The Cubs of the Caliphate” is what the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIS, or Daesh) calls its child recruits and fighters under the age of  eighteen.  An estimated 2,000 conscripted minors have undergone “Sharia” and military training in ISIS camps, learning to use light and medium weaponry, shoot, dismantle and reassemble weapons, go on raids using live ammunition, and do other tasks for for the group such as logistics, spying, guard duties, manning checkpoints, and forced labour. The organization has raised them in its way of thinking, taught them to declare other Muslims infidels, and instilled them with all of its extremist beliefs. It has used them to spy and hunt down its enemies, as well as displaying them in its videos, to send a message to its enemies: this war will last generations.

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The US-led anti-ISIS campaign has largely succeeded in conquering the group militarily, which has made it difficult for the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) to operate as a conventional state. As a result of losing most of its urban centers in both Syria and Iraq, the ISIS governance model of controlling and administering territories seems to also collapse. Experts, consequently, seem to be focusing on how ISIS is changing its military tactics to guerrilla warfare or hit-and-run tactics as it goes underground again. But not much attention is being paid to how ISIS’s economic practices are evolving to adapt to the group’s significant financial losses.

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In the past year, the Nusra Front, the former al-Qaeda affiliate and now known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), has gone through a fast, complex evolution. This has paved the way for the emergence of a ‘neo-Qaeda,’ one that is specific to Syria, pragmatic and aggressive, and struggling between its political ambitions and jihadist identity.

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Syria experts cited different motives and reasons behind the recent infighting between rebel groups in northern Syria. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), the rebranded former al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front, launched multiple attacks against anti-Assad insurgent fractions over the past few weeks. 

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“The sound of gunfire outside makes me forget the hunger pangs,” says Um Mohamed, trembling with fright. This was after the battle intensified between Syrian regime forces and fighters from the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) in the city of Deir Ezzor. Military experts predicted that ISIS would fall back towards Deir Ezzor city when faced with significant pressure during battles in Raqqa and al-Bab.

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On February 12, rebel groups launched an offensive named Almawt Wala al-Muzaleh [Death Rather than Humiliation] targeting regime-controlled areas in Daraa. The ongoing operation is reportedly an attempt to prevent pro-Syrian regime troops from gaining control of a strategic border crossing with Jordan. The attack -- which followed a long period of decline in fighting since mid 2015 -- came as a surprise not only to the Syrian regime but also to the rebel allies, namely Jordan. The latter, who reportedly opposed the offensive, was not able to stop it.

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Since the Syrian regime’s forces seized control of the city of Aleppo, a significant conflict has emerged between opposition groups in the areas of northern Syria. Extremist groups are clashing with moderate groups over military and ideological issues, and many of these forces have split into two main camps. One, called Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, is comprised mostly of Islamist groups, and is under Fateh al-Sham's leadership. The other, more nationalist project, is connected to Ahrar al-Sham.

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Official statement presented to the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, on the hearing for "Defeating Terrorism in Syria: a New Way Forward."

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Ranking Member, Members of the subcommittee: I am honored by your invitation to speak about defeating terror in Syria and pleased to submit this statement for your consideration.  

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Most opposition leaders in northern Syria understand that there is no escape from a conflict with al-Qaeda. The defining features of this new conflict have started to appear, and include a recent attack conducted by members of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS, formerly the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front). The Jaysh al-Mujahidin—a moderate opposition group, despite its jihadist name—lost control of most of its military bases in northern Syria, as did the Suqour al-Sham Brigade, a group totaling around 3,000 members who subscribe to a jihadist ideology closely paralleled to that of al-Qaeda. 

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When a new round of peace talks kicked off between armed opposition groups and the Syrian regime on January 23rd, a different situation played out on the ground. The talks, which took place in Astana, Kazakhstan under the auspices of Turkey and Russia, were fraught with tension between the regime and opposition delegations. However, inside Syria the tension was playing out within the opposition groups themselves.

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