In Idlib Province, the main council was formed in April under the leadership of Afif Suleiman, an air force colonel that defected in January from his base in Hama. Some major Idlib groups, such as Shuhada Suriya, have operated under Suleiman’s leadership, but in the past two months, two new Idlib Military councils have formed. The first, formed in mid-September under the leadership of Muhanad Yahya Bitar. On October 24, Mustafa Abdulkarim, leader of the Deraa al-Thawra Brigade in Sarmada, formed a new military council comprised of 25 rebel groups located across the province. Abdulkarim’s council appears to be a consolidation of Bitar’s council as Bitar was included in the list of council members. Most of the rebel groups in Abdulkarim’s council are smaller, recently formed rebel groups, with the exception of Bilal Khabir’s Sarmin based Ahrar al-Shamal Idlib, formed in February 2012.
Elsewhere in Idlib, rebels are forming military councils to coordinate rebel activity in a single town, such as the council formed in early September in Kafrnabel. Maarat al-Numan, just to the east, has its own military council as well. These councils are a positive development as they coordinate rebel activity in a single town without undermining other leadership structures.
Uniting the provincial level networks may require creating a new layer of rebel leadership, a supreme provincial military council made up of each province’s provincial military councils. This would make the most sense if each council was geographically distinct, which is not the case. But even so, the mission of uniting rebel operations under a central provincial leadership would be a major step forward and should be pursued.
Rebel Groups Claimed by Abdulkarim's Military Council ِAfif Suleiman