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SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS
KOBANE UPDATE 47: IT’S OFFICIAL – VICTORY – CITY 100% UNDER KURDISH CONTROL – AND 3 MORE VILLAGES RECAPTURED TODAY:
TIMELINE – 27th JANUARY 2015 14.55 GMT – UPDATED 20.52 GMT:
While they are still going house to house in eastern parts of the city looking for lone-wolf snipers, dismantling booby-traps and exploding mines and IEDs, no further concentrations of Islamic State fighters have been detected – all of them are outside the city boundary.
In fact this morning, Tuesday, the YPG/ YPJ and their allies have gone on to recapture the village of Minaze to the west-south-west of the city and the villages of Seran and Halinj (Helince) to the south-east.
The YPG and Peshmerga, backed by Coalition bombing, are pursuing the IS Jihadists out of the area and away from the city.
Current fronts are 6 kilometres to the west of Kobane at Mizra Abrush, 6 kilometres to the south at Ideqi and the road to the south-east that connects Halinj and Sheran (7 kilometres from the city), plus to the east, 3 kilometres out from the Kobane boundary, at Dawod.
In today’s statement, the YPG General Command said, “For 134 days our forces have expressed a heroic resistance against Daesh [Islamic State] terrorism, and did not let the hopes of our people and all the humanity to fail.
Our forces fulfilled the promise of victory, this success is a victory for the Rojava Revolution, a victory for a democratic Syria, a victory for humanity, and a victory for freedom against Daesh barbarism and brutality….
On this great victory, we congratulate our people in Rojava, Syria, and all Kurdistan. We thank all those who contributed to this resistance and fought along us….”
The statement went on to thank the international Coalition but also “the Burkan al-Firat joint operations room and those brigades of the Free Syrian Army who fought shoulder to shoulder with our forces. We repeat our thanks to our Peshmerga brothers who were of a great support to us in this battle”
The statement ended by remembering the “hundreds of the heroes who sacrificed their lives, [to you] we renew our promise of victory to our people.” You can read the entire statement, HERE:
While the world celebrates this historic victory, lets not forget the cost. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), 1313 fighters died at Kobane, at least 979 from the Islamic State, including 38 suicide bombers, 324 fighters from the YPG and YPJ, 12 fighters from the FSA and 12 civilians killed in IS mortar attacks. Many more IS fighters are thought to have died in Coalition airstrikes and remain unaccounted for.
Anticipating today’s YPG announcement US Central Command (Centcom) said yesterday, “U.S. Central Command congratulates these courageous fighters and thanks them for their efforts.
Anti-ISIL forces have fought aggressively with resilience and fortitude.
While the fight against ISIL is far from over, ISIL’s failure in Kobani has denied them one of their strategic objectives”.
Meanwhile, there is still a job to be done and the battles continue.
In the eastern, western and southern countryside, away from the city the YPG and Peshmerga are bombing IS-held sites with medium and heavy weapons, while other units are combing villages and farmland for IS stragglers.
In recent fighting too, an IS tank and lots of ammunition has fallen into Kurdish hands.
Just across the border in Turkey at the village of Maasere, thousands of Kurds have gathered to celebrate the victory in Kobane. Let the music and dancing begin.
This video was recorded in Kobane today, Tuesday, with Kurdish flags flying but still some Coalition attacks on retreating IS fighters or controlled IED explosions going on in the background, here:
EDITOR: My congratulations too, to the brave brave YPG, the brave and lovely ladies of the YPJ and the Peshmerga who supported them. And not least, many thanks to the Opposition brigades of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) who so generously put their own fight against Assad on hold to support the struggle for freedom in Kobane.
Let the whole world celebrate this victory for human decency and let too the fight to drive all inhumanity completely out of Syria, whatever its source, continue.
Interestingly, today, January 27th is the 70th anniversary of the ending another evil, the day the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz in occupied Poland was liberated and the few remaining prisoners who survived, out of an estimated 1.1 million people who were gassed and executed there, were set free. Today remains International Holocaust Remembrance Day – but it will now also be remembered for the bravery and courage of the Kurds and their allies in Kobane.
Lastly, My thanks also to @Chuck Pfarrer for his hard work in preparing and generously sharing his brilliant maps, the latest of which published today is, here:
KOBANE UPDATE 46:
KOBANE ON THE VERGE OF LIBERATION – ISLAMIC STATE RETREATING IN THE FACE OF CERTAIN DEFEAT:
TIMELINE – 26th JANUARY 2015 14.42 – UPDATED 20.28 GMT:
This afternoon, Monday, the Kurdish forces are within a whisker of completely liberating Kobane.
By Sunday evening, the Kurdish YPG/YPJ and their allies had pushed further into the eastern edges of the city, capturing Tishreen School, Kani Erban district and the Vienna hospital building, and going on to clear the city perimeter in the south.
This morning, the YPG have retaken all of the north-eastern Kaniya Kurda neighbourhood and this afternoon they have recaptured Kaniya Kurda Hill, where the Islamic State first entered the city 4 months ago, and raised the YPG flag .
This video (Arabic and Kurdish only) shows the clearing up process in Kaniya Kurda yesterday, HERE:
In the south-east of the city, the YPG has also reached the Muktele neighbourhood and south of the city they have recaptured the villages of Kolmat, Memit and Termik.
Latest reports say, as evening approaches on Monday, that fierce fighting continues in Muktele district as the IS Jihadists make their last stand in the south-east corner of Kobane, while an estimated 95% of the city is now under Kurdish control.
Everyone is waiting to celebrate the Kobane victory, but at the time of writing (Monday early afternoon GMT), the YPG have not made an official announcement.
In the meantime the giant Kurdish flag (scroll down – see photograph below) now flies from atop one of the radio masts on Mishtenour Hill.
While there is no doubt that the Kurds are in control of almost all of the city, they are still unable to access some of the buildings and streets on the eastern edge because of mines, booby-traps and possibly suicidal IS snipers who have stayed behind in a last ditch attempt to slow the Kurdish advance.
There are also more than 300 villages, mainly Kurdish, which fell under Islamic State control as they swept through the region last August and September.
An Islamic State fighter who lived in Germany before going to Syria, but is of Chechen origin, has revealed on his Facebook page in a post yesterday (25th January) that the Islamic State were retreating from Kobane.
“Brothers who recently arrived from there [Kobani] told me that they are the last ones who have left from there,” he wrote.
Describing the end, he says, “The infidels [Kurds] once again entrenched themselves on a hilltop near Kobani, fortified their position there and set up a big spotlight that illuminates the city from above, which allows the infidels to operate snipers”.
He also goes on to complain about the Coalition “dropping several dozen bombs from the F11B2 airplane [a strategic bomber]”. Yet another pro-Islamic State site bravely and foolishly claims that IS “still control 50% of Kobane” (EDITOR: They obviously haven’t visited recently!)
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) say that in the dying days of their Kobane campaign, IS are reported to have sent a battalion of 140 “men” into battle, the vast majority of whom were said to be under 18. SOHR has so far documented the deaths of at least 6 of them.
Coalition bombing seems to have been particularly heavy on the eastern part of Kobane in the last few days, where the Islamic State made their final stand. Some unconfirmed reports speak of “hundreds of [IS] bodies under crushed buildings”.
The latest report from US Central Command (Centcom) says that between 8.00am Sunday and 8.00am this morning, Monday, there were 17 airstrikes in and near Kobane, destroying 6 x IS fighting positions, an IS vehicle and an IS fighter staging area, as well as hitting 14 x IS tactical units, a large IS unit and 2 more x IS fighting positions.
While a definitive statement is awaited from the YPG on total victory in Kobane (probably Tuesday) before the dancing can begin, many fighters are already in the mood.
BBC Syria news has a report on the most recent events.
This map, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, shows the position on Sunday with 90% of the city under Kurdish control and before this morning’s final push, here:
This video appeared late today, showing the Kurds celebrating their imminent victory, (Kurdish only) here:
OPPOSITION MAKE MASSIVE GAINS IN DARRA PROVINCE OVERRUNNING SEVERAL ASSAD BASES AND FACILITIES:
While much of the world’s attention has been understandably on Kobane, the Syrian Opposition has once again made a substantial move forward in southern Syria in Daraa province.
Having already captured a large part of the City of Sheikh Miskin, in the last 48 hours the Opposition fighters have taken the barriers to the north of the city and driven Assad’s forces from all their bases in the area.
Not only have the taken the military housing area belonging to Brigade 82 just to the north of Sheikh Miskin, but they have also captured the main Brigade 82 Base, the Brigade 82 HQ (separate location), the Tel Hamad Base and another location with military housing and stores.
As well as FSA units, Islamic Front battalions and the Al Nusra Front all worked together in a joint operation.
This video shows footage as they stormed the military housing for Brigade 82, here:
A tour inside the base can be seen, (caution dead bodies) HERE:
The Assad regime seems to have retaliated to massive Opposition advances in Daraa province by some sort of gas attack today, Monday, at Ibta, HERE:
KOBANE UPDATE 45: KURDS RECAPTURE MARKET AREA & ISLAMIC SCHOOL, WHILE FSA LEAD SOUTHERN ADVANCE:
TIMELINE – 23rd JANUARY 2015 12.38 GMT – UPDATED 22.18 GMT:
On Wednesday, the 129th day of the defence of Kobane, the YPG and its allies carried out several operations overnight into Thursday, regaining more territory in the east and north-east of the city.
The Islamic State were pushed out of areas in the market, Souk Al-Hal district, Dibistana Resh and the industrial area near Sinayi.
The IS Jihadists tried to prevent any further Kurdish advance by planting mines and booby traps in vacated buildings, but no YPG casualties were recorded.
Another street was retaken in the Dibistana Resh district and the Mislax and Gaziya Heci Mehmud areas of north-east Kobane have also been liberated. Around half of the Sinayi district is now under YPG control.
At least 9 IS Jihadists were killed in these operations and an AK-47, a RPG-7 rocket launcher and a PK machine gun captured.
On Wednesday evening, the Islamic State tried to regain lost territory on Mishtenour Hill and attacked it from 3 directions, but were repulsed with the loss of 8 of their men.
YPG gains after these clashes were 7 x AK-47s, 32 AK-47 magazines, another RPG-7 rocket launcher and numerous bullets, hand grenades and home-made mines.
The advance previously reported on the southern front (scroll down – see below) around the national hospital still under construction, was a joint YPG and Free Syrian Army (FSA) operation. The FSA’s Al_Raqqah Brigade can be seen storming the unfinished hospital, here:
Following IS’s forced withdrawal from the southern front, the Kurdish forces made gains of tanks, 106 mm cannon, mortars and heavy machine guns.
2 YPG were reported killed in the operations on Wednesday through Thursday, with a total of 26 x IS Jihadists killed.
Significantly, an Islamic State Emir, Sultan Safar Harbi was said to have been killed in eastern Kobane on Wednesday. Initially injured in the fighting, reports say he was then evacuated from the city in a vehicle, which was subsequently struck by a Coalition aircraft and all its occupants destroyed.
With the Kurdish Peshmerga now holding the higher ground around Kobane, it is easier for them to target specific IS areas, groups, positions and vehicles, as well as give more accurate co-ordinates to the Coalition aircraft.
Peshmerga forces have shelled IS-held Mukteli on the south-east edge of Kobane city limits and which sits on another key Islamic State supply road coming from the south.
Very latest news from Kobane on Friday, is that the Kurds have recaptured the Islamic School and 3 streets surrounding it in the centre of the eastern sector of the city. More detail awaited.
US Central Command (Enctcom) reports 10 Coalition airstrikes near Kobane on Tuesday and another 9 on Wednesday. Altogether, a total of 30 x IS fighting positions were destroyed, 8 x IS fighter staging posts, and 3 x IS vehicles. In addition 13 x IS tactical units were hit and another large IS unit. (EDITOR: Things are getting very hot around there!)
Here is the latest Kobane situation map, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, (note new scale as field of operation widens) here:
DEFECTIONS OF ISLAMIC STATE FIGHTERS REPORTED FROM RAQQAH, WHILE COALITION STRIKES IN SYRIA KILL 1278 OF THEM IN 4 MONTHS:
More cracks may be appearing in the façade of Islamic State “domination”.
Reports from their Syrian “capital”, Raqqah, say that some IS fighters defected on Wednesday and when leaving the city they freed a number of prisoners from the city jail.
The “Raqqah is Being Slaughtered Silently” campaign has reported that between 10 and 15 men, thought to be mainly Saudi Arabian nationals, went to Raqqah jail and released 6 members of the Al-Nusra Front held there, also believed to be Saudis, as well as some local people, before making their escape.
The defectors are thought to be friends of the 2 x IS fighters, again both Saudis, who were executed by the Islamic State last week for “treason”.
In response to these events, the Islamic State authorities imposed a curfew on Wednesday night and set up several additional checkpoints around the city.
EDITOR: How anyone can willingly live under the rules of the Islamic State is beyond me.
According to their “penal code” published recently, anyone who blasphemes against Allah, the prophet Mohammed or Islam will be killed.
“Adulterers” will be stoned to death and both parties in a homosexual relationship will also be killed.
The list continues with penalties for other crimes including losing limbs, lashes and crucifixion. You can read more in the Independent Syria news.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) says that Coalition airstrikes have killed 1,278 x IS Jihadists in Syria in the last 4 months with hundreds more wounded.
The airstrikes are also reported to have killed 73 fighters from the Al-Nusra Front (ANF) as well, plus 56 civilians, including 8 children and 5 women, either living with or near ANF fighters or working for IS in the oil-fields.
IN ALEPPO PROVINCE EVERYBODY IS FIGHTING EVERYBODY ELSE, WHILE IN SOUTHERN SWEIDA PROVINCE THE DRUZE GROW RESTLESS:
Elsewhere in Syria, in Hasakah city, fighting between the Assad regime’s National Defence Force and and the Kurdish YPG seems to have subsided, with a truce holding for the moment and the Government side removing a number of barriers. However, YPG fighters identified a number of Iranian special forces personnel fighting alongside pro-Assad men.
In Aleppo province, everyone seems to fighting everyone else.
The Syrian Opposition brigades claimed to have killed 2 dozen of Assad’s troops during an assault in the Sayfat district on the northern outskirts of Aleppo.
The Kurdish YPG are reported to have clashed with Assad’s forces in the Ashrafiyeh district of Aleppo and the Syrian Opposition has been fighting the Islamic State in northern parts of the city.
In this video the Opposition are shelling Assad’s Al-Muhlab Barracks not far from Ashrafiyeh in north-western districts of the city, HERE:
Fighting is also reported between the Opposition and the Assad regime in the Al-Saladine district in the south of the city, in Old Aleppo and near Azizah village to the south of the regional capital.
Lastly, heavy fighting is reported south of Aleppo between Syrian Government troops and the Islamic State near Jabul Lake. (EDITOR: Other than that it’s all quiet!)
In Damascus province an Assad regime barrel-bombing on the agricultural town of Hamouriyah in Eastern Ghouta today, Friday, has so far taken the lives of 52, including at least 6 children.
Hamouriyah is not a frontline town. The devastation shortly after the attack can be seen (caution some wounded and dying), HERE:
And down in the far south-east of Syria in the province of Sweida, which has largely escaped the fighting in the rest of the country, the mainly Druze population are losing their patience with Assad’s security services.
On Thursday local Druze attacked and dismantled a checkpoint manned by Assad’s usually feared Air Intelligence Branch after the soldiers were accused of attacking civilians.
In general, the Druze population avoid confronting the Assad regime in an unofficial exchange for their young men not being called up for conscription.
However, tension has been rising in recent weeks as the Syrian Government gets more and more strained over falling troop numbers and has stepped up attempts to check IDs and arrest those avoiding conscription. A bus suspected of carrying unregistered conscripts was attacked by Air Intelligence on Wednesday. You can read more, HERE:
ISLAMIC STATE ALSO ON THE BACK FOOT IN NORTHERN IRAQ AS COMBINED KURD AND COALITION FORCE DESTROYS THEIR RESOURCES:
Lastly in Iraq, the Islamic State are having a hard time too in their fight with the Kurdish Peshmerga in the northern part of the country near Mosul.
Together with back-up from Coalition jets, the Peshmerga early this week pounded IS and retook Wanke and 7 villages from the Jihadists west of Mosul. This video shows Coalition and Peshmerga strikes from Tuesday, HERE:
Slowly the Peshmerga are starting to encircle IS’s Iraq “capital” in Mosul and US Coalition and Iraqi Army forces are preparing for a spring offensive to retake the city.
In Sinjar province, where the struggle to retake Sinjar city from IS continues, 25 Jihadists were reported killed and 40 injured this week in Coalition airstrikes and Peshmerga bombardments.
In this video, the Peshmerga hit an Islamic State armoured vehicle, shoot at the occupants as they frantically flee and then destroy the second armoured vehicle that comes to rescue them, (blurry – but worth watching) here:
KOBANE UPDATE 44: KURDS ADVANCE ONCE AGAIN, SECURING SOUTH-WEST ENTRANCE TO THE CITY:
TIMELINE – 21st JANUARY 2015 13.50 GMT – UPDATED 22.35 GMT:
The Kurdish forces made a further advance in Kobane yesterday, Tuesday, this time taking back the national hospital building, which was still under construction at the start of the fight with the Islamic State, and lies on the southwestern entrance to the city.
YPG/YPJ also secured a petrol (gas) station and the nearby road to the south-west which leads to the village of Minaze, preventing any likely future incursions and retaking the village of Memit along the way.
This may not have been in time to stop another reported vehicle suicide attack on YPG headquarters in the western half of the city – further details awaited.
Clashes are still ongoing in the south-western area.
On the eastern side of Kobane, the Peshmerga are now shelling the IS-held village of Mazra’at Dawud which is several kilometres out from the city near the Turkish border.
Unconfirmed reports say that a convoy of 7 x IS tanks has been destroyed.
For the first time at Kobane, a member of the Peshmerga force, Zeravan Akram, has been reported killed, just hours after he sent pictures of himself posing with local children.
On the southern front, it has been confirmed the Aleppo road is now free of IS Jihadists all the way to the village of Termik.
Earlier in the week on Monday night, the YPG/YPJ conducted several operations on the eastern and south-western fronts.
5 x IS Jihadists were killed on the eastern side of the city near Dibistana Resh and in the south-west a pre-attack operation near the hospital site, killed 2 more.
The Islamic State once claimed they were going to put a giant IS flag on the ground at Kobane, for the all the world to see. They never achieved that. Now the Kurds have laid out their own, 101 metres long. The Kurdish flags continue to fly over Mishtenour Hill.
US Central Command (Centcom) says that between Monday morning and 8.00am local time on Tuesday it carried out 9 airstrikes near Kobane, hitting 7 x IS tactical units and destroying 4 x IS fighter staging positions, 5 x IS fighting positions, 4 x IS vehicles and an IS mortar system. (EDITOR: A good day’s work!)
As can been seen from the latest YPG video released today, fighting is still extremely fierce across the city, here:
Updated situation map for Kobane released today, Wednesday, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, is here:
ASSAD MADNESS CONTINUES AS HE KILLS AND WOUNDS 400 IN THE LAST 24 HOURS, OVER 5,000 AIRSTRIKES IN 3 MONTHS:
According to documentation by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the Assad regime has killed and wounded more than 400 people in the last 24 hours alone, with no less than 210 airstrikes all across Syria.
88 of those air raids targeted the provinces of Damascus, Aleppo, Qunietra, Deir Ez-Zour, Idlib and Daara, with helicopters dropping 123 deadly barrel-bombs on these and other regions.
Of the 400, there were 80 civilian deaths, including 4 children and 5 women as well as 71 men, and 300 injured, some of them seriously, as well as widespread destruction.
SOHR calculates that Assad’s Air Force has carried out 5012 air raids in the last 3 months since October 20th, killing more than 1,000 people and wounding at least 4,000.
In his latest killing spree, one of Assad’s helicopters dropped barrel-bombs on a livestock market in Khansaa near Tel Hamis, an Islamic State enclave in Hasakah province.
Initial reports said 43 were killed, but some reports now say up to 80. Over 150 were wounded. The Assad regime claimed it was a “base for trafficking illegally pumped oil”.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State is continuing its own atrocities, threatening in a video to behead 2 Japanese hostages, Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, unless the Japanese Government coughs up $200 million.
Yukawa had been captured in August and Goto, a journalist, was also taken in October when he returned to Syria to search for his friend. You can read more in Reuters’ Syria news.
In other Islamic State reports they are accused of executing 13 teenagers in Mosul for watching Iraq play Jordan on TV in the Asian World Cup, their parents being too terrified to even collect the bodies, HERE: and the UN came out on Tuesday to comment on IS’s “monstrous disregard for human life” in the areas it controls in Syria and Iraq, particularly highlighting the killing of “educated women” and minority groups.
KOBANE UPDATE 43: KURDS STORM AHEAD, RECAPTURING MISHTENOUR HILL AND ANOTHER IS KEY SUPPLY ROAD:
TIMELINE – 19th JANUARY 2015 14.15 GMT – UPDATED 22.02 GMT:
In dramatic moves over the weekend, the YPG/YPJ/Peshmerga and their allies recaptured the summit of Mishtenour Hill and also key checkpoints on the road running south-east of Kobane to Halinj (Helince). South-south-west of the city, the Kurds have also retaken the village of Tirmik Bijan.
Beginning at around 5.00pm on Saturday, the final push for Mishtenour took place just after midnight yesterday, Sunday, with YPG forces able to raise their flag over the hill once again after a 3 month absence by 2.00am.
Several houses near Mishtenour Hill were also liberated.
The top of the hill gives the defending forces a controlling view of the city and the surrounding countryside, including Islamic State supply routes into what little territory they now hold in eastern Kobane.
An Islamic State (IS) counter attack on Mishtenour on Monday evening, has been repulsed according to latest reports.
Kurdish only, but this video shows YPG and YPJ flags flying from the communication towers today, HERE:
Unconfirmed reports from this morning, Monday, also say that the YPG have taken several checkpoints on the road to Halinj, though so far not the village itself. Also on Sunday a YPG/YPJ operation around IS positions on the southern front near the hospital resulted in 2 x IS Jihadists killed and 1 AK-47, 6 x RPG-7 rockets and 6 hand grenades seized.
IS casualties are reported as very high. On Friday the YPG reported that they had killed 51 x IS Jihadists in a 24 hour period, and now another 40 are claimed killed in the latest clashes.
Large amounts of ammunition and weapons were also seized by the YPG from vacated positions on Mishtenour Hill. At least 8 YPG fighters have been killed over the weekend and IS shells continue to rain down on the city.
However, the Islamic State’s control of Kobane now only extends to the eastern side and some southern districts, amounting to some 20% – 25% of the city.
The Kurds continue to move forward backed by massive airstrikes co-ordinated with the US-led Coalition. The joint approach seems to be working.
This Kobane situation map, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, was published this morning, Monday, here:
YPG FINDS ITSELF INVOLVED IN ANOTHER FIGHT IN HASAKAH, WHERE ASSAD’S FORCES ARE ACCUSED OF USING CLUSTER BOMBS AGAINST THEM:
In Syria’s north-east, the YPG seem have got themselves into another battle. Fighting broke out on Saturday between the Kurds and Assad’s National Defence Force (NDF), who have until now jointly controlled the city and both fought to keep out the Islamic State, on the borders of the Tal Hajjar Quarter.
After the YPG/YPJ, plus the the Kurdish military police, the Asayesh, made rapid gains taking control of several checkpoints and a police station, with 30 of Assad’s men surrendering, the Government side called a truce, but this did not last long, especially when civilian positions in the north of the city were shelled by the Syrian Army. This video shows the YPG attacking Government positions and at the captured police station (Kurdish only), HERE:
9 NDF fighters were initially reported killed in the clashes and a number of fighters and civilians have died on both sides since in mutual mortar shelling. The Kurds claim that the regime’s Air Force has attacked their positions with cluster bombs.
Later reports say that 17 have so far died on both sides, including a Assad field commander, Ahmad Al-Younis. Residents in Tal Hajjar have started to flee the bombing, while Kurdish shops in the central market have been looted by Assad’s supporters.
The YPG are reported to have yesterday, Sunday, taken control of a fire station and the Maliki Grammar School, HERE:
Since then the Assad regime has brought up tanks, HERE: and fierce fighting is ongoing, here:
The city, which normally has a population of around 188,000, has been home to a mixture of Kurds, various Christian sects of Assyrians, Syriacs, Armenians and some Arabs, and they have generally lived in harmony for centuries.
EDITOR: Interesting to see how this one pans out and whether the Islamic State, who have a strong presence in the province, will try and take advantage of the situation.
KOBANE UPDATE 42: AS DEFEAT LOOMS, ISLAMIC STATE MAKE LAST DITCH ATTEMPT TO REINFORCE AND HOLD GROUND:
TIMELINE – 16th JANUARY 2015 13.07 GMT:
In a last ditch attempt to stem an imminent defeat at Kobane, the Islamic State is reported to have sent 400 reinforcements to the northern Syrian city yesterday from the Tabqah airbase near Raqqah.
Many of the these fighters are believed to be experienced ex-Al-Nusra Front (ANF) men who have defected to the Islamic State in recent weeks, a notable percentage of them being foreigners, say Opposition sources.
As a consequence, very heavy fighting has erupted overnight Thursday and this morning, Friday, on all fronts at Kobane, especially in the south, south-east and the east.
In a vain attempt to deter Coalition airstrikes on their positions, IS are burning houses in the small eastern area of the city that they still hold and firing mortars into the Kurdish areas.
They also attempted to send in a car bomb but it was exploded by the YPG Kurdish forces before it hit the frontline. The dead bomber, according to IS sources, is an Egyptian called Abo Mothana Al-Masri.
On the eastern front, the YPG are reported to have gained 4 street blocks overnight Wednesday into Thursday around 48th Street, backed by Coalition airstrikes, and unconfirmed reports of as many as 30 x IS fighters dead. One of those reported killed is John McGuire, formerly from Ottawa in Canada, who was fighting for the IS Jihadists.
On the southern front today, there are reports that the YPG has destroyed 2 x IS tanks and captured one of their US Humvee armoured vehicles that they brought from Iraq. Battles are particularly heavy today around the Yarmuk school.
Earlier in the week on Tuesday there were clashes south of the city in the foothills of Mishtenour Hill, on the road to Termuk village and near Mektaba Resh (Black School). The fighting continued through the night into Wednesday, when 12 x IS Jihadists were confirmed killed and IS were forced to retreat. 5 YPG/YPJ were also killed in the battles.
In another YPG operation in the north-east of Kobane on Wednesday near the Asayish (Kurdish Security) building, another 2 x IS Jihadists were also shot dead.
Over the last 3 days, the YPG have again made substantial weapon and ammunition gains from IS, including 2 x RPG-7 rocket launchers, 6 RPG-7 rockets, 19 hand grenades, 5 hand-made landmines and numerous bullets and cartridges.
A new Kurdish Peshmerga force convoy, probably to replace the existing men in Kobane, is reported to have left the Iraqi Kurdistan capital of Erbil this morning.
US Central Command (Centcom), now back online on Twitter and YouTube after being hacked, said that the Coalition made 6 airstrikes at Kobane on Tuesday and another 5 on Wednesday, altogether destroying 12 x IS fighting positions and an armoured vehicle, plus hitting another fighting position as well as an IS tactical unit and an IS-held building.
According to latest estimates from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), since mid-September, fighting in Kobane has killed at least 1,600 people, including 1,075 x IS Jihadists, 459 Kurdish fighters and 32 civilians.
SOHR feels that the Islamic State death toll numbers are unsustainable and that it is only a matter of time until IS are forced to retreat.
However, they are clearly not leaving without a fight, having made 35 suicide attacks alone in recent weeks.
The YPG themselves have calculated that they have killed IS Jihadists from 27 different countries in the last 4 months.
There is also an unconfirmed report today that the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who is said to have led an attack in Iraq recently, has been wounded and is now in the IS-held part of Deir Ez-Zour city receiving treatment. (EDITOR: However, caution advised on this story as we have heard similar things before.)
This Kobane map from 15.01.15, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, shows recent positions in a fast moving situation, including IS reinforcements coming in from the south-east, here:
KOBANE UPDATE 41: ISLAMIC STATE CONTROL OF KOBANE SHRINKING DAILY UNDER KURDISH AND COALITION ONSLAUGHT:
TIMELINE – 14th JANUARY 2015 14.45 GMT:
14 Islamic State (IS) fighters were reported killed on various fronts in Kobane on Monday and several more since, both through YPG/Peshmerga action and Coalition airstrikes.
Monday night saw several Kurdish special forces operations against IS in the north-eastern sector of the city near the Asayish (Kurdish Security) building, with 6 x IS Jihadists said to have been killed. One of those killed is believed to be an IS commander of Palestinian origin known as Abu Bakr Al-Palestina.
Simultaneously, other Kurdish units attacked IS Jihadists on the slopes of Mishtenour Hill, south of the city, killing 3 of them.
Mishtenour is a long hill on top covering quite a large area. IS positions are being hit there and a Coalition airstrike was reported near the 2nd radio tower at the top of the Hill this morning, Wednesday.
Heavy fighting continues on the eastern front around and beyond 48th street with strong Peshmerga artillery support. Slowly the Kurds continue to gain ground.
US Central Command (Centcom), has reported 6 strikes near Kobane in the 24 hours from Tuesday am through to Wednesday, today, am, destroying 8 fighting positions and an armoured vehicle.
The US Defense Department says that current operations in Syria and Iraq are costing it over $8 million dollars a day (EDITOR: Which is some kind of eye-watering commitment).
Kurdish Peshmerga sources, Wednesday, are claiming that the Kurds now control “85%” of Kobane (EDITOR: From my assessment of the maps, I would put it at around or just over 80% – but, yes, the Kurds are definitely winning).
They also report that 300 Kurdish families have returned, presumably to the safer western half of the city, but it is said that an estimated 35% of the city has been completely destroyed and is currently uninhabitable.
Turkey, perhaps somewhat late in the day, has positioned two mobile medical units on the Syria-Turkey border near Kobane to transport wounded Peshmerga, YPG fighters and civilians to hospitals in Turkey.
However, some of those that fled Kobane and the surrounding villages as IS invaded, are now stuck in Syria with no money or proper shelter and often with untreated health problems.
This report describes the troubles of one family whose elder son is still hobbling around with an IS bullet in his foot, weeks after the event, HERE:
BBC Syria news also reports on how the war against the Islamic State is stoking the demand by ordinary Kurds for the various disagreeing Kurdish political factions to stop infighting and work together to achieve their aim of a united Kurdish state.
An updated situation map for Kobane, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, dated 13.01.15, here:
KOBANE UPDATE 40: WHILE KURDS GAIN A FOOTHOLD ON MISHTENOUR HILL, ISLAMIC STATE SUPPORTERS HACK INTO #CENTCOM TWITTER ACCOUNT!
TIMELINE – 12th JANUARY 2015 18.20 GMT:
EDITOR: As of this afternoon, Monday, IS supporters appear to have hacked into US Central Command’s (@Centcom) Twitter Account, rebranding it with the name “CyberCaliphate” and a picture of a masked IS warrior holding an Islamic State flag.
I was just checking the site for the latest Centcom report for this blog post, just a minute after the first message appeared at 17.30 GMT.
The first message was: “U.S. Central Command @CENTCOM AMERICAN SOLDIERS, WE ARE COMING, WATCH YOUR BACK. ISIS. http://pastebin.com/Y2spP… #CyberCaliphate” (Info Amended – Editor)
This message was then followed by others saying, “We won’t stop! We know everything about you, your wives and children” and “In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the CyberCaliphate continues its CyberJihad”; then releasing a stream of hacks presumably from the US Central Command computers.
Information published online for all to see, included the US “Army General Officer Public Roster (By Rank) 2nd January 2014″ listing their command structure officers by name, names and addresses of retired US military personnel, potential operational target scenarios in China with maps (to be used in the case of war) and similar scenario information about North Korea.
US Central Command controls all US military operations in the Middle East and Asia and will find this extremely embarrassing to say the least. Much of the information released and possibly downloaded, is probably classified.
Was it the Islamic State – or is it retaliation by North Korea?
We shall have to wait and see. (Update: As of 18.37 GMT the US Central Command Twitter account @Centcom has been suspended. And hopefully the information at PasteBin as well.)
Meanwhile, back in Kobane ….
In the last 2 days, the combined YPG/YPJ Kurdish forces have made more headway in the south-east around Mishtenour Hill.
Reports say that the Kurds are now on the eastern slopes and have even made it to the radio masts on the top, but this has still to be confirmed.
Certainly on the lower ground to the south of Kobane, the Kurds have made strong gains, reputedly taking control of another 2 roads in and out of the city. 27 IS Jihadists are reported killed in YPG operations on Saturday night with large quantities of weapons and ammunition seized, including rocket launchers, hand grenades and mortars.
In the north-east of Kobane the Kurds are both west and south of Kaniya Kurda Hill and therefore within sight of the city’s eastern limits.
On the 120th day of the defence of Kobane, map assessments would suggest that the YPG are now approaching control of around 80% of Kobane and the rest should soon follow.
This video shows the nature of the very fierce fighting in the city currently underway, here:
Local reports suggest that there have been 12 or more Coalition air attacks on IS positions around Kobane in the last 3 days, the latest near 48th Street in the eastern part of the city.
This map, courtesy of @Chuckpfarrer, published yesterday, Sunday, shows the latest known position, here:
SNOWFALL BRIEFLY HALTS SYRIA’S WAR BUT SYRIAN REFUGEES DESCEND INTO EVEN DEEPER MISERY AND DESPAIR:
TIMELINE – 9th JANUARY 2014 13.47 GMT – UPDATED 22.43 GMT:
For the first time in almost 4 years the fighting in Syria was almost brought to a complete halt on Wednesday after Nature took a hand with heavy snowfalls across much of the country.
Snowfalls were heaviest in the western part of Syria, especially near the mountainous border with Lebanon.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which records deaths in Syria on a daily basis, said on Wednesday, “While humanitarian needs soared, the snowstorm protected Syrians from battles, gunfire, shelling, rocket fire and air strikes” and they recorded no war deaths during the day.
Significantly, the heavy cloud and bad weather conditions prevented any of Assad’s aircraft flying and Opposition-held city suburbs, towns and villages, for a few hours at least, were free of the threat of rocket and barrel bomb attacks.
The deep misery in the Syrian refugee camps, especially on the borders with Lebanon, just increased as families worked to remove heavy snow from their tents to prevent them collapsing and huddled together to keep warm over meager heating supplies.
In some camps children were still seen running round wearing open flip-flop sandals.
Most of the snow, from a storm called “Zina”, fell through Tuesday night into Wednesday and although conditions improved slightly yesterday, Thursday, snow has fallen again today and there are shortages of electricity and fuel.
By 7.00am on Wednesday 155 millimetres of snow had fallen in Latakia, 127 millimetres in Homs, 90 in Hama, 35 in the Damascus countryside and 25 millimetres in Quneitra. Some mountainous roads still remain impassable.
In Lebanon against the border with Syria and primarily the Bekka Valley conditions were by far the worst. The UN estimates that at least 275,000 Syrian refugees are living there in tents at altitudes above 1,000 feet. There are no formally organised refugee camps in Lebanon, only makeshift ones.
A group of Syrian refugees made a fatal mistake in trying to cross from Syria to Lebanon on Tuesday night, becoming trapped on a mountain road before being eventually rescued by the Lebanese Army. 2 men died from exposure, plus a 6 year old boy with the family group. The 2 men, apparently lost and possibly smugglers, died just 200 metres from a Lebanese Army post.
Lower than average temperatures are expected to continue over the next few days, with temperatures in the Bekka Valley sinking to -3 to -5 in the next 48 hours. The UN has been hampered in supplying sufficient food or proper winter clothing to refugees recently because of the failure by donor nations to honour their financial pledges, and therefore running out of money to do their job properly.
In this video, Opposition fighters clear snow in the southern part of Quneitra province, HERE: and in another they go on the offensive against Assad’s forces near Mount Hermon, south of Damascus, HERE:
BBC Syria News has a full report on the refugee situation with photographs and video.
KOBANE UPDATE 39: KURDS RESIST ISLAMIC STATE HEAVY WEAPON ATTACK AND ARE WITHIN SIGHT OF CITY’S EASTERN BOUNDARY:
In Kobane, the Islamic State (IS) has been deploying heavy weaponry bought up from Jarblous and Raqqah.
On Tuesday afternoon, IS staged an attack in the area of Mekteba Resh (the Black School), shelling YPG positions with rockets and mortars from outside of Kobane as cover for their advancing tanks. After heavy confrontations, IS were forced to retreat without gaining any territory.
In the north-east of the city the YPG/YPJ destroyed 2 x IS vehicles and an artillery piece and in the south-east towards Mistenour Hill, they destroyed a DShK heavy machine gun-mounted vehicle and damage a piece of DShK 23 weaponary. 58 x IS Jihadists were reported killed and 15 Ak-47s seized. The bodies of 39 IS fighters were left on the battlefield by the retreating enemy.
On Wednesday during the day there were several more minor clashes between IS and the YPG/YPJ in both the south-east and north-east districts of the city. In fighting near Mishtenour Hill, another 7 x IS Jihadists were killed.
On Wednesday night through into Thursday morning the YPG mounted an operation into the Kaniya Kurda area in the north-east of the city, killing another 2 x IS fighters. The Kurdish force is now within sight of Kaniya Kurda Hill on the eastern outskirts of the city.
US Central Command (Centcom) reports that the Coalition carried out 5 airstrikes around Kobane on Thursday through into Friday morning.
7 x IS fighting positions were destroyed and 1 x IS-occupied building. Another IS fighting position and 2 x IS tactical units were also struck.
Unconfirmed reports also say that today, Friday, an IS reinforcement convoy approaching from the west of Kobane was attacked by the Coalition and at least 3 vehicles were destroyed.
Courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, here is the latest situation map for Kobane, updated Thursday 8th January:
IN DEIR EZ-ZOUR ISLAMIC STATE POLICE HIT BY DEADLY CITIZEN BACKLASH, WHILE AL-NUSRA SCALE UP ATTACK ON ALAWITE ENCLAVES:
In Deir Ez-Zour province at Al-Mayadeen it seems that some citizens have got tired of Islamic State rule and are striking back.
On Wednesday a car containing members of Al-Hesbah, the Islamic State’s religious police was hijacked and burnt. The men in the car appear to have been kidnapped.
The report comes a day after the area’s Hesbah deputy commander was found tortured and beheaded, with a cigarette in his mouth, near the town’s electricity plant. Written on his body was the message “This is Munkar [a forbidden action], sheikh”, presumably a response to Hesbah’s recent actions of confiscating and burning tobacco products and punishing those caught smoking.
SOHR Director, Rami Abdel Rahman, said, “There is an escalation in the operations against the Hisbah because they are arresting people and insulting their dignity for reasons like smoking”.
3 days ago 2 other members of Hesbah were seriously injured in Mayadeen when 1 was struck in a deliberate hit-and-run car attack and another was assaulted by 2 men on a motorcycle and repeatedly hit on the head with an iron bar. Both men sustained life-threatening injuries.
In Aleppo province a major attack is underway by the Al-Nusra Front (ANF) in conjunction with Islamic brigades on the 2 Alawite enclaves of Zahraa and Nubl.
Yesterday, after days of shelling pro-Assad positions with as many as 500 shells, Opposition sources reported that the ANF fighters had taken control of a number of streets and 2 roundabouts in the eastern part of Zahraa and had occupied several buildings in Nubl. According to Opposition activists the Assad regime’s “operation room” was destroyed at the first of the roundabouts in Zahraa.
Situation map courtesy of @archcivilians, here:
In preparation for the attack ANF pulled out of the nearby towns of Manasher Al-Hajar and Warsha Al-Hadid to the east of Nubl. Both towns had been repeatedly attacked by the Syrian Air Force.
Reports vary on the success of the ANF offensive so far, with some saying that they have been repelled. 11 members of the pro-Assad National Defence Force were reported killed and 14 fighters from ANF and the Islamic brigades. ANF took 7 tanks into the battle and is said to have lost 3 three of them to enemy fire.
Meanwhile, throughout today, Assad’s helicopters dropped 3 lots of supplies to the villages by parachute, presumably food but probably also weapons and ammunition.
A video of some of the fighting is HERE:
Meanwhile in Aleppo city, regime helicopters dropped 10 barrel-bombs on the Opposition-held district of Masaken Hanano and the Islamic State continued practising its “black arts” by throwing a young man of the top of a building after a Sharia court “convicted” him of “being gay”.
The young man survived the fall but was then shot dead by the so-called prosecutors. Another 5 men, including 2 from the same family, were also executed by IS in Al-Bayan on a charge of being “cells of the regime”.
In north-east Syria, the Islamic State perfected their evil actions by beheading at dawn on Thursday the Imam of the mosque in the village of Abu Khuyut near Hassakah city. His “crime”? Apparently cursing, after watching a video on beheadings, that Allah allowed such things to happen. Reports say that 3 of his sons are IS fighters.
In Damascus, the Assad regime and Palestinian factions loyal to the Syrian Government have prevented aid agencies from taking in food to the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp for over a month. The camp has now been under siege for more than 540 days and without a mains drinking water supply for 110 days, say humanitarian organisations. These are illegal actions under the UN charter but little is done to make the Assad regime accountable.
Lastly, a story of healing and hope. 2 years ago 4 year old Qamar Qadour and her little sister were both badly burned in a regime bombing attack.
Qamar was so badly injured that she could not use her hands to feed herself and was so disfigured she refused to go outside.
Now in Jordan with their family, both sisters have undergone a number of operations and feel confident enough to play outside with other children once again. They will however be scarred for life and their lives continue to be ruled by hospital appointments.
The story from the BBC (with some disturbing images and quite emotional) is HERE:
KOBANE UPDATE 38: ISLAMIC STATE COUNTER ATTACK REBUFFED AS MANY JIHADISTS KILLED AND THEIR EQUIPMENT DESTROYED:
TIMELINE – 7th JANUARY 2015 18.08 GMT – UPDATED 20.12 GMT:
Yesterday, Tuesday, the 113th day of the defence of Kobane, the Islamic State (IS) staged a counter attack but failed to recover any territory and lost more fighters to YPG and Peshmerga fire.
The main counter attack was in the vicinity of the Rash bookstore, which the YPG/J captured recently.
According to reports from Kurdish sources, 24 x IS Jihadists were killed in the attack, the YPG recovering 20 of their bodies.
7 YPG/J and a Kurdish activist are reported killed in the fighting.
An IS vehicle bomb driven at Kurdish fighters caused injuries but was destroyed before it reached its target.
Another 17 x Jihadists were killed in clashes in the north of the city around the Mashatah Nour district.
Altogether, there are 13 neighbourhoods in Kobane. Currently the YPG and allies control 9 of them and the Islamic State still have the other 4.
This means the Kurds have liberated around 70% of the city (as stated previously – see below).
Some of the heaviest fighting this week has been between Kaniya Kurda neighbourhood right up to the eastern slopes of Mishtenour Hill to the south of Kobane. In the clashes an IS tank, a Humvee and a rocket installation were destroyed
IS have continued shelling Kurdish-held parts of the city, 2 Kurdish civilians killed by mortars on Monday. Reports from several sources say that another IS Chechen commander was killed on Monday and a Frenchman and a German Jihadist, both known from social media sites also died.
While the Islamic State continue to bring in reinforcements, especially their more experienced Russian and Chechen fighters, plus increasing amounts of heavy weapons, some sources say that the shift in IS’s fortunes has impacted heavily on many of its fighters. Some are reported to have abandoned their positions inside Kobane, forcing IS instead to rotate the same fighters more often.
Interesting to note that the Industrial School, on top of which John Cantlie stood to announce that the Islamic State had almost complete control of Kobane, is now back under Kurdish control.
The last US General Command (Centcom) report for January 4th through to Monday morning, 5th January, says that there were 8 Coalition strikes around Kobane, destroying 11 x IS fighting positions and hitting 2 large IS units and 1 other fighting position.
In an interesting report from Vice News, the YPG fighters showed the journalists a dagger, a laptop and a bag of white powder they had recovered from a house occupied by an IS Emir who was killed in the firefight.
The dagger is a cheap imitation, but the laptop is an especially rugged Dell, normally used by the police or the army and costing thousands of dollars.
The Kurds are not familiar with the white powder, but one of the journalists admits he is after testing it with his finger.
It’s cocaine – fuelling reports that IS fighters are sent into battle high on drugs (EDITOR: So much for the puirty of Sharia Law then!). You can read the full report and video, HERE:
Yesterday’s, Tuesday, updated situation map courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, though bear in mind it is currently a very fast moving and changeable situation, here:
AS “WHO” BLOWS AWAY EBOLA RUMOURS, ARE ISLAMIC STATE MAKING MOVES TO LEAVE MOSUL ANYWAY?
According to an Iraqi religious cleric, Sheikh Abu Saad al-Ansari, based in Qatar, the Islamic State issued its “budget statement for 2015″ on Monday.
Their budget for the coming year apparently amounts to $2 billion to pay for services, armaments, fighter’s wages and compensation for the families of those killed.
Given their considerable daily income, some commentators believe that the budget is plausible, though it remains to be seen whether it is true or not (EDITOR: And hopefully by the end of 2015 IS will not exist!)
Kurdish sources in Iraq are reporting that 2 truckloads of medicine were taken from hospitals in Mosul and sent overland to Syria yesterday, despite a shortage of such supplies in Mosul itself.
EDITOR: If correct, this suggests 2 things: 1. The fighters in Syria, especially in Kobane and Raqqah, both of which are being regularly bombed, are in even more dire need of drugs, bandages and other medical supplies than the citizens of Mosul.
And 2. To my mind I cannot help thinking that in the not too distant future the Islamic State might abandon Mosul before the Peshmerga and Iraqi Army completely surround it and even leave Iraq altogether to concentrate their resources in Syria from where they can make sporadic attacks back into Iraq. It will be interesting to see if this happens.
The rumour of a possible Ebola outbreak blew itself out late Monday after WHO (World Health Organisation) and Iraqi Government Health officials said they had investigated the reports through surveillance networks and contact with health workers in Mosul and found no confirmation of any cases.
The officials also said in a joint statement the laboratory analysis facilities in Mosul do not have the capabilitiy to diagnose and confirm the Ebola virus anyway.
Interesting story of Belgian, Dimitri Bontinck, a former soldier who went to Syria 3 times in 2013 to find his son who had left home to join the Islamic State. On his third visit they were finally reunited and the son is back home in Belgium, though subject to prosecution.
Bontinck does not believe that is the way forward and that governments should think again. Since bringing back his son he has made 5 other trips on behalf of other families desperate to get their relatives out of Islamic State clutches. You can read more at Sky Syria news. (EDITOR: Though caution if you are thinking of asking this man for help – do the research, as he has apparently been accused of taking money for his work and not delivering)
On the day that the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published a carrtoon of the IS leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, 3 masked gunmen with Kalashnikov automatic weapons burst into their offices this morning, Wednesday, and killed 2 policemen and 10 journalists, critically injuring others.
A nearby witness said he heard them say that they were connected with Al Qaeda in Yemen, who had claimed to have fire-bombed the magazine on a previous occasion after they had published cartoons of Mohammed and other leading Islamic figures. The magazine regularly lampoons other religions and institutions, including Christianity and the Catholic Church.
French assertiveness in the face of this attack will not be dimmed. The French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle and its support fleet are reported to be in the Persian Gulf. Expect some retaliatory action soon.
And in a wave of defiance across France today 150 separate demonstrations in support of free speech erupted spontaneously across the country.
If you want to show support for the right of free speech and sympathy for the victims, Tweet using the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie.
Lastly, if you really want to understand the mindset of the Islamic State and the roots of the Sunni/Shia conflict in Syria and Iraq, watch this interview with journalist Graeme Wood – he really knows his stuff and you will be very well informed, here: