“I so appreciate your Pullitzer-class reporting on the Kobane and Syrian conflicts and look forward to your updates. This is so much better than the superficial coverage that the major TV networks are providing.” JM.
SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS
KOBANE UPDATE 70: ISLAMIC STATE COUNTER-ATTACK LINKS UP WITH TRAPPED JIHADISTS BUT KURDS FIGHTING BACK TO REGAIN FRONTLINE:
TIMELINE – 30th MARCH 2015 15.44 GMT – UPDATED 22.00 GMT:
Following on from reinforcements arriving at the end of last week, Islamic State (IS) fighters broke through the Kurds M4 highway defensive line on Saturday, reaching trapped IS Jihadists at both the Grain Silos north of Sarrin and the Lafarge Cement Plant.
Heavy fighting has taken place at both locations since then and fierce fighting is reported near the Grain Silos between YPG/FSA and IS this morning, Monday, with mutual shelling.
The YPG are reported to be shelling IS in Sarrin itself as of yesterday.
IS were able to reinforce their fighters across the Euphrates by bringing men and supplies all the way south from Manbij in Aleppo province and cross along the top of the Tishrin Dam before turning north again towards Sarrin.
According to reports, IS have booby-trapped positions on top of the dam and the streets leading to it, but Coalition jets still targeted IS near the dam over the weekend.
On Saturday night, 11 x IS Jihadists were reported killed by the YPG/YPJ on the south-eastern front at Sepeta Ereban and the villages of Boxê, Şêx Omer, Kazan and Çelebî were liberated in the east. The YPG were reported over the weekend to be “closing in” on the villages of Kherab-Ishk and Jelebiya, around 55 kilometres south-east of Kobane city, with Coalition aircraft flying overhead.
4 Coalition airstrikes Friday am through to Saturday morning in Kobane Canton destroyed 2 x IS anti-aircraft artillery machine guns, 3 x IS vehicles, an excavator and damaged 2 x IS tactical units and an IS fighting position. On Saturday through to Sunday morning another strike hit an IS tactical unit and destroyed an IS vehicle.
Reports from Aleppo province say that the Islamic State has arrested many people returning to IS-held Jarablous, who fled the city in anticipation of the Kurdish forces crossing the Euphrates and attacking. The charge is that they were “trying to escape” when they should have stayed and helped the Jihadists defend the city.
In the event, the Kurds stopped their advance once they had reached the Euphrates River at the western edge of Kobane Canton. 200 people, mainly young men, have also been arrested in the last 2 days by IS in Manbij.
IS have of course left their dreadful legacy in Kobane city. An estimated 40 people have been killed in Kobane by mines and booby-traps in the 2 months since IS retreated from the city, and dozens more wounded.
In particular, returning citizens have been warned not to touch the bodies of dead IS fighters, most of which have been rigged to explode on being moved.
Despite this, progress is reported in Kobane city with 15 shops and a restaurant and a second school, the Tishrin School in the eastern neighbourhood of Miktalah, re-opened and big efforts to clear and cleanse the streets underway.
Some clearance work is being hampered though by a fuel shortage for the second week running.
In Cizire Canton further to the east of Kobane, at Xebis near Tel Tamer on Friday, 2 x IS vehicles were destroyed and 10 x IS Jihadists killed in one of the Coalition airstrikes and heavy clashes were reported between both sides west of Tel Tamer over the weekend.
AFP Syria news photographer Yasin Akgul, whose fine pictures have been published on this blog recently, reports from his most recent trip back to Kobane, HERE:
Interestingly, Israel yesterday became the first country in the world to call at the UN for the setting up of an independent Kurdistan.
This map, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, shows the Kobane Canton situation as of yesterday, Sunday 29.03.15, here:
OPPOSITION FIGHTERS SET UP ADMINISTRATION IN IDLIB BUT WARN OF RETALIATION AGAINST ALAWITE ENCLAVES IF BOMBS FALL:
As was predictable, the Assad regime bombed Idlib on Monday in an attempt to kill Opposition fighters.
4 barrel-bombs were also dropped on the city on Sunday, 2 of which failed to explode but which some thought contained chemicals such as chlorine.
People’s fears may have been heightened by Opposition intelligence reports that the Syrian Army is preparing Scud missiles armed with chlorine gas to “destroy Idlib”. The same sources said pro-Assad forces were also preparing explosive barrels containing chlorine in Hama military airport.
Ahrar Al-Sham, one of the main Islamic groups at the forefront of the capture of Idlib, yesterday urged the other victorious factions to unite in the administration of the city in the same way they had effectively come together on the battlefield.
However, they also warned Assad, that should he bomb civilians in the city then they would in turn bomb the surrounded Alawite enclaves of Al-Fuah and Kafrayya just to the north.
The same Islamist alliance also rejected a call by the Turkey based “mainstream political opposition” to let an interim government set up its HQ in Idlib, saying pithily that it preferred to be ruled “by those in the trenches and not those in hotels”.
Opposition sources estimate, contrary to earlier reports, that 170 people were killed in the battle for Idlib, 126 of them Opposition fighters.
The death toll on Assad’s side is much lower than expected, partly because according to some sources the Syrian Government withdrew its fighters and removed anything of use to the Opposition in anticipation of losing the city, though pictures have emerged of a major funeral procession of Alawite fighters in Tartous on Sunday.
This video footage shows Assad’s forces under attack as they drove away from Idlib, with some evidence that soldiers mixed with civilians in order to escape, HERE:
The Assad regime has accused both Turkey and Jordan of aiding the Opposition fighters in the capture of Idlib by providing them with “advanced communication equipment” among other things. SANA, the main media website for the Assad regime, has yet to mention the loss of Idlib at all.
On Saturday there were joyous scenes at Assad’s Political Security HQ on Saturday as Opposition fighters took control and released 53 prisoners who had not been killed as previously thought, HERE:
However, the joy was tempered with the discovery of the dead bodies of 15 people in another cell, including one woman, who had been executed before Assad’s men fled.
The statue of President Assad’s father, Hafez Al-Assad, which was smashed in the face with hammers by invading Opposition fighters on Saturday, was yesterday, Sunday, completely destroyed using a digger, here:
In Latakia, Bashar Assad’s cousin, Fawaz Jamil al-Assad, died on Friday of liver disease. Fawaz Assad was known for his cruelty to civilians and for the sexual harassment of women, exploiting his links with the ruling family, and will not be missed.
President Assad himself was interviewed recently by CBS News and, while still denying the existence of barrel-bombs, for once appeared hesitant and not at all sure of himself. You can read or watch the interview, HERE:
It is perhaps not without significance that SANA, the Syrian State media channel, has published Assad interviews in the last few days with South American TV, TeleSur, and Chinese and Italian TV but given the US interview a complete miss.
Lastly, BBC Syria news has been asking “what would take with you” if you had to flee your country?
Huthaifah, born in Aleppo in 1979 was raised in several countries after his father was imprisoned and his mother fled Syria, eventually making a new life for herself in the UK.
By then Huthaifah had returned to Aleppo age 18 to study at the University and eventually got a good job, married and thrived. He bought a pair of nice shoes, but vowed he would not wear them until he saw his Mother again and kept them in a bag in the cupboard.
In 2011 he joined the protests against the Assad regime but after a close friend was killed by the security police, he knew it was time to leave before the same fate befell him and he smuggled his family to Turkey.
Then, leaving his wife and child in a rented house, he set off for Europe, still with the special shoes in a bag, never letting them out of his sight despite being trafficked by people smugglers across Africa and then back to Turkey and across Europe to the Netherlands.
Eventually he was granted asylum and finally he was able to fly to London to meet his Mother.
When he got off the plane he put on the “special shoes” and went out into Arrivals to hug his Mum.
It had taken 11 years.
You can read the whole heart-warming story, HERE:
IDLIB UPDATE: ASSAD’S FORCES IN HUMILIATING COLLAPSE – CITY NOW TOTALLY UNDER OPPOSITION CONTROL:
TIMELINE 28th MARCH 2015 16.38 GMT:
Today, Saturday, Assad’s National Defence Force, charged with defending Idlib, completely collapsed and the last quarter in the south of the city has now fallen to an alliance of 8 fighting groups formed from the Al Nusra Front, the Islamic Front and Free Syrian Army (FSA) aligned battalions.
Early this morning, after seizing almost threequarters of the city yesterday, the attacking forces quickly gained control of the Palace of Justice, the National Hospital, the Provincial Museum, Al-Mehrab roundabout and checkpoint, Idlib Military Security HQ, the Air Force Security HQ, the Municipal Hall, the Governor’s building, the Traffic Police building, the Criminal Police building, the Faculty of Law, the Central Bank building, the City Council Hall, the main Secondary School and Idlib City Prison.
What’s left of Assad’s forces have fled to the south leaving the Syrian Government humiliated after a battle that lasted just 4 days from beginning to end.
Normally Idlib is a city of 100,000, though many anticipating Assad’s barrel-bombs and rockets have gone to Opposition held territory to the north, HERE:
Most residents seem pretty happy with the outcome, Idlib normally being a Sunni majority city, (jump to 0.17) HERE:
Idlib is only the second provincial capital to fall into opposition hands after Raqqah and anti-Assad forces now virtually control the whole of Idlib province. The 2 Alawite enclaves of Al-Fuah and Kafrayya, just to the north of Idlib city must be feeling very vulnerable.
A large Assad regime convoy, consisting of 20 tanks, 50 technicals (armed pick-ups) and 50 cars was spotted at Mahmpal, south-west of Idlib city early this morning, but its destination is unknown.
As of 15.45 GMT this afternoon, SANA, the main Syrian Government media outlet, was not admitting to any loss in Idlib but putting out the myth that “The army is re-positioning forces and units in southern Idlib city in preparation to face thousands of terrorists crossing border from Turkey” and had been “killing hundreds of them”.
More reliable sources say that around 150 have been killed in the fighting, mainly on the Government side.
Unconfirmed reports say that up to 60 “high security” prisoners were executed in the Political Security Branch before Assad’s military vacated it and ran.
Interesting to see what happens now as Idlib province, with a population in peacetime of 1.5 million abuts both Turkey and Assad’s key Alawite province of Latakia. (Scroll down for yesterday’s action news reports and videos)
Latest reports this afternoon, Saturday, say that Opposition forces are now pressing and taking barriers on the road south to Al-Mastouma (see 2nd map below).
This was the situation in Idlib last night, courtesy of @Conflict_Report, here:
And this is situation map now, courtesy of @PetoLucem, with Alawite enclaves to the north completely isolated, here:
And finally, comment from the good people of Kafranbel (EDITOR: Where have you been, we have missed you!):
KOBANE UPDATE 69: BODIES OF ISLAMIC STATE FIGHTERS STILL COMING OUT OF RUBBLE IN KOBANE CITY, AS FURTHER IS ATTACKS REPULSED:
TIMELINE: 27th MARCH 2015 15.00 GMT – UPDATED (scroll down) 21.12 GMT:
Two months after the liberation of Kobane city, they are still finding the rotting bodies of Islamic State (IS) fighters under the rubble of collapsed and destroyed buildings, but additional aid and help to rebuild has started to trickle in.
Fighting continues to the south-west of the Canton, to the south along and just below the M4 highway line and to the east towards the IS-held town of Tel Abayd.
On the south-western front, IS attempted another infiltration by boat across the Euphrates River near Qara Qwazak but this was detected by the YPG and their snipers repulsed and neutralised the attack.
However, further downstream on the Euphrates, IS managed a boat crossing from and into their own territory, sending reinforcements, weapons and ammunition to the defence of the town of Sarrin.
Repeated attempts by the Islamic State to recover ground north-east of Sarrin have been pushed back by the YPG/YPJ and the IS fighters inside the grain silo complex remain trapped and surrounded.
Coalition airstrikes continue in support of the Kurdish forces.
Recent strikes have targeted IS command and control centres on the west bank of the Euphrates plus vehicles and fighter groups.
Latest reports from US Central Command (Centcom) say that from Wednesday am through to yesterday morning, Thursday, they carried out 4 airstrikes in Kobane Canton, destroying 2 x IS fighting positions and hitting 5 others, plus 2 x IS tactical units.
The Coalition are also reported to have struck an IS military garrison near Raqqah, one of their key cities.
In the other other Kurdish Canton to the east, Cizire, the YPG have advanced on the western front, destroying an IS military vehicle and killing 2 x IS fighters near Tel Tamer.
Somehow, some of the Kurdish spirit to survive, whatever the odds, seems to have blessed a Kurdish football team based in Sweden. All 29 members of the Dalkurd FF team, which plays in the Swedish 3rd Division and was set up by Kurdish immigrants 11 years ago, were due to return together after training in Spain on the ill-fated Germanwings Flight 4U 9525.
However, at the last minute they decided to split into 3 groups and take other flights to Sweden via Germany and Switzerland, rather than have a 10 hour stopover in Dusseldorf. That decison saved their lives. One of their flights left at the same time as the plane that crashed into the French Alps. You can read more, HERE:
(EDITOR: Terrible decision of murderous, suicidal co-pilot of Germanwings aircraft if true. Very sad, so many wasted lives. My condolences to all the families concerned)
BATTLE FOR SINJAR CITY CONTINUES, WHILE YEZIDI WONDER WHY THE WORLD HAS FORGOTTEN THEM:
In northern Iraq, the YPG, along with the Peshmerga and Yezidi militia, continue the fight to try and push the Islamic State completely out of Sinjar city. Territory in the city is still split approximately 50/50.
After 2 attacks by Islamic State fighters on Kurdish positions on Wednesday were repulsed, IS were hit with 7 Coalition airstrikes and around 35 of them were killed.
Last Sunday, in their continuing destruction of everyone’s heritage, IS Jihadists in Sinjar blew up the ancient minaret of the Saljuqid mosque, a city landmark, as well as a number of houses.
At the headquarters of the EU in Brussels this week and in other cities around the world, members of the worldwide Yezidi community demonstrated to once again try and bring attention to the plight of their comrades and relatives in Iraq.
Apart from the hundreds of Yezidi killed by the Islamic State, thousands of captured young Yezidi women and girls are still missing after 8 months, and no-one seems to be doing anything about it.
As a result of Coalition airstrikes on Islamic State positions, an estimated 150 bodies of IS fighters were reported to have been transferred yesterday to the main mortuary in IS-held Mosul city.
The fighters were said to have been killed over the last 2 days in airstrikes on Kaske Kask, Kalak, Khorbasad and in Mosul’s Arabi neighborhood.
A Kurdish source said, “Mosul inhabitants have started buying tents and renting houses outside the city in fear of the battle for Mosul. They want to keep themselves away from clashes in the city”.
As Spring approaches, it is anticipated that the Coalition, the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish Peshmerga will launch a joint operation to retake Mosul, where there are thought to be only 2,000 Islamic State fighters remaining.
Families who have escaped the city say that people still living there are suffering a reign of terror as IS struggles to maintain to control of a large area. One estimate suggests that IS have only the support of about 5% of the population.
IS maintains its position by imposing severe penalties for what it sees as transgressions of its “laws”, according to some even cutting off the hands of children accused of theft. Stoning and executions are not uncommon. You can read more, HERE:
Further south, where the Iraqi Army and Iraqi militias have made progress against the Islamic State around Tikrit, the Coalition joined the fight for the city by carrying out 17 airstrikes on Wednesday am through to Thursday morning.
The airstrikes, according to US Central Command, hit multiple IS buildings, 2 x IS bridges, 3 x IS checkpoints, 2 x IS fighter staging areas, 2 x IS berms (defensive banks), an IS roadblock and an IS command and control facility. The attack on one of the bridges and nearby targets can be seen, here:
Although the Iraqi Government requested Coalition air support from the US, the action had not pleased everyone. Some of the Iraqi militias sponsored by Iran, with as many as 30,000 men, have threatened to pull back from Tikrit, claiming that the US is trying to “hijack victory”.
The attempt to retake Tikrit, after initial advances, has been stalled for more than 2 weeks, with the Iraqis unable to unseat a relatively small group of Islamic State fighters holding the centre. You can read more, HERE:
AL-NUSRA CONTINUE RAPID ADVANCE INTO IDLIB CITY, TAKING CONTROL OF KEY POINTS AND EXIT ROUTES:
The Al-Nusra Front (ANF) and the Islamic Front have continued their rapid advance into Idlib city in Syria with, it seems, little effective resistance from Assad’s Syrian Army or his supporters, Hezbollah and other Shia militias.
Latest reports today, Friday, suggest that advancing in through the countryside and the industrial zone from the east, ANF and their allies are now in control of a large complex of grain silos, an olive oil factory, the Cardamom Market, the Idlib Antiquities Museum and were at the Mehrab roundabout military checkpoint at sunset this evening, HERE:
This car tour shows the industrial zone firmly in the hands of ANF and Islamic Opposition units, (Caution, some dead bodies) HERE:
South-east of Idlib city, ANF have captured the “Brick Factory Checkpoint” also knows as Qameed Camp after, as reported earlier (scroll down – see below), Assad’s troops defected, HERE:
There are also unconfirmed reports that columns of Assad’s forces have withdrawn from the city to the Baath Vanguards Camp just south of Idlib at Al-Mastouma.
Reports late this afternoon, Friday, say that the Al-Nusra fighters have also captured the Nara North district to the north-east of the city, and together with their control of the uncompleted “Youth Housing” project taken yesterday, they have effectively completely cut the regime from any routes north of the city.
Footage of yesterday’s battle for the “Youth Housing” is, HERE:
In a fast moving situation, ANF are also claiming control of the main western road into the city and the Idlib Municipal Stadium.
As dusk approached this evening, Friday, ANF units pounded Government positions, HERE:
As always, when in danger of losing ground, the Assad regime this evening launched 4 or 5 Scud missiles from Damascus, which have landed on the villages of Saraqib and Sarmin in Idlib province, thought by the Syrian Army to be the centres of ANF’s operations.
Just to add to a bad day for President Assad, the Islamic State Jihadists, it has just been reported, launched an attack today on the Al-Tayfur military base in Homs province with 2 suicide bombs.
Very latest unconfirmed reports in on Friday night say that ANF forces are now attacking Assad’s Political Security Branch in Sabaa Bahrat Square. More news awaited.
In a rapidly changing situation, this map, courtesy of @archicivilians, shows the Idlib position of ANF and its allies as of yesterday – since then they have advanced even further, as detailed above:
KOBANE UPDATE 68: KURDS RECAPTURE 2 MORE STRATEGIC LOCATIONS AND REPEL ISLAMIC STATE ATTEMPT TO CROSS EUPHRATES RIVER:
TIMELINE – 25th MARCH 2015 14.03 GMT – UPDATED 17.28 GMT:
Current successful operations by the Kurdish forces have been at Qertel Hill, 50 kilometres south of Kobane city, where the strategic point was recaptured and 12 Islamic State (IS) fighters killed.
The YPG attack started on Tuesday night around 3.00am and lasted for 2 hours. 7 x IS fighters were killed fighting on the ground, while the other 5 were destroyed along with their vehicle as they tried to escape.
50 kilometres south-east of Kobane city, a joint force of the YPG/YPJ and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) also retook the village of Al-Jalabiyya in Raqqah province after heavy fighting. 35 x IS Jihadists were reported killed.
To the south-west of Kobane Canton at the remains of Qara Qwazak bridge, the Islamic State mounted an operation by boat across the river on Monday night, but this was repelled by the YPG leaving 24 x IS Jihadists dead. 4 x YPG fighters were also killed in the clash.
Six Coalition airstrikes are reported to have targeted IS positions and vehicles in the mountains on the west side of the Euphrates River overlooking Qara Qwazak.
However, another IS convoy was reported to have crossed over the top of the Tishreen Dam further to the south on the night of the 22nd/23rd March, to reinforce their positions in the battle for Sarrin. Difficult to strike them without damaging the dam which could have devastating consequences for those living below it.
Situation map for south-west Kobane Canton courtesy of @Chuckpfarrer, here:
This video gives a flavour of YPG operations in rural Kobane, HERE:
IS fighters remain trapped in the Lafarge Cement Plant just south of the M4 highway, but as can be seen from this map, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, they are going to be difficult to dislodge, here:
US Central Command (Centcom) reports that strikes against IS in and around Kobane Canton have been escalated in the last few days.
From Sunday am through to Monday morning this week, the Coalition destroyed 4 x IS fighting positions and hit a large IS tactical unit, plus 4 smaller ones and another fighting position.
From Monday am through to Tuesday, the Coalition destroyed 3 x IS fighting positions, an IS checkpoint and an IS vehicle, plus hits on 4 more tactical units and 1 fighting position.
From Tuesday am through to this morning, Wednesday, Coalition aircraft have made 6 airstrikes, destroying another 6 x IS fighting positions and hitting 3 x IS tactical units and 1 fighting position. (EDITOR: Not a bad start to the week!)
The Canadian Government yesterday, Tuesday, also announced that its air force, already part of the Coalition over Iraq, will from now on target Islamic State targets in Syria as well.
Within Kobane city itself the big clean-up continues, with some families trying to move back into derelict buildings or restart businesses.
Trucks have also arrived from Turkey carrying camping equipment to set up tents in or near the city.
These pictures give you a flavour of the terrible conditions that remain in the city (more can be found, HERE:)
OPPOSITION DRIVE ASSAD FORCES FROM ANCIENT CITY IN DARAA PROVINCE AND STORM SUBURBS OF IDLIB CITY:
After 4 days of fighting in southern Daraa province, Opposition fighters have today, Wednesday, completely taken control of the ancient city of Busra Al-Sham east-south-east of Daraa city. The Syrian Government called their defeat a “strategic withdrawal”.
At the heart of Busra is a castle with a Roman amphitheatre inside it. Nearby are the remains of a Roman Circus where they would have had chariot races.
In the 2nd century city was once the capital of the Roman province of “Arabia” and a stopover on the caravan routes to Mecca.
Fortunately, the historic remains, a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site, remain largely intact.
85% of the fighters involved in the capture of the city were from mainstream FSA groups with the other 15% from Islamic units. The Al-Nusra Front was not involved.
Busra is just 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the Syrian border with Jordan and sits on high ground overlooking the plains that run out from Damascus.
Currently Busra is a town of around 19,000 inhabitants but there have been as many as 30,000, mainly Sunni.
A number of Assad’s troops were captured, including officers and 21 FSA fighters were reported killed in the assault. This footage shows part of the battle infront of the ancient Roman gate, HERE:
FSA fighters burned a captured Hezbollah flag in the city centre before filming this drive-by today, HERE:
The Daraa Opposition fighters, unified as the Southern Front, have also launched attacks at Al-Jaddiyah, 80 kilometres north-west of Busra, and at Qeita village west of Sanamein.
In Idlib province, Idlib city is virtually surrounded by the Al-Nusra Front (ANF), who, having announced their campaign against Assad’s forces in the city beforehand, have made spectacular gains in the first 48 hours.
Attacking the city from 3 directions and using car bombs driven by Islamists from the Gulf and US-made TOW missiles, ANF have succeeded in overrunning 12 checkpoints, including the Al-Mahlaj Factory barrier HERE: and the Sadkop Factory Barrier HERE: , both on the edge of the eastern industrial zone.
Today, Wednesday, they have captured a slaughterhouse, an olive oil factory and an electrical sub-station, also all in the east, but adjacent to the outer ring road.
ANF also detonated another bomb this morning using an armoured vehicle, in the north of the city and seemed to have cut the regime’s exit route going towards Aleppo, holding both Idlib University buildings and the “Youth Housing” area.
In addition, 5 of Assad’s officers and 40 of his soldiers are reported to have defected from the “Brick Factory Barrier” (Qarmeed Camp), not far from the city.
Another 36 of Assad’s troops have been reputedly executed for “giving Opposition fighters information” helping them with the assault on the city.
The southern entrance to the city is still open at present to the regime and reinforcements have been seen making their way from Latakia province. The battle for the southern entrance can be seen, HERE:
In an attempt to stem the Opposition advance, Assad’s Air Force has dropped yet more bombs on Sarmin, the target of a chlorine bomb attack a few days ago (scroll down – see below), HERE:
This map, courtesy of @archicivilians, shows how vulnerable Idlib city is to Opposition attack, surrounded strongly on 2 sides, even before the latest battle started, here:
In Aleppo, Opposition fighters have launched another attack against regime troops in Hamadaniya, (interesting video production – Arabic only) HERE:
A drone video shows us what it looks like inside the almost surrounded Aleppo citadel, still held by the Syrian Army, HERE:
According to a report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Islamic State has trained more than 400 children to fight on its behalf since January. Children as young as 8 have been seen in videos loading and firing guns.
Once they turn 15 they are given the option of becoming fully fledged fighters with a salary, but also tempted with weapons and training to drive vehicles. At least 10 children have been used by IS as suicide bombers and one 12 or 13 year old recently appeared in a video as an executioner. You can read more, HERE:
KOBANE/CIZIRE UPDATE 67: KURDISH YPG SURROUND ISLAMIC STATE FIGHTERS AT GRAIN SILOS, BUT IS HIT BACK WITH MURDEROUS ATTACK IN HASAKAH:
TIMELINE – 23rd MARCH 2015 14.44 GMT – UPDATED 18.23 GMT:
On the south-western front in Kobane Canton, the Kurdish YPG and Free Syrian Army (FSA) allies have continued their advance towards Sarrin, despite many attacks on their positions.
23 Islamic State (IS) fighters were reported killed yesterday on the Sarrin front alone.
As well as still surrounding IS Jihadists at the Lafarge Cement Plant, the YPG now say they have completely encirlcled IS fighters at the grain silos on the M4 highway just north of Sarrin.
Coalition airstrikes have disrupted any attempt by IS to send reinforcements to the grain silos, as well as targeting Sarrin city itself.
Although one span was already damaged, blown up by IS at the the western end, a Coalition aircraft also blew up another another section of the Qara Qwazak Bridge on Thursday to make absolutely sure once again that IS could not send reinforcements to Sarrin front.
On Sunday, following airstrikes, the YPG carried out a counter-attack on a strategic hill near Qara Qwazak village still held by IS on the eastern bank of the Euphrates.
As the YPG/YPJ moved towards Sarrin they liberated Tel Kharab, killing 6 x IS fighters in the process and capturing a large amount of ammunition. Another operation on Friday at Akbesh and Tel Kazan villages saw another 21 x IS Jihadists killed in combat.
In a joint FSA/YPG operation at the Sina/Sarrin crossroads a further 8 x IS fighters were killed. 1 FSA fighter died in the clashes.
More than 40,000 people have returned to Kobane city and emergency aid and supplies via trucks is starting to trickle in.
Courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, there is an updated situation map for the south-western part of Kobane Canton, here:
From Friday am through to last Saturday morning, US Central Command (Centcom) reports that its bomber aircraft conducted 3 strikes in Kobane Canton, destroying 9 x IS fighting positions, 1 x IS vehicle and 2 x IS machine gun posts.
From Saturday am through to yesterday morning, Sunday, Coalition bomber and remotely piloted aircraft destroyed 3 x IS fighting positions and struck 1 x IS tactical unit and 3 x IS vehicles
In a statement, Centcom reports that since Coalition strikes started against IS on August 8th with Operation Inherent Resolve, 5,314 x IS targets had been hit in both Syria and Iraq. The total cost so far is reported as $1.8 billion, working out at $8.5 million a day.
IS targets hit in the 2 countries so far include 73 tanks, 282 Humvees, 408 staging areas, 736 buildings, more than 1,000 fighting positions and 87 oil collection points.
On the eastern front of Kobane Canton, 13 x IS Jihadists were killed in the countryside west of Tel-Abayd by Coalition bombs.
Further east in the Kurdish Canton of Cizire, the YPG targeted 4 x IS positions near Tel Berak and Tel Hamis in separate operations on Friday, as well as undertaking attacks on IS at Kharitah village between Tel Tamer and Hasakah city. An undetermined number of IS fighters were killed.
On Saturday, 2 x IS fighters were killed and 3 injured west of Tel Tamer at the village of Nasri.
In a dreadful attack on Friday, IS set off twin suicide car bomb attacks as thousands of Kurds with their families were gathering in Hasakah city for the Newroz, Kurdish New Year, celebrations.
At least 45 were killed, including children, and 120 civilians injured.
Similar celebrations planned for other cities over the weekend were called off as a result.
ASSAD LOSES BOTH A HELICOPTER FULL OF BARREL-BOMBS AND 74 PRO-GOVERNMENT FIGHTERS IN IDLIB PROVINCE:
In what appears to be an attempt to raise morale after defeats in both Syria at Kobane and in Iraq at the hands of the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Islamic State has launched major attacks against the Assad regime in both Homs and Hama provinces.
74 of Assad’s supporters were reported killed in the attack in Hama province in a 3 day battle over the weekend near Sheik Hilal, where IS appeared to be attempting to cut the main road running north from Hama to Aleppo.
In Homs province the IS Jihadists killed another 20 of Assad’s forces, and today continued the battle by attacking today, Monday, Assad’s military airport at Tadmur. Conversely, the Assad regime claimed to have killed 19 x IS Jihadists in Deir Ez-Zour province today.
More grief for Assad occurred yesterday, Sunday, when one of his helicopters was forced to make an emergency landing near the village of Frikah, 10 kilometres north of Ma’arat Al-Numan, also in Idlib province.
Of the crew of 6, one is said to have escaped, 1 was summarily executed by local people and 4, including the pilot were taken prisoner.
The crew had jettisoned their load of barrel-bombs (which Assad denies using) without lighting the fuses before impact, in order to avoid an explosion.
The helicopter can be seen in this video on Facebook, HERE:
The anger of local people was because the call sign of the helicopter was identified as “Bravo – 17″, the same as had been picked-up last week from the helicopter that had last Monday dropped barrel-bombs containing chlorine on the Idlib village of Sarmin.
The chlorine gas was hidden in cooking gas cylinders within the barrels and released on impact. 18 people are reported to have died from asphyxiation, including several children. You can read more and see a video, HERE:
The attack on Sarmin may well have been an attempt at a pre-emptive strike on the Al-Nusra Front who have announced a campaign to drive the Assad regime from Idlib city. Sarmin was possibly one of their command and control centres for the attack. This video footage shows the first Opposition shelling of Government positions on the edges of Idlib city, HERE:
In Daraa province, Opposition fighters have launched a major attack against Assad regime positions in Bosra, south-east of Daraa city, despite air attacks to prevent their advance.
Reports say that the Opposition fighters killed an Iranian in the clashes, General Ali Hashemian, as well as 20+ members of Assad’s combined National Defence Force (NDF), Hezbollah and Druze fighter army.
Fighting has also spilled over into the adjacent Druze dominated Suweida province, which is usually pretty quiet, with clashes between the Al-Nusra Front and Assad’s fighters at the village of Bakka. NDF video, HERE:
In Aleppo province, despite recent Assad regime claims that they had recaptured all of Handarat village, heavy fighting continues in the area with high numbers of deaths on the Government side reported and the exact territorial gains and losses at this stage unclear.
Within the Old City of Aleppo virtual house-to-house fighting continues on a daily basis, with the Assad forces still inside the Aleppo Citadel now looking extremely vulnerable, as this map, courtesy of @archicivilians, shows, here:
KOBANE UPDATE 66: ISLAMIC STATE GEAR UP TO ATTACK KURDS FROM THE WEST BUT LOSE MORE TERRITORY TO YPG IN THE EAST:
TIMELINE – 19th MARCH 2015 14.44 GMT:
Having liberated almost the entire western sector of Kobane Canton to the shores of the Euphrates River, the Kurdish forces are now involved in heavy fights with the Islamic State on the southern front along the line of the M4 highway.
In the last few days, the Kurdish YPG/YPJ captured a significant hill overlooking the town of Sarrin and the biggest battles are now here and near the grain silos just to the east.
Coalition aircraft have been pounding IS positions in the area.
Directly opposite Sarrin on the other side of the Euphrates, the Islamic State is reported to be massing vehicles and fighters at Najem Castle.
The nearest crossing point is across the top of Lake Tishrin Dam.
A combined YPG and Free Syrian Army (FSA) force has also recovered the village of Mejbil on the Aleppo – Hasakah road, just south of Qara Qwazak bridge and village.
To the east of Sarrin, it is still not clear whether the YPG have successfully countered the Islamic State surge across Kurdish lines to Jil and Sal. Some maps are showing Sal now back in YPG hands.
More to east again, IS fighters are also still reported to be holding out in the Lafarge Cement Works further along the highway, but remain completely surrounded, so unless IS can rescue them, their situation is pretty hopeless.
On Wednesday the deaths of 25 x IS fighters were reported around Bir Hiso on the southern front, while 2 more were killed on the eastern front by YPG/YPJ snipers at the village of Sero.
The Kurds have additionally moved the eastern front in the Canton yet nearer to IS-held Tel Abayd, liberating the villages of Aghbash, Bendir-Khan and Shewiti as well as moving closer to Beer-Arab and Jern Al-Aswad.
Within Kobane city itself the big clean-up continues, dozens of bodies of IS fighters still being discovered under the rubble. 2 members of a YPG de-mining team were also injured on Wednesday when removing an Islamic State explosive device.
This damage assessment map for Kobane from UNOSAT shows 3,247 affected structures and 979 craters, here:
This article relates what the conditions are like right now, with 40,000 people already back in the city and inadequate facilities to care for them, (good pictures) HERE:
This Voice of America video gives you an even better idea, HERE:
The Kurds of Kobane did find time this week though to celebrate Newroz, Kurdish New Year, which for 2015 will have added significance in terms of victory and joy and loss and heroic sacrifice.
While the father of former UK Royal Marine, Konstandinos Eric Scurfield, was collecting his son’s body from Kobane after he was killed fighting alongside the YPG, and honoured by them with a full guard of honour, his mother gave a brave and emotional speech at a gathering in the British Parliament. Worth listening to, here:
This Kobane Canton Map, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, shows the current situation, here:
This map, courtesy of @deSyracuse, shows the progression of the Kobane Canton campaign, here:
KOBANE UPDATE 65: DEFEATED IN SOUTH-WEST OF KOBANE CANTON, ISLAMIC STATE BLOW UP WESTERN SIDE OF MAJOR BRIDGE:
TIMELINE – 16th MARCH 2015 18.15 GMT:
By last Friday, the YPG were claiming that they had killed 33 Islamic State fighters in recent battles on the south-western front near Qara Qwazak and over the weekend, another 12.
So even to the IS fighters it was becoming clear that their position on the east bank of the Euphrates was hopeless and after the YPG had taken Qara Qwazak village and nearby Ber Haso, what was left of the Islamic State in the area either fled, surrendered or were killed by airstrikes.
At the same time the Islamic State blew up the western end of Qara Qwazak bridge in attempt to halt any Kurdish invasion of their territory on the west bank, while they themselves retreated to the Hamam mountains overlooking the Euphrates river valley.
This video shows the bridge explosion shortly after it occurred, as well as ongoing YPG and Free Syrian Army (FSA) operations in the area, HERE:
The Kurds now control the whole of the area around the bridge, including the land, Turkish territory, on which formerly stood the Tomb of Suleyman Shah.
Prior to blowing up the bridge, some IS fighters had gathered at a house not far from the river.
This Coalition airstrike on that building (0.55) probably concentrated IS minds on retreating from there immediately, here:
US Central Command (Centcom) reports that it made one airstrike in Kobane Canton during the 24 hours from 13th March through to 8.00am on the 15th, hitting an IS tactical unit, and 4 more strikes on the 14th through to the 15th. The latter hit an IS tactical unit and destroyed 9 x IS fighting positions and an IS vehicle.
Unconfirmed reports on Sunday also say that the Coalition targeted 2 x IS night-time convoys heading for the Qara Qwazak bridge area from Manbij and Al Bab.
Latest reports say that additionally Kara Cossack, on Kobane’s western front, has fallen into YPG hands as well.
Footage of other YPG operations in rural Kobane is, HERE:
Courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, this is a close-up of the bridge situation, here:
On the south-eastern front, the Kurds killed 5 x IS fighters in an ambush near Mênîfê Kor and on the eastern front they are ploughing on, determined to get to Tel Abayd, a major crossing and supply route for IS from Turkey.
Ronahi TV reports from Bexdik, just 25 kilometres from Tel Abayd, (English sub-titles), HERE:
25 kilometres west of Kobane, the Turks have already built a new, more modest tomb to the memory of Suleyman Shah, at the village of Ashme, inside Syria just yards from the Turkish border.
While in Kobane itself, the first new buildings are going up after the arrival of concrete blocks and Ahmed Qader, a dentist opened the first new dental clinic.
And from Turkey come reports that the Turkish Municipalities Union, headed by Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor Kadir Topbaş, have decided to help Kobane city rebuild, extending whatever help is requested.
Officials estimate that 1200 houses were completely destroyed in the fighting and another 3,000 damaged.
KOBANE/CIZIRE UPDATE 64: ISLAMIC STATE COUNTER-ATTACKING ON MULTIPLE FRONTS ACROSS NORTHERN SYRIA – MANY DEAD ON BOTH SIDES:
TIMELINE – 13th MARCH 2015 13.35 GMT – Updated 20.37 GMT:
Although the Kurds are in control of almost all of Kobane Canton, there are still clashes going on with the Islamic State (IS) in isolated pockets and in multiple IS attacks along the line of the M4 highway.
As of yesterday, IS still seems to be in possession on both Jil and Sal, north of the M4 despite earlier indications that Sal have been recaptured.
IS fighters are also still on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and yesterday, Thursday, there were heavy clashes near the Qara Qawazk bridge. Many IS Jihadists were reported killed.
IS were believed to be attempting to detonate the bridge, but were foiled in the attempt and, for the moment at least, the YPG/YPJ have secured it.
2 members of the Free Syria Army (FSA), who are supporting the YPG in the operation, were reported killed on Wednesday after being hit by an IED planted near the bridge.
In the same south-west part of the Canton, the YPG have been trying to liberate Nurali village and at the same time have resisted an IS attack on Menife Kor.
At least 1 x IS fighter was killed as the attack was repelled.
On the south-eastern front of the Canton, 6 x IS fighters were killed, 3 near Xane and another 3 driving a pick-up near Rutko after they were ambushed by the YPG. 2 further IS Jihadists were killed near Iqbis and Eydane on the eastern front.
Latest Kobane Canton Detail Situation Maps, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, showing M4 Highway attacks in south-west and Sal incursion, here:
In the Kurd’s Cizire Canton, in the far north-east of Syria’s Hasakah province, the Islamic State has been showering mortar shells on the town of Tel Tamir, destroying a large number of houses and one of its oldest Assyrian Christian churches.
So far the YPG have held on and claim to have killed as many as 50 x IS Jihadists, battling a defensive line 1 kilometre from the town centre.
As many as 45 YPG/YPJ personnel are reported dead in the latest fighting but this has not been confirmed. This video shows IS forces attacking a YPG watchtower near Tel Khanzir, where the new surprise IS attack started 2 days ago, (caution dead bodies), HERE:
There are also reports that the Islamic State are using TOW and Konkurs anti-tank missile launchers again the YPG, which may have been purchased from the Al-Nusra Front after the Al Quaeda aligned group drove US supported “moderate Opposition” fighters out of Idlib province and captured all their advanced weapons and ammunition.
Coalition jets have been reported flying across the Canton this morning, Friday, but as yet no reports of actual strikes against the Islamic State have been confirmed.
Battle lines in Cizire remain very fluid across the Canton and change very rapidly. Note the presence in the Canton of Assad’s troops in Hesice and Qamishli, on this map courtesy of @MarkMonmonier, here:
SO FAR ASSAD’S CAMPAIGNS TO REGAIN GROUND IN ALEPPO AND THE SOUTH FAILING MISERABLY:
The Assad regime’s much touted campaign 3 weeks ago to surround the Opposition fighters in northern Aleppo and cut off their supply route between the Turkish border and their eastern-held parts of the city, has come to naught.
It was also much heralded that the advance would be led by Hezbollah, Shia militia and Iranian “advisers”. In reality, the Opposition outwitted them and at least 175 of the pro-Assad forces died in the battles, possibly many more.
Latest reports say that the Opposition fighters have now got Assad forces under pressure in the town of Bashkoy, killing another 10 of Assad’s troops in the latest clashes, including a regime commander. Bashkoy is very much out on a limb and vulnerable to being cut off from the main Government force (see map below).
The Opposition have also recaptured Handarat village and have strengthened their position in the area, now attacking Talat Al-Madafa, where they destroyed a tank and its crew. This video shows captured “elephant rockets” in Handarat (and Caution – also a lot of dead bodies), HERE:
Predictably, the Assad regime followed the loss of Handarat by barrel-bombing the area in an attempt to destroy the Opposition fighters, HERE:
The Assad regime has also launched a new campaign in Latakia province, hoping to recapture the Opposition-held town of Salma. Sunni fighters based in the town have launched several car bomb attacks on the Assad family’s home town of Qardaha and fired shells into pro-government villages.
It remains to be seen whether this will be any more successful than the failed campaigns to retake Aleppo and the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.
KOBANE/CIZIRE UPDATE 63: KURDS REPEL ISLAMIC STATE ATTACKS ON KOBANE SOUTHERN FRONT AND CIZIRE BORDER CROSSING:
TIMELINE – 11th MARCH 2015 14.09 GMT:
On the southern front of Kobane province, the Kurdish YPG are repulsing an Islamic State counter-attack (scroll down – see below) across the M4 highway and have already recaptured the village of Mandek.
Regrettably, since YPG fighters re-entered the village, they have found the bodies of 13 murdered civilians.
The Kurds are also poised to retake the villages of Khwaydan, Khan Mamed and Hamdoun where they control the higher ground.
The local villagers have backed the Kurds in their fight against the Islamic State (IS), but not without cost in the heavy clashes. Unconfirmed reports say that 12 x IS fighters have been killed and 15 from the YPG/YPJ.
There continues to be heavy fighting too around the Sarrin Grain Silos and IS fighters remain trapped and surrounded in the Lafarge Cement Plant.
The Coalition are providing some air support with reports of fighter, bomber and remotely piloted aircraft conducting 4 airstrikes near Kobani, which hit 4 x IS tactical units and destroyed 9 x IS fighting positions and an IS vehicle between Monday and Tuesday morning this week.
Two of the airstrikes were reported to have taken place on IS positions on the western front near Qara Quawazk bridge overlooking the Euphrates and the YPG have also liberated another village in the same area, Jaddah Kabria.
On the eastern front, where the YPG are pushing towards the IS-held city of Tel Abayd, IS launched a vehicle bomb near Bendir Khan – casualties as yet unconfirmed.
In Kobane city itself the single classroom, reported re-opened a few days ago, has expanded rapidly into the Shahid Osman Primary School, with 10 teachers and 8 classes offering basic educational facilities for an estimated 250 x 7 – 15 year olds. All credit to the YPG for organising this.
The number of people wishing to return to Kobane, despite most of it being reduced to rubble, is striking. A farmer called Ramadan never left. He brought his cow, which was pregnant at the time, into Kobane city after the Islamic State advance drove him out of his village and stayed to provide the YPG/YPJ fighters with milk, sleeping by the side of his cow each night.
Others have decided to sit tight in the relative comfort of the Turkish refugee camps just across the border until re-building gets underway. You can read more, HERE:
To the east of Kobane Canton, in the last 48 hours IS have launched a massive attack on the important border town into Turkey, Ras Al-Ayn (“Sere Kaniye” in Kurdish) which is included in the Kurds eastern Canton of Cizire, also inside the Syrian province of Hasakah.
IS are said to have deployed large numbers of heavy weapons and fighters, notably the Khorasan Battalion which mostly consists of war-hardened Chechens.
Heavy fighting is reported west and south of Ras Al-Ayn at Al-Manajir and Tal Khanzir.
Latest reports today, Wednesday, say that so far the Kurds have held their territory and many IS vehicles and IS fighters have been destroyed.
The US Department of Defence claimed yesterday that the recent campaign in Hasakah province and the recapture of Tel Hamis, formerly held by IS, has impeded the Islamic State’s ability to move men and supplies back and forth between Syria and Iraq, after anti-IS forces regained control of large sections of Route 47.
The latest Kobane Canton Situation Map, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer is, here:
KOBANE UPDATE 62: ISLAMIC STATE COUNTER- ATTACK BUT HIT WITH AIRSTRIKES, 1 OF WHICH DESTROYS IS OIL REFINERY:
TIMELINE – 9th MARCH 2015 15.52 GMT:
Heavy fighting continues on several fronts in Kobane Canton, but the Kurds both hold their positions and recapture more villages.
Significantly, 3 Coalition airstrikes yesterday targeted an Islamic State oil refinery at Al-Munbteh, just west of Tel Abayd on Kobane Canton’s eastern front, reportedly killing 30 members of IS and their oil refinery workers.
The Coalition deliberately targets IS oil facilities in order to try and reduce the Jihadist group’s income, which is believed to have significantly gone down in recent months, but the UN still estimating their daily income at between $846,000 to $1.6 million a day last November.
Clashes between the YPG and the Islamic State are also ongoing around Bandar Khan, 25 kilometres west of Tel Abayd.
On the south-eastern front the Coalition is also reported to have targeted IS Jihadists near the village of Celebi.
50 kilometres from Kobane city, on the southern front, the Islamic State is said to have recaptured the villages of Khan-Mamdid, Jill and Sal in “attack and retreat battles” on the main Aleppo – Hasakah road.
How long they hold this territory remains to be seen as the YPG now control most of the M4 highway along their southern territorial perimeter and Coalition airstrikes have been called in to attack IS positions, the first strikes taking place near Sal.
On the same front, the Coalition bombed IS fighters completely surrounded and still holed up in the Lafarge Cement Works and the YPG is bombing IS positions near the Sarrin Grain Silos.
Today, Monday, there are reports that the YPG have captured a strategic radio tower on a hill near the village of Hemdoun on the M4 highway. Further details awaited.
Over on the western front, in the northern sector where the YPG/YPJ are on the banks of the Euphrates, the Kurds are firing shells across the river into the IS-held city of Jarablous. In this video, you can see the Kurdish fighters in the recaptured villages of lower and upper Shuyuk and on the banks of the river with shots of the broken bridge in the background, (Kurdish only) HERE:
A second video from a Free Syrian Army (FSA) outfit, Burkan Al-Firat, shows the last days of the fighting for Shuyuk, the broken bridge and exploding “presents” left by the fleeing Jihadists, (Note the new joint FSA/YPG logo) HERE:
A second video (with English sub-titles) has more shots of the Shuyuk bridge, blown-up by retreating IS fighters, here:
In Kobane city itself, after viewing the destruction, the the Chamber of Architects and Engineers of Diyarbakir (a Turkish city with a Kurdish majority) has issued a report on the state of the destruction and what needs to be done to rebuild it.
The conclusion of the engineers and architects is that more than half of the city is now “rubble” and it should be declared an “international disaster zone”.
There is no electricity supply other than generators, the water supply from the Euphrates is cut off and the local wells mainly damaged or destroyed, there is only one bakery working and if everyone returns 70 tons of food will be required a day, and enormous amounts of aid are needed to restore agriculture in the Canton and health services. You can read more, HERE:
Having said that the Barzani Charity Foundation from Iraq Kurdistan based in Erbil has called on international charities and governments to support the restoration process and started the ball rolling by donating $500,000.
The latest Kobane Situation Map, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, is here:
KOBANE UPDATE 61: ISLAMIC STATE FLEE ACROSS BRIDGE, BLOWING IT UP BEHIND THEM, AS KURDS TAKE CONTROL OF WHOLE OF WESTERN FRONT:
TIMELINE – 6th MARCH 2015 12.55 GMT – Updated 21.46 GMT:
After heavy fighting yesterday and throughout last night at Shuyuk on the eastern bank of the Euphrates opposite the Islamic State-held city of Jarablous, IS fighters fled the area early this morning, Friday, blowing up the eastern end of the bridge behind them.
The Kurdish YPG/YPJ had been tightening their grip on the western edge of Kobane Canton for some days and the battles had escalated around the last major IS held territory on the east bank of the Euphrates river in the Canton around lower and upper Shuyuk villages.
It has been confirmed this morning, Friday, that both the Shuyuk villages are now in YPG hands.
Any Islamic State fighters still in the western front of Kobane Canton are trapped, unless they can swim or take to small boats, as the entrance to the next bridge to the south at Qara Qawazk, is already under YPG control.
There is or was a wooden pontoon bridge just north of the Shuyuk bridge, but the fate of this is currently unknown.
The most dangerous thing for the Kurds right now on the western front is IS sniper fire from the west bank of the Euphrates, though there are still pockets of IS fighters on their side of the river.
The defeat of IS at Shuyuk is significant as it was believed the area was a major source of tribal recruitment to their ranks.
On the southern front, now 60 kilometres out from Kobane city, heavy fighting between the Kurds and IS is reported at Joukher and Derba-Teht.
East of Kobane city major battles between the 2 sides are occurring around the eastern edge of the Canton at Bedirxan, with the YPG having some success capturing strategic points and weapons but also having to watch their northern flanks. There are reports that IS fighters from Tel Abayd, just to the east, are reappearing from just over the Turkish border to re-engage on territory already held by the YPG.
Tel Abayd itself, a strategic town held by IS, is reported to be heavily defended with trenches, mines, roadside bombs and booby traps, and YPG forces are now just 26 kilometres to the west of it.
Within Kobane city itself some signs of normal life are starting to return.
Streets are being cleaned, re-building is underway, electricity is on, water is available, some shops have reopened, including pharmacies and the first classroom for children re-opened yesterday, Thursday.
In the Kurdish Canton of Cizire, even further to the east, in Syria’s Hasakah province heavy clashes also continued to take place between the YPG and IS, with 8 x Islamic State fighters reported killed on Wednesday and IS heavy artillery captured near Tel Hamis.
This map, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, shows the Kobane Canton situation on the western front today, 6th March 2015, here:
And here is an alternative map of the Kobane Canton, dated 5th March, courtesy of @MarkMonmonier, here:
KOBANE/CIZIRE UPDATE 60: YPG BATTLE ISLAMIC STATE ACROSS NORTHERN SYRIA, 2 WESTERNERS FIGHTING WITH THEM KILLED:
TIMELINE – 4th MARCH 2015 13.55 GMT – Updated 16.40 GMT:
The battles between the Islamic State (IS) and the YPG/YPJ continue as the Kurds push the IS Jihadists to the very margin of their territory in Kobane Canton.
West of Kobane city, the YPG are in completely control of the eastern side of the bridge across the Euphrates river from IS-held Jarablous, effectively preventing any large scale reinforcements getting across to the remaining Jihadists on the east bank.
To the south of the bridge, fierce fighting continues around the upper and lower villages of Al-Shuyukh where the YPG are advancing slowly dismantling barriers as they go – with Coalition air support – as they try to break in and drive IS to the very shores of the Euphrates.
An IS counter attack against the recently YPG recaptured village of Cibil Ferec was repulsed on Monday and 5 x Islamic State fighters were killed, including one of their commanders, also giving up 3 x AK-47s and a rocket launcher.
To the south-west of Kobane city, the village of Degîrmen is now completely back in Kurdish hands but IS has staged a counter attack north of Sarrin.
On the eastern front on Monday, the YPG managed to kill 5 x IS Jihadists near the village of Akbas, again seizing their AK-47s and another rocket launcher.
At the village of Gultepe, 4 more IS Jihadists were killed and, says the YPG, fighting and bombing killed a further 17 Jihadists in the village of Zori over last weekend.
Latest reports say that significantly the YPG have captured the village of Eidanye and are battling to evict the Islamic State from the village of Binder-Khan which is just 25 kilometres west of the IS-held city of Tel Abayd (Kurdish – “Gire Spi”).
IS have tried to counter-attack from the east but have been targeted by 6 x Coalition airstrikes, hitting 3 x IS tactical units and destroying 10 x IS fighting positions.
On the southern front, some IS Jihadists are still completely surrounded within the Lafarge Cement Plant and the YPG have moved on even further south, now controlling a significant portion of the M4 highway (see map below).
In the US, General Lloyd J. Austin III of the US Defence Department, speaking at a House Armed Services Committee hearing said, “Since commencing our operations in early August – just seven months ago – we’ve killed more than 8,500 ISIL fighters and we’ve destroyed hundreds of its vehicles, along with tanks and heavy weapons systems.”
His colleague, Christine Wormuth, told the Committee, “Coalition efforts have stalled ISIL’s momentum, degraded its ability to mass and manoeuvre forces, pressured or eliminated its leadership cells and disrupted its command and control and supply lines”.
(EDITOR: But we still have a very long way to go.)
In Kobane city itself, officials say that around 20,000 of their citizens have now returned, but this is presenting pressing logistical, housing, feeding and sanitation problems of its own.
Kobane Canton Situation Map, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, for 4th March 2015, here:
Going east of Tel Abayd and leaving the Kobane Canton for the Kurdish canton of Cizire in Syria’s Hasakah province, the YPG/YPJ continue to try and break the Islamic State’s stranglehold on the region.
Having recaptured the towns of Tel Hamis and Tel Berak over last weekend, the YPG have now taken the villages in between them and are currently engaged with IS in another battle over Xizêla.
IS forces, having withdrawn from Tel Berak are now stationed near Um-Hgera not far from Al-Hawl on the Syria/Iraq border where ongoing clashes are being reported both there and near Katuniyah Lake. Footage of the YPG/YPJ operation against IS at Tel Berak can be seen, HERE:
Heavy clashes between the Kurds and IS are also continuing near the town of Tel Temir, an area previously inhabited by a large population of Assyrian Christians.
On Monday night an IS unit attempted to infiltrate a YPG position near the village of Xerîta, between Tel Temir and Hesekê. In the battle that followed 5 x IS Jihadists were killed. The YPG simultaneously carried out an operation around the Sidiq retail centre near Heseke, killing another IS fighter.
The YPG has reported the death of the first Western volunteer fighting in their ranks, Ashley Johnston, who was killed on 23rd February fighting near Tel Hamis. He was apparently with 6 x Kurds travelling in an armoured vehicle which broke down after it was ambushed by IS. Johnston apparently jumped out of the vehicle to give his colleagues covering fire.
His Mother back in Australia thought he was doing “charity work” in Syria. The YPG’s tribute, under his adopted name of Bagok Sarhad is, HERE:
Hard on the heels of that report comes one of the death of a UK citizen of Greek origin fighting with the YPG, Konstandinos Erik Scurfield. Scurfield was shot dead near the frontline village of Tel Khuzela early today, Wednesday.
Around 26 Assyrian Christians seized by the Islamic State in the area last week, have been released in two batches this week , but between 200 and 300 are still missing.
Al Jazeera Syria news has this report on the Assyrian community from Beirut, here: