SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS
KOBANE UPDATE 9: KURDISH PESHMERGA FORCES ON THEIR WAY, THOUGH TURKEY WANTS TO SEND FSA AS WELL:
TIMELINE – 25th OCTOBER 2014 17.05 GMT:
On the 40th day of the Kurds successful defence of Kobane, the Islamic State (IS) launched another attempt around dawn to capture the territory near the border crossing into Turkey, pounding it with mortars and heavy machine gun fire, but since then it has been relatively quiet.
Friday saw heavy fighting which continued through the night until around 5.00am on Saturday morning. Clashes were around the Al-Hal market area, the northern and eastern outskirts of the Kaniya Kurda district, the municipality areas west of Kobane’s city hall and Azadi (Freedom) Square.
Kurdish sources claimed that 27 IS fighters and 4 YPG were reported killed and a mortar shell killed another civilian in the Al-Jamarek area.
The YPG also damaged or destroyed 4 vehicles and captured supplies of ammunition.
Fighting was reported yesterday on the southern front where an IS car bomb was targeted by the YPG causing it to explode amid the IS fighters, killing 7 of them.
A large group of IS fighters preparing an assault on the city on Friday from the eastern side were ambushed by the YPG and the YPJ and at least 10 Jihadists were killed.
This video has information and interviews fighters on the Kobane frontline, including one with an “old man” (EDITOR: Ahem … he is one year older than me!), HERE:
A motorcycle with 2 IS fighters was also destroyed in the countryside west of the city.
IS mortar fire is occurring almost every night onto the border crossing area and the Turkish Government has taken the opportunity to use that as a reason to move back the Press and camera teams on the Turkish side away from the border.
Earlier in the week the YPG lost control again of Tel Shair but in a spectacular Coalition jet attack on Thursday the Islamic State fighters standing there and their flag were blown to pieces, (after Ad) HERE:
The YPG have since reclaimed the hill and captured IS ammunition but have been subjected to IS mortar fire as a result.
Coalition jets are also reported to be targeting IS positions in the city today. US Central Command (Centcom) released this video on Friday showing the destruction of an IS vehicle near Kobane on 21st October, here:
Today, Saturday, it has been announced in Iraqi Kurdistan that following agreement with the Turkish Government, 150 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters will leave Erbil and cross Turkish territory tomorrow, Sunday, to reinforce Kobane.
More may follow later in the coming week, some sources saying the 150 could rise to 1,000, though it will be surprising if the Turks allow such a large number through.
The Peshmerga force will be allowed to bring heavy weapons with it but have had to agree not to hand them over to local fighters or to stay beyond an agreed time.
The initial Peshmerga force is being led by Sihad Barzani, the commander of Iraq Kurdistan’s artillery brigade and the brother of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s President Massoud Barzani. Peshmerga sources said that the names of the soldiers, as well as a detailed list of their weapons, have been provided to both Turkey and the US.
President Erdogan of Turkey also announced during a visit to Estonia that “agreement had been reached with the YPD” (the political arm of the YPG Kurdish fighters) to allow 1300 fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to enter Kobane.
The YPD has subsequently denied this saying, while they have no objections politically to FSA help, the FSA could better serve them by attacking Islamic State strongholds at Manbej, Jarablous and Tel Abyad.
FSA commander Al-Oqaidi is quoted as saying that an agreement has been reached to begin establishing a united defense force, sending initially 1,350 FSA “reserve” (rather than frontline) fighters to Kobane in “two or three days”.
The PYD has also denied the claims by the Assad regime that it has provided “weapons, ammunition and logistical help” to the embattled Kurds in Kobane (scroll down – see below).
Some reports claim that it is quiet in Kobane today because, according to Opposition sources, the Islamic State is burying 91 of its fighters in Manbej.
Whether true or not, the long drawn out battle for Kobane, which IS claimed it would take in a week, is certainly taking its toll. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that Coalition airstrikes in Syria have now killed 464 IS fighters, 57 other Jihadists (mainly Al-Nusra Front) and 32 civilians, though the IS figures could well be much higher than this.
Opposition sources say that following the heavy casualties in Kobane from both the YPG and Coalition airstrikes, the Islamic State is constantly pulling more fighters from Raqqah, Aleppo, Hasakah and Deir Ez-Zour. Many of these are accompanied by raw recruits straight from their training camps who have little or no combat experience.
The BBC Syria news has a video with a general overview of the Kobane situation.
Lastly, this little Kurdish boy refused to leave Kobane unless he was allowed to take his 3 pet doves with him. All 4 of them are now safe with his family in Turkey:
KOBANE UPDATE 8: AS KURDS RESIST FIERCE ONSLAUGHT, ASSAD REGIME CLAIMS IT HAS SUPPLIED HELP & ARMS TO THE CITY:
TIMELINE – 22nd OCTOBER 2014 12.58 GMT – UPDATED 21.43 GMT:
SCROLL DOWN FOR LATEST UPDATES AND ADDITIONS
Since Monday, the Islamic State (IS), having brought in reinforcements, seem to be throwing everything at the Kurdish defenders in Kobane, but so far have made no further progress.
On Monday evening IS sent 2 suicide car bombs to try and cut Kobane off from the Turkish border but both were destroyed by the YPG Kurdish militia before reaching their target, exploding with spectacular effects into the night-falling sky. IS have sent 13 truck or car bombs into Kobane in the last week.
Attacks on Kobane are coming from the east, the west, the south and south-east, with the Kurds claiming that they killed 42 Islamic State fighters on Monday alone, with the loss of 11 of their own.
The YPG also carried out a raid in the Gire Izea area, destroying 2 x IS minibuses, 2 of their motorcycles and killing another 16 Jihadists.
Though it had been relatively calm during the day, a fierce onslaught continued Tuesday evening until after midnight with fighting around the “secuity zone” in the centre of the city, Tarik al- Bab and Al-Hurreyyi Square and an attack from 6 directions in the east.
Kurdish sources claim that as many as 25 IS Jihadists were killed throughout yesterday.
Islamic State’s artillery continues to rain shells on Kobane from a distance, one explosion releasing a chemical agent of some kind that resulted in 8 people being hospitalised with swollen lips, blood-shot eyes, coughs, runny noses, itching, red skin patches and blistering.
Whether this was a deliberate chemical attack or an interaction with some local chemical on the ground is unclear. This video shows a fire and then an explosion at what may be a Kurdish ammunition depot, HERE:
After Turkey has apparently given clearance for Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga to cross its territory to reinforce the defenders in Kobane, the city’s fighters are waiting for them to arrive. The Kurdistan Regional Parliament in Erbil, Iraq, voted positively on this on Wednesday afternoon and troops will be sent “as soon as possible”, said an MP.
Other Kurds have called for the Peshmerga to go to the aid of the Yezidi forces surrounded on top of Mount Sinjar instead (scroll down – see below).
Bizarely, clearly not to be left off the media bandwagon, the Assad regime is also claiming that it has supplied weapons and help to the Kurds in Kobane. Assad’s Information Minister, Omran Al-Zoubi, said yesterday in the press that “The state with its military forces and planes has been providing military and logistical support, and has supplied ammunition and arms to the town”.
“From the outset of the battle, the state has not hesitated to play its military, political, social and humanitarian role” because the town is “Syrian territory and its residents are Syrians”, said Al-Zoubi, parroting usual Syrian state gobblegook and completely ignoring the fact that Assad has killed tens of thousands of its civilian citizens with barrel-bombs and shells.
In a further “not-very-believable” statement, in relation to the reports of Islamic State flying former Assad MIG jets, Al-Zoubi claimed on Syria state TV late on Tuesday night that the Syrian Air Force “bombed the jets as they were landing at Jarrah airbase in the eastern countryside of Aleppo province”.
Saying that the aircraft were “old and no longer useful as military equipment”, Al-Zoubi went on to claim that the “Jihadists had been able to hide the third jet but the Syria Air Force was looking for it”.
Opposition sources have not been able to confirm any of this.
Al-Zoubi also attacked Turkey for “using the report” to push for a no-fly zone over Syria, which would hamper Assad’s murderous air attacks across the country.
US Central Command (Centcom) says that it made 4 airstrikes of its own against the Islamic State in or near Kobane on Monday and Tuesday, destroying IS fighting positions, an IS building, and a large IS unit.
Of the 28 pallets of supplies and weapons dropped to the Kobane Kurds on Sunday, Centcom had earlier said that 27 had arrived on target and one that went astray “had been destroyed”.
Unfortunately, this rather convincing video put out my the Islamic State contradicts that, showing the parachute and dropped supplies of hand-grenades, mortars and other explosives which fell neatly into their hands, HERE:
Though as someone on Twitter pointed out, why the fuss over one bundle of supplies? They already possess millions of dollars worth of US equipment captured from the Government in Iraq!
Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said this morning, Wednesday, that the airdrop “had been wrong” because some weapons had fallen into Jihadist hands.
The UK has announced that it will deploy unarmed Reaper drones and Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft over Syria “very shortly”. Until now, the UK Parliament has only given the British Government permission to act militarily against the Islamic State in Iraq and a further vote will be required to allow UK forces to attack in Syria.
It is also reported that Paul Cantlie, the 80 year father of John Cantlie, the hostage-held journalist who has now appeared in 5 Islamic State videos, died on the 16th October and the family have desperately been trying to get a message to John before it appeared in the media. However, despite repeated calls for contact, the Islamic State have not responded.
In Canada the security levels have been raised to “high” on Tuesday after an Islamic State “sympathiser” ran his car into 2 soldiers, killing one of them. Police shot the attacker dead after he ran at a female officer with a knife.
This decision to raise security levels was justified this afternoon (09.52 Canadian local time), Wednesday, when a soldier guarding the national war memorial in Ottawa was shot dead and the gunman (or gunmen) moved inside the Canadian parliament building. There has also been shooting in a shopping mall. One gunman is believed to have been killed and at the time of writing the incident is ongoing with large parts of the centre of Ottawa locked-down by security services. At this stage it is not known if this attack is related to the previous one or even terrorist/Jihadist related.
And in Australia a 17-year old teenager who ran away from home some months ago, has reappeared on video in support of the Islamic State and calling himself “Abu Khaled”. Carrying a rifle he threatens Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and vows to “not stop fighting”.
IRAQ: SINJAR UPDATE: REMAINING YEZIDI COMMUNITY ON MOUNT SINJAR COMPLETELY SURROUNDED AND IN DANGER OF ANIHILATION:
On Mount Sinjar (Shingal) in Iraq the plight of the Yezidi fighters defending the Serfedin shrine in the centre of the mountain plateau is becoming increasingly desperate.
Yesterday, Heydar Shesho, the commander of the HPS Yezidi fighters said they had lost the villages of Bara, Shlo, Sikeniye, Mihrkan, Duhola and Borik and that 30 Yezidi had died in the last 2 days with many wounded and 6 missing.
Increasingly desperate pleas for help are coming from the Yezidi community this morning, Wednesday, with reports that the Islamic State are working from west to east across the mountain and have reached Kursi which lies just west of the Serfedin shrine.
IS fighters are also moving from the east and reports say that the entire Yezidi community left on the mountain top, both civilians and fighters, are completely surrounded with no way out and no way to combat IS’s heavy weapons and armoured vehicles.
According to some reports there could be as many as 7,000 people, including many women and children, in danger of a massacre. So far, at the time of writing, no Coalition airstrikes have come to their aid. The Yeszidi fighters say that if Serfedin falls, they “will go down with it”.
Below the mountain in west Shingal an IS suicide bomber had earlier killed 10 and wounded many more Kurdish fighters at Solakh.
Elsewhere in Iraq, US Central Command reports that there were 3 Coalition airstrikes on Monday and Tuesday, one destroying an IS fighting position south of the Baiji Oil Refinery and another accomplishing the same south-east of Mosul Dam. The third strike suppressed an IS attack north of Fallujah.
Today, Wednesday, Coalition airstrikes hit the IS-held town of Al-Siniya, west of Baiji, in the early hours, killing it is reported 25 Jihadists.
400 Islamic State fighters and their allies are reported to have massed around Fallujah yesterday and the Iraqi Army and Shia militias fought them off around Amiriya Fallujah, the western gateway to Baghdad, today, destroying 6 x IS vehicles.
However, the Iraqi militia suffered heavy losses at Alsger north-east of Fallujah in another battle, HERE:
Heavy fighting is also reported around the town of Hit in western Anbar province, but the outcome is at the moment unclear.
For the most bizarre video of the week, this one of a lion in a pick-up “detained by the Army” near Samarra gets the award, here:
SYRIA: OPPOSITION DESTROY 2 ASSAD JETS ON THE GROUND AND CLOSE IN ON JORDAN BORDER CROSSING – EU TO BAN JET FUEL TO SYRIA:
Taking advantage of the world’s attention on Coalition strikes against the Islamic State and the battles around Kobane, Sinjar and in Iraq, it was estimated on Tuesday that the Assad regime had made 210 airstrikes, mainly against the Syrian Opposition, in 36 hours. The death toll throughout Syria on Tuesday alone was thought to be at least 214.
Analysts think that Assad is trying to weaken Opposition fighting brigades before they receive the promised military training and equipment from the USA.
Regime bombing was particularly intense around the town of Naseeb in Daraa province where Opposition fighters have advanced almost to the border crossing into Jordan. 15 air raids there yesterday killed 22 people, almost all of them civilians and including 13 children and 3 women.
Opposition fighters have seized a regime tank, a BMP armoured vehicle, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons and ammunition near Naseeb, HERE: and smoke can be seen rising from within the Syrian border control area at the frontier, HERE:
In Quneitra province the Opposition have claimed yet more “Assad territory” entering Samadaniyah Al-Gharbi north-east of Quneitra city.
And just to the north-east of Samadaniyah Al-Gharbi, the Opposition took Hamidiyah after a long battle and a claimed 39 Assad troops dead. An Opposition brigade commander and 4 other of their fighters were also killed in the clashes.
In the East Ghouta area near Damascus Opposition fighters took control of the Al-Khalil mosque not far from Adra, HERE:
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) also claims to have killed 20 Hezbollah and Shia mercenaries at Talfita in the mountainous Qalamoun region.
In Aleppo province the Opposition destroyed 2 Syrian Air force jets on the ground at Nayrab military airbase south of Aleppo city with a TOW anti-tank missile, a direct hit on one and the second engulfed in flames from the ensuing fire (though they appear to be L-39 Albatross training jets and not MIGs as claimed elsewhere on the Internet), here:
In Hama province, the Assad regime started today, Wednesday, with 10 airstrikes using both jets and helicopters on Mork city, 10 barrel-bombs striking the city. However, on the outskirts the Opposition destroyed a Government tank, HERE:
In eastern rural Hama province a young woman has been apparently stoned to death by the Islamic State for the alleged crime of “adultery”, putting video of it on the Internet. The poor woman’s “father” appears complicity in this dreadful act and took part in the stoning.
In Deir Ez-Zour city the Islamic State are also reported to have taken over large parts of the industrial area from Assad’s troops yesterday and violent fighting is reported in the Al-Sena’ah district.
President Assad is reported today to have replaced all the Provincial Governors in 5 regions, Idlib and Aleppo, Quneitra, Tartous and Latakia. No mention was made of the Homs Governor whose resignation was widely called for by Government supporters after 41 children died in a bomb attack.
Lastly, the EU yesterday imposed travel and asset control sanctions on 12 of Assad’s Government ministers and 2 of his senior military officers. Similar controls were also applied to 3 oil companies based in the UAE, Egypt and Lebanon, all suspected of trading oil with the Assad regime.
The EU also agreed on Monday to ban the export of jet fuel to Syria on the grounds that it is being used to attack civilians. That decision will not come into place though until suitable legal texts have been drafted.
KOBANE UPDATE 7: US AIRDROP ARMS AND AMMO TO KOBANE & TURKEY AGREES TO ALLOW PESHMERGA TO ENTER CITY:
TIMELINE – 20th OCTOBER 2014 13.26 GMT – UPDATED 20.42 GMT:
On Sunday, yesterday, at dawn 3 x US C-130 Coalition aircraft dropped 27 packages of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to the besieged Kurds in Kobane.
The aircraft met no resistance from Islamic State (IS) forces on the ground and sources from within Kobane have confirmed that the multiple airdrops arrived safely. “We are hoping for more”, said a Kobane spokesman, adding that they would “help greatly” with their fight against IS.
The weapons and ammunition were supplied by the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq whose President, Massoud Barzani, has been talking to the Americans and the Turks for weeks.
US Central Command reported on Monday afternoon, that six airstrikes near Kobani on Sunday and Monday destroyed IS fighting and mortar positions, an IS vehicle, and one stray resupply bundle from a the U.S. airdrop of Kurdish supplies.
The stray supply bundle was destroyed to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. All other resupply bundles were successfully delivered.
Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was informed in advance of the airdrops on Saturday night in a telephone call from President Obama.
Erdogan’s response is not known, but on Sunday he is reported once again as saying that the PYD (the YPG Kurdish fighters political branch) is the same as the PKK (armed Kurdish group in Turkey) and “they are all terrorists”.
However, there has been an announcement by the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, this morning, Monday, that his Government has agreed to allow a force of Kurdish Peshmerga from Iraq to cross Turkish territory to reinforce the fighters in Kobane.
No further details were given, but Cavusoglu also showed no anger at the US airdrop, saying only that,”We have been in full cooperation with the Coalition” and adding “We have no wish at all to see Kobani fall”. BBC Syria news explains why the Turks will allow in Iraq’s Kurdish Peshmerga but not Syrian Kurds to support Kobane.
Fighting over the weekend was fierce on Saturday but quieter on Sunday.
The Islamic State is reported to have dropped around 44 mortar bombs on Kobane on Saturday, some of them landing on Turkish territory across the border, plus driving 2 suicide vehicle bombs towards YPG positions. The bombs were intercepted before reaching their target, but there were some YPG injuries. There is video of one such explosion, HERE:
The Kurds say that the centre of Kobane was attacked from 3 different sides including the municipality building and the market place, but attacks have been resisted and no ground lost.
The Coalition, in conjunction with Kurdish YPG fighters on the ground directed 11 airstrikes against IS positions on Saturday, another 5 on Sunday and 2 early this morning Monday.
3 of the airstrikes on Sunday targeted areas southeast of the city and behind the Cultural Center and 2 others targeted areas near the hospital south of the city.
Opposition activist sources claim that at least 70 Islamic State fighters have been killed in the last 48 hours and there is an unconfirmed claim originating from Kobane saying that since the fighting there started 133 YPG fighters have been killed, 9 Free Syrian Army (FSA), and 1,294 from the Islamic State.
There is no way of verifying these numbers and they do differ from estimates put out by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), but are not inconceivable considering the number of airstrikes, more than 135 laser guided bombs dropped on Kobane since September 16th.
Interesting report from a wounded fighter FSA fighter on the battles against IS and how they lured them into bomb-rigged buildings and targeted their gatherings with airstrikes, HERE:
Disturbingly, there is an additional a report from SOHR saying that the FSA aligned Raqqah Revolutionary Brigade (RRB), fighting alongside the YPG, had captured 2 Islamic State fighters and subsequently executed them.
One of them was reported as just 15 years old and video had appeared earlier on the Internet of the FSA fighters interrogating him. If true, an action to be condemned and RRB held responsible.
While the YPG and the FSA have often fought against each other in the past, there appears to be increasing cooperation between the 2 groups to fight against IS, not just inside Kobane but elsewhere too.
On Sunday, the YPG put out a statement saying, “We can also confirm that there is coordination between us and the important factions of the FSA in the northern countryside of Aleppo: Afrin, Kobane, and Al-Jazira.
Currently, there are factions and several battalions of the FSA fighting on our side against the ISIS terrorists.” Let’s hope they can extend that cooperation to jointly drive out Assad.
Situation map for Kobane, courtesy of @macroarch, for Saturday 18th October, and little has changed since, here:
IRAQ NEWS: MOUNT SINJAR, SURROUNDED BY ISLAMIC STATE, IN DANGER OF BECOMING ANOTHER MASSACRE – 1000’S TRAPPED AGAIN:
In Iraq, having closed all the exit roads to Mount Sinjar (Shingal) last week, the Islamic State are now honing in on the remaining Yezidi fighters and the civilians living on top of the plateau and any villages on the slopes, by all accounts having them completely surrounded.
Estimates say that there are still between 5,000 – 7,000 people in the area that either refused to leave the top of the mountain or their villages in the region, despite Kurdish officials advising them to do so. The Islamic State regard followers of the Yezidi religion as “devil worshippers” and will almost certainly execute them if they refuse to convert to Islam.
Qasim Shesho, a Yezidi commander on Sinjar mountain for a Yezidi brigade known as the HPS, said that IS began a new attack early this morning, Monday, and that it has continued throughout the day.
“A large number of ISIS militants are using nearly 20 Humvee vehicles to fight the Yezidi fighters,” he said.
Following the massacres last August when the Islamic State killed or imprisoned hundreds of Yezidi, trapping them on the Mount Sinjar, many Yezidi men trained with the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Syrian YPG, and formed brigades to defend the area.
The Yezidi fighters say the attack has come from 3 sides after a string of villages were overrun when the exit roads were closed.
So far 16 IS fighters are reported killed and 11 Yezidi but the remaining Yezidi are surrounded on the north side of Mount Sinjar around their holy place, the shrine at Sherfedin.
Units of Peshmerga, YPG and PKK are all thought to be on the mountain but usual supplies brought in by Iraqi Army helicopters have not arrived for the last 20 days.
Latest reports on Monday afternoon say that the Iraqi Air Force made 2 attacks on IS positions by helicopter but that these “failed”. Further details awaited.
Many Yezidi having retreated to the mountain during the August IS invasion arrived with very little and now with winter approaching have even less to protect themselves. Yezidi regard Mount Sinjar/Shingal as sacred and many refuse to leave, preferring to graze their flocks of goats and sheep on the slopes as they have done for generations.
To the Islamic State, the whole Sinjar region, 120 kilometres west of IS-held Mosul, is crucial to their plans to link Mosul to Syria and Raqqah.
Unless the Coalition and other forces come to the rescue, Mount Sinjar is in danger of becoming once again the site of another Islamic State massacre.
Elsewhere in Iraq, the Coalition carried out 6 airstrikes on Sunday and Monday using pilotless drones and jet aircraft from France and the UK.
US Central Command (Centcom) reports today, Monday, on successful strikes against the Islamic State (IS) over the last 2 days, hitting a large IS unit and 3 x IS vehicles south-east of Fallujah and destroying a small IS unit, an IS building and 3 x IS vehicles, plus damaging another IS building south of the Baiji Oil Refinery, west of Mosul.
In addition, Centcom says that Coalition aircraft destroyed 4 x IS boats south of Baiji on the Tigris River and damaged at least 4 more.
Unconfirmed reports say that 94 Islamic State fighters have been killed in Coalition airstrikes over the last few days, including air attacks earlier in the weekend near Tikrit.
Car bombing however has also continued with another explosion in Baghdad killing 11 and injuring 26 as they left noon prayers at the Shiite mosque in the Sinak area of central Baghdad today, and 18 killed and 28 injured at a funeral at another mosque in the eastern part of the capital on Sunday.
Another explosion by a suicide bomber targeted a funeral ceremony at a Shiite mosque in eastern Baghdad on Sunday, leaving 19 people dead and 28 injured.
3 car-bombs also exploded on Monday in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, some 100 kilometres south-west of Baghdad, which until now has been relatively unscathed.
According to reports from the north of Iraq 2 Islamic State fighters attempted to set up a vehicle IED to kill Peshmerga forces in Malla Abdulla but accidentally blew themselves up in the process.
A study of Iraq’s suicide bombers, whose “martyrdom” appears on Jihadist websites, over a recent period has revealed that 45% of them are Saudi Arabian nationals.
There are also reports that 33 Iraqi soldiers have been killed by an IS cell at Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad.
Much to the relief of everyone, in and outside of Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, completed his Cabinet at the weekend, getting Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, a Shia, voted in as Interior Minister and Khaled al-Obeidi, a Sunni, as Defence Minister.
SYRIA NEWS: OPPOSITION CAPTURE LAST MAJOR CHECKPOINT INFRONT OF ASSAD BORDER CROSSING TO JORDAN IN DARAA PROVINCE:
Back in Syria, Assad’s Air Force taking advantage of international media attention on Kobane and Iraq, launched no less than 46 air strikes this morning, Monday, on Opposition centres across Syria. As well as towns in Idlib and Hama provinces other targets were towns and villages in Daraa province and suburbs in Aleppo and Damascus.
In Aleppo the Civil Defence Team once again yesterday rescued 2 little boys from the rubble of another of Assad’s attacks on civilians, HERE:
In Damascus this was the moment when a regime indiscriminate, so-called “elephant” bomb, hit the already largely destroyed suburb of Zamalka, here:
However, in Daraa province, Opposition fighters have made significant advances today, capturing the strategic Umm Al-Mayadin checkpoint, HERE:
This gives them control of the east-west highway through Daraa province and enables them to block the main highway running north-south from Damascus to the border with Jordan.
Since then, the Opposition have gone on Monday evening to enter the fortifications infront of the Naseeb border crossing, HERE: and Assad regime vehicles are now burning within the frontier crossing area, HERE:
These fighters seem very well equipped with new uniforms, helmets and body-armour, HERE:
On their way to the border crossing Opposition fighters hit this Assad tank yesterday, HERE:
Around Aleppo fierce fighting is reported in the districts around Aleppo Central Prison with the regime claiming to have gained ground with the help of Iranian, Lebanese and Afghan militias.
Government forces are said to have taken the strategic points of Al-Jubaila, along with a glass factory and a cement plant in the north-west in an attempt, once again, to try and cut off the Opposition supply route from Turkey to Opposition-held eastern Aleppo.
Read this monumentally moving descriptive article on the state of Aleppo after years of destruction, HERE:
In the predominately Kurdish city of Qamishli in Hasakah province, the Islamic State (IS) have launched another attack to get control, advancing from 2 sides.
In Deir Ez-Zour province however, the Coalition once again struck at IS positions over the weekend, hitting a gas distribution facility and setting off secondary explosions at the town of Khasham. 8 men, mainly thought to be tanker drivers, were killed in the attack, which eye-witnesses described as producing “long tongues of flame”.
Lastly, please make the effort to read this appeal for help (in English, Arabic and French) from 500+ forgotten female political prisoners still detained in Assad’s Adra prison in Damascus, 30% of whom are over 50 and another 5% who are pregnant.
Conditions are desperate and few have even enough money to get a lawyer, never mind buy their freedom, HERE:
KOBANE UPDATE 6: DESPITE KURDS WINNING BACK GROUND, HEAVY FIGHTING IN CITY AS ISLAMIC STATE MAINTAIN THEIR ATTACKS:
TIMELINE – 17th OCTOBER 2014 13.12 GMT – UPDATED 19.34 GMT:
Despite escalated help from US-led Coalition airstrikes and brave resistance from the Kurdish YPG and YPJ (Women’s Protection Force), the fight to clear the Islamic State from Kobane goes on, with no sign that the Jihadists are going to give up their assault.
In the last 2 days, the Islamic State have shelled and re-shelled an area to the north of Kobane city near the border crossing to Turkey and an area around the Al-Haj Rashad Mosque, 16 plus shells falling.
Heavy fighting still continues around the central “security zone” in the city and on the eastern and southern sides of Kobane.
Last night, Thursday through Friday, Islamic State fighters attacked areas regained by the YPG Kurdish militia 2 days ago and this was followed by 6 Coalition airstrikes on the district of Kani Erban on the eastern side of city.
The Jihadists are also attacking houses controlled by YPG fighters in the street that extends along the western area of the security zone and which was in the hands of the YPG yesterday.
The Islamic State have additionally mounted another attack on Al-Hurreyyi Square.
Latest reports from Kobane on Friday evening say that a new convoy of Islamic State fighters has arrived from the IS town of Manbej in Aleppo province and there is fierce fighting around the border gate area to the north-east of the city.
While spirits among the Kurdish defenders are high after their gains over the last few days, amid reports of hundreds of bodies of dead Jihadists lying in the streets, they are still out-gunned and out-numbered with the Islamic State sending wave after wave of fighters into the battle-zone.
Kobane is clearly far from safe yet.
On Wednesday, Mr. Nassan, deputy head of Kobane’s foreign relations committee, said “Maybe in the few past days [Islamic State] was controlling about 40% of the city of Kobane, but now… less than 20% of the city is under their control”.
Many outside observers would rate that as unduly optimistic, still estimating that between 40 – 50% of the city remains in IS hands, though the situation is much more fluid than before.
West of Kobane, the Jihadists have been pushed back several kilometres from the city limits, though they are using their heavy weaponry to continue to bombard vacated areas. South-west of Kobane the Kurds have also regained territory and a YPG patrol engaged the Islamic State (IS) on the road to Aleppo, killing 8 of them at a loss of 3 of their own.
US Central Command (Centcom), now naming the Coalition operation in Syria and Iraq “Inherent Resolve” (EDITOR: I wonder who thought of that gem of a mouthful? I bet it translates into Arabic “really well”!), bombed IS positions 14 times on Wednesday and Thursday and attacks are ongoing on Friday.
The Coalition tally for the 2 days is given as 19 x IS buildings, 2 x IS command posts, 3 x IS fighting positions, 3 x IS sniper positions, 1 x IS staging location, and 1 x IS heavy machine gun. Centcom adds, “Indications are that airstrikes have continued to slow IS advances, but that the security situation on the ground in Kobane remains tenuous”.
The Coalition have carried out over 100 airstrikes around Kobane since September 27th, while in Iraq Coalition activity has subsided, mainly due to heavy sandstorms affecting flight operations.
Following the first direct talks between the US and the PYD (the Kurdish movement’s Syrian political wing) at the US embassy in Paris, it has been confirmed that the YPG on the ground are directly co-ordinating with the Coalition to direct in-coming jets to target specific buildings housing Jihadist units.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is now putting the recorded death toll for Kobane since the 16th September at 662, 374 Jihadists and 268 YPG/YPJ plus 20 civilians, though these figure do not include Islamic State fighters killed in airstrikes – therefore the final toll will be much higher.
Latest reports from Kobane on Friday morning suggest there is an ongoing combined Free Syrian Army (FSA) and YPG operation to retake the radio tower hill knows as Mishtenour, just south of the city.
The BBC Syria news service has a video report from Kobane recorded on Thursday.
There is additionally this morning an unconfirmed report that the senior IS commander known as Hisem Bin Ebdallah has been killed in combat.
If true, then this will be no great loss to the world – Ebdallah has appeared on the Internet physically beheading his victims with a knife.
However, the Kurds are still in dire need of weapons, ammunition and food, though supplies are trickling in despite Turkish intransigence, and the Islamic State has destroyed almost all of their medical facilities.
There was a terrible report from the Turkish border that a Kurdish ambulance was prevented from crossing and YPG fighters could do nothing to help 3 wounded colleagues who slowly died without help or treatment over a 3 hour period who could have, they believe, been otherwise saved. Many Turkish authorities see all Kurdish fighters as “terrorists”.
There have been persistent reports that civilians crossing from Kobane into Turkey in recent days, after the earlier mass exodus, have been detained in secure centres and searched by Turkish troops looking for mobile phone images of YPG fighters.
After returning 72 people to Kobane this week (scroll down – see earlier report below), it is now said that the Turks are planning to return another 170 detained Kurds to the war zone, many of whom have been on hunger strike in protest against the conditions in which they have been held. You can read more about this, HERE:
This and other ambivalent reactions by the Turks to the crisis in Kobane, may be why Turkey yesterday failed to gain one of the revolving seats on the UN Security Council.
Until recently, Turkey was thought to have letters of support from 160 countries in the ballot for the seat, needing only a minimum of 130, but support has clearly faded away in the last few days and in the end Turkey received only 60 votes, the seat going to Spain.
This is a tremendous blow to Turkish pride and prestige. New Zealand, Venezuela, Angola, Malaysia also got elected to non-permanent regional seats, which become active on January 1st 2015. You can read more in Newsweek Syria news.
ISLAMIC STATE JETS SEEN FLYING FROM CAPTURED FORMER ASSAD REGIME AIRBASE:
In a worrying development, there is an unconfirmed report from Opposition activist sources that MIG-21 and/or MIG-23 jets have been seen flying from Al-Jarrah military airbase in Islamic State territory east of Aleppo city.
To avoid detection by radar they are flying at low altitude and not straying far from the airfield perimeter. It is said that the Jihadist pilots are being trained by former members of Saddam Hussein’s air force.
The Ba’ath Party to whom these airman belong, is currently in alliance with the Islamic State in Iraq and fighting alongside them trying to regain some of the Sunni dominating power it once had under the former dictator.
Witnesses claim that they have seen 3 jets in flight so far, though it is not clear whether they are armed with missiles or not.
The Islamic State also control 2 other airfields in Syria, Al-Bukamal near the border with Iraq and Tabqa in Raqqah province.
Al-Jarrah is just 70 kilometres from the Turkish border and so far US Central Command, asked for a comment, says it has not seen any Islamic State jets in flight.
No doubt, should these reports be confirmed the Coalition, or indeed Assad’s Air Force or missile defence systems will destroy these aircraft as soon as possible.
If they manage to get through to any target with a suicide payload of bombs, the consequences could be catastrophic.
There are also reports that the Islamic State have also executed 2 of the own fighters at Al-Bukamel, one for “banditry and robbing Muslims’ money” and the 2nd for allegedly dealing with the Assad regime” and “putting down electronic chips” so their units could be tracked.
Elsewhere in Syria, the Opposition have launched a new campaign to remove Assad’s checkpoints on the Damascus to Jordan main highway.
The Opposition also brought up their heavy fire-power, HERE:
The checkpoints, about 4 kilometres from the frontier, protect the Naseeb border crossing to Jordan, a now remote outpost of the Assad regime. Jordan have now closed their side of the crossing while fighting persists.
In Hama province, heavy fighting continues around Mork, the former Assad tank battalion base changing hands again twice in the last 24 hours, believed currently held by the Opposition.
In Idlib province, the Opposition are attacking Ma’ar Hattat on the highway to Aleppo, HERE: and the good citizens of Kafranbel are determined that the world does not forget that the battle is still against Assad, HERE:
In Deir Ez-Zour city there has been fierce fighting between the Islamic State and the Assad regime in the Hawija district, 9 IS fighters reported killed but a Syrian Army vehicle destroyed and troop losses as the Jihadists advanced.
In Hasakah province 3 civilians, including a child, were reported killed after Coalition planes targeted a oil refining facility at the village of Kabiba in the Al-Shadai area.
In Damascus, for the first time in 12 months, the International Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent were allowed to distribute medical supplies in the Yarmouk Refugee camp in the southern part of the capital.
IRAQ NEWS: LATEST ISLAMIC STATE BOMBINGS IN BAGHDAD KILL 50, 162 DEAD SINCE SUNDAY:
In another wave of bomb attacks in Baghdad, mainly in Shiite areas, yesterday, Thursday, at least 50 were killed and dozens injured.
This brings the total killed since last Sunday in Baghdad alone to more than 162. The map below shows the horror of all the car bomb explosions in Baghdad since the Americans arrived in 2003.
IS have claimed responsibility for yesterday’s deadliest attack in the northern Dolaie commercial area of the city. 2 parked cars exploded simultaneously killing 14 and wounding 34.
Local residents, angry at the failure of the security services to protect them, pelted the police cars that arrived to deal with the blast with stones, forcing them to withdraw.
In the eastern Baghdad district of Talibiyah, a suicide bomber rammed his exploding car into a police checkpoint, killing 7 policemen and 5 civilians. 4 other bombs also went off in Baghdad yesterday or nearby with similar destructive power and results.
In northern Iraq west of Mosul, the Islamic state are reported to have launched another series of suicide car bomb attacks against the Iraqi special forces defending the Baiji oil refinery.
Since the sandstorms over subsided in the last 24 hours over Iraq, the Coalition have made 5 airstrikes on Islamic State targets, mainly in Anbar province where a night-time curfew has been imposed in Ramadi to prevent IS movements in and out of the city.
The Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi, has met with a delegation from Anbar province, which is currently in great danger of being totally overrun by the Islamic State, and attempted to persuade local Sunni tribes to work with the Iraqi security forces to push IS back.
Italy has announced it is joining the Coalition against IS by sending 200 advisers and 3 reconnaissance planes to operate out of Erbil in Kurdish Iraq.
Lastly, like many of us you may be having trouble keeping up with and working out all the complications of the situation in Iraq and Syria.
Despite all the horror, something of an “explanation” to cheer you up over the weekend from Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, here:
KOBANE UPDATE 5: INTENSE COALITION BOMBING RAID ON ISLAMIC STATE POSITIONS AROUND CITY FORCES PARTIAL RETREAT:
TIMELINE – 15th OCTOBER 2014 11.18 GMT – UPDATED 20.15 GMT:
According to reports, things started off quietly in Kobane this morning, Wednesday, after an intense 48 hours when as many as 21 Coalition airstrikes hit Islamic State (IS) positions.
Although IS still control around 50% of Kobane city, they have not gained any further ground in the last 2 days and appear to have retreated from some territory in the east, and to the west as far as 4 kilometres to regroup their resources.
However, there is little doubt in the minds of the Kurdish defenders that the Islamic State fighters will be back on the offensive again soon, this time using new tactics and, increasingly, suicide truck bombs to advance their positions.
Opposition sources are saying that IS have appealed to their HQ in Raqqah for more diesel to fuel their trucks and some hope that these refuelling tankers will be targeted on the way to Kobane.
And while “hand-to-hand” fighting by IS has reduced, shelling of the Kurdish occupied parts of the city from afar has notably increased in the last 24 hours.
Latest unconfirmed reports from Kobane on Wednesday morning say that Kurdish fighters have regained control of 2 IS fighter staging areas in the eastern part of the city at Kanye Kordan.
Kobane is in its 30th day of defense and most Kurds now agree that the increased number of airstrikes has helped the city hold on against overwhelming odds, though this in no way takes away from the bravery and sheer guts and determination of both the male and female Kurdish fighters.
Kurdish sources have also confirmed that the YPG militia is in direct contact with one of its representatives present at the US-led Coalition Command Centre passing on co-ordinates for the planes to attack in real-time. Reportedly Saudi jets have been at the forefront of the latest bombing raids.
The Kurds have also recaptured the strategic hill of Tell Shair approximately 4 kilometres to the west of the city and near to an informal crossing point into Turkey and the Islamic State flag has also disappeared from Mistenour Hill just to the south of the city. Whether this indicates an IS retreat is still not clear.
Unconfirmed reports from Kobane additionally say that IS commander Mahmud Al Tunisi was killed in Coalition airstrikes on Monday night and that another IS leader, Abu Samir Alcizrawi, was killed yesterday, Tuesday. Latest Kobane situation map courtesy of @macroarch. Note western corridor now held once again by the Kurds and Turkey in red behind the city, here:
US Central Command (Centcom) has confirmed that it hit the Islamic State with 22 airstrikes on Monday and Tuesday this week, 21 around Kobane and further one targeting a modular oil refinery set up at Dayr az Zawr.
According to Centcom, the airstrikes near Kobane initially destroyed 2 x IS staging locations and damaged another, destroyed one IS building and damaged 2 others, damaged 3 x IS compounds, destroyed one IS truck, destroyed one IS armed vehicle and one other IS vehicle.
Later an additional 7 x IS staging areas, 2 x IS mortar positions, 3 x IS occupied buildings and an IS artillery storage facility were also destroyed. (EDITOR: A successful 2 days work I would say!)
Clearly, perhaps reacting to worldwide support for Kobane, there has been a definitive shift in Coalition attention on Syria. Over the same 2 day period the Coalition, according to Centcom, made precisely 1 strike in Iraq. The Guardian has video of the latest airstrikes over Kobane, HERE:
Late this afternoon, Wednesday, Centcom released a statement to say that a further 18 airstrikes had taken place near Kobani since yesterday, destroying “multiple IS fighting positions and successfully striking 16 IS occupied buildings”.
In a meeting at Andrews Air Force near Washington in the US yesterday, Tuesday, between the US and the military chiefs of 20 of its Coalition partners, President Obama predicted “periods of progress and setbacks” but acknowledged that the war against the Islamic State was “going to be a long-term campaign.”
For the first time, President Obama specifically mentioned the besieged city in northern Syria, saying, “We’re deeply concerned about the situation in and around the Syrian town of Kobane”, as well as noting the dire situation in Anbar province in Iraq. Notably, no representatives from the Syrian Opposition were present at the talks.
There are some reports from Kobane that the Islamic State may have used some form of vesicant chemical agent that causes blistering, in the early stages of their move towards Kobane back in July – according to pictures of victims with peeled skin.
IS may well have captured weapons in this class, such as mustard gas, from raids on Assad’s chemical weapons stores or from captured bases in Iraq.
The position of Turkey in all this remains highly ambivalent. As well as sitting on the border watching events around Kobane unfold, they prevent the resupply of Kobane with weapons or ammunition, but do take in the wounded for treatment.
Their attitude is infuriating the Kurds. At a funeral this week at Suruc for 4 female YPG fighters, 10 kilometres from the Syrian border, hundreds at the cemetery chanted: “Murderer Erdogan”, referring to the Turkish President.
At least 42 people have now been killed in Turkey in demonstrations against the Turkish Government’s lack of action over Kobane.
Turkey is also reported to have sent back across the border 72 people from Kobane who it was holding in security detention centres, saying that all civilians in Kobane “had already left” and therefore only fighters (i.e. “terrorists”) remain.
The Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq has attempted to ship a supply of ammunition, mortars and light weapons to the Kurds in Kobane, but the delivery is stuck in north-east Syria as the Turks will not open a corridor for safe passage to Kobane city.
The Turkish Government also made matters far worse on Monday when they sent F-16 and F-4 jets to bomb the Kurdish village of Daglica in the Kurdish-majority Hakkari province of Turkey near the border with Iraq.
The Turks said they were attacking a military positions of the PKK Kurdish militia in retaliation for attacks on one of their own military installations with heavy machine guns and rocket launchers. This is the first attack on the PKK in almost 2 years, causing heavy casualties according to reports.
The PKK’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, held in prison by the Turks, had given today, 15th October, as the last day for the Turks to resolve issues around ongoing peace talks between the Turkish Government and the PKK.
After Monday night’s bombing raids the possibility of “peace” between the 2 sides looks highly unlikely. Part of Turkey’s ambivalence towards Kobane is probably fuelled by the close relationship the PKK has with the YPG Kurdish defenders of the city, and indeed some reports suggest PKK militia may be fighting alongside their kinsmen.
Heartbreaking for the Kurds on the hills in Turkey watching the destruction of their city, house by house, shop by shop and street by street – but prevented by the Turks from crossing the border to join the fight.
Interesting video from the Turkish side of the border opposite Kobane from a British/Kurdish speaking reporter for Vice Syria news, here:
Some current reports from Kobane are suggesting that the number of civilians still inside the city is far in excess of the 500 – 700 mentioned previously and may in fact exceed 2,000. Read this extraordinary diary from Kobane journalist Heysam Mislim written over 4 days from inside the city and published in Newsweek Syria news.
Still in good spirits, this video from inside Kobane was released yesterday, HERE:
SUCCESS OF COALITION AIRSTRIKES AGAINST ISLAMIC STATE RESULTS IN JUSTIFIABLE SYRIAN OPPOSITION BACKLASH:
The success of the US-led Coalition airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, and especially around Kobane, is leading to something of a backlash from members of the anti-Assad Syrian Opposition.
Firstly, they are justifiably angry that the beheading of 4 Westerners by the Islamic State, abhorrent as that is, has drawn the full military might of the United States and 20 other Coalition partners against the Jihadists – but yet 200,000 plus deaths (that we know about so far) by the Assad regime has provoked minimal reaction.
Secondly, even those Syrian Opposition military advisers close to the US from groups vetted and approved by the United States were given no warning of the impending attacks on Islamic State targets, despite the fact that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fights against them every day.
And thirdly, Opposition fighters on the ground are in a unique position to give the Coalition co-ordinates for attacks on IS targets, but as yet have not been asked.
In some Opposition areas of Syria there have been demonstrations against the Coalition airstrikes, driven in part by the death of civilians in Idlib province at the start of the campaign when an Al Nusra-Front unit was targeted.
The vetted Opposition units have now told their US contacts that the supply of promised weapons and training is now more urgent than ever if they are not to lose the support of the local anti-Assad population.
Lastly, given that the US and their Coalition allies can now fly over Syria with impunity, there are also renewed calls (from US Congressmen among others) for a no-fly zone to be imposed over the whole of the country, ensuring that that attacks on Opposition forces and the dropping of barrel-bombs on helpless civilians by the Assad regime comes to an abrupt end.
The BBC has a comprehensive video report on this, HERE:
OPPOSITION DESTROY ASSAD BARRIER WITH SPECTACULAR TUNNEL BOMB NEAR ONE OF LAST 2 REMAINING BASES IN IDLIB PROVINCE:
In a spectacular explosion south of Ma’arat Al-Numan in Idlib province, Opposition fighters yesterday destroyed an Assad military barrier at Al-Dahrooj, just 700 metres east of the Al-Hamadiyah Syrian Army base, one of the 2 now remaining in Idlib, HERE: and, from another angle, HERE:
Fighting continues in the whole area south of Ma’arat Al-Numan around this base and its nearby neighbour of Wadi Deif, HERE:
Following fierce clashes with Assad’s troops, Opposition fighters have also gained control of the checkpoint called Al-Gerbal near Maerhetat.
In Aleppo province, the Opposition foiled an attempted breakout by Assad forces from the Opposition-besieged Alawite enclaves of Nubbol an Zahraa, while in Aleppo city itself Government troops attempted to re-enter the Kurdish neighbourhood of Sheikh Maqsood which has supported the Opposition uprising.
In Damascus, the Opposition destroyed yet another Assad T-72 tank attempting to enter the Opposition suburb of Jobar, HERE:
This video shows just how close the Jobar fighters, who have held out for more than 3 years now, are to Abbasids Square in the centre of the capital, easily overlooking the houses that surround it, HERE:
In Hama province, the Opposition have entered the Ksarat barrier 400 metres north of Assad’s tank battalion base which they recaptured earlier near Mork and taken a dozen of the regime’s troops, HERE:
It has also been reported that a pro-Assad MP, Waris Al-Younes, was assassinated in Hama province while travelling in his car.
In Deir Ez-Zour city ongoing clashes once again are reported between Government troops and the Islamic State, while Coalition airstrikes on IS positions around the city are said to have knocked out the electricity supply to the city and the surrounding countryside.
In Iraq, the one Coalition airstrike reported in the last couple of days destroyed an IS armed vehicle and a second IS vehicle, while the Jihadists themselves undeterred are reported to be ever closer to the capital Baghdad, some reports putting them as close as 8 miles to the International Airport west of the city.
The last Iraqi Government town held in Anbar province, Amriyat al-Fallujah, is now besieged by the Islamic State from 3 directions and if it falls there is little to stop the Jihadists from moving towards Baghdad.
British journalist John Cantlie, held hostage by the Islamic State, was featured in a 4th video released last Sunday, once again relating a prepared script almost certainly under duress.
In the message, Cantlie said the Islamic State viewed the West’s reaction to the beheadings as a “win, win situation”. “If these executions force public outcry or a policy change, that is a huge victory. And if they only goad our governments into dropping more bombs and spending millions more dollars, making our countries weaker in the process, that is a victory too,” he said.
In the online magazine IS magazine Dabiq, John Cantlie is also featured in an article entitled, “Hard Talk – The Real Story Behind My Videos”.
In it Cantlie describes being left in a “dark room with a mattress on the floor” in an absolute information vacuum. “I try to stay very calm, tolerant and accepting of my situation … I am thankful for any comfort I receive and for every plate of food I get.” Grimly he adds, “Unless something changes very quickly and very radically, I await my turn.”
Jessica Cantlie, John’s sister, has put out a message on behalf of their terminally ill father, appealing to IS to renew contact, HERE:
Lastly, a group of young Moslems, males and females, to show that the Islamic State has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, has re-enacted an IS “sex slave-market” in London. The re-enactment is chilling, here: