“I so appreciate your Pulitzer-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 – IRAQ – NEWS
ROJAVA UPDATE 162: YPG DANGEROUSLY THREATENS TO SHOOT DOWN TURKISH AIRCRAFT OVERFLYING ROJAVA, WHILE TURKEY PREVENTS RETURN OF DEAD FIGHTERS FOR BURIAL:
TIMELINE – 27th NOVEMBER 2015 17.55 GMT – UPDATED (scroll down) 21.43 GMT:
The combined Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), made up of more than 20 Kurdish (YPG), Arabic and Assyrian Christian units, has now cleared over 1,000 square kilometres south of Hasakah from Islamic State (IS) control.
During a 3 week campaign, the SDF (EDITOR: Also known from its Arabic initials as QSD – in case you are confused!) say they were faced with 43 car bombs, 7 or 8 of which were destroyed by close Coalition air support, some destroyed before impact with AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades and some which got through.
The SDF estimate they killed 200 members of IS during the last 3 weeks and another 195 died following Coalition airstrikes.
Only 15 members of IS were captured alive during this 3 week period and their own SDF losses were put at 33 dead.
Following this huge success, there have been several unverified reports that US special forces advisers have arrived in Kobane to train members of the YPG/SDF, however, the Kobane Canton Defence Minister, as of yesterday, Thursday, said that this has not happened.
Also yesterday a joint YPG/YPJ group of mine-clearing specialists started a security operation to clear the rural area between Mount Abdul Aziz near Hasakah and Ain Issa in Kobane Canton of IEDs planted by IS.
Marking the site of IEDs as they go, the unit aims to clear 350 square kilometres of the explosive devices and make it safe for civilians to return to their homes.
However, the Islamic State continues to target the south-western and the south-eastern sections of Kobane Canton with heavy weapons and mortars, hitting the Kobane village of Ain Issa on both Tuesday and Wednesday with mortar shells.
South of Ain Issa, IS cannon fire hit Filihe village on Thursday and simultaneously heavy weapon fire struck the village of Rabha to the east of Ain Issa.
Additionally, firing across the Euphrates from positions near Jarablous, IS, also on Thursday, targeted the Kurdish village of Qereqozax.
After the Turkey/Russia incident on Tuesday, with the shot down Russian bomber, the YPG has also warned Turkey about its aircraft overflying Rojava.
2 unidentified helicopters, but thought to be Turkish, were seen overflying the Alyan area of northern Qamishli on Wednesday and showing interest in the oil-rich town of Rumelan and the petroleum stations at Tel Adas (Gir Ziro)and Gir Ziyaret.
Turkish border guards north of Qamishli have also been observed in a state of mobilisation since Tuesday.
YPG spokesman, Redur Khalil, warned that, “If this irresponsible action (Turkish breach of Syrian Kurdish airspace) were repeated, we will take the necessary procedures to target any violation.”
(EDITOR: A brave/foolish move that would undoubtedly provide an excuse for the Turkish military to attack Rojava in general and the YPG in particular.
There have even been some rumours that the Russians, with whom the YPG has friendly relations, are prepared to supply Manpads, shoulder launched ground to air missiles. That would be a disaster if true!)
At the same time, Saleh Muslim, the co-Chair of the PYD (the YPG’s political arm) said in an interview on Wednesday that Turkey had “no right to intervene” to create a proposed “safe zone” between the Aleppo province towns of Azaz and Jarablous, adding that the “percentage of Kurds in the area was more than 50%”.
However, Muslim would not say if the YPG or SDF were prepared to launch an attack on IS-held Jarablous and move westwards towards the Kurdish Canton of Afrin. The Kurds would like to join up their Cantons across the north of Aleppo province but Turkey is resolutely opposed.
Sporadically, Turkish troops across the frontier continue to shell YPG positions in Rojava, though casualties so far have not been significant.
But in a particular low form of anti-Kurdish feeling, the Turkish authorities are currently preventing the bodies of Turkish citizens who died fighting for the YPG from returning to their families in Turkey.
Aziz Guler, whose family live in Istanbul, was a student at Istanbul Yildiz Technical University, but joined the YPG to fight the Islamic State, dying in the process. His family went to Kobane to collect his body, but were denied entry to Turkey with it, the dead fighter remaining in the Kobane morgue for 59 days.
The family had to go to the European Court and the UN before Turkey granted a “visa” on November 19th for the return of the corpse for burial.
Another 150 – 200 bodies of Turkish Kurds are also thought to have been denied entry, all party of the ruling Turkish party, the AKP’s anti Rojava/Kurdish policies. You can read more in Al-Monitor.
WHILE THE ISLAMIC STATE THREATENS TO ATTACK 60 COUNTRIES, TURKEY AND RUSSIA CONTINUE TO TRADE WORDS:
Meanwhile, the war of words between Russia and Turkey continues, with President Putin demanding an apology from Turkey and President Erdogan saying there is nothing to apologise for.
According to Erdogan he tried to telephone Putin on Tuesday night but his call was not accepted and has not been replied to since. Erdogan has now requested a meeting with Putin in Paris next week on the sidelines of the international climate change conference.
Russia continues in the meantime to draft a wide-ranging list of economic sanctions to apply against Turkey, including a pause in joint investment projects such as a gas pipeline and a nuclear power station that Russia is building for Turkey in the south, as well as restrictions on food imports.
Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, also announced the end of visa-free travel arrangements with Turkey from January 1st 2016.
Yesterday, Thursday, President Hollande of France was in Moscow and the 2 men agreed to work on joint efforts to attack and destroy the Islamic State, though both still disagreed on the fate of President Assad, with Hollande insisting that the dictator much go, at least after a transition period to another government.
According to Laurent Fabious, the French Foreign Minister who accompanied Hollande to the talks, Putin asked for a map of “forces that are not terrorists and are fighting the Islamic State, committing not to bomb them once we’ve provided that”.
(EDITOR: If he believes that, he’ll believe anything!)
The Islamic State this week made it’s intentions very clear, issuing a video threatening to make similar attacks to the one in Paris in dozens of countries around the world.
Listed were 60 countries in the footage which burbled on about “the flames of war … in the hills of death” and under a banner saying “No Respite” talked of preparing thousands of children to expand its caliphate under the rule of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. An earlier video this week warned of forthcoming attacks on Washington and New York.
The countries which were threatened in the latest offering were: Australia, Bahrain, Albania, Denmark, Belgium, China, Croatia, Austria, Egypt, Czech Republic, Greece, Canada, Estonia, France, Finland, Iraq, Jordan, Germany, Ireland, Hungary, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, Lebanon, Kosovo, South Korea, Kuwait, Israel, Iran, Italy, Japan, Qatar, Luxembourg, Sweden, Russia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Slovakia, Switzerland, Lithuania, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Taiwan, U.S., U.K. United Arab Emirates, Spain, Turkey, Oman, Ukraine, Tunisia, Serbia, Slovenia, Poland, Portugal, Morocco, Moldova, and Malta.
Since the downing on the Russian jet in northern Latakia, the territory there held by the anti-Assad Turkmen has been of specific interest to the Russian military with the Russian Air Force blasting a way through for Syrian forces to initially take a strategic hill at Al-Zahiya.
It is very likely that the Turkmen are being supplied with arms and ammunition from Turkey, while at the same time Russia wants to keep these Opposition groups at least 30 kilometres from its bases in Latakia and ideally drive them out of the province altogether.
In north west Aleppo fighting continues between the Al Nusra Front (ANF) and the YPG/YPJ Kurdish forces guarding the Sheikh Maqsoud Kurdish neighbourhood of the city.
In clashes around the Shukef and Kastillo areas 2 armoured ANF vehicles and 2 x ANF fighters were killed.
Meanwhile, south of Aleppo city, the Opposition coalition Jaish AL-Fatah continues to make progress capturing at least 3 villages today, destroying a Government T-72 tank, a BMP armoured vehicle and a pick-up with a mounted 23mm gun. According to some unverified reports they also killed 40 pro-Assad fighters.
In this footage they blow-up the T-72 tank, HERE:
And north of Aleppo city the Opposition are also reported to have taken control of Kashtaar and Mezre villages.
While Russia continues to cause havoc by bombing border crossings into Turkey, at Azaz in the north of Aleppo province, near both the Turkish border and the Kurdish Canton of Afrin, there have been some complicated confrontations between both pro-Kurdish and anti-Kurdish Free Syrian Army (FSA) units and the Al Nusra Front.
(EDITOR: So complicated I will leave you to sort it out over the weekend! HERE: )
PILOT OF DOWNED RUSSIAN PLANE SURVIVES BUT TURKMEN BLOW UP RESCUE HELICOPTER, KILLING MARINE:
TIMELINE – 25th NOVEMBER 2015 13.45 GMT – UPDATED (scroll down) 20.35 GMT:
The scenario that many dreaded (EDITOR: Including me. Below is my best interpretation of events compiled from many conflicting reports) happened yesterday, Tuesday, with the downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber over Syria by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet.
Turkey said the Russian plane had been warned “10 times” not to invade their airspace, while Russia said their plane had been shot down over Syrian airspace.
Both statements seem to be correct.
While engaged in bombing raids (the Free Syrian Army [FSA] says the Russian plane had just bombed civilians in Jisr Al-Shughour in Idlib province) the Su-24 had passed several times over a “peninsular” along the Turkish border that sticks out into Syria.
As the Su-24 can fly as fast as 815 mph, to cross this peninsular (see map below) would take 17 seconds or less.
After warnings were ignored, the Turkish F-16 then fired an air-to-air missile, probably from Turkish airspace, which struck the Russian bomber over Syria, bringing it down on the Syrian side a few kilometres from the Syrian/Turkish frontier, HERE:
The pilot and the navigator, who sit side by side in the Su-24 cockpit, ejected from the stricken aircraft as it plunged towards the ground and as they parachuted earthwards, local Turkmen militia, who are anti-Assad and aligned to the FSA, fired upon them killing one, thought to be the pilot, HERE:
While the Turkmen produced video of the dead pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Peshkov, the whereabouts of the navigator, Captain Konstantin Murakhtin, was at the time unknown.
The Russians sent 2 helicopters on a search and rescue mission over the Turkman mountains in northern Latakia province, but these in turn were fired upon by the local militia causing one of them to crash land.
The FSA 2nd Coastal Division then took out this M1-8 helicopter as it was parked on the ground after a forced landing with a (US-made) TOW anti-tank missile, HERE:
A Russian marine in the helicopter was also killed, though it is not clear whether he was shot from the ground or died when the helicopter exploded. The rest of the crew were later rescued.
The Turkmen claimed at one point that they had both the Russians from the downed Su-24, and while this may have been the case for a while, this was not verified.
Latest reports today, Wednesday, say that Syrian special forces mounted a 12 hour operation on Tuesday night that penetrated 4.5 kilometres into Opposition territory in the Turkman Mountains, rescuing the navigator, Captain Muraktin, and returning him to his base near Latakia, “safe and well”.
Later reports from Russia say Murakhtin was found by an 18-man Syrian special forces team acting together with six members of an elite Hezbollah unit. He had hidden for many hours after landing, and was found by a radio signal.
Speaking from Hmeymim airbase Wednesday afternoon, where his plane was based, the rescued navigator said that they had received “no warning”, though that is contradicted by Colonel Steve Warren, an American military spokesman in Baghdad, who says that recorded communication between the Turkish and Russian pilots showed that the Turks did warn the Russian plane 10 times before they shot it down.
This map shows the Turkish border (in turquoise) and the flight of the Russian Su-24 (in red), here:
While the whole incident had the potential to escalate completely out of hand, with Turkey calling in its NATO partners and then facing up against Russia, it is most likely to turn into a war of words, economic sanctions by Russia on Turkey and lots of military posturing.
President Obama, President Holland and Chancellor Merkel called for “restraint”, while Putin burbled on about a “stab in the back committed by accomplices of terrorists” and promised “serious consequences”.
Putin also claimed that their plane was attacking “Islamic State terrorists”, though there are no known IS Jihadists anywhere near Jisr Al-Shughour where the plane had recently bombed or the Turkman Mountain area.
The Russian Ministry of Defence has said that in future its bombers will be accompanied by defensive fighter jets, it will be sending its advanced S-400 air defence system to Syria to protect its airbase, and the missile cruiser “Moskva” will be deployed off the Syrian coast to “destroy any targets threatening Russian planes”.
Sergie Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, also cancelled a planned visit to Turkey’s capital, Ankara, scheduled for today, Wednesday, saying that the incident “really looks like a planned provocation” but adding, “We do not plan to go to war with Turkey, our attitude toward the Turkish people has not changed.”
Not the feelings of some Russians apparently. Around a 1,000 attacked the Turkish embassy in Moscow today, Wednesday, smashing all the windows and generally doing their best to wreck it. The Russian police did not intervene.
Russians have also been told to avoid visiting Turkey, one of their favourite package holiday destinations, where they “may not be safe”. More than 4 million Russians visit Turkey on holiday each year.
The Turkmen are of Turkish decent and have lived in this region since the 11th century.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, many of them have been trained and armed by Turkish special forces.
In Latakia, the Jabal al-Turkman Brigade, which was formed in 2013, comprises of 12 armed units, and its their 2nd Coastal Division, which was formed in 2015 and backed by the FSA, which is involved in the latest incident.
Assad’s and Russian planes regularly bomb the Turkmen villages and kill their civilian population, many of whom now live in tents in the mountains.
Hardly surprising then that they will fire at Russian military helicopters and Russian bomber crew, given the opportunity.
The BBC has more detail on the Turkmen Opposition.
Russia will have to retaliate somewhere and the Turkmen are now their most likely target, indeed latest reports suggest that the Russians have fired 4 cruise missiles at their northern Latakia bases this morning, Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air support advanced into the Latakia Turkman territory at Rashwan Hill and the villages of Katf al-Ghader, Ain Samoukh, Jib al-Ahmar and Ruwysat al-Mallouha.
ANOTHER REPORTED ISRAELI ATTACK ON HEZBOLLAH AND ASSAD POSITIONS IN SYRIA’S QALAMOUN, WHILE DRUZE RESIST CONSCRIPTION:
As if all the above were not enough, on Monday night it is alleged that Israel once again bombed Hezbollah and Syrian Army positions in the mountainous Qalamoun region between Damascus and Lebanon.
According to reports, after several hours of reconnaissance flights above the area the Israeli Air Force (IAF) made 2 attacks on a joint Hezbollah/Assad position in the Ras Al-Maara mountains, immediately followed by a 3rd raid on another position in the Qara mountains.
A 4th raid hit a Hezbollah position on Flita mountain. 8 Hezbollah fighters and 5 Syrian troops are said to have been killed in the attacks, as well as injuring dozens more who were rushed to Yabrud and Nabk hospitals, several of them critically injured.
Also on Monday, France moved its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle into combat position off the Syrian coast and launched a series of bombing raids against Islamic State positions in Tal Afar in Iraq.
The Charles de Gaulle, which is powered by 2 nuclear reactors, carries 26 attack aircraft, tripling France’s capacity to bomb IS targets in Syria and Iraq.
In Aleppo province, heavy fighting continues between the Opposition coalition and pro-Assad forces south of Aleppo. The Opposition have re-captured 10 villages this week in a counter-offensive, driving back an enemy composed mainly of Iranian militia. Latest reports say opposition fighters have captured Banes.
Footage of a successful Opposition TOW strike against a regime communications station on Tel Eis, HERE:
North of Aleppo, Opposition fighters have also struck back at regime positions in Bashkoi, reportedly destroying a total of 10 rocket launchers, tanks and armoured vehicles.
In what may well be a retaliatory strike following yesterday’s loss of a jet bomber, Russian planes this afternoon bombed Azaz in northern Aleppo province just 4 kilometres from the border with Turkey, hitting a number of trucks, many of which are probably Turkish, HERE:
As tensions grow, there are additionally reports of an increased concentration of Turkish tanks along the Syrian/Turkish border and overflights of Turkish helicopters 3 to 4 kilometres into Rojava, Kurdish territory, north of Hasakah.
In southern Suweida province, which is predominately Druze, a resistance to compulsory conscription gathers pace.
More than ten Druze communities have refused to allow the Assad regime to compulsorily register their young men for military conscription and have said they will fight the authorities if they attempt to take the men by force.
With an increasing lack of manpower, and increasing dependence on foreign militia, the Assad regime was thought in May to have at least 70,000 young men in provinces it wholly or partially controls skipping conscription.
Lastly, there are still people in the world that care and act on the hell that is Syria, this time in the US, HERE:
ROJAVA UPDATE 161: SDF RECAPTURES FORMER ASSAD BASE FROM IS, WHILE TURKS SPONSOR ATTACK ON IS-HELD VILLAGES IN NORTHERN ALEPPO PROVINCE:
TIMELINE – 23rd NOVEMBER 2015 14.38 GMT – UPDATED (scroll down) 22.08 GMT:
An Islamic State (IS) suicide bombing using a motorcycle, killed a man, a woman and a 7 year old girl, in Tel Abyad near the border with Turkey yesterday, Sunday.
20 others were injured, including another 8 children.
Fighting with IS also broke out near Ain Issa and Suluk in Raqqah province and around Mount Abdul Aziz in Hasakah province.
The first attack was on the Kurds Haweed checkpoint at Al-Hisha village east of Ain Issa, hitting it with mortars, but the YPG responded strongly.
Near Suluk it was the village of Hijouh that came under fire and near Mount Abdul Aziz, the village of Abu Shalhat.
All the attacks were neutralised.
Despite the savagery of the attacks it seems to the Kurd’s military officers that IS are now only able to mount small commando-style raids in northern Syria, not any major campaigns to seize large areas of territory such as that previously launched on Kobane Canton.
Slightly further south, having captured Al-Hawl, the combined Kurd/Arabic/Christian brigade, the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) has turned its attention to IS-held Shaddadi, besieging the outer village suburb of Khamayil, 15 kilometres south of Hasakah.
SDF already took control of Dhi Qar village, 20 kilometres south-east of Hasakah on Friday and has now liberated more than 200 villages and strategic towns in the province, as well as cutting the IS supply line to Iraq.
In another major victory, the SDF finally captured the former Assad regime 121st Regiment base at Al-Melabiya on Saturday, but IS apparently managed to transfer large quantities of ammunition and weapons to the Deir Ez-Zour countryside before the defeat.
Interesting article about the destruction of Kobane and other towns and cities across Syria and the likely cost of reconstruction – current estimated cost around $300 billion.
So far 2.1 million homes, half the country’s hospitals and 7,000 schools have been destroyed. The Chicago Tribune has more.
As the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle positions itself off the coast of Syria, ready to start attacks with its aircraft on IS positions in Syria this morning, Monday, the French Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, is quoted as saying President Barzani of Iraq Kurdistan has told him that the Peshmerga are willing to take part in the upcoming fight to liberate Raqqah.
However, it is not clear whether Barzani means the Iraq Peshmerga or the Syrian Peshmerga who defected from Assad’s army and were trained by their namesake’s in Iraq. The YPG would have a problem with the Syrian Peshmerga on “their” territory.
And in northern Aleppo province, just to complicate things further, Turkish nationalists have sent hundreds of fighters across the border to fight the Islamic State.
With the help of both Turkish and US jets, the Al-Sultan Murad Brigade liberated 2 predominately Turkmen towns in Aleppo province early on Saturday morning.
6 x Turkish F-16s, 4 x US F-15, a US Ac-130 and 3 drones took part in the operation to recapture the villages of Dalha and Harjaleh just 5 kilometres from the Turkish border. 55 x IS Jihadists were reported killed in the battle.
The Al-Sultan Murad Brigade was also supported by the Opposition Levant Front which dismantled 300 x IS land-mines near the 2 captured villages after the death of 4 civilians due to explosions on Saturday.
It is now likely that this is the beginning of an active campaign, promoted by Turkey, to get an IS free zone across northern Aleppo against the Turkish border, once again cutting off the Jihadists’ supply routes to Raqqah and Aleppo.
The Turkmen brigade is seen in action against the Islamic State, here:
US Central Command (Centcom) reported 14 Coalition strikes in Syria on Sunday, 2 near Abu Kamal destroying an IS excavator and and an earthen bridge, 4 near Hasakah, 2 near Al-Hawl, 4 near Ain Issa and 2 near Ma’ra in Aleppo province, all hitting or destroying tactical units, IS fighting positions, IS vehicles or structures.
On Saturday 21st November the Coalition, in a delayed report, says it made 2 strikes, one on an oil collection point near Deir Ez-Zour and another destroying an unbelievable 283 x IS vehicles – presumably used for oil delivery.
Helpfully Centcom defines “a strike” as “one or more kinetic events that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative effect for that location.
So having a single aircraft deliver a single weapon against a lone ISIL vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against a group of buildings and vehicles and weapon systems in a compound, for example, having the cumulative effect of making that facility (or facilities) harder or impossible to use”.
Over in Iraq, Centcom reports 19 strikes for Sunday, 2 of them near Sinjar hitting an IS tactical unit and destroying an IS heavy machine gun, an IS fighting position, and suppressing an IS mortar position.
Much of the fighting against IS in northern Iraq is on the Gwer front, with many IS Jihadists withdrawing back to Mosul. A Peshmerga commander also claims that 300 x IS Jihadists have surrendered in recent weeks as supply lines to both Raqqah and Mosul become throttled.
On Saturday, say the Peshmerga, Coalition jets struck the IS-held village of Ibrahim Khalilm in the Gwer area, destroying several IS military vehicles, a cache of ammunition and other facilities. The village was apparently used as a base for preparing suicide car bombs.
An added complication in northern Iraq is that a Shiite militia, Hashd al-Shaabi, has appeared from Baghdad and is fermenting trouble between Kurds, Turkmen and Shiites in areas of territory disputed between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi central Government. In Tuz Khurmatu, clashes between the 2 sides have led to as many as 20 deaths.
In Sinjar, now free of Islamic State fighters, some members of the indigenous Yezidi community have returned to see what belongings they can repossess. However, there is not much left – most has been looted or destroyed. You can read more in USA Today.
OPPOSITION JAF LAUNCHED MASSIVE COUNTER ATTACK SOUTH OF ALEPPO, WHILE RUSSIAN TROOPS REPORTED ACTIVE IN LATAKIA:
South of Aleppo city, the Opposition coalition Jaysh Al-Fatah (JAF), have today launched a massive counter-attack to retake Al-Eis and other positions lost to the mainly Shiite fighters attacking on the Assad regime’s behalf.
After receiving reinforcements, JAF have taken in the last 24 hours the village of Khasi, Tell Mamou, Aziziya, Mukahla, Tel Al-Banjiri, Tel Al-Bakara, Khirbet Al-Zuwari, Kherbet al-Mahal and parts of Tel Bajer. Fierce fighting continues there tonight, HERE:
22.08 GMT: More footage from the JAF assault south of Aleppo just in, HERE:
Also a report that the leading Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and his guards were injured today after their convoy was hit by an Opposition TOW missile. Soleimani is reported to be recovering.
From the other side, the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia from Iran, comes this footage as they defend Al-Hader town, HERE: Serious stuff!
On the south-western edge of Aleppo city, the Opposition destroyed a 14.5 mm regime gun on top of a building at the so called “School of Wisdom”, HERE:
In Latakia there is a report that Russian ground forces, supported by tanks and planes, have engaged Opposition fighters and taken a hill near the border with Idlib. Russia continues to insist that it will not deploy ground forces in Syria.
However, the report is credible, coming from a Jordanian publication that seems to have good contact with Russian military sources. The report added that the Russian Army was using Syria as a “training ground” to test its combat forces and military equipment “which have not [been used] in a real battle for many years.” You can read more, HERE:
Courtesy of @deSyracuse, there is a map of the Latakia, Idlib, Hama region, here:
You can find a larger version of the map, HERE:
In Damascus province, Medicins Sans Frontieres says one of its hospitals was struck at Erbin during an airstrike on the town. As doctors were unloading the injured from the attack, 2 missiles hit the entrance to the hospital, killing 2 doctors and injuring others. You can read more, HERE:
In Homs province the Assad regime captured Maheen and Hawareen from IS today, Monday. IS took control of Maheen on November 1st.
Separately in Homs province, the Syrian Army says it has taken control of a series of hills known as The Hayel from IS in the southern part of Palmyra, out in the eastern desert, on Sunday.
ROJAVA UPDATE 160: KURDISH YPG READY TO TAKE ON ISLAMIC STATE ACROSS SYRIA, BUT CONTINUE TO BE ATTACKED BY BOTH IS AND TURKEY:
TIMELINE – 20th NOVEMBER 2015 15.25 GMT – UPDATED (scroll down) 21.20 GMT:
The Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) have continued their advance and are currently involved in heavy fighting to take the IS-held former Assad Base 121 south of Hasakah.
Dozens of bodies are reported across the battlefield and experienced Kurdish YPG snipers are hunting down the remaining IS Jihadists. Plans are already in hand to take the next IS stronghold at Shaddadi, which will clear the road towards Raqqah.
Pictures have emerged of an IS armour plated truck to be used as a massive suicide bomb against SDF forces near Al-Hawl. The truck was captured before it could be detonated but estimates of the explosives on board put them at the equivalent of 10 tons of TNT.
Hussein Kocher, a leading Kurdish commander SDF, has been quoted as saying their forces are determined to “liberate the whole Syrian soil from Deash (ISIS) terrorists” and that Opposition groups should link together to carry this out.
Macer Gifford, the English City Finance worker who gave up his job to fight with the YPG has recently been interviewed by CBS in the US. He says that there are now more men from the USA and Europe who are keen to fight IS in Syria and Iraq, especially since the attacks in Paris.
You can watch a video interview and read more at CBS.
In the western part of Kobane Canton, IS once again fired mortars from their positions across the other side of the Euphrates River, hitting the Kurdish village of Bouraz. A father and his daughter were reported killed and the mother seriously injured.
35 kilometres east of Kobane city, the Turkish Army, for reasons best known to themselves, again attacked YPG positions near the village of Sibiqran with heavy weapons from across the Turkish border. No casualties were immediately reported.
South-east of Rojava at Raqqah, the outskirts of the city were hit by 3 Russian cruise missiles.
US Central Command (Centcom) reports 13 airstrikes on Syria on Wednesday, 4 of them hitting Raqqah where they struck 3 x IS HQ buildings and a bivouac. 3 strikes hit IS positions near Al-Hawl, 4 near Hasakah and 2 more struck oil and gas separation plants at Abu Kamal.
Coalition airstrikes in both Syria and Iraq are co-ordinated in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Careful checks are made to avoid hitting their own forces and civilians. You can read more, HERE:
In Sinjar in Iraq, recently recaptured by Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga have found an elaborate system of underground tunnels which IS used to try and avoid being hit by Coalition airstrikes. The Wall Street Journal has a series of pictures.
Sinjar is essentially a Yezidi city but many Yezidi are reluctant as yet to return, especially as IS is only a few kilometres away and the city is still within mortar range. Those that have come back have found there houses destroyed and belongings looted. You can read more in Al Jazeera.
IRANIAN JETS NOW SEEN FLYING WITH RUSSIA OVER SYRIA, WHILE FATAL SKIN DISAESE AFFECTS ASSAD’S TROOPS OUT IN THE DESERT:
A proposed initial 15 day ceasefire between Assad’s forces and Opposition fighters in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, organised by the Russians appears to have come to nothing after the regime pounded the district of Douma with 12 airstrikes on Thursday, killing the city’s only remaining coroner. The 15 day ceasefire was meant to lead to a possible truce.
In IS-held Manbij in Aleppo province, where locals have been demonstrating against the presence of the Islamic State, more trouble brewed when a young man killed an IS Sharia “judge” of Tunisian origin and 2 of his guards, before killing himself.
The “judge” had had 3 members of the young man’s family beheaded, including a brother. Since then IS has increased security, setting up checkpoints throughout the town and imposing a curfew. Several residents taking part in anti-IS demonstrations have been shot and others arrested.
Interesting article in The Daily Beast with the confessions of an IS spy who has now defected.
According to Opposition sources a Russian cruise missile hit the Hayyan industrial area north-west of Aleppo city this morning, casualties unknown.
There are also reports today of a clash between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and IS in Aleppo province near the Turkish border, due north of Aleppo city and north-east of Azaz. Perhaps the start of a new campaign to oust IS from this northern part of Aleppo province against the Turkish frontier.
Turkey has once again been talking to the US about some sort of protected zone along this part of the Syrian/Turkey border. You can read more, HERE:
From Homs near IS-held Palmyra come reports that there is a severe outbreak of leishmaniasis among dozens of Assad’s troops facing up to IS in the desert area. Leishmaniasis is spread by a parasite carried by sand fleas who distribute it with their bite.
Around 2 million people a year worldwide are infected. It has several forms, initially causing skin sores but can also infect the intestines and internal organs. Between 20,000 – 50,000 people die from it each year.
Assad’s soldiers have been pleading for appropriate medical treatment or to be transferred to somewhere where they can receive treatment. At the moment, according to reports, they are corralled together in the desert so as not to infect other military units.
As seen in the photograph from World War l, the disease was known as “Jericho Buttons” by soldiers affected by it around the city of Jericho. You can read more, HERE:
In Daraa province on Thursday the Assad regime bombed an olive oil plant in Sheikh Miskin where local people were processing their harvest. At least 25 people were killed, including children and many others injured.
In Latakia province there are reports that Assad is targeting Turkman villages near the border city of Kasab with the help of Russian airstrikes. Turkey has summoned the Russian ambassador to Ankara to protest against attacks on what it sees as its fellow countrymen.
According to Israeli Intelligence around 55 Iranian military personnel have been killed in recent fighting in Syria, while Hezbollah has lost between 1,000 and 2,000 men over the last two years.
Interestingly, The Aviationist magazine, after analysing video released by the Russian Ministry of Defence, has spotted that ancient Iranian F-14 Tomcat jets were seen escorting a Russian TU-95 bomber over Syria while it was making a strike.
This is the first time the Iranian Air Force (apart from cargo planes) has been seen in action over Syria.
Russia fired a whole new series of cruise missiles yesterday, Thursday, and this morning, Friday, both from long range bombers and ships.
Some landed randomly but others were targeted at Syrian Opposition groups and the Islamic State.
One cruise missile even managed to hit the regime-held village of Khattab in northern Hama.
Others fell on Ariha, Abu Al-Dhuhur, Hish, Basanqul, Mount Zawiya and Joseph in Idlib province, 200 kilometres away from IS-held territory.
One missile hitting Mir’ian village in the province killed 2 children and their mother.
Deir Ez-Zour has also been hit by 50 airstrikes in the last 24 hours, though it is not clear if they are from the Assad regime, the Russians or a combination of both.
ROJAVA UPDATE 159: AFTER SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCE SUCCESS MORE BRIGADES WANT TO SIGN UP, WHILE BOMBING OF RAQQAH INTENSIFIES:
TIMELINE – 18th NOVEMBER 2015 14.25 GMT – UPDATED (scroll down) 19.23 GMT:
Following the successful capture of Al-Hawl in Hassakah province the combined Arabic/Kurdish Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) is currently 12 kilometres south of Hasakah city attacking Islamic State (IS) positions around the former Assad regime Base 121.
Video footage from Al-Hawl clearly shows SDF firmly in control but significant destruction, HERE:
Yesterday, Tuesday, there were significant battles all day between the SDF and IS around Melabiya, around 10 kilometres south of Hasakah, but with the SDF slowly advancing under Coalition air support.
Centcom reports Tuesday another 6 airstrikes in Syria, 2 near Hasakah destroying 2 x IS buildings, an IS sniper position, an IS machine gun nest and 4 x IS fighting positions, plus hitting an IS tactical unit.
In their campaign to destroy IS’s sources of income, another Coalition strike at Abu Kamal hit an IS gas and oil separation plant and 3 more at Deir Ez-Zour hit 3 x IS controlled oil facilities.
To give you an idea of how devastating these strikes can be, this is released video footage of a Coalition attack on an oil processing plant at Abu Kamal on November 8th, here:
There is also video footage released for the same day of a strike on an IS building near Hasakah in support of the SDF advance, here:
There are currently unconfirmed reports that the US has landed some members of the SDF by helicopter near the IS-held town of Tanf on the Syria/Iraq border in an ongoing operation. Further information awaited.
So successful has the SDF been, and getting a 2nd delivery of weapons and ammunition from the US as a result, that 12 (or 15 depending on the news source) small Opposition brigades in Idlib and Aleppo provinces have indicated that they would be willing to join the Syrian Democratic Force.
The groups include Jaysh al-Thuwar, Idlib Martyrs Brigade, Ayn Jalout Martyrs Brigade, 99th Infantry Brigade, Al-Hamza Brigade, Al-QaQaa Brigade, Brigade 455 Special Operations, Seljuq Brigade, Division 102, Ahrar al-Shamal, and the Tribal Forces in and around Aleppo.
Division 30, a brigade originally trained and equipped by the US but which quickly fell foul of the Al Nusra Front as soon as it crossed the frontier into Syria from Turkey, was originally on the list but has since apparently issued a statement saying that it is not involved in the request.
4 of these brigades, Jaysh al-Thuwar, 99th Infantry Brigade, Brigade 455 Special Operations and the Seljuq Brigade—were among the original signatories to the SDF’s founding statement on October 11th. You can read more, HERE:
This situation map shows SDF gains around Hasakah, courtesy of @deSyracuse on Twitter, here:
A larger version of the map is, HERE:
Over in Kobane Canton, the Kurdish YPG reported an IS attack on the village of Merasir in the southern part of the region.
After hitting the village with mortars, IS fighters attempted to penetrate the village but were confronted with a group of villagers armed with light weapons. The YPG arrived shortly after and expelled the IS Jihadists but not before 7 villagers had been injured.
The village of Tuzanji, also in the southern part of the Canton, has come under a similar attack, forcing Kurdish villagers to move to a safer location.
In Afrin Canton, their are reports that the Al Nusra Front has surrounded the border of the Kurdish enclave where it abuts Aleppo province after a number of their men were killed in clashes with the YPG. Further information awaited.
The co-President of the YPG’s political organisation, the PYD, Saleh Muslim, was in Paris yesterday, Tuesday, where he laid flowers outside the Bataclan Theatre and paid homage to the victims of Friday’s attack by leading a 1 minute silence, HERE:
South of Rojava, the IS de facto “capital” in Syria has come under renewed Russian and French bombing since the Paris attack and downing of the Russian airliner over Egypt.
At least 33 x IS Jihadists are reported killed in the latest airstrikes on Raqqah in the last 3 days, causing a number of IS families to flee to Mosul according to anti-IS local activist reports because Raqqah was now considered too dangerous.
Russia launched a series of cruise missiles against Raqqah too on Tuesday, informing the Coalition of its intentions before the event, though there was not target co-ordination.
Activists of the campaign “Raqqa Slaughtered Silently”, which documents IS activities from inside Raqqah, said that French attacks were accurate on IS buildings and there were no civilian casualties.
US THIS WEEK LAUNCHES DEVASTING ATTACK ON ISLAMIC STATE’S OIL INFRASTRUCTURE, WHILE RUSSIA STILL HAS TROUBLE FINDING WHERE THEY ARE:
Perhaps the most devastating attack on the Islamic State’s infrastructure this week came on Monday when the US sent in 4 x A-10 attack planes (known as “Warthogs”) and 2 AC-130 gunships which it had recently placed at the Incirlik base in Turkey.
Their target was the 1,000 strong IS oil tanker fleet, based near Deir Ez-Zour, which IS uses to deliver its stolen oil for vast amounts of daily cash to run its operations.
At the start of the operation, which was planned well before last Friday’s Paris attacks, leaflets were dropped by 2 x F-15 jets about an hour before the main attack began, warning tanker drivers to abandon their vehicles and a few strafing runs reinforced the message.
Shortly after, the A-10s dropped two dozen 500-pound bombs and conducted strafing runs with 30-millimeter Gatling guns on some of 295 vehicles gathered in the area for loading.
The AC-130s attacked with 30-millimeter Gatling guns and 105-millimeter cannons.
A number of drivers were seen running for a tent, but were not attacked. Altogether, the US force disabled 116 trucks in this first strike, probably one of many.
In Hama province the Opposition are reported to have seized more regime positions on the outskirts of Soran city and in nearby Idlib province to have destroyed several more of Assad’s tanks and troop carriers near the town of Al-Eis.
There are also claims in Idlib province that Opposition fighters shot down an aircraft north of Ma’arat Al-Numan, either Assad’s or Russian, but in the video footage it looks more like a drone. What do you think? HERE:
Most of the action in northern Syria continues to be in Aleppo province. Last night, Tuesday, Opposition fighters killed 11 members of a pro-Assad Iranian militia near Banes south of Aleppo city.
They also destroyed a Humvee operated by the Iranian militia, some reports saying the explosion killed the militia’s leader who was inside at the time, HERE:
The Russians, in support of Assad, have been firing ship based cruise missiles into Aleppo province, but they still seem to have difficulty guiding them to their destinations, HERE:
However, several of these missiles found a target, destroying 2 medicine factories and a bread factory (reportedly feeding 120,000 people) and damaging the main water pumping station for the whole of Aleppo. Clearly they are still having trouble finding the Islamic State.
Having captured Kweires airbase from the Islamic State, Assad’s forces are now trying to force their way westwards through IS-held territory to Aleppo city. Map courtesy of @markito0172 on Twitter, here:
In Damascus province, the Opposition Jaysh Al-Islam say they have killed 50 pro-Assad fighters in 3 days of fighting in Eastern Ghouta, though there are unconfirmed reports tonight, Wednesday, that a truce of some kind has been agreed between the 2 sides.
Lastly, even in the terribly battered Opposition-held suburb of Douma, they managed to pay tribute from their own hell to the victims in Paris, here:
ROJAVA AND IRAQ UPDATE 158: FRANCE ATTACKS RAQQAH, IS EXECUTES JIHADISTS FROM SINJAR AND US MAKES 2ND ARMS DELIVERY:
TIMELINE – 16th NOVEMBER 2015 14.47 GMT – UPDATED (scroll down) 21.32 GMT:
Following the appalling Islamic State (IS) attack on Paris on Friday, which according to the latest figures has killed 132 and injured 350, France retaliated by leading a Coalition airstrike on the IS “capital” in Syria, Raqqah, on Sunday.
12 French aircraft, 10 of them jets, are reported to have taken off from their bases in the UAE and Jordan and dropped 20 bombs on targets in and around Raqqah, HERE:
The targets included an IS command centre, a Jihadist recruitment centre, a munitions depot and a training camp. Local sources in Raqqah opposed to IS reported at least 30 explosions.
Both electricity and water supplies in Raqqah were affected by the blasts and restrictions on people’s movements were imposed by the IS authorities.
Following an agreement, the US Pentagon is to accelerate the supply of target information, or “strike packages” as they are known to the French military.
It should be noted though that as bad and awful Friday’s attack on Paris was, innocent citizens of Syria and Iraq have been suffering the same level of carnage almost every day, and certainly every week, for years.
North of Raqqah near Al-Hawl, captured by the joint Arab/Kurdish forces also on Friday, the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Force found 2 x Hummer armoured vehicles, 3 cars, weapons and ammunition and a parked vehicle bomb ready for delivery, in the village of Katunah.
4 x IS Jihadists were also found hiding in the village, but after a 4 hour battle and stand-off, the IS fighters were killed.
In Al-hawl itself, IS has left many bombs, booby traps and explosive laden vehicles as this Asayish (Kurdish security) video (Kurdish only) reveals, HERE:
As a quick reward for such good results in a short time, the US delivered a 2nd consignment of weapons and ammunition to the SDF on Saturday, but overland (presumably from Erbil), not by air-drop.
Reports suggest that the SDF has now been encouraged to push south against IS in Hassakah province towards Shaddadi and Raqqah.
A new Arabic fighting brigade, Furat Jarblous, has also announced that it is joining the SDF to fight against IS.
In a press conference this afternoon, SDF spokesman Talal Ali Sello said that between October 30th and November 13th, they had already cleared IS from 1,362 square kilometres (545 square miles) in Hassakah province, liberating no less than 196 towns and villages.
Sello also said that 493 x IS Jihadists, 33 SDF fighters and 4 civilians had been killed in the two weeks of fighting and 53 SDF fighters wounded. (EDITOR: An impressive record. Power to them to continue the job.)
Over in Iraq, Iraqi military sources are saying that they warned the Coalition nations, and France in particular, of an imminent IS attack on Thursday.
The problem is that Western nations get such warnings almost every week. British Intelligence says it has thwarted 7 x IS associated attacks in the last 6 months.
According to the Iraqis, the Paris attack was planned in Raqqah and involved a sleeper cell in France and others coming from outside.
24 x IS supporters were directly involved in the operation, 19 attackers and 5 others involved in logistics and planning. IS claimed responsibility for the Paris attack on Saturday. 99 victims of the attack are still described as critically injured.
In France this afternoon, Monday, President Hollande addressed both chambers of the French Parliament at Versaille, announcing that the French aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, will be in the eastern Mediterranean by Friday, thereby tripling French airstrike power against IS.
In Sinjar, now safely in Peshmerga hands, a mass grave of around 80 Yezidi bodies from the village of Kocho to the east of the city has been found.
Yezidi officials who have visited the site say that it is full of hair, bones, money and house keys, belonging they think to older women which IS captured when they overran the region and whom they decided were of “no use to them”.
The younger Yezidi women were taken into sexual slavery, but the older ones were led behind an institute in the Solagh area east of Sinjar and according to locals who survived, gunfire was heard a short while later.
Badr Sleiman Taha, 24, from Kocho, said his mother, aunt and grandmother were among those killed behind the institute, and that he recognised the cane of an old woman from his village among the remains.
The BBC has a video report.
According to reports emanating from Mosul, on the orders of the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 73 members of IS have been executed south of the city for failing to hold back the Kurdish advance around Sinjar.
The international hacker group Anonymous has also declared “total [cyber] war” on the Islamic State in a video published in French on YouTube on Sunday. No idle threat either. According to Foreign Policy magazine by their estimates Anonymous has dismantled at least 149 of IS’s affiliated websites, flagged-up approximately 101,000 Twitter accounts and nearly 6,000 propaganda videos. You can read more on this, HERE:
EVENTS IN PARIS OVERSHADOW ISLAMIC STATE ATTACK IN BEIRUT KILLING 40+, WHILE OPPOSITION DESIGN HOMEMADE “MISSILE DEFENCE SYSTEM”:
Ignored by world media following the dreadful events in France is a double suicide bomb attack that took place on Thursday evening in the southern Bourj al-Barajneh quarter of Beirut, Lebanon.
Timed to explode 5 minutes apart, two suicide bombers set off their explosives around 6.00pm when the streets were at their most busy.
43 people were killed and 239 injured. A 3rd suicide bomber was shot dead before he could explode his device.
IS has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that 40 “rafideen”, an abusive term for Shiite Muslims, were killed in the “security operation.” You can read about the attack, HERE:
Back in Syria, there have been reports of brave demonstrations over the weekend against IS in the IS-held town of Manbij in Aleppo province.
Discontent has arisen over IS arresting women and men and taking boys for “Sharia courses” whose families later discover have been killed in fighting near Kweires airbase.
Demonstrators have been shot at and arrested. You can read more, HERE:
Fighting between the Opposition and mainly pro-Assad militia south of Aleppo city continues, with Jaysh Al-Fath repelling the Iranian militia fighters at Rasm Al-Sahrij village, HERE:
Still managing to get in some useful strikes, Opposition fighters took out a regime tank on the Tal Hadiya frontline with a TOW missile launcher, HERE: and a regime 57mm cannon with a Kornet anti-tank missile, HERE:
Interestingly, in Idlib province the Opposition have been testing their own home-made missile defence system, with which they hope to bring down slower moving regime aircraft such as helicopters using a basic targeting system. Major Abu al-Baraa of the Buraq Aerial Defense Unit said, “For the first time we can reach the distance of certain slow moving aerial targets.” The system seems very rudimentary and is still in the development stage. More information and video, (Arabic only) HERE:
And lastly, in Daraa province, the Al-Nusra Front (ANF) has assassinated Abu Ali Al-Baridi, the leader of the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, and 2 of his lieutenants with a bomb at Jumleh, just 5 kilometres from the Syria/Israel demarcation line on the Golan Heights.
Baridi had declared his allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014 and is believed to be behind a number of mysterious assassinations of Free Syrian Army commanders on the Southern Front in Quneitra and Daraa provinces.
ANF has given the rest of the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade 24 hours to surrender and undergo “Sharia retraining”. More on this story, HERE:
IRAQ NEWS: IN LIGHTING STRIKE, KURDISH FORCES RECAPTURE SINJAR CITY – ISLAMIC STATE ON THE RUN:
TIMELINE – 13th NOVEMBER 2015 14.10 GMT – UPDATED (scroll down) 18.10 GMT:
In a lightning move, Kurdish Peshmerga forces with their Yezidi and PKK allies and heavy Coalition air support, took control of most of Sinjar city this morning, Friday.
The major campaign, involving 7,500 Kurdish troops, only finally got underway yesterday, Thursday, with the Kurds and the Yezidi militia who they had trained, attacking Islamic State positions from 3 directions.
Overnight, the Peshmerga quickly captured grain silos, a cement factory and villages around the city, reportedly killing 40 x IS Jihadists in the village of Kolat alone.
This morning, the advance continued with a school, a hospital and municipal buildings quickly taken.
Many IS fighters are reported killed and many others have fled before their escape routes were blocked.
On Thursday, the Peshmerga took over more than 35 kilometres of Highway 47 which connects IS-held Mosul with Raqqah, the IS “capital” in Syria.
Without this access route, IS can no longer reinforce its fighters in Sinjar or in Tel Afar and a number of other key points. Peshmerga casualties are put at 10 dead and 50 wounded.
19 vehicle bombs are said to have been sent against Peshmerga forces, but most of these have been destroyed before they reach their target. Intercepted IS radio traffic suggests that IS fighters are being threatened with execution by their commanders if they desert their allotted posts.
The Coalition has conducted 36 airstrikes in support of the operation to recapture Sinjar city and US sources are reporting that the jet attacks are being directed by US special forces on top of Mount Sinjar from where the city can be clearly seen.
The latest Centcom report says the Coalition conducted 12 airstrikes around Sinjar on Thursday, hitting 5 separate IS tactical units and destroying 27 x IS fighting positions, 3 x IS heavy machine guns, 5 x IS vehicles, an IS vehicle bomb (VBIED), 11 x IS staging areas, and denied IS access to terrain.
Faced with that and 7,500 Kurds it looks as though the IS fighters decided it was a lost cause. A number of IS Jihadists have also been taken prisoner.
President Masoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq has already given a short press conference on the hills above Sinjar, praising the Peshmerga and thanking the Coalition for their “vital support”.
However, Peshmerga commanders have warned that it may take another 10 – 14 days to completely free Sinjar city from hidden explosive devices and make it safe. Soldiers are being warned not to touch wires strung across the streets and to take precautions entering buildings.
There is some dispute among the Kurds about who is responsible for the victory. The PKK, who have been in the area for over a year and rescued many Yezidi from the mountains after IS attacked, are angry that the Peshmerga and their political masters in the KDP are claiming all the credit. You can read more in Vice News.
The BBC has an up-to-date report from inside the city.
The Kurdish channel, Rudaw, has a number of exclusive videos (unfortunately overlaid with the Rudaw logo) from Sinjar, HERE:
BREAKING 17.25 GMT: The SDF are reported to taken Al-Hawl away from IS and are currently engaged in “cleaning-up” operations. Al-Hawl is on the route across the border into Iraq and to Sinjar, and IS fighters are reported to have fled – no doubt they have heard the news from Iraq!
Just across the border in Syria, west of Sinjar, heavy fighting continues between the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), a combined Kurdish and Arabic brigade, and the Islamic State (IS) around Al-Hawl.
2 villages, Al-Bahra and Al-Khatuniyyah, recently captured by the SDF are under attack once again from IS. At least 11 x IS Jihadists are reported killed and good amounts of weapons and ammunition captured.
Centcom reports for yesterday, Thursday, say that the Coalition made 7 strikes near Al-Hawl, hitting 6 separate IS tactical units and destroying 4 x IS fighting positions, 2 x IS vehicles, and an IS mortar position. Another strike near Raqqah hit an IS tactical unit.
2 x IS suicide bombers also attempted to blow themselves up at the village of Humera, south of Suluk and not far from Tal Abyad. 7 other Jihadists were killed by the Kurdish YPG in the planned assault and 6 AK-47s, one machine gun, an M16 rifle, 10 hand grenades and three explosive belts were also taken from the dead fighters.
Further west, the Islamic State bombed YPG positions in Shuyookh Foqani, Nasiriyah and Atto in the west of Kobane Canton with mortars fired from near Jarablous on the other side of the Euphrates. 4 YPG fighters were injured.
IS also fired mortars and home-made rockets at the villages of Malha, Kanaftar and Bujaq further south near Sarrin, again injuring 2 members of the YPG. In both cases the YPG responded with heavy shelling on IS positions on the other side of the river.
Interesting article in the New York Times on how some local Arabs in Hasakah province are now surviving with all the comings and goings, 1st IS and now the Kurds.
SYRIA NEWS: US DRONE STRIKE IN RAQQAH BELIEVED TO HAVE KILLED ISLAMIC STATE EXECUTIONER, “JIHADI JOHN”:
Overnight reports from the US say that a drone strike in Raqqah is thought to have killed the British Islamic State militant known as “Jihadi John”, who is accused of cutting the throats on video of several IS Western hostages.
The reports say that the drone targeted a car in which he was travelling and that US intelligence had been following him for some time, though neither the US or Britain can at this time completely confirm his actual death.
Activist reports from Raqqah itself however say that 4 x IS militants were killed in the drone attack, including “Jihadi John” and an IS commander, as their vehicle was leaving the Al-Mohafza district.
The area, according to locals has now been closed off.
“Jihadi John”, whose real name is Mohammed Emwazi, was born in Jordan and came to Britain when he was 6 where he was educated and eventually obtained a degree in computing at Westminster University in London.
He has appeared in a number of videos in which US, British and a Japanese hostage have been beheaded. The BBC has more about his background.
The attack was carried out by 2 MQ9 US Reaper drones and took place at 20:50 GMT on Thursday night. Latest reports from London say that British Intelligence was also involved and had third drone operated by the British military in the air at the time of the strike.
3 burnt out vehicles are reported in the street where Emwazi is said to have just left the Islamic Court House before the drones struck.
An activist group opposed to IS called “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” posted a map to show the location of the drone strike, adding in a Tweet : “The good thing is #JihadiJohn got killed near Clock tower where #ISIS Execute people,” here:
BREAKING 17.50 GMT: According to reports from Turkey, a close associate of “Jihadi John”, Aine Lesley Davis, has been detained by security police in Istanbul. Davis, like “Jihadi John”, was reportedly one of a group of British Islamists believed to have been assigned to guard foreign prisoners in Syria. Further information awaited. (EDITOR: Not an “IS Good News Day”! – Depending on your point of view, of course :))
South of Aleppo on Thursday, Assad forces backed by Hezbollah, Iranian militia and Russian bombing advanced into the former Al-Nusra Front-held towns of Al-Hadher and Al-Eis and also took control of the hill at Jabal al Arba‘in.
The Opposition have now pulled back and are currently trying to establish a new frontline along the M5 Highway.
Although currently operating South of Aleppo, the Iraqi militia Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba has vowed to lift the siege in Idlib province on the Shiite enclaves of Fua’a and Kafriyeh, despite the fact that they are part of a truce agreement connected with Zabadani in Damascus province. You can read more, HERE:
There is speculation that a series of explosions at Damascus Airport on Wednesday morning was caused by Opposition shelling or possibly another Israeli airstrike.
What is known is that the missiles hit buildings in the Free Trade Zone and caused a fire as well as explosions. More information on the “mystery” possibilities, HERE:
Lastly, just to compound the Islamic State’s very bad week, IS have announced that both the Omar and the Tanak Oil fields in the eastern part of Deir Ez-Zour province are out of commission after severe destruction from Coalition airstrikes.
ROJAVA UPDATE 157: SDF SECURE TOWN AND LAKE NORTH OF AL-HAWL, WHILE ASSAD’S FORCES FREE AIRBASE AFTER 2 YEAR SIEGE:
TIMELINE – 11th NOVEMBER 2015 14.27 GMT:
The combined Kurdish/Arabic Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) is continuing its advance against the Islamic State (IS) north of Al-Hawl in Hasakah province, yesterday capturing the town of Khatuniyah.
The SDF have also taken the village of Al-Behera and secured the whole perimeter of nearby Lake Khatuniyah.
As many as 45 x IS Jihadists are reported killed in the latest operations and 2 x IS vehicle bombs destroyed. 2 x IS vehicles with mounted machine guns were also seized.
The immediate target remains Al-Hawl, followed by the IS-held town of Shaddadi on the road to Raqqah.
500 new recruits have just completed training with Liwa Thuwar, an FSA unit in Tall Abyad and are now on their way to join the SDF.
An analysis of the “importance of the Hasakah battle” is, HERE:
Meanwhile, IS bombed the village of Skahrat al-Abed Sheikh yesterday, Tuesday, 25 kilometres south of Tel Abyad on the Turkish border. The mortar shells killed 3 men and a 6 year old boy and wounded 2 others.
At about the same time on Tuesday, Turkish forces shelled the village of Charikli in western Kobani Canton not far from the Syrian/Turkish frontier. No casualties are so far reported.
Over in Iraq, the Peshmerga are reporting that according to their estimates 700 x IS Jihadists have been killed in fighting in the Sinjar area since January, with a loss to the Peshmerga of 40 men. The majority of Sinjar city however, still remains under IS control.
Interesting article on western fighters prepared to fight for the YPG and the Peshmerga both in Syria and Iraq, HERE:
Yesterday the Coalition carried out 11 airstrikes in Syria and and 17 in Iraq. 5 of the Syrian airstrikes struck IS targets around Al-Hawl hitting 4 separate IS tactical units and destroying 8 x IS fighting positions, an IS building, and an IS vehicle bomb.
2 more strikes struck IS positions near Hasakah, with others targeted at Palmyra, Deir Ez-Zour and Mar’a. French aircraft are reported to have taken part in the Deir Ez-Zour attack, hitting an oil distribution station and a gas separation plant.
6 of the 17 airstrikes in Iraq were near Sinjar city, hitting 3 separate IS tactical units and destroying 8 x IS fighting positions, 2 x IS command and control nodes, 3 x IS vehicles, and 18 x IS staging areas.
The main news yesterday, Tuesday, from the rest of Aleppo province was that Assad’s troops strongly aided by waves of Russian bombing, managed to break their way through to Kweires Airbase which has been surrounded by IS Jihadists and under siege for 2 years.
1,000 of Assad’s troops had been trapped in the defunct airbase all that time, holding out against repeated IS attacks. According to Russian sources, the Opposition helped them with co-ordinates for finding IS positions – though there is no knowing how true this is or whether it’s just Russian mischief making.
Hezbollah, who were involved in the battle to take the airbase reported the death of 8 of their fighters, and according to a military source in Aleppo, the Iranians have lost 46 men to fighting in the province since October 1st.
South of Aleppo city the battles between the Opposition and Assad’s forces and allies continues, with Opposition fighters taking control of Khirbet Al-Mahal and the village of Makhalah.
The Opposition also recaptured the villages of Aziziyah, Tel Tlalin and Mamo on Monday, using a field gun against Government forces, HERE:
Kweires Airbase situation map courtesy of @PetoLucem on Twitter, here:
ROJAVA UPDATE 156: SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCE (SDF) GAINS 350 SQUARE KILOMETRES IN JUST OVER A WEEK AND 178 IS JIHADISTS KILLED:
TIMELINE – 9th NOVEMBER 2015 13.25 GMT:
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the combined Arabic, Assyrian and Kurdish brigade, announced at the weekend that they had regained around 350 square kilometres of territory from the Islamic State (IS) in just over a week.
The re-captured area is mainly south of Hasakah city and included 36 villages, 10 farms, 2 gas distribution stations and 6 border posts on the Syria/Iraq frontier.
In a statement the SDF said that 178 x IS Jihadists had been killed in the first phase of fighting, 99 of them on the battlefield and 79 by Coalition airstrikes. 13 SDF fighters had died during the same period.
IS were recorded as detonating 17 vehicle bombs, 2 of them exploding on IS territory and the rest hitting SDF positions, although one bomb blast hit a gathering of civilians in Atshan village.
The SDF also seized 2 Dushka heavy machine guns, 5 rocket propelled grenade launchers, 5 other machine guns, 11 rifles, 2 motorbikes, a car bomb, 6 military vehicles and a mortar shell.
Last Saturday, the SDF took control of the Tishreen gas field near Al-hawl, the Chinese company building, the village of Shalala, some grain silos and the road from Tishreen gas field to the Jibisa Oil Field in Hasakah province.
Earlier on Thursday the SDF had liberated the villages of Hanaj and Nasrat south of Hasakah and the farm and its surrounding fields at Ogla Naim.
IS tried to hit the SDF at Ogla Naim with 2 more vehicle bombs on the Shaddadi-Al-Hawl road but they were exploded before reaching their target. You can see one recent SDF strike on a vehicle bomb, HERE:
Also on Thursday the SDF captured the village of Soefaat north-east of Al-Hawl after violent clashes near Lake Khatuniyah and freed the village of Ali Hassan on the road between Hasakah and Al-Hawl, which IS had been using as a strategic base to fire rockets at the SDF. They also destroyed an IS Kornet anti-tank missile launcher and a vehicle bomb at Hinish near Lake Khabur.
The village of Al-Hasbawi was also liberated on Saturday evening. SDF units are now no more than 3 kilometres from the outskirts of Al-Hawl.
A video of the SDF in action, with English sub-titles, is here:
Between the 6th and 8th November, the Coalition are reporting 14 airstrikes on the Al-Hawl area in support of the SDF, destroying 21 x IS fighting positions and 3 vehicles, as well as hitting 12 separate IS tactical units.
There were 9 airstrikes around Hasakah as well during the same time period and many others at Abu Kamal, Deir Ez-Zour, Mar’a and near Washiya in Syria.
Over in Iraq, the Kurdish Peshmerga continue their attempts to gain control of Sinjar city supported by by 21 Coalition airstrikes from the 6th to the 8th November.
The 4,000 men of the “Rojava Peshmerga”, who were trained and equipped by the Kurdistan Regional Government and Peshmerga in Iraq, are still being prevented from entering Syria to fight the Islamic State by a political dispute with the Syrian Kurdish YPG.
The YPG does not recognise the “Rojava Peshmerga”, which consists mainly of Kurds who defected from Assad’s Army at the beginning of the conflict and is intent on not allowing them back into Rojava, which it considers to be it’s “own territory”, not controlled by any other force.
(EDITOR: Sadly, the Kurds, like every other group in Syria, seem unable to work together to defeat their common enemy – the Islamic State. This just plays into the Jihadists’ hands.
Lastly, 37 Christian Assyrians were released by the Islamic State on Saturday. Those freed were part of a much larger group kidnapped by IS back when they overran the Assyrian villages in the Khabor area south of Hassakah last February.
The released captives were mainly women and the elderly. Another group of 22 had been released in August.
This is not an “act of kindness” by IS. All the captives were only released after long and strenuous negotiations by tribal leaders in Iraq and Syria and the Assyrian Church – plus the payment of a large ransom fee. 140 others are still in IS captivity.