SYRIAN WAR REPORT – APRIL 1, 2019: US SAYS SYRIAN ARMY MUST WITHDRAW FROM GOLAN HEIGHTS’ CONTACT LINE

SOUTH FRONT

01.04.2019

Over 50 ISIS members were eliminated by strikes of the US-led coalition in the outskirt of the town of al-Baghuz al-Fawqani in the Euphrates Valley over the past few days, local sources reported. The airstrikes were a part of the operation of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the coalition in the area, which is ongoing despite a formal US statement declaring defeat over ISIS.

According to local sources, a notable number of ISIS members is still hiding in a network of caves and underground tunnels in the area.

Besides this, ISIS cells within the SDF-held area have recently carried out a series of attacks killing at least 10 SDF members near the town of Diban and in the area of the Omar oil fields, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates.

On March 28, General Commander of the SDF Ferhat Abdi Sahin claimed that the group, which includes the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their all-female faction, the Woman’s Protection Units (YPJ), had made a decision to capture the area of Afrin from Turkish forces.

“We are preparing and making arrangements in order to liberate Afrin … Because this is a military matter, everyone should know that when the time is suitable, the liberation phase will begin,” he said in an interview with Sterk TV.

Currently, the SDF has no land route to Afrin from northeastern Syria while YPG and YPJ control only a few positions to south and southeast of the area. Therefore, SDF statements regarding the military advance on Afrin should are just a political move designed in an attempt to buy support of the Syrian population. The group, which deeply relies on the foreign support to control northeastern Syria, is currently facing notable problems with the control over the Arab-populated areas seized from ISIS.

While the SDF has no real chances to capture Afrin itself, YPG and YPJ cells conduct attacks on Turkey-led forces on a regular basis. On March 31, a Turkish service member was killed and one was injured an attack by Kurdish rebels, according to Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense.

Following the announcement, the Turkish military artillery fired more than 100 shells at YPG positions in the towns of Tatmrsh and Shuargha. No casualties as a result of the shelling were reported.

The US-led coalition and its proxies from the so-called Revolutionary Commando Army continue to prevent evacuation of civilians from the Rukban refugee camp. They even held a live-fire drill involving High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems near the US garrison of al-Tanf located in the same area.

The situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone remains unchanged. The ceasefire regime is violated almost on a daily basis. Firefights and artillery dues are especially intense in northern Hama and southern Idlib.

On March 28, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came with a new statement claiming that his  country will continue working against Iranian presence in Syria. The statement shows that the Israeli military is set to continue its military campaign in Syria.

In own turn, the US did not limit its recent actions in support of Tel Aviv to recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. It also demanded the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) to withdraw from the separation line area established in the framework of the 1974 Disengagement Agreement. US-Israeli efforts to force the SAA to do so could easily turn the Golan Heights into a new hot point and fuel the Syrian conflict further.

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SYRIAN WAR REPORT – DEC. 14, 2018: RUSSIAN FORCES START SIEGE OF US BASE IN AT-TANF

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Russian forces have established several military positions near the US-controlled zone of at-Tanf, pro-government media activists reported on December 12.

A source familiar with the situation, told SouthFront that several air-defense systems and other military equipment were deployed at the Russian positions. More weapons, including heavy rocket launchers, are reportedly expected to arrive there in the upcoming few days.

The Saudi London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat even claimed that Russia is going to deploy an S-300 system to the province of Deir Ezzor. However, this type of rumors is common for the Saudi outlet, which has been actively working to fuel tensions between the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance and the US-Israeli-led bloc as well as between Russia and Iran.

In early December, forces of the US-led coalition employed its M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System to fire several rockets at positions of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in the area of al-Ghurab Mount. The shelling caused no casualties but contributed to further growth of tensions in this part of Syria.

Late on December 13, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces made a fresh effort to capture the town of Hajin from ISIS. According to pro-SDF sources, the group is now in control of the town center and clashing with the terrorists in its southern part. Some sources even already speculated that Hajin is under full SDF control. However, this is yet to be happen.

A spokesman for the coalition of pro-Turkish militant groups branded as the Syrian National Arma, Major Youssef Hamoud, told Reuters that up to 15,000 Turkish-backed militants will participate in the upcoming Turkish operation against the Kurdish militais – YPG/YPJ in northern Syria.

The statement came as the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) deployed a few dozens of armoured vehicles in its provinces bordering the Syrian province of Aleppo.

Meanwhile, a Turkish soldier was killed in an attack of the YPG near the town of Tell Rifaat in northern Aleppo. The TAF responded to the attack by launching a series of powerful artillery strikes on YPG and SAA positions near the town.

It should be noted that earlier in 2018 a notable number of YPG members had fled from the Turkish advance on Afrin to the areas protected by the SAA near the city of Aleppo. Local sources say that YPG members may attempt to use SAA positions as a shield for their attacks on the TAF. In case of the success, this approach may cause open hostilities between the SAA and the TAF in the area.

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Turkey Threatens US-backed Kurdish Forces With New Operation

December 13, 2018

Turkey has threatened a new plan to launch a military operation against US-backed Kurdish groups in northern Syria.

During the Turkish Defense Industry Summit on December 12, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) “will launch an operation east of the Euphrates in a few days to save it from a separatist terrorist organization”. He slammed the plan of the US-led coalition to establish observation posts along the Syrian-Turkish border, but noted that the TAF will not attack US forces.

“It is clear that the purpose of U.S. observation points [in Syria] is not to protect our country from terrorists but to protect terrorists from Turkey,” Erdogan said.

The towns of Ayn Arab (also known as Kobani) and Tell Abyad are named among the most likely targets of such an operation. For example, Haitham Afisi, the leader of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) told the news outlet Enab Baladi that the advance will target Tell Abyad and several villages around it.

In response, the so-called Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA), an administrative body controlled by the Kurdish militias YPG/YPJ as well as their political wing PYD declared a “total mobilization” in response to Turkish threats. Furthermore, it called on the international community and NATO countries to take a stand against “Erdogan’s aggressive plans”.

The DAA even called on the Damascus government, which YPG and SDF-affiliated entities have repeatedly slammed as an oppressive regime and even as a supporter of ISIS, to take a stand against the possible Turkish advance.

In its first response to the situation, the Pentagon said that any military action into northeastern Syria would be “unacceptable” and a source of concern. Commander Sean Robertson stressed that “dialogue is the only way to secure the border area in a sustainable manner” and that “uncoordinated military operations will undermine that shared interest”.

Meanwhile, US-backed forces have still not been able to deliver a final blow to ISIS terrorists in the Hajin area in the Euphrates Valley. The terrorist group has recently employed at least 6 suicide car bombs to target SDF positions there and at least one of them did reach its target.

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Syrian War Report – November 2, 2018: Syrian Army Discovers ISIS Depot With US-supplied Ammunition

South Front

02.11.2018

On November 1, Hayat Tahir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) announced that its members had attacked positions of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) near the village of Abu Qamis in southeastern Idlib. Three SAA soldiers were reportedly killed.

A source in the SAA told SouthFront that clashes had erupted near the village, but declined to provide additional details. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least one Hayat Tahrir al-Sham member was killed.

Later on the same day, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and another al-Qaeda-linked group, Horas al-Din, shelled multiple SAA positions in northern Hama and western Aleppo.

Meanwhile, Turkish and US troops carried out a first joint patrol near the town of Manbij. The patrol was carried out near the Saju Stream, which separates the Turkish-held city of Jarabulus from Manbij, which is controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF consists mostly of Kurdish armed formations like the YPG, which are considered as terrorist groups by Ankara.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar publicly promised that members of the YPG and another Kurdish armed group, the PKK, “will be buried in the trenches it has dug” near Manbij. He also stated that Ankara would continue its military operations against the PKK in northern Iraq, where the group has a wide infrastructure used for attacks in Turkey.

Sporadic clashes between the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the YPG/PKK are still ongoing near Kobani in Syria. Reports also appeared that the TAF is now forming a list of Turkish-backed groups, which would participate in a possible military operation against the YPG near the Euphrates River.

In the province of Deir Ezzor, the SAA uncovered a large ammunition depot, which included 450,000 bullets of 7.62×51mm caliber, near the city of al-Mayadin. This ammunition depot had been left behind by ISIS terrorists when they lost the battle for al-Mayadin to the SAA. According to the Syrian state media, this ammunition had been supplied by the US to Syrian militant groups, which then sold it to ISIS. Over the past few years, there have been multiple examples when US-backed “opposition groups” have appeared to be terrorist groups or openly cooperated with ISIS.

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Alliance Between Syria and YPG Deepens Ahead of Idlib Offensive, Provoking an Unpredictable Turkey

Whitney Webb 

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ALEPPO, SYRIA — With military forces from the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russia gathering around Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, the last major military offensive of Syria’s seven-year-long war may only be weeks away. As the noose tightens around Idlib, the last hold-out for majority of terrorist fighters still active in Syria, the Syrian army seems to have secured the help of a new military ally: the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Turkish media reported on Sunday that 1,300 YPG fighters have been transferred to Aleppo over the course of the past two weeks to take part in the upcoming Syrian military offensive against the rebel-controlled Idlib province. According to those reports, the last of the YPG convoys arrived in Aleppo from Manbij on Saturday.

The Turkish newspaper The Daily Sabah, citing a report from the Turkish state-funded outlet Anadolu News Agencystated that the YPG’s participation in the upcoming offensive would mark the first time that YPG forces have allied with the Syrian Arab Army on the battlefield since the conflict began. The report also asserted that the YPG “plans to strengthen good relations with the regime and Russia by supporting the [Syrian] regime’s attacks on the opposition.” However, it is worth noting that the YPG expressed interest in battling terror groups within Idlib long before its new alliance with the Syrian government emerged.

News of a YPG-SAA military alliance may come as a surprise as the YPG and related Kurdish groups in Northern Syria chose to ally themselves with the United States early on in the conflict. Indeed, the YPG have long formed the backbone of the U.S. proxy force in occupied northeastern Syria known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in hopes of using the U.S.’ desire to partition Syria to transform that territory into an independent Kurdish-dominated state, long a goal of some elements within Syria’s Kurdish community.

The YPG’s collaboration with the U.S. and its international coalition in Syria has been used by the latter as a common justification for its illegal occupation of around 30% of Syrian territory, claiming that U.S. ground troops in the area were only present in the area to aid the YPG in fighting the terror group Daesh. Thus, this alliance has largely facilitated the U.S. coalition’s occupation of a considerable amount of Syrian territory, a territory that accounts for the majority of Syrian oil, gas, freshwater and agricultural resources.

However, the U.S. has increasingly abandoned its protection of the Kurds, having allowed Turkey, which regards the YPG as a terrorist group, to attack YPG-held territory earlier this year, resulting in the YPG’s loss of Afrin and the surrounding area to the Turks. Adding insult to injury, since June, the U.S. military presence in the area has been involved in joint patrols with the Turkish military near Manbij as part of a deal that Turkish media reports have claimed is “aimed at purging the area of the YPG/PKK presence.”

Given that the U.S. military has long justified its presence in the area by claiming to support the YPG’s and SDF’s offensives against Daesh (ISIS), the U.S.’ increasing cooperation with Turkey has forced the Kurds to take a long hard look at their alliance with American forces.

Unsurprisingly, over the past few months, the Syrian Kurds have been distancing themselves from the U.S. military presence in Syria and steadily increasing coordination with the Syrian government, a direct consequence of the U.S.’ apparent embrace of Turkish military operations in Syria and increased local resistance to the U.S. occupation.

Indeed, in June, over 70 tribes — whose territory is either partially or entirely under occupation by the United States and the YPG-dominated SDF — expressed their commitment to rejoining the Syrian state, re-establishing Syrian territorial integrity, and creating a joint military force with the SAA that would seek to expel foreign troops and militants from Syria. Facing increased local resistance, along with the apparent duplicity of their American allies, the Kurds have increasingly turned to the Syrian government.

First, in July, a military alliance began to take shape as the YPG and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) reached a preliminary agreement that led to increased SAA influence in areas under YPG control in the al-Hasakah region. Per the agreement, the YPG also allowed the SAA to reopen recruitment offices throughout the region. Since then, the YPG has agreed to hand over several of Syria’s most lucrative oilfields — a devastating strategic loss to the United States. And it further reportedly agreed to form a joint “police force” with the Syrian Army to protect Manbij from a potential Turkish invasion, given that the Turkish government has suggested that a military operation to take Manbij continues to be on the table.

Now, the YPG-SAA alliance has only deepened ahead of the Idlib offensive, as confirmed by reports of YPG deployments to Aleppo in preparation for the upcoming military operation alongside the Syrian Arab Army. The YPG’s participation in the upcoming Idlib offensive on the side of the Syrian government would essentially cement its realignment in the Syrian conflict, greatly weakening the U.S.’ justification as well as its motivation for its continued military presence in Syria, while also potentially provoking an increasingly unpredictable and reactionary Turkey.

Turkey’s motives and choices

Just one day after news of the YPG’s participation in the Idlib offensive was reported, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that Turkey was in “the last stage of preparations for increasing the number of regions in Syria, where we have provided stability through ‘the Euphrates Shield’ and ‘the Olive Branch’ operations. With God’s help, we will liberate new territories in the near future and bring security there.”

Though it is unknown exactly what the targets of this upcoming military operation will be, past Turkish military operations have largely targeted Kurdish militants, making it likely that either parts of Idlib or Kurdish-controlled areas elsewhere, like Manbij, will soon be targeted by the Turkish military.

Indeed, Erdogan had mentioned both areas as the sites of future Turkish military operations earlier this year. In January, Erdogan stated that Turkey would soon control Idlib, ostensibly to clear out terrorist groups in order to allow Syrian refugees living in Turkey to return to Syria. However, Turkey has consistently supported rebel groups within Idlib, such as the Free Syrian Army and even Daesh itself, making it almost certain that any Turkish effort to “clear out” terrorists would only target select groups that Ankara dislikes and allow the other terrorist groups of which it approves to proliferate.

Since Erdoğan first mentioned the plan to take Idlib, Turkey has set up several “military observation posts” surrounding Idlib, which were agreed under the Astana deal with Russia and Iran to create “deconfliction” zones in Syria. These Turkish military outposts have given Turkey territorial control over parts of Idlib and a role of one kind or another in the upcoming offensive. It seems likely that Turkey will only seek to expand its influence in the region and not sit idly by during the upcoming Syrian government offensive — particularly if the Syrian military is joined by the YPG, which Turkey wishes to see eliminated.

However, it is unlikely that Turkish troops would attack the YPG troops active in the Idlib offensive directly, particularly if they are embedded with Syrian or Russian troops. Indeed, given Turkey’s crumbling relations with the U.S. and the associated economic ills that have accompanied that for Ankara, Turkey is reconsidering its alliance with the United States, not just in Syria but entirely — making it unlikely that Turkey would seek to make enemies of the Syrian government, or Syria’s powerful allies like Russia, in order to target a little over a thousand YPG soldiers.

A tangle of contingencies

Yet, Erdoğan has also spoken of wresting Manbij from Kurdish control, stating in March that Turkey would attack Manbij unless Kurdish forces immediately and unconditionally withdraw. Given that the Syrian government and its allies — along with over a thousand YPG soldiers — will be focused on the Idlib offensive, the opportunity may arise for Erdoğan to make good on his promise to target the Kurdish-held city and the surrounding area. If so, the U.S. is unlikely to defend the Kurds at this point, especially in light of the fact that the YPG has given Syria control over its most lucrative oil fields and is increasingly abandoning the U.S. alliance.

However, the joint “police force” combining YPG and SAA fighters could deter Turkey from taking Manbij. If that proves to be true, Turkey may set its sights elsewhere in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria, given that Erdoğan has also stated a plan to invade Kurdish-held territory as far as Qamishli, the most easterly Syrian town held by the YPG before the Iraq border.

Though Turkey is unlikely to occupy permanently any territory it controls, the more territory it controls the greater its ability to bargain with the Syrian government once the conflict has ended. This would potentially give Turkey the opportunity to push for concessions regarding the Kurdish territories and a severe reduction in the autonomy the Kurds in Syria are seeking.

Ultimately, the upcoming offensive on Idlib and Turkey’s reaction to the YPG’s role in that fight will force Turkey to reassess its alliances in the Syrian conflict — given that Turkey, ironically like the Kurds, is now second guessing its alliance with the United States. Yet, Turkey — with or without the United States — may seek to continue acting as a maverick within Syria, remaining one of the conflict’s most potent and troubling wild cards.

 

SYRIAN WAR REPORT – MARCH 6, 2018: MILITANTS RETREAT UNDER SYRIAN ARMY PRESSURE IN EASTERN GHOUTA

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The Syrian Arab Army, the Tiger Forces and their allies have advanced on positions of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and other militant groups in the areas of Harasta, Hawsh Ashari, Bayt Siwwa in the Eastern Ghouta region. Government forces have also entered the area of Rayhan, but have not been able to secure it yet.

Meanwhile, the US-led block, the mainstream media and pro-militant sources are developing their propaganda campaign in an attempt to save militants operating in Eastern Ghouta from defeat accusing government forces of civilian casualties and chemical attacks.

On March 5, the Pentagon announced that Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the area of Afrin had led to an “operational pause” in US-led efforts against ISIS in eastern Syria.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning added that the operational pause had not affected US strikes on ISIS and the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces still control territory it had seized.

Another Pentagon spokesman, Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, said that “Some fighters operating within the SDF have decided to leave operations in the middle Euphrates river valley to fight elsewhere, possibly in Afrin.”

Thus, Washington at least admitted that the YPG was the main if not only ground striking force of the SDF. Various US officials had repeatedly claimed that the SDF consisted of some mysterious Arab-dominated forces with some YPG presence.

On the other hand, the US will be able to justify their further military presence in eastern Syria with “we are fighting ISIS” mantra now as long as its operation is on “pause”.

On March 5 and March 6, the Turkish Armed Forces and the Free Syrian Army advanced further in Afrin and captured the villages of Qurayriyah, Qatirah, Karakih and entered the Sharan district center. Clashes are ongoing.

Syrian Army readies for urban warfare operation after seizing all rebel-held farmland areas in east Damascus

 Syrian Army progress in East Ghouta since start of ground offensive (Credit: Syrian Digital Media).

BEIRUT, LEBANON (11:10 A.M.) – Just two weeks since kicking off its ground offensive against armed rebel groups in Damascus’ East Ghouta region, the Syrian Army has seized virtually all of the farmland areas that once made up the insurgent pocket.

By this advance, the Syrian Army has cornered militant groups within a number of district towns and cities on Damascus’ eastern periphery as several suburbs belonging to the easternmost parts of the capital itself (i.e. Jobar).

 Hitherto, the Syrian Army has mostly only engaged Jaysh al-Islam militants due to the main focus of the operations being in the eastern half of the rebel bastion where the insurgent groups predominates.

In taking the main urban regions of East Ghouta itself, the Syrian Army will now encounter a multitude of other rebel factions simultaneously including Al-Qaeda affiliate Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham (better known by its former name Jabhat al-Nusra), Syrian Muslim Brotherhood affiliate Ahrar al-Sham and Free Syrian Army affiliate Faylaq al-Rahman.

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SYRIAN WAR REPORT – FEBRUARY 16, 2018: TURKISH FORCES CAPTURE LARGE AREA IN AFRIN

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On February 15, the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) achieved a major breakthrough in their battle against Kurdish YPG/YPJ forces in the area of Afrin. The TAF and the FSA captured the villages of Karri, Sharbanli, Kamrash, Shadia, Khara Suluq, Jaqla Tahtani, Durakili and Diwan al-Fawqani. The YPG counter-attacked in Sirinjak and Duraqli but failed to achieve any progress.

Pro-Turkish sources say that over 40 YPG members were killed in the recent clashes. The total number of so-called ‘neutralized terrorists’ claimed by the Turkish General Staff since the start of Operation Olive Branch is over 1,500.

On February 16, clashes between Turkish forces and the YPG continued across Afrin as the TAF and the FSA further developed momentum.

Amid the Tukrish success, the Lebanese al-Mayadin TV reported that the Damascus government and the YPG had allegedly reached an agreement over Afrin. The agreement will reportedly allow units of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) to enter the area. However, this report is still not confirmed by official sources. Previous media reports about the alleged Damascus-YPG agreement were dismissed by the YPG.

Another Turkish military convoy entered the province of Idlib and is now establishing an observation point in the village of Sarman, according to pro-opposition sources. The TAF already has observation points in al-Eis and Tell Tuqan. If it establishes the next one somewhere near Khan Shaykhun, any SAA offensive operation in Idlib will be blocked by Turkish forces.

Militant groups operating in northern Homs announced on February 15 that they had withdrawn from a de-escalation agreement with the SAA and said that they will not conduct any direct talks with the Damascus government. They also called on Ankara to help them to combat what they called the Assad regime.

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