Archive for the ‘Raqqa’ category

After years of empty U.S. promises, Trump arms Kurds fighting ISIS in Syria

May 31, 2017

After years of empty U.S. promises, Trump arms Kurds fighting ISIS in Syria, Hot Air, Andrew Malcolm, May 31, 2017

Now, Kurdish and Arab troops in Syria, working with U.S. Special Forces, will have their own armored cars, heavy machine guns, bulldozers, antitank weapons and mortars because as one Pentagon spokesman put it, the Kurds are the “only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”

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About time.

Finally, after years of dangerous dawdling the United States has actually begun arming Kurdish soldiers fighting ISIS in Syria.

Weapons supplies had been stockpiled nearby in anticipation of President Trump’s go-ahead, which came Monday. The armament distributions, which the commander-in-chief approved despite fierce opposition from NATO ally Turkey, will enable the tough Kurdish fighters to participate more aggressively in the imminent assault on the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa.

The Obama administration talked of arming the Kurds, who also led the anti-ISIS fighting in northern Iraq, but wilted in the face of resistance from the Baghdad central government and Turkey. More than $200 million in armaments were earmarked for the Kurds and left behind in the Iraqi capital when Obama withdrew all U.S. troops in 2011. But somehow they never reached the Kurds, who were often left fighting ISIS forces that had better U.S. equipment captured from fleeing Iraqi troops.

Now, Kurdish and Arab troops in Syria, working with U.S. Special Forces, will have their own armored cars, heavy machine guns, bulldozers, antitank weapons and mortars because as one Pentagon spokesman put it, the Kurds are the “only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”

The arming decision comes as Secy. of Defense James Mattis has ordered changes in strategy against ISIS. Mattis describes the change as moving from an “attrition strategy,” which allowed ISIS fighters to escape current battles, to an “annihilation strategy,” which involves encirclement and total destruction. Mattis has also given battlefield commanders increased leeway in decision-making, which under Obama often involved seeking time-consuming approval all the way back to the White House.

Unhappy Turkish officials were informed of Trump’s decision Monday. They regard the Kurdistan Workers Party, P.K.K., as separatist terrorists within Turkey’s borders. Indeed, the U.S. and European allies also list the PKK as a terrorist outfit. However, the U.S. recognizes the separate People’s Protection Units of the Y.P.G. as an ally with the most experienced fighters. Bottom line: The more fighting the valiant Kurds do, the less potential involvement of U.S. forces.

Turkey made its position clear last month by bombing Kurdish units fighting in Syria with the U.S., dashing hopes that President Recep Erdogan would modify his position since he’s consolidated power.

To mollify Turkish concerns, Pentagon officials said the new arms will be doled out only according to the needs of the upcoming assignments. And they said every weapon would be accounted for afterward.

Uh-huh, right.

Russian siege on Raqqa, distant from US troops

May 27, 2017

Russian siege on Raqqa, distant from US troops, DEBKAfile, May 27, 2017

DEBKAfile’s military sources can disclose that Putin has ordered the Russian commanders in Syria to impose an aerial and special forces ground siege on the northern town of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto Syrian capital. This move was designed to match the American initiative on the strategic Syrian-Iraqi border, without a military clash.

Why Raqqa? Firstly, it is in the north, far from the American positions. Second, Russian intelligence had apparently discovered a deal between the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces – SDF – and ISIS which allowed the jihadists safe passage out of their stronghold towards the south.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin acted to strengthen the military alliance he had set up with Iran and Turkey for working together in Syria – as a counterweight to President Donald Trump’s spectacular success in forging a Sunni Arab bloc during his four days in the Middle East.

It was a tough call. Putin’s allies demanded action to prevent a Syrian rebel force, backed by US, Western and Jordanian special forces, from taking control of the Syrian-Iraqi border. The Russian leader had to find a way to satisfy them without getting into a clash of arms with American troops.

On Saturday, May 27, as Trump flew home from his nine-day trip, Putin turned the dilemma over with his two allies, President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and the newly-elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani.

Three days earlier, the Russian president was put on the spot by Iran’s National Security Adviser Ali Shamkhani, who arrived in Moscow Wednesday, May 24. He slapped down a demand from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for an answer as to how the Russian leader proposed to put a stop to the takeover by American special forces and their allies of the eastern province of Deir ez-Zour and the Al-Tanf crossing at the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle. (See attached map)

Shamkhani warned Putin that without fast action, the Americans would block the routes from Baghdad to Damascus against the passage of Iranian and Russian forces.

The Russian leader took a couple of days to come up with a stratagem, which he revealed to Erdogan during their conversation on Saturday.

DEBKAfile’s military sources can disclose that Putin has ordered the Russian commanders in Syria to impose an aerial and special forces ground siege on the northern town of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto Syrian capital. This move was designed to match the American initiative on the strategic Syrian-Iraqi border, without a military clash.

Why Raqqa? Firstly, it is in the north, far from the American positions. Second, Russian intelligence had apparently discovered a deal between the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces – SDF – and ISIS which allowed the jihadists safe passage out of their stronghold towards the south.

The Russian siege on Raqqa was therefore a move against the US-backed SDF and the Kurds, without getting entangled in a direct showdown with the US forces in the South: Putin had installed a Russian-backed foothold in northern Syria to counter the US-led front in the south.

Immediately after the Putin-Erdogan phone call, a Russian military source in Moscow released this story: “Russian intelligence drones have set up a perimeter around the city ([Raqqa] to monitor possible terrorist escape routes, with combat aircraft and special forces units engaged in preventing militants’ escape.” The report went on to warn that any attempts by ISIS fighters to leave the town “will be squashed.”

Putin’s maneuver in Syria was designed to achieve three goals:

1. To counterbalance the America-led takeover of the Syrian-Iraqi border in the south, the Russians would assert control of the northern section of that same border.

2.  To showcase the Russian army as the great champions fighting the Islamic State terrorists, compared with the American troops and their allies who had turned aside from this mission, although President Trump had made it the centerpiece of his nine-day trip.

Putin was careful not to name his objective as the conquest of Raqqa, but only a siege operation.

3. To hit US allies, such as the Syrian Kurds in the north, without tangling with the Americans in combat.

Trump authorizes heavy weapons for Kurds fighting Raqqa

May 9, 2017

Trump authorizes heavy weapons for Kurds fighting Raqqa, DEBKAfile, May 9, 2017

US President Donald Trump has approved supplying weapons to Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria, the Pentagon says. The Kurdish YPG leading the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be equipped to help drive ISIS from its stronghold, Raqqa, a spokeswoman said. The US was “keenly aware” of Turkey’s concerns about such a move, she added. The SDF, which comprises Kurdish and Arab militias, is already being supported by elite US forces and air strikes from a US-led coalition. The group is currently battling for control of the city of Tabqa, an ISIS command centre just 50km (30 miles) from Raqqa. The equipment would include ammunition, small arms, machine guns, heavy machine guns, construction equipment such as bulldozers and armored vehicles. The Pentagon ource added that the US would “seek to recover” the equipment afterwards.

 

New ISIS mobile tactics against US in Syria, Iraq

May 8, 2017

New ISIS mobile tactics against US in Syria, Iraq, DEBKAfile, May 8, 2017

The effect of this tactic has been disastrous. Capable of penetrating as far as 10 km inside Iraqi lines, the deadly vehicles and suiciders have managed to slow the US-Iraqi advance and, in some places, brought it to a halt. The method has won the title of “crust mobile defense” from American commanders in Syria and Iraq

In short, the Mosul offensive, estimated to last a couple of months, is going into its eighth month with no end in sight.

A live example of this method was seen in Iraq Sunday, May 7, when at least five ISIS suicide bombers detonated their explosives vests against Kurdish Peshmerga forces outside the K1 base near the northern oil city of Kirkuk where US instructors are deployed. At least two Kurdish servicemen were killed.

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It is important to get the spate of reported successes by US-backed forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in proper proportion – in particular, the impression that ISIS is falling back from its strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa and that its certain defeat is just around the corner.

On Monday, May 8, it was disclosed that Sheikh Abdul Hasib, Islamic State commander in the Afghan province of Khorasan was killed in a raid on April 27 by US and Afghan special operations forces, in which two US Army Rangers lost their lives.

All these reports are accurate as far as they go, but they don’t take into account the upbeat sense prevailing in the ISIS command. The Islamic organization’s strategists, former officers of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein regime and Baath party, are confident they have found a convincing tactical answer to the American push for crushing them in Mosul. They don’t believe they are close to defeat or that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s caliphate is anywhere near collapse.

DEBKAfile’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources offer six reasons for the jihadists’ confidence, which the Mosul battle has if anything solidified:

1.  The numbers of ISIS fighters still fighting in the Old City of Mosul is seriously underestimated as 300-400 by American and Iraqi military sources. The true figure is ten times larger – 3,000-4,000.

2.   The American and the Iraqi commands have not worked out how to counter the ISIS forces’ device of connecting tunnels running under buildings, which are accessed through holes blown through the walls of attached buildings. The jihadists can therefore move around between battles unobserved.

3.  The only force able to combat ISIS tactics is the Iraqi Gold Division, the one elite force available to the US-Iraqi command. It is not however large enough to fight in more than one arena at once and is, moreover, too slow-moving to overwhelm the swift, invisible ISIS fighters. Most other Iraqi army units have been withdrawn from the Mosul front after being decimated.

4.  ISIS has given up the strategy of defending large urban areas, pursued early in its campaign of conquest in such places as Ramadi, Tikrit and Fallujah – and the start of its defense of Mosul. Instead, their commanders have split them up into small detachments of no more than 10-15 fighters each for commando and suicide raids against their adversaries. These detachments are supported by a large group well behind the front lines which is running assembly lines of booby-trapped cars for delivery to the commando detachments.

Each is provided with more than a dozen explosive cars for release against Iraqi and US troops for maximum losses, as well plenty of exposive vests for multiple suicide attacks.

5. The effect of this tactic has been disastrous. Capable of penetrating as far as 10 km inside Iraqi lines, the deadly vehicles and suiciders have managed to slow the US-Iraqi advance and, in some places, brought it to a halt. The method has won the title of “crust mobile defense” from American commanders in Syria and Iraq

In short, the Mosul offensive, estimated to last a couple of months, is going into its eighth month with no end in sight.

A live example of this method was seen in Iraq Sunday, May 7, when at least five ISIS suicide bombers detonated their explosives vests against Kurdish Peshmerga forces outside the K1 base near the northern oil city of Kirkuk where US instructors are deployed. At least two Kurdish servicemen were killed.

6. High on the success of their tactics in Iraq, ISIS chiefs are duplicating it at the Raqqa battlefield in Syria. They have begun relocating their northern Syrian command centers to the eastern Deir ez-Zor region and Euphrates Valley, which straddles the Syrian-Iraqi border. The terrorist organization has selected the small desert town of Al-Mayadin east of Deir ez-Zor as the next seat for its central command, mainly because of its isolation. Only five roads access the town, most of them not fit for vehicular traffic and so any approaching enemy is quickly exposed.

ISIS is now planning to post its “crust mobile defense system” squads along the 170km of road linking Al Mayadin to Raqqa.

Before US whacks ISIS-Syria, Al Qaeda is resurgent

March 13, 2017

Before US whacks ISIS-Syria, Al Qaeda is resurgent, DEBKAfile, March 13, 2017

After the breakup of defeated Syrian rebel groups, who were forced to leave the northern town and head for neighboring Idlib, hundreds of rebels remained and refused to lay down arms. Instead, they joined Al Qaeda and have made the Islamist terrorist group the most powerful independent rebel force still fighting in northern Syria as well as in the surrounding areas of the main towns, including Damascus, Homs and Hama.

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The main thrust of the campaign against the Islamic State in Syria ordered by the Trump administration is still ahead, but ISIS forces did not wait in their Raqqa stronghold for the axe to fall. They moved southeast into the Deir ez-Zour region, where they are beating back Hizballah’s elite Radwan Battalion, which has just been deployed there.

But meanwhile a new-old menace has raised its head: Al Qaeda and its Syrian affiliates which are seizing upon the mounting upheaval in the Syria for a fresh wave of terror. Saturday, March 11, two bomb explosions killed 74 pilgrims, most of them Iraqi Shiites, on a visit to an ancient cemetery in the Old City of Damascus. The second explosion was delayed so as to hit full on the Syrian police and rescuers rushing to the scene.

The same Al Qaeda branch planned and perpetrated the large-scale terrorist attack on Syrian government military facilities in the town of Homs on Feb. 25. Two generals were among the scores of dead troops.

Counterterrorism experts are warning US President Donald Trump to tread very carefully in the offensive he is preparing to launch against ISIS in Syria, since this organization’s defeat may well open the door to an Al Qaeda comeback in full and deadly spate to the Syrian arena.

This is what happened in the wake of the Russian-led Syrian victory in Aleppo in January, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources note. After the breakup of defeated Syrian rebel groups, who were forced to leave the northern town and head for neighboring Idlib, hundreds of rebels remained and refused to lay down arms. Instead, they joined Al Qaeda and have made the Islamist terrorist group the most powerful independent rebel force still fighting in northern Syria as well as in the surrounding areas of the main towns, including Damascus, Homs and Hama.

On Jan. 26, Al Qaeda announced its merger with four smaller factions under another new brand name, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organization). The new outfit attracted many new recruits who had never before been attached to Al Qaeda.

Hashim al-Sheikh aka Abu Jabir, who fought the Americans in the Iraq war under Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, was named leader of the new Islamist terror alliance. Reputed to be a skilled war tactician who never gives up, his appointment attracted another wave of Syrian rebel fighters.

Al Nusra’s first commander, Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, has meanwhile reappeared as head of a group calling itself Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. Joulani has tried claiming he operates independently of Al Qaeda, although in fact he follows the orders of Ayman Al-Zawahiri to the letter and, according to some sources, is secretly working hand in glove with Hashim al-Sheikh.

An additional source of Al Qaeda’s renewed strength comes from the success of the combined Russian-Iranian-Hizballah forces to smash all the Syrian rebel groups who once fought the jihadist organization. Their disintegration has left Zawahiri’s following in Syria without effective adversaries. But it has Its Achilles heel too in the turf wars among the Syrian branch’s component groups – especially in the northern Idlib Province.

According to our military sources, the Russian, Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah commanders are together weighing an operation for taking control of Idlib. However, there too, if the Syrian rebels, who are fugitive from other fronts, are driven east or the south, Al Qaeda may again turn out to be the winner..

Therefore, even if President Trump and his generals are resolved to focus fully on a military operation to capture the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa – which has meanwhile emptied out of fighter – it is essential to detach enough fighting strength for dealing with the resurgent Al Qaeda. Failing to do so would leave the US forces at the Raqqa front vulnerable to attack from the rear by Al Qaeda, as the Russians and Iranians have found since they conquered Aleppo.

ISIS will survive Mosul and Raqqa

November 2, 2016

ISIS will survive Mosul and Raqqa, Israel Hayom, Dr. Ori Goldberg, November 2, 2016

The American administration recently announced that it is planning an offensive to take the city of Raqqa, the Syrian “capital” of Islamic State. The American announcement illustrates the overarching logic behind the current campaign against Islamic State. According to this logic, Islamic State is, in fact, a state. And one state defeats another if it conquers its capital. Such a conquest forces the enemy’s administrative institutions to crumble, along with its remaining forces and defenses, while the conquering country can effectively “take control” of the vanquished country.

Reality, however, does not necessarily abide logic, as we will see when Raqqa is taken, because Islamic State is not a state. Even its expected defeat in Mosul, along with the future downfall of Raqqa, cannot dissolve the “Islamic State,” because it is just one expression, or one phase, of an ongoing struggle. The purpose of this struggle is to prepare the world for the day of judgment, and a ready world is a world that realizes the weakness and fallacy inherent to the human political order.

The state of Islamic State is a mirror intended to demonstrate to the entire world the tenuous nature of the “Arab” states in the Middle East. The role of this state is to rise, and after it has risen to make a laughing stock of the countries around it. It melts away borders and nullifies national identity; it rejects the laws of the state and the international community, and scorns such ideas as “human rights.”

ISIS, however, does not portend to be a complete or sufficient alternative to the Western model or to any other model. The Islamic State is part of a path whose ending is already known — judgment day will come, the final battle will be decided and the Muslims will win. Therefore, when Raqqa falls Islamic State will not simply vanish into thin air. If the tangible Islamic State can no longer fulfil its grand purpose, another means of fulfilling it will be found. When the physical state finally collapses, after much blood is spilled, the citizens who lived under its boot will surely breathe a sigh of relief. The soldiers of the Islamic State will disperse; some will join any of the numerous terrorist groups out there, others will go back home to their worried parents, from Tunisia to Kosovo. The idea of Islamic State, however, will not dissipate in the slightest. Quite the opposite, it can be expected to grow stronger.

The creation of the Islamic State marked a significant escalation for global jihad. Many talked about a caliphate while waging jihad over the years, from the mid-1980s in Afghanistan until today, but no one felt secure enough to implement the idea. Islamic State took the step and was successful, specifically because it never believed that having a state was the end all and be all.

The memory of the Islamic State will encourage new believers, in groups or on their own, to continue undermining the stability and unity in their host countries. Violence will continue to be, to an even higher degree, the most readily accessible and effective way to expand Islamic State’s jihadi doctrine and religious struggle. There is no reason to necessarily expect grandiose terrorist attacks in the style of al-Qaida.

The purpose of Islamic State does not lie in the spectacle, the widespread destruction or in the unfathomable number of casualties. We can, however, expect a dogged response unrestrained by time or distance. The current and soon-to-be martyrdom in Mosul and Raqqa is not the result of loyalty to the state, rather a devotion to the unceasing advance forward, toward the assured end.

US mull hitting ISIS for EgyptAir bombing

May 22, 2016

US mull hitting ISIS for EgyptAir bombing, DEBKAfile, May 22, 2016

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A special team set up by ISIS in its Syrian capital Raqqa planned the downing of EgyptAir Flight 804 from Paris to Cairo, which took the lives of 66 passengers and crew, DEBKAfile’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources say in an exclusive report.

The information that an ISIS team ploting terrorist attacks has been operating in Raqqa for several weeks was known to American intelligence and counterterrorism services even before the downing of the Egyptian airliner, and warnings containing the information were sent to several Western European capitals, including Paris.

The warnings said ISIS is prepare a series of large-scale attacks in main European cities and airports with the start of the summer travel season.

That is the main reason why both Paris and Cairo said the plane was downed by an act of terror on May 19 as soon as it became clear that the airliner had crashed into the Mediterranean 288 kilometers north of Alexandria, even before the debris was found.

Our sources report that the US has decided to maintain its original plan, prepared  before the downing of Flight 804, to impose a siege on Raqqa in an attempt to prevent terror cells from leaving the city and carrying out attacks.

On Saturday, May 21, US Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of American forces in the Middle East, made a secret visit to Syria, the first of its kind by a senior US officer since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. Votel, who recently assumed command, visited Kurdish YPG militia forces and the US special forces troops at Rmelan airbase located 288 kilometers northeast of Raqqa. The American force is equipped with AH-64 Apache attack helicopters capable of attacking Raqqa within a relatively short period of time.

The purpose of Gen. Votel’s visit was to look into the viability of a US-Kurdish strike in retaliation for the downing of the Egyptian plane. It should be assumed that US President Barack Obama will need to make a decision on the operation in the coming hours.

Over the weekend, ISIS, which is aware of the American plans, enabled citizens to leave Raqqa if they wished to do so. ISIS does not want to have to worry about the civilian population if there is a US-Kurdish attack or siege.

In the meantime, Washington and Cairo are stalling for time while considering their options.

That is the reason why US and Egyptian officials, and even Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, continued to claim on May 22 that more time is needed to determine the cause of the crash.

It was also the reason why, soon after the air disaster, it was claimed that there was no distress call or any other message regarding a problem with the plane.

But two days after the crash, on May 21, following the recovery of debris and parts of the bodies of the passengers, there were suddenly reports that they signals from the plane of smoke in two places in the aircraft.

Investigators say it is still not clear what caused the smoke, whether a fire or fires broke out on the plane, or whether the fire eventually caused the crash, but al the signs point to an internal explosion.

DEBKAfile sources report that both Paris and Cairo believe that the crash was caused by a new type of small time bomb, or several of them, that were smuggled into the plane and planted by Charles de Gaulle airport workers loyal to ISIS.

The sources point out that ISIS explosives experts specialize in building very small devices that can be smuggled onto planes. A device within a Coca-Cola can downed a Russian Airbus A321 over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31, killing all 224 passengers and crew.

Our sources also report that investigators of the latest crash believe that just as ISIS blew up the Russian plane in retaliation for Moscow’s intervention in Syria, the downing of the Egyptian plane is linked to the entry by Egyptian special forces into Libya during the last few weeks to take action against ISIS forces.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that an Egyptian special force is operating with a  US elite units against ISIS targets in eastern Libya near the port city of Tobruk.