Posted tagged ‘Syrian rebels’

Shoigu in Damascus, Tehran for anti-ISIS drive

September 13, 2017

Shoigu in Damascus, Tehran for anti-ISIS drive, DEBKAfile, September 13, 2017

Our military sources point out that now, because ISIS is concentrating on battering the Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces and stalled their advance to the Euphrates Valley, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, consisting mainly of Syrian Kurdish fighters from the YPG militia, have found that the road from Raqqa to Deir Ez-Zour is open and are overtaking the Russian-backed forces. The SDF is advancing rapidly with US helicopters providing them with fuel so their vehicles can press forward.

Ahead may be decision to commit more Russian military forces to the war against ISIS or explore a path to a breakthrough in talks with the Americans.

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After a tense conversation with Bashar Assad in Damascus Tuesday, Sept. 12, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources discovered the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had flown secretly to Tehran the next day. He then proceeded directly to Sochi to brief President Vladimir Putin on his mission, which was to pull together the Russian-backed Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah operations against ISIS on the Syrian-Iraqi border.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that Shoigu’s visits capped this effort by Moscow.

The bright prospects of success in breaking the ISIS’ long siege of Deir ez-Zour announced at the beginning of the week dimmed on Tuesday and Wednesday, when the claims of a major victory proved unexpectedly premature.

As of Wednesday evening, Syrian army units were still locked in battle for control of the main road from Damascus to Deir Ez-Zour, and were still about 15km away from the city. Reports that the ISIS siege on the large Syrian airbase adjoining Deir Ez-Zour had been lifted were also premature.  On Wednesday night, ISIS forces were still attacking the base’s perimeter in an attempt to break through.

In other words, the lofty claims in recent days by senior Russian officers, President Assad and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, claiming the war was won, aside from small scattered battles, were over-hasty.

Our military sources point out that now, because ISIS is concentrating on battering the Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces and stalled their advance to the Euphrates Valley, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, consisting mainly of Syrian Kurdish fighters from the YPG militia, have found that the road from Raqqa to Deir Ez-Zour is open and are overtaking the Russian-backed forces. The SDF is advancing rapidly with US helicopters providing them with fuel so their vehicles can press forward.

As of Wednesday evening, the SDF was just 6 km away from Deir Ez-Zour, ahead of the Russian-backed armies which were taking the brunt of ISIS attacks.

When he saw this happening, Russian President Putin sent his defense minister over to Damascus and Tehran to look for ways to break through to the next operations scheduled for attacking ISIS strongholds on the Syrian-Iraqi border. Ahead may be decision to commit more Russian military forces to the war against ISIS or explore a path to a breakthrough in talks with the Americans..

US-Russian pincer for ISIS in Euphrates Valley

September 10, 2017

US-Russian pincer for ISIS in Euphrates Valley, DEBKAfile, September 10, 2017

The US and Russia have just agreed to each provide air support for a conjoined pincer movement to pin the Islamic State down in its last strongholds of Abu Kamal and Mayadin in the Euphrates Valley, DEBKAfile reports from exclusive intelligence sources.

The number of jihadists assembled there, mainly from Mosul and Raqqa, is estimated at 10,000.

The new US-Russian understanding, our military sources say, provides a roadmap for twin offensives – one led by Syrian regime, Hizballah and pro-Iranian militia armies; the second, by the pro-US Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF),  the Kurdish YPG and the Syrian Arab Shammari Sanadid Brigade. The first will fight under Russian air cover and the second under US air support. The tribesmen are fighting with the blessing of Saudi Arabia.

The two columns will advance through two separate corridors.

The Russian-backed formation will head east from the town of Ash-Shula along the M20 highway. En route, they are tasked with completing the capture of Deir ez-Zour, after breaking through the ISIS siege last week, and mopping up ISIS fighters outside the town. After that, they will head northwest to their final destination, the border town of Abu Kamal.

The US-backed force will set out from the northern Syrian Kurdish province of Hasakeh and push on to the Khabur River, a tributary of the Euphrates. (See map.)  After crossing the Khabur, they will head along the Euphrates bank for the same destination, Abu Kamal.

Since the Russian and US air forces will both be operating in a very tight space, the US war room at the CENTCOM commander center in Baghdad and the Russian Hmeimim Air base in Syrian Latakia, will be coordinating aerial operations closely enough to prevent accidental collisions.

An agreement was reached between the US and the Syrian regime to drop references to “de-escalation zones”  and instead talk about “deconfliction.”

Although the two powers have reached an unprecedented measure of accord for working together with their respective allies and proxies for a concerted effort to wipe out the last ISIS strongholds along the Syrian-Iraqi border, nonetheless certain areas are still unresolved:

1. Which of the two will take charge of the oil fields of Deir ez-Zour? Control of this oil-rich region region is a valuable strategic prize for the winner.

2. Which of the two formations will actually lead the battles for Abu Kamal and Mayadin?

3.  And which of the two will be left in control of the Syrian-Iraqi border running through the Euphrates Valley?

Leaving any of these these points up in the air is a recipe for major clashes between the pro-Russian and pro-US forces which have banded together pro tem against the Islamic State’s last stand.

Syria declares truce before Trump-Putin talks

July 3, 2017

Syria declares truce before Trump-Putin talks, DEBKAfile, July 3, 2017

The picture beginning to unfold is that Washington and Moscow are making an effort to put in place the outline of a plan for deconfliction zones, in time for the first Trump-Putin encounter that is scheduled for later this week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

However, the two presidents may find pushing hard against them are Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Assad and Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts. This trio is in full momentum of an offensive to seize this prized, bitterly-contested border region of Syria, and convinced that the tide of this offensive is rolling in their favor.

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The Syrian army Monday July 3 suddenly declared a ceasefire in the fierce fighting with rebel forces in the southern districts on the Israeli and Jordanian borders.

This was just one of three unexpected events occurring in this embattled part of Syria in the last 24 hours:

1. The ceasefire Damascus said would be in force up until Wednesday, July 6 covers all the active battlefronts in the South: Daraa just 1 km from the Jordanian border: Quneitra – from which Syrian military mortars flew across into the Golan all last week; and Suwaydeh which lies east of Daraa.

Oddly enough, the ceasefire was not announced until Monday afternoon, although it went into effect Sunday midnight without notice.  According to our sources, the Russians most likely had to twist President Bashar Assad’s arm to overcome his refusal to order his army to stop fighting. And then too he would only accept a four-day pause before resuming combat.

2.  The announcement coincided with a meeting of Russian, Turkish and Iranian diplomats in the Kazakh capital of Astana to discuss the carving out of four de-escalation zones in Syria, one of which is southern Syria, where the ceasefire went into force.

3. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that this step is the first visible sign of an initial understanding reached by American and Russian officers in secret talks Saturday, July 1, in Amman. They discussed the ceasefire in the South for paving the way for establishing a demilitarized zone in eastern Syria.

According to our sources, their understanding covered a 128km strip running from Tabqa in the north up to Karama in the Euphrates River valley. It is not yet clear whether the Syrian army and the pro-Iranian Iraqi and Hizballah forces fighting there will agree to halt their advance on the Syrian-Iraqi border, in compliance with the Russian-US understanding.

The picture beginning to unfold is that Washington and Moscow are making an effort to put in place the outline of a plan for deconfliction zones, in time for the first Trump-Putin encounter that is scheduled for later this week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

However, the two presidents may find pushing hard against them are Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Assad and Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts. This trio is in full momentum of an offensive to seize this prized, bitterly-contested border region of Syria, and convinced that the tide of this offensive is rolling in their favor.

Ignatius: Fighters in Syria Cheer Mention of Trump’s Name

July 3, 2017

Ignatius: Fighters in Syria Cheer Mention of Trump’s Name, Washington Free Beacon, July 3, 2017

 

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius said Monday that during his travels in Syria, rebel fighters there cheered any mention of President Donald Trump’s name.

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Ignatius prefaced his comments by warning that he would say something “sympathetic to Trump.” It was only the second airing of the show since Trump touched off a firestorm with his tweets mocking Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

“As I traveled across Syria meeting with Syrian fighters who were trying to take down the regime of Bashar al-Assad, every time the name President Trump was mentioned, there were cheers from the audience,” he said in a clip flagged by Legal Insurrection.

One Syrian Kurdish commander, Ignatius said, colorfully remarked Trump had the equivalent of what would be called “cajones” in Spanish. Ignatius said Trump’s looser approach allowed commanders on the ground to more expeditiously carry out operations.

“More seriously, the big attacks that have taken place around Raqqa, one in particular, a surprise landing by helicopter, I was told, by the top U.S. commanders, would not have taken place if it hadn’t been for President Trump’s decision to delegate military authorities down to the level of command,” Ignatius said. “Under Obama, that would have taken a couple weeks of White House meetings, and they still wouldn’t have made up their mind.”

In March, the U.S. airlifted hundreds of fighters in an attack to help cut off Raqqa, the Islamic State’s proclaimed capital. The New York Times reported this was a result of Trump’s delegating approach.

Trump ordered a retaliatory strike against Syria in April after Assad’s regime killed more than 80 people in a chemical attack. Last week, the White House publicly threatened him with a “heavy price” if he carried out another attack.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Trump’s warning to the Syrian regime to not deploy a chemical weapons attack saved “many innocent men, women and children.”

Northern border heating up

June 27, 2017

Northern border heating up, Israel Hayom, Ofek Ish Maas, June 27, 2017

(Please see also, After IDF retaliates for spillover, Syrian army warns Israel.– DM)

In the past few days, the Syrian civil war has been knocking on Israel’s door. On Saturday, 10 errant mortars and tank shells landed in the northern Golan Heights, and at the beginning of the week the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit reported a few more ordnance hits in open areas.

In accordance with policy, the IDF responded by firing at Syrian army targets. But although tenuous quiet has been restored, we cannot discount the possibility that errant fire from Syria will continue and increase.

The army of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which was responsible for the errant fire, is trying to block an attack by rebels, who want to break through and reach the highway that leads from Damascus to the southwestern city of Daraa, which has been the site of heavy fighting for control of southern Syria over the past month.

Since the beginning of June, Daraaa has been subjected to massive bombing by the Syrian regime and its allies. Hundreds of barrel bombs and rockets and dozens of bombs from Syrian and Russian planes have rained down on the city. According to rebel reports, some of the bombs even included phosphorus. Among other things, in an attempt to deter the rebels, the regime intentionally attacked a school in a nearby village, killing more than 20 women and children who had sought shelter there. The worsening situation led the local government to declare Daraa and its surroundings a disaster area.

Daraa, which lies about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) east of Israel and 13 kilometers (8 miles) north of Syria’s border with Jordan, is a strategic target for the Syrian regime. First, control over border crossings in a symbol of sovereignty and the implementation of Assad’s desire to once again control all of Syria. Second, the regime and its Shiite allies want to reduce the chance of a sustainable security buffer zone under Western, Jordanian, and Israeli influence being established in southern Syria. Assad’s forces reaching the Jordanian border would stop the supply of logistic, military, and humanitarian aid Western and Persian Gulf nations are sending the rebels and would create a divide between the two rebel-controlled areas in southern Syria.

With a goal so important to the regime, and with the increasingly serious stand-off between the U.S., Russia, and Iran in eastern Syria threatening any chances of a peace deal in the south, it appears that nothing is stopping Assad from proceeding full force.

The ramifications for Israel’s security could be heavy. In the short term, if we see a repeat of the images out of Aleppo at the end of 2016 — women and children slaughtered, buildings collapsing with people inside, the use of unconventional weapons against civilians — there will be waves of displaced persons, some of whom might seek shelter along the border, in Israel’s shadow, and even ask for asylum. In the long term, Israel’s northeastern front could become a stronghold of Iran, Hezbollah, and other Shiite militias that would comprise a threat to security and safety in northern Israel.

Israel must decide how it will prepare to prevent these dangerous scenarios. It must choose between increasing support for the Sunni rebels as a buffer against Iran and its satellites, or assenting through silence to Assad returning to power. If Israel wants to stick to the idea of a buffer zone, it will have to increase support for the rebels and provide them with defense coverage, both diplomatic, against Russia, and military, in hope that the U.S. will agree. But diverting American attention to southwestern Syria will hamper its efforts to defeat the Islamic State in the east and prevent Iran from filling the ensuing vacuum. Israel, therefore, would have to roll up its sleeves and plunge its hands into the Syrian mess. On the other hand, if Israel is unwilling to do so, it will have to set clear rules of engagement for the Assad regime, which is regaining ground, by demanding that Iranian satellites not gain a foothold in the region and backing that demand up with military action.

In any case, neither option is certain and each has its risks. But the reality in Syria, especially in the south of the country, is changing fast, and the comparative security that Israel has been enjoying is in danger and requires immediate planning and responses.

Ofek Ish Maas (Riemer) is a research assistant at the Institute for National Security Studies.

Golan battles bring Hizballah near Israeli border

June 25, 2017

Golan battles bring Hizballah near Israeli border, DEBKAfile, June 25, 2017

But for now,  both these warfronts hang in the balance and are undecided. Also undecided on how and when to react are Israel and Jordan. Hizballah is already 3km from the Golan border, although Israel’s government and military leaders have pledged repeatedly that they would be allowed to come in so close.

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In the last 48 hours, Israel has conducted air strikes on and aimed tank fire at Syrian army positions near Quneitra’s northern suburb of Baath city, 3km from IDF Golan border defenses. (See map). Those positions were the source of the mortar shells that exploded on the Israeli Golan – 10 on Saturday, June 24 and three the next day. They came from a battle in which Syrian and Hizballah units were fighting off a Syrian rebel offensive around Quneitra.

The rebel militias set up a coalition to coordinate their offensive. It is dominated by the Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which Damascus claims is an arm of Al Qaeda-Syria. In fact, it is an alignment of dozens of Islamist groups, some of which belonged and still do to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham – the former Nusra Front.

Fighting on the side of the Assad regime are the remnants of the Syrian army’s 90thBrigade, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards South Syrian command center, and the pro-Iranian Afghan Shiite militia.

They are joined by members of Hizballah’s Southern Shield Brigade.

This brigade is made up of Palestinians, Druzes, Circassians and local Syrians, whom Hizballah recruited and has posted in Hermon villages ready to launch terrorist attacks inside Israel.

The battle around Quneitra was preceded on June 17 by the assassination of Majd a-Din Khalik Khaymoud, commander of the Southern Shield Brigade and his two lieutenants, who were caught in an ambush near the village of Khan Arnabah. No party took responsibility for this attack.

Then, on Saturday, June 24, the rebel coalition launched its offensive on the Syrian-Hizballah units at Al-Baath, boasting that they would not stop until they reached Damascus. Although they caught the enemy by surprise, they were unable to follow up with a rapid advance, because they were pushed back by superior fire power. Since the Syrian mortars were aiming their fire at the rebel units concentrated around Quneitra, i.e., from east to west, some of the shells spilled over the border into the Golan.

When the rebels saw they were falling short of their objective, they drummed up a more modest goal: It was to open a second front in order to lighten the pressure on a separate rebel organization which for nearly three weeks has been fighting off fierce assaults on their positions in the southern Syrian town of Daraa, close to the Jordanian border.

Assad’s army, combined with large-scale Hizballah units and pro-Iranian forces, are therefore in full flight to seize control of Syria’s borders with Jordan and Israel. Amman and Jerusalem therefore face a twin peril on the Daraa and Al-Baath fronts.   Both are anxious to keep Hizballah as far as possible from their territory.

But for now,  both these warfronts hang in the balance and are undecided. Also undecided on how and when to react are Israel and Jordan. Hizballah is already 3km from the Golan border, although Israel’s government and military leaders have pledged repeatedly that they would be allowed to come in so close.

Syrian-Hizballah massacre in Daraa: 140 dead

June 12, 2017

Syrian-Hizballah massacre in Daraa: 140 dead, DEBKAfile, June 12, 2017

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, any Syrian rebels surviving the initial onslaught on the town had no choice but to fall back. They could only find sanctuary in two places – Jordan, to the south, or the Al-Tanf Syrian-Iraqi border crossing to the east, which is held by US and Jordanian special forces. Those forces did not intervene in the Daraa debacle.

After capturing Daraa, the next victim of a Syrian-Hizballah massacre is most probably Quneitra, which lies less than 9km from the Israeli border. Its capture would bring every last Syrian town bordering Jordan and Israel under their domination.

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Bashar Assad’s troops and his allies, the Iran-backed Lebanese Hizballah, are notorious for their barbaric cruelty to the populations they conquer. But even by their own appalling standards, the massacre they wreaked against the 100,000 citizens of the southern Syrian town of Daraa this week must stand out as a milestone from hell.

Posted in the town, just one kilometer from the Jordanian border, were 3,000 anti-Assad rebels, some of whom joined the Free Syrian Army to be trained and armed by the United States and Jordan. The offensive the Syrian government army and Hizballah launched against their positions on Sunday, June 11, left 140 dead and hundreds injured in its first hours.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that it started with dozens of Syrian air force helicopters dropping 150 explosive barrels on those positions, while Syrian bomber-fighter planes conducted at least 25 sorties against rebel rooftop positions atop the highest buildings, and Syrian artillery fired off some 120 ground-to-ground missiles against various key points in the town of Daraa.

Syrian and Hizballah forces advanced into the town under this hellish blitz.

Our sources report that the spearhead consisted entirely of Hizballah’s Al Qaim Brigade, followed by units of the Syrian army’s elite 4th armored Division, armed with advanced Russian-made T-90 tanks. The commander of the offensive was Col. Ghayath Galla.

(On June 6, DEBKAfile disclosed in an exclusive report that the 4th Division’s commander, Bashar Assad’s younger brother, Gen. Maher Assad, and his officers were sighted inspecting the terrain around Daraa in advance of the offensive.)

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, any Syrian rebels surviving the initial onslaught on the town had no choice but to fall back. They could only find sanctuary in two places – Jordan, to the south, or the Al-Tanf Syrian-Iraqi border crossing to the east, which is held by US and Jordanian special forces. Those forces did not intervene in the Daraa debacle.

After capturing Daraa, the next victim of a Syrian-Hizballah massacre is most probably Quneitra, which lies less than 9km from the Israeli border. Its capture would bring every last Syrian town bordering Jordan and Israel under their domination.