The Raqqa operation, named Wrath of Euphrates, is entering its final stages as Syrian Democratic Forces are clearing areas north and east of the city of Raqqa from Islamic State presence.Read More
Heavy fighting has continued for a 4th day in Hasakah in Northeast Syria between regime forces and Kurdish fighters.Read More
An in-depth look at the domestic and foreign policy outcomes from Turkey's continuing arrests of Kurdish politicians.Read More
Photographic evidence has emerged of Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria with US-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles.Read More
Die jüngsten Entwicklungen zeigen jedoch, dass die Kurden nach wie vor an der Seite der USA zu stehen scheinen. Erst heute ist ein Foto kurdischer Kämpfer mit einer Javelin Panzerabwehrrakete aufgetaucht.Read More
Timeline of live updates from the Ankara Bombing.Read More
Reports have emerged this week that the US has begun construction of an airbase in Kurdish controlled northeast Syria.Read More
While this year began with significant ISIS victories in Iraq’s Anbar Province and western Syria, it is ending with a number of significant defeats for the militant group.Read More
Several major developments happened last month in the Syrian Civil War. While the nascent Russian intervention in support of the Assad regime got most of the media attention, a similarly significant development was happening in North-East Syria. Here, in the Kurdish YPG-controlled area of Rojava, a new coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces -- called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) -- was announced. This coalition is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious group made up of the Kurdish YPG/J, the Syriac Christian MFS, and Muslim Arab groups under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), including Euphrates Volcano and Jaish Al-Thuwar. The Syrian Democratic Forces, as suggested by their name, are committed to a “democratic, inclusive and self-governing Syria”.
While many of these groups have cooperated in the past, the formation of this new entity has been likely brought about by US influence. Wary of Turkish concerns of Kurdish expansion in Northern Syria, the SDF put a new face on any further anti-ISIS advances and gives the US more freedom in its support for these groups. Indeed not long after the announcement of the formation of the SDF, the US announced that it would send up to 50 Special Forces to this region to support the SDF, which is the first official American deployment of ground troops in Syria.
Advance on Al-Hawl
The reason that the US has invested into the creation of and support for the SDF is to aid it in its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). Effectively blocked by Turkey from attacking ISIS in the town of Jarablus west of Kobane, the SDF has instead turned its attention towards the town of Al-Hawl in the far east of Syria. Over the last few days this medium-sized town has become the objective and the first real test for this new grouping.
Al-Hawl itself sits astride a major roadway connecting ISIS holdings in Syria, including its self-declared capital Ar-Raqqa, with its areas in northern Iraq. As such, capturing this town would be a significant victory in the fight against ISIS. The position of this town and its surroundings can be seen on the map below:
Fighting has been ongoing now for several days. While the town itself has not been captured, the US has announced preliminary success for the operation, taking over 250 square kilometers of ISIS-controlled countryside.
“It was a fairly straightforward, conventional offensive operation, where we estimated … several hundred enemy [fighters] were located in that vicinity. There was a substantial friendly force -- well over 1,000 participated in the offensive part of this operation. And they were able to very deliberately execute the plan that they had made themselves,” said US Army Colonel Steve Warren in a statement to the White House press.
The US also confirmed that fighters in this operation were backed by significant US air assets. These assets include A-10 Warthog ground-attack aircraft and an AC-130H Spectre gunship, both of which carry heavy on-board cannons, as well as bombs and other munitions.
Additionally, the US confirmed that these operations were also at least partially supplied by an earlier material airdrop, which was announced last month.
“The Syrian Arab Coalition, or SAC, was able to conduct the assault as part of the Syrian Defense Force, he added, “because we supplied the vetted … SAC with [50 tons of] ammunition on Oct. 12. This is important because [Hawl] is predominantly an Arab area and the SAC is the Arab component of the SDF,” Warren stated.
“We believe that the … 200-plus kilometers of ground that the Syrian-Arab coalition has managed to take, to some extent validates this program. … So I think you will see continued resupply of these forces [to] … reinforce the successes we've already seen.”
YPG role in offensive
One question remains regarding the ongoing offensive against Al-Hawl: to what extent is the YPG/J playing in these operations? While the US is talking up the role of Syrian Arab fighters in this offensive, videos of these operations have shown a large number of Kurdish fighters also taking part. It is likely that the YPG will continue to benefit from the sharing of munitions supplied by further US airdrops in Rojava as well.
The participation of the YPG as part of the SDF is indeed predictable. The group represents the strongest and most numerous military grouping in North-Eastern Syria, and it has years of experience fighting against ISIS. Furthermore, its fighters have worked in close coordination with US airstrikes during the Battle of Kobane, as well as the Tel Abyad offensive.
The US also likely knows (and has no problem with) the involvement of the YPG in these operations. This being said, the Obama Administration relies at least partially on the use of the Turkish Incirlik airbase for its anti-ISIS sorties. Should the US talk up its support for Kurdish groups with ties to the PKK, Turkey would be put in a difficult position and may rescind US use of the base. Furthermore, it would drive a political wedge between the two countries, further complicating a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict.
Barring any major change to the situation on the ground, we can expect continuing advances by the SDF around Al-Hawl, backed up by continuing US air support. Should this operation prove fully successful, it could provide a model for a future US strategy in the fight against ISIS.
Kurdish militias have been accused of displacing Arabs from their homes.Read More
In this episode of the Conflict News podcast, we discuss the impact of ISIS's Ramadan offensive. We first focus on their attacks within Syria, including Kobane and Hasakah, and look at the possibilities that these attacks originated in Turkey. Afterwards, we move on today discuss the wider regional attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and today's large-scale assault in the Sinai region of Egypt. Finally, we end with a discussion on the rumours that Turkey would establish a so-called "buffer zone" within Northern Syria.
In this podcast we examine the role of the Druze in Southern Syria, who are under threat by Islamist groups who view them as infidels. We discuss the unrest this has caused in the Golan Heights, their relationship with Israel, as well as their attempts to transition towards becoming a neutral party within the Syrian Civil War. We also then switch topics to discuss the latest Kurdish YPG offensives around Tel Abyad, and finish with a discussion about the latest NATO deployments to Eastern Europe, and any potential response from Russia.
One year after the biggest victory of the 'Islamic State' it has now suffered its worst defeat. We talk about the ramifications of the YPG/FSA victory in Tel Abyad, as well as the wider US strategy in the war against ISIS. We also briefly discuss rising Russia/NATO tensions in Eastern Europe.
While ISIS has been advancing on other fronts in Iraq, it is being smashed in the north of Syria, in the Kurdish region of Rojava. There, joint forces belonging to the YPG, YPJ, as well as allied FSA groups such as Burkan al-Firat (Euphrates Volcano) are advancing at rapid pace from two directions, in order to capture the city of Tel Abyad. Taking this city would deny ISIS an important border crossing with Turkey, and unite the two Kurdish cantons of Kobane and Cizire into one singular YPG-controlled region. In the past few days, these joint forces, backed with Coalition airstrikes have managed to make massive gains against ISIS, especially on the eastern front near Cizire Canton. There, YPG forces have advanced tens of kilometres from previously static positions and managed to encircle the ISIS-controlled town of Suluk.
In order to find out more about the situation in the region and the way the battle against ISIS was progressing, Conflict News spoke to ‘Aras’ a YPG fighter currently stationed near the frontline in Cizire Canton.
He confirmed that the town of Suluk has been surrounded, but not captured by the YPG, who instead are pressing their attack towards Tel Abyad.
“The city of Suluk is completely surrounded, and the YPG is now only 8km away from Tel Abyad,” he explained. “North of Suluk the YPG is advancing along the two main roads towards Tel Abyad.”
When asked about the level of resistance which ISIS has been putting up against the YPG advance he characterised it as increasing.
“ISIS resistance has increased the further we push into their territories – they are now using suicide bombings and human shields. This is their primary tactic.”
He also explained that Coalition airstrikes, mainly conducted by the US Air Force, were harming ISIS’s ability to effectively fight the YPG.
“They [ISIS] are unable to move freely around their territory due to Coalition airstrikes.”
Finally, he expressed confidence that the YPG and their allies could see a rapid victory in the region.
“It depends on the level of coalition air support – if we can continue to see similar progress to that of the last 24 hours, we will liberate Tel Abyad within a week.”
Should the YPG manage to pull this off, it would be a large-scale victory against ISIS in Syria. Just north of Tel Abyad lies a border crossing with Turkey, which is incredibly important to the terrorist group as an entry point for foreign fighters, as well as illegally bought arms and other supplies. Denying ISIS this crossing would weaken their ability to wage war across a large region of Syria.
The War in Syria, as well as its connected spillovers in Iraq and Lebanon, is already by far the most violent conflict of this decade. Close to 300,000 people lie dead, 2 countries lie ruined, and extremist Islamic groups are now more powerful than ever before. Now in its 4th year, the conflict is a four way power struggle between Assad regime loyalist forces, a range of Islamist rebel groups, the Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIS or Daesh) as well as the Kurdish YPG. For much of the last 12 months the relative territorial control of each of these groups remained roughly the same, with many watchers of the conflict commenting that a stalemate had been reached.
The events of the last 3 months however have proven that such analysis was flawed, and the situation is now descending into an even greater level of chaos.
This breaking down of the equilibrium of force achieved over the course of 2014 is apparent across three major battle zones, where major players are in a state of flux.