Saudis: US Says Will Prevent Turkish Incursion against Kurds in Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

US Says Will Prevent Turkish Incursion against Kurds in Syria

Tuesday, 6 August, 2019 – 09:45
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned Turkey on Tuesday that Washington would prevent unilateral incursions into northern Syria against Kurdish forces.

On Sunday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey, which already has a foothold in northwest Syria, will carry out a military operation in a Kurdish-controlled area east of the Euphrates in northern Syria.

“Clearly we believe any unilateral action by them (Turkey) would be unacceptable,” Esper told reporters traveling with him to Japan.

“What we’re going to do is prevent unilateral incursions that would upset, again, these mutual interests… the United States, Turkey and the SDF share with regard to northern Syria,” Esper said.

The SDF stands for the Syrian Democratic Forces. With US backing, the SDF, which includes the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), have taken control over the last four years of much of northeastern Syria from ISIS. Ankara sees the YPG as a terrorist organization.

Esper said the United States did not have any “ambition” to abandon the SDF, but stopped short of guaranteeing that the United States would protect them in case of a Turkish operation.

He said the US is trying to work out an arrangement that addresses Turkey’s concerns, adding: “I’m hopeful we’ll get there.”

He did not provide details on where progress is being made.

A team from the Pentagon was in Turkey to speak with Turkish officials about the issue.

Esper suggested that a Turkish operation into northern Syria could affect the SDF’s focus on ensuring ISIS did not retake the territory it once held in Syria and the ability of the US-backed forces to hold the thousands of alleged ISIS fighters in detention.

Esper said the US will not abandon its SDF allies.

The Turkish-led campaign, which has for months been delayed due to resistance from Washington, is aimed at evicting YPG forces from a string of border town in Raqqa and Hasaka provinces.

Ankara has accused Washington of stalling progress on setting up a safe zone inside Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey that would be cleared of the YPG.

This week, Erdogan said both Russia and the United States had been told of the planned operation, but did not say when it would begin. It would mark the third Turkish incursion into Syria in as many years.

Hundreds of US troops are stationed east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria working with the SDF, and an incursion by Turkey could put them in the middle of any firefight between Turkish and Kurdish forces.

Turkey and the US have been negotiating for months over the establishment of a safe zone along the Syrian border that would extend east of the Euphrates to Iraq.

Turkey wants to establish a 25-mile-deep zone. But so far the two sides have failed to reach an agreement.

Ties between the two NATO allies have been strained over a host of issues, including the United States’ removal of Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program after Ankara bought and took delivery of Russian S-400 missile defenses that Washington sees as a threat.

ISIS Kills 41 SDF Fighters in Eastern Syria: Monitor

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

ISIS Kills 41 SDF Fighters in Eastern Syria: Monitor

Saturday, 27 October, 2018 – 13:30
Members of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), part of the of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), gather in eastern Syria on September 11, 2018 | AFP
Beirut- Asharq Al-Awsat
The ISIS terrorist group has killed 41 US-backed fighters in Syria who are battling to oust the extremists from their eastern holdout of Hajin on the Iraqi border, a war monitor said Saturday.

The ISIS-linked Aamaq news agency said that more than 40 SDF fighters were killed and posted a video of six gunmen captured alive.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said and that ISIS gunmen late Friday attacked SDF positions on the eastern banks of the Euphrates river in east Syria and the fighting continued until early Saturday.

The SDF fighters, who are backed by US-led coalition air strikes, were killed overnight, the Observatory said.

In a statement on the Telegram messaging app, ISIS said it had attacked the village of Sousa late Friday and detonated a car bomb near the village of Al-Baghuza further south, down the Euphrates river.

The SDF last month launched an offensive against the militants in the Hajin pocket on the eastern banks of the Euphrates, in Deir Ezzor province.

ISIS has staged a bloody fightback.

Since September 10, 270 SDF fighters and 496 ISIS radicals have been killed in the offensive, the Observatory says.

The coalition estimates that 2,000 ISIS fighters remain in the Hajin area.

ISIS overran large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” across the land it controlled.

But the extremist group has since lost most of that territory to various offensives in both countries.

In Syria, its presence has been reduced to parts of the vast Badia desert and the Hajin pocket.

Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

The Insider Attack In Syria That The Pentagon Denies Ever Happened

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘TASK AND PURPOSE’ NEWS)

 

Exclusive: The Insider Attack In Syria That The Pentagon Denies Ever Happened
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It was a pitch black Saturday evening at a remote outpost in Syria last February when Sgt. Cameron Halkovich and Cpl. Kane Downey began their rounds, checking Marines on perimeter security.

As sergeant and corporal of the guard, their job was to set up the watch schedule, man the radios, and most importantly, ensure Marines on post were watching for signs of ISIS fighters, who for months had been under blistering attack from artillery at the small, Army-run base in Deir al-Zour Province. Besides an Army Special Forces team, it hosted a forward surgical team, more than dozen Marine infantrymen, and a platoon-sized element of Syrian Democratic Forces allied with the U.S.

But on that late-winter night, one of the Americans’ SDF partners would turn on them and fire two shots — marking the first known instance of an insider attack during Operation Inherent Resolve. And while the Pentagon often announces when service members are killed or wounded during these “insider” or “green on blue” attacks, it made no such announcement for Halkovich, a combat engineer, who was shot twice in the leg and survived.

This account of the Feb. 17 shooting of a U.S. Marine by a member of the Syrian militia he was supporting is based on interviews with multiple sources, military award documents, and scant details released by the Pentagon. It has also become an open secret among the 1,000-plus Marines and sailors of the unit Halkovich was attached to — 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, based in Twentynine Palms, California.

“It’s kind of ridiculous that a Marine gets shot and nobody hears about it,” said one source familiar with the incident, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal. “It kind of blows my mind.”

In fact, when asked by Task & Purpose whether there had ever been an insider attack during Operation Inherent Resolve, a coalition statement flatly denied it: “We have no recorded incidents of insider attacks during OIR.”

* * *

halko wounded

The small contingent of Marines from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment had a boring and often thankless job providing security at the outpost, a so-called “mission support site” which Task & Purpose has chosen not to name for operational security reasons. Though they occasionally left the wire, the Marines spent most of their time on rooftops or in the turret of a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected truck, as Army artillerymen safely pounded ISIS positions and Special Forces soldiers trained and supported the SDF in battle.

They settled into a familiar routine after about five months in Syria: Some Marines slept or ate, while others manned a vehicle-mounted .50 caliber machine-gun or looked for infiltrators in the surrounding desert with night vision and thermal imaging devices. Meanwhile, the SDF had their own routine, manning a gate that served as the main entry point into the camp.

The Marines mostly kept to themselves, except to share an occasional cigarette with the Kurdish-dominated SDF. Sometimes the Kurds would slaughter a goat and cook it up for their American patrons. But for reasons that remain unclear, relations began to deteriorate in early February.

“There was an incident with an SDF guy racking his AK… but the Marine somehow deescalated the situation and nothing was fired,” the source said of a Kurdish soldier who chambered a round in his AK-47 rifle, threatening a Marine about a week prior to the Halkovich shooting. That SDF soldier was subsequently kicked off the base.

“Tensions were super high at this point,” the source added.

But just as one potential insider threat was removed, a new one seemed to present itself just a week later, illustrating the fragile nature of some of America’s partnerships with foreign militaries — which are increasingly being used to fight terror groups through a strategy of “advise and assist.”

2-7marines

It began with a radio call. Alerted to a commotion at the SDF-manned gate, Halkovich and Downey ran to check it out. When they got there, SDF soldiers told the Marines a truck outside the gate was just having car trouble.

It was a lie, one that was quickly exposed when a Syrian civilian in the vehicle held up a dead child that was “soaked in blood,” according to the source. Looking closer, the Marines saw a truck bed filled with about eight dead or wounded civilians. It was a mass-casualty incident, and they knew they had to help.

The SDF told the Marines no, in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, which strictly prohibits withholding medical assistance or discriminating in providing care.

“SDF was trying to tell us that we weren’t allowed to treat them, but… we’re going to help anybody we can,” the source said, adding that the partner force “was super upset about it.”

Another source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, said the injured group, comprised mostly of women and children, was turned away by the SDF because they were not Kurdish.

The first source gave a similar account: “It was purely racial. They refused to give them an ambulance.”

Halkovich and Downey pushed the SDF soldiers out of the way and opened the gate, amid screaming from both sides in English and Arabic. They moved concertina wire aside while another Marine called in a mass casualty to the Army surgical team. Others placed victims on litters and shuffled them in.

halkovich

Army medics managed to save four of the victims, according to the first source. But the SDF “was not happy,” the other source said. The Kurds even threatened to kick the Marines out of the compound for their humanitarian act.

Eventually, tensions settled and things went back to normal — until dark.

Around 9 p.m. that night, Halkovich and Downey decided to check on Lance Cpl. Jay Smith, who was stationed in the MRAP turret behind a .50 caliber machine gun.

After walking the 100 meters or so from their quarters, Halkovich stopped to urinate. Not thinking anything of it, Downey kept going. But as he crossed an intersection between buildings near the main gate, he realized something seemed strange.

At the entry control point, at least one SDF soldier normally watched the gate at all times. But nobody was there.

Neither Marine was aware that hidden in the shadows, one of the SDF soldiers had abandoned his post and was lying in wait.

Downey got to the door of the MRAP and reached for the handle. But before he opened it, he heard two gunshots, the distinctive report of an AK-47.

He turned around and saw Halkovich on the ground, his face obscured. Downey would later recount to his fellow Marines and military investigators that he saw a lone SDF soldier, standing over Halkovich with a rifle.

Downey then aimed in with his M4 rifle and dropped the attacker with a “hammer pair” — a well-aimed series of two quick shots to the chest. With the SDF soldier now dead, Downey kicked his weapon away and yelled to Smith in the turret: “Halko was shot! Halko was shot!”

Halkovich took two 7.62mm bullets to the left leg that went clean through — though, in the darkness, Downey initially thought his comrade was dead. With Downey’s red-lens headlamp shining down on his face, Halkovich looked up. Then he looked at his leg, then back at Downey, and finally, he screamed.

According to the award citation for the Joint Service Commendation Medal that Downey would receive in March for what was called a “shooting incident,” the Marine “acted decisively to eliminate the threat to his comrade” before applying a tourniquet to Halkovich’s leg and fireman-carrying him to the surgical facility. (The citation, signed by OIR Commanding General Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, however, takes pains to avoid identifying “the shooter.”)

Smith, for his part, remained at his post and called in the shooting on the radio, prompting the rest of the Marines to respond to the scene. Just as the Marines had done earlier in the day for civilians, they now watched as one of their own was brought to the Army surgeons stationed nearby.

Halkovich was medically evacuated from the post soon after, while Downey was brought back to a larger camp to explain what had happened to military investigators.

But for months afterward, the Marines continued to live side-by-side with the Syrian partners they had come to fear.

“It’s really terrifying,” the first source said. “You’re literally surrounded.”

Spokesmen for the Syrian Democratic Forces did not respond to a request for comment.

purpleheart halko

The Marines of 2/7 returned with little fanfare from their combat deployment in April. Halkovich received the Purple Heart that same month and is still recovering from his wounds at the Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment at Camp Pendleton, California. At Marine Corps Base 29 Palms in March, Downey would receive his Joint Service Commendation Medal for saving Halkovich’s life.

Meanwhile, a new group of Marines has taken 2/7’s place on the Corps’ Special Purpose MAGTF Crisis Response-Central Command, where, like their counterparts, they could potentially deploy to a theater of war where friends can become enemies in the blink of an eye.

Were they warned of the shooting in February? Told to prepare for the possibility of an insider attack by the SDF? A spokesperson for the unit did not respond to those questions.

“They said it would be on the front page of every newspaper in the country and yet no justice was ever done for my wounded brother,” the second source told me. “That is the only reason I’m telling you this because no one knows what happened out there… and nothing came of it.”

Trump tweets 5 key ISIS leaders captured

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Trump tweets 5 key ISIS leaders captured

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that five of the “most wanted” ISIS leaders have been captured.

Spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve Army Col. Ryan Dillon tweeted on Thursday that Iraq captured five key ISIS leaders as part of Operation Roundup. The tweet did not specify when or where the five were captured, nor give any names. Dillon’s tweet said the capture was a coordinated operation between Iraqi and the US backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
“#Iraq captures 5 key Daesh leaders during #OperationRoundup. The arrest is a significant blow to Daesh & demonstrates close coordination between #ISF & #SDF in their fight to #defeatDaesh. @CJTFOIR is committed to lasting defeat of Daesh & setting conditions for stabilization,” that tweet said.
This story is breaking and will be updated.

Kurdish Officials’ Visit to Elysee Triggers French-Turkish Crisis

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Kurdish Officials’ Visit to Elysee Triggers French-Turkish Crisis

Saturday, 31 March, 2018 – 06:45
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: AP
Ankara, Paris- Said Abdul Razek and Michel Abu Najm
Paris was quick on Friday to reassure Ankara after President Emmanuel Macron was misquoted as saying that his country would deploy forces in the northern Syrian city of Manbij.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly responded to the French statements, saying that Manbij would be the next target of his forces to liberate the city from Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).

Ankara also rejected any French mediation between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces, led by the YPG, which are considered by Turkey as terrorists.

On Thursday, an SDF delegation including Kurdish officials visited the Elysee Palace in Paris.

Macron told the delegation he hoped to build dialogue between the Democratic Forces and Turkey, with the help of France and the international community, according to a communiqué from the Elysee.

However, Turkey completely dismissed the suggestion, as Erdogan said: “We have no need for mediation… We are extremely saddened by France’s… wrong stance on this.”

“Those who go to bed with terrorists, or even host them in their palaces, will sooner or later understand the mistake they’re making,” Erdogan said in Ankara.

He also warned that Ankara did not need a mediator.

“Who are you to mediate between Turkey and a terror group?” Erdogan said at a meeting of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in the capital, Ankara.

According to the Elysee, Macron reaffirmed the priority of the battle against “the terrorist threat” and assured France’s support to the SDF, particularly in stabilizing the security zone in northeast Syria “to prevent the resurgence of ISIS while awaiting a political solution to the Syrian conflict.”

The French show of support to Kurds is not new. Macron was the first Western leader to warn against the possibility of the Turkish operation in Afrin turning into an “invasion of Syrian territories.”

US-Backed Kurdish Militia Now Fighting U.S. Ally, Turkey

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(ANYONE WHO ACTUALLY BELIEVES THAT TURKEY IS A “U.S. ALLY” OR AN ALLY OF NATO IS EITHER TRULY IGNORANT OR THEY MUST BE SMOKING METH) (COMMENTARY BY oldpoet56)

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN)A US-backed Kurdish militia is diverting 1,700 fighters from the battle against ISIS and redeploying them to northwest Syria to repel an offensive by US ally Turkey, in a development could hinder the fight against the terror group.

Four branches of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), thus far tasked with defeating ISIS in Syria, have been transferred from east of the Euphrates Rivers to the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told CNN in a statement.
“We won’t abandon our positions, but since the beginning of the invasion of Afrin we have said that Turkey is trying to give ISIS another chance at life, and directly affects military operations and campaigns against ISIS,” said Bali.
“Now, offensive operations have ended and we have transformed from a force that hunted ISIS to a force that is concentrated in defensive positions,” he added. Bali said the “majority” of the alliance’s forces are moving to Afrin.
The US-led coalition warned that the SDF’s move could slow the campaign to defeat ISIS.
“The departure of some SDF forces from the Middle Euphrates River Valley highlights the potential costs of any distraction from the defeat-Daesh fight,” said coalition Director of Public Affairs Col. Thomas Veale, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“We remain undeterred in pursuing our mission to defeat Daesh, understanding the effort may take longer with the increased complexity of the situation in northern Syria.”
Turkey, a NATO ally, launched an operation targeting Kurdish groups in Afrin in January to clear the border area of militias it considers to be terrorist organizations. Three Kurdish militias — the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — have borne the brunt of the offensive.
The YPG is considered the backbone of the US-backed SDF, which was instrumental in eliminating ISIS’ territorial foothold in Syria.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has said it is Turkey’s “natural right” to ask the US to halt the SDF’s redeployment to Afrin.
The United Nations on Sunday said it was receiving “disturbing reports” of civilian deaths in the northwestern Syrian enclave, and that it believes “tens of thousands” have been displaced.
Syrian Kurds attend a funeral in Afrin in mid-February for Kurdish fighters.

Turkey has said that the nationwide ceasefire ordered by the UN Security Council last month would not affect its Afrin offensive. The ceasefire has also been ignored by Syrian government forces and rebel groups, mainly in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, where fighting has caused heavy civilian casualties.
Redeployed SDF forces will be joining pro-Syrian government fighters who entered Afrin last month as part of a deal between the regime and Kurdish forces. Turkey’s deputy prime minister warned at the time of “disastrous consequences” should Syrian government forces intervene in Afrin.

An ‘apocalypse’ in Eastern Ghouta

Meanwhile, Syrian government forces continue to pummel the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, where the UN says more than 600 people have been killed in recent weeks.
In a strongly worded statement on Tuesday, UN human-rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein accused the Syrian government of planning an “apocalypse.”
“It is urgent to reverse this catastrophic course, and to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court,” said Al Hussein, according to a UN statement.
“Nearly half of the food” aid bound for besieged Eastern Ghouta, where reports of malnourishment are rampant, had to be returned, according to the United Nations.
A 46-truck aid convoy — some vehicles stripped of desperately needed medical kits — brought some supplies to the area on Monday, but activists said the convoy had to pull out before everything was unloaded.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on all parties in Syria to “immediately allow safe and unimpeded access” for aid convoys to “deliver critical supplies to hundreds of thousands of people desperate need” in the Damascus suburb, according to a statement from spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Tuesday.
Activists say that many of Eastern Ghouta’s residents have taken to makeshift shelters underground, rarely venturing above ground to seek food and water amid nearly incessant airstrikes.
The Syrian government continues to send reinforcements to the rebel enclave, where a ground offensive is underway and regime forces are reported to have captured large tracts of farmland.

So, Racca Syria Is Free Of ISIS: Now What? What Has Been Won? What Has Been Lost

So, Racca Syria Is Free Of ISIS: Now What? What Has Been Won? What Has Been Lost?

 

It is not easy to choose a starting point from the anneals of time when the subject matter is the Ancient City of Racca Syria. Here in the U.S. we tend to think that something from the 1800’s is old and something pre Columbus is ancient history. I chose to start this article in the year of our Lord 639 A.D.. Think about it for a moment, this is more than 1,000 years before the birth of George Washington.

 

I am not going to try to turn this article to you into some type of a history lesson. To be able to catch the essence and history of Racca would take Albums, not paragraphs. In 639 an Islamic Army took the city. Folks, that’s 1,378 years ago. This tidbit of information is for those who are new to the subject as this event happened 1,137 before the Americans signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Folks, Racca was on the “World Heritage Site” list. Racca was a huge piece of human history, now it is gone. Now, what do the teachers of these next few generations teach to these children? What is their History now? I guess their history will have to be broken into the ‘before Revolution, and after Revolution’ segments. What horrible history we leave onto our children as each generation only gets harder on those entering it. How can some deny that depression is the young with no hope of survival and the old who quietly await their own death?

 

Since Christ walked the Earth 2,000 years ago I wonder, how many people have died within 10 square miles of the city of Racca? Just in this past 6+ years, how many? Folks this is sickness, this is madness, how much blood must be spilled? The sad answer to this question is, there is no end, some are simply enraged with hate. The latest emblem of this hate is called ISIS, Daesh and a few other local names. Racca was the Capital City of ISIS new Caliphate, now it is not. Now the (SDF) (Syrian Democratic Forces) backed by U.S. Special Forces have taken control of all of Racca.

 

My question to you today is simple, have you seen the before and after pictures of cities like Racca Syria where Culture had flourished over about 1,400 years? World Heritage Site folks, now it is but rubble. Now that ‘our’ forces who control Racca are anti Syrian Government, how do things get any better here? The Kurdish people who are spear heading this ‘SDF’ have already been back stabbed by the American government once this week on their voting issue. Now, for the Americans to continue to be involved they would have to come into direct contact with the Syrian government forces and the forces of Russia, Iran and even Iraqi soldiers. So, we leave this pile of rubble over to the Syrian Government without a fight and request that our Kurdish ‘Friends’ do the same, without a fight, or the U.S. will desert the Kurdish people once again, leaving them to be slaughtered by the Syrians, Russians and Iranians.

 

Whom ever comes out the Ruler of this region of the world ‘Racca’, has no chance of being what it was before 2010, ever. The beauty it once had is gone, now it is only in memories and old pictures. So folks, now what? I believe that the end result is that Racca will remain as part of Syria for the foreseeable future. Yet even if Russia, Iran the E.U. or even the U.S., became Landlords of the Racca area, how do you rebuild it now? Your people need jobs, the Governments must step up with trillions of dollars to rebuild their own infrastructure from the ground up. They must employ their citizens, have them doing the rebuilding of their own homes, their won businesses, their own Stores. The rest of the world cannot ignore the great chance for investment, even if it is only available to companies of Islamic Culture. Then I still ask you, the people who care about Racca and who can afford to, please try to help the people who have been stuck there for the past few years. To my way of thinking Racca should be at least as important to the Islamic Nations as Puerto Rico would be if decimated by a powerful Hurricane. What this means to the people and what it means to a government is normally two different Creatures aren’t they? For any quality of life to exist there again, all sides who care will be working together for the good of all, or they with will die together, by the thousands. So, is there hope, for rebuilding Racca? We shall see what we shall see is what a good friend used to say. Today’s time is tomorrows history.

 

 

 

 

U.S. Backed Rebels Have Broken Through Raqqa’s Old Cities Walls: ISIS Caliphate Is On It’s Way To Hell

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

US-backed rebels have breached a strategic wall surrounding the Old City of Raqqa in ISIS’s self-declared capital on Monday, US Central Command has said in a statement.

Breaching the Rafiqah Wall means the Syrian Democratic Forces will be able to penetrate Raqqa’s Old City, the last redoubt of ISIS defenders in the city. The ancient wall — first constructed in the 8th century by the Abbasid dynasty and stretching around the Old City on three sides — has provided important fortification for ISIS.
The operation was “a key milestone” in the campaign to “liberate the city,” Brett McGurk, the US envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, said on his official Twitter account.
In a CENTCOM statement, the US added: “Coalition forces supported the SDF advance into the most heavily fortified portion of Raqqa by opening two small gaps in the Rafiqah Wall that surrounds the Old City.”
The battle for Raqqa is not dissimilar to that of Mosul, where US-backed Iraqi forces are fighting to expel the last of ISIS fighters from Iraq’s second-largest city. But the fight to retake Raqqa has gone quicker, with attacking forces gradually forcing a diminishing number of ISIS fighters into a smaller area of narrow streets around the ancient mosque of Rafiqa, which has already been extensively damaged.
The Rafiqah Wall — which is 3 kilometers from the city center — is approximately 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) long, 3.8 meters (12.4 feet) high and 1 meter thick, Syrian state media reported in 2009.
ISIS fighters had planted mines and improvised explosive devices at several breaks in the wall, a US Central Command (CENTCOM) statement said.
“The portions targeted were 25-meter sections and will help preserve the remainder of the overall 2,500-meter wall,” CENTCOM said.
CENTCOM and the SDF did not specify which area of the wall was breached.
The SDF launched an offensive to seize Raqqa on June 6. For more than three years, ISIS has used Raqqa as a staging ground for its deadly attacks on the Middle East and further overseas.
The group is running out of places to go. If ISIS is evicted from Raqqa it will lose the last vestige of any “governance” of its so-called caliphate. But it’s not just losing control of territory, it will also lose the facility to move freely between Syria and Iraq — especially since Iraqi militia seized the key town of Baaj last month.
The coalition hopes that the loss of Raqqa and Mosul will dull ISIS’ appeal to potential recruits.
“It’s hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they just lost their twin ‘capitals’ in both Iraq and Syria,” General Steve Townsend, the coalition’s commanding general, said.

Iraqi V.P. Ayad Allawi Says That The U.S. Is “Absent” From Being In A Leadership Role In Middle-East

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

The United States has no clear plan for dealing with the various crises it faces in the Middle East, according to one of the top US allies in the fight against ISIS.

The Iraqi Vice President, Ayad Allawi, said the US was “absent” from its traditional role in maintaining global stability.
“There is a vacuum in the overall leadership in the world,” Allawi told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, in an interview airing Friday. “The Americans need to … get back to their role as an international power, an important international power.”
“To me, there is no international strategy — no strategy for the alliances that are fighting and have helped us in this part of the fight.”
Iraqi forces, supported by the US, are in pitched battleto retake the last blocks from ISIS control in Western Mosul, the extremist group’s last major stronghold in Iraq.
Allawi said that the despite the imminent military victory, the US lacked a broader strategy for fighting extremism, saying it was “absent” and lacked “clear-cut policies.”
Speaking in Washington on Wednesday, US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster insisted that US strategy in the region was working well. “We are being successful with our partners in Syria. We are being successful with our Iraqi partners,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
But Allawi said the US had abandoned its leadership role.

Iraqi troops closing in on ISIS in Mosul

Iraqi troops closing in on ISIS in Mosul
“There is no clear-cut policies where to go and what to do,” Allawi said. “Even for Iraq, it’s still premature. I think they are still deliberating on a kind of a strategy for Iraq. Nothing yet has materialized.”
A wide spectrum of international forces — including the US, the Kurds, Iran,and the governments of Syria and Iraq, — have succeeded in fighting ISIS back from the stunning territorial victories it gained in 2014.
Mosul is now almost back in Iraqi government hands; across the border, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of mainly Kurdish and Arab fighters, launched the final phase of their battle to recapture Raqqa earlier this month.
But Iraq has intelligence that ISIS is attempting to “forge an alliance” with Al Qaeda, the Islamist group from which it was spawned in 2013, Allawi warned.
Discussions are taking place in both Iraq and Syria, he said — mediated by former al Qaeda members who never joined ISIS. “It is the unification of the evil forces,” he said.

Russia ‘Rightfully’ Condemns U.S. For Shooting Down A Syrian Fighter Jet

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

A day after a US Navy fighter jet shot down a Syrian war plane , Russia says it has stopped using a key communication channel set up to avoid conflict between US and Russian forces in Syria.

Amping up rhetoric against US actions in the area, Russia said Monday it will consider aircraft west of the Euphrates River “air targets” and track them by air and on land.
The Defense Ministry explained the move by saying it will stop abiding by its military cooperation agreement with the US in Syria.
And a top Russian official called the US downing of the Syrian plane an act of aggression that assists terrorists.
A senior US defense official tells CNN the so-called “de-confliction line” remains open with Russia. The official also says the US does not believe Russia is targeting US planes at this time.
This is not the first time that Russia has said the “de-confliction” channel has been suspended. In April, after the US missile strike on a Syrian airbase, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia would suspend the 2015 agreement aimed at minimizing risks of in-flight incidents.

US downing of plane an “act of aggression”

The US military said that it shot down a warplane that had dropped bombs near Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) fighters. SDF forces are backed by the US-led coalition fighting ISIS.
It’s the first time the US has shot down a Syrian aircraft since it began fighting ISIS in the country in 2014.

“This strike can be regarded as another act of defiance of international law by the United States,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Monday, according to Russia’s state-run news agency Tass.
“What was it, if not an act of aggression? It was also an act of assistance to those terrorists whom the United States is ostensibly fighting against,” Ryabkov said.

“Considered air targets,” Russia says

The Russian Ministry of Defense called the downing of the plane “a cynical violation of the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic” and “military aggression.” It also demanded an investigation by US command.
Further, the ministry’s statement declares that west of the Euphrates River, Russian aircraft will escort any aircraft and unmanned vehicles.
“From now on, in areas where Russian aviation performs combat missions in the skies of Syria, any air-born objects found west of the Euphrates River, including aircraft and unmanned vehicles belonging to the international coalition, tracked by means of Russian land and air anti-aircraft defense, will be considered air targets,” the statement reads.
The US military is prohibited by law from coordinating directly with the Russian military, but given the increased pace and scale of military operations in Syria, the US and Russia have sought ways to ensure that their respective personnel are not targeted by mistake, setting up a series of so-called “de-confliction zones” that delineate areas of operation for the coalition and the Russian forces.

Strike followed attack on SDF-controlled area

The Syrian aircraft was destroyed, the Russian ministry said. The pilot of the Syrian Air Force self-ejected over the area controlled by ISIS, and his fate is unknown, the ministry said.
The strike came a little more than two hours after forces allied with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad attacked the north-central Syria town of Ja’Din, which was controlled by the SDF.
A number of SDF forces were wounded in the attack, the statement from the Combined Joint Task Force said. The attack drove the SDF from Ja’Din, which is west of Raqqa, the coalition statement said.
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