In the east (Deir Ezzor province) ISIL forces launched an offensive yesterday to take the last major government base (the airport outside the provincial capital) along with the half of the capital the Islamic terrorist forces do not already hold. There is some urgency to this as over 200,000 civilians are trapped in the city and many are starving. Deir Ezzor would be the second Syrian province seized by ISIL, which already controls Raqqa to the northwest. The capital of Raqqa province is the ISIL capital. In March ISIL and al Nusra forces captured Idlib city to the west and is fighting to control all of Idlib province. In effect, despite the presence of several hundred Hezbollah fighters, the government has lost control of Idlib. Deir Ezzor province is key because it controls major highways leading to Iraq and north to Hasakeh province (on the Turkish border and controlled by the Kurds). Eastern Syria consists of Raqqa (which borders Turkey), Deir Ezzor (which borders Iraq) and Hasakeh (which borders Turkey and Iraq) provinces. All are thinly populated and largely desert.
Meanwhile ISIL continues to have problems with Sunni tribes (especially the Shueitat) who oppose ISIL presence in Deir Ezzor province. In mid-2014 ISIL killed over 700 hostile tribesmen, some by beheading or crucifixion. This put a stop to open resistance, but then tribesmen turned to guerilla warfare and claim to have killed several hundred ISIL men. This armed resistance (of several hundred tribesmen men calling themselves “Shite Shroud”) forces ISIL to keep more men in the east to maintain order and protect supply lines, especially to ISIL fighters still confronting Kurds in the east. ISIL has not forgotten their recent defeat at Kobane. While that cost ISIL several thousand fighters (dead, maimed and deserters) it also killed over 500 Kurds. By crushing all government forces in Deir Ezzor ISIL can then concentrate on pacifying or wiping out (a traditional remedy ISIL approves of) hostile tribes and eventually doing the same to the troublesome Kurds. Since mid-2014 ISIL is believed to have murdered over 2,200 captives in Iraq and Syria.
For the first time since 2014 rebels have again launched attacks in Latakia province, which is on the coast and borders Turkey. This is pro-Assad territory and this rebel incursion is basically a raid. It is very embarrassing for the Assads and most of the rebels will eventually be trapped and killed, but in the meantime it causes more unease among Assad supporters.
The fighting was intense in April, leaving over 3,000 dead, most of them civilians. The 2014 death toll was 76,000 and at the beginning of 2015 over 220,000 had died since the civil war began in 2011. At this rate that may reach nearly 300,000 by the end of 2015. While the Assad forces have suffered losses in the east (Deir Ezzor) and around Aleppo (Idlib) so far this year the government forces have made gains around the capital (Damascus) have managed to hold on to their key areas. Despite that many members of the Assad clan would like to negotiate their way out of this mess. That is not likely right now but in this part of the world it is always a possibility. As strong as ISIL is on the ground they have managed to turn most Moslems against them, along with all non-Moslem states. Many rebel factions are still fighting each other and Syria is a mess.
Despite calls from Saudi Arabia, Turkey has again refused to send troops into Syria. Turkey believes that it will be another two or three years before the various factions inside Syria will be worn out and worn down sufficiently for a foreign force to come in and begin cleaning up. To get involved now would leave the Turks identified as a foreign aggressor and would mean over a year of bloody combat, some of it on the Turkish side of the border. Wait a bit and the Turks can come in as saviors and that means a lot fewer Turkish casualties. The Saudis have to defer to this Turkish assessment because the Turks have centuries of experience handling Arab uprisings and seem to know what they are taking about. Moreover the Turks possess the most capable Moslem armed forces on the planet. You can’t argue with capability and experience. This is one area where the Turks and Israelis are in agreement as both believe that the war has to be allowed to run its course before outsiders get involved. Israel is an unofficial but very active ally of the Saudis and while Israel would also like to see the Turks sweep in and stop the civil war, they agree with the Turkish assessment and that made it doubly difficult for the Saudis to keep pressing for an intervention.
Although the American led coalition has been attacking ISIL from the air in Iraq and Syria since 2014, the pattern of attacks are different in each country. As of early May there have been over 2,000 attacks in Iraq, of which two-thirds were American. In Syria there have been over 1,500 attacks of which over 80 percent have been American. Because of the more complicated political situation in Syria fewer NATO and Arab nations are willing to make attacks there. These attacks have killed over 2,000 ISIL (and allies) personnel in Syria and Iraq. This air campaign began on August 8 2014 when the U.S. began aircraft began attacking ISLI in Iraq. Between then and the end of the year over 14,000 sorties were flown, mostly by American aircraft but also by those from NATO and nearby Arab countries as well as Australia. Only ten percent of those sorties result in an aircraft using a smart bomb or missile.
Since August 2014 this coalition has hit over 6,000 ISIL targets, most of them in Iraq. Moreover many of the Iraq targets were hit with the help of American, Kurdish or Iraqi controllers on the ground. Thus the air attacks in Iraq are much more damaging to ISIL. Moreover more than half the air attacks have been in Iraq and this air support is a major reason why ISIL has lost about a quarter of the Iraqi territory it held in late 2014. Many, if not most, of the coalition air attacks in Syria have been against ISIL administrative, economic and logistical targets in eastern Syria, which ISIL is trying to run as an “Islamic State.” That is not working out so well with growing rebellion among the local tribes and similar problems with foreign volunteers who become disillusioned and try to leave (although a few have joined the local anti-ISIL rebels).
ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) has set up an “Islamic State” in eastern Syria and western Iraq and this “Caliphate” seeks to be more Islamic than anyone else and as a result people are starving and dying from lack of medical care and much else. This is not unusual in strife torn areas, even when there is lots of foreign aid available. But ISIL is worse because they will not accept any aid from non-Moslem charities and even those NGO (non-government organizations) charities that pass the religion test are heavily “taxed” and regulated by ISIL officials. As a result much aid does not get to where it is needed and even then much is diverted to ISIL as taxes and fees. This is a trend that has been developing for some time.
May 6, 2015: On the Lebanese border Hezbollah and Syrian Army forces attacked an al Nusra base while a meeting of al Nusra leaders was taking place and killed three of the senior al Nusra men there. Al Nusra is an al Qaeda affiliate and temporary ally of ISIL. This attack is a continuation of a year-long campaign by Hezbollah and the Syrian Army to push rebels, especially al Nusra, away from Damascus. Now al Nusra forces are up against the Lebanese border and Hezbollah wants them gone from there as well. Soldiers and Hezbollah fighters have also managed to recapture key roads that are essential for getting to supplies to large concentrations of rebel fighters around Damascus. Hezbollah is receiving lots of aid from Iran. This includes weapons, ammo, medical supplies and hundreds of advisors and trainers. Hezbollah has also, with Iranian help, built an airbase near the Syrian border from which Iranian made recon UAVs operate. This gives Hezbollah an edge as it has constant aerial surveillance of areas its fighters are operating in.
In the northeast (Hasakeh province) ISIL tried to attack a Kurdish base, beginning with a suicide car bomb. The attack was repulsed but 16 Kurdish fighters were killed, many by the car bomb.
May 5, 2015: On the Lebanese border Hezbollah captured a Syrian village held by al Nusra rebels. There were about 30 casualties, including twelve Islamic terrorists killed. Yesterday the Hezbollah leader announced that his fighters would soon begin clearing all Syrian rebels (especially the Islamic terrorists) from the Syrian side of the Lebanese border. While most Lebanese oppose Hezbollah involvement in Syria, they are quite enthusiastic about getting the Islamic terrorist groups away from the border. These groups, especially al Nusra, have been raiding into Lebanon and terrorizing Lebanese civilians all along the border. Another reason for popular support of this Hezbollah offensive is that it will lead to the reopening of the main Jordan border crossing. This was captured by al Nusra in early April and that shut down commercial traffic from Lebanon to the Gulf States. That traffic carries exports that amount to six percent of Lebanese GDP.
The U.S. offered $20 million in rewards for information leading to the capture or killing of four senior ISIL leaders. These included Abd al Rahman Mustafa al Qaduli (a former al Qaeda-in-Iraq leader who joined ISIL in 2012), Abu Mohammed al Adnani (the official spokesman and “face” of ISIL), Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili (a senior combat commander) and Tariq Bin al Tahar Bin al Falih al Awni al Harzi (commander of all suicide bombing operations as well as forces in northeastern Syria).
May 4, 2015: On the Syrian border mortar shells fired from within Syria hit a UN position and wounded two Nepalese peacekeepers. The wounded were taken across the border to Israel for medical treatment.
In Damascus three al Nusra men attacked a military base inside the city with a suicide bomb and gunfire. All three attackers were killed along with three soldiers. Such an attack inside the city is rare.
April 30, 2015: On the Israeli border a main border crossing changed hands as rival Islamic terrorist factions fought each other for control. While al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra has made temporary peace with ISIL, several other Islamic terror groups have not. In addition there are clashes with secular rebels, based in Jordan, who don’t get along with most Islamic terrorist rebel factions.
April 28, 2015: On the Israeli border two mortar shells from Syria landed in Israel. There were no casualties and no damage.
April 27, 2015: Near the Israeli border Israeli warplanes destroyed missile launchers on the Syrian side of the frontier.
Near Aleppo (Idlib) al Nusra forces captured another army base, killing over 130 soldiers and capturing armored vehicles and lots of ammo.
April 26, 2015: Near the Israeli border Israeli warplanes attacked four men moving towards the border with a bomb, killing the four and setting off the explosives they were carrying. Islamic terrorists regularly set up bombs on the border and try to detonate them when Israeli patrols come close.
April 25, 2015: Israeli warplanes bombed a Syrian Army weapons storage area. This was another attack to destroy Iranian weapons being transferred to Hezbollah. In this case it the target was believed to be SCUD ballistic missiles.