In the north ISIL
(Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is advancing around
the northern city of Aleppo, which has been a battleground since 2011. Aleppo is the second largest city in Syria and most of its residents have fled the years of fighting (not the mention the loss of water, sewage, electrical and other municipal services). In the last few months the army has been taking advantage of the fighting between ISIL and the other rebels to rebuild, reinforce and prepare to retake area lost to the rebels in the last three years. ISIL has been winning the civil war within the rebel movement in part because their main opponent, the Syria based Islamic terrorist group al Nusra has been suffering a lot of desertions, especially among non-Syrian Islamic terrorists. Some of the al Nusra men have quit the fighting entirely because of all this fighting between Islamic terrorists.
Most of the foreign Islamic terrorists are attracted to ISIL because this group is the embodiment of the kind of Old School Islam that is preached by fundamentalist clerics, especially in the Arabian Peninsula. Beheading your enemies, stoning adulterers to death and cutting the hands off thieves is exciting for these guys who tend to be in their teens and twenties attracted by the prospect of sex, violence and righteous retribution against the enemies of Islamic radicalism (which includes most Moslems and all non-Moslems). The sex angle is taken care of by forcing families to marry their daughters to successful Islamic terrorists. Some ISIL factions have interpreted portions of the koran to justify the taking of young women as slaves and using them for sex as well as manual labor. It’s all about being more hard core than any other Islamic radical group and you keep score with dead bodies and horrific headlines. The Assads who have run Syria since the 1960s have seen this before and know that these fanatics eventually self-destruct. So in northern Syria the army gets stronger (via new Russian weapons and more Iranian training and financial support) and prepares to take on ISIL once these Islamic terrorists have defeated or absorbed all the other Islamic terrorists and secular rebels around Aleppo. The army has air support, artillery and effective training and battlefield advice from the Iranians. While ISIL is still a formidable force, they can be beaten and the Syrian army believes they have the knowledge and ability to do it regularly.
Outside the capital (Damascus) the army continues to clear rebels out of the many neighborhoods they have been active in for the last three years. ISIL has not shown up much hear, not yet. Since the al Nusra and secular rebels continue to make terror attacks in Damascus the government considers clearing out the suburbs a high priority task.
In eastern Syria ISIL has had problems with former allies (local tribes) and rival rebel groups who both still oppose ISIL control of the area. ISIL has adopted a “kill them all” policy to such opponents and those opponents have vowed to return the favor. The army is concentrating on western Syria, where is has experienced growing success.
Casualties in Syria are still running at close to a thousand dead a week. At this rate the total dead for the war that began in 2011 will be over 200,000 by the end of the year.
In July ISIL declared the parts of Syria and Iraq it controlled were the new Moslem caliphate. Naturally the ISIL leaders are running this new caliphate and are calling on all Moslems to follow them. Most Moslems have responded, according to recent opinion polls, by expressing greater fear rather than more admiration for Islamic terrorist groups, especially ISIL. In the meantime (earlier in 2014) al Qaeda leadership condemned ISIL as completely out of control and not to be trusted or supported. While this sort of opposition inspire the most radical Moslems to support or join ISIL, the vast majority of Moslems have been horrified. In the last year opinion polls show Moslems becoming more hostile to Islamic terrorists in general, seeing them as a cause for concern not as defenders of Islam. The same thing happened back in 2007 when Iraqi Sunnis reached the limit of endless Islamic terrorist violence against other Moslems and turned on Iraqi Islamic terrorists, including groups that would survive and evolve into ISIL. When al Qaeda first showed up in the 1990s as a post-Afghanistan international Islamic terrorist organization they were popular to Moslems in proportion to how far away the al Qaeda violence was. Once al Qaeda began killing people nearby Moslems tended to change their minds and expressed open and extreme dislike for Islamic terrorists. Thus while i 2013 37 percent of Turks were concerned about Islamic terrorism that is now 50 percent thanks to increased ISIL violence on the Syrian border and some inside Turkey itself. In 2013 54 percent of the people in Jordan were concerned versus 62 percent now for the same reason. In Lebanon, where the Syrian violence spilled over quickly after 2011, in 2013 81 percent were concerned about Islamic terrorism versus 92 percent today.
The growing power of Sunni Islamic terrorist group ISIL in the last year has caused the Saudis and Iranians to pause their growing Sunni-Shia feud because both countries have more to fear from ISIL and its rabid brand of Sunni Islamic terrorism than from each other. Signs of this unofficial truce can be seen in several ways. Saudi Arabia has backed off on its anti-Iran propaganda and is quietly cooperating with Iran to deal with ISIL advances in Syria and Iraq. Iran reciprocated when it recently ordered the shutdown of several semi-legal satellite TV channels run by some rabidly anti-Sunni (but high ranking) Shia clerics. The Saudis were not happy with these unofficial satellite TV operations but what prompted the most senior Iranian leaders (the clerics that actually run the Iranian religious dictatorship) to shut these operations down was a complaint from the leader of Hezbollah that this sort of TV programming was making life more difficult for Shia in Lebanon. While Shia Moslems like to believe that their form of Islam is the best one, they also have to live (or die) with the fact that only about ten percent of all Moslems are Shia and 80 percent are Sunni.
With the U.S. again carrying out air strikes and aerial reconnaissance in Iraq ISIL is looking to Syria for more progress. The majority of veteran ISIL men have experienced American air power and would rather avoid having to deal with it again. This means more new ISIL recruits are seeking to fight in Syria rather than Iraq.
August 12, 2014: Turkey reported that two of its F-16s, while patrolling along the Syrian border were “painted” (radar signals were detected by the onboard electronic warning devices) by Syrian anti-aircraft missile radars. Turkey warned that if this kept up those radars and the missile launchers they supported would be destroyed.
August 11, 2014: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) ISIL has recaptured three villages belonging to the Shueitat tribe, which had rebelled against ISIL rule two weeks ago. The local tribesmen were not happy with ISIL efforts to force a strict Islamic lifestyle on them. Also unpopular was the ISIL attitude that anything the Islamic terrorists did was above reproach. That resulted in a July edict that anyone in the areas they control who said (in person or via the media or Internet) anything hostile to ISIL would be severely punished. There have been some executions of critics, including five who were crucified and many more who were beheaded. In late July this to several battles in villages as the tribes went to war with ISIL and initially won. At first ISIL leaders sought to negotiate the problem but that did not work out to the satisfaction of ISIL. So in the last week ISIL tried force and killed enough (several dozen) tribesmen to obtain a surrender and promise of subservience, for now.
August 9, 2014: In southern Lebanon a group of ISIL gunmen crossed from Syria and tried to seize several villages. The local defense forces in these villages repulsed these attacks and the ISIL men retreated back into Syria. This happened (100 kilometers south of Asral, where ISIL made a similar move last week.
August 7, 2014: In eastern Lebanon (124 kilometers northeast of Beirut) ISIL rebels from Syria fled Lebanese troops after failing to seize the village of Asral. ISIL took some policemen and civilians hostage. ISIL had also demanded that Lebanon release a recently arrested (at a Lebanese border crossing) ISIL leader Emad Gomaa. The captive was, until recently, an al Nusra leader but had switched sides. Thus there was some confusion whether this was all an ISIL or al Nusra operation. The Lebanese army soon counterattacked and the ISIL men fled back to mountain hideouts on the Syrian border. Gomaa gave up information about other ISIL operations along the border and about a plan to stir up more fighting between Shia and Sunni groups in Lebanon. There is already some of that going on, but most Lebanese don’t want another civil war. The one in 1975-91 is still remembered and a lot of damage from that conflict was not cleared away and serves as a constant reminder for those too young to remember the civil war. There is growing anger at Hezbollah, as much for Hezbollah being subordinate to its founder and financial supporter Iran as to the fact that Iran has ordered thousands of Hezbollah gunmen to fight in Syria on the side of the hated (in Lebanon and Syria) Assad government. All this has made Hezbollah less ambitious of late and Israel appreciates this. Even though the recent war with Hama in Gaza has caused a lot of excitement in the Arab world, Hezbollah has issued strict orders to keep things quiet on the Israeli border.
In the northeast (Raqqa province) ISIL used three suicide bombers and several hundred gunmen to seize one of the last army bases in the province. Over the last two months ISIL has used similar attacks to clear the army out of Raqqa.
In Damascus rebels in the suburbs have been regularly firing mortar shells into pro-government parts of the city. Only a few shells are fired each time, then the mortar crew quickly moves their mortar before government forces can calculate where the fire came from and shoot back with artillery. The only way to stop this is to eliminate the rebel presence and the army is gradually doing this.
August 6, 2014: Kurds from Iraq, Syria and Turkey agreed to join forces against ISIL in northern Iraq. This is in response to recent ISIL attacks on Kurdish territory. The organized Kurdish military forces consist of the Iraqi Peshmerga (about 100,000 full time and over 300,000 part time fighters, many with formal training and years of experience), the Turkish PKK (several thousand based in northern Iraq) and the Syrian PYD (a smaller version of the PKK and largely tied down defending northeastern Syria.) The Peshmerga and PKK have been increasingly active helping the PYD defend traditional Kurdish territory against ISIL. The fighting in northeastern Syria has been going on for over two years and ISIL has faced nearly constant defeats. ISIL really has it in for the Kurds, mainly because of the decades of violence between Sunni Arabs and Kurds in northern Iraq. The Sunnis have been getting the worst of it since the 1990s and want revenge.