Thanks to continued Russian logistical (spare parts) and technical (maintenance technicians and experts) help the Syrian Air Force continues to send up warplanes and armed helicopters every day to hit rebel targets. Currently the air force is concentrating on ISIL
(Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). The Assad forces are not bothered by civilian casualties, so the ISIL custom of using local women and children as human shields does not work in Syria. In any event the Assads want to kill pro-rebel civilians both to lessen their resolve and persuade some of them to leave the country. The fighting that began in 2011 has now killed about 200,000 in Syria and forced over 20 percent of the population (most of them rebel supporters) from the country. The Assads have encouraged this flight with attacks on pro-rebel civilians and leaving open escape routes to the borders.
The United States has declared that it will seek to destroy ISIL without putting any troops on the ground in Iraq or Syria. The U.S. also admits that this effort will likely go on for years. In part that is because the U.S. insists that no American troops will be sent in for offensive combat. By the end of the year there will be at least 5,000 American military personnel in Iraq and even more contractors. That number is expected to grow in 2015 is needed. Meanwhile there will be American troops in combat. These will primarily be special operations troops from the army (Special Forces, Rangers), marines, navy (SEALs) and air force (para-rescue). There will be some similar special operations troops from American allies. Britain and Australia are already in and others are expected to join, including some Moslem special operations units that worked with NATO in Afghanistan. Some of these special operations troops will end up in eastern Suria. While ISIL knows a lot about avoiding smart bombs and missiles they also know that if they are to control their new “Islamic State” (eastern Syria and western Iraq) they have to use bases and concentrate gunmen to deal with armed opposition. There is no tactic that will make ISIL immune to smart bombs under those conditions, not if they still want to control territory.
The U.S. has managed to get nine other countries (Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Poland, Denmark and Australia) to join an effort to destroy ISIL in Iraq and Syria. The coalition will provide more advisors, weapons, ammo and air power than the U.S. itself is currently providing. The Americans will probably continue to be the major contributor.
The U.S. has also agreed to train, army, equip and support at least 5,000 Syrian rebels. Many of these will be from Islamic terrorist militias who are, for the moment, anti-ISIL and this has generated a lot of criticism. Many Western politicians are uneasy with the fact that they are now de-facto allies with Iran and the Syrian Assad dictatorship as well as rebel groups that are openly Islamic terrorists and hostile to the West. Iran wants to destroy the West but at the moment it’s a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my ally whether I like it or not.” Despite official policy there is some informal military coordination with Iran and the Assads. Meanwhile the Iranian government is encouraging the rumor that ISIL is part of an American plot to hurt Iran. This sort of thing is believed by many Arabs as well, who see the Western operations against ISIL as another form of the Western “war on Islam”. This conspiracy theory is so popular that many Arab states are reluctant to get too involved with the mainly Western coalition formed to stop ISIL. This is despite the fact that ISIL is a very immediate threat to most Arab states in the region. Then again, this region has been known for never letting facts get in the way of a popular fantasy.
The Syrian rebels are still divided, but increasingly the only real division is between ISIL groups and all the other rebels (secular, like FSA or Islamic terrorist, including al Qaeda). FSA will not formerly join the anti-ISIL coalition but will fight against ISIL. FSA wants a democratic post-war Syria while most of the Islamic radical groups want a religious dictatorship. Infighting among non-ISIL Islamic terrorist groups is way down as it becomes clear that ISIL is a threat to all, no matter what each groups goal is for a post-war government.
The American air attacks have increased and put ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) on the defensive in Iraq. There have been over 200 American air attacks since they began on August 8th and now occur everywhere ISIL has forces in Iraq. Thus in the last month ISIL has lost control of a major dam, a refinery and major oil fields around Kirkuk. ISIL is also losing control of the oil smuggling operation it had established in Syria and western Iraq. The attack against the Haditha dam included help from local Sunni tribal militiamen who had refused to join ISIL. Many Sunni tribes backed away from supporting ISIL or agreed to work with the government. Haditha is the second largest dam in the country in terms of hydroelectric power and water supply. The American air strikes are expensive, costing about two million dollars each.
Pamphlets backing ISIL
(Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) have been appearing in northwestern Pakistan. They appeal to local tribesmen to join ISIL, either in Syria or in Pakistan and fight. This is the only known ISIL activity in Pakistan so far, aside from hundreds of local Islamic terrorists going to join ISIL in Syria over the last year. Most other Islamic terrorist organizations are hostile to ISIL, which is seen as greedy and too extreme for most Islamic extremists. Given the large number of Islamic terrorist already in Pakistan, that would make it difficult get established in Pakistan. Worldwide the
most enthusiastic Islamic radicals are being encouraged by ISIL to come to Syria or Iraq and join ISIL. Many are doing so and it has proved a help in identifying who the local Islamic terrorism fans are.
Algerian police have also discovered another people smuggling operation, apparently related to the one that gets economic refugees to Europe. This one involved recruiting young men fighting for ISIL in Syria and moving them to Libya for more terrorist training and then through Algeria to southern Europe (as refugees) to carry out terror attacks. In some cases the terrorists are accompanied by wives and children. Police arrested 160 Syrians believed associated with this network.
As a result of all this ISIL recruiting activity Western countries have become very concerned about some of their own Moslem citizens quietly joining ISIL and going to Iraq or Syria to actually fight for this very radical Islamic group (even al Qaeda condemns it) or staying in their home country and trying to organize terror attacks there. On the plus side, ISIL prospects are easier to find because they are basically recruited from all those people who had, at one time or another, professed allegiance to (or interest in) al Qaeda. This poaching is (one of many reason al Qaeda hates ISIL. Those in the West who have shown interest in al Qaeda are often eventually detected and in most cases monitored until and if they break a law. So far that approach has worked pretty well, especially after a some of these people actually carried out attacks in Britain and Spain and made the monitoring more popular. The monitoring tightened up, there were more arrests and prosecutions and now people on these watch lists are being used to indicate who is seeking to upgrade from naughty (al Qaeda) to nasty (ISIL). There are no press releases about how this works, because many of those being monitored do not know they are being watched. There have been several attempts to count the number of Western Moslems who have gone to Syria or Iraq, joined ISIL and fought for that group. The best unclassified numbers indicate that up to 3,000 Western Moslems have gone off to fight for ISIL and at least a thousand of them are there right now. It appears that about 30 percent are from France, 18 percent from Britain, 14 percent from Germany, 11 percent from Belgium, nine percent from Australia and smaller percentages from the Netherlands, Canada, the United States and Spain (in that order, with Spain accounting or about two percent). Most of these Moslems were born in Moslem countries or have parents or grandparents who were. Less than ten percent are locals who converted to Islam. These are considered the most dangerous because they don’t look like most Moslems (who tend to be from the Middle East, Africa or Asia). But the converts are also more prone to later have doubts and backslide. Some have been turned into double agents, spying on terror groups for their homeland and other Western intelligence agencies.
Israel, based on their sources within Syria, believes that Syria has violated its agreement to surrender all its chemical weapons and has retained some. There is no solid proof of this yet although some rebels groups claim they have suffered from recent chemical weapons attacks and are seeking to collect the needed evidence.
September 18, 2014: In Damascus some rebel rockets fell close to the presidential palace. Despite more vigorous army operations against pro-rebel neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city rebels can still get close enough to launch rockets (with a range up to ten kilometers) for fire mortar shells (up to a few kilometers.) This fire is not accurate, but by firing into the city center it is difficult not to cause damage or casualties.
In the northeast a large ISIL force, including some tanks and other armored vehicles and supported by artillery, advanced and occupied about twenty Kurdish villages. This victory was achieved in part because of an August agreement by Kurds from Iraq, Syria and Turkey agreed to join forces against ISIL in northern Iraq. This was in response to continued ISIL attacks on Kurdish territory in Iraq. 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. Because of the need for fighters in Iraq, ISIL only encountered local militia when they advanced and the use of armored vehicles and artillery was more than the militiamen could handle.
September 17, 2014: In central Syria (200 kilometers north of Damascus) the army was able to move in sufficient reinforcements to defeat a major ISIL effort to take the city of Hama. The fighting went on for several days but the Assads maintained the edge throughout and inflicted a major defeat on the rebels. In the past such major offensive rebel operations tended to succeed because the government could not get enough troops or militiamen to the battle quickly enough. Thanks to Iranian trainers and cash, the pro-government militias are better trained and more effective as are the soldiers. All of these men are paid regularly and most see a better future than do many of the rebel fighters. The army is about half its pre-war strength of 300,000 but the remaining troops are loyal and most have combat experience. The army is expanding back to its pre-war strength. This is thanks to cash from Iran, because the Syrian economy is wrecked.
Just across the border in Syria a Lebanese soldiers was kidnapped by some gunmen. This has happened before and in one case it was ISIL kidnappers who later beheaded their captives.
September 16, 2014: In North Africa a group of
AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) members declared that they had formed a new faction and pledged allegiance to
ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). This sort of thing is happening all over the Islamic world as the more fanatic Islamic terrorists seek to identify with what appears to be the most successful Islamic terrorist group at the moment. ISIL recently declared the establishment of a caliphate in eastern Syria and western Iraq. This triggered a massive counterattack by Moslem and Western nations. That will make ISIL a rather less attractive role model eventually and the hard core Islamic terrorists worldwide will find another way to brand themselves as the worst of the worst in their neighborhood.
North of Aleppo, near the Turkish border, a car bomb went off killing seven and wounding over twenty. This happened near a rebel held border crossing and may have been the result of feuds between rebel factions. Further east an air force warplane crashed into a residential area, killing at least eight people on the ground.
September 14, 2014: In the east ISIL has been destroying graves and other places sacred to moderate (and generally very peaceful) Sufi Moslems. In other parts of the world (like Somalia and Mali) this has caused the Sufis to army themselves and fight back.
September 13, 2014: ISIL broadcast a video of the recent murder (by beheading) of a British aid worker they had taken prisoner last year. This enraged the English speaking world and strengthened the Western military coalition forming to attack ISIL.
September 10, 2014: Near the Israeli border 45 UN peacekeepers from Fiji were allowed to leave Syria, where they had been held captive by al Nusra rebels since August 28th. The Islamic terrorist rebels who captured the Fijians kept the UN troops weapons and vehicles. The 81 Filipino peacekeepers who worked with the Fijian were also surrounded by al Nusra rebels but refused to surrender their weapons and got back to Israel unharmed. The Fijians also went to safety in Israel. The al Nusra men wanted to ensure that the UN peacekeepers did not interfere with the rebel takeover of a border crossing.
The UN has 1,223 peacekeepers (Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines) monitoring the Syrian/Israeli border. The UN troops have been there since 1974 to monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Syria. Israel defeated Syria in 1967 and took the Golan Heights from Syria. In 1973 Israel defeated a strong effort by Syria to regain the Golan Heights. Since then the UN has watched over an uneasy peace. Now Israel has to face that fact that Islamic terrorists (anti-ISIL al Nusra rebels) control the other side of the Syrian border.
September 9, 2014: In the north, near the Turkish border, nearly all the senior leaders of the Islamic terrorist Ahrar al Sham militia were killed by a bomb. This is believed to be the result of a dispute with the larger al Nusra Islamic terrorist militia. Both groups oppose ISIL but do not get along for other reasons.
September 8, 2014: On the Israeli border an Israeli soldier was wounded by fire from the Syrian side. It was believed that the fire was not deliberate but the result of a gun battle just across the border in Syria in which some of the bullets ended up in Israel.
American UAVs have been spotted over eastern Syria, apparently collecting information on ISIL.
In Syria, the minority (mostly Shia) Assad government, fighting a Sunni rebellion since 2011, now calls on their current Sunni enemies (Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs, plus the Sunni majority in Syria) to join with them in destroying ISIL. Whatever else ISIL has done it has united many other Sunni faction and the Shia in the region into an uneasy anti-ISIL coalition. But even after ISIL is gone, Islamic radicalism will still be there. For most Moslems this radicalism is like the weather; every Moslem talks about but Moslems cannot seem to do anything to eliminate or even control it.