Military Events in Syria and Iraq thread #3

The Kurds make a lot of progress around Manbij - already from three sides. talks about East, Southwest and Northwest. It already looks like the only Daesh route to their mainland is through the M4 highway.

The SDF/Syrian Kurds are continuing to close in on ISIS held Manbij from three sides.

This is a positive development and I hope that they are successful.

The Kurds have made significant progress over the last three months. Compare...

They appear to have surrounded the town of Hamir Labidah on three sides, south of Manbij. If they can link up with the Syrian government forces in Kuweires, east of Aleppo, they can cut off the ISIS forces in the Manbij/Al Bab area and separate the main body of ISIS territory from their border with Turkey, across which most of their recruits and supplies flow southwards, while their exports (oil and looted antiquities) flow north.
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Things are becoming more interesting. The Kurds are close to encircling Manbij completely, some claim that they have already succeeded. And Daesh seems to take away some of its power from the Azaz front. Al Nusra is happy about this and takes back what they have lost during the last time. But the Kurds are also happy and have also started an attack on Daesh from the West, from Afrin. But it is not clear if they have reached some success. claims they have taken three villages, claims they have been repelled. People wonder why Al Nusra can simply take villages now without any Daesh resistance while there seems to be a large Daesh force at the small Kurdish part.

The Syrian army seems to advance in direction of the Tabka airport, are now close to a major crossroad. At the same time, Al Nusra and friends make some advances South of Aleppo.
The rebels in the Azaz pocket seemed doomed a week or two ago. Now they are expanding again, having retaken the road between Azaz and Mare and advanced east along the Turkish border to around Dudiyan. I'm guessing that ISIS has removed fighters from that front to help shore up their crumbling position in Manbij.

The Syrian Kurds say that ISIS vehicles are fleeing west out of Manbij, but it isn't clear whether these are fighting forces or ISIS' brutal Islamic jurists. There are lots of 'coalition' airstrikes happening around Manbij. The US has very quietly moved about 500 US special forces into Syria to support the SDF (there are about 5,000 US troops in neighboring Iraq) and there's reports that these US soldiers, along with French special forces, are advising the SDF around Manbij and probably controlling airstrikes.

There's also reports that the Kurds are fighting up around the ISIS held border town of Jarabulus, where the Euphrates river crosses the Turkish border. The report said that SDF forces have moved around south and west of Jarabulus and isolated it.
SDF continues to advance around Manbij, trying to surround it, and are close enough to the main road west out of town to be able to prevent ISIS from travelling along it. They can reportedly still get in and out of town, but it's been made more difficult. Hopefully full encirclement comes soon. ISIS is fighting hard to prevent that.

As of Saturday June 11, reports from multiple sources are saying that the SDF forces have succeeded in surrounding Manbij.

There are also reports that Syrian army forces are attacking east out of Abu al Alaj, supported by Russian airstrikes. They have reached a point 10-15 miles west of Taqba air base, seemingly the only air base where ISIS has been seen flying captured aircraft (until the Syrian airforce bombed the base and perhaps destroyed the planes).

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Manbij is encircled, and the Kurds are fighting now in Arima - the greatest village on the road from Manbij to Al Bab, so that it looks like they want not only Manbij.

The Syrian army has not only taken the crossroad to Tabka, but has also taken Arak, the next important point on the road from Palmyra to Deir Ezzor.
Manbij is encircled, and the Kurds are fighting now in Arima - the greatest village on the road from Manbij to Al Bab, so that it looks like they want not only Manbij.

Arima is about halfway between Manbij and Al Bab, so if the SDF is there, they are making fast progress. Daesh/ISIS is being squeezed into a narrower and narrower area near the Turkish border. Good news.

The Syrian army has not only taken the crossroad to Tabka,

The reports suggest that the Syrian army has advanced to a point more or less south of Raqqah. (The SDF is north of Raqqah.)

but has also taken Arak, the next important point on the road from Palmyra to Deir Ezzor.

Apparently the Syrian army is advancing in two thrusts, towards Raqqah and towards Deir Ezzor. Deir Ezzor (on the Euphrates river) is a long ways east, but the land between is mostly sparsely populated desert. The small encircled Syrian army pocket in Deir Ezzor must be very happy to hear that a relief column is trying to fight through to them.

This is a large offensive on the Syrian army's part and will perhaps result in the government re-exerting control over large parts of the east now controlled by ISIS/Daesh. Coordinated with a simultaneous SDF offensive, and it puts a great deal of pressure on Islamic State in Syria.
Apparently here's the situation in the area of the Syrian army thrust towards Tabka as of Tuesday June 14.

They aren't as close to Raqqah as I thought they were. I believe that the Russians are helping provide air support for this one. The US is flying its air strikes in the area of Manbij. (A sensible division of labor.)
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Raqqa is actually not even the aim of the Syrian army offensive. The Tabka airport and Deir Ezzor have higher priority.

What is strange is the inactivity of the Syrian army in Southern Aleppo. They allow Al Nusra to attack and to make gains and do essentially nothing.
The Syrian army makes some serious advances in Northern Latakia toward the Turkish border. As it looks, there remains now nothing but a 15 or so km long but only 1-2 km wide strip along the Turkish border yet under control of the terrorists. Not clear how problematic it will be to clean this strip, given that the terrorists have strong Turkish support, but anyway such a thin strip does not give the Turks anything useful, for smuggling weapons and terrorists into Latakia this will not be enough.
ISIS has attacked the Syrian thrust towards Tabqa and pushed the Syrians all the way back to Abu Al Alaj. ISIS has retaken the oil fields that the Syrians briefly occupied. Apparently the Russians are directing lots of air strikes in this area in support of the Syrians. There are reports of air strikes in Raqqah against a location often occupied by foreign fighters. I don't know if that was the Americans or the Russians.
I think the idea was a stupid one from the start. The weak point of the Syrian army was, anyway, the defense of communications, even the road to Aleppo was cut several times. And in such a situation they start operations which make the communication lines even much longer. Instead of securing and enhancing the communications they already control.
The situation near the Castillo road becomes very interesting.

The Castillo road is the only road to the terrorist-controlled Eastern part of Aleppo which is not under direct control of the Syrian army. But now it is under fire control. That means, everything travelling along that road is in danger of being shot. What can and does happen if one moves along such a road can be seen in a video So, to support the terrorists in Eastern Aleppo with weapons and ammunition becomes problematic.

An interesting point is that Syrian source claim that they do not (at least not yet) try to control the road completely. This would be too easy to attack, from several sides. So, actually the fight is not about the control of the road itself, but of the Southern Mallah farms, the region where one can shoot whatever drives along the Castillo road. This is the really interesting fight during the next days.

So, what one can expect during the next days is, one has to translate: If it sounds like a simple "nothing new", mentioning a lot of Russian bombs, heavy fighting and heavy casualties on terrorists side (a type of information one would usually ignore as the usual propaganda if there is no progress to report), it means, in reality, a heavy success of the Syrian army. Because the actual situation in Northern Aleppo, if preserved, would be fatal for the terrorists. They would have no way to support Eastern Aleppo with weapons and ammunition, which in the long term would lead to the loss of Eastern Aleppo. And this would be much more than a symbolic loss, it could play a decisive role in the whole war.

So, the terrorists have, in fact, no other choice but to fight, with all they have, to retake these Southern Al Mallah farms:


See also Castello.jpg

During the next weeks, Latakia may become interesting again. The SAA has, for the purpose of the (failed) offensive against Daesh at Tabka, weakened their forces there. This has allowed the terrorists even to gain some territory. Not really much - even the weakened forces were able to start some successful attack, but the terrorists have reacted, and with a few hundreds of reinforcements, were able to revert this.

Fortunately, the SAA has given up this Tabka idea now, and left the desert to Daesh. Now, they have send some of the forces to Latakia. We will see in near future if this makes a difference. Behind what happens in Latakia is, of course, a much more important question: What are the consequences of Erdogan's apology to Russia in this domain?

Of course, there is a lot of information missing, one can only speculate about this. But a quite reasonable guess is that there has been some agreement with Russia that Turkey gives up their support for the rebels in Latakia. In this case, the rebel forces there are fair game now for the Syrian army. In this case, it would be, indeed, very reasonable not to care at all about Tabka and, instead, to secure the Turkish border in Latakia.

The other good news comes from the Damascus surroundings, Eastern Ghouta. After the big success in the Southern part of Eastern Ghouta, during the last weeks there has been a quite important progress in the Eastern part. The key towns of this Eastern part, Meyda and Al Bahariya, as well as the road between them is now under control of the Syrian army, and the Syrian army is fighting now for control of safe surroundings of Meyda. So the whole East Ghouta region has been, with the Southern and now Eastern losses, reduced to roughly 50% of what the rebels have controlled last year.
A sort of long term summary: Starting from the begin of the Russian operation, I found almost everything done in an appropriate and reasonable way. Assad, who was the loser before, became the winner on all fronts.

Then, Russia has enforced some ceasefire. How much this ceasefire has really reached is not clear. This is simply something hard to evaluate from far away. Even if Al Nusra was excluded from the list of those on the ceasefire list, it seems that there was, as a consequence, also something close to a ceasefire even with Al Nusra. The Syrian army concentrated its military force against Daesh, and reached here some remarkable successes too. In particular, it liberated Al Palmyra and the important Christian town Quaratain.

Unfortunately, the Syrian army decided to continue fighting Daesh. The problem was that even winning this fight would have left the Syrian army in a much less favourable logistic situation, with large communications open to attacks by Daesh. Ok, the problems for Daesh would have been, in case of success, much larger. But this is, nonetheless, a bad idea if the region controlled by the Syrian army has, yet, a lot of weak points inside.

Fortunately, the offensive toward Tabka has been stopped. Of course, this looks like a big success of Daesh against Assad. But better now such a little loss than later a big one. The gains reached against Daesh, Palmyra as well as Qaratain, will be secured, and now one starts, again, to do the reasonable things, fighting against the various terrorist-controlled enclaves, securing and improving the own communications.
Regarding the Castello Road, I've long felt that the most obvious thing for the Syrian government forces to do in Aleppo would be to squeeze off the finger of rebel territory that snakes through the northern outskirts of the city from the west and connects to the rebel-held neighborhoods in the city's eastern side. Now it appears that they have done so in conjunction with the Kurdish SDF who occupy a densely-populated fortress-like Kurdish majority neighborhood on a hill.

The rebels have tried counterattacking and that's failed. So they have been shelling goverment held areas indiscriminately, killing many civilians.

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The actual map looks already a little bit different. The rebells have not only not succeeded breaking the fire control over the Castello road. Instead, their situation has become even worse. Now, the leading forces of the Syrian army have cut the road itself. And the base for this cutting the road itself has been the control of something named "Castello Hill" - the Southern front of what they have reached. So, the Castello road is no more only under fire control, but under direct control of the SAA. And, moreover, with the control over a hill the Syrian army has something which one can defend.

On the other, Southern side, there has been an advance of the Syrian army too. Other maps (like that from the source above) show even more progress, so that this map may be even conservative. There seems agreement that the big junction of the Castello road with the 241 road toward Northeast is under fire control. Yet only fire control. But there is a serious danger that the Ben Zeid district between the Kurdish controlled region and the Castello road becomes encircled too.

Whatever, the situation has become worse, if not to say much worse, for Al Qaida in Aleppo during the last days. Even if it would be only because a siege which is not broken, despite a lot of counterattacking, is always bad.

Some heavy fighting also in Latakia, around the town Kinsibba. The fight for Kinsibba seems to be won by the Syrian army. But this is not really a big progress, in fact they have already controlled this town. But in a recent big offensive it has been taken back by the rebels.

Small progress has been reached also in Darayya. Which is a quite small enclave in the South of Damascus, and there is some chance that in some time it may be completely liberated from terrorists.
While this is not really a military success, claims that special troops of the Syrian army have killed this US-paid kid head-chopper.

Of course, this is a type of news which has one of the highest probabilities to appear to be wishful thinking or propaganda inventions. Famous guys in such wars have two-digit counts of false claims that they have been killed. So, take this simply as an expression of what I dream of, not as a reliable information that it has really happened.