The offensive to expel the Islamic State (IS) from its primary urban stronghold in Syria, Raqqa city, began on 6 November 2016 with shaping operations and commenced in earnest on 6 June 2017. Backed by the U.S.-led Coalition, the operation, known as EUPHRATES WRATH, is being carried out on the ground by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or Quwwat Suriya al-Dimoqratiyya (QSD). The SDF is formally a coalition of Kurds and Arabs—its announcement of the Raqqa operation named eighteen distinct sub-units. But the predominant force within the SDF is the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Arab SDF play a “secondary role of maintaining local security,” which is to say providing an acceptable face for the PKK’s administration in the Arab-majority areas it has captured. Examining the SDF’s composition, and the recent marginalization of Arab SDF groups, underscores the point. Continue reading
Violence erupted between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the rebranded al-Qaeda branch in Syria, and Ahrar al-Sham, its long-time ally and its bridge into the Syrian rebellion, beginning on 19 January. These clashes expanded to encompass the mainstream armed opposition on 23 January. Today, al-Maqalaat, a pro-JFS outlet, published a long statement explaining the fighting from JFS’s point-of-view. The salient points of the argument and other interesting elements are highlighted in bold. Continue reading
On The Ground News (OGN) interviewed Abu al-Abed Ashidaa on 10 January 2017. Abu al-Abed was appointed to lead all insurgents in the besieged areas of eastern Aleppo City on 1 December 2016. Aleppo City fell to the pro-regime coalition after a months-long campaign of siege, bombardment, and atrocity on 12 December, with the final deportation of the insurgency and tens of thousands of civilians—a crime against humanity in itself—on 22 December.
OGN is an outlet operating inside Syria that is best known for featuring American activist, Bilal Abdul Kareem. The organization claims independence but is clearly within the milieu of the more hardline insurgent forces in northern Syria, and in fact appears to favour the political line of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), al-Qaeda’s rebranded presence in Syria, against even other extremist Salafi groups like Ahrar al-Sham.
It was Kareem who interviewed Abu al-Abed. The transcript is below. Continue reading
After a horrific suicide bombing by IS at a Kurdish wedding in eastern Turkey had slaughtered more than fifty people on Saturday, Turkey moved to expel the Islamic State (IS) from Jarabulus in eastern Aleppo Province at about 4 AM on Wednesday morning. IS was swept from this last major border town in Syria, a key gateway for resources to the outside world, around ten hours later.
Operation EUPHRATES SHIELD saw Turkey put troops and tanks over the border publicly for the first time, and allow the Free Syrian Army (FSA)-branded and other mainstream Syrian rebels who have been battling IS for years to use Turkish territory to launch the assault. It was supported by airstrikes from the international anti-IS coalition.
For Turkey, this is a strong indication of a change in her threat-perception vis-à-vis IS, but it is also about a (correctly) perceived threat of what was to follow IS. Continue reading