Tag Archives: Raqqa

A Year In, Trump’s Syria Policy Looks A Lot Like Obama’s

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 18 December 2017

Nearly a year into Donald Trump’s administration, the president has followed the track laid down by his predecessors in Syria, accelerating it in some cases, and reinforcing the negative trends of Barack Obama’s defective policy that will undo even apparent successes, like the destruction of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) “caliphate”. Continue reading

A Defection and the Dictatorship in Syrian Kurdistan

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 17 November 2017

Talal Silo

It was announced on 15 November that Talal Ali Silo, the official spokesman of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), had fled to the EUPHRATES SHIELD zone in northern Aleppo, run by rebels operating under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brand that are dependent on Turkey. The SDF is the partner force in Syria for the U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS). Though the SDF presents itself as a multi-ethnic coalition of Kurds and Arabs, it was initiated as a front for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). By attaching non-Kurdish units to a PKK core and using the SDF banner, it circumvented various legal and political obstacles for Coalition states. But all real power has remained in the hands of the PKK, which has systematically purged all genuinely independent power centres within the SDF. Silo, a Turkoman, helped further the narrative of the SDF’s ethnic inclusivity, and his defection underlines the reality of the organization’s political exclusivity. Continue reading

Islamic State Officially Gives Up the Caliphate, Returns to Insurgency

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 15 November 2017

Al-Naba 101, page 8

In the 101st edition of the Islamic State’s weekly newsletter al-Naba (page 8-9), released on 12 October 2017, the organization gave some fascinating details about how they responded to the “defeat” inflicted on them in 2007-08 by the American surge and the tribal Sahwa (Awakening) forces. The article describes how IS switched wholly to insurgent-terrorist tactics, dismantling its conventional fighting units and even its sniper teams in March 2008, and training in hit-and-run bombings. The leadership at that time, the emir Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi) and his deputy, the “war minister” Abdul Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir), encountered some initial scepticism, but the rank-and-file soon came on board when they saw its effectiveness. IS says that it is time to return to this form of warfare. In short, IS marked a switch in al-Naba 101 entirely from the statehood and governance phase of its revolutionary warfare, back into insurgency mode. The article is reproduced below. Continue reading

The Controversial End of the Islamic State in Raqqa

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 14 November 2017

IS jihadists arriving south of Deir Ezzor city, September 2017

A deal was made between the “Syrian Democratic Forces,” the U.S.-led Coalition’s “partner force” in Syria that is wholly dominated by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the Islamic State (IS), which ostensibly evacuated the remnants of the IS jihadists—said to be between 300 and 500 militants, plus 400 “hostages” (i.e. women and children)—from Raqqa by 15 October. The U.S.-led Coalition said at the time, “do not condone” the deal, but the Coalition acknowledged that its PKK partner had to make these tactical calls, and there was a lot of local pressure from local tribal leaders to reach this deal given the devastation visited on the city. It now transpires, however, that this deal was the worst of all worlds: the Coalition ruined the city in its efforts to overcome IS’s tactical adaptations to the air campaign, and then allowed a scandalous number of IS jihadists to escape. Continue reading

Don’t Celebrate the Fall of Raqqa Just Yet

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 24 October 2017

Raqqa city has been destroyed (image source)

The Islamic State (IS) captured Raqqa city, its first provincial capital, in January 2014. Six months later, IS declared its caliphate and Raqqa became its de facto capital. Last Tuesday, the partner force of the US-led anti-IS Coalition, the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), entered the city centre in Raqqa. A deal had evacuated most of the remaining jihadists over the prior weekend, though a determined core remained and still held about 10 per cent of the city. The caliphate is crumbling and the Coalition says IS has 6,500 fighters left. According to the Coalition, this puts IS “on the verge of a devastating defeat”. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe this is true. To the contrary, IS is more powerful at this point, in theatre, even after the military reverses inflicted on it by the Coalition, than in the period after the “defeat” of 2008, and the outlook is more favourable now to IS. Moreover, IS now has an international reach, physically and ideologically, it did not previously possess. Continue reading

By Strengthening Iran, the Coalition Has Ensured the Islamic State’s Survival

Published at The Telegraph

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 6 October 2017

The “defeat” of the Islamic State (ISIL), signified by its eviction from Mosul in July, its impending loss of Raqqa, and an apparent resurgence of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, seemed to augur a new era of stability for the Middle East. The jihadists would be gone and Iranian-backed governments in Syria and Iraq consolidated.

True, Assad murdering those who resisted him with poison gas and concentration camps, and hiding the evidence by installing crematoria, would nag at our conscience. But foreign policy is a cold-blooded business and it has been decreed that ISIL is the greatest—really the only—threat emanating from the region.

It would not be justice, but it would be peace. Or something like that. Continue reading

The Latest Chapter of Syria’s Media War: A ‘Gay Unit’ Fighting the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 31 July 2017

Earlier this month, it was announced that an LGBT military unit had been formed to fight the Islamic State (IS) in its Syrian “capital”, Raqqa city. There does appear to be such a unit in existence, though it is militarily inconsequential and likely has fewer than a dozen members, all of them foreign. The unit’s primary intention was to bolster the ongoing media-political campaign of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is selling itself to Western audiences as a “progressive” ideological ally in the Middle East. This is the latest chapter in a conflict where the significance of the media war has few precedents. Continue reading