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
Jabhat an-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, has driven one of America’s oldest allied rebel groups in Syria from its headquarters. Nusra began its assault on Division 13 on Saturday night and by yesterday morning Nusra had looted the rebels’ weapons and Division 13’s leader, Ahmad as-Saoud, was in Turkey. This is the third major such incident, and each time the United States has done nothing to rescue its designated proxies. The U.S.’s rapprochement with the Islamic Republic of Iran has set conditions in Syria that make it easier for al-Qaeda to spread.
In the last week, two events have provided further evidence that the United States has effectively sided with the Assad regime in Syria, acting effectively as the regime’s air force, and that America’s alliance with Assad is part of the broader policy of détente with Iran, facilitated by the nuclear deal, which has ceded Syria to Iran as a sphere of influence. Continue reading
The key thing to understand about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear accord announced on April 2 between the P5+1 and Iran, is that it does not exist. The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said at one point, “We envisage being able to deliver a narrative,” adding that this might not be written and—these being forgiving times—Iran’s narrative need not match the West’s. In other words, nothing was signed or agreed to. This is the reason for the wild discrepancies between the American and Iranian JCPOA “factsheets”: both are drawing from a rolling text that is ostensibly to lead to a “final” or “comprehensive” deal and spinning it to their own respective advantage. The administration has as much as said so with its mantra that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
The purpose of the announcement of the JCPOA therefore was, charitably, to “build political momentum toward a final agreement“. Less charitably it was intended to “demonstrate progress in order to fend off congressional action,” as Obama’s former nuclear adviser Gary Samore put it. In that at least it was successful. Continue reading
After an insurgent offensive began on March 24, Idlib City fell on March 29, making it only the second—of Syria’s fourteen—provincial capitals to slip from the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the last one being Raqqa City on March 4, 2013. The regime has been on borrowed time in Idlib City since Wadi al-Deif to the south, near Maarat an-Numan, fell in mid-December.
In a scene reminiscent of Raqqa—and indeed the fall of Baghdad—a statue of Hafez al-Assad was destroyed. The insurgents broke open some secret prisons, while finding that in a final act of needless cruelty the regime had murdered other prisoners in the cells before retreating.
An operations room, Jaysh al-Fatah (Army of Conquest), organised this offensive, and is composed of: Faylaq a-Sham (Sham Legion), Liwa al-Haq, Ajnad a-Sham, Jaysh al-Sunna, Ahrar a-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa (JAA), and al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, Jabhat an-Nusra. Continue reading
There have been reports this week that Jabhat an-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, has agreed to a truce with the Islamic State (I.S.), under which they will focus on common enemies—namely the rebels, the Kurds, and the Americans—but there are reasons to doubt these reports. Continue reading
What a disaster. With American and coalition jets in the air overhead, ostensibly to do battle with Salafi-jihadists, al-Qaeda has been allowed to push rebel brigades the United States purports to support out of almost all of Idlib Province. Continue reading