Category - Syria

Stories about Syria

Palmyra: Dozens of civilian casualties reported in fresh Syrian airstrikes

ARA News, By Laila Majdalawi, January 3

Damascus – Syrian regime’s air force hit the ancient city of Palmyra with dozens of airstrikes, killing and wounding dozens of civilians, activists reported on Saturday.

Local sources said that Syrian warplanes bombed residential neighborhoods in central Palmyra.

“At least 13 civilians were killed and 20 more wounded in renewed airstrikes by Syrian warplanes,” media activist Samir al-Homsi told ARA News.

[…]

“The Syrian regime claims that its warplanes are targeting ISIS positions in Palmyra; however, the strikes mostly hit residential buildings causing civilian casualties and destruction to private property,” al-Homsi said.

Military to Military

Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war

London Review Of Books, By Seymour Hersh, January 7

Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped.

The military’s resistance dates back to the summer of 2013, when a highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then led by General Martin Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos and, potentially, to Syria’s takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was then happening in Libya. A former senior adviser to the Joint Chiefs told me that the document was an ‘all-source’ appraisal, drawing on information from signals, satellite and human intelligence, and took a dim view of the Obama administration’s insistence on continuing to finance and arm the so-called moderate rebel groups. By then, the CIA had been conspiring for more than a year with allies in the UK, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to ship guns and goods – to be used for the overthrow of Assad – from Libya, via Turkey, into Syria. The new intelligence estimate singled out Turkey as a major impediment to Obama’s Syria policy. The document showed, the adviser said, ‘that what was started as a covert US programme to arm and support the moderate rebels fighting Assad had been co-opted by Turkey, and had morphed into an across-the-board technical, arms and logistical programme for all of the opposition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State. The so-called moderates had evaporated and the Free Syrian Army was a rump group stationed at an airbase in Turkey.’ The assessment was bleak: there was no viable ‘moderate’ opposition to Assad, and the US was arming extremists.

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the DIA between 2012 and 2014, confirmed that his agency had sent a constant stream of classified warnings to the civilian leadership about the dire consequences of toppling Assad. The jihadists, he said, were in control of the opposition. Turkey wasn’t doing enough to stop the smuggling of foreign fighters and weapons across the border. ‘If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic,’ Flynn told me. ‘We understood Isis’s long-term strategy and its campaign plans, and we also discussed the fact that Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the Islamic State inside Syria.’ The DIA’s reporting, he said, ‘got enormous pushback’ from the Obama administration. ‘I felt that they did not want to hear the truth.’

Democracy Now!: Seymour Hersh’s Latest Bombshell: U.S. Military Undermined Obama on Syria with Tacit Help to Assad, December 22

Truthout: What the “War on Terror” Really Is, and How to Fight It, December 23
Empire Burlesque: Word Games: False Premises Fuel Bogus Debate on Bombing Syria
CounterPunch: Hersh, Gauthier and the Coming of Terror in Xinjiang

Ceasefire broken in northwestern Syria

Rebels shell Fuaa after they say government forces dropped barrel bombs nearby, just a day after truce declared in area.

Al Jazeera, September 27

A ceasefire in northwest Syria, part of a wider deal that included cessation of hostilities in the area, as well as in a town near the Lebanese border, has been broken after just one day, according to an activist monitoring group.

Shells apparently fired by rebel fighters hit the village of Fuaa in the province of Idlib on Saturday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said, after rebels blamed government forces for violating the ceasefire by dropping barrel bombs on an area nearby.

Warring sides, including Hezbollah, had agreed on Friday a ceasefire in Fuaa and next-door Kafraya, two villages held by pro-government forces and besieged by rebels, as well as in the town of Zabadani near the Lebanese border, where fighters are holed up and surrounded by government forces.

But shelling of Fuaa resumed, the observatory said, with no immediate casualties reported.

France says tackle Syria to solve migrant crisis, promises strikes

CNN, By Mick Krever, September 9

France will soon launch air stikes in Syria, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday, saying the refugee crisis “cannot be solved just by receiving them.”

“At the moment there are millions of Syrians who are displaced. There are refugee camps — in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Turkey — receiving 4 to 5 million Syrians. And we’re not going to receive 4 to 5 million Syrians, so the problem has to be dealt with at source,” he said through an interpreter.

“These are very difficult subjects. And of course, in Syria, so long as we haven’t found a political solution; so long as we haven’t destroyed this terrorist group, Islamic State; so long as we haven’t got rid of Bashar Assad; we will not find a solution.”

France began flying reconnaissance missions over Syria this week, and Valls said he would appear before the country’s Parliament next Tuesday to announce “the objectives of France and that there will be strikes.”

CNN: U.S. to Russia: Backing al-Assad ‘is not a winning strategy’
New York Times: U.S. Begins Military Talks With Russia on Syria

Putin Said to Explore Sidelining Assad Even as He Arms Him

Bloomberg, By Henry Meyer & Donna Abu-Nasr, September 13

Russia is sending signals to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that it may allow Syria’s embattled leader Bashar al-Assad to be eased out of power as it seeks to forge a united front against Islamic State and retain influence in the region, officials and Syrian opposition leaders said.

Officials from the three countries, as well as from the opposition, have been negotiating possible terms for sidelining Assad since at least June, when President Vladimir Putin hosted Saudi King Salman’s son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed, they said. Saudi Arabia is Assad’s main regional enemy, while Russia is his longtime ally. Since then, Russia’s whirlwind diplomacy has brought key officials from across the region to Moscow for talks.

Syria’s civil war has traumatized the Middle East, spilling into neighbors and enabling the rise of Islamic State amid the turmoil. The latest Russian-backed efforts to end the conflict come as its fallout spreads westwards, with hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking refuge in the European Union.

Like every other aspect of the war in Syria, though, Russia’s policy isn’t straightforward. U.S. and Russian officials say they’re weighing a transition plan that would strip Assad of power while remaining interim head of state.

U.S. Revamping Rebel Force Fighting ISIS in Syria

New York Times, By Eric Schmitt & Ben Hubbard, September 6

Washington — In an acknowledgment of severe shortcomings in its effort to create a force of moderate rebels to battle the Islamic State in Syria, the Pentagon is drawing up plans to significantly revamp the program by dropping larger numbers of fighters into safer zones as well as providing better intelligence and improving their combat skills.

The proposed changes come after a Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda attacked, in late July, many of the first 54 Syrian graduates of the military’s training program and the rebel unit they came from. A day before the attack, two leaders of the American-backed group and several of its fighters were captured.

The encounter revealed several glaring deficiencies in the program, according to classified assessments: The rebels were ill-prepared for an enemy attack and were sent back into Syria in too small numbers. They had no local support from the population and had poor intelligence about their foes. They returned to Syria during the Eid holiday, and many were allowed to go on leave to visit relatives, some in refugee camps in Turkey — and these movements likely tipped off adversaries to their mission. Others could not return because border crossings were closed.

Russian Moves in Syria Pose Concerns for U.S.

New York Times, By Michael R. Gordon & Eric Schmitt, September 4

Washington — Russia has sent a military advance team to Syria and is taking other steps the United States fears may signal that President Vladimir V. Putin is planning to vastly expand his military support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, administration officials said Friday.

The Russian moves, including the recent transport of prefabricated housing units for hundreds of people to a Syrian airfield and the delivery of a portable air traffic control station there, are another complicating factor in Secretary of State John Kerry’s repeated efforts to enlist Mr. Putin’s support for a diplomatic solution to the bloody conflict in Syria.

The Russians have also filed military overflight requests with neighboring countries through September.

American officials acknowledge that they are not certain of Russia’s intentions, but some say the temporary housing suggests that Russia could deploy as many as 1,000 advisers or other military personnel to the airfield near the Assad family’s ancestral home. The airfield serves Latakia, Syria’s principal port city.

[…]

“We have regularly and repeatedly expressed our concern about Russian military support for the Assad regime,” said John Kirby, the State Department spokesman. “But we’re also watching their actions very carefully. If these reports are borne out, it would represent a very serious shift in the trajectory of the Syria conflict and call into question any Russian commitment to a peaceful settlement.”

Turkey expands bombing raids to PKK targets in Iraq

PM’s office says jets bombed Kurdish targets in northern Iraq, hours after planes pounded ISIL positions in Syria.

Al Jazeera, July 25

Turkish fighter jets have bombed military positions of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in neighbouring Iraq.

The air raids came just hours after Turkish planes pounded Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) positions in Syria on Friday morning, marking a significant shift in Ankara’s position on how to deal with armed groups in Syria and Iraq.

“Strikes were carried out on targets of the Daesh [ISIL] terror group in Syria and the PKK terror group in northern Iraq,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement, adding that shelters and warehouses containing PKK weapons were hit in the northern Iraq operation.

[…]

Turkey also approved the full use of its airbases by the US-led coalition against ISIL, according to the foreign ministry, marking a major change in its policy following a suicide bomb attack in Suruc, bordering Syria.

“The cabinet of ministers has given approval for the stationing in our country’s bases of manned and unmanned aircraft of the US and other coalition countries … taking part in air operations against Islamic State,” the foreign ministry said, adding that Turkey’s own aircraft would also be deployed.


RT: Turkey attacks Kurdish militia & ISIS positions – PM’s office

Prime Minister Davutoglu told reporters that some 590 suspected members of IS and PKK and other militant groups had been arrested in raids across Turkey that began on Friday, according to AFP.

First contingent of U.S.-trained fighters enters Syria

McClatchyDC, By Roy Gutman, July 19

Istanbul – They arrived in Toyota Hilux pickup trucks, the favored vehicle of Islamist fighters in the Middle East and South Asia. But these men, the first graduates in the faltering U.S. train-and-equip program, were traveling into Syria to fight against an extremist insurgency, the Islamic State.

The U.S. military calls them the “New Syrian force” and disclosed that they are to coordinate with rebel forces already on the ground who have a different objective – to fight the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The goal, a spokesman said, is to expand the effectiveness of all moderate forces.

Turkish news media said 54 fighters crossed in Sunday in a convoy of 30 vehicles, commanded by an ethnic Turkman colonel who’d defected from the Syrian army. McClatchy obtained photos from an anti-regime activist in Syria that showed the trucks were Toyota Hiluxes.

[…]

The “New Syrian Force” is the first contingent of a $500 million program Congress approved last year to train and equip 15,000 fighters.

Obama says US intensifying anti-ISIL campaign in Syria

US president says ISIL will be defeated as US-led coalition bombs 19 positions in Syria and Iraq in last 24 hours.

Al Jazeera, July 7

US President Barack Obama has said that the US-led coalition battling fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was “intensifying” its campaign against the armed group’s base in Syria.

Speaking at the Pentagon on Monday, Obama said that recent territory losses by the ISIL group show that the armed group will be defeated, but added that the fight will be long.

The US-led coalition has stepped up its efforts in Iraq and Syria, with some of the heaviest bombing since it began its strikes in September last year. At least 19 US-led coalition air strikes have been carried out in the last 24 hours.

Air raids have been carried out in 11 locations in Iraq: they are the oil town of Beiji, the cities of Fallujah, Haditha, Kirkuk, Makh-mur, Ramadi and Sinjar. Coalition strikes have also targeted eight ISIL positions in Syria: near Hasakah, Raqqa, Kobane and Aleppo.

The Conversation: Why defeating ISIL/ Daesh with military might is starry eyed idealism