" … the SAA and its allies supported by a significant number of Russian warplanes which remain in Syria are continuing active actions against terrorists excluded from the ceasefire agreements. SouthFront also received information that Putin’s decision of the partial withdrawal from Syria concided in time with a regular rotation of the aircraft involved in the Russian operation in Syria. The Russian Aerospace Forces rotate aircraft at the Hmeymim airbase regularly because of a high number of combat sorties conducted by them. By this decision, Russia is also holding an initiative at the diplomatic field. This fact is confirmed by US Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to visit Russia next week to discuss the Syria crisis." AMN/Southfront
https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/southfront-military-situation-overview-syria-march-16-2016/ | Al-Masdar News
Hezbollah has mobilized more soldiers to help liberate the strategic desert city of Palmyra (Tadmur) after originally sending a small contingent to aid the government forces during the preliminary assault on the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham’s (ISIS) defenses. Hezbollah’s fighting prowess in this rugged mountainous/desert terrain gives them a strategic advantage over several other units participating in this offensive. Once Palmyra is liberated from ISIS, Hezbollah will likely turn their attention to the eastern slopes of the Qalamoun Mountains, where several terrorist groups have entrenched themselves near the town of Qarah on the Lebanese border.
https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/hezbollah-mobilizes-liberate-palmyra/ | Al-Masdar News
Once again, it is my opinion that IS is collapsing in Syria and Iraq. They are starving to death as the money runs out, lost to R+6 and US air action against oil exports through Turkey. At the same time equipment and men are not coming down the reciprocal transport route from Turkey.
Hizbullah's willingness to invest more men in the struggle to take Palmyra is indicative of the continuing ambitions of the anti-jihadi alliance. A similarly aggressive effort is being made by the Syrian garrison of Deir az-Zor. IS seems incapable of halting that and a link-up with Syrian government forces to the west can be expected soon.
We await the advance of the 4th Syrian Corps into the Idlib cauldron battle. pl
Yes IS transport routes Turkey-Iraq being cut off but I don’t think they’re starving to death anytime soon. They’ve been diversifying into big-time transnational non-oil contraband trade. See this lengthy Jan 16 investigative report from (UK) Mirror
“ISIS seizes £4bn drug ring from the Mafia to fund its brutal terror campaign”
It looks as if they’ve been using the same tactic against long-established Euro organized crime that they applied to wasting ‘moderate’ jihadi groups in Syria: move in on strongholds established by weaker players rather than starting in a region from scratch.
Are they getting help from Turkey in these ops in Europe? Wouldn’t be suprising.
in any case Mirror revelations have ramifications well beyond Syria.
A telling map has emerged that covers the land that is supposed to make up PYD-governed Rojava, once the dust settles:
Neatly covering all the border-areas with Turkey currently not in the process of getting cleaned up by SAA and allies…
Might this be instructive as to how SAA and Kurds will divide the work cut out for them against ISIL and the various unicorns?
NOW Media posted this yesterday: https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566739-hezbollah-withdrawing-fighters-from-syria-report
I heard the same rumors and grumblings out of Lebanon as well but, almost without exception, these are springing up mostly from the Eli Khoury, Hariri, Michael Young, assorted Neocon Americans and Necon-nized Lebanese nexus who all gravitate to NOW Media. So buyer beware.
Who will finish the job on ISIS now that Russia is winding down?
Off Topic post: Can anyone please recommend American news websites to read to stay informed of domestic and international events. I have been going to Huffington Post but I have lost my patience with them … they are so over-the-top against Trump, pro gay/lesbian/transgender stuff, too pro Hillary….I cannot trust them…they are trying to lead us readers down a path they want us to follow rather than report news objectively. I dont want to be controlled. I want to be informed with the facts objectively.
This website is one of only a few sources I trust.
If the following is true then it could help explain why resources are drying up for Daesh and others. Not that there aren’t lots of reasons already. Really great news if it is true.
“Russia, according to high-ranking sources, informed Washington, Damascus and Tehran of its step of reducing forces in Syria. The Kremlin expect from the United States to exert its promises imposing on regional parties, i.e. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, to stop all sorts of weapons and financial supply to all rebels without exception.”
Apologies if this is known to SST community already, but I found this 2015 primer (http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=60316) useful re Palmyra’s importance as a source of natural gas (ISIS even able to reach some wells in Al Shaer fields around the middle of January).
PS. For anyone frustrated by the large-scale that seem invariably to accompany pieces about gas fields, Al Shaer fields (SAA controlled) to the west of Palmyra (~ http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=34.662017&lon=38.026428&z=12&m=b), Arak (ISIS controlled) to the east (~ http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=34.667100&lon=38.598747&z=12&m=b).
Finish the game? Did you not read the military summary today. Things seem to be going well to me. pl
– Russia reduced its fixed-wing component in Syria by half. Most of the other stuff will stay around as will the helicopters. Night-capable MI-28n were seen yesterday for the first time. A new KA-52s was also seen.
– Neither Hizbullah nor Iran will reduce their forces.
– Lots of new material for the SAA is still arriving as well as some heavy artillery ammunition which was lacking.
– The YPK Kurds are screwing up with their unilateral “federalization” declaration. Officially at least no one is supporting their move. Why do they want to create bad blood right now?
– Turkey has inserted its own “Kurdish” proxy force allegedly in battalion strength (600?) near Azaz which is to fight ISIS and, more important, YPK Kurds. It has Turkish artillery support and are supposed to take the Azaz-Jarablus border region. The force claims to be armed by the U.S.. The U.S. denies that.
– A new natural gas field was found near Homs and production will start soon.
Check out the following websites and if you can, try to contribute:
Realnews.com (I actually saw their Baltimore office, they arrhythmia to work from the grass roots)
Boilingfrogspost.com (morphing into NewsBud that will bridge a few other alternative news sources, the NewsBud is being funded through Kickstarter)
Rollingstone.com (Mat Taibbi on Wall Street and City of London as well as Libor Scandal)
Amconmag.com (The American Conservative)
Also check Armscontrolwonk, Moon of Alabama, Angry Arab, and a few other
ISIS apparently putting up very stiff resistance in Palmyra. Terrain is very favorable for them. I do not see the city falling any time soon, without the prior taking of Qaryatayn.
I find the following websites useful:
Most writers on both sites are what are called paleo-conservatives. Despite some racist and some born-again types, the articles are objective and the analyses are sound.
antiwar.com provides a digest of news reports from around the world. It gives a fair representation of views but brooks no nonsense from neo-cons etc, and being libertarian in its politics wastes no time on identity politics, political correctness etc.
As a leftist I have had no problems with it over 15 years, and I always find its editor, Justin Raimondo – like the Colonel – spot on with his analyses.
Here’s a bit that might be indicative of this “pressure” being exerted:
“Senior Syrian rebel commander arrested in Turkey
Turkish authorities arrested a Syrian rebel commander in Istanbul Ataturk Airport moments before leaving the country, sources confirmed.
Captain Mohammed Saeed al-Masri, a senior commander of Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement was detained by Turkish authorities 5 days ago and taken to an unknown location.
The detention was most likely sparked by recent dissensions between al-Masri and the notorious Muslim Brotherhood of Syria after ceasing to fund and eventually disband the insurgent group. Turkey’s Erdogan is widely known as the Godfather of the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
The 35 year-old former police officer rejected the threats to dissolve the militant group and went into strong differences with the backers.
Formed in late 2011, Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement is one of the most important rebel factions in Aleppo and has been receiving enormous support from Turkey and the USA including the U.S.-made BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles.”
The aforementioned NOW-media appears to have reported on this one in greater detail:
“BEIRUT – The commander of a powerful rebel faction based in Aleppo has been detained in Turkey, according to pro-opposition media outlets.
Enab Baladi reported Wednesday that Turkish authorities arrested Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement general commander Mohammad Said Masri at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport as he was trying to fly out of the country.
A well-informed source told the outlet that Masri has been held in an Istanbul prison since March 11, where he faces the prospect of deportation from the country.
The pro-opposition outlet also cited the source as saying that the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement has come under “significant international pressure” for it to dissolve itself.”
Of course, the reason could also “only” be that said group has become useless for all intents and purposes, what with the Azaz-route to Aleppo city being cut, and hence Turkish authorities might go ahead and effectively neutralize this persona. Either directly or by “only” showing him the door.
Regarding “finishing the job” vs IS, I think PL has made it perfectly clear where things are going, which is in a direction that the Caliphe is not going to fancy. His State is seriously hurting both in Iraq and in Syria, and they are losing lots of manpower in the conventional battle they’re trying to fight in Syria, while in Iraq, the strategy is to squeeze the noose tighter, for various reasons, until forces are ready to take on Mosul, which is the one IS capital that is closest to “frontlines”.
However, the IS has not been idle over this and their moves in Libya show that they’re preparing some kind of sanctuary outside the region, in order to spread their message there, should they lose the ability to do so in Iraq & Syria, but also in order to generate revenues they need so direly, especially now. Time will tell how this strategy of theirs is being met, but it is imperative we don’t make the same mistakes twice: not the mistakes of the Libya campaign, and not those from the time when we let ISIS take back Anbar and spread into Syria.
Short term, the battle for Palmyra, which is linked to the siege of Deir ez Zor, as it commands the main LOC going into Deir ez Zor, is paramount. Depending on how the Kurdish YPG play it out, once Palmyra has fallen, there might be an offensive on IS forces coming both from the North (Kurds) and South-West (AAS and allies). This would be a very serious blow to IS, as their main Euphrates Valley artery would he disrupted, meaning Raqqa would be next.
Finally, a few observations regarding the Russian “withdrawal” which is drawing a lot of criticism in the West (thought nobody wanted the Russians to deploy troops in the first place) and is being interpreted or spun in some circles as a sign of Russian weakness (Putin blinked and “we” need to make use of that). This would be a seriously misguided view I think. Here’s why:
1. from a political point of view: Putin just made a move, he can undo it too. He has also shown that he stuck with his word (out in 6 month), which is an attempt at emphasizing his reliability and credibility, unlike other (major) players. The fact this move has surprized many means that one can’t dismiss the idea of Putin doing something unexpected again some time in the future (creating strategic uncertainty, but also inducing risks of escalation and situation getting out of hand). The overall lesson is a sobering experience for those who have tried to read him without taking into account his own background, his vision for Russia and the interests he defends. It’s not rocket science though, but when you have started villifying an adversary, its’ hard to keep a rational mind. Therefore, the Putin-bashers will be reduced to expecting the unexpected.
2. from a military point of view: as mentioned time and again on SST, March means beginning of sand storm season, i.e. temporary stop to large air campaigns. The airstrikes for “Desert Storm” had been scheduled with that in mind as well, and same goes for OIF. It was clear from the start of the Russian intervention that March was the deadline for this phase of their plan to achieve its goals. Well, they mostly have succeeded and they can now sit at the bargaining table with good cards in hand.
3. on the diplomatic front, as already mentioned, the previous element gives R+6 a decisive advantage. They’re showing good will, they’re coming to negotiate in good faith and they are in control of the military situation on the ground. There will be nobody twisting their arm among the Western/GCC countries. If R+6 are lucky, they’ll manage to win back Palmyra from IS in a timely fashion, thus landing a big PR-coup and signaling their intent to continue confronting ISIS.
4. while the main group of the Russian forces is to be withdrawn, any threat, attack or offensive by any of the negotiating parties will undermine the Russian withdrawal. Putin’s move is actually freezing the situation on the ground, as nobody can score any more points for the time being, unless they want to appear as responsible for derailing the whole process. And we know Kerry is not amused about the “Saudi” sponsored opposition, so Alloush (chief negotiator for oppo) knows he’s being watched closely and he can’t afford to make mistakes.
5. Finally, should everything else fail, it’s worth remembering that the Russians have scheduled the arrival of their Carrier group in the Eastern Mediterranean for early Summer, meaning they’ll have a “floating” airbase with some 40 odd MIgs and Sus available, in addition to whatever residual aircraft they’ll have at Hmeimim. Add that to the already upgraded and reinforced AAS troops and you’ll realize that Putin and R+6 have already a contingency plan ready. That being said, the Russians definitely want to settle this at the negotiating table and want to use any diplomatic victory as leverage in the Ukrainian mess.
6. There is one downside and risk for Putin if this strategy backfires and if the opposition or their backers “do stupid shit” as POTUS would say. Domestically, he is being critizised already by the Russian hardliners for not going the while nine yards on the military front. Should the rebels, of foreign troops enter/invade parts of Syria following the Russian withdrawal, there will be a lot of turmoil in Moscow. Not that Putin will be toppled, but his statesman position will be undermined and his authority vis-a-vis the Russian hawks will suffer. That is something we in the West should keep in mind, as we don’t want or shouldn’t want any further degradation of the relations between the West and Russia, especially not in Europe (Ukraine is still a open book in that regard).
We shall see …
Insofar as the Syrian War was envisioned as a neocon operation, I think my post is relevant to this thread.
The latest brouhaha over Trump not having foreign policy advisers imho appears to be a self-evident move by the neocons to make sure his views are properly corraled. I hope he gets excellent advice–just in the opposite direction.
Regardless, I would hope that a political resolution in Syria is set in stone (as much as that can be} before the next president takes office.
Has Russia acquired intelligence suggesting that Washington and/or its allies are contemplating on ignoring their commitments already?
“Putin: Russia may deploy forces back to Syria ‘in mere hours’ if necessary”
Definitely going well. Steady advances at Palmyra and Deir Ez-Zor. Infighting in Idlib.
Kurds have resumed advancing from Tishreen Dam region towards Menbij. In particular, they appear to have captured the strategic high point of Jebel Dur Dada, which provides a good view all the way to Menbij.
And just in case anyone gets a bright idea, Putin has clarified that Russia could deploy back within hours if necessary.
Lots of Assyrians and Armenians in Hasakah province aren’t going to go for that. “Rojava” creates a new set of challenges for loyalists/we’ll-take-Damascus-over-Kurdish-rule types.
Loyalists in Aleppo and Idlib provinces won’t like this, either.
Thanks, interesting, Pundita.
We had news over here suggesting that they may be abusing our tax system with made up bills to cash in high amounts of VAT reimbursements. Seems one such project caught attention.
SAA and allies appear committed to meet the challenge, if this is anything to go by:
While the the “Desert Hawks” and “Tigers” have been getting a lot of good rep recently, Fouj Al-Mughawayr Al-Bahir – also transliterated as Fawj Maghawir Al Bahar, apparently – have also been quite involved in the significant advances on the mountainous north Latakia-front. Here’s a promo-vid of the “Syrian Marines”:
Also a lot of technicals evident in the footage. Beat the insurgents at their own game, eh?
What’s more, apparently SAA and allies are proceeding to stall a possible surge in the back of the Qaryatayn-front from the vicinity of Arsal, Lebanon, as per this piece:
4th Division deployed here alongside Hizbollah. Idea might be to clean up in the back and then advance in earnest to Qaryatayn?
Thanks, Patrick. Highly appreciated.
fm ex-pfc Chuck “I’d add Naked Capitalism to the list, especially its daily “Links” post that goes up at 7:00 am EST/EDT 365 days a year and its “Water Cooler” post that goes up at 1:00 pm EST/EDT Monday thru Friday. In addition during the week you can expect half a dozen (give or take 2-3) in depth posts usually on finance, politics and/or international affairs. Many of these will be by host “Yves Smith” and her sidekick Lambert Strether, others will be reposted from elsewhere.
Another good source is the daily “Debt Rattle” post at The Automatic Earth, which consists of links to topical pieces elsewhere together with excerpts therefrom. Raoul, the host, is Dutch IIRC but travels a lot. Every few days there is an original, in-depth post, these days usually by Raoul but occasionally by his co-conspirator Nicole Foss. Like Naked Capitalism it is primarily, but by no means exclusively finance-focused. It’s also not as USA-centric. “Debt Rattle” is usually up by 7:00 am EST/EDT, but not always. And it’s usually posted seven days a week. But not always.
Point. Idea behind that mapping probably is to both look at where, militarily speaking, SDF/YPG can advance and, theoretically, by doing so subsequently set out to realign certain administrative authority in such regions in a post-war environment.
Which is something that sets PYD apart from the unicorns: beyond the “right of conquest” they also spell out that they do not mind remaining a part of Syria in peace-time. What type of part and with what set of rights is something they are willing to discuss with Damascus, unlike the unicorns who’d rather live up to their “right of conquest” – but can’t.
Following up on PL’s comment below (from ex-PFC Chuck), Naked Capitalism is very much anti-Trump, similar to Huff Po. While the Daily Links can be useful as they are pre-screened, the emphasis of the site is hard core progressive/liberal, so take that into consideration. Some years ago, it was much more balanced but over time has shifted ever leftward to the point where I rarely go there any more.
It’s hard to find “trustworthy” news sites. It is pretty much impossible for some bias not to exist, but I find it helpful to figure out the biases if possible and then adjust my perceptions accordingly. I have become a news skeptic over the years and gotten into the habit of researching almost all authors of articles as well as owners of news sites (a simple search on an author or news source only takes a couple of minutes). I find it helpful to know what the Borg wants us to believe, so I still read MSM news (occasionally some truth slips out).
In general I think it’s good to read all news with a skeptical eye which has the additional benefit of keeping one’s analytical skills sharp as you get older 😉 Most people are passive consumers of news, and do not consider it’s sources or implications. I try to recommend to people to be an active participant in what effects your worldview and beliefs, which means assessing the news you take in, but have not had much luck with that. As my husband reminds me, after a long day at work when his brain is tired he just wants to passively listen to what’s up in the world.
The answers you’ve gotten so far are all places I like to check out as well. In addition to those:
Consortium News https://consortiumnews.com/
Foreign Policy in Focus http://fpif.org/
Al Monitor http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/home.html [ME news]
The news page I tend to start my day with is the news aggregator Google News https://news.google.com/
They have default standard news sections but you can easily create your own (using keywords) and customize the page to your own news interests. I have added more science sections and a geopolitics section, among others. Sure you will get mostly MSM news articles but from many different news sources all over the world which is an improvement over going to a single news source.
For humor, I enjoy these faux news sites:
The Onion http://www.theonion.com/
Duffel Blog http://www.duffelblog.com/
A great example of the kind of “satirical truth” found at Duffel Blog 🙂
Air Force begins lobbying for next trillion-dollar flying clusterfuck http://www.duffelblog.com/2016/03/air-force-trillion-dollar-clusterfuck/
Valissa, why don’t you challenge Pat directly below.
I have not much experience with “Naked Capitalism”, but I have to agree with Pat Lang below:
Ives Smith, to the extend I paid attention on her did her very best in trying to remain balanced. That’s something not to be expected nowadays, never mind you may be off put by the title she chose.
Here’s some American sites which I find informative:
In that baker’s dozen of non-lefty sites you might find something of interest to you.
I have forwarded the comment (with a link of course) to friends and family.
Technicals are what you use for desert fighting. The long distances make heavy armor useless because it runs out of gas to quickly.
Palmyra is a diversionary attack to cut the LOC between Turkey and Raqqa. The longer it takes the weaker ISIS is in defending the LOC
You are suggesting that the Kurds and the Syrian government are cooperating at such high a level as for the latter to give up their most capable fighting force to be used as a costly diversionary attack for an action by the former? Or are you suggesting that the Government is an any position to cut the Raqqa-Turkey LOC?
Palmyra is far to the south of Raqqa. How can government action there be a threat to the Raqqa-Turkey LOC? Does the government have another way to interdict that LOC? Yes, the choice evidently not taken would have been to continue from Ithriya to Tabqa from current positions to the north. At Tabqa the government’s forces would have interdicted the LOC on the west side of the lake. The YPG Kurds already interdict the LOC on the east side of the lake. pl
Well LeaNder, I had to make a choice as to where to reply and since PL was relaying a comment from ex-PFC Chuck and not speaking directly for himself I decided to comment where the question originated. Not that it is any of your business where I choose to comment.
Regarding Naked Capitalism, I spent several years hanging out at there so am very well aware of how it changed over time. It is a very well run website, with good financial analyses and smart people, but is biased by a liberal perspective and I think that should take that into consideration in evaluating it as a news source. I never thought it’s political analyses were very useful as they tend to be very typical of liberal/progressive attitudes with little originality or much deviation from progressive community norms. I know about those norms because I used to hang out in such places.
Obviously you are a liberal of some sort so you can’t see the bias. I understand that. I used to be a liberal and could not see my own bias at the time either. Now I am attempting to be a non-partisan observer with no tribal political affiliation.
Really? You seem to have missed an awful lot of military history from WW2 onward. pl
Credible reports of at least one and possibly more Russian “advisers”(looks to be spetsnaz to my green eye)killed near Palmyra, testament to the ferocity of the fighting going on there.
Sure, and that is the reason why the SAA and allies have moved so many T-90s into the area.
The upside is, Rommel didn’t get your memo about heavy armour and desert fighting …
and where exactly do you suggest they cut off the LOC between Turkey and Raqqa ?
Credible reports ? You should be careful with using that word … they killed one guy, probably member of Russian SOF JTAC-team. Looks like it could be some sort of EOD guy by the look of his gear.
Official Russian casualties since beginning of their campaign is 5 KIA, and I have no reason to doubt that figure. Official cost: 500 million USD. Overall a very respectable result considering the outcome so far.
Five is well within the acceptable cost of doing business for something like this. Five hundred million? Chickenfeed. I keep reading that this was within the bounds their appropriated training budget. pl
Aboslutely, kind of a live-fire exercise from a budgetary point of view. I’m pretty sure the casualty rate is on par with what you get during a training exercise that long (possibly lower).
By comparison, we (in the West) have spent 175 000 USD in ordnance for every Jihadi we killed. We can point to lack of precision-guided weaponry in the Russian airstrikes as much as we want, the fact of the matter is, they did more with much less money, in less time and with no significant casualties of their own.
As for the civilian death toll, that is probably the main down-side of their MO, but hard to get any reliable numbers. Besides, rebels did their best to embed within civilian areas, so no surprize.
“was relaying a comment from ex-PFC Chuck”
Ok, I may not have paid too much attention on that. Because, in a limited way, ex-PFC Chuck is a soul mate of mine? At least in trying to understand the world out there?
“Credible” is apt in this case considering the immediate release of images of the man posing next to a spetsnaz flag in a Syrian environment followed by images of his readily recognizable corpse. Contrast with other reports that fly around pretty much weekly from the Idlib battleground about mass casualty attack on “dozens of russian generals”. I agree that the number is very low not only for the Russians but for the Iranians as well, given that the latter has much more officers embedded on the frontline.
I would also suggest The Unz Review: http://www.unz.com