"Following the capture of 8 villages earlier in the day, the US-backed ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) swept through another five ISIS-held villages in a huge offensive that now has Kurdish forward units stationed at the northern bank of the Euphrates River in a region some 40 kilometers east of the provincial capital of Raqqa.
Effectively, the SDF were able to impose full control over the villages of Al Kajla, Judayat Khabur, Hamad Assaf, Al Kulayb and Al Kulayb and the latter’s Grain Silos. Further operations are ongoing along the Euphrates River as ISIS militants have left behind several areas without firing a single bullet.
With phase III of the ‘Euphrates Wrath’ offensive firmly underway, the SDF are trying to set its forces up for the final assault on Raqqa city itself. Meanwhile, 850 locals from Hasakah city were recruited into Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) on Tuesday." (Al Masdar News)
These lightly armed guys and gals are kicking major jihadi ass. It must be a joy for the Green Berets to work with them. They appear to be naturals at maneuver warfare. Here are a few maps to show their recent progress and future plans.
There is also a good documentary on France 2 TV about a YPG unit taking part in phase I of the Wrath of Euphrates offensive. I put the link to this documentary below. Perhaps some of you French speakers can provide some additional information. I can tell the unit ends up on the shore of Lake Assad overlooking the Tabqa dam. Although the unit uses a BMP-1 and what appears to be a T-62, I am amazed at how lightly armed and equipped they are. One of the YPG fighters is a former French soldier. I found it interesting that the Russians are organizing two ultra-light brigades of "technicals" based on their experience in Syria. It’s all about flexibility.
General Votel recently recommended to SecDef Mattis that we increase our support to the YPG/SDF beyond the Special Forces trainers/advisors and air support we are currently providing. He suggested increased logistical support, armored vehicles and other heavy weapons. He does not recommend the introduction of U.S. combat formations. I hope Mattis takes recommendations directly from the SF teams currently working with the YPG/SDF. They’re the ones who know what’s truly needed. The last thing we should do is to try to remake an already effective light fighting force into something they are not meant to be.
The Turks aren’t going to like any of this. They can all go piss up a rope as far as I’m concerned. I also hope Mattis and McMaster can disabuse Trump of that cockamamie idea of Saudi-funded safe zones in Syria. Why he’s still pushing that idea is beyond me.
DOCUMENT FRANCE 2. Syrie: en première ligne dans la bataille de Raqqa contre l'Etat islamique
More U.S. Troops May Be Needed Against ISIS in Syria, a Top General Says
Russian Defense Policy – Charge of the “Superlight” Brigade
UPDATE: A gracious gentleman from Montreal provided this translation/annotation for the France 2 documentary. For all us non-French speakers, it is enlightening.
"The video follows a former french soldier in his 30s from his 1st day fighting Daesch side-by-side with the Kurds at 10km from Raqqa. 0:53 Ten soldiers from Daesch are counter-attacking. 1:30: they are waiting for reinforcement from the christians. 2:30 Cedric is asking permission to attack Daesch's positions. 4:05 Before counter-attack by the Kurds, they evacuate the civilians 5:00 all civilians are assembled at a crossroad in front of the military base 7:20 Localisation of the Daesch commando known at noon. Cedric's unit takes position on a roof in the middle of the town. 8:50 Shooting a rocket at a house with Daesch soldiers. 9:30 French and American aviation support ground troops. 10:00 Securing the town. Battle over. Two houses were blown-up in the battle. 10:50 There were 12 Daesch fighters originating from Syria, China and Russia. Cedric comments that diabolising the ennemy makes you no better than him. 11:40 They were all kamikazees as they were all wearing an explosives belt. 12:40 Civilians from the whole town are being transported elsewhere. 13:10 Many civilians take revenge on Daesch by enrolling with the kurds despite being arabs. 13:30 Omar is one such example. 13:37 During the attack, Daesch installed bombs. These kill more than suicide attacks. 13:50 Hidden mine activated by movement detection 15:15 The leader of the group is a 28 yrs old woman. In that laic fighting movement, half of the fighters are women. 16:15 second night on the front line for Cedric: "I will adapt. I am here to help" 16:55 It is illegal for a french citizen to join an armed group. This is why he is hiding his identity. 17:20 Cedric "I knew I had to go." He left the french army to come. "It is a different experience than with the army. The fighters have romanticism about their cause." 18:40 Cedric's group is sent to the frontline in armored vehicle. 19:10 They are at the Euphrate's dam. It is a strategic point to enter Raqqa. The tank is firing at their last stronghold. 20:15 Daesch built dozens of tunnels on both side of the dam. 21:30 Cedric is sent to an outpost closer to the dam. His unit's order is to keep Daesch from coming in until dawn. 22:50 Watching one Daesch soldier with a drone 23:20 Kurdish soldier "War is good. You came from France to fight here. If there is a war in France, I'll go there to fight with you." 24:15 Mask taken from a dead Daesch soldier. 25:00 Cedric comes back to camp. 25:30 Other sections had a tough day. Daesch attacked villages to the east but they were contained. 25:55 Cedric: "I'm here only for the Raqqa operation and I'll then go back" 26:46 Daesch is counter-attacking around the dam. They are coordinating bombings with the american aviation. 27:30 During the fiming, 3 kurds were injured and 2 killed. 27:50 Raqqa will not fall for many more months."
Is this the beginning of the end of ISIS in Syria? What is the end game for YPG/SDF?
I read that Marine Le Pen was in Lebanon recently and said that Assad was the best for Christians and Syria considering the alternatives.
“I also hope Mattis and McMaster can disabuse Trump of that cockamamie idea of Saudi-funded safe zones in Syria.”
“Why he’s still pushing that idea is beyond me.”
Maskirovka in info ops to lull the Gulfies, their paid media merchants and other assorted supporters of this policy into believing they are going to get their way would be a good guess.
TTG you are the military guy but is there a chance that ISIS is choosing where they want to make a stand based on terrain and their lack of resources? ISIS is very shrewd, given how much time they have had to prepare, I am expecting that they have some defensive scheme in mind. At Mosul, the outskirts also fell pretty easily before it became a meatgrinder.
I found their decision to defend Al Bab baffling given how exposed it is but they have successfully rebuffed the Turks there. I don’t know if there is some other motive to defend Al Bab other than that they can, perhaps they think that they can still pick up some Jihadis in the North or at least are reluctant to lose contact with them.
Thanks TTG, good scoop.
I saw some unconfirmed reports two days ago that SDF announced a new phase to thrust towards Deir ez Zor. Didn’t know at the time if that was true or possibly disinformation to befuddle Daesh. But the lower right arrow heading SE along the banks of the Euphrates on your last chart may confirm that plan.
I concur with your sentiments re Turkish anger. But they will probably sooth their hurt feelings by destroying a few more Kurdish cities within their own borders – which the media has been ignoring.
I think it’s still too early to call this the beginning of the end. The jihadis have clearly not had the initiative on this front for quite some time. My guess is that they will still put up a stiff defense of the Euphrates River valley and Raqqa. The battle of Deir ez-Zor is certainly draining the jihadis’ ability to act against the YPG/SDF.
Whatever the endgame is for the YPG/SDF, I firmly believe it is our responsibility to see this through the demobilization and/or integration of those forces into the SAA. We and the Europeans really let the Libyans down by our failure to work as hard on this last phase of a U.S. sponsored resistance as we did in toppling Gaddafi. The Libyans ended up paying for that mistake.
It definitely looks like the jihadis are intent on conserving their forces rather than contesting the YPG/SDF every step of the way. However, I am confident the Kurds will not waltz into any meatgrinder. They did a pretty effective job with Manbij.
What are your thoughts on whether the end result will be the partition of Syria?
I don’t foresee a partition of Syria. It would be bad for Syria, Turkey and especially the Kurds of Rojava. Rojava may end up with more cultural autonomy and some robust military force integrated into the SAA. I think that would be the best outcome for all.
I certainly agree with you about the Turks
Fair enough, I didn’t mean to suggest that the Kurds would do anything foolish, just that the rate of their progress could easily grind to a halt.
Regarding Mosul, I bet the Golden Division really did take a pasting. I started sensing that something was wrong when they issued a big press releases about ‘eastern Mosul’ being liberated, as if the battle was over. It looks like this was to give them cover so that they could take a month off to refit and not let on that anything had gone wrong. Now I am reading that up to 500 U.S. troops and select PMU’s are participating in the Western Mosul campaign. I understand that you have to make adjustments. There is no shame in that. Also, ISIS is absolutely, ferocious in defensive battles. I am just amused at how the are handling the PR, at the ‘nothing to see here’ tone. Our reporters, by and large, seem to buy into the narrative that everything is going along just fine.
I thought ISIS got its funding from Saudi Arabia. I hope the weapons sold to Saudi Arabia don’t come back to haunt us.
So ISIS is on a suicidal offensive against Syrian/Russian Deir Ezzor, but collapsing in front of US backed forces?
Why have ISIS been pulling forces from the Raqqa/US front to push a suicidal attack against the Syrian government in DE?
Easier to hold ground than to take ground. It seems ISIS still has state support amongst states that are antagonistic to Syrian government.
When discussing the “Turks”, I should like to bring your attention to the Republican People’s Party. That is the party of Alevi Turks who have been opposed to the AKP’s Syrian shenanigans. They are Kemalists out of fear of Muslim rule.
The religious and ethnology-linguistic divisions that plague Syria and Iraq also afflict Turkey. AKP, has been, in effect, living in a glass house and throwing stone.
No one has as yet, to my knowledge, tried to ignite a religious war between Alevis and Sunni Muslims, that does not mean that it cannot be done.
Good thing to note the terrain in this case, note how SDF gains skirt the greenery, rather than a collapse these flat depopulated areas are barely if at all defended by ISIS. The SDF made a “pocket” similar to this one to the north of raqqa in mid january, it was even bigger than this, and it turned out ISIS had left behind,get this, 2 fighters in the entire pocket.
McCain is an elected U.S. Senator from Arizona. He is Chairman of Senate Committee on Armed Services. U.S. Senators and Congressmen often travel overseas especially if they’re sitting on a committee dealing with foreign affairs, national security or trade matters. Tulsi Gabbard, the Congresswoman from Hawai’i, recently caught holy hell from her trip to Syria, even though she sits on the House Committee on Armed Services and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The difference between McCain and Gabbard is astounding.
Fighting in this region seems to be done on the squad and platoon level. Sometimes it seems to be a sniper’s war.
Perhaps the Russians have pointed this out to Erdogan with a veiled warning. Something like, “Nice country you have here, gospodin. It’d be a shame if anything happened to it.”
It must be nice encountering an ISIS guy every other village as they flee without firing a shot. As opposed to the way ISIS throws everything they have at the SAA around Palmyra and Deir Ezzor.
It would be even nicer if the Kurds could cut the roads between Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor largely unopposed and with few casualties. Those kinds of successes cause giddy exhilaration among combat commanders.
I am quite curious about the different ISIS capabilities (or strategy) comparing Palmyra and Deir ez Zor (where we have seen very strong/capable ISIS action) and the area being captured/cleared by the SDF?
It would seem that serious priority is being placed on Palmyra/DAZ and I wonder what this implies? One obvious difference would appear to be ISIS in offense vs. defense?
About two weeks ago, Cassad’s blog reported on a press visit (Anna News) to DAZ. This report included two interesting items: effective drone use by ISIS to target the press team and causing a near fatal wound to the senior officer hosting the press team and SAA troops engaged in the tough fighting with the ISIS salient indicating that the ISIS fighters had much better thermal and night vision equipment, which was a considerable challenge at night.
I also wonder why key ISIS fighters have better technology access (at least in some important areas) than SAA, given the importance of holding DAZ??
I’m just as curious as you are. My educated guess is that IS does not have unlimited resources and has chosen to concentrate their “good stuff” at Palmyra and Deir ez Zor. If the YPG/SDF offensive continues as planned, IS will be forced to reallocate their resources.
Where do the jihadis get all their “good stuff?” They got a treasure trove of up to date U.S. equipment when they overran the Iraqi Army in the early days. The Saudis and Qataris have been pumping everything they can through Turkey to their jihadi surrogates. The U.S. helped by pumping equipment to the unicorn army who, in turn, passed this equipment on to IS and AQ, willingly or not. The Gulfies need to have their fat wallets stolen.
Erdogan’s AKP has surely tried but failed. The Alevi smelled the trap. The Sunni side is much more powerful and has no moral limits when hitting the “Kufar”.
If someone wants to ignite something in Turkey they will arm the PKK.
Remember the video of a “PKK” guy taking down a Turkish helo in east with an SA-7+? Expertly filmed and published on Youtube?
That WAS a demonstration. Guess where that came from …
The “demonstration” that you mention most likely came from a powerful nation state. UKUSA or Russia, depending on context.
Babak, CHP is broader than just Alevi, and with better leadership could provide a good alternative, though the AKP techniques of “electioneering” are very professional and dedicated, as well as better organised at grassroots level, using the Muslim Brotherhood playbook.
Don’t count out a NO to Erdogan. The Turkish voters gave a 90+% yes to General Evren’s post coup constitution but then dumped his preferred candidate for prime minister to third place, voting in Ozal, just a matter of months later. Ozal was the US favourite, though.
ISIS have redrawn from al-Bab today which is not surprising given the untenable position the SAA put them in by almost surrounding them. Without help from the SAA the Turks & Co would still have been stuck outside the town.
The French translation, (thank you) mentions tunneling on both sides of the Tabqa Dam. Which is 200 foot high earthen damn. Hopefully they don’t get too much rain, this could be very serious problem.
Interesting that Trump did not include Saudi Arabia in his immigration ban. Does this mean he does not know where the problem comes from? I know they buy a lot of weapons from the U.S. and that helps on the export front. So maybe that is motivation. Money.
The “muslim ban” was a political horse and pony show that served its purpose perfectly for Trump. I tallied it up the week of, and by population total more non-sunnis are banned than sunnis in the respective countries. How many terrorist attacks have been committed by non sunnis on soft western targets in the past two decades? In pure terms of preventing terrorist attacks, somalia is the only real case that makes perfect sense, a disproportionate number of radicalized north americans being of somalian extraction.
Ozal was a visionary, without a doubt, and a great man.
And yet they murdered him.
Not sure whom though.
SDF is claiming that they cut the road between Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor yesterday. That of course is only the road on the north bank of the Euphrates. Route #4 on the south bank remains open.
In the latest phase 3 where you say Daesh fled without firing a shot 49 were killed. Three were captured along with a Dushka-mounted technical. Plus four bomb-laden vehicles, two military vehicles and a explosive factory were destroyed. Large quantities of ammunition were also seized.
Not bad for light infantry, and like TTG says, at the squad and platoon level.
Plus during phase #2 they faced major opposition and a fierce counterattack at Suwadiya near Tabqa Dam.
Not to mention the earlier victories they had against major opposition in Kobani and Manbij.
Babak Makkinejad –
Of course they wanted to murder him. He was half Kurdish, plus he wanted rapprochement with the Armenian diaspora and with the PKK.
A good bet as to who did it would be the Grey Wolves.
The largest number of Jihadists fighting in Syria are from Tunisia.
She has no money but she has the chief virtue of being Sunni.
If they were smart, they would have paid attention to the Seljuk Boundaries. But then they would have to ban 90% of World Muslim population from entering US. No, it was better to go the other way.
does it seems that Kurds are attempting to reach Deir Ezzor?
Do you realise there is no evidence of Ozal being murdered other than his sons’ fantastic claims? Also, Erdogan idolises Ozal and claims him and Menderes as his heroes and AKP’s inspiration.
Both Ozal and Erdogan failed with their attempted rapprochement with Kurds and the Armenian diaspora. Would federalism have worked in Turkey? I doubt it.
What Erdogan is attempting now is to break with the last 150+ years of Turkish history, that started with the declaration of constitutional monarchy. This process was very uneven with hits and misses, coups, etc, but the trend was towards more freedom, including in AKP’s period in power.
After not winning the elections at first go, he decided to rig the system and try again, and then escalated the war in the southeast.
Where did Erdogan and especially Abdullah Gul start their political activity? As cadres of the old “Anticommunism Associations” in the late 1960s, when they were attacking leftist/communist groups, who famously attacked US Navy Personnel on shore leave in Istanbul, and tossed some into the sea. They were supported by elements of the security bureaucracy, and possibly funded by the CIA while at least some of the the leftists were supported by the Soviet Union.
These were the precursors to the US and Saudi funding “moderate Islam” against the Soviets. And the Ozal family were always very close to Saudis, the Rabita organisation spent lots of $ inTurkey in the 80s in supporting various right wing and Islamist groups.
So, this is one aspect of the quite complicated story of the “deep state” in Turkey.
I seriously doubt the Kurds or the Kurdish/Arab coalition (SDF) are going for Deir ez-Zor. The SDF’s stated goal is Raqqa and the Kurds (YPG) are playing a big part in that. However, I don’t think the Kurds are interested in Raqqa. It’s not Kurdish territory.
I stumbled upon this interview of an American florist named Brace Belden who joined the YPG militia in Syria, which is most of the SDF.
The hosts of the podcast are left-wing comedians, and the guy is a communist (which I thought was an extinct species in the US), but what he says clarifies aspects of that French video, and gives a very accurate picture of how things actually work within their group. And that very much sounds like a militarized kibbutz sort of deal.
And currently US servicemen are still being attacked in Turkey. This time by Erdogan supporters.
Off topic. Iraqi snipers on their way into southern Mosul:
Last year an autopsy was performed on Ozal’s remains. He had been poisoned.
Unrelated but related, stupefying footage of an ISIS drone strike on an Iraqi humvee
ISIS has released drone-related media(pictures and videos) on a very regular basis(pretty much daily) ever since early January when they officially premiered the tech in one of their full length video features. They seemingly fully rolled out the drone technology in a standardized fashion from syria to Iraq, with media being released of its use everywhere from Tiyas to Deir to Mosul, with this latter front seemingly seeing the highest use.
From Larry Johnson today…
What is Going On in Syria? http://www.noquarterusa.net/blog/79610/what-is-going-on-in-syria/
The noise and chaos on the American domestic political front is diverting attention to some important changes in the situation on the ground in Syria and Iraq. There has been a significant upsurge in Russian and U.S. military operations in the region. Much of this is not being reported, but Donald Trump is already having an effect.
One of Trump’s first moves was to return decision making authority on air strikes to Central Command. Under Obama there were restricted areas where he, Obama, had to personally approve hitting a target. That kind of micromanaging by a President is a recipe for failure in taking out time sensitive targets because of the layers of bureaucracy a ground commander has to fight through in order to get permission to hit an ISIS convoy, for example.
… The CIA, under Trump, appears to be pulling back from its support of Syrian rebels.
… Finally, U.S. troops operating on the ground in Syria and Iraq are taking more casualties, mostly from explosives. Heard from a friend working in one of the U.S. military hospitals that there has been a significant increase in the number of special ops forces coming in with serious wounds from IEDs and other explosives. This is not being reported, so far, in most of the media. Once they latch on to this we should expect to see the storyline that Trump is putting our military in danger. The real fact of the matter is that Obama put those troops there but limited their operations. Trump apparently has lifted those restrictions and the operations underway appear to be a genuine effort to seek out and destroy ISIS.
I am probably nit picking but this line caught my attention:
when he spotted a car packed with explosives revving across the desert
How did he know it was loaded with explosives from across the desert?
I note this because I see the “White Helmets” have been allowed in the country to attend the Academy Awards. Propaganda?
Reportedly some Daesh commanders or Emirs have deserted from the caliphate. All are now wanted dead-or-alive.
There are also Daesh fighters that are out of the fight either because they are malingering or medically unfit. Leg and back pain, unspecified injuries, muscle stiffness, brain trouble (PTSD?). Sounds familiar to all troops in the field.
Unconfirmed sources claiming MRAP vehicles will be provided to SDF after CNTCOM Commander, General Votel, visit to SDF commanders in Kobani.
They have been asking for MRAPs, APCs, antitank weapons, mortars and small arms for a long time now.
If true, the Turks will squawk louder. But the figleaf will be that they are being provided to the Syrian Arab Coalition segment of the SDF.
i ask this because southfront is reporting such.
if kurds can reach it from the north and SAA can reach it through Palmyra, they can divide ISS area.
Thank you for keeping we lay people updated on Syria ; pray that you are right about some type of federation that incl. Regarding Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard – she is a thoughtful and dedicated public servant both in the US Army and now the House of Representatives. My wife and me sent her money or her last campaign . We are hoping she might try for higher office someday .
Without looking too deeply into Southfront, seems I can only find the Kurds as part of the SDF around Deir ez-Zor.
Different factions below the label Turks, one should keep in mind?
oops, did I do this? Or something inside still asking for further information?
In any case this was meant to be Kurds not Turks in this nutshell: “below the label Turks” – memorytrail to the extend it is accessible: trying to look up the Kurdish political scene in Syria at one point and giving up. What got me interested were the many, many Öcalan banners in a documentary.
I doubt the tunneling was in the dam structure itself. The tunnel systems are on the northern and southern approaches to the dam.
Rand Corp report
A Peace Plan for Syria III
Territory take from ISIS to be internationally administered…
Depose Assad. Divide up Syria. International administration. I think those people at Rand have been smoking some premium grade pakalolo. That plan is just plain nuts.
It may be that ISIL believes it can survive underground where US backed forces / Turks advance. In hindsight, this is what they demonstrated to be able to do in Iraq. Eliminating the Syrian Army presence in Deir Ez Zor owuld remove an element of crucial local knowledge in the Euphrates valley. The SAA anf Syrian government cadres that survived there might be the only ones who will be able to retake Raqqa. I suspect it all is in their heads.