By Peter Clifford © (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-iraq-news-5/)
SYRIA – IRAQ – NEWS
In preparation for an Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) attack on Islamic State (IS) held Manbij in the Aleppo province of Syria, the US-led Coalition made 14 airstrikes on IS targets around the town on Wednesday, destroying 24 x IS fighting positions, 4 x IS buildings and suppressing IS vehicle movements and denying them access to terrain.
SDF are said to be less than 18 kilometres south of Manbij and a convoy of reinforcements has been sent from Kobane province across the Euphrates via the Tishreen Dam.
Yesterday, Thursday, IS attempted a counter-attack at the SDF-held town of Tishreen, west of the dam, but after fierce fighting withdrew with losses of at least 50 men killed.
Many other IS Jihadists were wounded or captured by SDF units.
SDF losses were put at 3 killed and 7 wounded.
IS fighters were also ambushed by the SDF west of Tishreen at Abu Qelqel in the same operation.
Turkey will no doubt see the Kurdish involvement with SDF and their presence west of the Euphrates as “crossing a red-line”.
But Jaish Al-Thuwar, a ethnically Arab Opposition group fighting with the SDF issued a statement, presumably to reassure the Turkish Government, saying that they had no connection with the Kurdish PKK battling with the Turkish Army in south-east Turkey and Iraq.
Jaish Al-Thuwar also officially announced the campaign to take Manbij in the same statement and said that they were already launching rocket attacks on IS bases there.
No mention was made of Jaish Al-Thuwar’s close ties with the Kurdish YPG, whom they have fought alongside in northern Syria throughout 2015.
Unfortunately, there is a report that a Coalition strike on the IS-held town of Hazima, which is under attack by the SDF, has killed 11 civilians, including 8 children and 3 women. Investigations are ongoing.
Rumours have been circulating that US special forces helped the SDF with the liberation of Tishreen Dam, but it appears that they were in fact US volunteers fighting as part of the YPG.
At dawn on Wednesday, east of the Euphrates and the Tishreen Dam, a unit of IS Jihadists attacked the village of Qereqozak in south-west Kobane Canton and assaulted multiple YPG security positions in the area.
YPG/YPJ protection units launched a counter-offensive and a number of IS Jihadists were killed and several weapons caches seized.
Again, early yesterday at 5.00am, Thursday, 2 large units of IS fighters crossed the Euphrates and launched an attack on the village of Qadiriye near Sarrin.
Attempting an approach from 2 directions, they were quickly intercepted and driven back by YPG/YPJ units. An unknown number, at this stage, of IS Jihadists were killed or wounded.
The YPG are also reporting a barrage of mortar shells being fired across the Euphrates Thursday evening by IS from positions south of Jarablous and hitting Kurdish villages all down the east bank of the river in Kobane Canton.
Further east near Ain Issa, despite severe weather, the YPG recaptured a further 2 villages from the Islamic State, Abu Shehen and Hebsawy.
Snowfalls in Kobane city this week did not deter another 440 Kurds returning across the border from Turkey on Monday, and the snow cover temporarily “improved” the damaged landscape and gave the children some snowball fun.
A large memorial to those who died in defence of Kobane was also opened on Monday and the Kobane Energy Council announced that it has started work on restoring the electricity power supply from the Tishreen Dam, though this might take 2 months to complete.
In another sign of returning normality to Kobane, 16,000 students in 145 schools will this week be taking mid-term exams.
Interesting interview with Kurdish HDP leader Selahattin Dermitas after his return from a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavro in Moscow, the Turkish Government calling the meeting “treason”, HERE:
Turkey is denying the return across the Syrian border of the bodies of Turkish Kurds who fought and died with the YPG/YPJ. One family have been waiting now for the return of the daughter’s body for 60 days.
Interesting article from the Washington Institute that postulates that with the crossing of the Euphrates by the Kurds as members of the SDF force, “the die is caste” for the creation of a new Kurdish state, HERE:
Meanwhile, Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for Coalition Operation Iherent Resolve in Syria and Iraq, says that IS are now in a “defensive crouch” rather than moving forward.
In a statement on Wednesday, Warren said that the US estimates that IS has lost 40% if its taken territory in Iraq and 10% in Syria, plus no less that 2,500 fighters in December alone.
Warren also said that 65 airstrikes against IS oil facilities had reduced IS production capacity from 45,000 barrels of oil a day to 34,000, a loss of around 30%.
The US Army Colonel also confirmed that in the last 10 days the SDF had killed around 140 x IS Jihadists in north-east Aleppo province in Syria and reclaimed more than 310 square miles after taking and crossing the Tishreen dam.
Over in Ramadi in Iraq, Colonel Warren reported that over 60 x IS Jihadists had been killed in 24 hours, but clearing operations in the city continue.
Iraqi security forces are currently bombing an IS base in the Sarsar area of Anbar province in Iraq.
In response to a question about the rules of engagement against the terrorist army in Iraq and Syria, Warren said, “If you’re part of ISIL we will kill you. That’s our rule.”
This video released by the Coalition from an attack on January 1st 2016 shows the destruction of a bridge near Abu Kamal in Syria in order to impede the movement of IS oil, fighters and supplies, here: