By Peter Clifford © (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-and-iraq-news/)
SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS
As previously reported on this page, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have now confirmed that the US has secured and taken control of the Rmeilan airbase in the far north-east corner of Syria after reaching agreement with the Kurdish YPG who have controlled the former Syrian Government agricultural airfield for the last 2 years.
The US plans to use the base to provide air and logistical support to the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting against the Islamic State (IS) and presumably it will be a conduit for weapons, ammunition and other supplies.
The base near Rmeilan town is not far from both the Turkish and Iraqi borders.
The SDF is currently west of the Euphrates River battling with IS units south of Manbij where the Coalition aircraft destroyed an IS fighting position on Thursday.
Turkey remains obsessed at the possibility that its 98 kilometre border running west from the Euphrates could come entirely under Kurdish control.
The US is encouraging Turkey to seal this border in order to prevent the movement of “terrorists” across it, but Turkey’s ambivalence towards the Islamic State remains.
Assistance offered includes aerostat surveillance equipment, anti-tunneling technology, and methods for detecting materials used in improvised bombs.
Unconfirmed reports originating from Turkey say that Turkish troops “crossed the Turkish/Syrian border on Tuesday and entered the IS-held town of Jarablous without any resistance from IS” in order to counter any SDF advance in the area. (EDITOR: Treat this with some skepticism as there is no independent confirmation) SDF has a large contingent of Kurdish YPG in its make-up.
Jarablous is directly opposite Kobane Canton on the other side of the Euphrates and IS regularly bombs Kurdish villages and even the outskirts of Kobane city from there with mortars and other shells.
The Turkish Army on Tuesday also bombed the YPG headquarters east of Kobane Canton in the border town of Tal Abyad. 2 YPG fighters were injured and 3 armoured vehicles destroyed in the attack.
Turkey has repeatedly shelled Tal Abyad and its suburbs since the town was captured by the YPG in June 2015. Kurdish sources say that altogether the Turkish Army has attacked them 23 times recently in northern Syria.
Turkish soldiers also stopped an aid convoy destined for Kobane city this week. The convoy was halted just before the border in the Turkish town of Suruc, because it was trying to cross the border “illegally” in order to help “a terrorist organisation”.
Much of the aid was urgently needed medical supplies. Turkey sees the YPG as an ally of the PKK with whom it is fighting in Turkey’s south-east.
The Kurdish Red Crescent does its best to distribute the limited supplies it has around the countryside, HERE:
Following a meeting between Assad’s Interior Minister and representatives of the the YPG and PKK in Qamishli recently (scroll down – see below), it has been reported, though remains unconfirmed, that Russia has an interest in opening another airbase near the city at Assad’s Base 154.
While Assad’s forces still have a small presence in Qamishli in central and southern areas and control Base 154, most of the city is in Kurdish YPG hands.
According to the reports “100 Russian soldiers, including ten officers of different ranks, arrived in Qamishlo airport on Monday, and afterwards inspected Base 154”.
The Russians have taken the side of the Kurds in the forthcoming International Peace Talks on Syria which due to begin in Geneva, Switzerland on January 25th.
This is an anathema to the Turks and Saudia Arabia who say the Kurds should not be allowed to attend, despite the fact that they have been the most effective fighting force against IS.
Germany has also backed a Kurdish seat at the talks. Salih Muslim, the co-chairman of the YPG’s political arm, the PYD, has suggested a compromise of a second opposition grouping which includes the Kurds and other minorities and sits separately from the main Opposition delegation. You can hear more in this English report from Rohani News, HERE:
On Wednesday, the Saudi backed Opposition group appointed Mohammed Alloush, as their chief negotiator. Alloush recently took over as commander of the Saudi-backed Jaish Al-Islam Brigade, after his well-known relative, Zahran Alloush, was killed in a Russian air strike.
Alloush is demanding a halt to sieges on Opposition areas and no third party attending the talks. Russia objects to the attendance of Alloush.
With so many contradictions it will be a miracle if the talks start at all on the 25th January. Invitations to the talks are due to be sent out this coming Sunday, but it will not be surprising if the start date is delayed.
There is an interesting article about a group of Canadian filmmakers who are making a video about Kobane and especially the role of women in the city, HERE:
In southern Hasakah province at IS-held Shaddadi, a current target of the Kurdish YPG and combined SDF force as they move towards Raqqah, activists have reported that they have been banned from private Internet access or using any Internet linked device at home.
Private Internet cafes have also been closed and only IS controlled Internet centres are now allowed, in a bid to restrict information leaking out and into the town. The local Sharia court ruling says that anyone violating these rules “will be mercilessly punished”.
There are also reports that the Islamic State is hiding prisoners and senior officials inside the Tabqa Dam 40 kilometres upstream from its Syrian HQ at Raqqah and at the head of Lake Assad, secure in the knowledge that the Coalition will not risk bombing it. IS has already used the dam to restrict the availability of water in nearby Iraq’s Anbar province.
In Iraq itself, 2 more Yezidi men are said to have been abducted in Sinjar province, IS infiltrating the village of Sakiniya in a search for people it could take hostage.
Activists have also reported that as many as 20 top commanders of IS from Niveneh province in Iraq’s north-west have transferred to Libya and Yemen in the last 2 weeks.
The move is an attempt to avoid Coalition airstrikes which killed 9 leading IS members on Monday this week near Baiji and another 30 x IS fighters in Mosul on Thursday.
On Wednesday a group of unidentified gunmen attacked an IS base at Badoush west of Mosul and escaped after killing 4 x IS Jihadists.
Earlier on Sunday a bomb attack on an IS convoy near Badoush killed or injured 17 Jihadists. (EDITOR: These attacks have the ring of Western special forces operations about them, but that has not been confirmed)
Satellite pictures this week have revealed that IS has completely destroyed the 1,400 year old St. Elijah’s Monastery in Mosul, the oldest monastery in the whole of Iraq and a significant part of the country’s Christian heritage.
The monastery was believed to have been destroyed in 2014 soon after IS took control of the city.
The Reverend Manuel Yousif Boji, a Chaldean Catholic priest resident in the US, who remembered attending mass at St. Elijah’s 60 years ago, said, “A big part of tangible history has been destroyed”.