By Peter Clifford © (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-iraq-news-5/)
SYRIA – IRAQ – NEWS
Interesting (but as yet unconfirmed) reports that the US is preparing an air strip in north-west Syria in order to ferry supplies to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Force (SDF).
US Black Hawk Helicopters in Syria?
The existing airfield in question is located south-east of the town of Rimelan, which is in the extreme north-east of Syria not far from the borders with both Turkey and Iraq.
Formerly an Assad agricultural airstrip used for crop-dusting, recent information from both Kurdish and Lebanese (Assad regime connected) sources suggests that US technicians have been working there for one and a half months increasing the runway length to 2500 metres and the width to 250 metres, enough for larger warplanes and cargo carriers.
The US experts are apparently supervising a Kurdish workforce who are doing the ground preparations and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been used to test the facility.
An earlier report in Rojava that unidentified helicopters (thought to have been Turkish at the time – scroll down and see the report of 27th November, Rojava Update 162) were overflying the area, is now said to have been US aircraft bringing in 8 x US military specialists and their equipment.
Rimelan is 70 kilometres east of Qamishli with a mixed Arab, Kurd and Assyrian population of around 11,500 and is known for nearby oil production facilities.
This is the same ethnic make-up as the SDF and therefore Rimelan would serve as an excellent base for their operations as they press on to take Shaddadi and Raqqah. It could also be a base for the 50 US special forces personnel that President Obama said recently would be sent to Syria, and in fact other US sources have now indicated may rise to around 100.
Unconfirmed reports from Rojava also say that some US special forces operatives arrived in the region yesterday, Thursday, evening.
The SDF are currently reported close to the IS-held town of Arishah and advancing on it from 2 directions. UK ITVhas an interesting video report on SDF “advance on the road to Raqqah”.
The Kurdish YPG, a significant part of the SDF force, also attempted yesterday to “open the path to Raqqah” by pounding an IS HQ near Ain Issa with artillery shells. 12 x IS Jihadists are reported killed with many more wounded and 1 taken prisoner.
13 AK-47s were captured, plus ammunition, 12 home-made mines and other equipment.
Meanwhile the Islamic State continues to attack YPG positions on the eastern bank on the Euphrates in Kobane Canton, all the way from the Turkish border down to Sarrin, hitting a number of Kurdish checkpoints on Wednesday near Qara Qozak village with heavy weapons and mortars.
YPG Kurdish Fighter on the Anti-IS Front South of Hasakah
However the YPG responded strongly, completely destroying a number of IS security buildings in the northern parts of Raqqah province.
Interesting report too by a foreign journalist working for Al-Arabiya journeying from Kobane back to Erbil in Iraq via Qamishli – in a hurry!
US Central Command (Centcom) reports 20 airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, 6 near Deir Ez-Zour hitting an IS gas and oil separation plant and 2 near Abu Kamal hitting an IS well head.
4 strikes near Ain Issa hit 4 x IS tactical units and destroyed 2 x IS fighting positions, an IS vehicle, as well as injuring at least 1 x IS fighter.
Near Mar’a, 8 strikes hit 7 separate IS tactical units and destroyed an IS tactical vehicle, 4 x IS staging areas, an IS fighting position, an IS vehicle bomb and an IS compound as well as wounding 4 x IS fighters.
On the previous day, Tuesday, Centcom reported another 14 strikes with similar targets.
On Wednesday, the British Parliament debated for over 10 hours on whether to bomb the Islamic State in Syria. Within an hour of a clear majority decision to do so, 4 Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornados were in the air lifting off from the UK’s base at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus each fitted with 3 x 500lb Paveway IV laser guided bombs (designed for precision bombing of static targets).
They returned at 3.00am in the morning having apparently destroyed 6 well heads in the IS controlled Omar oil field south-east of Deir Ez Zour. 8 more jets, 2 more Tornados and 6 Typhoons, are also on their way to join the 8 existing existing Tornados at Acrotiri. A small but significant force. The BBC has more (and see map below).
Up until now, Britain has previously carried out 380 precision strikes on targets in Iraq without, it claims, any reports of civilian casualties.
The German Frigate Sachsen is Expected to Support the French Aircraft Carrier
Today Friday, the German Parliament also approved the sending of non-combat forces to join the Coalition fighting IS in Syria, consisting of Tornado reconnaissance jets, a naval frigate and 1,200 soldiers.
Both the UK and German moves are in solidarity with France which suffered its worst IS attack last month in Paris.
President Hollande also landed by helicopter today aboard the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle off the Syrian coast.
The Netherlands is apparently under pressure to act militarily in support of the Coalition as well.
Back in Aleppo province, some sort of common sense seems to have prevailed in the deadly dispute between opposing units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA)and the Kurdish allies of at least some of them in the SDF (scroll down to read the full complicated story).
Apparently a written and signed truce has been agreed in the norther part of Aleppo province between the Kurdish YPG and the Islamist units fighting with the FSA, though the Jaish Al-Thuwar brigade, who regularly fight alongside the Kurds, have refused to sign.
Under the terms of agreement, a ceasefire will be in operation from Thursday, all sides will return to their previous positions and a committee with members on both sides will be set up to mediate outstanding disputes. EDITOR: How long the ceasefire will hold is anyone’s guess!
Lastly, to show how the Assad regime continues to live in la-la-land the Syrian Government is still promoting “happy-holidays in Syria” – and apparently getting some takers. The Telegraph has more detail.
Map courtesy of UK Ministry of Defence and the Institute for the Study of War, here:
UK Base in Akrotiri, Cyprus Sends RAF Jets to Attack IS-Held Omar Oil Fields