In response to the capture of Palmyra the government and the coalition have launched numerous air strikes at ISIL forces in and around Palmyra. This has caused hundreds of casualties because ISIL parked many of their vehicles among the ancient ruins or amidst residential areas of nearby villages. These air attacks hurt ISIL but won’t force them out of Palmyra, only ground forces can do that. ISIL continued to advance south and are now within 70 kilometers of Damascus. Here ISIL captured the second largest phosphate mine in Syria. Phosphate sales, even if on the black market, could bring in over a million dollars a month for ISIL. In the days after the capture of Palmyra ISIL went looking for real or suspected pro-government civilians in the area. Over two hundred (some say 400) were killed and at least 600 were arrested.
Four years of fighting have left over 250,000 dead and most of the 22 million Syrians have lost their homes and/or jobs. Thus over half the population has been driven from their homes and over 20 percent (nearly four million) have left the country and most live in refugee camps. Two-thirds of those still in Syria are short of food, medical care and much else. Most of the country no longer has electric power (other than from small generators) or public water and sanitation service. Cell phone service is down in most of the country and over ten percent of the towns, villages and city neighborhoods are completely abandoned (except for scavengers or passing travelers). It’s a Mad Max world, except they use real bullets. A major appeal of the Assad government is the fact that it controls most of the remaining “intact” or “normal” Syria (from Damascus north to the coastal area). For many Syrians that is the only part of the country worth fighting for, even if you don’t like the Assads. That’s only about 20 percent of Syria and 20 percent of the population. The rest is a war torn wasteland full of armed men, terrified civilians and unresolved claims about who is in charge.
ISIL’s horrific propaganda has had one positive effect. Now most nations (especially Western and Moslem) are cooperating with Interpol to update their border control databases with information apparently captured from ISIL in Syria and Iraq about thousands of ISIL members. Interpol wants help in identifying these people and obtaining any background information on them. This is part of a growing international effort to share data on Islamic terrorists in order to interfere with their movement and help lead to the capture (or killing) of these terrorists.
Despite regular mass arrests like this young Saudis, along with similar men from Tunisia and Morocco still make up the majority of over 10,000 foreigners who have gone to Iraq and Syria in the last few years to join ISIL and other Islamic terrorist organizations.
Since August 2014 coalition (mostly U.S. but also NATO and Arab) air strikes in Iraq and Syria have destroyed or damaged over 6,000 targets during over 2,500 separate attacks using mostly smart bombs and missiles. This did not turn out to be the wonder weapon against newly resurgent Islamic terrorists except under certain conditions. The attacks have done a lot of damage. This destruction included nearly 1,700 military vehicles (about 15 percent of them armored and half of them armed). The most common targets were buildings (over 1,800 hit) and combat positions (over 1,500 bunkers, trenches and so on). There were far fewer command posts, checkpoints, parking lots and assembly areas hit and destroyed or made unusable. Over 300 oil industry targets were destroyed or badly damaged since selling stolen oil on the black market was a major source of income for the Islamic terrorists. The newly captured phosphate mine will be added to the target list.
The economic targets are important because ISIL has set up an “Islamic State” in eastern Syria and western Iraq and while this “Caliphate” seeks to be more Islamic than anyone else there are still expenses. So far ISIL has come up short in the cash department and people are starving and dying from lack of medical care and much else. This is not unusual in strife torn areas, even when there is lots of foreign aid available. But ISIL is worse because they will not accept any aid from non-Moslem charities and even those NGO (non-government organizations) charities that pass the religion test are heavily “taxed” and regulated by ISIL officials. As a result much aid does not get to where it is needed and even then much is diverted to ISIL as taxes and fees. This is a trend that has been developing for some time and has caused growing opposition from those living in the Islamic State. This despite the fact that since mid-2014 ISIL is believed to have murdered over 2,200 captives and local rebels in Iraq and Syria. Most of the ISIL subjects are not happy and some are in open rebellion against their ISIL overlords.
Hezbollah continues to work with the Lebanese Army to clear Syrian rebels (most of them from al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra) out of the border areas. Hezbollah is also ready to move more men across the border to help defend Damascus if needed. Hezbollah has been active all along the Lebanese border with Syria because this is popular back home. While Hezbollah operations deeper into Syria are not popular with most Lebanese (including many Hezbollah supporters) keeping Islamic terrorists out of Lebanon is. Groups like al Nusra like to set up camps just across the border to escape coalition air strikes or to better infiltrate and control refugee camps for Syrians.
Israel has sent more troops to their Syrian border lately as Hezbollah fights to chase al Nusra rebels from the Israeli border. Israel is more concerned with Hezbollah (whose propaganda has lately been pushing another war with Israel) than al Nusra (who has been more willing to enforce a temporary truce with Israel).
May 25, 2015: Turkey has agreed to provide support, including air support, for non-ISIL Syrian rebels. That’s a dwindling group as ISIL continues fighting with rebels who refuse to come under ISIL command. Turkey has not signed a final deal but wanted everyone to know where the discussions were going. Meanwhile Russia and Iran are calling for a peaceful, political settlement of the Syrian civil war. Considering the ISIL attitude towards the rest of the world, that is not likely. Russia and Iran are both having financial problems (because of low oil prices) at home and support for the Assads is very unpopular. So far Russia and Iran are not willing to take the political hit for abandoning the Assads, but that aid is not as generous as it used to be.
May 24, 2015: On the Iraqi border ISIL seized control of the second of two major border crossings between Syria and Iraq. Iraqi troops moved south to a major crossing with Jordan that Iraqi forces still control.
May 22, 2015: In the north (Idlib province) the rebel (al Nusra) forces have taken a hospital complex that has been under attack, along with the surrounding town, since April. This battle caused over 2,000 casualties in six weeks of heavy fighting. Rebels had earlier (in March) taken the provincial capital to the west.
May 20, 2015: In central Syria (Homs province) ISIL forces finally took Palmyra (215 kilometers northeast of Damascus). This was an ancient oasis city that was largely abandoned a century ago and now people live in nearby villages. Palmyra is a major tourist site and it is feared ISIL will destroy ruins for being un-Islamic. For the Assads the most important thing about Palmyra is that it is astride the main road from ISIL controlled Deir Ezzor province to Damascus. The government is still holding on to parts of Deir Ezzor province but supporting those troops becomes a lot more difficult with the loss of Palmyra.
May 19, 2015: In central Syria (Homs province) government troops briefly forces ISIL forces to pull back from Palmyra. But ISIL quickly called in reinforcements and came back. Army troops soon decided the best thing to do was retreat towards Damascus. A week of fighting around Palmyra had caused nearly 2,000 casualties and ISIL had an advantage because its fighters, although less well trained or experienced than their army opponents, were not just willing to kill, they were willing to die.
May 18, 2015: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) American commandos (from the army Delta Force) raided the heavily guarded ISIL compound of Fathi ben Awn ben Jildi Murad al Tunisi (nicknamed Abu Sayyaf), a Tunisian who runs ISIL finances. This includes the lucrative trade in stolen oil and any other scams that will bring in revenue. The raiders sought to take Abu Sayyaf alive but he and two other senior ISIL officials died in the brief battle. The raiders did seize many records (most of them electronic) and took away Abu Sayyaf’s wife who was wanted for supervising the enslavement of captured women. The raiders came in at night in special SOCOM UH-60 helicopters and left the same way with all their loot and captives. ISIL was alarmed as the suddenness and success of this raid and suspect one or more traitors supplied the Americans with information. That was because the raiders know where everyone and everything was inside the compound (which contains over fifty buildings) and also seemed to know that most of the security forces had been temporarily called away to take care of an emergency. ISIL is always looking for traitors and being falsely accused of treason is considered an occupational hazard within ISIL. Most of those accused are executed and many are extensively tortured first. ISIL has also made it more complicated to join the inner circle (ISIL management) and now demands extensive background checks. The penalty for failing such a background check is death. The most likely source of the traitorous information was probably local civilians who hate ISIL.
May 14, 2015: The head of ISIL released another audio appeal (via the Internet) calling on Moslems everywhere to come to Syria to join ISIL in its fight for control of all Moslems and then the world. Intel agencies are reporting that Internet chatter indicates potential ISIL recruits, especially young Moslems in the West, are losing enthusiasm for ISIL. This is apparently because of many ISIL veterans returning home and reporting the horrors they saw or endured themselves. To adventure-seeking young Moslems ISIL might look good from a distance but up close and personal it’s rather unpleasant. ISIL is still attracting recruits, but fewer of them and that is worrisome because the main military asset of ISIL is young men with guns (or explosive vests) who are willing to die and commit all manner of atrocities. ISIL has succeeded so far by being willing and able to take heavier casualties than its opponents. Details of exactly how that works are horrifying to many potential recruits and the word is getting out.
May 13, 2015: ISIL began a major attack to take the central Syria tourist site of Palmyra.
May 12, 2015: The U.S. has again delayed the start of the “equip and train” for Syrian rebels (who are not Islamic terrorists or who are but keep quiet about it) again. This program was supposed to train and equip 5,000 rebels a year. The rebels say this is too few and that the delays are not helping either.