Syria: The Perpetual Multiwar

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February 15, 2022: Syria is lurching into the 11th year of a seemingly unending civil war that initially only wanted to replace the Assad dictatorship with something better. The Assads have survived while the fractious rebels continue fighting each other. No one seems willing, or able, to end the conflict. Several other nations are trying to help, but so far that has not ended the violence.

Russian airpower has been a major factor in preventing ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) forces in eastern Syria from growing or gaining control of any territory. So far this month there have been fifteen to twenty airstrikes against ISIL targets in eastern Syria. Russian air power is regularly unleashed on ISIL targets there because sustained aerial reconnaissance and tips from locals have provided a steady stream of confirmed targets. In the last three years ISIL has lost about 1,600 men in eastern Syria, while killing about the same number or soldiers, militiamen and civilians. ISIL victims are mostly Syrians, either soldiers, pro-Assad militia or, more rarely, Kurds or SDF. About ten percent of the ISIL victims are foreigners, either Iranian or Irani-backed foreign militias men. A few Russians and other foreigners were also victims.

Since ISIL is at war with everyone, Russia and the Assads have developed a large network of informants who want ISIL gone and provide generally reliable information. These airstrikes are expensive and Russia justifies it because Russian pilots gain valuable combat experience in a combat zone where aircraft losses from enemy air defense forces are negligible.

In southern Syria (Daraa province) there have been nearly twenty assassinations and related acts of violence so far this month. This level of violence has remained fairly constant for three years. This is part of the undeclared war between Iranian and Syrian forces going on there since 2018. Anonymous assassins use pistols and hidden bombs to kill those who work, or worked for government forces or Russia and Syria backed local militias. Russian and Assad forces openly force Iran-backed groups and individuals out of the area. There is no open violence because Iran, Syria and Russia are still officially allies. Near the Israel border Russian and Syrian pressure has prevented Iranian attacks on Israel. Russia and Syria have also been checking locals to see if they are Lebanese Shia wearing authorized Syrian army or police uniforms rather than Lebanese Shia using stolen uniforms. This border security operation is a big deal for Syria and Israel and a major embarrassment for Iran, which is why Iran has not cranked up its usual media outrage to complain. Israel will sometimes fire on Iranian forces operating in Daraa, especially near the Israeli border. Israel also shares intel with Russia and Syria about Syrian officers who are secretly working for Iran. The Iranians pay well, and in dollars. Israel will sometimes release evidence of this to the media, so that Iranians back home have another reason to oppose Iranian foreign wars. Negotiations have been underway between Iran and Russia/Syria for over a year but are not making much progress. The covert Iranian violence is just another incentive for Syria to get the Iranian agents out of the area.

In the northwest (Idlib province) Assad forces continue their campaign to liberate and take control of the rebel-held portions of the province. This is being done with a lot of material assistance from Russia in the form of airstrikes and resupply of artillery shells and rockets fired by the Syrians into Idlib. Taking Idlib has to be done with the cooperation of the Turks, who do not want the 30,000 or 40,000 armed rebels trapped in Idlib and parts of adjacent Aleppo province, along with over a million pro-rebel civilians, forcing their way into Turkey. Why risk death from Turkish border guards and defenses? Because if the Assads get control of Idlib and its current population, the justifiably feared Assad secret police will arrive and interrogate (torture) those with a record of rebel activity. In other pro-rebel areas where the Assads took control, the secret police did their work and a lot of local civilians disappeared. This is not an issue with the Arab League, Turkey, Russia or Iran because all use similar techniques. The Assads simply do it more often.

February 14, 2022: In the south (Daraa and Suwayda provinces plus Damascus) over a thousand Iranian mercenaries arrived to help deal with locals protesting the Assad government and Iranian presence. The mercenaries were nearly all foreigners from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. These reinforcements traveled from eastern Syria (Raqqa and (Deir Ezzor provinces) and used multiple routes to avoid Israeli airstrikes.

February 13, 2022: In central Syria (Homs province) a bus carrying Syrian soldiers was damaged by a bomb, which killed on soldier and wounded several others. February 12, 2022: In the east (Raqqa Province) the Kurdish led SDF militia has been trying to halt a bloody tribal feud for over a week. It began when someone from another tribe assassinated the head of the Bokhamis tribe. This stirred up some older grievances and soon angry young men from the Afadla and Tawadfa, two of the largest tribes in eastern Syria, were fighting each other. The Sunni tribes are either part of the SDF or support what it does. Because the SDF is largely Kurd the SDF tries to act as a neutral party and contain the violence. This makes it possible to get the tribes talking to each other. ISIL gunmen often attack tribal leaders who are too effective in opposing them, but in this case the culprit was another tribe.

February 9, 2022: In the south (the capital Damascus) Israel carried out attacks against air defense systems around the city. This was in retaliation for another Syrian SAM (surface to air missile) failing to self-destruct when it missed its target and instead continuing on into Israel. In this case the SAM detonated before it hit the ground in northern Israel. This has happened before but this incident appeared suspicious so Israel launched airstrikes against Syrian air defenses. This SAM was one of many Syria fired to try and stop Israeli surface-to-surface missiles fired from northern Israel against Iranian targets near Damascus earlier in the day, which set off more attacks.

In the west (Latakia province) Russian forces turned on their wide area electronic jamming equipment briefly, and caused problems for commercial aircraft in Israel and Turkey. This has happened several times recently. Israel protested this and Russia said it was necessary because their military bases were threatened. Latakia province is an Assad stronghold but it borders Idlib province, where some Islamic terror groups continue trying to launch attacks on the Russian bases. In response Russia has brought in a wide array of electronic countermeasures, some of them it uses rarely because it disrupts Israeli GPS systems. Since late 2015 Russian electronic jamming equipment has been arriving in Syria, initially to jam ISIL and NATO communications. Some NATO radars and satellite signals were also jammed. NATO is already familiar with some of these jammers, particularly the truck mounted Krasukha-4, which was encountered in eastern Ukraine (Donbas). Russia has also brought in a lot more electronic data collection and analysis equipment to listen on ISIL and NATO communications when not jamming them. This involves jamming low orbit space satellites as well. In response NATO and Israel have deployed more EW gear and personnel and this has led to a generally unseen (and unreported) electronic war over Syria. Israel demonstrated that they could handle Russian jamming, with the side effect of disrupting Russian air defense systems. As a result of this Russia and Israel added electronic jammers to the list of things they won’t use on each other in Syria. Exceptions are made when the Russian Latakia faces an unexpected threat. Russia supplies details to Israel. This information is rarely made public.

February 6, 2022: In the northwest (Idlib province) HTS (Hayat Tahrir al Sham), the umbrella organization for most of the armed rebels in Idlib, has arrested over 300 foreign Islamic terrorists during the last the last month as part of an effort to force most foreigners out of Syria. The foreign Islamic terrorists have always been a problem with Syrian rebels and Islamic terrorists and are blamed for the creation of ISIL and its role in the splintering of rebel forces, which enabled the Assad government to survive and remain in control of most of the country. HTS had earlier forced most ISIL members to leave Idlib and carry on its war elsewhere in Syria.

February 3, 2022: In the northwest (Idlib province) another Iraqi head of ISIL was located and killed by the American Special Forces. This took place when American commandos raided the house a few kilometers from the Turkish border where Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al Qurayshi, the current leader of ISIL lived. Qurayshi was selected for the job a week after the 2019 raid on the Idlib province hideout of ISIL founder al-Baghdadi. Both men were Iraqi Islamic terrorists who became active after Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003 and ended up in Syria after their Iraq terror campaign was defeated in 2008. Both ISIL leaders were from families that supplied military and police commanders for Saddam’s forces. Iraqi Islamic terrorists went to Syria after 2012 to join the fight against the secular Assad dictatorship. In 2014 Baghdadi, and senior associates like Qurayshi created ISIL as the ultimate Islamic terrorist organization that was going to restore the reputation of Iraqi Islamic terrorists who failed in Iraq. ISIL was successful for about three years, but then the counterattack by all the enemies they had made, including fellow Islamic terrorists, destroyed the “caliphate” and forced survivors like Baghdadi and Qurayshi to flee with their families to Idlib province, where the Syrian government allowed surrounded Islamic terrorists to go to as long as they surrendered the territory (neighborhoods or towns) they currently occupied rather than fight to the death and see their surroundings blasted to bits and pro-Assad civilians killed. This tactic worked by concentrating nearly all the surviving Islamic terrorists in within one Syria province on the Turkish border. The Turks fortified their Idlib border and warned Idlib refugees that any attempt to find refuge in Turkey would be resisted with force. Syria, with the help of Russian air power and equipment, have slowly been retaking Idlib province. The Assad’s cannot go for a quick victory because they would lose more troops than they can afford to lose. Syrian soldiers have been at war for a decade and it is understood that they will stay in uniform as long as the Assads don’t get a lot of them killed.

Meanwhile the U.S. offered a $10 million reward for information on Qurayshi and this was not mentioned in reports of today’s pre-dawn raid. The rewards program works because if an informant supplies accurate information, he and his immediate family are moved to a safe foreign country. This is something similar to the successful American domestic Witness Protection program.

February 2, 2022: Turkey announced a major air campaign against Kurdish separatists in northeast Syria and northern Iraq. These attacks are primarily against the PKK (Turkish separatist Kurds). YPG (Syrian separatist Kurds) and several smaller groups. Turkey has been carrying out attacks like this in Syria and Iraq for over a decade and this new operation claims to be better organized, more intense and concentrating on camps and bases. This will cause problems in Syria, where the SDF sees the attacks on the YPG (a component of the SDF) as an effort to break Kurdish control of Hasaka province.

January 31, 2022: In the south (Damascus) Israel carried out several air strikes against Iranian weapons warehouses operated and guarded by Lebanese Hezbollah gunmen. This was the first Israeli airstrike since Russian announced, on the 24th, that Russian and Syrian warplanes, including early warning aircraft, would conduct joint patrols along Syrians southern borders to detect and prevent airstrikes from Israel. This was all largely symbolic because Israeli warplanes rarely enter Syrian air space to carry out attacks on targets in Syria. Instead, Israel uses air-to-surface missiles launched from Israeli fighters in Israeli, Lebanese or Jordanian air space.

January 20, 2022: In the northeast (Hasaka province) ISIL used over a hundred gunmen they had quietly moved into the area over months, to attack the SDF run Sina prison. Sina contained 4,000 inmates, most of them ISIL members. Such an attack has been threatened for a long time and ISIL became obsessed with actually carrying it out. The attack turned into a ten-day battle that saw ISIL taking heavy losses and most of the prisoners recaptured. The attacks began with two ISIL suicide bombs exploding, one near prison entrance. After a few hours it appeared the ISIL operation was a success but the SDF rushed in reinforcements to join the surviving SDF prison security forces. The prisoners got out of the prison but could not get much farther. SDF ultimately brought 9,000 troops into the area, including a few dozen American and British special operation forces. These assisted in calling in some airstrikes and coordinating continuous aerial surveillance. This gave SDF commanders the ability to stop most ISIL efforts to get people out of the area. When it was all over about ten percent of the 4,000 prisoners were unaccounted for and nearly 400 ISIL fighters, most of them armed prisoners, dead. SDF forces suffered about 170 casualties, a third of them killed. There were also about six civilian deaths and another 40 dead who have not yet been identified. Over 40,000 civilians fled the area to avoid the violence. Two senior ISIL prisoners apparently got away, plus a hundred or more lower ranking ones. ISIL declared the operation a success, but it cost them more than they gained and was followed by the February 3rd American commando raid in Idlib province that left the ISIL leader dead. It is estimated that there are about 10,000 active ISIL members in Syria and Iraq.

January 15, 2022: In the northwest (Idlib province) Russia carried out numerous airstrikes on Islamic terrorist targets over the last two days. This was in support of Turkey, which is trying to deal with Islamic terror groups in Idlib that have been firing rockets are Turkish bases.

 

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