Syria Daily: Turkey Halting Its Offensive in North?

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Turkish PM: “Operation Euphrates Shield has been successful and is finished”


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Turkey has announced an end to Operation Euphrates Shield, the Turkish-rebel offensive that has driven the Islamic State from Syria’s border and taken much of northern Aleppo Province since last August.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced in a televised interview on Wednesday, “Operation Euphrates Shield has been successful and is finished. Any operation following this one will have a different name.”

Yildirim said “everything is under control” after the Turkish-rebel forces cleared ISIS out of a 98-km (61-mile) corridor and then moved south, reaching as far as the capture of al-Bab — 30 km (19 miles) from the border and 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Aleppo city — in late February.

The announcement appears to end any Turkish hopes of pressing east to take Manbij, held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, and then pursue an offensive against Raqqa, ISIS’s central position in Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had repeatedly declared his intention for such an operation. Turkey is opposed to any Kurdish presence west of the Euphrates River and consider the Syrian Kurdistan Democratic Party (PYD) and its YPG militia — the leading element in the SDF — to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.

But both the US and Russia put in supplies and troops to bolster the SDF in Manbij, and the SDF added a further obstacle by handing over villages west of the city to pro-Assad forces. After months of hesitation over the Turkish-PYD conflict, Washington has also recently signalled its support for an SDF-led offensive against Raqqa.

Yildirim kept Turkish options open, saying that cross-border operations could resume, but offered no further signal of a counter to the PYD/YPG plans.

Turkish armored vehicles entering northern Syria, August 2016

US Secretary of State Tillerson Meets Top Turkish Officials

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Ankara for talks, beginning with Yıldırım on Thursday morning.

TILLERSON YILDIRIM

The Turkish Prime Ministry said discussions include the Syrian situation, the fight against the Islamic State, and Turkey’s demand for the extradition of US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, accused by the Government of organizing a failed coup in July 2016.

Tillerson will also meet President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. The Secretary of State is accompanied by Brett McGurk, the lead US official for operations in Iraq and Syria.

Disillusionment for al-Waer’s Displaced in Move to Turkish Border

Reports are circulating of disillusionment and anger among people forcibly displaced from al-Wa’er in Homs city, as they found little or no provision in the town of Jarablus in northern Syria on the Turkish border.

The first two sets of displaced, totaling about 4,000 people, were moved to Jarablus in the past two weeks after a capitulation agreement. They were offered the prospect of decent living conditions away from years of siege and bombardment in al-Wa’er.

However, one of the first displaced, Abu Mohammad, told Syria Direct:

When we were preparing to leave, we were told that everything was available in Jarablus and that it was safe and perfectly well supplied given that it’s under Turkish influence. When we left, we were under the impression that we’d be living in a fully equipped camp, but when we finally arrived, we were shocked.

Things are hard, especially given that we’re now living in tents after having been in houses. There are facilities, such as bathrooms that are just outside the tents, but aside from that and our meals, we’re not given any aid.

In the city itself, just about everything is available; however, as formerly encircled people, we don’t have the financial means to buy even the most basic things.

He said that, “in theory”, he could return to al-Wa’er but “staying means that you could be arrested at any given moment or something far worse”.

He continued, “My advice would be to go to Idlib [Province]. It’s a border area; you’ve got more freedom of movement and, ultimately, more choices if you end up deciding to leave for elsewhere.”


Claims: Another Regime Chlorine Attack on Northern Hama

The Assad regime has carried out another chlorine gas attack near Latamneh in northern Hama Province, according to a local doctor and pro-opposition activists.

Dr. Mohamed Elwan said about 100 civilians were injured by the gas. Some are in critical conditions.

“Local residents are showing symptoms of chlorine gas exposure, including vomiting, dizziness, blurred vision and shortness of breath,” Elwan said.

LATAMNEH CHLORINE

A gas attack on a Latamneh underground hospital earlier this week killed three people, including a doctor who was operating on a patient, and wounded scores.

See Regime’s “Suspected Chlorine Attack” on Hospital in Syria’s Hama Province


Removals Deal for Regime Enclaves and Besieged Opposition Towns

A removals deal has been reached for two regime enclaves in northwest Syria and two besieged opposition towns northwest of Damascus, according to civilian, medical, and military sources.

Under the agreement, rebels and some residents will leave Madaya and Zabadani, where a total of about 40,000 people have been cut off since July 2015. At the same time, all residents — about 20,000 — will be moved from al-Fu’ah and Kafraya, north of Idlib city, over a 60-day period beginning April 4.

The areas were linked in the “Four Towns Agreement”, an Iranian-brokered deal between pro-Assad forces and the rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham in September 2015. However, the terms for aid have often been violated by the Assad regime.


Regime Reclaims Village Close to Hama City

Continuing their counter-attacks against a rebel offensive, pro-Assad forces have reclaimed the village of Arzeh, about 3 km (2 miles) from the outskirts of Hama city.

After five days of a counter-offensive, the regime forces have now taken the villages of Arzeh, Kawkab, and Maarzaf. Rebels still hold most of their gains, including the town of Souran.


4th White Helmets Rescuer Killed in Week

White Helmets rescuer Samir al-Ghanoush was killed on Thursday in a “double tap” strike on the Damascus suburb of Zamalka.

Ghanoush is the fourth volunteer slain in the past week, as pro-Assad warplanes continues the “double tap” attacks, in which a second strike targets those who have gathered to help victims of the initial bombing.

He is the 170th White Helmet killed since the civil defense organization began operations in 2013.

WHITE HELMET KILLED 03-17 2


State Media: Homs Bombing Kills 5

A bomb struck a passenger bus in Homs city on Wednesday, killing five people and wounding six, according to Syrian State news agency SANA.

The outlet said the improvised explosive device was on a street in al-Zahra neighborhood. No group claimed responsibility.

HOMS BUS BOMBED


SDF: Tabqa Dam “Working Normally” After Repairs

The Syrian Democratic Forces claim the Tabqa Dam is “working normally” after engineers repaired damage from a US airstrike.

A media official with the SDF, led by the Kurdish militia YPG, said spillways are now functioning.

Local activists and the Islamic State, which holds the southern part of the 4.5-km (2.8 mile) dam across the Euphrates, said it was in danger of collapse after control rooms were struck last weekend. A subsequent US strike reportedly killed the head engineer and several maintenance crew.

The US military and SDF denied there was any “imminent danger”. However, pictures of engineers inspecting the dam on Tuesday were questioned by local activists, who said they were of a facility to the north.

The SDF took the northern entrance of the dam, 40 km (25 miles) to the west of Raqqa city, from ISIS during last weekend’s attacks.

See Syria Daily, March 29: Is Taqba Dam in Danger of Collapse After US Airstrikes?


Opposition Meets Russian Diplomat, Presses for Ceasefire

An opposition delegation met a senior Russian diplomat on Wednesday, pressing for a substantial ceasefire.

Pro-Assad ground and air attacks have continued despite a nominal ceasefire declared on December by Russia, Turkey, and Iran, including the seizure of territory near Damascus and bombardment leading to forced displacement from the last opposition district in Homs city. Russian warplanes have been involved in the operations.

In the past month, rebels have launched offensives in Daraa in southern Syria, in Jobar in northeastern Damascus, and in northern Hama Province.

Despite the ongoing bombing and battles, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said the ceasefire was “more or less being maintained”, but added, “We need the support and involvement of all parties, including external players, not only the three guarantors but some other countries who also have influence on the parties on the ground,” Gatilov told reporters.

Opposition delegates told Gatilov that they had come to Geneva to engage “completely and seriously” in the political talks, spokesman Salem al-Muslet said:

However, the other party [the Assad regime] has taken no steps in this regard. We discussed the ceasefire and continuous violations by the regime in addition to the Iranian presence in Syria and the forced displacement taking place in several areas.

Indirect talks between the regime and opposition resumed from late January in the Kazakhstan capital Astana and Geneva, but have made no progress.

“We are in a game of just keeping the whole thing rolling with no real sign of a substantive breakthrough at all,” a Western diplomat said on Wednesday. “We are not looking at any real negotiations here.”

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15 COMMENTS

  1. #Observation: Before I lay into them let me point out that when it comes to tactics and operational planning rebels are as good if not better then regime units. That said when it comes to strategy I’ll say some large rebel factions have an utterly, utterly retarded grasp of strategy.
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    The ambition/aim of the Hama offensive was to knock-off Qomhanne (regime stronghold), Mount Zayn Al Abideen (regime stronghold), Mount Kafra (regime stronghold), Hama airbase (regime stronghold) as well as clear the Orontes river area of regime presence. The rebels decided to attempt capture the first two without trying to encircle it by launching a simultaneous offensive in eastern Hama. Which shows either delusional levels of cockiness or incredible strategic incompetence by rebel leaders. Have rebels not learnt from the capture of Al-Bab? That to capture a stronghold you have to encircle it first and then attack it from three different directions whilst launching more shells on that stronghold then the defenders of that stronghold can shell you? Even the IRGC officers understood this better then rebel officers once the IRGC realised that without an eastern Hama offensive by rebels they/IRGC could easily block rebel offensive on Qomhanne once Kawkab got re-captured which the IRGC did by throwing every Hashd militia at rebels till Kawkab was in their control again.
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    The most sensible thing rebels can do right now is: A) Shorten the front in eastern Hama by clearing out regime units in Zughba/Samrah/Kawkab. B) Contain regime units east of Arzeh by regularly launching temporary offensives (ie Capturing regime positions to place land-mines as well as booby-trap buildings and then leaving it to lure regime troops back there again) upon Qomhanne with 3 or 4 small (company-size?) units. C) Contain regime units around the Hama airbase by also regularly launching (after infiltrating?) temporary offensives (ie Capturing regime positions to place land-mines as well as booby-trap buildings and then leaving it to lure regime troops back there again) upon Tizin and areas of Kazou and around Hama railway station. D) Help rebels west of Maardah finish off (though Maarzef will need to be re-captured first) regime presence along the Orontes river (ie capture every regime settlement east of Suqaylabiyah) before sending the remaining rebels troops south to launch a future major assault on Hama airbase. E) Start smuggling in enough arms/ammo/men into the Homs pocket so when rebels in Hama are ready to launch a serious (not temporary) offensive the rebels in Homs pocket can organise a break-out from the Homs pocket in the south and move north onto regime positions whilst rebels in Hama move south and thereby pincer/trap ALL regime units between them.
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    Points A to E is what an actual strategy looks like, not the madness of repeating one failed offensive on Qomhanne after another.

    • I think that you are overlooking one very important point in your analysis:

      Strength on the ground. The rebels failed to take Qomhane and Mhardeh, because they were well defended and the reinforcement came fast.

      Rebels are good at overrunning the first and weakest defense of the frontline by launching a lightening strike with big numbers of forces, but when they encounter heavily fortified positions, they are stuck. When their multiples ground attacks against Qomhane failed they had to sit back and take time to try and soften the defense with artillery and tanks.

      In the meantime, the governement reinforcements from Hama and areas nearby poured in and several counter attacks could begin along the front , supported by big number of armours. While the russian and syrian airforce could pick apart and destroy the static rebel positions on the frontline.

      Rebels are not lacking in strategy, they are lacking in manpower and firepower. The Aleppo routs seem o have severly damaged Nusra’s offensive capacities.

      Strategically, they have tried in very recent month to :

      1) Attack in Daraa : failed
      2) Attack in Jobar: failed
      3) Attack in Hama : failing

      After their big defeat of Aleppo last year. It’s unclear whether the rebels have the possibility to launch a big successful campaign anymore. The tide has completely turned.

  2. #Observation: 1) If rebels want to take the pressure away from Majdal (and eventually re-capture Maarzef?) they can do so by forcing the regime troops to divert away from Majdal by not only capturing Kafr al-Toun (see link below) but also Tall Sikkin Sarout (see link below) and using Tall Sikkin Sarout as a forward base to launch raids/ambushes/temporary offensives on the large regime storage depot next to Om Tayyour as well as the regime positions of Jarjerah. The aim of course is to broaden the gap (ie permanently split/strategically-divide) between regime fighters around Seyha and Qomhanne around with regime units west of Maarhadeh.
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    Coordinate for Kafr al-Toun
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    http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=35.159214&lon=36.630392&z=14&m=b&search=35%C2%B09'33%22N%2036%C2%B037'44%22E
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    Coordinates for Tall Sikkin Sarout
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    http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=35.160898&lon=36.583786&z=13&m=b&search=35%C2%B09'14%22N%2036%C2%B034'59%22E
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    BTW capturing and using Tall Sikkin Sarout as a forward base to raid or over-run regime depots and check-points mobile warfare-style south of Tall Sikkin Sarout requires far fewer men then just staying behind the same defences waiting for regime artillery and Russian jets to pick off rebel troops and also by using multiple (groups of 3 or 4?) company-size (100+ men) mobile units rebels will be able to keep their advantages of shock and stealth.
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    2) As for Ahrar it seems the rumours are correct: They/Ahrar were initially banned (stupid reason) because some rebels groups stupidly didn’t want them to become popular again. Stupid because every man counts and stupid because Ahrar is originally a Hama-based (that’s were most of it’s leaders come from) movement so blocking Ahrar from a assault on Hama was grossly insensitive and would explain why they/Ahrar have sent so few troops to Hama. Ahrar it seems have been offended.

  3. I am going to predict rebels will be basically back at Hama offensive starting positions before end of April.Will throw in Morek as possible town to be attacked by SAA before end of April as an extra.

  4. #Observation: 1) As far as I’m concerned now rebels should now turn ALL their front-lines as a forward-bases to launch raids/ambushes/temporary offensives (ie Capturing regime positions to place land-mines as well as booby-trap buildings and then leaving it to lure regime troops back there again) offensives regime areas near their front-line using mobile 3 or 4 small (company-size?) units and continue doing this till the front stabilises (using the time gained from temporary offensives to fortify current rebel positions) as well as smuggling in arms/ammo/men into the Homs pocket. Arzeh, Maarzef, Kawkab, Kunanyniz, Kernaz and Tall Sikkin Sarout (see link below) will need to be captured to implement this plan.
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    Coordinates for Tall Sikkin Sarout
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    http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=35.160898&lon=36.583786&z=13&m=b&search=35%C2%B09'14%22N%2036%C2%B034'59%22E
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    Once the front has stabilised, with the Orontes river in rebel hands and the eastern Hama front shorten then rebels should concentrate on an ALL out offensive on Hama airbase. Otherwise rebels should head back to Aleppo and be glad that the planned regime offensive on Idlib got delayed by a few weeks.
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    But seeing how the Kawkab route is blocked the only option left for rebels is to cut the road connecting Mount Zayn Al-Abideen and Mount Kafra with Hama city as well as begin infiltrating Hama city directly.

  5. Why Are So Many Civilians in Iraq and Syria Dying?

    “Despite his initial support for the Iraq war, Donald Trump ascended to office with a vow to untangle America from Middle Eastern conflicts. But he also ran as a nationalist, promising to steal Iraq’s oil, torture alleged terrorists, “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, and loosen the rules of military engagement. It’s too early to know exactly how the Trump administration’s policies in the region will play out, but the U.S. has continued heavily bombing Iraq and Syria with catastrophic consequences”

    “Basically, the Russian intervention started in September of 2015, and it got really, really awful within a few months, with thousands of alleged casualties. Only now is the coalition approaching the number of alleged casualties that can be attributed to the Russians”

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/interrogation/2017/03/civilian_casualties_in_iraq_and_syria_under_trump.html

  6. Rebels repeatedly launching one failed offensive on Qomhanne after another reminds me of a comedy sketch about WW1 generals:
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    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ox6MScSWp28
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    Blackadder: “It’s the same plan we used the last time and 17 times before that.”
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    General Melcett: “Exactly. And that is what is so brilliant about it! We catch the watchful Hun totally off guard. Precisely doing the exact same thing 18 times is the last thing they’ll expect from us this time!”
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    I suppose this is how one of the many ‘assault on Qomhanne’ prep talks begin every time rebel leaders suggest this plan to their officers.

  7. #Deraa: “Al-Bunian Al-Marsous op. room bombed a building used by pro-Assad in W. part of Al-Manshiyah district. ” – QalaatAlMudiq
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    This action would be far more amplified/greater if rebels there also launched a surprise offensive against Khirbet al-Ghazallah. Why? Even if that offensive failed, by threatening to sever the regime’s supply route north of Deraa it would force regime troops to send even more units to protect Khirbet al-Ghazallah and thereby give rebel troops in Manshiya fewer regime units to deal with.
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    #Observation: 1) Unless a diversionary dash past Salaamiya (with a stop-over to ransack the army depot of Tayyibah al-Turki) with a explicit aim to provide arms and ammo to the Homs pocket then I don’t see the current offensive in Hama going anywhere because rebels are too localised/clustered in one area which is easy for Russian jets to pick off. BTW what does it say about rebel commanders that at this stage of the revolution they haven’t even bothered to create in their factories DIY gas-masks for their soldiers and civilians living amongst them?
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    2) If manpower weren’t an issue and rebels have a single military commander (and why haven’t rebels appointed one for the Hama offensive? It’d certainly clear alot of the current uncoordinated mess that’s happening now) not only should the east Hama front be shorten and groups of 3 or 4 company-sized (ie 100+ men) units be sent to drive directly to Salamiya but I’d have a 2nd such group detour towards Maar Shahour (see link below) just to trick the regime units on Mount Kafra that there’ll be some kind of planned offensive against them. But that’s wishful thinking on my part.
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    http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=35.206075&lon=36.850719&z=13&m=b&search=%2035%C2%B012'22%22N%20%20%2036%C2%B051'2%22E

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