LATEST: Video — Downed Regime Pilot Questioned by Insurgents Near Kweires Airport in Aleppo Province


Audio Analysis: Will Obama’s Strategy “Degrade” the Islamic State? — Scott Lucas with the BBC
A 1st Test if Obama is Serious — “4,000 Insurgents Move to Jordan for Training”

Taking the decision he pushed aside a year ago, President Obama has authorized US airstrikes inside Syria.

See Syria & Iraq Video: Obama Speech — “Degrade and Destroy” the Islamic State
Iraq Daily, Sept 11: Obama Deploys More Forces for “Eradicating Cancer” of Islamic State

The target is not the Syrian military, who carried out the chemical weapons attacks of August 2013 that almost brought an American response. Instead, the US will be trying to hit the positions of the Islamic State, the jihadists who have expanded their territorial control in northern and eastern Syria.

Obama said in a speech on prime-time TV:

We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are.

That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.

This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.

The President also said the US will step up training and arming of “moderate” Syrian insurgents to fight the Islamic State. He said Saudi Arabia has agreed to provide a base for the initiative.

This summer Obama asked the Congress to authorize $500 million for the training effort. He indicated last night that
he was not expanding that request, but reasserting his earlier call on the legislators.

The US is already involved in coordinating centers in Turkey and Jordan to work with some insurgent factions, with training provided for hundreds of fighters in Qatar. However, for more than two years, the Americans have hesitated over the provision of significant numbers of anti-tank weapons, and they have refused to supply anti-aircraft missiles to challenge the regime’s vital advantage in aerial attacks against the insurgency or its bombings of civilian areas.

Last September, after the regime’s chemical weapons attacks that killed hundreds of civilians near Damascus, Obama pulled back from the delivery of heavy weapons, as well as US airstrikes.

Obama did not explain if and how the US aerial operations will now link to the ongoing 42-month conflict between the Assad regime and the insurgency. He did not call on Assad to step down — a US demand from late 2011 to 2013 — but spoke of strengthening the moderate insurgents to include them in a political settlement.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition welcomed the operations against the Islamic State — who have been fighting Syria’s insurgents since January — but also said a “stable and extremist-free region” required “degrading and ultimately removing the Assad repressive regime”.

The Coalition said the Free Syrian Army “can succeed, but it needs the necessary support that would enable it to form a reliable and well-equipped force”.

Video: Downed Regime Pilot Questioned by Insurgents Near Kweires Airport in Aleppo Province

Insurgents Try To Regain Offensive Near Hama, Take Hilltop Position

Pushed back in their offensive on Hama Military Airport and Hama city, insurgents have tried to regain the initiative, capturing a hilltop on Thursday.

A regime force — primarily made up of Hezbollah, Iranian forces, and Shia militias, rather than Syrian Army troops — took the village of Khattab on Tuesday, following aerial bombardment and shelling.

However, opposition fighters who withdrew re-organized and seized the hilltop of Tel al-Nasiriyah today.

Insurgents have been as close as 2-3 kilometers to Hama Military Airport, just west of Hama city. The airport is one of the regime’s most important bases for transport and bombing operations.

Syria & Iran Criticize Obama Speech About Islamic State

Both the Syrian regime and its Iranian ally have criticized President Obama’s speech promising to “degrade and eventually destroy” the Islamic State.

The Syrian State newspaper al-Thawra warned that unauthorized U.S airstrikes on Syria may trigger the “first sparks of fire” in the region.

In Tehran, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said the coalition against the Islamic State group has “serious ambiguities”. She accused unnamed members of supporting terrorism in Iraq and Syria.

UN Confirms Release of 45 Peacekeepers by Jabhat al-Nusra

The UN has confirmed information from sources (see earlier entry) that 45 peacekeepers have been freed by the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra.

The Fijians, who were seized on August 28 amid insurgent fighting with regime forces, wre handed over to UN Disengagement Observer Force personnel at 2:30 p.m. (1130 GMT).

All the peacekeepers were in good condition, the UN said.

Photo: US Secretary of State Kerry Arrives in Saudi Arabia for Talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry arriving this morning in Riyadh — he is joining members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, for discussions of measures against the Islamic State:


Reports: Jabhat al-Nusra Releases 45 UN Peacekeepers

Sources report that the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra has agreed to release 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers, seized on August 28 amid an insurgent advance in Quneitra Province in southwest Syria.

The Fijians are part of a UN force monitoring the demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria. More than 70 Filipino peacekepers, surrounded by Jabhat al-Nusra as insurgents took the last border crossing, were able to evacuate Syria earlier this month.

Confusion Over Powerful Cousin of Assad: Fired or Promoted?

There is uncertainty this morning over the position of Hafez Makhlouf, a cousin of President Assad, after claims that he was fired.

A pro-regime outlet said the reports that Makhlouf was dismissed for illegal actions were untrue. It asserted he has been promoted from Colonel to General and re-assigned to a new intelligence post.

A leading activist on Twitter reported on Wednesday that Makhlouf had been dismissed after a dispute with the President:

Free Syrian Army & Kurdish Militia Form 1st Joint Operations Room

For the first time, Free Syrian Army units, Islamic Front fighters, and the Kurdish militia YPG have agreed to form a joint operations room.

The two sides have united in “Euphrates Volcano” to fight the Islamic State across northern and eastern Syria:

Activists: Regime Airstrikes Kill 18 in Douma, Northeast of Damascus

The opposition Shaam News Network says 18 people were killed on Wednesday by regime airstrikes on Douma, northeast of Damascus:


Insurgents Claim Breakthrough in West Ghouta, South of Damascus

Insurgents are claiming a significant advance in West Ghouta, the area south of Damascus.

The opposition fighters say they have broken a long-standing regime siege on parts of West Ghouta, lifting a media blackout to post video:

If true, the success has implications beyond the breaking of the Syrian military’s “surrender or starve” campaign. It would link the insurgents of West Ghouta with those who hold territory in Dara’a Province in southern Syria.

Dara’a in turn is linked to Quneitra Province in the southwest, where the opposition has been advancing in a months-long offensive.

Video from the recent capture of Kafr Nasij, a strategic link between Dara’a and Quneitra: