The threat level update is in stark contrast to a British official who stated that there was no increased threat to coalition. Relations between the US and Iran have become extremely strained, especially since Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal with the country.
Reports of torture and deaths in Syria’s prisons have been surfacing for years, but leader Bashar al-Assad has dismissed them as the exaggerations of opponents or as aberrations that occur in every country during a time of war. However, one independent watchdog has a list of nearly 128,000 names of people who have never emerged from the Syrian prison system, and that’s likely an undercount.
Russian forces together with Assad’s Syrian forces began escalating their attack on Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria. While Putin says a full-on attack on Idlib is “impractical”, an increased number of air strikes is meant to weaken the rebels’ resolve and to put pressure on Turkey to stop supporting the rebels.
The Syrian army has made an advance into the rebels’ last major stronghold in Syria after massive bombardments that began late last month. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has recaptured most of the country from rebels since Russia joined the war on his side in 2015, and the coalition seems to be close to a total victory.
Dozens civilians have been killed in government-led air raids in rebel-held towns on the outskirts of Syria’s Aleppo province, as well as in villages across Idlib province – the last rebel-held stronghold in the country. Three women and three children lost their lives in a raid that struck a villages south of Idlib.
Syrian government forces and their Russian allies intensified their air offensive on Saturday in the rebel-held city of Idlib and the neighbouring province of Hama. The widening campaign killed and wounded dozens and forced thousands to flee their homes. The UN humanitarian coordinator said schools, health facilities, and residential areas have been hit and the government forces are employing the worst barrel bombing in at least 15 months.
The village of Jinwar, Kurdish for “women’s land,” was built as a refuge for Syrian women and their children fleeing domestic abuse and the horrors of civil war. All Syrian women and children are welcome, regardless of religion, ethnicity, and political views. “Jinwar is a response to every person who thinks of violating a woman’s freedom, or sees the woman as the weaker sex in the society, or that she can’t manage her life or manage her children,” said resident Fatma Emin, whose husband was killed by ISIS.
The Assad regime is targeting health facilities, bakeries, schools and civilian settlements in northwestern Syria’s opposition-held city of Idlib, a human rights watchdog said Thursday. According to a new report released by Amnesty International, the Syrian regime, backed by Russia, has escalated its airstrikes and artillery attacks on heavily-populated areas.
U.S.-backed forces said they had captured Islamic State’s last shred of territory in eastern Syria at Baghouz on Saturday, ending its territorial rule over a self-proclaimed caliphate after years of fighting. Even as the soldiers celebrated, the shooting and mortar fire continued and an SDF commander warned that the coming phase in the struggle, with jihadist sleeper cells plotting mayhem, might be even harder.
Islamic State faces final territorial defeat as the U.S.-backed Syrian force battling the jihadists said on Saturday it was closing in on the jihadists’ last bastion near the Iraqi border, capping four years of efforts to roll back the group.
America’s European allies have unanimously declined to stay in Syria once the US pulls out. Meanwhile, Russia has proposed allowing Assad to simply take over the area now controlled by the US-led coalition once the troops leave. “No one, including the Kurds and the Turks, thinks the regime coming into the northeast is a good idea,” a senior administration official said.
Failing to ease the concerns of lawmakers over pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, acting Sec. of Defense Patrick Shanahan was blasted by U.S. lawmakers in Munich. Sen. Graham called him an adversary, while another said they lost confidence in Shanahan. Lawmakers are concerned that pulling U.S. troops out of Syria would harm American interests in the region.
The U.N. has expressed concern about the fate of some 200 families reportedly trapped in the last tiny area of Syria still held by the Islamic State group. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place, as they are also continuously subjected to intense bombardment by U.S.-led coalition forces and allied Syrian fighters.
Donald Trump has demanded via tweet that European countries take back and put on trial hundreds of ISIS fighters who have been captured in Syria. He warned that as ISIS is “ready to fall,” more than 800 prisoners could make their way to Europe. “The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them,” he said. The UK has already indicated that it will seek to prevent the return of ISIS fighters, but it will investigate and potentially prosecute those who make it back.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said Friday that Donald Trump should ask European countries to send troops to establish a buffer zone in northeast Syria along Turkey’s southern border. Graham said U.S. authorities discussed the issue in detail with Trump, who left the door open for leaving a certain number of American soldiers in the war-torn country.
President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria has triggered a scramble among international powers and local forces to figure out how to fill the potentially destabilizing vacuum the Americans will leave behind. But as the diplomacy drags on, it is becoming clear that there is no apparent arrangement that will satisfy the concerns and agendas of all the parties involved.
Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that ISIS will lose all the territory it once controlled by next week. “It should be formally announced sometime, probably next week, that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate,” Trump said. He also said the U.S. will continue to fight remnants of the extremist organization despite his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria over the objections of some of his most senior national security advisers.
“Assad is not the enemy of the United States because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the United States,” she said during an appearance on MSNBC. When confronted about Assad’s slaughter of his own people, the presidential hopeful refused to give a straightforward answer and only said that it’s important to “talk about all these things” but added that it’s also “important to talk about how our military is being used.”
Senior Iranian officials reportedly called on the Trump administration to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Iran also reaffirmed its commitment to supporting Assad in Syria. “Whether they want to or not, the Americans must leave Syria,” Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said. Trump’s priorities certainly seem to align with those of the Iranian regime.
U.S. Central Command Commander General Joseph Votel said that he was not consulted about the president’s decision to withdraw from Syria before Donald Trump made the announcement. Votel also confirmed that ISIS has not been defeated, bucking Trump, who has continually stated the opposite.
“Trump just jeopardized negotiations to keep a U.S. military contingent in Iraq and endangered the safety of the troops who are already there. Yet, for all his anti-Iran animus, he is handing Iran the one-third of Syria that its proxies do not already control. It’s dangerous to have a president who truly does not know what he is talking about.”
“ISIS may conduct opportunistic attacks on US personnel as they withdraw but will leverage the event as a ‘victory’ in its media,” the Pentagon report said, citing information obtained from US Central Command. The report also states that the Islamic State is likely to regain territory as the result of the hasty US withdrawal.
Donald Trump acknowledged the possibility that ISIS and other terror groups could regain strength in Syria and Afghanistan if he withdraws troops and noted that he would send U.S. forces back if they did. “We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly, and I’m not leaving,” Trump said.
Marie Colvin, a legendary war correspondent, was killed in Homs when a regime bomb struck the press HQ she was working out of. A U.S. court has now found Assad guilty of the “unconscionable attack.”
Following the newest advance, al-Qaida now controls a territory the size of Lebanon. The offensive highlighted the growing threat posed by al-Qaida at a time when its rival, the Islamic State group, is on the verge of defeat, and the U.S. is preparing to withdraw its 2,000 troops from Syria.
“[T]he U.S. military is left to mitigate the damage of Trump’s recklessness while completing a dangerous withdrawal at the same time. The results have already been deadly for U.S. troops. Our partners — not to mention thousands of Syrian civilians — will suffer greatly because of America’s dishonorable actions. But there’s one thing Congress can do: Pass legislation to drastically increase sanctions on the Bashar al-Assad regime and those who do business with it. The House on Tuesday passed the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act of 2019. Now the Senate must follow.”
“Social conservatives and nativists appear determined to deny the United States the human capital it needs to defend itself. Highly skilled female service members such as Shannon Kent and foreign-born interpreters such as Ghadir Taher are some of the United States’ most valuable and underappreciated weapons systems. We should honor them and make it easier, rather than harder, to utilize volunteers like them in the future.”
Suleiman al-Afari described the terrorist group’s successful attempts to make sulfur mustard, a chemical weapon that inflicted tens of thousands of casualties during World War I, as part of an ambitious effort to create weapons and delivery systems to defend ISIS territory and terrorize its opponents. Weapons created by ISIS were used in dozens of attacks on soldiers and civilians in Iraq and Syria, inflicting hundreds of casualties.
While no U.S. forces appear to have been seriously injured in the attack, it was the second bombing aimed at a U.S. convoy in Syria in less than a week. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack once again.
The targets included munition storage facilities, an intelligence site, and a military training camp. The strikes were in response to a surface-to-surface rocket that Iranian forces fired toward Israel on Sunday that was intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system. The IDF rarely admits carrying out attacks inside Syria.
In a phone call on Sunday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey told Donald Trump that Turkey is ready to take over security in Syria’s Manbij. Manbij is currently controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia allied to the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG. Erdogan and Trump discussed creating a safe zone in the area, which Turkey wants to be cleared of Kurds — a likely point of contention between the two countries.
The remains of four Americans killed earlier this week by a suicide bomber in Syria were returned to the U.S. on Saturday. The dignified transfer took place at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The president, secretary of state, and acting secretary of defense were all in attendance.
Brett McGurk, formerly the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, who resigned in December, writes: “[Donald Trump] vowed to ‘knock the hell out of ISIS.’ His recent choices, unfortunately, are already giving the Islamic State — and other American adversaries — new life.”
“The veneer of security is dependent on the delicate balance of powers with a presence here. Americans. Kurds. The Turks. The regime and Russia. Many fear that the American withdrawal will upend that tenuous balance and create a power vacuum, an opportunity for ISIS to return.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham placed some blame for the ISIS attack in Syria on Donald Trump, stating that his decision to withdraw from Syria “set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy.” Going further, Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin reported, “A senior foreign diplomat tells Fox News, ‘This attack today is a direct result of the announcement made by President Trump that U.S. forces are pulling out.'”
Despite the chaos the decision has caused internationally and the pleas of lawmakers alarmed by the troubling foreign policy change, Donald Trump told a group of Republican senators Wednesday evening that he is sticking with his plan to draw down U.S. forces in Syria and Afghanistan.
National security analyst Peter Bergen writes, “The suicide attack that killed four Americans, including two U.S. soldiers, on Wednesday in Manbij, Syria, is a vivid reminder of the confused and confusing state of U.S. policy in Syria, a confusion that has been engendered almost entirely by President Donald Trump.”