Syria: On February 22, Russia and the United States reached an agreement on a ceasefire in Syria. The ceasefire took effect on February 27 and is generally holding across the country despite reported minor violations.
- IS senior leader Abdul Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli ‘killed in US raid in Syria’
— Gabriel Baznik (@gabebaznik) 16 mars 2016
The US has announced that it has killed a number of leading Islamic State (IS) militants in the past week, including the purported second-in-command.
However, NBC News earlier reported he was killed during a raid by US special forces in Syria on Thursday morning.
The ethnic Turkmen was born in 1957 or 1959 in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which has been controlled by IS since 2014, according to the US.
He joined al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) - a precursor of IS - in 2004 under the leadership of the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, serving as his deputy and the leader in Mosul.
After his release from an Iraqi prison in early 2012, he joined IS forces in Syria.
US Defence officials said the troops landed in helicopters and lay in wait as Qaduli drove past them in a car.
There was an attempt to capture Qaduli alive, but the situation escalated and the militant and three other people in the vehicle were killed, the officials added.
- Syrian army captures parts of ISIL-held Palmyra
Syrian state TV has said that the army recaptured major parts of the historic and strategic city of Palmyra as battles rage between Syrian army troops and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters.
— RT (@RT_com) 26 mars 2016
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) 26 mars 2016
“The army units combed the hill after destroying the last hideouts of ISIS terrorist organisation and dismantled the explosive devices left behind by its members,” SANA reported on their website.
SANA also reported that the Syrian army captured al-Qubour valley and al-Qusour Mountains, located 3km west of Palmyra city.
Good morning from Palmyra; it is already turning out to be a very violent day https://t.co/mCkOvfFaIq
— Leith Abou Fadel (@leithfadel) 26 mars 2016
- Turkish officials: Europe wanted to export extremists to Syria
According to the enlgish The Guardian, Turkish officials have accused European governments of attempting to export their Islamic extremist problem to Syria, saying the EU has failed to secure its own borders or abide by pledges to share intelligence and cooperate in fighting the jihadist threat.
The failures were outlined by Turkish officials to the Guardian through several documented instances of foreign fighters leaving Europe while travelling on passports registered on Interpol watchlists, arriving from European airports with luggage containing weapons and ammunition, and being freed after being deported from Turkey despite warnings that they have links to foreign fighter networks.
On Wednesday the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, one of the bombers at Brussels Zaventem airport, had been detained in Gaziantep in June of last year over suspicions that he intended to travel to Syria as a foreign fighter. Though Belgian authorities were informed of his arrest, they told Turkey that they had no evidence that he had terrorism links and did not request his extradition. He was deported to the Netherlands before returning to Belgium.
Ankara had also warned French authorities about Omar Ismail Mostefai, whose name turned up in an investigation of a cell of French nationals suspected of terrorism links that ran from late 2014 to the summer of 2015, according to a senior Turkish official. Mostefai was one of the Isis militants who stormed the Bataclan concert hall in November last year.
Jordan begins covert operations against IS in Syria
Jordan sent troops to retake a key Syria-Iraqi border crossing from Islamic State fighters in support of a wider campaign against the militant group in Syria, Middle East Eye can reveal.
King Abdullah II revealed the preparation of two special forces battalions for the covert action during a briefing in January to top-level US congressional members, including John McCain and Paul Ryan, telling the politicians that troops with “some balls” were needed to fight IS, according to a detailed account of the meeting according to the Midde East Eye online site.
THERE IS NO RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL FROM SYRIA
With characteristic deadpan delivery, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the sudden withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria earlier this week, declaring their campaign a success. Before the day was through, Russian aircraft and crews were already departing from Hmeymim air base in Latakia.
Russian sources indicate that Russia is withdrawing Su-25 strike aircraft and Su-34 bombers from Syria; while it is leaving some Su-24 bombers and Mi-24 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, as well as Su-30SM and Su-35 multirole fighters. It seems likely the number of aircraft present will be reduced by half, close to the original numbers Russia fielded in Syria in October 2015. The remaining aircraft will continue to operate over Syria, and in fact have conducted strikes in recent days in support of Syrian army efforts to retake Palmyra from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
This means that, according to the Pentagon, they’re focusing on ISIL for the first time. Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov also stated that Russian aircraft will be striking ISIL and al-Nusra Front, the implication being that combat operations will continue. Indeed, while some of Russia’s tactical aviation has left, it has been replaced with newly arrived Ka-52 and Mi-28N helicopters. These more advanced helicopters will provide close support to Syrian forces, and also undergo combat exploitation as part of Russia’s effort to test new weapon systems in field conditions. Russia’s naval squadron shows no signs of leaving the eastern Mediterranean, though the total number of ships may be decreased since the pace of Russian operations is bound to decline.
The “withdrawal” announcement is not about how Russia leaves, but about how it stays in Syria. This gives Moscow political leverage with Damascus in the upcoming Geneva talks. Putin no doubt wants Syrian President Bashar Assad to accept the compromise they reach at the negotiating table, and abandon any ambitions to reconquer all of Syria.
Iran deploys Army Special Forces to Syria and Iraq
A senior commander in Iran’s Army told reporters on Mar. 23 that Special Forces would be deployed as “advisors” to Syria and Iraq. This would mark the first time that Army forces – in this case, commandos and snipers of the Rapid Response Battalions – will have operated outside Iranian borders since the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.
Iran’s decision to integrate Army special forces into major foreign operations underscore its commitment to hone its expeditionary capabilities. In fact, the Army’s involvement in Syria may have begun several months ago, as the head of its ground forces did not deny a report of an Army helicopter spotted flying from Iraq to Syria in December.
- Mosul Mayor Confirms Daesh Militants Fleeing From Iraq to Syria
Mayor of the city of Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province in northern Iraq, Hussein Ali Khajem told Sputnik on Friday that Iraqi soldiers and local militias managed to repel Daesh terrorists from four Iraqi settlements: Tal al-Shair, Dwaizat, Al Makuk and Sultan Abdullah.
“Iraqi Armed Forces have been actively liberating villages between the Upper Zab and Lower Zab [the names of the rivers flowing in northern Iraq] from Daesh militants and are moving to the western side of Mosul,” Khajem said.
At the same time, Peshmerga fighters are struggling to liberate the territories to the east of Mosul in order to encircle the city captured by Daesh.
As explained by the mayor, Peshmerga are doing well, but slower than the Iraqi Army, as they have to fight against a larger number of Daesh terrorists constantly organizing sniper raids and suicide bombings against Kurdish troops
— Paul D (@Paulmd199) 16 mars 2016
- Iraqi army says border area with Syria taken from ISIS
Iraqi Yazidi and tribal fighters have taken a border area in the Sinjar region next to Syria from Islamic State, cutting a key supply line for the militants, Iraq’s military said on Friday.
The fighters took control of the Um al-Diban and Um Jurais districts near the Syrian border, according to a military statement read on state TV.
A mixed force of Iraqi Kurdish pershmergas and Yazidis in November recaptured the Yazidi town of Sinjar where Islamic State committed atrocities against religious minorities.
Last month a Syrian Kurdish-led force captured the strategic town of Shadadi, on the Syrian side of the border with Sinjar.
Libya’s civil war is a complex web of militias and parliaments vying for control of a fractured country that possesses Africa’s largest oil reserves.
The House of Representatives (HoR) is based in the east of the country and it is backed militarily by the Libyan National Army, which is lead by Khalifa Haftar, a former Gaddafi general who became a rebel leader in 2011.
— Geopolitical Info (@GIS_Info) 25 mars 2016
They have been fighting for control of the country against the Misratan-led alliance of Libya Dawn - a hodgepodge of militias that control the capital Tripoli, and protect the General National Congress (GNC), a parliament which the HoR officially replaced after elections in June 2014.
ISIS has seized on this political vacuum to take over territory, including the central town of Sirte, where Gaddafi was born.
UN-brokered talks have attempted to form a unity government to end the fighting and strike a strong front to stop IS. In 2015, a new administration, the Government of National Accord, was agreed and has since been established but not endorsed officially by Libya’s internationally recognised parliament, the HoR
- UK special forces’ operations in Libya confirmed by leaked briefing
UK special forces have been operating in Libya since January, according to a leaked memo from a confidential briefing delivered to US lawmakers by the king of Jordan.
King Abdullah met congressional leaders in January, briefing them on a range of strategic matters relating to the fight against Isis in Libya, the civil war in Syria and the threat posed by al-Shabaab militants in Somalia.
Leaked notes from the meeting state that Jordan’s own special forces “will be imbedded with British SAS” in Libya.
- Libya’s Tripoli Government Declares a State of Emergency
Libya’s Islamist-backed government in the capital, Tripoli, has declared a state of emergency after reports that four members of the rival United Nations’ unity government have arrived.
In a statement, the so-called National Salvation government in Tripoli said Thursday that it tasked the Defense Ministry, militias and security apparatus to “increase security patrols and checkpoints.”
The Tripoli government — one of Libya’s three governments and which is backed by militias — has warned before of the United Nations’ attempts to install a government in the capital.
The west has pinned hope for resolving Libya’s chaos and blocking the Islamic State group’s growth there on the unity government, which is brokered by the United Nations and headed by Fayez Serraj, who is yet to enter the capital later this month.
- Tunisia reopens Libya border after attack on nearby town
Tunisia reopened its border crossings with Libya on Tuesday after a two-week closure in response to a deadly militants attack on a town near the frontier, the interior ministry said.
The move came as Tunisia hosted talks with other countries neighbouring Libya on the threat posed by the growing ISIS presence in the lawless North African nation.
Both the Ras Jedir crossing on the Mediterranean coast and the Dehiba crossing in the mountainous desert interior reopened at 0600 GMT, ministry spokesman Yasser Mesbah said.