Thursday 24 December 2015

News from Syria and Iraq - 12/23/2015

Turkish forces barely regrouped, far from announced partial withdrawal – Iraqi defense spokesman

© Aris Messinis
© Aris Messinis / AFP

24 December, 2015

Despite the announcement of a “partial withdrawal” of Turkish forces from a training camp near the ISIS-controlled northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Ankara has done nothing to follow up on its empty statements, the Iraqi defense ministry says.

In fact there is no Turkish troop withdrawal. There are just statements from Anakara,” said Iraqi defense ministry spokesman Nasir Nouri Mohammed, TASS reported. According to the spokesman, Ankara’s forces “only slightly relocated near the same positions.”

This cannot even be called a “partial withdrawal,” Nouri Mohammed said, let alone a full withdrawal of the Turkish contingent.

Tensions between the two countries have increased dramatically since Turkey reinforced its military deployment in Iraq with about 150 soldiers backed by artillery and around 25 tanks in a base near the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL)-controlled northern Iraqi city of Mosul on December 4.

The Iraqi government considered this action as an hostile act in violation of its sovereignty and demanded the immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops.
Nouri Mohammed expressed hope that Turkey would follow up on its promises and will proceed to the “actual withdrawal” of its contingent. Yet, the spokesman reiterated, “no concrete steps” have been taken by Ankara so far.

On Sunday, the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced the withdrawal of military troops from Iraq to reduce tensions following international criticism. The decision to pull out troops also came after Iraq brought the issue to the United Nations Security Council.

Yet despite the announcement made by Erdogan on December 20, Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday that the troops will remain in Iraq to fight IS militants. According to the PM, Turkish training and equipment mission for Iraq will continue until IS-held Mosul is liberated.

Within this framework and in line with Iraqi authorities’ demands, we have been providing training and equipment to both the Peshmerga and the local Mosul volunteers. Our support will continue until Mosul is liberated,” Davutoglu said, Hurriyet Daily News reported.

Addressing national assembly members on Tuesday, Turkish defense minister Ismet Yilmaz said that IS is a direct security threat for Turkey.

Ensuring Iraq’s stability passes from neutralizing Daesh [the Arabic name for IS]. This can only be possible through the recapture of Mosul, which has, in the first place, strategic importance,” he said.

IS captured Iraq's second-largest city in 2014. The United States and its allies have been carrying out air strikes against Islamist militants in Iraq since August 2014, but are yet to produce any tangible results.


Over the past six days, Russian warplanes have conducted 302 sorties and hit 1,093 terrorist targets in Syria.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, from December 18 to December 23, Russian jets have conducted airstrikes in the provinces of Idlib, Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor, Hama and Homs.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said that Russian warplanes destroyed a terrorist training camp in the Syrian province of Idlib hosting fighters from Turkey and CIS states.

Russian Su-34 bombers destroyed a major terrorist training camp in the Idlib province. A large group of experienced instructors from neighboring states had been stationed in the camp. Information about this camp, where the majority of terrorists arriving from Turkey were citizens of CIS countries, was received from representatives of the Syrian patriotic opposition about a week ago.”

Also, Russian Su-34 bombers have destroyed two oil storage facilities and dozens of fuel pumps in the Deir ez-Zor province.
Russian aircraft continued conducting strikes against illegal oilfields controlled by terrorists in the Syrian Arab Republic. Su-34 bombers destroyed two oil storage bases, three oil-extraction plants along with dozens of fuel pumps located there.”

Moreover, six off-road vehicles equipped with heavy machine guns and three militants’ trucks were destroyed by Russian warplanes in the Homs province. And an Ahrar ash-Sham militant group’s command post was destroyed in the Aleppo province,


Germany has reportedly removed two Patriot missile air defense complexes and 250 personnel from Turkish territory. The Patriot complexes were loaded on a Danish ship which left the Turkish port of Iskenderun on Tuesday.
© Osman Orsal / Reuters
© Osman Orsal / Reuters
In January 2013, 6 NATO Patriot complexes – 2 units from each of Germany, the Netherlands and the US – were delivered to Turkey to guard the border with Syria. Independent experts and Syrian officials linked this move with plans to establish a no-fly zone in northernt Syria. In September 2014 the Dutch Patriot systems were replaced with Spanish ones.
In 2015, American and German Patriot missile systems have been withdrawn from Turkey. According to the NATO’s information, Spanish Patriots will stay in Turkey for one more year.
It’s clear that some NATO member states are seeking to divide themselves from an ‘ally’ which makes business with ISIS and is roughly trying to provoke an open military conflict in the region.
In turn, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg promised that NATO will deploy more aircraft and command ships to Turkey to boost the ‘country’s defense capabilities’. However, there are no confirmed information which country will contribute to the Turkey’s ‘defense capabilities’.


France is reportedly preparing for a military intervention in Libya to ‘fight ISIS’.
France military
The French government is preparing for intervention in Libya in the first half of 2016, Le Figaro reported on Dec. 23 citing unnamed French defense officials said.
The official reason of intervention is ‘to fight ISIS’.
According to the report, France is seeking to build a coalition with its European allies. Italy has reportedly already agreed to participate. Discussions are also ongoing with the United Kingdom and some North Africa and Gulf Arab states such as Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt.

Iraqi Defense Minister Expects Ramadi Victory within 2 Weeks

Iraq’s defense minister predicted Saturday that national security forces would retake full control of the city of Ramadi by the end of the year.

I met with the Joint Operations Command and they confirmed to me that we will regain all of the city of Ramadi by the end of this month,” Khaled al-Obeidi told reporters in Baghdad.

Earlier this month, forces led by Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism service retook Al-Tameem, a southwestern neighborhood of Ramadi from the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) takfiri group.

The offensive in Al-Tameem this month marked a significant step in long-delayed efforts to recapture the city, around 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Baghdad and capital of the vast province of Anbar.

The reason the battle took so long was to avoid casualties among our forces and also to avoid civilian casualties,” Obeidi said. “There are still many civilians in the city.”

Terrorists still holed up in the city centre and using tunnels to avoid air strikes may number no more than 300, according to military officials.

ISIL fighters attacking from northwest of Ramadi with suicide car bombs attempted to retake control of the key Palestine bridge in recent days but Iraqi forces still have the upper hand.

The city of Ramadi has now been fully isolated, and the Iraqi security forces are beginning to conduct their clearing operations,” the US-led coalition’s Baghdad-based spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren, told reporters on Friday.

He said that ISIL had been using the Euphrates river that runs through Ramadi to supply its gunmen inside the city with men and military equipment.

Control of both sides of the river banks in key areas have significantly reduced the takfiri organization’s ability to re-supply, Warren said.

Breaking: Syrian Army captures the northern farms of Marj Al-Sultan in rural Damascus

On Wednesday evening, the Syrian Arab Army’s 102nd Brigade and the 416th Regiment of the Republican Guard – in coordination with the National Defense Forces (NDF) of Damascus City – imposed full control over the farms that located to the north of the Marj Al-Sultan Military Airport after a violent battle with the Islamist rebels of Jabhat Al-Nusra (Syrian Al-Qaeda group) and Jaysh Al-Islam (Army of Islam).

According to a battlefield journalist in Damascus City, the Syrian Arab Army’s Republican Guard forces have reversed the Islamist rebel gains near the Marj Al-Sultan Military Airport and advanced north towards the city of Harasta in the East Ghouta region of Damascus City.

Currently, intense clashes are still ongoing between the Islamist rebels and the Syrian Armed Forces near the P-35 Radar Base; however, it appears that Jabhat Al-Nusra and Jaysh Al-Islam are holding on for dear life, as the pro-government forces continue to advance through this rough terrain in rural Damascus.

Earlier this week, Jabhat Al-Nusra and Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham attempted to launch a large-scale offensive to retake the Marj Al-Sultan Military Airport, but they were quickly repelled by the Syrian Armed Forces after a short battle that ended with the Islamst rebels retreating; this attack left several Islamist combatants dead.

Syrian Army advances north towards Aleppo City while Hezbollah pushes south to the Idlib Governorate

The Syrian Arab Army’s 4th Mechanized Division has recently shifted their attention to the provincial capital of the Aleppo Governorate after spending the last two months fighting alongside Hezbollah and Harakat Al-Nujaba (Iraqi paramilitary) to cutoff the imperative Islamist rebel supply route from the Idlib Governorate.

Following the capture of Khan Touman, Hezbollah and the Syrian Armed Forces split apart, with the former advancing south of the strategic Aleppo-Damascus Highway (M-5 Highway) while the latter pushed north towards the large towns of Al-Rashideen and Khan Al-‘Assal that border the southern sector of the provincial capital.

With Hezbollah and Harakat Al-Nujaba pressuring the Islamist rebels of Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham, Harakat Nouriddeen Al-Zinki, and Jabhat Al-Nusra (Syrian Al-Qaeda group) along the Aleppo-Damascus Highway, the Syrian Arab Army’s 43rd and 154th Brigades of the 4th Mechanized Division diverted their attention Al-Rashiddeen, where they successfully cutoff all supply routes to the town on Wednesday.

Khan Al-‘Assal and Al-Rashiddeen are situated just north of the recently captured town of Khan Touman and just south of the Al-‘Amariyah District of the provincial capital.

Two years ago, the Islamist rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) executed several Syrian Arab Army soldiers inside of Khan Al-‘Assal, marking one of the largest mass executions of the war.

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