Sunday, April 29, 2018

The War Continues

The ISIL caliphate was crushed in Iraq and is crippled in Syria, but the wars against the ISIL terrorists continues.

With Kurdish forces trickling in from the Turkish front, the coalition offensive against ISIL's remaining territorial control in eastern Syria can continue:

"You'll see a re-energized effort against the middle Euphrates River Valley in the days ahead and against the rest of the geographic caliphate," [U.S. Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, referring to territory held by the group.

In the west, it is damning of the Western world's efforts that the only substantial surviving resistance to Assad is by jihadis:

The Syrian army and its allies engaged in a fierce battle on Saturday with Islamic State fighters in an enclave south of Damascus held by the jihadist group.

And in Iraq, Iraqi forces continue to find ISIL terrorists:

Based in the Hamrin Mountains, the jihadist group is led by Hiwa Chor, who used to belong to al Qaeda in Iraq and later ISIS, BuzzFeed reported on April 1. Chor reportedly did not share ISIS' ambitions of establishing a local caliphate and eventually joined forces with a Turkmen militant from Diyala province.

This "White Flags" terror organization has an estimated 150 to 700 members, and is considered an off-shoot of ISIL (ISIS).

According to a Defense Department briefing, thus far the jihadis in Iraq remain pretty atomized:

You've also seen, in places along the border where Iraqi Security Forces, as in -- in the area near Dashisha, along the border, as terrorists attempt to flee those locations, they are being captured, as well.

So the only two places where they actually control or are even a group of more than what we would consider to be, I think, four or five -- that's what -- something that Prime Minister Abadi had mentioned in his weekly address last week -- is that any of the ISIS elements that the Iraqi Security Forces have encountered or found in Iraq, they have not exceeded four people at any one time.

So that goes to show a -- potentially, a snapshot of what ISIS looks like when they don't hold territory. And, as they attempt to get together and they attempt to conduct attacks, they have been thwarted, largely, throughout Iraq, as an example.

If the jihadis can be kept from operating in larger groups, they will remain a nuisance rather than a real military threat.

When we left Iraq in 2011, the largely defeated and atomized al Qaeda was able to reconstitute without American help to pursue the jihadis and to keep the Iraqi security forces in condition to fight. By 2014, ISIL was a potent force able to take and hold Iraqi territory.

Let's not make the same mistake again. We must stay in Iraq to help our Iraqi allies keep killing jihadis.

It is a lot less expensive in money and lives to fight them they way they are now than when they controlled a proto-state.

PRE-PUBLICATION UPDATE: Strategypage looks at the situation.

One problem is that only the special forces-type Iraqi troops are receptive to Western advisors. We really need to get the Iraqi government to change that. Regular army units need Western help and the militias need to be purged of pro-Iranian elements willing to do Tehran's bidding. Although that's just the beginning of their problems.

Another problem is that the Iraqi operation (engineered by Iran) in October 2017 that pushed the Iraqi Kurds out of Kirkuk and nearby regions is less secure without Kurdish troops, and ISIL is seeking to take advantage.

UPDATE: Syrian forces took territory east of the Euphrates River near the provincial capital that American-backed forces then recaptured:

Syrian government forces on Sunday briefly captured four villages east of the Euphrates River in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour after rare clashes with U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters before losing the area in a counteroffensive by the Kurdish-led force.

This works for the SDF so far. But when Syria has beaten down enemies in the west enough--assuming that an insurgency doesn't replace the territorial control of the civil war stage--Assad will eventually be able to send major formations to the province to bulldoze through any lighter SDF forces.

And that gets closer as more Syrian rebels agree to evacuate positions near Damascus.

This article has a report that coalition jets supported the SDF counter-attack, although saying the "jets" were based in northern Syria makes no sense.

UPDATE: Iranian targets in Syria were struck Sunday, one assumes by Israel:

An opposition source said one of the locations hit was an army base known as Brigade 47 near Hama city, widely known as a recruitment center for Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias who fight alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

An intelligence source who closely follows Syria said it appeared that multiple missile strikes hit several command centers for Iranian-backed militias and there were dozens of injuries and deaths.

The strikes hit weapons warehouses, and further explosions were heard, the source who requested anonymity said.

Could be the Turks, I suppose. Or it could be Israel hitting potential reinforcements for the Lebanon front. Or it oould be Israel knocking back Iran in Syria. Or something else, of course.