U.S. Urges Rebels to Fight Only ISIS
The United States-led coalition has told its local Syrian allies that they must only fight the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and not the Syrian government, the BBC reported.
“We have made it very clear time and again our goal in Syria and Iraq is to fight ISIS and fight ISIS only [and] we’ve asked [our partner forces] to be committed to that same mission,” coalition spokesperson U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon told reporters in Washington on Thursday.
The latest announcement, which came only days after President Donald Trump halted a covert CIA aid program for Syria’s battered opposition, has led one Washington-backed rebel group to split off from coalition forces and pursue independent operations against the Syrian government.
Washington has responded by ceasing its support for Shohada Al Quartyan, a group comprised of local fighters from the Hamad Desert who had been combating ISIS in southern Syria, according to CNN.
“We are in the process of ceasing our support,” Dillon said. “We are going to retrieve some of the equipment we provided them to fight ISIS.” A U.S. military official told CNN on Thursday, however, that the group’s leader was refusing to return weapons.
Thursday’s announcement marks the latest sign of declining U.S. support to opposition forces battling Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian Troops Inch Toward ISIS Stronghold in Homs
Syrian troops and allied paramilitaries have advanced within miles of the last major town held by ISIS in Homs province, Reuters reported on Thursday.
Pro-government forces have been advancing toward the ISIS-held town of al-Sukhnah for months, in a bid to capture the area and push toward the administrative frontier of Deir Ezzor.
They had moved within 5 miles (8km) of the militant stronghold on Wednesday evening after capturing a number of positions southwest of the town, an unnamed security source told Reuters.
According to the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government forces had advanced within 3 miles (5km) of al-Sukhnah, under the cover of Russian warplanes and allied militant groups, Reuters also reported.
The capture of the town would pave the way for pro-government forces to storm Deir Ezzor, one of the last major ISIS strongholds in Syria.
Russia Signs Syria Base Agreement
President Vladimir Putin approved an agreement with the Syrian government on Wednesday allowing Russia to keep its airbase in Latakia Governorate for roughly half a century, Reuters reported.
Putin signed a law ratifying the agreement after the two chambers of Russia’s parliament had backed the bill earlier this month. The original deal, brokered in Damascus in January, sets out the conditions under which Moscow can use its Hmeimim airbase.
Official documents seen by Reuters show that Russian forces will now be allowed to deploy at the base – which has been at the heart of Moscow’s military operations in Syria since 2015 – for the next 49 years with the option of extending the agreement for a further 25 years.
- Foreign Affairs: The Problem With Syria’s Demographics
- Stratfor: Syria: The Road to Nowhere
- Al Jazeera: U.N. Struggles to Deliver Humanitarian Aid in Syria
- Syria Direct: Bribes, Graft and the Cost of Moving Cash in Syria’s War Economy
- The New York Times: Animals, Abandoned and Starving, Are Rescued From Zoo in Syria