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ISIS ‘retreating on almost every front’

ISIS buckles as Iraq army captures more of Mosul and as Syrian army and Kurdish militia advance on Raqqa.

Alexander Mercouris

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Since January  the tide has turned dramatically against ISIS on almost every front

1.  Mosul

The Iraqi army began its operation to liberate Mosul in October.  Contrary to initial expectations it encountered fierce resistance and the first part of the operation, which was focused on liberating Mosul east of the Tigris proved exceptionally difficult.  Eventually eastern Mosul was liberated but only after many weeks of fierce fighting and after the Iraqi army suffered heavy casualties.

When the Iraqi army recently launched its offensive to liberate Mosul west of the Tigris it was assumed that ISIS would offer similarly fierce resistance.  Moreover the layout of western Mosul, with its maze of narrow streets and its overwhelmingly Sunni population some of whom are believed to sympathise with ISIS, was expected to favour the organisation.

In the event the Iraqi army seems to be advancing in western Mosul much faster than anyone expected.  Several districts of western Mosul have already been freed from ISIS and the Iraqi army appears now to be within reach of the crucial buildings in the centre of the city where ISIS is believed to have its headquarters.  Meanwhile it seems that ISIS fighters in the city are now completely surrounded.

A possible explanation for ISIS’s relative failure in western Mosul is that its leader Ibrahim Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (“the Caliph Ibrahim”) is believed (according to US military reports) to have fled the city just before the ISIS fighters there were cut off.  It is possible that the flight of their leader has demoralised the 4,000 of so ISIS fighters believed to be still left in the city.

2.  Raqqa

Whilst most media attention has been on the fight for Mosul, ISIS’s position in northern Syria has collapsed following a triumphant advance of the Syrian army eastwards from Aleppo.  A few days ago the Syrian army reached Lake Assad – Syria’s largest freshwater lake – and the Euphrates river for the first time since 2012, further cutting off lines of advance by the Turkish army towards Raqqa, and putting the Syrian army for the first time in years within striking range of Raqqa itself.

In token of their victory the Syrian troops filled two water bottles with Euphrates war, which they have gifted to the Russian military by way of thanks for the Russian air support which made their victory possible.  The bottles are being sent to Moscow where they may be presented to President Putin himself.

The liberation of this huge area by the Syrian army and its arrival at the shores of Lake Assad has had the important incidental benefit of securing Aleppo’s water supply, which is provided by Lake Assad.  Since the liberation of eastern Aleppo in December ISIS has been trying to cut off Aleppo’s water supply, in particular by turning off a key water filtration plant treating the waters of Lake Assad.  The filtration plant is now under Syrian control and for the first time since the Syrian army was driven from the area during the Jihadi offensive known as Operation Damascus in the summer of 2012 Aleppo’s water supply has been fully secured.

Meanwhile US and Russian backed Kurdish forces, supported by 500 US Special Forces and 400 US Marines, are also pressing their advance on Raqqa.  It seems that Raqqa is now essentially surrounded and that its communications with ISIS forces in Iraq, in central Syria and in Deir Ezzor have been cut off.

There is now a real possibility of a “race to Raqqa” between the Syrian army and the Kurdish militia, whose de facto alliance is far from easy.  One of the purposes of the recent meetings between General Dunford of the US and General Gerasimov or Russia is almost certainly to ensure at least a measure of cooperation between the two.

3.  Central Syria

ISIS’s capture of Palmyra in December proved ephemeral.  The Syrian army backed by Russian Special Forces and the Russian air force recaptured the ancient city a short time ago.  The Syrian army has also been methodically recapturing gas fields in the area.

With ISIS being defeated in Mosul and Raqqa effectively surrounded the prospects of a third ISIS attempt to capture Palmyra now look remote.

4.  Deir Ezzor

The one point where ISIS continues to hold the upper hand is in its siege of the eastern desert city of Deir Ezzor.

During the major ISIS offensive in January ISIS fighters succeeded in cutting Deir Ezzor off from its airport.  Repeated attempts by the Syrian troops in Deir Ezzor to break through to the aid of the Syrian troops defending the airport have so far been unsuccessful.  The reason for this is that with the Syrian troops in Deir Ezzor entirely surrounded and cut off from reinforcement and resupply, the Syrian troops in the city have to husband their men and ammunition, which prevents them from launching the sort of all-out attacks which are needed to restore the situation.

There is some speculation that with ISIS about to lose Mosul, and with its position in Raqqa looking ever more precarious, the organisation is now focusing its remaining resources on capturing Deir Ezzor where it intends to relocate its capital.

The situation in Deir Ezzor therefore continues to be critical, and with the city 200 km from Palmyra over difficult ISIS controlled country and at the operational limit of Russian aircraft flying from western Syria, the success of its defence is far from assured.

Summary

The desperate situation in Deir Ezzor notwithstanding, the situation on the various battlefields shows ISIS coming under increasing pressure and in full retreat.  The organisation is not yet defeated and it still has thousands of fighters.  However with the US and Russia finally working with each other, however discreetly, the forces which are coming together to defeat ISIS – the Syrian army, the Iraqi army, the Kurdish militia, the Iranians, and the airforces and Special Forces of the world’s two military superpowers, the US and Russia – look overwhelming, and the organisation’s days look well and truly numbered.

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U.S. May Impose Sanctions Against Turkey Over S-400 “Threat” To F-35

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

The Duran

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Authored by Al Masdar News:


Turkish officials have repeatedly insisted that Ankara’s purchase of the advanced Russian air defense system poses no threat whatsoever to the NATO alliance. Last month, the Turkish defense ministry announced that delivery of S-400s to Turkey would begin in October 2019.

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform, and may impose sanctions against Ankara, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency has reported, citing a high-ranking source in Washington.

“I can’t say for certain whether sanctions will be imposed on Ankara over the S-400 contract, but the possibility is there. The US administration is not optimistic about this issue,” the source said.

While admitting that Turkey was a sovereign state and therefore had the right to make decisions on whom it buys its weapons from, the source stressed that from the perspective of these weapons’ integration with NATO systems, the S-400 was “problematic.”

The source also characterized the deployment of S-400s in areas where US F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters are set to fly as “a threat,” without elaborating.

Emphasizing that negotiations between Washington and Ankara on the issue were “continuing,” the source said that there were also “positive tendencies” in negotiations between the two countries on the procurement of the Patriot system, Washington’s closest analogue to the S-400 in terms of capabilities.

Designed to stop enemy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles at ranges of up to 400 km and altitudes of up to 30 km, the S-400 is currently the most advanced mobile air defense system in Russia’s arsenal. Russia and India signed a ruble-denominated contract on the delivery of five regiments of S-400s worth $5 billion late last month.

Last week, the Saudi Ambassador to Russia said that talks on the sale of the system to his country were ongoing. In addition to Russia, S-400s are presently operated by Belarus and China, with Beijing expecting another delivery of S-400s by 2020.

Washington has already slapped China with sanctions over its purchase of S-400s and Su-35 combat aircraft in September. India, however, has voiced confidence that it would not be hit with similar restrictions, which the US Treasury has pursued under the 2017 Counter America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

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OPEC Plus: Putin’s move to control energy market with Saudi partnership (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 150.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss OPEC Plus and the growing partnership between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which aims to reshape the energy market, and cement Russia’s leadership role in global oil and gas supply.

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Russia and Saudi Arabia’s ‘long-term relationship’ WILL survive

The Express UK reports that Russia and Saudi Arabia’s ‘long-term relationship’ will not only survive, but grow, regardless of geopolitical turmoil and internal Saudi scandal…as the energy interests between both nations bind them together.

Ties between Saudi Arabia and Vladimir Putin’s Russia have a “long-term relationship” which is strategically beneficial to both of them, and which underlines their position as the world’s most influential oil producers, alongside the United States, an industry expert has said.

Following concerns about too much oil flooding the market, Saudi Arabia on Sunday performed an abrupt u-turn by deciding to reduce production by half a million barrels a day from December.

This put the Middle Eastern country at odds with Russia, which said it was no clear whether the market would be oversupplied next year, with market analysts predicting the country’s oil producing companies likely to BOOST proaction by 300,000 barrels per day.

But IHS Markit vice chairman Daniel Yergin said the decision was unlikely to jeopardise the relationship between the two allies.

The Saudis have faced significant international criticism in the wake of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Speaking to CNBC, Mr Yergin made it clear that Moscow and Riyadh would continue to be closely aligned irrespective of external factors.

He explained: “I think it’s intended to be a long-term relationship and it started off about oil prices but you see it taking on other dimensions, for instance, Saudi investment in Russian LNG (liquefied natural gas) and Russian investment in Saudi Arabia.

“I think this is a strategic relationship because it’s useful to both countries.”

Saudi Arabia and Russia are close, especially as a result of their pact in late 2016, along with other OPEC and non-OPEC producers, to curb output by 1.8 million barrels per day in order to prevent prices dropping too far – but oil markets have changed since then, largely as a result.

The US criticised OPEC, which Saudi Arabia is the nominal leader of, after prices rose.

Markets have fluctuated in recent weeks as a result of fears over a possible drop in supply, as a result of US sanctions on Iran, and an oversupply, as a result of increased production by Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US, which have seen prices fall by about 20 percent since early October.

Saudi Arabia has pumped 10.7 million barrels per day in October, while the figure for Russiaand the US was 11.4 million barrels in each case.

Mr Yergin said: “It’s the big three, it’s Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US, this is a different configuration in the oil market than the traditional OPEC-non-OPEC one and so the world is having to adjust.”

BP Group Chief Executive Bob Dudley told CNBC: “The OPEC-plus agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC producers including Russia and coalition is a lot stronger than people speculate.

“I think Russia doesn’t have the ability to turn on and off big fields which can happen in the Middle East.

“But I fully expect there to be coordination to try to keep the oil price within a certain fairway.”

Markets rallied by two percent on Monday off the back of the , which it justified by citing uncertain global oil growth and associated oil demand next year.

It also suggested  granted on US sanctions imposed on Iran which have been granted to several countries including China and Japan was a reason not to fear a decline in supply.

Also talking to CNBC, Russia’s Oil Minister Alexander Novak indicated a difference of opinion between Russia and the Saudis, saying it was too soon to cut production, highlighting a lot of volatility in the oil market.

He added: “If such a decision is necessary for the market and all the countries are in agreement, I think that Russia will undoubtedly play a part in this.

“But it’s early to talk about this now, we need to look at this question very carefully.”

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Nigel Farage lashes out at Angela Merkel, as Chancellor attends EU Parliament debate (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 17.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at Nigel Farage’s blistering speech, aimed squarely at Angela Merkel, calling out the German Chancellor’s disastrous migrant policy, wish to build an EU army, and Brussels’ Cold War rhetoric with Russia to the East and now the United States to the West.

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