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Syrian army “just 700 metres” from ISIS-held Al-Sukhnah as final battle for Deir Ezzor approaches

Syrian army on brink of capturing Al-Sukhnah, bringing closer final decisive battle with ISIS in Deir Ezzor.

Alexander Mercouris

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According to the reliable and well-informed Al-Masdar news agency, the Syrian military is now just 700 metres from the “city gates” of the key ISIS held town of Al-Sukhnah on the road from Palmyra to Deir Ezzor.

Here is Al-Masdar’s latest report

Led by the 5th Corps and 18th Tank Division, the Syrian Arab Army stormed the western outskirts of Al-Sukhnah this morning, while receiving heavy air support from their Russian allies.

According to a military source in Palmyra, the Syrian Arab Army is steadily advancing on the Islamic State stronghold, leaving only 700 meters between their front-lines and the city’s gates.

Despite the recent gains, the Syrian Army has been struggling to break the Islamic State’s main line of defense west of Al-Sukhnah, as the terrorist group uses the rough terrain to their advantage.

It is not clear exactly what “the city gates” of Al-Sukhnah means exactly.  However Al-Sukhnah is an old city with an Ottoman fort, which before the fall of the Ottoman empire used to house an Ottoman garrison.  One way of reading this Al-Masdar report is that the Syrian army has successfully stormed the the town’s western suburbs but that ISIS is holding out in this fort.

An Al-Masdar report of 24th July 2017 reported that Al-Sukhnah was just a week from being liberated by the Syrian army.  It is now clear that this will not happen as ISIS resistance has stiffened as the Syrian army advances deeper into ISIS held territory in Deir Ezzor province, and as the Syrian army – after its whirlwind advances on multiple fronts of the previous weeks – has focused on consolidating its gains by bringing up reinforcements and strengthening its supply lines.

This pattern of lighting advances followed by pauses and consolidations as enemy resistance stiffens is very typical of “blitzkrieg” war, as any student of the history of the Second World War in Europe knows.

The recent slow down in the Syrian army’s offensives into central and eastern Syria is however likely to be only temporary.

On the northern front in southern Raqqa attempts by ISIS to wrest back the initiative from the Syrian by staging ‘do-or-die’ counter-attacks have all ended in failure, with the Syrian army’s elite Tiger Forces – who are leading the Syrian army’s advance in this area – having successfully penetrated into Deir Ezzor province.

The British journalist Robert Fisk has recently toured the Syrian army’s northern front and he has provided a glowing account of its performance there for the British newspaper the Independent, which includes lengthy and highly informative passages likes this one

The highway east from Homs was expected to have been the route of the Syrian attack this month. Hence the vast earth “berms” and defensive sand walls erected by Isis along the length of the road. But for Isis, the now-infamous Syrian army tactic of assaulting its enemies from the rear and flank drove the caliphate from hundreds of square miles of land west of the Euphrates.

General Saleh, the one-legged commander of the Syrian division on the Euphrates – who has adapted this policy many times, along with his fellow officer and friend, Colonel “Tiger” Suheil – says that his forces could, if he wished, be in the centre of Raqqa within five hours “if we decided to do that”. He described how his men had first driven al-Qaeda and Isis from the Sheikh Najjar industrial city outside Aleppo back to the Assad lake, how they had protected the water supply to the city at great loss to their own forces, how they had moved east from the Koyeress airbase to capture Deir Hafer and Meskane and other towns in the Aleppo countryside – and then suddenly surged south east, south of the Euphrates towards Raqqa.

“Our forces are now seven miles from the Euphrates between Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour, 14 miles from the centre of Raqqa and 10 miles from the old Thabqa airbase,” the general almost shouted. “How many Daesh did we kill? I don’t care. I am not interested. Daesh, Nusrah, al-Qaeda, they are all terrorists. Their deaths do not matter. It’s war.”

But, I suggested to General Saleh – because I had been studying my sand-blasted maps and had listened to many a military lecture in Damascus of late – surely his next target would be not Raqqa (already partly invested by American-backed forces) but the huge surrounded Syrian garrison city of Deir ez-Zour with its thousands of trapped civilians.

“Our President has said we will recover every square inch of Syria,” the general replied, repeating the mantra of all Syrian officers of the regime. “Why do you say Deir ez-Zour?” Because, I said, that would release the 10,000 Syrian soldiers in the city to fight on the war front. There was just a hint of a grin on the officer’s face, but then it faded. In fact, I don’t think the Syrians will get involved with the American-supported force fighting for Raqqa – that, after all, was the point of the little “coordination” centre I saw in the desert – but I do believe the Syrian army are heading for Deir ez-Zour. As for the general, of course, he was saying nothing about this. Nor, obviously, did he believe in body counts.

There is, in reality, another intriguing tactic being deployed by the Syrian administration. The local Rif Raqqa governor – “rif” indicates the countryside around a city, not to be confused with the town itself – is now setting up headquarters near General Saleh’s caravan. It’s a real campaign caravan, by the way, which rocks when you step aboard, his office and bedroom combined in one small room, his black walking stick by the bed-head. The local governor, however, is scarcely a mile away, planning the restoration of water and electricity supplies, the financing of public works and relief for refugees.

When I left the area, 29 families – cartloads of children and black-shrouded women and upturned sofas – had just arrived in Rasafeh from Deir ez-Zour to seek the Raqqa governor’s assistance. Another 50 had arrived the previous day. It seemed perfectly obvious that if the Syrian army lets America’s largely Kurdish friends occupy Raqqa, it is going to help the Syrian government civilian administration take over the city by the force of bureaucracy. How would that be for a bloodless victory?

But military self-confidence is often the handmaiden of misadventure. The highway that forms the tip of the Homs-Aleppo triangle has now been extended 60 miles to Resafeh, and General Saleh makes no secret that Isis and its fellow cultists return across the desert after dark to attack his soldiers. These men – many of whom are teenagers – are billeted in tent encampments beside the road, protected by tanks and anti-aircraft guns. And their battles are constant, Isis still placing IED bombs beside the highway today. When I later travelled across the desert to Homs, I followed for some time a truck carrying a 155mm artillery piece so overused that its barrel had split apart.

Yet already, Syrian engineers are restoring electricity capacity from the desert generating stations which have only recently been hideouts for Isis leaders, a power system intimately connected to the Syrian oil fields, slowly being recovered from the Isis enemy, which remain – modest though they are in comparison with the great Gulf, Iraqi and Iranian oil resources – Syria’s “pearl in the desert”. Who controls these wealth machines – how their product will be shared now it has been freed from the Isis mafia – will determine part of Syria’s future political history.

This report provides an interesting insight into Russian and Syrian government thinking on the Kurdish question.

As Robert Fisk has seen for himself political tensions between the Kurdish leadership and the Syrian government are belied by Russian brokered cooperation between the Kurdish and Syrian militaries on the ground.

For the moment the Syrian government has decided – probably following Russian and perhaps Iranian advice – to work with the Kurds in the area rather than against them, whilst using the time provided by Kurds’ focus on fighting ISIS in Raqqa to rebuild the Syrian state’s administrative structures in the area.

The calculation appears to be that once the Kurds have finally ousted ISIS from Raqqa they will have to look to the Syrian government to provide the essential services necessary for the successful administration of  this large Arab (not Kurdish) populated area.  The Syrian government apparently hopes that this will give it decisive leverage in its future negotiations with the Kurds.

Putting aside the tangled question of the future settlement of the Kurdish question, and notwithstanding Robert Fisk’s wise words about the dangers of over-confidence, it is clear that the Syrian army now holds a decisive advantage over ISIS in this area, even if General Saleh’s boast that he could be at the centre of Raqqa in five hours if given the order should not be taken too seriously.

Despite the Syrian army’s extraordinary march across northern Syria, and its recent penetration from southern Raqqa into Deir Ezzor province – which is rapidly becoming ISIS’s last major territorial bastion in Syria – it remains likely that the main advance on Deir Ezzor will not come from the north but from the west ie. along the main road from Palmyra through Al-Sukhnan to Deir Ezzor.

Though neither the Syrians nor the Russians say it openly, the primary purpose of the Syrian army’s advance across southern Raqqa province to the Euphrates river was probably not to prepare the ground for an advance on Deir Ezzor from there but to prevent the Kurds at the US’s instigation from doing that very thing.

That presumably explains General Saleh’s refusal to be drawn by Robert Fish into talking of an advance by his troops towards Deir Ezzor.  General Saleh refused to tell Robert Fisk that he was preparing to do such a thing because that is almost certainly not the plan.

With the Syrian army having apparently now reached the Euphrates river – at least in some places – it seems that this part of the Syrian army’s mission may in large measure have been successfully accomplished.

The focus therefore is on the fighting at Al-Sukhnah.

Though it is clear that the battle for the town is fierce, once it is captured the last major urban centre between the Syrian army and Deir Ezzor will have been taken.  Though on a map the distance between Al-Sukhnah and Deir Ezzor looks greater than the distance between Al-Sukhnah and Palmyra, the road from Palmyra to Al-Sukhnah crosses rugged and easily defended country, whilst east of Al-Sukhnah the country becomes flatter and more open, and better adapted to a rapid advance by motorised troops.

That of course is why ISIS is defending its positions in Al-Sukhnah so fiercely, and why the expectations of some people in the Syrian military of a week ago that the town would be liberated quickly have not so far been fulfilled.

The latest Al-Masdar report however points to the final liberation of Al-Sukhnah being no more than days or possibly even hours away.

If so then the final climactic battle between the Syrian army and ISIS in Deir Ezzor leading to the collapse of ISIS’s Caliphate will begin.

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Clinton-Yeltsin docs shine a light on why Deep State hates Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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Bill Clinton and America ruled over Russia and Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s. Yeltsin showed little love for Russia and more interest in keeping power, and pleasing the oligarchs around him.

Then came Vladimir Putin, and everything changed.

Nearly 600 pages of memos and transcripts, documenting personal exchanges and telephone conversations between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, were made public by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dating from January 1993 to December 1999, the documents provide a historical account of a time when US relations with Russia were at their best, as Russia was at its weakest.

On September 8, 1999, weeks after promoting the head of the Russia’s top intelligence agency to the post of prime minister, Russian President Boris Yeltsin took a phone call from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The new prime minister was unknown, rising to the top of the Federal Security Service only a year earlier.

Yeltsin wanted to reassure Clinton that Vladimir Putin was a “solid man.”

Yeltsin told Clinton….

“I would like to tell you about him so you will know what kind of man he is.”

“I found out he is a solid man who is kept well abreast of various subjects under his purview. At the same time, he is thorough and strong, very sociable. And he can easily have good relations and contact with people who are his partners. I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the nearly 600 pages of transcripts documenting the calls and personal conversations between then U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, released last month. A strong Clinton and a very weak Yeltsin underscore a warm and friendly relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Then Vladimir Putin came along and decided to lift Russia out of the abyss, and things changed.

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Here are five must-read Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges from with the 600 pages released by the Clinton Library.

Via RT

Clinton sends ‘his people’ to get Yeltsin elected

Amid unceasing allegations of nefarious Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, the Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges reveal how the US government threw its full weight behind Boris – in Russian parliamentary elections as well as for the 1996 reelection campaign, which he approached with 1-digit ratings.

For example, a transcript from 1993 details how Clinton offered to help Yeltsin in upcoming parliamentary elections by selectively using US foreign aid to shore up support for the Russian leader’s political allies.

“What is the prevailing attitude among the regional leaders? Can we do something through our aid package to send support out to the regions?” a concerned Clinton asked.

Yeltsin liked the idea, replying that “this kind of regional support would be very useful.” Clinton then promised to have “his people” follow up on the plan.

In another exchange, Yeltsin asks his US counterpart for a bit of financial help ahead of the 1996 presidential election: “Bill, for my election campaign, I urgently need for Russia a loan of $2.5 billion,” he said. Yeltsin added that he needed the money in order to pay pensions and government wages – obligations which, if left unfulfilled, would have likely led to his political ruin. Yeltsin also asks Clinton if he could “use his influence” to increase the size of an IMF loan to assist him during his re-election campaign.

Yeltsin questions NATO expansion

The future of NATO was still an open question in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and conversations between Clinton and Yeltsin provide an illuminating backdrop to the current state of the curiously offensive ‘defensive alliance’ (spoiler alert: it expanded right up to Russia’s border).

In 1995, Yeltsin told Clinton that NATO expansion would lead to “humiliation” for Russia, noting that many Russians were fearful of the possibility that the alliance could encircle their country.

“It’s a new form of encirclement if the one surviving Cold War bloc expands right up to the borders of Russia. Many Russians have a sense of fear. What do you want to achieve with this if Russia is your partner? They ask. I ask it too: Why do you want to do this?” Yeltsin asked Clinton.

As the documents show, Yeltsin insisted that Russia had “no claims on other countries,” adding that it was “unacceptable” that the US was conducting naval drills near Crimea.

“It is as if we were training people in Cuba. How would you feel?” Yeltsin asked. The Russian leader then proposed a “gentleman’s agreement” that no former Soviet republics would join NATO.

Clinton refused the offer, saying: “I can’t make the specific commitment you are asking for. It would violate the whole spirit of NATO. I’ve always tried to build you up and never undermine you.”

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia turns Russia against the West

Although Clinton and Yeltsin enjoyed friendly relations, NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia tempered Moscow’s enthusiastic partnership with the West.

“Our people will certainly from now have a bad attitude with regard to America and with NATO,” the Russian president told Clinton in March 1999. “I remember how difficult it was for me to try and turn the heads of our people, the heads of the politicians towards the West, towards the United States, but I succeeded in doing that, and now to lose all that.”

Yeltsin urged Clinton to renounce the strikes, for the sake of “our relationship” and “peace in Europe.”

“It is not known who will come after us and it is not known what will be the road of future developments in strategic nuclear weapons,” Yeltsin reminded his US counterpart.

But Clinton wouldn’t cede ground.

“Milosevic is still a communist dictator and he would like to destroy the alliance that Russia has built up with the US and Europe and essentially destroy the whole movement of your region toward democracy and go back to ethnic alliances. We cannot allow him to dictate our future,” Clinton told Yeltsin.

Yeltsin asks US to ‘give Europe to Russia’

One exchange that has been making the rounds on Twitter appears to show Yeltsin requesting that Europe be “given” to Russia during a meeting in Istanbul in 1999. However, it’s not quite what it seems.

“I ask you one thing,” Yeltsin says, addressing Clinton. “Just give Europe to Russia. The US is not in Europe. Europe should be in the business of Europeans.”

However, the request is slightly less sinister than it sounds when put into context: The two leaders were discussing missile defense, and Yeltsin was arguing that Russia – not the US – would be a more suitable guarantor of Europe’s security.

“We have the power in Russia to protect all of Europe, including those with missiles,” Yeltsin told Clinton.

Clinton on Putin: ‘He’s very smart’

Perhaps one of the most interesting exchanges takes place when Yeltsin announces to Clinton his successor, Vladimir Putin.

In a conversation with Clinton from September 1999, Yeltsin describes Putin as “a solid man,” adding: “I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

A month later, Clinton asks Yeltsin who will win the Russian presidential election.

“Putin, of course. He will be the successor to Boris Yeltsin. He’s a democrat, and he knows the West.”

“He’s very smart,” Clinton remarks.

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New Satellite Images Reveal Aftermath Of Israeli Strikes On Syria; Putin Accepts Offer to Probe Downed Jet

The images reveal the extent of destruction in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport.

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Via Zerohedge


An Israeli satellite imaging company has released satellite photographs that reveal the extent of Monday night’s attack on multiple locations inside Syria.

ImageSat International released them as part of an intelligence report on a series of Israeli air strikes which lasted for over an hour and resulted in Syrian missile defense accidentally downing a Russian surveillance plane that had 15 personnel on board.

The images reveal the extent of destruction on one location struck early in attack in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport. On Tuesday Israel owned up to carrying out the attack in a rare admission.

Syrian official SANA news agency reported ten people injured in the attacks carried out of military targets near three major cities in Syria’s north.

The Times of Israel, which first reported the release of the new satellite images, underscores the rarity of Israeli strikes happening that far north and along the coast, dangerously near Russian positions:

The attack near Latakia was especially unusual because the port city is located near a Russian military base, the Khmeimim Air Force base. The base is home to Russian jet planes and an S-400 aerial defense system. According to Arab media reports, Israel has rarely struck that area since the Russians arrived there.

The Russian S-400 system was reportedly active during the attack, but it’s difficult to confirm or assess the extent to which Russian missiles responded during the strikes.

Three of the released satellite images show what’s described as an “ammunition warehouse” that appears to have been completely destroyed.

The IDF has stated their airstrikes targeted a Syrian army facility “from which weapons-manufacturing systems were supposed to be transferred to Iran and Hezbollah.” This statement came after the IDF expressed “sorrow” for the deaths of Russian airmen, but also said responsibility lies with the “Assad regime.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to express regret over the incident while offering to send his air force chief to Russia with a detailed report — something which Putin agreed to.

According to Russia’s RT News, “Major-General Amikam Norkin will arrive in Moscow on Thursday, and will present the situation report on the incident, including the findings of the IDF inquiry regarding the event and the pre-mission information the Israeli military was so reluctant to share in advance.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry condemned the “provocative actions by Israel as hostile” and said Russia reserves “the right to an adequate response” while Putin has described the downing of the Il-20 recon plane as likely the result of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances” and downplayed the idea of a deliberate provocation, in contradiction of the initial statement issued by his own defense ministry.

Pro-government Syrians have reportedly expressed frustration this week that Russia hasn’t done more to respond militarily to Israeli aggression; however, it appears Putin may be sidestepping yet another trap as it’s looking increasingly likely that Israel’s aims are precisely geared toward provoking a response in order to allow its western allies to join a broader attack on Damascus that could result in regime change.

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“Transphobic” Swedish Professor May Lose Job After Noting Biological Differences Between Sexes

A university professor in Sweden is under investigation after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded”

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Via Zerohedge


A university professor in Sweden is under investigation for “anti-feminism” and “transphobia” after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded” and that genders cannot be regarded as “social constructs alone,” reports Academic Rights Watch.

For his transgression, Germund Hesslow – a professor of neuroscience at Lund University – who holds dual PhDs in philosophy and neurophysiology, may lose his job – telling RT that a “full investigation” has been ordered, and that there “have been discussions about trying to stop the lecture or get rid of me, or have someone else give the lecture or not give the lecture at all.”

“If you answer such a question you are under severe time pressure, you have to be extremely brief — and I used wording which I think was completely innocuous, and that apparently the student didn’t,” Hesslow said.

Hesslow was ordered to attend a meeting by Christer Larsson, chairman of the program board for medical education, after a female student complained that Hesslow had a “personal anti-feminist agenda.” He was asked to distance himself from two specific comments; that gay women have a “male sexual orientation” and that the sexual orientation of transsexuals is “a matter of definition.”

The student’s complaint reads in part (translated):

I have also heard from senior lecturers that Germund Hesslow at the last lecture expressed himself transfobically. In response to a question of transexuallism, he said something like “sex change is a fly”. Secondly, it is outrageous because there may be students during the lecture who are themselves exposed to transfobin, but also because it may affect how later students in their professional lives meet transgender people. Transpersonals already have a high level of overrepresentation in suicide statistics and there are already major shortcomings in the treatment of transgender in care, should not it be countered? How does this kind of statement coincide with the university’s equal treatment plan? What has this statement given for consequences? What has been done for this to not be repeated? –Academic Rights Watch

After being admonished, Hesslow refused to distance himself from his comments, saying that he had “done enough” already and didn’t have to explain and defend his choice of words.

At some point, one must ask for a sense of proportion among those involved. If it were to become acceptable for students to record lectures in order to find compromising formulations and then involve faculty staff with meetings and long letters, we should let go of the medical education altogether,” Hesslow said in a written reply to Larsson.

He also rejected the accusation that he had a political agenda – stating that his only agenda was to let scientific factnot new social conventions, dictate how he teaches his courses.

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