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Two maps showing how Russia changed the course of the Syrian war

The intervention of a Russian force numbering around 5,000 men has in less than 2 years utterly transformed the course of the Syrian war.

Alexander Mercouris




Al Masdar has provided a situation map showing the military situation in Syria as of the end of June 2017, which shows the dramatic transformation in the military situation which has taken place in the Syrian war.  I reproduce it here

The dark red coloured areas show those which are now firmly under the control of the Syrian government.  The areas which are more lightly coloured red shows areas where the Syrian army has made recent advances but has not yet fully consolidated its control.  These now stretch all the way to the Iraqi border.  In addition the Syrian army has made decisive advances in northern and central Syria, gaining control of large belts of territory in eastern Aleppo and southern Raqqa and around and east of Palmyra.

The grey shaded areas are those controlled by ISIS, where it has an actual physical presence.  Most maps of the Syrian conflict give a misleading impression of the territory under ISIS’s actual control by including in it large stretches of empty desert which properly speaking are not controlled by anyone.  What is true is that until recently fast moving ISIS columns have been able to move more readily through this territory than the forces of other participants in this war, which is why ISIS has been able to launch sudden attacks on places like Palmyra and has also been able to deploy fighters in places like southern Aleppo province, from whence they were able to threaten communications from western and central Syria to Aleppo, but where they have now been surrounded.  The intervention of the Russian Aerospace Forces has made these sudden movements more difficult, though it is important to stress that the total number of Russian aircraft at Khmeimim air base at any one time is relatively small, with many of these aircraft committed to supporting Syrian army operations elsewhere, so that the Russians cannot respond immediately to every ISIS movement.

The yellow coloured areas at those now controlled by the Kurdish YPG.  As is clear, this is now a large block of territory in north east Syria along the Turkish border.  There continues to be much discussion of Syria becoming federated or partitioned.  Whilst my opinion is that this is unlikely to happen, it remains the case that the Kurdish controlled territory is the only part of Syria where either option might be theoretically achievable.  It is important to stress however that the territory currently controlled by the YPG is not exclusively populated by Kurds.  Much of this territory has a predominantly Arab population.  The YPG controls this territory because earlier in the war the Syrian army withdrew from it to defend ‘useful Syria’ along the coast, whilst the YPG has succeeded since then in driving out from this territory ISIS and those other Jihadi groups who at various times had sought to fill the vacuum caused by the withdrawal from this territory of the Syrian army.

The Jihadi (basically Al-Qaeda) controlled areas are those shown in green.  Note that the salient along the Turkish border dividing the western section of the Kurdish zone from the remainder of the Kurdish zone in the east is actually controlled by the Turkish army, having been occupied by the Turkish army as a result of Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield, which was launched in August 2016.  In the far south west – on the Golan Heights – Israel provides the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis there with the same sort of protection there that they are being given by the Turkish army in the far north.  There is also a large continuous area of territory in the north west centred on the province of Idlib, which was captured by the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis in the first half of 2015 (before the Russian intervention).  Whilst territorially large, this area is poor and heavily mountainous, and is now apparently the venue of fierce internecine fighting between Al-Qaeda and various other Jihadi groups.  The Syrians and the Russians have for the moment decided to leave it alone, and it is covered by one of the ‘de-confliction areas’ agreed between the Russians, the Iranians and the Turks back in May.

Further south, apart for the Golan Heights, there are small and increasingly isolated Al-Qaeda/Jihadi controlled pockets of territory in south west Syria, which are becoming steadily encircled as more territories come under the control of the Syrian army.  In particular the Syrian army has in recent weeks been making rapid progress clearing the remaining pockets of Jihadi resistance near Damascus.  The flashpoint in the south is remains the town of Daraa, where the Syrian conflict began in 2011, and which remains divided between Syrian army and Al-Qaeda controlled areas.  Recently President Assad ordered his brother Maher Al-Assad, who has just been promoted Major General, to take command there.

In the far south east, close to the Iraqi border, there is still the small and now hopelessly isolated US base at Al-Tanf, from which according to some reports the US is now planning to withdraw.

The situation in Syria is changing rapidly.  To get a sense of how completely transformed it has become, compare the above map with this map showing the situation as it was in September 2015, just before the Russians arrived.

At that time the Syrian government was clinging on to a narrow stretch of territory on Syria’s western coast, road links to Aleppo from central Syria had been almost completely cut off, large areas of southern Syria were under Al-Qaeda led Jihadi control as was much of the countryside around Damascus, and ISIS controlled large stretches of territory in northern and central Syria, including Palmyra, and was contesting territories along the Turkish border with the YPG.

The Russian expeditionary force to Syria is believed to number around 5,000 men.  The transformation of the course of this very complex and bloody war by the intervention of this numerically small force is remarkable.

Rarely in history has such a decisive outcome been achieved with such economy of force.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran



“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch



Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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Saudi Arabia trying to squirm free of Khashoggi murder (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 2.

Alex Christoforou



RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a quick look at Saudi Arabia’s possible admission to killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi…accidentally, while they were torturing the man inside the consulate in Istanbul.

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Via Zerohedge

Even before the publication of last night’s Saudi trial balloon hinting that the kingdom would soon acknowledge that the extrajudicial killing of Jamal Khashoggi – the insider-turned dissident journalist who walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week and never walked back out – was the result of a “botched” kidnapping attempt carried out by “rogue killers” (despite reports that the US intelligence community knew that Khashoggi was being “targeted”), two realities had become increasingly clear. One: That the Saudis would avoid responsibility for the killing by pinning it on some unfortunate underling, and two: that there would be few, if any, lasting diplomatic repercussions.

And as more media organizations confirmed reports about Saudi’s plans to spin Khashoggi’s murder as a botched interrogation (we can only imagine what was said in that room to justify the use of such extreme violence), CNN calculated the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh for approximately 15 minutes early Tuesday, following his 12-hour-plus flight to the kingdom.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia lasted no more than 15 minutes, CNN estimates based on the time the top US diplomat’s motorcade arrived at the royal court and departed.

The motorcade arrived at the royal court at 11:42 a.m. (4:42 a.m. ET) and left 26 minutes later. There is a fair distance to walk from where the motorcade dropped Pompeo off to where he met the king.

While Trump said on Monday that Pompeo would travel to Turkey “if necessary”, the Saudi’s decision to “come clean” about Khashoggi’s death pretty much rendered Pompeo’s fact-finding mission unnecessary.More important are developments in Turkey, where the joint Saudi-Turkish “investigation” is turning its attention toward the home of the Saudi consul, where a black diplomatic van that departed the Saudi consulate just under two hours after Khashoggi entered was captured on camera disappearing into a garage. Some speculate that this is where the killers finished disposing of Khashoggi’s body. This comes after a “nine-hour” search of the Saudi consulate building that, according to leaks published in Al-Jazeera, turned up “evidence of tampering” by the Saudis. On Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister clarified that Saudi had yet to admit its role in Khashoggi’s disappearance and probable death.

Turkish investigators will carry out a search of the Saudi Consul General’s residence on Tuesday as the probe into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi continues, according to a Turkish diplomatic source.

CCTV footage released to the media from the day the Washington Post writer vanished show movement of vehicles from the consulate building to the Consul General’s residence nearby.

As speculation mounts that the incident could unseat the increasingly authoritarian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (who has already marginalized or incapacitated nearly every threat to his rule), it’s looking more likely that neither the US nor the rest of the Western world will do much to punish the world’s most important oil exporter, which can “weaponize” the oil market seemingly on a whim.

Any punishment for this flagrant violation of human rights will need to come, therefore, from the private sector, which, according to Bloomberg, could sabotage MbS’s grand Vision 2030 plan, which aims to remake the Saudi economy via a flood of foreign direct investment:

The economic strategy of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, known as MBS, is to make investment the main engine of economic growth instead of government spending, but the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi could frustrate these ambitions. Foreign direct investment, a key part of the plan to reinvent Saudi Arabia’s economy, declined sharply in 2017 and is unlikely to return to previous levels, leaving the government’s target for 2020 beyond reach, according to analysis by Bloomberg Economics. Increased policy uncertainty and, after the Khashoggi incident, the risk of reputational damage to foreign companies working in Saudi Arabia won’t help.



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