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October 4-10, 2014

Weekly Media Monitoring report for Syria
Posted on October 10, 2014

Compiled by Asad Ali Walji

Siege continues at Kobane
  • The Kurdish stronghold continues to be under siege after more than a month of fighting between IS and YPG elements
  • According to Institute for the Study of War, there have been a series of skirmishes throughout the week, however IS pushed forward into the city of Ayn al-Arab despite US airstrikes
  • IS has a steady stream of recruits attacking the area: the New York Times reports as many as 9000 IS fighters were closing in on the area which has prompted Kurdish fighters to evacuate civilians
  • Syria Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reports that a female Kurdish soldier conducted a suicide bombing against IS forces, indicating the YPG's desperation
    • SOHR also reported heavy losses on both sides
    • Kurdish leaders are expressing their gratitude for US airstrikes but are asking the coalition to do more; this sentiment was also articulated by officials in the area itself
  • More recently, SANA reports the Syrian Prime Minister stating solidarity with the people of Ayn al-Arab against IS
  • There seems to be a continual back-and-forth between IS and the YPG, launching offensive and counter-offensive to capture relatively rural towns on the outskirts of Ayn al-Arab
    • However, the YPG have been relatively hesitant to move outside of the core city and have had trouble retaking towns lost to IS; this has allowed IS to slowly push their way into the city as well
    • Therefore, any gains that the Kurdish forces do make are fleeting, and as IS continues to send streams of recruits and equipment while YPG forces lack the firepower to stave off the IS barrage
  • The tactical advantage of coalition airstrikes seem to be ineffective at dealing a sustained blow to IS, which may indicate ground support is the only way to help the Kurds
  • However, that is not to say that IS is finding the task easy, since the operations in Kobane are far away from any stronghold and require a sustained maintenance of the siege (which, in turn, demands a steady stream of fighters)
    • IS has though of clever ways of resupplying its forces by using smaller vehicles, like motorcycles and marking their vehicles with YPG flags to carry ammunition without being harassed by US airstrikes
    • Additionally, to breach the city IS continues to masterfully use Suicide Vehicle Improvised Explosive Devices (SVBIED's/Car-bombs) to penetrate city limits, a tactic they have used in other provinces as well in order to breach government forts and buildings
  • It is inevitable that the conflict will exacerbate further the refugee crisis along the SyrianTurkish border unless; judging from the Turkish government's response right now, restricting refugees from crossing the border, there is a strong possibility that genocide looms in the future
  • The United States continues to play the dominant role in the coalition airstrikes; according to the Pentagon has already spent $1.1 billion on airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria against IS and Arab states only conducted 10% of total airstrikes in the region
  • As the IS threat inches closer to the Turkish border, the United States wants Turkey to take a more active role against IS
  • Turkish Prime Minister, Erdogan turkey “wanted a no-fly zone, a secure zone, and the training of moderate Syrian rebels”, and emphasized that airstrikes alone will do little to combat the IS threatened
    • Erdogan himself is apprehensive about getting involved in the conflict itself and has allowed the situation in Kobane to play itself out so far
    • The United States has since, albeit grudgingly, has since considered the option of establishing a buffer zone in Syria to allow refugees to take shelter in a safe area – it will be an expensive endeavour setting up the necessary apparatus for disabling Syrian air capabilities
    • These developments come quickly after the US has voiced its mounting impatience with Turkey for refusing to join the coalition against IS
    • Additionally, Russia would inhibit a no-fly zone from being established on UN legal grounds
  • Further complicating opinions on the use of airstrikes, the effectiveness of airstrikes are also called into question
    • This week AP reported that US airstrikes aimed at disabling the Khoresan group failed to achieve their objectives
  • Ultimately, the failure of airstrikes to stop IS in Kobane has brought the strategy into question
  • Turkish interests lie in maintaining strong borders without getting involved directly in the conflict (as explained through Erdogan's posturing), but also undermining the Assad regime without where possible
    • The US and the coalition require a lasting presence in the area, meaning they need Turkey to take a more active role in fighting IS
    • The current siege of Kobane also serves Turkish interests as Kurdish forces are fully occupied with the IS threat and have interests in maintaining their stronghold on the Turkish-Syrian border; therefore Turkey is in a position to assert political pressure
    • through a no-fly zone, Turkey can contain the overwhelming refugee crisis, undermine Assad's airforce, train “moderate rebels” to fight in Syria, and can rely on the US and other coalition actors to support the costs of this project
  • The expedience of the coalition's strategy, read US strategy, are also being brought into question as the Khoresan group remains elusive, and IS continues to push forward into Kobane
  • However, regardless of achieving UN support, the sheer number of participants in the USled coalition provides credence to any course of action the countries plan on taking in the future
  • Also, it is no surprise that the Syrian government disclosed the existence of four more chemical weapons facilities, as the government attempts to soften the possibility of a no-fly zone
Syrian Government Broadens it's Attacks on Rebels
  • Regime operations in Damascus's Eastern Ghouta continue to be intense after last week's capture of Adra
    • Government forces have moved on to take control of Dakhaniyah, a strategic area outside Damascus used by rebels to fire mortar shells into the capital, as reported by AFP from government television sources
    • After this capture, on October 9th , SOHR reported that government forces had killed 25 people as barrel bombs fell on another part of the city, Irbin (also in the Eastern Ghouta)
  • In Aleppo, numerous strikes have been conducted on suspected opposition areas
  • According to Syria Deeply, Syrians see the increased intensity of airstrikes by the US as justifying the Assad regime to intensify their own airstrikes against opposition forces without consequences
    • Obviously this has resulted in numerous civilian deaths over the past week
    • However, the increased intensity of dropped barrel bombs may be seen as an opportunity for the Assad regime to consolidate its control over select regions while Kobane captures the focus of international media
Dar'aa and Quneitera – Intense Fighting Between Rebels and Government Forces
  • ISW reports that this week saw intense fighting in the South Western provinces of Syria as rebel forces captured a series of strategic points including the town of Tel al-Hara
    • Western backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and Jabhat an-Nusra (JaN) jointly attacked the town using US TOW missiles; JaN acknowledged the joint effort on twitter
    • In retaliation, the regime dropped chlorine gas on the rebel stronghold of Inkhil, east of Tel al-Hara (October 9th)
    • According to SOHR, the battle was launched on the October 4th and stressed the battle as being a joint operation between Islamic Front and SNC
    • by the next day, SOHR reported numerous rebel casualties followed by many government forces being killed
  • This renewed strike comes as a push by rebel forces to assert their position after conceding territory to government forces using air strikes
  • Over the last two months, the area has been characterized by a laborious war of attrition, with few changes over faction fault lines
  • The regime is mainly trying to contain the rebel forces from pushing towards Damascus, as was their aim a few weeks ago, so government forces can continue to carve out, isolate, and control Damascus neighbourhood by neighbourhood
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