Multiple forces hit ISIS on all fronts

Free Syrian Army militia backed by Turkish forces took the Syrian city of al-Bab from ISIS militants Feb. 23, although fighting continues in some districts. The ISIS fighters withdrew via a route left open for them by the commanders of Operation Euphrates Shield, the joint Turkish-FSA campaign. (Rudaw, Feb. 23) As US-led Iraqi and Kurdish forces close the circle on ISIS in Mosul, the Syrian Democratic Forces continue their advance on Raqqa. The US commander in Iraq predicts the imminent taking of both Mosul and Raqqa. "Within the next six months, I think we'll see both conclude," said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend outside Baghdad Feb. 8. The enemy is "overwhelmed anywhere that they are," added Col. John Dorrian, spokesperson for the US-led Combined Joint Taskforce. (Rudaw, Feb. 8)

But the anti-ISIS coalition remains politically fragile. Talks to end the Syria war resumed this week, with the regime and opposition bloc facing each other in Geneva. Russia and Turkey brokered a renewal of talks last month at a conference in Kazakhstan. But the Assad regime demands an end to the process for a transitional authority—the centerpiece of international proposals since 2012. The opposition is again calling for a substantive ceasefire, release of detainees (amid the killing of thousands in regime prisons), and an end to sieges—with little faith the regime will consider these demands. (EA Worldview, Feb. 24)

At Turkish insistence, the Kurds have again been denied a seat at the table in Geneva, despite Russian pressure for inclusion of the Democratic Union Party. (Rudaw, Feb. 2) 

  1. ISIS car bomb kills 50 at liberated town

    A car bomb exploded near the Syrian town of al-Bab, killing at least 50 people in an area that Turkish-backed rebels recently seized from ISIS. At least 34 of those killed were displaced civilians who were lined up at a rebel checkpoint in the village of Sousian. (NPR)

  2. Assad forces take Palmyra from ISIS —again

    Russian-backed Assad regime forces, operating outside the US-led coalition (such as it is), have for a second time re-taken Palmyra from ISIS—eliciting much cynicism from the opposition bloc. "It is the second time that we see this handover and this is obviously being used for political reasons," chief opposition negotiator Nasr al-Hariri told reporters in Geneva, adding that he considered both sides to be terrorists. "If we want to follow the game of Assad and Palmyra, it will be like watching Tom and Jerry." (Reuters)