Syrian forces (with Russian support) advance into Palmyra but Iraqi forces (with US support) make slow progress in Mosul

Earlier this week there was a great deal of publicity from the Pentagon about a strike which had killed the No.2 in the ISIS “cabinet”, again. (The No. 2 was also killed in August last year and in 2014).

AtlanticIn August of last year, U.S. officials announced the death of Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, the No. 2 to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and something of a weapons and logistics manager for the terrorist group. It was the second time in less than a year the ISIS leader’s top deputy met with an early demise. On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter added Haji Imam, the Islamic State’s finance chief who went by several names, to the growing list of seconds-in-command to die at the hands of American forces. …. 

What Kerry didn’t mention was that, for at least the third time in 18 months, ISIS would need a new No. 2.

I wondered why there was so much publicity about this event in a week which saw Syrian forces advancing on Palmyra and Iraqi forces advancing on Mosul. Surely the retaking of Palmyra and Mosul would be of much greater significance than the killing of not-indispensable individuals?

But then the reason for the PR blitz by the Pentagon became clear. The Syrian advance on Palmyra backed up by Russian air strikes was moving steadily forward. The Iraqi advance on Mosul, backed by US air strikes, was bogged down. A few IS snipers and some land mines were holding up the entire Iraqi advance. The impression that Russian strategy was, once again, showing up US strategy was unpalatable for Obama and the Pentagon, and so the killing of the ISIS No. 2 was pushed forward to demonstrate US successes.

In any event it was a bad week for ISIS on the battlefields of the Middle East but their guerrilla war in Europe hit Brussels. The recapture of Palmyra by Syrian troops is now imminent. The recapture of Mosul by Iraqi troops may take a little longer. The eventual recapture of Mosul will happen, I think. Even if the Iraqi troops fail – which is not at all impossible – the Peshmerga are close behind. To lose Palmyra and Mosul would be a debilitating blow for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It will surely accelerate their shift into Libya.

Reuters: Syrian army, with Russian air support, advances inside Palmyra

Syrian government forces advanced into Palmyra on Saturday with heavy support from Russian air strikes, taking control of several districts in a major assault against Islamic State fighters, Syrian state media and a monitoring group said. ……. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was the biggest assault in a three-week campaign by the Syrian army and allied militia fighters to recapture the desert city and open up the road to Islamic State strongholds further east. Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said Syrian soldiers and allied militias had taken control of one-third of Palmyra, mainly in the west and north, including part of the ancient city and its Roman-era ruins. Soldiers were also fighting on a southern front, he said.

Syrian media and Arab television channels broadcasting from the slopes of Palmyra’s medieval citadel, one of the last areas of high ground seized by the army on Friday, said troops had advanced inside Palmyra and had taken several neighborhoods. 

The recapture of Palmyra, which the Islamist group seized in May 2015, would mark the biggest reversal for Islamic State in Syria since Russia’s intervention turned the tide of the five-year conflict in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor.

Times of OmanIraqi forces make slow progress against IS 

Iraqi forces made slow progress against IS in the north of the country on Friday in the second day of an offensive touted as the beginning of a broader campaign to clear areas around the city of Mosul. Backed by Kurdish forces and a US-led coalition, Iraqi forces launched the assault at dawn on Thursday, recapturing three villages in the Makhmour area south of Mosul, according to peshmerga commander Najat Ali and an Iraqi army source.

The Iraqi army source, who is taking part in the offensive, said troops were preparing to attack another village on Friday but were being held up because the militants had rigged streets and buildings with explosives. “The mining has slightly slowed down the army,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorised to speak to the media. ….. 

Iraqi officials say they will retake Mosul this year but, in private, many question whether the army, which partially collapsed when IS overran a third of the country in June 2014, will be ready in time.

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