Russian warplanes on Monday conducted several airstrikes in Syria’s northeastern Deir ez-Zor Governorate, targeting Islamic State’s (ISIS) oil facilities.
The Russian-led wide-scale bombing, that was supported by the Syrian Air Force, led to the destruction of several ISIS’s oil fields and refineries.
“The Russian and Syrian fighter jets carried out more than 36 airstrikes against ISIS-held oil facilities today,” local media activist Hussein al-Mutaiyah told ARA News.
Most of the strikes took place near al-Mayadin city in southern Deir ez-Zor Governorate.
The Iraqi air force has killed 13 commanders of so-called Islamic State in a strike on a building in Qaim where leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was thought to be, a statement said.
Baghdadi's name was not on a list of the dead published by the military.
At least 64 lower-ranked IS fighters were killed in a wave of strikes in western Iraq, the statement added.
The military said Baghdadi moved last week in a convoy from Raqqa, in Syria, to the region of Qaim, over the border.
The IS leader was supposedly meeting other senior commanders to discuss a possible successor, as well as the group's military situation in its Iraqi stronghold, Mosul.
Officials have confirmed that the U.S. military, despite vowing not to use depleted uranium weapons on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, fired thousands of rounds of the such munitions during two high-profile raids on oil trucks in Islamic State-controlled Syria in late 2015. The air assaults mark the first confirmed use of this armament since the 2003 Iraq invasion, when it was used hundreds of thousands of times, setting off outrage among local communities, which alleged that its toxic material caused cancer and birth defects.
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Maj. Josh Jacques told Airwars and Foreign Policy that 5,265 armor-piercing 30 mm rounds containing depleted uranium (DU) were shot from Air Force A-10 fixed-wing aircraft on Nov. 16 and Nov. 22, 2015, destroying about 250 vehicles in the country’s eastern desert.
Earlier in the campaign, both coalition and U.S. officials said the ammunition had not and would not be used in anti-Islamic State operations. In March 2015, coalition spokesman John Moore said, “U.S. and coalition aircraft have not been and will not be using depleted uranium munitions in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve.” Later that month, a Pentagon representative told War is Boring that A-10s deployed in the region would not have access to armor-piercing ammunition containing DU because the Islamic State didn’t possess the tanks it is designed to penetrate.
It remains unclear if the November 2015 strikes occurred near populated areas. In 2003, hundreds of thousands of rounds were shot in densely settled areas during the American invasion, leading to deep resentment and fear among Iraqi civilians and anger at the highest levels of government in Baghdad. In 2014, in a U.N. report on DU, the Iraqi government expressed “its deep concern over the harmful effects” of the material. DU weapons, it said, “constitute a danger to human beings and the environment” and urged the United Nations to conduct in-depth studies on their effects. Such studies of DU have not yet been completed, and scientists and doctors say as a result there is still very limited credible “direct epidemiological evidence” connecting DU to negative health effects.
The most likely way for such intake to occur is through the inhalation of small particles near where a weapon is used. But doctors and anti-nuclear activists alike say there hasn’t been enough research done to prove the precise health effects and exposure thresholds for humans. Most important, the lack of comprehensive research on illnesses and health outcomes in post-conflict areas where DU was used has led to a proliferation of assumptions and theories about DU’s potential to cause birth defects and cancer. Firing rounds near civilian populations has a powerful psychological effect, causing distress and severe anxiety, as the International Atomic Energy Agency noted in 2014
Internationally, DU exists in a legal gray area. It is not explicitly banned by U.N. conventions like those that restrict land mines or chemical weapons. And although the United States applies restrictions on the weapon’s handling domestically, it does not regulate its use overseas in civilian areas with nearly the same caution.
“I think this is an area of international humanitarian law that needs a lot more attention,” said Cymie Payne, a legal scholar and professor of ecology at Rutgers University who has researched DU. “As we’ve been focusing more in recent years on the post-conflict period and thinking about peace building …we need a clean environment so people can use the environment.”
Key Takeaway: The U.S.-led coalition’s fight against ISIS in Syria is in jeopardy as Turkey threatens an offensive against the U.S.’s primary partner force on the ground, the Syrian Democratic Forces. Turkey has stated its intent to shift its focus from ISIS to the Syrian Kurds after the seizure of the ISIS-held town of al Bab in Northern Aleppo Province, which ISW forecasts is likely in the coming weeks. If the U.S. fails to protect its partner force, the Syrian Kurdish-led de facto government of Northern Syria may pursue closer cooperation with Russia, which could hinder the U.S.’s ability to influence the outcome of the Syrian Civil War and continue its operations in the country. Conflict between the U.S.’s allies in Northern Syria will also relieve pressure on ISIS in Raqqa Province and thereby allow ISIS to seize territory from the Syrian regime or reinforce its core terrain in Iraq.
Turkey’s threat to launch an offensive against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after the impending seizure of al Bab endangers the U.S.-led coalition’s fight against ISIS in Syria. Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and Turkish-backed opposition groups entered the ISIS-held town of al Bab in Northern Aleppo Province on February 9 following a two and a half month offensive on the town. Pro-regime forces severed ISIS’s last remaining ground line of communication south of al Bab on February 6, and ISW forecasts that the city will likely fall in the coming weeks. Turkish President Recep Erdogan stated on January 27 that the Turkish Armed Forces and Turkish-backed opposition groups will not advance further south following the seizure of al Bab, but rather will launch an offensive against the SDF in Manbij City to push the SDF east of the Euphrates. The U.S. is relying on the SDF as the only U.S.-led coalition partner force currently capable of isolating ISIS’s de-facto capital in Syria – ar-Raqqah City. A Turkish offensive that both distracts and weakens the U.S.’s partner force in Syria will diminish the U.S.’s ability to combat ISIS in Syria.
Turkish officials have consistently announced their hostility towards the dominant group in the political alliance behind the SDF, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), due to its links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield, currently a TSK and Turkish-backed opposition offensive against ISIS in Northern Aleppo Province, in large part to prevent the formation of a contiguous zone of control along the Syrian-Turkish border de facto governed by the PYD. In addition, TSK and Turkish-backed forces recently increased attacks against the SDF in Northern Aleppo Province, indicating that Turkey is preparing to escalate its currently low-scale conflict with the SDF. Turkey is also using arrests of alleged ‘PYD militants’ in Turkish-held Northern Aleppo Province and Turkey to reinforce Turkey’s designation of the PYD as a terrorist organization and legitimize their potential offensive.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan is likely timing its assault on the SDF in Northern Aleppo Province in conjunction with preparations to hold a referendum on a constitutional amendment package that would increase his executive powers. A Turkish offensive on the SDF will demonstrate Erdogan’s commitment to Turkey’s ongoing anti-PKK campaign, which is likely to increase popular support for the proposed constitutional amendments. Turkish officials likely also see U.S. President Donald Trump’s reported rejection of previous plans to increase support for the SDF as well as his recent phone conversation with Erdogan as indicators that the new administration is open to sacrificing support for the SDF in exchange for a closer partnership with Turkey in Syria.
Chlorine gas attacks paved the way for Syrian forces as they advanced into rebel-held portions of east Aleppo during the final months of the battle for the city, a new study from Human Rights Watch said Monday.
While forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have used chlorine gas on opposition fighters sporadically since 2014, the frequency of chemical attacks between Nov. 17 and Dec. 13 point to a military strategy to use the banned weapon to force both fighters and civilians from Aleppo, according to the report.
“The pattern of the chlorine attacks shows that they were coordinated with the overall military strategy for retaking Aleppo, not the work of a few rogue elements,” Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, said in the report.
Human Rights Watch documented at least eight separate chlorine gas attacks before a cease-fire was signed Dec 13. The attacks resulted in the deaths of nine civilians, including four children, and wounded roughly 200. If confirmed, the attacks would be a significant breach of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria signed in 2013. Although chlorine is not considered a chemical weapon by the convention because of its industrial uses, the document explicitly states that weaponizing the chemical properties of a substance is prohibited.
HAMDANIYAH, Iraq — The Iraqi army has been moving troops around Mosul ahead of an expected push to retake its western half from the Islamic State group in the final decisive battle for the city, a commander said Tuesday.
“We are preparing ... to launch a big operation in order to liberate the rest of Mosul,” said Brig. Walid Khalifa, deputy commander of the Iraqi Army’s 9th Division.
On Tuesday afternoon, dozens of armored vehicle and troops could be seen moving around the city. Khalifa said the maneuvers began on Sunday.
But even as the Iraqi forces began moving into place, IS launched a significant counterattack near the town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, on Sunday night.
The IS detonated some 17 car bombs, targeting a position held by Iraq’s government-sanctioned mostly Shiite militia forces known as the Popular Mobilization Forces near Tal Afar, said Jaafar al-Hussaini, a spokesman for one of the militias.
In all, the attack lasted nine hours and killed four militiamen and 48 IS fighters before it was repelled al-Hussaini said.