south front

Turkish Interior Minister Visits Afrin, As Idlib Militant Commanders Rally Their Troops
South Front, Jul 23 2021

Less than 24 hours after the Israeli strike on an unknown compound near Syria’s Aleppo province, details are beginning to emerge. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that the strikes had killed 5 “pro-Iranian fighters” allied to the Damascus government. Two were Syrian, while three were not. Additionally, SOHR claimed that Israeli F-16 warplanes destroyed a base used by pro-Iranian groups and a nearby weapons depot. This was somehow achieved with only a single missile striking its target, as seven of the eight munitions launched at Syrian soil were intercepted by Pantsir-S and Buk-M2 systems of the Syrian Arab Air Defense Forces. The chaos caused by the Israeli strike, provided ample opportunity for the so-called “moderate opposition” in nearby Greater Idlib to motivate its ranks, and even organize an attack on the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). On Jul 18, the al-Fateh al-Mubin Operations Room, the largest military formation in the northwestern Syrian region of Greater Idlib, placed its militants on high alert. Two days later, to commemorate Eid, Abu Mohammad al-Julani the leader of HTS visited foreign jihadist dignitaries. Simultaneously, Turkish Interior Minister Soleyman Soylu visited the cities of Azaz and Afrin, both occupied by Turkey since 2017, to commemorate the holiday. Amer al-Sheikh Abu Ubaidah, leader of the Ahrar al-Sham movement, an al-Qaeda affiliate, visited his soldiers stationed near the front lines in Greater Idlib. Finally, “Brigadier General” Fadlallah al-Hajji commander of the National Liberation Front (NLF) visited his troops. NLF is part of the Syrian National Army (SNA), a Turkish-backed militant faction. It is more than likely that Eid commemoration is a pretext, for coordinating the actions of all the factions in Greater Idlib, as well as the Turkish Armed Forces. And, sure enough, on Jul 20, four terrorists of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) carried out a suicidal raid on an SAA post in the town of Mizanaz in the western countryside of Aleppo. Five SAA soldiers were killed in the attack. Recently, militants in Greater Idlib have escalated their attacks on the SAA and shelled a number of government-held towns and villages around the region. Ahrar al-Sham terrorists used heavy artillery to attack SAA positions in Qalaat Shalef in the northern countryside of Lattakia. Instead of attempting to preserve the ceasefire and force the militants to adhere to it, Turkey instead shelled the M4 highway north of Raqqa, killing one civilian and injuring three others. A storm is “highly likely” coming in northern Syria, and all the pawns are taking their places as Ankara prepares to open the floodgates of violence.

Taliban Deny Responsibility For Kabul Attack, As Their Gains Continue
South Front, Jul 23 2021

Three rockets landed in two different areas near the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan. This happened while President Ashraf Ghani and other high-ranking officials were praying to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha on Jul 20. Images shown on national broadcaster Tolo TV showed Ghani and the group calmly continuing their prayers, as if to show that the government is on the back foot, but it hasn’t given up. Eyes were immediately turned to the Taliban; however, the group denied the attack saying that they had decided to adhere to a weekend ceasefire over Eid. Allegedly, Daesh had claimed responsibility for the attack. It is likely true, as ISIS carried out a similar attack in Mar 2020. Back then four rockets fell on the edge of the palace compound during Ghani’s inauguration as president. Taliban don’t need to target the presidential palace during a religious holiday, as they have more than enough of the upper hand in the conflict, currently. Despite some recent gains by the Afghan army. On Jul 20, the Afghan Army reportedly recaptured Garmsir district in Helmand province, as well as the Malistan district in Ghazni province. Still, the Taliban has more than tripled the number of districts it controls, from 73 to 221, since US President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of US forces on Apr 14. A truce over the entire Eid wasn’t achieved during negotiations in Doha, and Taliban continue with their gains. On Jul 19, Taliban captured Najrab district, while Afghan Army took control over Surkhe Parsa east of Kabul. To aid in the fight, the US handed over new attack helicopters to Afghanistan government forces, after at least three helicopters were destroyed by Taliban in the recent days. According to the reports 7 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were delivered to Kabul. The Afghan Air Force is one of the few hopes left for Afghanistan, as the Afghan special forces who have received training from the US are stretched thin fighting on numerous fronts. It is unlikely that the new helicopters will be enough to turn the tide, but some adequate resistance has evidently been mounted over the last several days, judging by some of the districts that are being recaptured. Still, the strategic centers that are alongside highways, near border passings or other significant infrastructure and were captured by Taliban, remain under their control. In a statement, the Taliban said “thousands of soldiers” had “defected and embraced the open arms of the Islamic Emirate,” which it claims is the true leadership of the Afghan people.

Protests In Greater Idlib Around Turkish Military Posts
South Front, Jul 23 2021

On Jul 22, angry locals gathered around a number of Turkish military posts in the northwestern Syrian region of Greater Idlib to protest against what they called “ceasefire violations” by Syrian government forces. The protesters, numbered in the hundreds, burned dozens of tires on the gates of Turkish posts and chanted against the ceasefire that was brokered by Russia and Turkey on Mar 5 of last year. In the last few weeks, Syrian government forces stepped up their strikes on Greater Idlib, mainly on the al-Zawiya Mount in the southern part of the region. However, these strikes were only a response to the repeated violations of the ceasefire by al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the de-facto ruler of Greater Idlib, and its Turkish-backed allies. Just a few hours before the protests, the HTS-led al-Fateh al-Mubeen Operations Room targeted a Syrian military post in southern Greater Idlib with an anti-tank guided missile. At least one service member was killed. While the protesters ignored HTS’ key rule in destabilizing Greater Idlib, they demanded Turkey to put an end to government shelling by political or military means. Turkey has been actively supporting HTS and other factions in Greater Idlib. Weapons supplied by Turkey were used to violate the ceasefire at least twice in the last few weeks. Ankara’s forces in the region are also acting as a “human shield” for HTS and its allies. HTS rules Greater Idlib with an iron fist, to say the least. This explains why the locals opted to protest against Turkey instead of the terrorsit group.

Russian Reconciliation Center Claims Syrian Air Defense Intercepted All Missiles In Recent Israeli Attack
South Front, Jul 23 2021

The Syrian Arab Air Defense Forces (SyAADF) intercepted and shot down all missiles launched by Israeli warplanes during the Jul 22 attack on Homs, deputy head of the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria, Rear-Adm Alexander Vadim Kulit, announced on Jul 23:

Two Israeli F-16 fighter jets launched four guided missiles from Lebanese airspace at positions in the governorate of Homs between 1:11 and 1:19 am on Jul 22. All four missiles were destroyed by Buk-M2E systems of the SyAADF.

Photos from Lebanon confirmed that at least one Israeli SPICE 1000 guided glide bomb was shot down by Syrian air-defense fire. Nevertheless, new satellite images from Homs show extensive damage at al-Daba Air Base in the southern countryside of the governorate. At least six hardened aircraft shelters (HAS) were either destroyed or badly damaged. Furthermore, large parts of the base were scorched. Al-Daba air base, formerly operated by the Syrian Arab Air Force, is currently the main logistic center of Lebanon’s Hezbollah in Syria. The July 22 Israeli attack was clearly successful, to some extent. This was the second aerial attack to target Syria this week. The first attack, which took place on July 19, targeted several positions in the northern Syrian governorate of Aleppo. According to the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria, seven Israeli missiles were intercepted by Pantsir-S and Buk-M2E systems of the SyAADF.

‘Absolute Lie’: Afghan Government Denies Taliban’s Claim Of Controlling 90% Of Border
South Front, Jul 23 2021

The Afghan Ministry of Defense has called The Taliban’s claim to hold 90% of the country’s borders an “absolute lie.” Fawad Aman, deputy spox for the ministry, told the AFP on Jul 23: “It is baseless propaganda.” Aman stressed that Afghan government forces are still in of control of the country’s borders and all “main cities and highways.” The Taliban made the claim after advancing in several border areas and capturing crossings with Iran, Turkmenistan and Pakistan. On Jul 8, the Taliban captured the Islam Qala border crossing with Iran. On Jul 9, the group’s fighters captured the Torghundi border crossing with Turkmenistan. On Jul 14, the group took over the Wesh–Chaman border crossing on the border with Pakistan. The Taliban stepped up its operations against Afghan government forces after May 1, when the US announced a plan to pull its troops out from Afghanistan before September 11. Currently, nearly half the country’s districts are allegedly in the hand of the group. Afghanistan appears to be heading to a long, intense civil war. The intra-Afghan peace process is on halt, with the Taliban demanding the formation of a new government.

Taliban Demand President Ashraf Ghani’s Resignation, As Reports Surface Of Beheaded Translator For US Army
South Front, Jul 23 2021

On Jul 22, the Taliban reportedly said that it was necessary for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to resign. This is a prerequisite peace in Afghanistan and a ceasefire. To achieve it, a new government needs to be formed, without Ghani, according to a report by the AP. Suheil Shahin, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, told the agency:

We do not believe in a monopoly of power, because previous Afghan governments that sought to do so were not successful. We don’t want to repeat the same formula. Negotiations with the government side are a good start. Meanwhile, the repeated demands of the Afghan authorities for a ceasefire are tantamount to the “surrender” of the Taliban. They do not want reconciliation, but they want surrender. Before there can be a ceasefire in the country, it is necessary to reach an agreement on a new government acceptable to us and other Afghans. Then there will be no war. The new government will allow women to work, participate in politics and attend school, but they will have to wear the hijab. In the areas occupied by us, we must ensure the operation of universities, schools and markets as before. Nobody, absolutely nobody, including me, wants a civil war.

Meanwhile, to show that those who cooperated with the US are not welcome, to put it lightly, the Taliban reportedly beheaded Sohail Pardis, a translator for the US Army in Afghanistan. He was driving from his home in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul to nearby Khost province to pick up his sister for the upcoming Eid holiday celebrations to mark the end of Ramadan. It was supposed to be a happy occasion enjoyed with family. But during the five-hour trip on May 12, as Pardis, 32, drove through a stretch of desert, his vehicle was blocked at a checkpoint by Taliban militants. Just days prior, Pardis had confided to his friend that he was receiving death threats from the Taliban, who had discovered he had worked as a translator for the US Army for 16 months during the 20-year-long conflict. His friend and co-worker Abd’ul-Haq Ayoubi told CNN:

They were telling him you are a spy for the Americans, you are the eyes of the Americans and you are infidel, and we will kill you and your family.

On Jul 14, the White House said it was launching, “Operation Allies Refuge,” an effort to relocate the thousands of Afghan interpreters and translators who worked for the US and whose lives are now at risk. The evacuation will begin in the last week of July for Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants already in the pipeline, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing. Previously, the Biden administration said it was in talks with a number of countries to act as safe havens until the US can complete the long visa process, a clear sign the government is well aware of the looming threat posed by the Taliban. Spox John Kirby said on Wednesday that the Pentagon “is considering options” where Afghan nationals and their families could potentially go. Kirby said:

We’re still examining possibilities for overseas locations to include some departmental installations that would be capable of supporting planned relocation efforts with appropriate temporary residences and supporting infrastructure.

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