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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Offensive de l’armée syrienne et recul de l’"État Islamique"

by Pierre Barbancey

Syrian Army on the Offensive, the "Islamic State" in Retreat

Translated Wednesday 20 January 2016, by Henry Crapo

While negociations should begin at the United Nations in Geneva on 25 January, each camp is maneuvering in order to arrive there in a position of force. The loyalist forces have registered progress in certain portions of the territory.

The Russian president Vladimir Putin and the emir of Qatar, Tamim Ben Hamad, met yesterday in Moscow to discuss the crisis in Syria.

The attack carried out by the organisation called the "Islamic State" (ISIS) against the city of Deir es-Zor, which led to the massacre of nearly 300 civilians, according to the agency Sana, and the abduction of 400 others — most certainly marks a jihadist attempt to undo the stranglehold that has been strengthened ever since Russia and Syria signed their agreement for military aid. Adept at broadcasting their communications in all directions, but in real trouble these past months, Daesh hopes in this way to show that it has lost none of its force and its expansionist ambitions. But this also shows that, contrary to certain propaganda relayed by many French media outlets, the "Islamic State" has suffered severe defeats at the hands of the Syrian army and of its Russian ally.

Thus, supported by aviation, the Syrian army has succeeded in re-establishing control over the city of Salma, in the province of Latakia, the headquarters of the islamist rebels and of the al-Nosra Front (al-Qaida). "Each day, we survey the terrorists’ emplacements. They have undergone a crushing defeat in this zone. But we have no intention of stopping. We will advance in other parts of Syria, and liberate them from the terrorists", affirms Mohammed Subkha, colonel of the Syrian army.

In the province of Alep (in the north) at least 16 combattants of the ISIS were killed in an aborted attack against a government [1] position near the city of Al-Bab. In recent days, the forces of Bachar Al-Assad have progressed toward Al-Bab, a stronghold of ISIS, taking several villages in the proximity. They find themselves now at less than 10 kilometers from the city. The forces of Damascus are notably attempting to cut access of the rebels to Alep. Throughout this operation, the army has tried to enlarge the perimeter of security around the city, and to prevent the rebels from reprovisioning their forces in the nearby region. The idea is to weaken Daech, which controls a part of the province neigboring that of Raqa.

These new developments on the terrain - to which one should add the progress by Kurdish forces in Rojava, who are trying to rejoin the pocket of Afrin to the west, menaced by the Al-Nosra Front, and to reinforce their positions to the south, toward Raqa — are taking place while negociations are programmed under the aegis of the United Nations, 25 January, in Geneva, prior to bringing together the representatives of the government [2] and the opposition. Each camp wants to arrive in Geneva in a position of force, or at least not of weakness, for these discussions. This explains also the campaign launched in recent days against the Syrian government concerning the humanitarian situation in the city of Madaya, under siege by the army, all the while remaining silent about other cities such as Kafraya (in the north-west), under blockade by the rebels. A director for humanitarian operations of the UN, Kang Kyung-wha recalled, before the Security Council, that "the situation in Madaya is not unique", and that 400,000 Syrians are besieged by one camp or another. Unfortunately, certain countries tend to use this human drama for political ends. The French ambassador François Delattre thus declared "that there is no credible political process except the immediate improvement of the humanitarian situation."

Once again, Paris creates obstacles

In reality, once again Paris creates obstacles in order to prevent the success of inter-Syrian negociations, or even to prevent them from taking place. Laurent Fabius only refers thus to a part of the opposition, that which is closest to Saudi Arabia, and which conceals in its ranks a number of islamist organisations (the famous "moderates"). He thus ignores the Syrian Democratic Council, headed by Haytham Manna, which unified the most non-sectarian and progressive political formations, such as the Kurds of Rojava.
Who is going to represent the opposition? As things stand, nothing is in place — thus the forcing by France in favor of the Saudis’ pet, Riad Hijab. The Democratic Council, for its part, wishes to be considered as an entirely separate element, and to participate as such, not under the umbrella of Hijab. Less than a week to go, and so many stumbling blocks! The wager is a long shot, but not impossible.

[1Translator’s note: The French original used the word "regime" here, but I can not agree with that choice of vocabulary, so common it is in western propaganda aimed at Syria.

[2Again, this was "the power", "le pouvoir" in the French original

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