Hitting grain silos ‘foreshadows humanitarian disaster’
US-led coalition warplanes conducted airstrikes across vast swathes of territory in northern and eastern Syria on Sunday and Monday, striking Islamic State (IS) military and economic bases in Aleppo, A-Raqqa, and Deir e-Zor provinces.
Coalition warplanes reportedly hit the IS-controlled city of Manbij, northeast of the city of Aleppo, 15 times Monday, following a series of airstrikes on the city's grain silos Sunday, an act “which foreshadows a humanitarian disaster," reported the pro-opposition Aleppo Media Center.
Also on Monday, the coalition bombed the IS-controlled city of Tal Abyad in A-Raqqa province and struck Tabqa airport eight times, a former regime base which IS fighters captured in August, reported the pro-opposition Sham News Network.
In Deir e-Zor, coalition warplanes struck the IS-controlled Conoco gas plant Sunday, “which is critically important, seeing as it feeds several electricity generation stations in the country that produce electricity for approximately a quarter of Syria,” unnamed activists were quoted as saying by the official Turkish news agency Anadolu on Sunday.
Coalition strikes target Manbij on Monday. Photo courtesy of @eldorar1.
Syrian army hoping to recapture Ghouta gateway
The Syrian army launched a campaign to retake the rebel-held area of Dukhaniyeh Sunday night that continued into Monday, a district that serves as one of the gateways into Damascus through the suburbs of East Ghouta, reported the pro-opposition monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The army “accomplished an impressive breakthrough” into Dukhaniyeh Sunday, reported pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan, adding that government forces cut off logistic communication between the rebel groups “and encircled them in small groups within several points in Dukhaniyeh.”
Rebel groups denied reports of a significant government advance.
“Fighters are still garrisoned [in the neighborhood] and are conducting the fiercest of battles,” Feilaq a-Rahman, one of participating battalions, wrote on its website Sunday, adding that rebels are still in control Dukhaniyeh.
Rebels captured Dukhaniyeh at the beginning of September.
Jabhat a-Nusra threatens the West
The leader of Jabhat a-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria that has been targeted by recent American coalition airstrikes, threatened to target the West in an audio recording circulated widely on YouTube Sunday.
“The battle against our countries will come to you,” said Nusra chief Abu Mohammed al-Jolani.
“You won't be safe in your own countries unless you resist the decision of your leaders” to bomb Syria.
Jolani’s threats come a day after Nusra said that nations participating in the alliance have become legitimate targets for mujahideen “all over the world,” describing international airstrikes as an “ugly crime against Syrians” and a “war against Islam” in a statement released by official spokesman Abu Firas a-Suri.
The US-led coalition has heavily targeted Nusra and the affiliated Khorasan Group in Idlib and Aleppo provinces since airstrikes began last Tuesday. Official casualty counts of Nusra members are not available, but Muhsin al-Fadli, leader of the Khorasan Group, was killed last week, reported Saudi London-based Elaph news.
Despite opposition to the coalition airstrikes, Nusra affirmed Sunday its continued hostility to the Islamic State (IS), the primary target of coalition activity.
IS has “opened to door for Western intervention in the region,” said Jolani.
FSA soldiers train in Saudi Arabia
The first group of Free Syrian Army (FSA) soldiers have arrived in Saudi Arabia to receive training in the use of “advanced American weapons,” Mustafa Farhat, official spokesman of the FSA, was quoted as saying by Kurdish news agency Rudaw on Sunday.
A number of retired Saudi generals “of high competency” are training the fighters.
The training and fielding is expected to take between eight and 12 months, said Pentagon Spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby in a press conference on September 19.
As for the fighters, “they have to have military leaders that bind them together,” chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said in a press conference on September 26, adding that “they have to have a political structure into which they can hook.”
At least one rebel officer remains doubtful of the possibility of forming a cohesive military-political FSA leadership from the trainees.
“Some [FSA soldiers] were chosen for training, and afterwards for fighting under the FSA banner—but what about those who aren't receiving training and are still fighting under the FSA banner?” Ala Bajqa, an officer with the Aswad al-Islam brigade, told Syria Direct Monday.