Hasakah attack shows Islamic State not remaining on defensive

Although the international coalition airstrikes made progress against the Islamic State, the latter is still capable of gaining new lands.

al-monitor Members of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fire their weapon toward forces loyal to the Islamic State in the Syrian-Iraqi border town of Elierbeh, Aug. 5, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Rodi Said.

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syria crisis, kurds in syria, kurdish militias, islamic state, iraqi kurds, isis, is

Feb 27, 2015

Contrary to what was recently circulated that the Islamic State (IS) has collapsed and its ranks have weakened because of its defeat in Ain Arab (Kobani) in northern Aleppo, the surprise breakthrough in the countryside of the Hasakah [Governorate], which was led by the military commander Omar al-Shishani, does not only prove that IS has maintained its military strength and capabilities, it also confirms that IS is still capable of initiating and attacking.

This would put the international coalition's strategy at stake, and would raise questions on how accurate is the media information on the outcome of its operations over the past months.

Moreover, the developments that are taking place in more than a single place would raise suspicions on the course of events, since the establishment of the international coalition to the present. They would also raise doubts on whether the battles, which have erupted since then in Libya, Iraq or Syria, are part of the coalition’s strategy to combat terrorism — which is represented by IS and other extremist groups — or whether they are part of the Takfiri group’s plan to confront the coalition and prevent it from halting its expansion.

The circulating information note that the military convoy, led by Shishani, started from al-Shaddadi city south of Hasakah, which is under IS control, and has supposedly been air bombed by the international coalition aircraft in the past few weeks. It passed through Mount Abdulaziz, and completed its way toward its goal, namely Tel Tamer, where it managed to take control over five villages, and to capture about 150 Assyrians. This is while 5,000 people have left dozens of other villages adjacent to the southern bank of the Khabur river.

This means that the coalition strikes on the al-Shaddadi city, to which the captured [people] were moved according to sources, have not weakened the organization, nor have they caused it to lose its ability to initiate and attack. More importantly, after all these raids, [IS] is still able to send massive convoys toward specific areas that it wants to target, contrary to all of the US officials’ statements, which stressed more than once that the most important outcome of the US-led coalition’s operations is that IS loses its ability to move in convoys.

This attack raises questions regarding the international coalition’s intelligence services and the way they coordinate with the ones that are supposed to be their allies on the ground. It also raises questions on whether the attack was the result of their incapability to predict it due to the lack of information, or whether it is a sign of certain reasons and motives stopping the intelligence services from sharing the information they have with their allies, disregarding what such a step might result in.

Some explained that IS’ attack on Tel Tamer comes in the context of responding to the losses the group had suffered in certain areas, most recently in Tal Hamis in the Qamishli countryside. According to a statement issued by the Syriac military council, fighting alongside the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), during the past week the YPG was able to regain control over dozens of villages, which allowed them to be only four kilometers away from the city and pose a serious threat on IS.

However, others thought this attack was part of a general strategy that IS has been adopting since the formation of the international coalition. This strategy aims to try to keep the military operations away from the cities that are crucial for the group, most importantly, the city of Mosul, that has been the subject of recent talks regarding the date of the ground offensive to liberate it from IS.

According to those, including military analysts and strategists from IS, the battle of Tel Tamer comes as an episode in a series of battles that the group has been waging for weeks. It aims to prevent or delay the battle of Mosul as much as possible. From this series of battles, the battles in the cities of Baiji and al-Baghdadi in Iraq stand out. In the Baiji battle, the group aims to have violent clashes and prevent the Iraqi army from taking full control over the city. In al-Baghdadi battle, the group aims to take full control over it, preventing the formation of a siege around the city of Mosul and thus impeding the Iraqi army and its allies from launching a ground offensive.

The same goes for Tel Tamer battle; it is an attempt to block the communication between the Kurdish forces in Syria and the ones in Iraq, especially since the group still vividly remembers Ain Arab experience during which the YPG received support from the Peshmerga forces, which had a great impact on the battle.

By waging these battles, in addition to impeding tightening the grip on it in Mosul and thus delaying the ground offensive, the group is distracting its enemies’ efforts and keeping them busy with side battles in areas away from its stronghold.

A field source in the Syrian Military Council told As-Safir that “the council is fully coordinating with the Syrian security forces and the YPG in various areas of Al-Jazira province, including Hasakah, Qamishli, Khabur and the Iraqi border. The council also participated in several military campaigns in these areas, among others, depending on the need for it.”

“The situation on the ground in the eastern regions is delicate, especially considering the presence of large numbers of displaced indigenous people in areas of conflict and the presence of various military forces, each with a program and a plan that is inconsistent with the other,” he added.

The fact that Shishani led the Hasakah countryside battle refutes reports according to which he recently left the battle due to a serious injury that left him helpless in the battle of Ain Arab. Also, there is further evidence that raises suspicions about similar news broadcast by media outlets that favor the international alliance. These have reported the killing of leaders from the organization by raids that have been ongoing for about six months. Similarly, the news of the death of Abu Ala Afri, head of the Military Council in Tal Afar, spread in December 2014. Two weeks ago, however, an Iraqi report said that he was promoted and appointed second assistant to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The same applies to Wissam Abd al-Zubaidi, the Wali of the Salahuddin province. Zubaidi was reported killed last July. Today, however, there are Libyan quarters circulating his name as the same Nabil Abu Anbari leading the organization in Libya.

If confirming these conflicting reports seems to be impossible, then broadcasting them in the media without supporting proof is a valid reason to discredit them and discredit the outcome of the international coalition operations. There are reports stating that the number of IS members who were killed has reached as high as 8,000 thus far, without this loss leading to any changes in the strength or ability of the organization to launch new attacks or conduct massive columns.

As the Syrian conflict enters its fifth year, four French parliamentarians met with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad knowing that the diplomatic relations between the two countries had been severed since 2012. The two parties discussed “the Syrian-French relations and the developments facing the Arab and European regions, particularly with regard to terrorism.”

“The fight against terrorism requires a genuine political will and a belief that this would be of interest to everyone and that the threat excludes no one,” Assad stated.

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