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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Understanding the Syrian Civil War and The Fight Against ISIS in That Country

With the news of the so called "safe zones" being established in Syria, it's worth taking a look at the current military conditions in that country.  Here are the most important things to keep in mind:

1.  The Assad regime controls only a small part of the land in Syria.  It looks to control about 20% on the map, but that includes territory that holds a much larger percentage of the population.
2.  ISIS controls about as much of the country as the Assad regime, maybe more.  Most land under ISIS control is sparsely inhabited.
3.  The key ISIS control center of Raqqa is on the northernmost edge of the ISIS controlled territory.  Over the last two years, Kurdish forces have taken back territory from ISIS all along the northern border with Turkey and then have advanced on Raqqa.  At the moment, Kurdish forces surround Raqqa on the north, east and west.  Kurdish forces are also advancing to the south of Raqqa in a pincer movement that would cut of the ISIS capital from the rest of the caliphate.  In all the fighting around Raqqa, there is only one small area to the west of the ISIS capital where it is rebels allied with Turkey rather than Kurds who are in control.
4.  Most of the attacks by Assad forces are not on ISIS but rather on the non-ISIS rebels.
5.  Along the Syrian-Israeli border, there is a very small area of ISIS control.  Most of the Syrian side of the border is under the control of non-ISIS rebels with the very south being controlled by the Assad forces.

These facts explain a lot of what is going on.

First, the USA under President Trump is going to support the Kurds.  The big goal in Syria is to destroy ISIS.  It is the Kurdish forces who are doing that.  American air power is helping and American advisers are also there.  No amount of complaints by the Turks or anyone else for that matter will change this.

Second, ISIS is unlikely to attack the Israelis despite their rhetoric.  The ISIS area along the Syrian border with Israel could be overrun by the Israeli army in a day or two.  ISIS will not risk the loss of that enclave by attacking the Israelis.

Third, the big problem for the Assad regime is that more than half of the people in Syria are not under its control.  It has momentum in the civil war at the moment, but it will never have the strength -- even with Iranian and Russian backing at current levels -- to take control of the entire country.  This is a big reason why Assad will agree, at least for now, to the safe zones.

Fourth, it looks like ISIS is going to lose its capital of Raqqa some time in the next six months.  This may be a brutal battle or not if ISIS collapses.  Once Raqqa is gone, ISIS will have land but very few people under its control. 

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