WASHINGTON, Jan 20, (Agencies): Between Jan 7 and 13 coalition and partner forces against the so-called Islamic State (IS) killed over 200 IS fighters and in the past several weeks liberated the towns of Al Kashmah, Sirat Masoud, and As Shafah. Four of those killed included senior IS commanders, the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) said in a statement on Saturday.
In Iraq, “a patrol from the 20th Iraqi Army Division came under fire from the DAESH while conducting clearance operations in the Atashana Mountains,” it said. “The Ninewah Operations Command and Coalition forces reacted with a coordinated strike to destroy three tunnels used by the fighters for hiding and storing supplies.”
Separately, the Mosul Police Academy trained 25 female police officers bringing the total number of female police in Mosul to approximately 49. Up to 730 improvised explosive devices IEDs were also destroyed across Iraq. Meanwhile, the United States is increasingly aware of the importance of protecting its Kurdish allies even as it withdraws from Syria, French defence minister Florence Parly said on Sunday. US President Donald Trump said in December that Washington would withdraw the roughly 2,000 US troops it has in Syria, raising fears for the fate of its allies among Kurdish forces who are seen as enemies by neighbouring Turkey. “This question about the necessity to protect them has been taken into consideration by the Americans,” Parly told a programme hosted by France Info, France Inter and Le Monde newspaper.
“The Kurds have been the best partners of the coalition,” added Parly, referring to an international coalition of countries, including the United States, fighting Islamic State. Alarmed by the US decision to leave Syria, Kurdish leaders who run much of the north have been urging Russia and its ally Damascus to send forces to shield the border from the threat of a Turkish offensive.
A bomb planted on a public bus in the northwest Syrian town of Afrin killed three civilians and wounded about 20, several witnesses told Reuters on Sunday. The blast came on the first anniversary of Operation Olive Branch, an air and ground assault by Turkey on the mainly-Kurdish Afrin to drive out the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said it and similar attacks “will never discourage our fight in Afrin.”
“This process will continue without hesitation in Afrin, in Jarablus or in al-Bab,” he said, mentioning two other towns under the control of Turkish-backed forces. His comments came during a phone call with Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, state-owned Anadolu Agency (AA) reported. No group has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack.
It follows a blast on Wednesday in Manbij, a northern Syrian town controlled by a militia allied with US-backed Kurdish forces, claimed by Islamic State, which killed two US troops and two civilians working for the US military. Ankara considers the YPG an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged an insurgency on Turkish soil since 1984. Erdogan said last month that his army would launch an operation against the YPG east of the Euphrates. President Trump later announced he would pull all US forces out of Syria, alarming allied Kurdish leaders who run much of the north. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group dominated by the YPG and Washington’s main Syrian partner in the fight against Islamic State, controls territory in northeast and eastern Syria, which makes up about a quarter of the country.
The US decision to leave Syria has led the Kurdish leaders to urge Russia and its ally Damascus to send forces to shield the border from the threat of the Turkish offensive. Syrian state media say air defenses repelled an Israeli air raid near the international airport south of Damascus on Sunday. Syrian state TV said the air defenses “prevented” the attack from achieving its goals. It said Israel fired six missiles on an area near Damascus International Airport, of which five were shot down and one diverted to nearby empty farmland. It marked a rare daytime raid, as most previous strikes have been at night.
Residents of the capital said they heard five explosions early Sunday afternoon, apparently the sound of air defenses firing into the air. Israel’s army declined comment on the airstrike. It said that a rocket fired at Syria’s Israeli-occupied Golan Heights was intercepted by the country’s Iron Dome defense system.
Israeli warplanes have used Lebanon’s airspace recently to strike deep inside Syria, including on a warehouse near Damascus International Airport earlier this month, according to Syrian state media. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently confirmed that Israel has struck hundreds of targets in Syria linked to Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group, including a weapons facility two weeks ago. Iran and Hezbollah are allied with the Syrian government in the civil war.
Two hours after the reports that Israel’s Iron Dome intercept a rocket fired toward the Golan Heights, Netanyahu, who currently on a visit to Chad, said in a statement: “We have a defined policy: to harm Iranian entrenchment in Syria and to harm anyone who tries to harm us.” Earlier Sunday, a roadside bomb went off south of Damascus without causing casualties, state media reported. The SANA news agency says the blast targeted a military checkpoint on a main highway during rush hour.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the war, said the bomb targeted the vehicle of a “security personality” that it did not name. The Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdurrahman, said it was unclear whether the individual was killed or wounded. “It was not a random act,” he added. Attacks have been rare in Damascus since Syrian government forces captured the last rebel-held neighborhoods and suburbs of the capital last year. Bombings have left hundreds dead over the course of the nearly eight-year civil war.