Coming in seven to 10 days: The U.S. aims to unveil its military cooperation plan with Russia in the Syrian war, State Secretary John Kerry said after discussions with his Moscow counterpart on the sidelines of a meeting of Southeast Asian nations in Laos, Reuters reports this morning [July 26]. Said the Iraqi officer in charge of the Falluja clearance op, Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saidi: “We have hurt ’ morale, but nobody can deny that still has its sleeper cells, and we expect anything from it.” More …
Kerry: “My hope would be that somewhere in early August — the first week or so, somewhere in there — we would be in a position to be able stand up in front of you and tell you what we’re able to do with the hopes that it can make a difference to the lives of people in Syria and to the course of the war,” Kerry told reporters in the capital Vientiane.
What’s known so far: “The proposal envisages Washington and Moscow sharing intelligence to coordinate air strikes against the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and prohibit the Syrian air force from attacking moderate rebel groups.”
Word of the deal’s progress follows cautious remarks Monday [July 25] from U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, speaking to reporters alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford. “We had hoped that they would promote a political solution and transition to put an end to the civil war, which is the beginning of all this violence in Syria, and then combat extremists rather than moderate opposition, which has to be part of that transition,” Carter said. “So they’re a long way from doing that.”
The Associated Press writes of Monday’s meeting at the Pentagon that “a reporter told Carter that he sounded unenthusiastic about the Kerry effort.” Carter’s reply: “No, I’m very enthusiastic about the idea of the Russians getting on side and doing the right thing. And I think that would be a good thing if they did. I think we’re a ways from getting that frame of mind in Russia. But that’s what Secretary Kerry is working toward.”
Dunford’s caveat: “We’re not entering into a transaction that is based on trust,” he said. “There will be specific procedures and processes in any transaction that we might have with the Russians that would account for protecting our operational security.” More on that angle from Military Times, here.
Meantime in Syria, Assad’s army has sent a text message to residents of rebel-held east Aleppo asking them to help push “mercenaries” out of the city while also promising safe passage to those eastern residents who elect to flee the city ahead of an upcoming offensive, Reuters reports from state-run SANA news.
Also this morning, government troops have “seized a rebel-held neighbourhood on the northwest outskirts of Aleppo, tightening their siege of the opposition-held parts of the city,” AFP reports. “The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said loyalist troops had full control of the Leramun district after heavy clashes, and reported fighting for neighbouring Bani Zeid, which is also held by rebels. The two areas have been used by rebels to launch rockets into government-held districts in the west of the city.”
News of the advance follows recent reports that Assad’s “forces effectively severed the opposition’s Castello Road supply route on July 7, when they advanced to within firing range. They have tightened the encirclement of the rebel-held east since then, taking parts of the road itself and prompting food shortages and spiralling prices in opposition neighbourhoods.” Regime barrel bombs also reportedly killed a dozen residents of Aleppo on Monday.
And about 220 miles south in the capital of Damascus, a car bomb detonated near an Iranian school on Monday, with casualties reported but specific numbers are so far unavailable. More here.
Do we need more signs that ISIS is on the defensive? We get one big indication anyway, and it comes in the form of growing guerrilla-style attacks across key population centers—particularly around Baghdad, The New York Times reports off feedback from American diplomats and commanders. “Already, officials say, many Islamic State fighters who lost battles in Falluja and Ramadi have blended back into the largely Sunni civilian populations there, and are biding their time to conduct future terrorist attacks. And with few signs that the beleaguered Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, can effectively forge an inclusive partnership with Sunnis, many senior American officials warn that a military victory in the last urban stronghold of Mosul, which they hope will be achieved by the end of the year, will not be sufficient to stave off a lethal insurgency.”
The mid-term implications: “A return to guerrilla warfare in Iraq, while the United States and its allies still combat the Islamic State in Syria, would pose one of the first major challenges to the next American president, who will take office in January. American public opinion has so far supported President Obama’s deployment of roughly 5,000 troops to help Iraq reclaim territory it lost to the Islamic State in 2014, but it is not clear whether political support would dissipate in a sustained effort to fight insurgents.”
Said the Iraqi officer in charge of the Falluja clearance op, Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saidi: “We have hurt ISIS’ morale, but nobody can deny that ISIS still has its sleeper cells, and we expect anything from it.” More here.
Meanwhile in North Africa: