Russian airstrikes allow ISIS to advance

The Guardian reports: Bunkered down in his base just north of Hama, Captain Mustafa of the Free Syria Army (FSA) is getting used to the Russian airstrikes. And he is growing just as accustomed to the assurances of his American backers: “We can have most of the weapons we want,” he says. “But nothing to shoot down the planes.”

More than a week since the Russian strikes began targeting them, and days after the US announced an end to its efforts to train forces to fight Isis, the original anti-Assad rebels of Syria’s north-west remain entrenched, though battered, in the towns and villages of their heartland.

Nearby, Syrian forces, which had barely moved for the past year, are trying to advance from the south, said Mustafa, the military spokesman of an FSA unit, Tajamul Ala’Azza. Further away in the north-east, Isis has made its strongest gains in many months, advancing across the top of Aleppo, while a mix of opposition groups clash nearby with Russian jets and artillery.

“The Russians have given them a boost, which is what they wanted to do by attacking the Syrian people,” said Mustafa. “The biggest disaster for them would be to acknowledge that a real opposition remains defiant and strong.

“Well, we say to the Russian bear that we will chase you to your grave. You don’t know what you’ve got yourself into.”

Among the rebel groups, of northern and western Syria, a reckoning has been taking place ever since Moscow ramped up its efforts to defend Bashar al-Assad’s regime earlier this month. The opposition has been gaming whether its allies would follow suit, giving them the firepower it had long withheld to combat the threat from the skies.

So far the answer is no. “It’s the same as it’s always been,” said Mustafa. “Our supply lines are still open, but we still can’t get any anti-aircraft missiles. The Americans have never changed their position on that.” he sighed. “That’s politics.”

Rebels in the vicinity of the regime strongholds of Tartous and Latakia, and the nearby Alawite hinterland, have been hit especially hard in the Russian offensive which was touted as a campaign against Isis, but which the US, Nato, and rebel groups claim has almost exclusively targeted non-jihadi opposition groups.

Other rebel groups in Idlib province have also been pounded and fear that Russia’s strategy is to destroy the opposition, leaving only the regime army and Isis standing. The Russian offensive west of Aleppo has stymied an opposition squeeze on the city. Meanwhile, Isis’s moves since Thursday have seen the terror group gain more ground than it had in many months. [Continue reading…]

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