The Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) has reportedly taken the town of Shaddadi (https://twitter.com/em_bernadin/status/700732664714645504) , an Islamic State-held town in north-east Syria’s Hasakah province, cutting the IS supply routes both to Mosul in Iraq and Raqqah in Syria. All major towns in the province are under YPG control. Momentum is building towards Deir ez Zour and the beseiged SAA in the western half of the city..
The situation in the North Aleppo countryside has become a fascinating, explosive clash of different factions and alliances encompassing not only the forces on the ground: one side the FSA, Islamic Front, Ahrar Sham, Nusra Front, another side the Syrian Arab Army and allies (Hezbollah), and the other other side the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, The Afrin canton based YPG and confusingly an FSA unit combined); but also an international cold war of Russia backing the Syrian loyalists (Syrian Arab Army [SAA], and Kurdish forces and Turkey backing the FSA and allies (including al-Qaeda).
The situation on the ground, courtesy of the excellent syria.liveuamap.com, below:
Two things are key here. Firstly is that the SAA (red) have, by lifting the FSA siege of the Shia towns Zahraa and Nubl, isolated the FSA and allies in the north Aleppo countryside and looked to be heading north. Secondly is that the SDF (yellow) have, stopped the northward advance of the SAA by taking taking villages to the north of SAA territory adjacent to IS controlled areas.
What happens next could have massive repercussions for the future. Whether the SAA and SDF can keep a truce will be very important. A truce would mean that the immediate adversary would turn to IS and the territory they hold in the north Aleppo countryside. The SDF, in particular the YPG have the stated aim of linking the cantons of Afrin and Kobane but whether Turkey and even the Syrian government (if they get to have a say) will allow that to happen is another matter. Commentators seem to be in agreement that the Kurds will aim for the city if Manbij and the SAA al-Bab. IS remain quiet on the sidelines, biding their time.
Superb interactive battle map showing the extents of the different militias in Syria.
Key changes recently have been the expansions of YPG/J and allies territories in Kobane and Cazire cantons with the aim being to unite them with the capture of the IS controlled border town of Giri Spe/Tal Abyad. The town has been vital to IS in getting supplies (arms, food, building materials, men, women) in from Turkey to their ‘capital’ of Raqqa.
Another key development has been the push by IS to capture the border crossing Bab al-Salame near the town of Azaz. At least one twitter account (@RamiAlLolah) at the time of writing has claimed the crossing has been taken. This gives IS a backup should Giri Spe/Tal Abyad fall. The Islamic Front and other anti ‘Daesh’ Sunni militia are on the move from Aleppo and the surrounding countryside to confront them.
Turkey, it has been reported, are not happy at the prospect of Giri Spe/Tal Abyad falling to the YPG but is should be remembered that there is a FSA group (supposedly supported by Turkey) fighting alongside the Kurds. Turkey’s role in the happenings alongside its border with Syria have been murky at best and at worst actively in support of IS.