Syrian War Report – May 21, 2018: Syrian Army Liberates Southern Damascus As ISIS Withdraws

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The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies are about to re-establish full control of the southern Damascus countryside. The SAA has already liberated the entire district of al-Hajar al-Aswad and the rest of the area from ISIS.

On May 19, the SAA and the remaining ISIS militants reached a temporary ceasefire in the area. On May 20, a number of buses entered the area hinting that ISIS was ready to surrender. On May 21, ISIS members started wihdrawing from the area.

The Syrian state media is ignoring this situation and avoiding to cover the deal because of PR reasons. The same strategy has been repeatedly implemented by the US-led coalition and the mainstream media when the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were making deals with ISIS in Raqqah, Manbij and Tabqah.

On May 20, locals held a general strike against the SDF to protest the forcible recruitment into the ranks of the group. According to the pro-opposition news outlet Baladi News, SDF security forces, mainly consisting of members of Kurdish YPG/YPJ militias, opened fire at some closed shops and broke into many others in the districts of al-Saraya and Dwairat al-Hadrah.

This development is an example of the current tensions between locals and the SDF in northern Syria. Despite the US-led coalition’s claims that the SDF is a multinational group, the real political and military power in the area is concentrated in the hands of a few Kurdish organizations with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) posing as a sole political powerbroker.

On the same day, the SDF started another attempt to captured the town of Hajin in the Euphrates Valley from ISIS. According to reports, the attack is supported by warplanes and artillery of the US-led coalition.

Currently, Hajin is the key ISIS stronghold in the Euphrates Valley. About 1,500 ISIS members are believed to be hiding in the town and several villages near it.

Earlier, French troops operating under the US-led coalition reportedly established six artillery batteries to provide fire support to the SDF.

France has recently increased its military presence in the SDF-held area in northern Syria. French forces have reportedly started preparations to establish a new military facility, west of Raqqah. If this is confirmed, it will be the sixth French military facility in the SDF-held area.

The expanding US and French military infrastructure on the eastern bank of the Euphrates clearly shows that the US-led coalition is not going to abandon this area allowing the Syrian government to integrate its by any means.
As to the rest of the Syria, Washington and its allies seem to be abandoning the rest of militant groups, they have supported against the Assad government.

On May 19, an US official told CBS News that the Trump administration will halt its assistance to the militant-held areas in northwestern Syria, which includes the province of Idlib and parts of Aleppo, Lattakia and Hama provinces.

According to CBS News, tens of millions of dollars will be cut from US efforts in northwestern Syria, including projects for “countering violent extremism, supporting independent society and independent media, strengthening education, and advocating for community policing.”

When this is done, the SDF, with separatist intensions, will become the only US tool of influencing situation on the ground in central and northern Syria without direct military actions.