ISIS nears Aleppo despite Russian air strikes
The United States is also largely abandoning its failed program to train moderate rebels fighting ISIS
Syrian rebels battled the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in northern Aleppo province Saturday, a day after the jihadist force advanced to the outskirts of the city of the same name, a monitor said.
Islamist rebels including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham group were able overnight to recapture a village from IS, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based monitor said clashes were ongoing for control of a second village captured by IS on Friday.
ISIS fighters had seized villages close to the northern city of Aleppo from rival insurgents, a monitoring group said on Friday, despite an intensifying Russian air-and-sea campaign that Moscow says has targeted the militant group.
News of the advance came as the United States announced it was largely abandoning its failed program to train moderate rebels fighting ISIS and would instead provide arms and equipment directly to rebel leaders and their units on the battlefield.
The Obama administration is grappling with a dramatic change in the four-year-old Syrian civil war brought about by Moscow’s intervention in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
The Pentagon said on Friday it expected to hold new talks with Russia’s military on pilot safety in Syria’s war as soon as this weekend, as the former Cold War foes seek to avoid an accidental clash as they carry out rival bombing campaigns.
Russian air strikes
The Russian defense ministry said stepped-up air strikes on rebel positions in Syria killed 300 anti-Assad rebels and that it hit 60 ISIS targets over the last day. There was no independent confirmation of the death toll.
About 200 insurgents were killed in an attack on the Liwa al-Haqq group in Raqqa province while 100 died in Aleppo, the defense ministry said. Two ISIS commanders were among the dead in Russia’s most intense raids since it launched strikes in Syria 10 days ago. In previous updates Russia has reported hitting 10 targets daily.
However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the fighting, said there had been no significant advances by government forces backed by allied militia in areas where ground offensives were launched this week. “It’s back and forth,” said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Observatory.
Iran commander killed
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps said separately that one of its generals had been killed near Aleppo, once Syria’s most populous city. Iran, like Russia an Assad ally, says it has advisers in the country.
ISIS is now within 2 km of government-held territory on the northern edge of Aleppo, which has suffered widespread damage and disease during the civil war that erupted in the wake of protests against Assad.
Syria’s military, backed by Russia, Iran and allied militias, has launched a major attack in Syria’s west to recapture land lost to non-ISIS rebels near the heartland of Assad’s minority Alawite sect. That area is considered vital to Assad’s survival.
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