ISIS Loses Control of Over 20 Syrian Villages to Kurds–and Assad

This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf petro-powerhouses encouraged a flow of cash to Sunni rebels in Syria for years. But …
AP Photo/Militant Website, File

File this report from The Daily Star of Lebanon under the category of “Yay … I Guess,” or perhaps “Two and a Half Cheers.” It’s good news that Islamic State (ISIS) forces have been pushed out of over 20 Syrian villages. The bad news is that Bashar al-Assad’s regime did most of the pushing, with an assist from Kurdish militia units.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which does not approve of most of what it observes the Assad regime doing, said that “after three days of clashes, regime forces bolstered by fighters from Arab tribes had secured control over 23 villages in the center of the [northeastern Hassakeh] province from ISIS.  Syria’s official news agency SANA put the number at 31.”

The offensive will reportedly continue until the Syrian government controls “the main road linking the provincial capital Hassakeh and the city of Qamishli.” ISIS is reportedly launching counterattacks against regime checkpoints.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish YPG has teamed up with Arab tribes to fight ISIS near the village of Tal Tamr, the Assyrian Christian town at the heart of the ISIS offensive that led to hundreds of Christians being taken hostage, using artillery to draw the Islamic State’s fighters out of their positions so they can be hit by U.S. air strikes. The Kurds are also using “attack and retreat” operations against ISIS near the town of Tal Brak. Thus far, Islamic State forces have resisted these efforts to expose their positions and take them out from the air, leaving Hassakeh province split between ISIS, the Assad regime, and Kurdish militia, in the Daily Star’s estimation.

The report also delivers a grim follow-up to a story from Monday: it looks like a healthy number of fighters from the defunct Harakat Hazm group of “moderate” Syrian rebels has decided to sign up with Islamist factions, after their old outfit was annihilated by al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. The Daily Star says former Hazm fighters are joining the al-Ansar Brigade and the Nour al-din al-Zinki Brigade, which is not the outcome U.S. policymakers who judged Hazm to be a trustworthy moderate group and provided them with American equipment would have hoped for.