For those who thought it was all quiet on the eastern front, here's a little update on what's going on out east as the region celebrates Newroz (Kurdish & Persian New Year).
New year, same old story - Just as Assad was looking like victory was in his grasp after crushing and re-taking Eastern Aleppo, rebel and jihadi groups launched a surprise attack on the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday. Fighting continues today, two days ahead of the resumption of peace talks in Geneva.
In the northwest, the Kurdish YPG have come to an agreement 'based on the framework of fighting terrorism' (Reuters) where Russia has entered the isolated canton of Afrin and will provide training to Kurdish forces. YPG has now successfully aligned itself to the US and Russia, a stance that is no doubt making Turkish president Erdogan's head explode.
In IS related business the Syrian Democratic Forces announce that they will launch the final assault on Raqqa in early April. The city is surrounded on 3 sides and heavy weapons and vehicles are en route for the final push. Meanwhile some experts reckon Mosul, in neighboring Iraq will be squeezed of IS in the next few weeks. Over 180,000 people have managed to escape the city already with that number increasing every day.
Defeats in Raqqa and Mosul will essentially be the end of IS as a 'state' but it's hard to gauge what will come after. As has happened in the past, many daesh can simply shave of their beards and try blend back into society, a feat somewhat achievable by daesh indigenous to the region but not so straightforward to the thousands of foreign fighters still in the ranks of IS. At this time your guess is as good as mine.
As with the vibes we're still plugging away as I prepare to head back out very soon. Apart from continuing our support to Heyva Sor in Syria, we're partnering up with a rather amazing NGO in Northern Iraq called Joint Help For Kurdistan which works with survivors of the Yazidi genocide in IDP camps in the Dohuk region. Do watch this space. x