Friday, 22 September 2017

Operation Featherweight: Month 39, Week 1, Day 5.

At the end of May 2017 the Syrians were forced to stop fighting Al Qaeda.

Quite why anyone would want to ban the Syrians from fighting Al Qaeda is an utter mystery to me.

However under former President Barack Obama this is something the US has been trying to achieve for the past six years. This effort included imposing sanctions not only on the Syrians but also on Russia.

At the same time the US busied itself by creating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group out of the much smaller and largely irrelevant Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) group.

If there has been one advantage of the ban on the Syrians fighting Al Qaeda it is that it has allowed them to focus all their efforts on fighting ISIL.

With the support of Russia the Syrians have been highly effective in that task. Since the end of May they have driven ISIL out of almost the entire centre of the country from north to south. On September 5th (5/9/17) they were able to reach the city of Deir-ez-Zour.

Deir-ez-Zour City is the capital of Deir-ez-Zour Province. It sits on the Euphrates River roughly 190km (115 miles) south of Syria's border with Turkey and roughly 100km (60 miles) west of Syria's border with Iraq.

The Syrians arrival at Deir-ez-Zour City is bad news for the US-led coalition - Combined Joint Task Force: Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTFOIR).

The Euphrates River really marks the southern boundary of a vast area of north-east Syria designated; "Shangri-La." This is controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF/QSD) whom - under much pressure - CJTFOIR belatedly decided to support.

However it has always been difficult for the SDF to liberate Deir-ez-Zour City. Although they lost control of much of the city in March 2014 the Syrians were never fully forced out. They have always managed to maintain a presence in two pockets to the south-west and south-east of Dier-ez-Zour.

Foreign military intervention in Syria is authorised under United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2170 (2014). This is issued under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. It applies only to action against ISIL, Al Qaeda or their allies.

It expressly forbids action being taken against the Syrians themselves or any other group acting against ISIL or Al Qaeda.

As such for CJTFOIR or any other foreign actor to take action to remove the Syrians from Deir-ez-Zour would be an act of wholly illegal, aggressive war. Suggesting that CJTFOIR would commit an illegal act of war to aid groups that are trying to destroy them is utterly insane.

In fact under the Geneva Conventions if any member of CJTFOIR or any other foreign military even suggests it their chain of command is obligated to immediately remove them from duty and instigate disciplinary proceedings.

In January 2017 ISIL launched an offensive of their own to finally expel the Syrians from all of Deir-ez-Zour City.

This had me quietly cheering ISIL on. If they managed to fully remove the Syrians from the city the SDF backed by CJTFOIR could then quite easily and quite legally move into liberate all of Deir-ez-Zour from ISIL. Unfortunately the Syrians launched a counter-offensive and by April 2017 ISIL's efforts had failed.

The fact that the SDF and CJTFOIR cannot capture Deir-ez-Zour City from the Syrians however does not mean that they cannot liberate the rest of Deir-ez-Zour Province from ISIL. This will involve them advancing from the Madan-Shaddadi line some 160km (95 miles) across the Khabur River basin to the Syria/Iraq border.

This would fully establish Shangri-La as a properly bordered zone and prevent the Syrians advancing any further than Deir-ez-Zour City. It would also give the SDF control of the bulk of Syria's oil fields. By denying the Syrians control of those oil fields the SDF would force the Syrians to negotiate a solution to the conflict with them.

CJTFOIR's in particular response to the Syrians shift in focus has been flat-footed and incompetent.

On June 6th (6/6/17) CJTFOIR forced the SDF to launch an operation against Raqqa City located some 130km (80 miles) north-west of Deir-ez-Zour City along the Euphrates River. The strategic thinking behind this operation seemed limited to the fact that all the way back in November 2016 Obama panicked and blurted out; "The SDF will liberate Raqqa!"

I am very keen to see the SDF liberate Raqqa City and hope to soon give you another update on their progress. However there is no point taking control of a city or other area if you do not have the ability to sustain control of that area.

By starting the Raqqa City operation after the Syrians had shifted their focus the SDF forced themselves to tie up the bulk of their most effective forces in the battle for the city. This meant that those forces could not then be used to advance across the Khabur basin to the border with Iraq. That gave the Syrians a massive advantage in reaching that area first.

On August (26/8/17) CJTFOIR again sort of panicked and announced the SDF would be launching a Deir-ez-Zour operation of its own. After a mad scramble CJTFOIR got the SDF to actually launch that operation on September 9th (9/9/17) - four days after the Syrians broke the siege on Deir-ez-Zour City.

Obviously in launching this operation designated; "Cizre Storm" neither the SDF nor CJTFOIR could fully announce their intentions. To do so would tip off ISIL and allow them to take better counter measures.

Likewise doing so would alert the Syrians to the plan. This would allow them to delay the full liberation of Deir-ez-Zour City in favour of liberating the Khobar basin before the SDF.

So Cizre Storm was announced as an operation to liberate Deir-ez-Zour. With no clarity offered as to whether that meant city of province.

To their credit I think CJTFOIR always knew that the true objective of Cizre Storm was the Khobar basin. However the force they deployed to the task was wholly inappropriate and insufficient.

The SDF is a coalition of Syrian Kurdish forces known as the People's Protection Units (YPG) and Syrian Christian forces known as the Syriac Military Council (MFS). It also includes various Turkmen and Arab forces including both tribal forces and fragments of the long defunct Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The element of the SDF tasked with the Cizre Storm operation is the Deir-ez-Zour Military Council. This is largely made up of FSA fragments from Deir-ez-Zour City who now call themselves the "Syrian Elite Forces (SEF)" - much to the amusement of the rest of the SDF and any other fighting force in the world ever.

Between 2011 and 2014 what is now known as the SEF fought alongside ISIL against the Syrians in Deir-ez-Zour City. However in 2014 they were then expelled from the city by ISIL forcing them to seek sanctuary from Syria's Kurds.

The SEF's dispute with ISIL has never been ideological. The two Sunni-Arab groups simply fell out over the distribution of power and spoils.

Prior to being accepted into the SDF and sent on the Cizre Storm operation the SDF have been subjected to absolutely no vetting process. The US will claim that they've been vetted but the fact the SDF keeps getting attacked with weapons the US gave to vetted groups who've since joined ISIL should make it clear that the US vetting process is wholly insufficient.

The Cizre Storm operation initially went quite well with the SEF advancing as far as the industrial outskirts of Deir-ez-Zour City by September 13th (13/9/17). However they then stopped dead refusing to move until they were given permission to again re-join ISIL in fighting the Syrians within the city.

This was all very frustrating for the Russians who have probably been better friends to the SDF than CJTFOIR have.

For example in November 2016 Turkish President/Prime Minister/Emperor Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent forces to attack the SDF at the town of Manbij. This sits on the western boundary of Shangri-La.

CJTFOIR's response to this was to do, well, Sh*t All. However the Russians bombed Erdogan's forces bringing the attacks to a temporary halt.

In March 2017 Erdogan again launched sustained attacks on the western boundary of Shangri-La. Again CJTFOIR did sh*t all. The Russians however deployed their forces between Erdogan's forces and the SDF bringing the attacks to an end.

For now at least the SDF also control a small area in the north-west of Syria designated the; "Afrin Canton." Erdogan's forces have been attacking the SDF on Afrin Canton's eastern boundary pretty much continuously since August 2016. I think you can guess what CJTFOIR have done about this.

The Russians though have again put their troops in harms way to protect the SDF. In early September 2017 they established another buffer-zone between Erdogan's forces and the SDF at the eastern boundary of Afrin Canton.

So while they probably don't appreciate me telling the Syrians this the Russians have actually been keen for the SDF to take control of the Khobar basin including the oil fields. They even diverted the Syrians into fully clearing the areas south of Deir-ez-Zour City rather than entering the city itself or crossing the Euphrates.

Unfortunately while the Russians have been doing that the SDF and CJTFOIR have singularly failed to either eliminate or bring under control their rogue elements. On September 18th (18/9/17) the SEF were still sitting in the industrial outskirts of Deir-ez-Zour City demanding the right to re-join ISIL.

So the Russians decided to give the SDF and CJTFOIR a little nudge. They bombed SDF positions to the north of Deir-ez-Zour in the hope that rather like pinball the contact would drive them towards the Khobar basin. No SDF fighters were killed in this nudge.

Unfortunately the US seems to have started to believe all the lies its told about Russia over the years. So rather than taking the hint CJTFOIR went on some weird rant about how despite all the evidence to the contrary they would defend the SDF.

Rather than containing the SEF CJTFOIR's actions emboldened them. On Tuesday (19/9/17) they opened fire on Syrian and Russian positions thinking CJTFOIR would finally swoop in to act as ISIL's airforce.

At this point the Russians and I think everyone else just got f*cked off with it. They allowed the Syrians to cross the Euphrates to liberated the al-Jaffah district in the south-east of Deir-ez-Zour city. This puts the Syrians on a path towards the Khobar cutting off any chance of a SDF advance.

After pretty much every nation queueing up to kick them in the shins at the opening of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) CJTFOIR finally got the message very late on Tuesday (19/9/19) evening. On Wednesday (20/9/17) the SDF started very slowly advancing from Deir-ez-Zour City towards the Khobar basin.

However based on the latest information I have available the SDF have still not made much progress. They've advanced probably a full 2km (1.2 miles) east of the industrial zone putting them about 30km (18 miles) from the Khobar River. The Syrians are closing fast being probably 3km (1.8 miles) from cutting them off.

I think it's pretty clear then there needs to be a dramatic change with CJTFOIR's leadership personnel.

If US Generals can't pick up on something that I with no formal military training or experience can see as obvious they're clearly a liability.

They should resign to save us the embarrassment of having to fire them.

15:55 on 22/9/17 (UK date).

 








Saturday, 16 September 2017

Threat Status: National Embarrasment.

On Thursday (14/9/17) and Friday (15/9/17) the sixth round of meetings in the Astana Process took place. Formed in December 2016 the Astana Process sees Russia, Syria, Turkey and Iran working to find a solution to the six year conflict within Syria.

The main topic at this round of meetings was the possible creation of what for simplicity I will describe here as a deconfliction zone around the city of Idlib - capital of Idlib Province. This is in the north-west of Syria on the border with Turkey.

Since at least July 2017 this area has been under the exclusive control of the Islamist terror group The Support Front/Jabhat al-Nusra (ANF). Although they try to disguise it with frequent name changes the ANF are the Syrian branch of The Base/Al Qaeda terror group.

Therefore the establishment of a deconfliction zone would mean Turkey and Russia protecting Al Qaeda in an area of Syria. Al Qaeda are extremely likely to use this area as a base to launch terror attacks globally.

The US was granted observer status within the Astana Process back in January 2017. However the UK remains excluded.

So on Friday (15/9/17) morning the UK attempted to force its way into the Astana Process with an incident at the Parson's Green Underground Rail (Metro/Tube) station in south-west London.

Here an essentially stunt pyrotechnic ignited the air within a train carriage creating a flashover fire or fireball. As soon as the oxygen in the carriage had been consumed the fire put itself out. The entire incident lasted literally fractions of a second and resulted in no damage or significant injury.

Parson's Green is one of London's more obscure stations. Unless you live there or travel past it on your way to someone else even regular users of London's Tube network would struggle to tell you where it is.

However in this case Parson's Green is an extremely important station. That's because BBC News anchor Sophie Raworth lives right by it. As the incident was occurring Raworth was travelling to work. With a senior journalist and her Smartphone already being at the scene news of the incident broke very quickly. At around lunchtime in Astana.

The incident has been and continues to be described as a failed terrorist attack. That obviously puts the issue of the terrorist threat to the UK on the Astana agenda.

It actually seems modelled on a very specific terrorist campaign conducted in the UK by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) between 1986 and 1987. The ALF were a very militant animal rights group who conducted firebombings against shops selling animal fur and animal testing labs.

Somewhere deep in the fog of my memory I seem to remember that as part of their campaign the ALF also planned to firebomb Tube trains. However those attacks certainly never took place and I can't immediately find any reference to it on the Internet.

One of the most famous ALF attacks occurred in December 1987. Here they firebombed a branch of the Debenhams department store in the Harrow area of north-west London causing close to half a million dollars worth of damage.

In an effort to nudge you towards that rather obscure reference prior to the incident at Parson's Green there was a fire at a lumber yard in Harrow. The smoke from this fire forced the West Coast Mainline Overground Rail service out of London Euston station to be closed causing significant travel disruption.

The ALF's firebombing in Harrow remains highly controversial. That's because the incendiary device itself was actually planted by Bob Lambert - a police officer working undercover within the ALF on behalf of the Metropolitan Police's Special Branch which has recently been absorbed into Counter-Terrorism Command.

Obviously the police officer could simply have done this in order to maintain his cover. If he'd refused he would have been kicked out of the group, the police would lose a vital source on intelligence and another member of the group would have simply planted the device.

However it is also possible that it was the police officer who came up the with idea for the ALF to conduct a firebombing campaign. That sort of False Flag operation would allow the government to justify using ever more extreme measures to crack down on the ALF.

A current connoisseur of this type of False Flag attack is Turkish President/Prime Minister/Emperor Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He frequently conducts False Flag attacks within Turkey and beyond in order to further his political agenda.

Although not strictly speaking a False Flag attack a prime example of this is the July 20th 2015 (20/7/15) Suruc bombing.

Here Erdogan allowed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to bomb a gathering of Turkish Kurds who were raising money to help rebuild the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane which had been liberated a few months earlier. The bombing killed 33 people and wounded 104 more.

Bizarrely Erdogan used this attack by ISIL on Kurds to end a longstanding ceasefire between Turkey and the Turkish Kurdish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Erdogan has since used the ending of that ceasefire in order to attack Kurdish groups fighting ISIL in both Iraq and Syria.

Eventually it even allowed him to formally invade and occupy a large section of Syria in order to maintain supply lines between ISIL and Turkey.

Another good example of Erdogan's antics is the February 17th 2016 (17/2/16) Ankara bombing. Here a bus carrying Turkish troops was blown up in Ankara killing 29 people and wounding 60. Erdogan immediately blamed this on the PKK and demanded the right to invade Syria.

The Ankara bombing was modelled on the August 27th 1979 (27/8/79) Warrenpoint ambush. Also often known as the Narrow Water ambush this was the most deadly attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) on the British Army. As with in Ankara a bus carrying troops was blown up killing 18 and wounding 6.

Understanding the reference the UK almost immediately called Bullsh*t on Erdogan's claim the PKK were responsible for the Ankara bombing.

The Narrow Water ambush occurred on the same day as the PIRA assassination of effectively father-in-law to the British Queen Lord Mountbatten in County Sligo in the Republic of Ireland. These incidents led to the introduction of broadcast restrictions intended to stifle terrorist propaganda.

Restricting terrorist propaganda has been a major issue within the current global fight against ISIL. As a result discussions about the Ankara bombing and its links to the Narrow Water ambush raged globally for about six months.

Beyond raising Britain's concerns about terrorism in Astana the Parson's Green incident also attempted to shake information out of the meeting. To that end it included lots of references that didn't really go anywhere.

There's a rather famous British movie called; "28 Days Later" and its sequel; "28 Weeks Later." They're directed by Danny Boyle who did the London 2012 Olympic ceremonies.

The movie's story starts with an animal rights group similar to the ALF setting monkey's free from a medical research lab. What they don't realise is the monkeys are infected with a virus that turns people into Zombies leading to the UK being destroyed in a Zombie Apocalypse.

That reminds Astana of the scale to the potential terrorist threat to the UK while also urging the participants to think about the future. It does it in really convoluted way though.

The device used at Parson's Green was not a suicide device. Instead it was it was rigged with a timer that allowed the person who planted it to leave the scene.

This coupled with the fact it was not a viable bomb was very similar to an incident on October 20th 2016 (20/10/16) when the discovery of a non-viable device at North Greenwich Tube station. This caused a mass evacuation and the cancellation of a concert by the band Nickelback at the near-by O2 Arena concert venue.

Nickelback are a Canadian band. The current Canadian Prime Minister is Justin Trudeau. He suffers from the same liberal disease of former US President Barack Obama.

They and many others in the west view Muslims not as people but as fashion accessories they can use to signal to their friends what tolerant and good people they are.

The people who sign up to this type of thinking will condemn you as a racist if you dare to suggest that an Islamist terror attack was an Islamist terror attack. That puts people in danger because in order to guard against a threat you first have to identify it.

At the time I think that Canada along with France was demanding that the Syrians stop trying to liberate Aleppo City from Al Qaeda. It was the liberation of Aleppo City that led to Al Qaeda taking up their current positions around Idlib City.

Fortunately Justin Trudeau is not the leader of Canada. The British Queen is the leader of Canada. Any authority Trudeau has is simply a privilege granted by the Queen. If Trudeau or anyone else uses that privilege to threaten the UK it can be quickly revoked.

Back in October 2016 Trudeau seemed to need to be reminded of that fact.

The legal proceedings which followed the North Greenwich incident were quite strange. The device had been built and planted by white 19 year old Damon Smith. He was not a member of ISIL or any other terror group and although apparently had become fixated on Islam he wasn't a Muslim.

Smith though did suffer from Autism. That is a sort of neurological impairment making it difficult for him to realise that planting a bomb on a Tube train simply to see if he could solve the puzzle of how to plant a bomb on a Tube train was not socially acceptable behaviour.

As a result there was a lot of discussion over whether it was an act of terrorism. Smith had certainly committed the violent act of planting a bomb in a public place. However he'd not done it out of any political motive. In fact he seemed almost completely oblivious to the political implications of his actions.

At the trial there was also lots of discussion whether his medical condition constituted a form or mitigation and whether it would be better to confine him to a hospital rather than send him prison.

That is obviously quite different from the seeming conveyor belt of terrorism trials of often non-White suspects the UK has going at the moment. The likes of Justin Trudeau will tell you that's simply the result of a racism that only he can protect you from.

The Parson's Green device was triggered by an electrical short-circuit that had been created intentional in a small lightbulb. Often known as Fairy Lights these are similar to the ones that are often used to decorate Christmas Trees. It obviously created a fire.

On June 13th (13/6/17) a fire tore through the Grenfell Tower apartment block in the Kensington & Chelsea are of west London. This left 80 people dead or missing presumed dead. That fire too was caused by an electrical short circuit.

Authorities in London were and continue to be adamant that the electrical short-circuit which caused the Parson's Green fire was intentional and deliberate. However they refuse to even entertain the idea the electrical short-circuit which caused the Grenfell Tower fire could have been intentional and deliberate.

That is extremely embarrassing for authorities in London because it is a matter of accepted fact amongst intelligence agencies that the Grenfell Tower was set deliberately and intentionally. It was set by members of the British Labour Party in an attempt to overthrow the government.

There's actually been something of a mini-competition between intelligence agencies over who can get their hands on the communications which prove Labour's arson conspiracy.

However with everyone seeming to have copies this has turned into a game of who if anyone is going to release them to the public. After all watching Britain squirm is quite amusing to all the people Britain has annoyed over the years.

What should have happened in response to Grenfell Tower is that all those involved in the conspiracy were arrested. This would involve Labour MP's such as Emma Dent-Coad being expelled from Parliament in disgrace and possibly the entire Labour Party being disbanded.

However for some reason Britain has decided to cover all this up.

So now we've got to sit through a Public Inquiry all pretending the fire was some sort of accident. Labour of course intended to use that Public Inquiry to further destabilise the government. At it's launch on Thursday (14/9/17) they actually complained it would independent rather then allowing them to investigate themselves.

The political instability over Grenfell Tower is actually causing Britain a lot of problems. Particularly in the vital Brexit negotiations. It's got to the point Germany is pleading with the UK to sort itself out because time for Brexit negotiations is running out.

The Parson's Green device was wrapped in a plastic bag from the German Supermarket chain Lidl. Apparently they're not overjoyed at the brand association.

Britain has what is known as an integrated housing policy. This means that rather than having rich neighbourhoods and poor neighbourhoods people are forced to live together. This is why you have poor residents of Grenfell Tower living in one of Britain's richest areas.

However Parson's Green is generally speaking quite wealthy. The people who live and certainly commute to work from there earn money, pay tax and contribute to society. As we've seen from their constant demands for government handouts and luxury hotel rooms the residents of Grenfell Tower generally don't work, don't pay tax and only take from society.

On the news I saw one of the residents complaining that he felt the opening of the Public Inquiry was a waste of time. However he didn't complain that he had to take a day off work to attend. He complained he had to be out of bed at 10:30 to attend. I'm a famously late sleeper. Even I was up at 10:30.

This contrast between society's makers and society's takers both experience both experiencing fires should help fuel the political soap opera.

Many of those affected by the Parson's Green fire were taken to Westminster & Chelsea Hospital. This generally serves patients from Westminster and Chelsea. Just to confuse people it's actually in Hammersmith & Fulham.

At around 16:20 on 16/9/17 (UK date) I'll pick this up later. With it only really being tidying up I may actually leave it until Monday.

Edited at around 18:35 on 16/9/17 (UK date) to add;

Although it was entirely false the number of casualties from the Parson's Green incident was initially given as 18. The device was described as a; "Bucket Bomb."

This was in reference to an Irish Republican rebel song called; "18 Brits Were Blew to Bits."

Set to the tune of the children's nursery rhyme; "Old McDonald Had a Farm" this celebrates PIRA terror attacks. Most notably the Narrow Water ambush and the assassination of Lord Mountbatten. It refers to those killed; "Kicking the Bucket" - a common euphemism for dying.

On May 22nd (22/5/17) there was a terrorist bombing at the Manchester Evening News Arena (MENA) in the UK city of Manchester. This killed 22 people and wounded 59 others. It occurred at the end of a concert by US popstar Ariana Grande being performed as part of her Dangerous Woman Tour (DWT).

In response to the bombing Ariana Grande arranged a charity concert for the survivors in Manchester on June 4th (4/6/17). In part this prompted another terror attack on the UK. This time a marauding run-over and stabbing attack in the London Bridge area of London. Taken place on the night of June 3rd (3/6/17) this killed 8 people and wounded 48.

Ariana Grande's concert was chosen for the May 22nd (22/5/17) attack in reference to Rihanna's 2013 Diamonds World Tour (DWT) which I got so heavily involved in. Once Rihanna's DWT was over the US tried to get me equally heavily involved in Miley Cyrus' upcoming tour.

So although I've made a conscious effort to keep my distance I very much have a concept of Miley Cyrus as an actual real life person. Rather than one of those people that live in the TV. Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus are really close friends and Miley Cyrus was very heavily involved in organising the June 4th (4/6/17) concert.

Within the UK music industry the gold standard awards are the BRIT Awards.

So on what was an extremely stressful day for me I used the song 18 Brits to tease performers at the charity concert as a way to break the tension.

Shortly afterwards it was revealed that Rihanna had been conducting a secret relationship with Hassan Jameel. A Saudi Arabian who is actively under investigation by various intelligence agencies for supplying ISIL with primarily vehicles. It is extremely likely the relationship triggered the attack on the MENA concert.

I think it is fair to say that the intelligence agencies who had been investigating Jameel did not approve of Rihanna's relationship with him. In fact she was briefly dubbed; "Slag O'Waters" in a shaky reference to the 18 Brits song about Lord Mountbatten being assassinated at Sligo Waters.

Immediately following the MENA bombing the American FBI caused a huge amount of offence in the UK. They released crime scene photos and other details of the investigation that the British police had shared with them under the so-called "Five Eyes" agreement. This led to the UK police temporarily ending intelligence sharing with the FBI.

At the time the FBI was being headed by Andrew McCabe. He is the agent who took close to $1million in bribes from Democrat Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe while investigating Hillary Clinton for espionage against the US. Funnily enough Hillary Clinton was not charged.

This behaviour along with the FBI's seemingly relentless leaking of information seeming intended to oust the democratically elected President of the US Donald Trump seems to suggest a deep ideological commitment to Islamist terrorism on the part of American liberals.

In the immediate aftermath of the Parson's Green incident the British police told CNN reporter Nima Elbagir - off the record - that the device had used a timing device. Elbagir and CNN immediately broke that confidence and leaked news of the timing device globally.

In response there has been a lot of criticism of President Trump over claims he leaked sensitive information by suggesting British police had knowledge of the suspect. Such is their blind hatred of Trump CNN and their cohorts couldn't work out that the British outrage was actually directed at them.

I don't know the exact details of the timing device but experience suggests it was some sort of alarm clock. This is something that is synonymous with IRA and then PIRA bombing campaigns. There's even a song about it called; "My Auld Alarm Clock."

Actually it's more a song about how anti-Irish racism caused by IRA terrorism drives Irish people to the IRA.

It's about an Irish man who moves to London in 1939. He's promptly arrested on pretty much a charge of being Irish. However the formal evidence is that he is in possession of an old alarm clock similar to the ones used as a timer for bombs. The police and Judge have no interest in letting him defend himself. He ends up in prison going;

"I wasn't a terrorist but thanks to you b*stards once I get out I will be."

That's obviously a topical issue with groups like Al Qaeda carrying out terror attacks to trigger an anti-Muslim backlash that drives Muslims to join them.

The reason why anti-Irish racism was so serious in the UK in 1939 was the outbreak of the Second World War. During the First World War the technically Irish Republic Brotherhood (IRB) staged the 1916 Easter Rising. This was supposed to have taken place with weapons supplied by Britain's enemy Germany.

During the Second World War Britain actually established a secret resistance movement known as the; "Scallywags." In the event of a Nazi invasion they would use terrorist tactics to fight back. Many of the Scallywags served in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil war alongside members of the IRB.

Also it must be said that even for famously late sleepers like myself waking up to the words; "Explosion, Tube Train, London, Terrorism" on the radio alarm clock certainly helps get you out of bed.

The May 22nd (22/5/17) and June 3rd (3/6/17) terror attacks were carried out to influence the UK's June 8th (8/6/17) General Election.

The ultimate aspiration was to get the Labour Party elected into government. As you've seen through the conduct of their now defunct MP Jo Cox they are big supporters of Islamist terrorism.

Their leader Jeremy Corbyn in particular spouts all sort of terrorist conspiracy theories such as the September 11th 2001 terror attacks being caused by the War on Terror that was launched in October 2001 and ended by Obama in 2011.

Failing a Labour victory the objective was to produce a hung Parliament in which no clear winner emerges. This destabilises the UK making it harder for it to combat Islamist terror.

In the US they're still freaking out over foreign interference in their November 2016 election because a Russian news broadcaster reported on it.

Quite how the UK can accept a political party which allied itself with foreign terrorist groups to murder 30 British citizens as part of its election campaign as legitimate is a mystery many people would like to see solved.

Following the May 22nd (22/5/17) the UK raised its terror threat level to the maximum of; "Critical." This triggered the deployment of troops to the British streets under "Operation Temperer."

This was done because the authorities were not sure whether the MENA bombing was the work of one person or if there was a wider cell planning more attacks. I knew it was the work of one person but could see why the government would want to take precautions.

However the threat level was lowered again on May 27th (27/5/17) and Operation Temperer was gradually wound down. This triggered the June 3rd (3/6/17) attack in an effort to make Prime Minister Theresa May look utterly incompetent in the eyes of voters five days before an election.

In response to the Parson's Green incident the terror threat level has again be raised to "Critical" and Operation Temperer has resumed. With no-one considering what has happened to be a credible terrorist threat let alone there being one in the immediate future this just further fuels the political soap opera.

You could view it as Theresa May reminding voters of Labour's murderous election campaign and daring the party to try another stunt like Grenfell Tower once the threat level is lowered.

However you could also view it as London authorities wilfully withholding vital information from the Prime Minister as they have done with Grenfell Tower. That raises the prospect of a radical faction within the police trying to stage a coup against the lawfully elected government.

In that context soldiers being sent to the streets to replace police officers makes you wonder whether tomorrow we're going to wake up to the news that the heads of Jeremy Corbyn and Labour's London Mayor Sadiq Khan have been placed on pikes outside the Tower of London.

Of course once my old alarm clock had woken me up the first thing I saw was Russians laughing at Britain's pitiful attempt to force its way into Astana.

The French were also expressing anger about it. However that's because they thought it was all being done because French President Emanuel Macron had a scheduled telephone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin later in the day.

With it being obvious the UK was trying to force information out it forced the Astana meeting to make an announcement. That announcement was that Al Qaeda are to be protected by Turkey and Russia in Idlib. The exact opposite of what the UK was trying to achieve.

Therefore if I was in charge I'd be getting the UK to draw a line under this embarrassing episode as quickly as possible. However the UK is still in the grips of tunnel vision and even less likely to listen to reason then usual.

Today they've arrested an 18 year old on suspicion of planting the device. You'll notice the very similar age to Damon Smith.

They're also searching a property in Sunbury-on-Thames. A somewhat wealthy town just outside south-west London. This has triggered a mass evacuation of the area with local residents being sent to temporary accommodation.

Apparently we're supposed to look at how the makers of Sunbury-on-Thames respond to their temporary accommodation compared to the behaviour of the takers of Grenfell Tower.

20:05 on 16/9/17 (UK date).

Edited again at around 09:25 on 21/9/17 (UK date) to add;

In response to the MENA bombing I wrote about the need for people to process the trauma of their experience in order to take ownership of those memories and leave them behind.

With my Great-Grandfather being one of the first people killed by the IRA during the war of independence I probably know more than most how repressed trauma has a way of echoing through the generations.

So although it doesn't really fit here I should probably take my own advice.

The MENA bombing was followed by a marauding attack through London - the city in which I live. The police brought this attack to an end within 10 minutes killing all of the attackers. However they didn't make that little detail public until several hours later.

So at the time I went to bed that day there were potentially multiple ISIL fighters marauding towards my house to kill me. On this threat I think my decision spoke for itself.

However it did serve to remind everyone that in this fight against ISIL and their associates I'm probably the only person who doesn't have access to firearms.

Mind you living in Khanistan you get used to living with the constant threat of being robbed, shot, stabbed or having acid thrown in your face. If you're black, live in social housing and vote Labour the police aren't allowed to stop you doing those things. Apparently it's part of your culture and much be respected.

In other news from this dirty old town someone has finally chopped down an old dead tree.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Operation Featherweight: Month 38, Week 4, Day 7.

On November 6th 2016 (6/11/17) the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF/QSD) launched an operation to liberate the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The SDF are a coalition of Kurdish, Christian, Turkmen and Arab forces. The Arab element which makes up around 50% of the coalition is made up of both fragments of the long defunct Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Arab tribes indigenous to northern Syria.

The SDF is supported by the US-led coalition Combined Joint Task Force: Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTFOIR).

The city of Raqqa sits on the Euphrates River. It is located around 200km (120 miles) west of Syria's border with Iraq and around 100km (60 miles) south of Syria's border with Turkey. It has functioned as ISIL's de facto capital in Syria.

The first stage of the SDF's operation was to advance on Raqqa from three directions; North, West and East. This was completed on March 19th 2017 (19/3/17) with the SDF taking up positions at al-Karamah - around 30km (20 miles) south-east of Raqqa.

On March 22nd (22/3/17) the SDF launched an operation to liberate the town of Tabqa and the adjoining Tabqa Dam which forms Lake Assad out of the Euphrates River. This operation was completed on May 11th (11/5/17) giving the SDF control of positions on the southern banks of the Euphrates some 40km (25 miles) west of Raqqa.

On June 6th (6/6/17) the operation to liberate Raqqa itself was begun.

This saw the SDF enter Raqqa in three directions; North, West and East. At the same time the SDF swept west-to-east from Tabqa along the southern bank of the Euphrates in order to isolate Raqqa from the main body of Syria.

The SDF's northern axis task was to liberate the former Syrian military - Division 17 - base to the north of the city. This task was completed on or around August 1st (1/8/17). Since then the northern axis has maintained a holding pattern.


The SDF's western axis entered the city via the Jazra suburb on June 6th (6/6/17).  By July 3rd (3/7/17) the western axis had succeeded in completely liberating the Sabahiya, Romaniyah, al-Qadisiyyah and al-Hattin districts and parts of the an-Nadah and al-Baryd districts. These all sit on the western outskirts of Raqqa.

The SDF's eastern axis began by entering the Mashlab district at the most south-easterly tip of Raqqa on June 6th (6/6/17). By June 17th (17/6/17) it had succeeded in liberating the Mashlab, al-Sinaa and Bitani districts. These all sit on the eastern outskirts of Raqqa.

On July 2nd (2/7/17) the eastern axis entered the Hisham Abdulmalik district at the very south of Raqqa on the banks of the Euphrates.

Having liberated the Yarmouk district on July 17th (17/7/17) the western axis entered the Shahada district. This also sits at the very south of Raqqa directly adjacent to the Hisham Abdulmalik district.

On August 10th (10/8/17) the SDF were able to declare both the Hisham Abdulmalik and Shahada districts fully liberated. That limited ISIL to just 16 districts in the north and centre of the city.

Before entering the Hisham Abdulmalik district the SDF's eastern axis entered the al-Rawdah district on June 28th (28/6/17). This sits directly north-west of the Bitani district and directly north of the Old City district.


Alongside fighting in the Hisham Abdulmalik and al-Rawdah districts the eastern axis also entered the Old City district of Raqqa on July 6th (6/7/17). This sits directly west of the al-Sinaa and Bitani districts and directly north of the Hisham Abdulmalik district.



On September 2nd (2/9/17) the SDF liberated the Mansur neighbourhood. This was the last of the Old City's four neighbourhoods to be liberated and marked to complete liberation of the Old City.


Directly to the west of the Old City district you have what is believed to be ISIL's main headquarters within Raqqa.

This stretches across several districts including al-Baytra, Hanah, Amin and what is known as the Security Box. It is perhaps better defined by landmarks such as Harun al-Rashid Gardens, April 7th Park, the National Hospital and the football stadium.

On June 28th (28/6/17) the SDF's western axis entered the an-Nadah district. This sits directly south of the al-Bayrd district and directly east of the Hattin district.

Although not particularly wide the an-Nadah district is quite long. It stretches almost from the western outskirts of Raqqa down to the Hanah district and the National Hospital.

On August 28th (28/8/17) the SDF's western axis scored a significant strategic victory. Pushing north from the Shahada district they liberated the Children's Hospital complex. A location they first reached from the west on July 24th (24/7/17).

Located at the junction between the Shahada and al-Moroor districts and the Security Box the Children's Hospital complex was one of the key landmarks on the outskirts of what is believed to be ISIL's main headquarters within Raqqa. It had long been used by the group as a military base and command centre.

Having liberated the Children's Hospital complex the SDF have continued to advance north across the al-Moroor district to where it meets the al-Nadah district. They have then advanced along the road separating the al-Moroor and al-Nadah districts to the liberated Karim district.

This has allowed them to divide the al-Moroor and Darayeh districts from the Amin district which is at the centred of what is believed to be ISIL's main headquarters in Raqqa. It has also allowed them to divide the al-Moroor and Darayeh districts from the al-Nadah district.

On September 6th (6/9/17) the SDF scored another strategic victory by liberating the Court House and Criminal Security complex.

Another of the key landmarks of the edge of what is believed to be ISIL's main headquarters within Raqqa this is located where al-Nadah district meets al-Moroor district. It is located less than 100metres/yards from the National Hospital complex.

Having liberated the Court House complex the SDF have continued to push north. On September 7th (7/9/17) they liberated the al-Tishah neighbourhood.

This is the most southerly neighbourhood within the al-Nadah district. It's liberation traps any remaining fighters within the district between twin SDF advances from the north and south.

On September 8th (8/9/17) the SDF succeeded in liberating all of the Darayeh district. This sits directly to the north of the Shahada district and directly west of the al-Moroor district leading out to the western suburb of Jazra.

On September 10th (10/9/17) the SDF liberated all of al-Moroor district. This sits directly north of the Shahada district and directly south of the al-Nadah district. On its south-eastern edge the al-Moroor district borders the Security Box area when the Children's Hospital complex sits.

Having liberated the al-Tishah neighbourhood of al-Nadah district the SDF's western axis have continued to push east deep into the area where ISIL's main headquarters are believed to be located.

Since Wednesday (13/9/17) they have been fighting within the city block which has the April 7th Park at it's southern tip and the Children's Gardens at its north-easterly tip.

It is in this city block that someone on Google Maps has registered the business "ISIS Capital." Although that is sadly not totally accurate once the SDF's western axis liberate the Children's Gardens it will put them within one city block or roughly 200 metres/yards from linking up with the eastern axis in the liberated Mansur neighbourhood of the Old City district.

Alongside their advance towards the Children's Park on September 11th (11/9/17) the SDF's western axis launched an operation to liberate the National Hospital complex.

This large complex essentially makes up the entire Hanah district. It's sits directly west of the April 7th Park. As with the Children's Hospital complex it has not functioned as a hospital for a very long time. Instead ISIL have been using it as command & control centre and military base.

While the western axis has been rapidly advancing the SDF's eastern axis have not been sitting on their hands. Pushing north from the Hisham Abdulmalik district they have advanced into the al-Baytra district liberating the Governate Building on September 12th (12/9/17). This sits around 300-400 metres/yards south of Harun al-Rashid Gardens.

Back on  June 29th (29/6/17) the SDF's west-to-east southern sweep reached the eastern outskirts of Raqqa. This meant that the city was completely cut-off from the main body of Syria.

As of July 24th (24/7/17) the SDF had taken up positions around 25km (15 miles) south-east of Raqqa roughly at the northern outskirts of the town of Dalhah. There they were forced to stop.

Since May 2017 the Syrians themselves along with their Russian backers have been ranging their entire might against ISIL. Having liberated the city of Aleppo from the Al Qaeda-led, ISIL allied Army of Conquest/Jaish al-Fatah (JAF) coalition in December 2016 the Syrians have been advancing east across Aleppo Province.

On June 4th (4/6/17) the Syrians liberated the town of Maskanah which sits on the banks of Lake Assad around 90km (50 miles) west of Raqqa. Having liberated Maskanah - the last ISIL held town in Aleppo Province - the Syrians skirted around the SDF's operations in Tabqa and Raqqa.

On July 30th (30/7/17) the Syrians liberated the town of Dalhah from ISIL. It's liberation by the Syrians prevents the SDF from advancing further east along the southern banks of the Euphrates.

While they've been advancing east across Aleppo Province the Syrians have also been advancing across southern Syria. Firstly they liberated some  280km (170 miles) between the capital Damascus and al-Tanf on Syria's border with Iraq.

Having reached al-Tanf on June 9th (9/6/17) they then advanced 180km (110 miles) north-west to the city of Palmyra. Sitting almost at the exact centre of Syria Palmyra was liberated from ISIL by the Syrians in March 2017.

On August 6th (6/8/17) the Syrian forces from Palmyra and Dalhah converged on the town of as-Suknah. This sits around 130km (75 miles) south of Raqqa, 65km (40 miles) north-east of Palmyra and was the last ISIL held town in Homs Province.

From as-Suknah the Syrians objective has been to advance on the city of Deir-ez-Zour. This straddles the Euphrates around 120km (70 miles) south-east of Raqqa and around 120km (70 miles) north-east of as-Suknah.

Since March 2014 the entire portion of Deir-ez-Zour City which sits on the northern banks of the Euphrates has been under ISIL occupation. ISIL have also been able to occupy a portion of the city on the southern banks of the Euphrates. Broadly the Jbela and Hamidiyeh districts down to al-Arfi Street.

The Syrians however have been able to cling onto two pockets on the outskirts of the city;

To the west they have been limited to an area stretching from their 137th Brigade base into the south-west of the city up to the Cemetery area.

To the east they have been restricted to an area stretching from the Airport complex into the south-east of the city up to the al-Rasafah district.

On September 5th (5/9/17) the Syrians were able to break through from as-Suknah to their 137th Brigade Base. This ended the more than three year siege on their forces in western Deir-ez-Zour City.

On September 9th (9/9/17) the Syrians were able to advance across the Cemetery to the Harabesh Quarter district. This linked the west and eastern parts of Deir-ez-Zour city held by the Syrians lifting the siege on the Airport complex.

Since then though the Syrians have declined to liberate the centre of the southern portion of Deir-ez-Zour city from ISIL. Instead they have focused on liberating the southern outskirts of the city in order to totally surrounded its southern side. Also on September 9th (9/9/17) they liberated the Thayyem Oil Field around 15km (10 miles) south of Deir-ez-Zour city.

The convergence of Syrian forces on as-Suknah on August 6th (6/8/17) triggered something of a race between the Syrians and CJTFOIR over who would be the first to reach and then liberate Deir-ez-Zour.

On August 26th (26/9/17) CJTFOIR announced more or less on the SDF's behalf that it to would be mounting an operation to liberate Deir-ez-Zour city. Despite still fighting to liberate Raqqa city the SDF's Deir-ez-Zour operation began on September 9th (9/9/17).

Codenamed; "Cizre Storm" its first stage started from one of those imaginary lines in the desert running roughly from Madan on the banks of the Euphrates diagonally to ash-Shaddadi. From there the SDF would advance 65km (40 miles) south-east towards Deir-ez-Zour City.

The SDF's initial progress has been dramatic. By September 13th  (13/9/17) they had reached the industrial zone at the north-east of Deir-ez-Zour City. This puts them within roughly 1,200 metres/yards of al-Salhiyyah - the first district of the city proper.

However rather than being a cause for celebration this actually makes me nervous for several reasons;

Although they have advanced rapidly the corridor the SDF have created is only 3km (2 miles) wide at its narrowest point. The areas east and west of it are still under ISIL control putting the advanced forces at significant risk of being cut-off and surrounded by a counter attack.

Rather than being undertaken by the SDF as a whole the Cizre Storm operation is being conducted by an element of the coalition known as the Deir-ez-Zour Military council.

This is comprised mainly by Arab fragments of the FSA who were ousted from Deir-ez-Zour City in March 2014. Some of them have an extremely outsized opinion of their own abilities dubbing themselves "Elite Forces" despite having absolutely nothing in the way of weapons, training or success to back it up.

A large part of the reason why these FSA fragments were ousted from Deir-ez-Zour city in the first place is that they considered it more important to fight the Syrians rather than ISIL. In fact initially many of them viewed ISIL as an ally in fighting the Syrians before ISIL turned against them.

Therefore I'm concerned they may well disobey orders and just launch into an attack on the Syrians pitching the wider SDF into a battle against the Syrians. The only winner from that battle will be ISIL.

Also the best way to liberate a city is to first totally encircle it and besiege it.

As things stand the Syrians can't encircle Deir-ez-Zour to the north because of the SDF while the SDF can't encircle Deir-ez-Zour to the south because of the Syrians. This makes it almost impossible to liberate the city from ISIL without a level of cooperation between the SDF and the Syrians which I'm certainly not happy with.

What has allowed the Syrians to turn their attentions from fighting the Army of Conquest to focus all their efforts on fighting ISIL is the Astana Process.

Formed almost as a compensation for the December 2016 liberation of Aleppo City the Astana Process sees Russia, Syria, Turkey and Iran working to find a solution to the conflict between Syria and the Army of Conquest.

At the fifth round of meetings in the Astana Process on May 3rd (3/5/17) and May 5th (5/5/17) agreement was reached to create four zones within Syria dubbed; "The Astana Zones." These are areas where ISIL are not considered to be active where no fighting will take place between the Syrians and the Army of Conquest.

Since May three of these four Astana Zones have gone into effect. These are; An area around Homs Province, An area around the Syrian capital Damascus and An area along Syria's borders with Jordan and Israel including parts of Deraa and Quneitra Provinces.

The sixth round of meetings in the Astana Process have taken place on Thursday (14/9/17) and Friday (15/9/17). Although I am writing this in London, UK on Friday the time difference means we are within minutes of it being Saturday (16/9/17) in Kazakhstan.

The main topic at this sixth round has been the fourth Astana Zone. This is the area centred around Idlib City close to Syria's border with Turkey. Following the liberation of Aleppo City the Army of Conquest fled to this area leading to it being designated; "The Sudetenland."

That designation is in honour of Turkish President/Prime Minister/Emperor Recep Tayyip Erdogan's desire to use the Army of Conquest to annex Syria as part of his New Ottoman Empire. In exactly the same way Adolf Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland in 1938.

As part of his longstanding lust to annex the Sudetenland Erdogan engineered something of a shoving match in the area between the two largest factions in the Army of Conquest in June/July 2017.

This resulted in the Islamic Movement of the Freemen of the Levant/Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiyya (Ahrar al-Sham) who are closely linked to Erdogan through the Muslim Brotherhood being ousted by the Support Front/Jabhat al-Nusra (ANF). Although they try to disguise it by using the name Organisation for the Liberation of the Levant/Hayy'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) the ANF are the Syrian arm of The Base/Al Qaeda.

The intention of this shoving match is that the threat of Al Qaeda right on Turkey's border would give Erdogan an excuse to formally invade and annex the Sudetenland. In an attempt to allow Erdogan to portray himself as the protector of Europe we had the August 17th (17/8/17) which should have been blamed on Al Qaeda.

Of course this shift in control of the Sudetenland means that if this sixth round of meetings in the Astana Process has resulted in the creation of a fourth Astana Zone we are talking about Turkey and Russia formally protecting Al Qaeda in a safe-haven from which they can conduct future terror attacks.

That is a prospect that has got Britain so anxious apparently they've resorted to self-harm.

17:05 on 15/9/17 (UK date).

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Storm Irma: Still Going.

Last Tuesday (5/9/17) Hurricane Irma struck the island of Anguilla, Saint Maarten and Barbuda in the eastern Caribbean as a Category 5 storm.

Since then it has made its way across the Caribbean striking the islands of Hispaniola, the Virgin Islands (Both British and American), Turks & Caicos and Cuba.

On Sunday (10/9/17) Irma struck the southern US state of Florida and spent the next day and a half making its way up the Florida Peninsula.

At around 20:00GMT (14:00 local) Irma finally crossed out of Florida into the states of Georgia and South Carolina bringing largescale flash and storm-surge flooding.

Having dropped to a Tropical Storm Irma is continuing to make its way across the states of Alabama and Kentucky.

With Irma only leaving Florida and the relief operation proper beginning less than a day ago it is hard to give an accurate assessment of the damage it has caused. The latest update I have in front of me simply reads; "Damage Assessments Underway."

It is clear though that Irma has knocked out the electricity supply to around 65% of customers across the state.

The main area of concern is the Florida Keys. This a Coral Reef Archipelago at the south-easterly tip of Florida made up of more than 50 main islands.

The Florida Keys are linked together by a network of bridges known as US Route 1 or "The Overseas Highway." Apart from allowing vehicles to drive over the Caribbean Sea this also carries electricity and clean water to the islands that make up the Keys.

This main road has been damaged in the hurricane making vehicle access impossible. Floating debris is also making it extremely difficult to access the Keys by boat.

Initial estimates though are that some 65% of all homes on the Keys have suffered major damage with 25% being completely destroyed. Although the links to the mainland have held there are also severe problems with both the electricity supply on many of the islands due to local infrastructure being destroyed.

As a result it seems likely that the Florida Keys will be uninhabitable in the medium to longterm. This means that the roughly 10,000 people who remained in the Keys will have to be rescued and the roughly 80,000 permanent residents will have to be evacuated to the Florida Peninsula where they will have to be housed for quite some time.

Although it might sound strange this means I would conduct a rescue operation on the Keys. However I would focus the majority of my efforts in terms of restoring electricity and water supplies to the least damaged areas - likely on the east of the Peninsula. This would allow the people evacuated from those areas to return home freeing up resources to care for evacuees from the Keys.

It seems though the US has been spared the worst of Irma's wrath due to a number of factors.

Firstly it hit Cuba really hard doing extensive to the Cuban Keys. In doing this damage Irma lost a lot of its energy taking it down from a Category 5 hurricane to a Category 3.

As Irma left Cuba it went through what is known as an Eyewall Replacement Cycle.

A hurricane is essentially really strong winds blowing in a clockwise circle around a central point. The central point is known as the Eye and the winds directly around it known as the Eye Wall. These winds are constantly being sucked closer to the Eye. Occasionally one Eye Wall collapses into the Eye and a new Eye Wall is created from the outer bands of winds.

During this replacement cycle the hurricane is weaker. Irma never fully completed this Eyewall Replacement Cycle which prevented it picking  more energy as it crossed from Cuba to Florida.

Finally Irma only ever partially made landfall in Florida. This landfall was only really a technical landfall rather than a full landfall with only 50% of the Eye passing over land. The other 50% remained out over water.

The much more serious situation would have been for the 100% of the Eye to make sustained landfall some distance in from the coast. This would have doubled the damage done to the coastal areas and increased the area of maximum damage across the centre and east of the Peninsula.

In the Caribbean islands the relief effort is scaling up amid quite some criticism.

This is largely being driven by the British media. Following the Grenfell Tower fire back in June they attempted to establish a narrative of the Government being uncaring. Since then every time there is any sort of disaster they immediately criticise the government in order reinforce this narrative in an effort to undermine the government.

This media-led criticism of the British Government has been picked up by the media in France and the Netherlands who also have territories within the Caribbean.

The people leading this criticism don't seem to have any understanding of the complexity of the task.

The first problem is that the Caribbean is really far away from Europe.

Anguilla the most easterly of the British territories affected is around 6,400km (3,800 miles) away from the British mainland. Turks & Caicos the most westerly affected British territory is around 6,600km (4,000 miles) away from the British mainland.

Disaster relief is not like sending an email or updating Facebook. You physically have to move things across distances and the greater the distances the longer that takes.

It's very easy to say you can speed things up flying supplies across those distances.

However normally Anguilla doesn't have an airport or at least not one that can land transatlantic aircraft. Instead it relies on the airport on St Maarten with aircraft landing there and passengers and equipment being transferred to Anguilla on smaller aircraft and boats. The airport at St Maarten was destroyed by Irma.

Also disaster relief efforts require a lot of heavy plant equipment.

One of the things that has had to be brought into St Maarten is a Ship-to-Shore Container Crane. This is used to transport shipping containers from ships to the shore. It is essentially a square kilometre of metal and motors that weighs close to a hundred tonnes.

Therefore flying in this type of equipment is not an option. Aircraft big enough and powerful enough to carry it simply do not exist.

That is why what happens in Florida is so important. On Sunday (9/9/17) I said that the Caribbean islands have to import everything they use from abroad. Normally that means they import them from Florida in the US.

Even if the US government doesn't support relief efforts in the Caribbean once Florida has got back on its feet the Caribbean islands can start sourcing supplies and equipment from the US. It can then be relatively quickly shipped over the comparatively short 1,100km (660 mile) distance from Florida to Turks & Caicos.

The second major problem has been that directly behind Hurricane Irma there has been Hurricane Jose.

Obviously you can't place relief supplies in the path of a hurricane otherwise they'll simply be destroyed. Likewise you are limited in any repair work you can do to infrastructure such as ports in case the next hurricane destroys it and kills all of your engineers.

What the UK has done is back in July it deployed the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Ship RFA Mounts Bay to the Caribbean on the off-chance there would be a hurricane.

Mounts Bay is essentially a floating harbour. It's purpose to carry supplies and then quickly unload them to shore or onto other ships. It comes complete with a water treatment and bottling plants along with its own electricity supply and medical facilities. It also carries with it a helicopter and landing craft

For this mission Mounts Bay has been equipped with 300 Royal Marines. The Navy's infantry these are experts in amphibious warfare. When it comes to moving heavy equipment and large amounts of supplies from a ship to shore without a harbour there a few things they do not know.

Mounts Bay has also been equipped with some 200 Army Engineers. These are specialists in the aspects of construction, electrical, hydro and mechanical engineering you need to deploy and sustain an army in war. They carry with them all the equipment you would need to repair a port, an electrical grid or a drinking water system.

In a mission of this type those Commando Engineers first job is to fan out and assess the damage in order to draw up a plan of action to repair that damage.

Within 24hrs of Irma striking Mounts Bay docked in Anguilla deploying engineers to conduct assessments there. It then set sail for St Maarten where it deployed more engineers to help France fix the island's airport.

Mounts Bay has since sailed to Turks & Caicos where a third deployment of engineers are carrying out assessments. It is currently docked at the British Virgin Islands between the two.

The UK has also been pre-positioning relief supplies at logistics hubs in neighbouring Caribbean islands out of the path of the hurricanes.

Much to my annoyance the main one of these logistics hubs is in Barbados. Even more to my annoyance Barbados has apparently been nicknamed; "Croydon." Because it's so far away from anything important.

While Irma was hitting Florida Hurricane Jose was reaching the eastern Caribbean islands. It missed those islands instead turning into the Atlantic Ocean where it is predicted to die out.

This has allowed the UK to dramatically step up its relief efforts.

With the first wave of Commando Engineers having re-opened air ports and sea ports and established landing points supplies are now being transferred from the logistics hubs by boat.

Yesterday (11/9/17) a further 200+ military and police personnel were flown from the UK to Barbados. They will be joining the relief supplies being shipped from Barbados to the affected islands.

Today (12/9/17) HMS Ocean has set sail for the Caribbean from Gibraltar - another UK overseas territory in the Mediterranean. This comes complete with surgical facilities, the ability to provide electricity to the equivalent of 8,000 homes and produce 300 tonnes of drinking water per day.

For this particular mission HMS Ocean has been equipped with 650 engineers and medical staff, dozens off all terrain, amphibious vehicles and 260 pallets of aid including clothing for 500 people.

Most crucially HMS Ocean is a Helicopter Carrier. So it will be bringing with it 10 helicopters including the heavy lift Chinook.

The only problem is that HMS Ocean will take 12 days to arrive.

But if you know of a quicker way to get a ship from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean the Royal Navy would love to hear from you.

19:45 on 12/9/17 (UK date).


Sunday, 10 September 2017

Hurricanes Irma & Jose: Disaster Relief.

Since Tuesday (5/9/17) Hurricane Irma has been barrelling its way through the Caribbean towards the south-eastern United States.

Technically Hurricane Irma has not yet made landfall within the US. That will only occur when 50% of the centre of the hurricane - the "Eye" - sits over land for a sustained period. However the wall of extremely high winds surrounding the Eye - the "Eye Wall" - arrived in Florida's South Keys in the last two hours or so.

On its journey to the US Hurricane Irma has already torn through some nine Caribbean islands. As the maximum Category 5 storm it has left massive destruction in its wake. Coming hot on the heels of Hurricane Irma there is Hurricane Jose. As a Category 4 storm this is likely to do almost as much damage again.

Up until now I have avoided talking about the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma until it reaches the US.

That is because the US is by far the most powerful actor in the region. Therefore the amount of damage that Irma does to the US will affect the type and scale of the relief operation that can be mounted in the Caribbean islands. Obviously the American government's first priority is to the American people.

Also I continue to be extremely busy with the current fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in both Iraq and Syria.

In July the Iraqi city of Mosul was liberated from ISIL. This prompted me to go into a long discussion about the mistakes that had been made during the operation and the steps that needed to be taken to help the city recover from the battle.

During that discussion I said that it didn't really matter whether the destruction had been caused by a war or by a natural disaster. The steps towards recovery were exactly the same. I stand by that statement.

As if to prove my point on Saturday (9/9/17) the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF/QSD) launched a new offensive against ISIL in Syria. This has been codenamed; "Cizre Storm." Because that is exactly what the SDF plan to bring down on their enemies.

It must be said though that looking at the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma the scale of the task almost makes me want to through up.

Hurricane Irma has caused the equivalent of something 20 Mosuls all of which need to be dealt with at the same time. They are spread across 12 main landmasses covered by at least 10 national and sub-national jurisdictions.

Despite the complexity of the task though the objectives and priorities remain broadly the same; 

Evacuation: Really the only task that can be undertaken before the disaster strikes the first priority is identify the areas that are at risk and evacuating people from those areas to areas where they are at less risk.

During the Mosul operation this was something I was extremely critical of. They had no evacuation plan instead encouraging people to stay in the areas where they were at risk.

When it comes to natural disasters this task is actually much harder than it is in a war. In a war you can send in spies and listen to their communications to work out what your enemy's plan is and react accordingly.

Natural disasters like hurricanes do not have plans so you're left with no firm idea of which areas are at risk. With Earthquakes you get absolutely no warning whatsoever.

Also in a war if your enemy is threatening an area you really don't want threatened you can shoot at and drop bombs on them forcing them to stop. You cannot do that with hurricanes.

However with Hurricane Irma reaching America some local residents have grouped together to shoot at the hurricane in an effort to scare it away. This has not worked and the police have asked them to stop.

Despite the difficulty in predicting which areas need to be evacuated the US has been highly successful in this task.

From the moment its been clear Hurricane Irma was heading for Florida they have been issuing early evacuation orders and placing everyone on warning that they may need to be evacuate. This has led to an orderly evacuation away from the areas in most danger.

Sadly this is not a luxury available to the Caribbean islands.

This storm has been so big that as Irma's Eye has passed over many of the Caribbean island they've been clearly visible from space in the calm at the centre of the storm. With just the Eye being able to utterly consume their islands the hurricane itself has certainly overwhelmed them.

This has left them with no option to evacuate the areas at risk. All they can do is move people away from the coastal areas most a risk of the lethal storm surge to the high ground at the centre of the island. That high ground itself is more vulnerable to the hurricane winds. 

Rescue: Once the storm has passed you need to rescue the people who have become trapped despite the evacuation efforts.

Particularly in flooded areas you will need specialist vehicles such as boats, helicopters and amphibious vehicles. Many of those trapped will also be injured meaning that they need immediate medical attention.

As with clearing unexploded munitions from Mosul it is hard to say how you should prioritise rescue efforts. Therefore the first objective is really to identify and locate all those who need rescue so you can introduce some sort of triage system to rescue those in most need first.

Personally I think there is no obligation to rescue people who have refused to comply with mandatory evacuation orders particularly if transport has been provided to allow them to comply.

They should certainly be given a much lower priority than people who have been evacuated to areas that have been unexpectedly overwhelmed.

Restoring Basic Services: The three priorities people need to live are water, food and shelter. In that order.

However in order to provide those things to a large number of people there are a number of other services that need to be provided. So rather than providing a numeric list to be worked through in order here I'm providing a list of things that all need to be done at the same time. 

Transport & Communication: In order to do anything you have to be able to move around.

Therefore priority needs to be given to opening physical communication routes such as roads by clearing them from debris. For routes that can't be cleared because for example they're covered in floodwater alternative means of transport needs to be supplied in the form of boats, helicopters and amphibious vehicles.

In order to keep those vehicles running you need to keep them supplied with fuel.

Transport and Communication is a particular challenge for island states. In response to Hurricane Harvey a big American brewer shut down beer production in all its factories and switched them to producing canned drinking water. In preparation for Hurricane Irma the American supermarket chain Target diverted almost all of its nationwide stock of bottled drinking water to Florida.

Small island states do not have this option. Everything they use be it food, water, fuel or building supplies has to be imported from abroad. That means the main priority has to be getting air and sea ports functioning again so fresh supplies can be brought in.

Back in April the US launched missile strikes against Shayrat airbase in Syria. US President Trump received some criticism for not using those missiles to crater the runways at the airbase. Trump's response was that the Syrian military like most militarys has specialist teams to get airbases up and running within hours of an attack.

Those specialist teams are also extremely useful when an airport has been destroyed by a natural disaster rather than a missile strike.

Opening particularly airports also allows you to evacuate foreigner from the islands. This might look like rich tourists abandoning poor nations but it is actually relieving the pressure on local services by making those foreigners someone else's problem.

As with outside of a disaster zone you can save time and relieve pressure on physical transport links by establishing and reestablishing telecommunication links like telephones and the Internet. This allows you to communicate with areas without having to physically travel to them.

Security: In order to get anything done you not only need to be able to move around you need to be able to move around without your equipment being stolen or you being attacked and possibly killed.

Sadly in life there are people who care for no-one but themselves. Looking at these hurricanes rather than seeing a disaster they will instead see and opportunity to take whatever they want from whomever they want.

This was a big problem in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. Rather than pulling together like communities did in Texas following Hurricane Harvey a significant number of New Orlean's residents decided to start shooting, raping and stealing from each other making the disaster much worse.

This has also started to happen in the Dutch administered part of Saint Maarten islands where there have been widespread instances of looting, murder and armed robbery.

Therefore steps need to be taken to protect the wider population and the relief efforts from this section of society. In St Maarten the Dutch have sent in combat troops because that is all that was available. Ideally though civilian police should be sent.

How exactly you deal with this hardcore of criminals is a much wider question about policing generally. However I think emergency legislation in most jurisdictions allow for curfews to be put in place and people to be locked up without charge until the time of immediate crisis has passed.

Beyond the hardcore of criminals natural disasters are extremely emotionally and physically stressful times. This can lead to a sort of mass panic setting in leading to otherwise law abiding people turning feral because they feel abandoned.

There is a disaster relief charity called; "Shelter Box." Their strategy is to take a plastic box and fill it with basic supplies such as water purification tablets, emergency food rations and basic tools. They also often include crayons and paper to keep young children amused and help them process any psychological trauma.

The thinking behind Shelter Box is that X-number of these boxes fit onto a pallet. X-number of pallets fit onto trucks, planes and helicopters. This means that a single box can quickly be delivered to every household within a disaster area.

Obviously different households are different sizes so need different longterm support. For example a 68 year old grandmother is more likely to need her heart medication than a colouring book.

However being able to quickly deliver some basic support to everyone stops them feeling like they've been abandoned and reassures them that help is coming. That helps to quell the panic and maintain order. 

Water: The absolute essential for life is water. In order to keep that water clean and safe to drink people's sewage and waste needs to be removed. Sadly in this type of disaster the bodies of the need to be quickly located, removed and safely disposed of before they can contaminate the water supply and otherwise spread disease.

Therefore one of the absolute priorities is to restore the area's water and sanitation systems as quickly as possible. However this can be an extremely complicated task with facilities often completely destroyed meaning that engineers and replacement parts need to be brought in. Often in the case of island states from very far away.

In the meantime it is important to provide alternative sources of drinking water. That can include water brought in from elsewhere and chemical tablets that can purify water on site. Particularly for small island states military warships can be extremely helpful. They often contain their own dedicated water purification plants to make drinking water out of waste water and sea water. 

Food: Alongside water people also need food to survive.

In these type of disaster situations it is extremely tempting to ship in vast amounts of food aid and simply hand it out. Although emergency food aid does have a role experience has shown that the widespread use of food aid simply undermines the local society causing developmental problems that can last for generations.

Therefore the priority is really to restore the local food distribution networks that existed before the disaster. In less technical terms that means getting the shops and markets open again.

In order for that to happen local merchants need to have premises to operate from, the ability to purchase stock and transport links to get that stock to their premises.

Apart from the work of opening transport links local authorities can help merchants do this by providing loan guarantees. This allows suppliers to give the merchants stock on credit safe in the knowledge that if they default the guarantor - which could be an aid agency - will step in to pay the bill.

Once you've got the shops open again you need to make sure that people can afford to shop in them.

This can mean setting temporary price controls to prevent profiteering and gouging. However that only works if you have personnel available to enforce the price controls.

In the event of a cash crunch aid agencies and governments can provide a ration voucher or electronic payment card system. This allows people the 'buy' supplies with vouchers the merchant then exchanges for cash.

Shelter: This is really a longterm recovery and reconstruction issue. However in the immediate term you need to bring in tents to provide people with basic shelter. With the Caribbean still being in the midst of hurricane season as things scale up it could be worth looking at bringing in metal shipping containers to provide more sturdy temporary homes. 

Electricity: Everything from lighting, refrigeration, telecommunications, water supplies and power tools for clearing debris require electricity. Therefore it is a priority to restore the electricity supply as quickly as possible.

In the interim it is essentially to bring in alternative electricity supplies such as batteries, solar panels, generators and fuel for those generators as quickly as possible.

Following the immediate Relief phase there are also the longer and more complex Recovery and Reconstruction phases.

However with Hurricane Irma still striking the US and Hurricane Jose still to strike the Caribbean I think we're going to be stuck in this immediate phase for a little while yet.

14:40 on 10/9/17 (UK date).



Saturday, 9 September 2017

Hurricane Irma Has Turned.

Since Tuesday (5/9/17) Hurricane Irma has been barrelling its way through the Caribbean towards the south-eastern United States.

On Wednesday (6/9/17) I said that the key day would be Friday (8/9/17). This is when Irma would strike Cuba forcing it to turn.

Hurricane Irma actually struck Cuba today only passing over it in the last few hours. However we now have a much clearer idea of the path it will take as it reaches the US.

As with other hurricanes in the region Irma is actually being monitored by two organisations working closely together. The US' own National Hurricane Centre (NHC) and the European Union's (EU) Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC).

The American longterm forecast has predicted that Irma will turn to the east cutting across the US state of Florida before travelling on through the US States of North and South Carolina before heading back out across the Atlantic Ocean.

The European longterm forecast has predicted that Irma will turn to the west largely missing Florida before heading into the Gulf of Mexico towards the US States of Alabama, Louisiana and Texas.

Hurricane Irma is currently leaning towards the European model but seems to have decided to split the difference.

The centre or "Eye" of the hurricane will make landfall in the Florida keys and then travel up the west coast of the state through Tampa. It will then travel up through Georgia and Alabama. As a Tropical Storm it may even make it as far as Illinois. They're more used to dealing with snow storms.

However this does not mean that people in the centre of Florida or even on the east coast will escape unscathed. Irma is a massive hurricane. It is about the same size as the US State of Texas or the nation state of France.

This means that when the eye of the hurricane is over Tampa, Florida the town of Mobile, Alabama will be getting struck by the edges of Irma.

Coming into contact with the Turks & Caicos islands on Friday (8/9/17) Irma dipped in power from Category 5 to Category 4. However as it passed back over open water it picked up energy and recovered to a Category 5.

As it has come into contact with Cuba Irma again dropped to Category 4. However again as it crosses open water it is expected to pick up energy and return to Category 5 as it reaches Florida.

Through its contact with both Turks & Caicos and Cuba Irma has also slowed from around 25kmph (16mph) to 19kmph (12mph).

That means it will take as long to pass over Florida as it would take you to drive from one end of Florida to the other or across Texas at a constant speed of 12mph.

This is all extremely bad news for people who remain in Florida. Particularly those who are trying to ride out the storm in the southern part of the state.

Despite their best efforts it seems inevitable that local state authorities will be overwhelmed by Irma. It is simply far too powerful a storm. As a result they will need rescue and relief from the rest of the US.

That support will have to come from the north of Florida. However there will be a massive hurricane sitting between the people of Florida and that help. This means that they will have to wait for potentially a very long time for the storm to pass making it possible for help to be sent.

Based on the model of Irma making landfall in southern Florida at around 09:00GMT (05:00 local) on Sunday (10/9/17) you're talking about it being 14:0GMT (10:00) local on Monday (11/9/17) before the rescue operation can even begin. That's a gap of what will be 35 very long hours.

One option would be to sail an aircraft carrier from the US' Atlantic fleet to south Florida to act as a bridgehead for the recovery effort. However even if that set sail now it still wouldn't arrive until late on Monday (11/9/17) or early on Tuesday (12/9/17).

I am also aware that long before it has arrived in the US Irma has done catastrophic damage across a number of Caribbean islands. They're talking about 95% destruction on Barbuda and a complete breakdown of law & order and widespread, armed looting on Dutch St Maaten.

What I would normally do in this situation is put pressure on the US to allow the cargo terminal at Miami International Airport into a distribution hub for international aid. I would then encourage NATO nations and any other volunteers to use their military aircraft to distribute that aid to where it is needed.

At this point I'm not even sure there's going to be a Miami International Airport at this time tomorrow.

15:40 on 9/9/17 (UK date)

Friday, 8 September 2017

Operation Featherweight: Month 38, Week 3, Day 7.

On November 6th 2016 (6/11/17) the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF/QSD) launched an operation to liberate the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The SDF are a coalition of Kurdish, Christian, Turkmen and Arab forces. The Arab element which makes up around 50% of the coalition is made up of both fragments of the long defunct Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Arab tribes indigenous to northern Syria.

The SDF is supported by the US-led coalition Combined Joint Task Force: Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTFOIR).

The city of Raqqa sits on the Euphrates River. It is located around 200km (120 miles) west of Syria's border with Iraq and around 100km (60 miles) south of Syria's border with Turkey. It has functioned as ISIL's de facto capital in Syria.

The first stage of the SDF's operation was to advance on Raqqa from three directions; North, West and East. This was completed on March 19th 2017 (19/3/17) with the SDF taking up positions at al-Karamah - around 30km (20 miles) south-east of Raqqa.

On March 22nd (22/3/17) the SDF launched an operation to liberate the town of Tabqa and the adjoining Tabqa Dam which forms Lake Assad out of the Euphrates River. This operation was completed on May 11th (11/5/17) giving the SDF control of positions on the southern banks of the Euphrates some 40km (25 miles) west of Raqqa.

On June 6th (6/6/17) the operation to liberate Raqqa itself was begun.

This saw the SDF enter Raqqa in three directions; North, West and East. At the same time the SDF swept west-to-east from Tabqa along the southern bank of the Euphrates in order to isolate Raqqa from the main body of Syria.

The SDF's northern axis task was to liberate the former Syrian military - Division 17 - base to the north of the city. This task was completed on or around August 1st (1/8/17). Since then the northern axis has maintained a holding pattern.

The SDF's western axis entered the city via the Jazra suburb on June 6th (6/6/17).  By July 3rd (3/7/17) the western axis had succeeded in completely liberating the Sabahiya, Romaniyah, al-Qadisiyyah and al-Hattin districts and parts of the an-Nadah and al-Baryd districts. These all sit on the western outskirts of Raqqa.

The SDF's eastern axis began by entering the Mashlab district at the most south-easterly tip of Raqqa on June 6th (6/6/17). By June 17th (17/6/17) it had succeeded in liberating the Mashlab, al-Sinaa and Bitani districts. These all sit on the eastern outskirts of Raqqa.

On July 2nd (2/7/17) the eastern axis entered the Hisham Abdulmalik district at the very south of Raqqa on the banks of the Euphrates. Having liberated the Yarmouk district on July 17th (17/7/17) the western axis entered the Shahada district. This also sits at the very south of Raqqa directly adjacent to the Hisham Abdulmalik district.

On August 10th (10/8/17) the SDF were able to declare both the Hisham Abdulmalik and Shahada districts fully liberated. That limited ISIL to just 16 districts in the north and centre of the city.

Before entering the Hisham Abdulmalik district the SDF's eastern axis entered the al-Rawdah district on June 28th (28/6/17). This sits directly north-west of the Bitani district and directly north of the Old City district.

Alongside fighting in the Hisham Abdulmalik and al-Rawdah districts the eastern axis also entered the Old City district of Raqqa on July 6th (6/7/17). This sits directly west of the al-Sinaa and Bitani districts and directly north of the Hisham Abdulmalik district.

On September 2nd (2/9/17) the SDF liberated the Mansur neighbourhood. This was the last of the Old City's four neighbourhoods to be liberated and marked to complete liberation of the Old City. That liberation included the freeing of the Great Mosque of Raqqa which was built under the Abbasid Empire in the 8th Century.

Directly to the west of the Old City district you have what is believed to be ISIL's main headquarters within Raqqa.

This stretches across several districts including al-Baytra, Hanah, Amin and what is known as the Security Box. It is perhaps better defined by landmarks such as Harun al-Rashid Gardens, April 7th Park, the National Hospital and the football stadium.

On June 28th (28/6/17) the SDF's western axis entered the an-Nadah district. This sits directly south of the al-Bayrd district and directly east of the Hattin district.

Although not particularly wide the an-Nadah district is quite long. It stretches almost from the western outskirts of Raqqa down to the Hanah district and the National Hospital.

On August 28th (28/8/17) the SDF's western axis scored a significant strategic victory. Pushing north from the Shahada district they liberated the Children's Hospital complex. A location they first reached from the west on July 24th (24/7/17).

Located at the junction between the Shahada and al-Moroor districts and the Security Box the Children's Hospital complex was one of the key landmarks on the outskirts of what is believed to be ISIL's main headquarters within Raqqa. It had long been used by the group as a military base and command centre.

Having liberated the Children's Hospital complex the SDF have continued to advance north across the al-Moroor district to where it meets the al-Nadah district. They have then advanced along the road separating the al-Moroor and al-Nadah districts to the liberated Karim district.

This has allowed them to divide the al-Moroor and Darayeh districts from the Amin district which is at the centred of what is believed to be ISIL's main headquarters in Raqqa. It has also allowed them to divide the al-Moroor and Darayeh districts from the al-Nadah district.

On Wednesday (6/9/17) the SDF scored another strategic victory by liberating the Court House and Criminal Security complex. Another of the key landmarks of the edge of what is believed to be ISIL's main headquarters within Raqqa this is located where al-Nadah district meets al-Moroor district. It is located less than 100metres/yards from the National Hospital complex.

Having liberated the Court House complex the SDF have continued to push north. Yesterday (7/9/17) they liberated the al-Tishah neighbourhood.

This is the most southerly neighbourhood within the al-Nadah district. It's liberation traps any remaining fighters within the district between twin SDF advances from the north and south.

Today (8/9/17) there are unconfirmed reports that the SDF have fully liberated the Darayeh district.

On June 29th (29/6/17) the SDF's west-to-east southern sweep reached the eastern outskirts of Raqqa. This meant that the city was completely cut-off from the main body of Syria.

On July 7th (7/7/17) this southern sweep liberated the village Ukayrishah some 5km (9 miles) south-east of Raqqa. As of July 24th (24/7/17) it had secured positions some 10km (6 miles) south-east of Ukayrishah and roughly 25km (15 miles) south-east of Raqqa.

On December 12th 2016 (12/12/16) the Syrians themselves liberated the city of Aleppo from the Al Qaeda-led, ISIL allied Army of Conquest/Jaish al-Fatah (JAF) coalition. Since then the Syrians have been advancing east across Aleppo Province liberating it from ISIL.

On June 4th (4/6/17) the Syrians liberated the town of Maskanah which sits on the banks of Lake Assad around 90km (50 miles) west of Raqqa. Having liberated Maskanah - the last ISIL held town in Aleppo Province - the Syrians skirted around the SDF's operations in Tabqa and Raqqa.

On July 30th (30/7/17) the Syrians liberated the town of Dalhah from ISIL. Dalhah sits around 25km (15 miles) south-east of Raqqa adjacent to Ukayrishah. It's liberation by the Syrians prevents the SDF from advancing further east along the southern banks of the Euphrates.

While they've been advancing east across Aleppo Province the Syrians have also been advancing across southern Syria. Firstly they liberated some  280km (170 miles) between the capital Damascus and al-Tanf on Syria's border with Iraq.

Having reached al-Tanf on June 9th (9/6/17) they then advanced 180km (110 miles) north-west to the city of Palmyra. Sitting almost at the exact centre of Syria Palmyra was liberated from ISIL by the Syrians in March 2017.

On August 6th (6/8/17) the Syrian forces from Palmyra and Dalhah converged on the town of as-Suknah. This sits around 130km (75 miles) south of Raqqa, 65km (40 miles) north-east of Palmyra and was the last ISIL held town in Homs Province.

From as-Suknah the Syrians objective has been to advance on the city of Deir-ez-Zour. This sits around 120km (70 miles) south-east of Raqqa and around 120km (70 miles) north-east of as-Suknah.

Since March 2014 Syrian forces have been totally besieged in Deir-ez-Zour.

To the west they have been limited to an area stretching from their 137th Brigade base into the south-west of the city up to the Cemetery area. To the east they have been restricted to an area stretching from the Airport complex into the south-east of the city up to the al-Rasafah district.

Following several days of fighting the Syrians on Monday (4/9/17) liberated the Bishri Mountains which sit between as-Suknah and Deir-ez-Zour City. This placed them within just 4km (2.5 miles) of the 137th Brigade base.

At dawn (local) on Tuesday (5/9/17) the Russian frigate Admiral Essen located in the Mediterranean Sea fired a salvo of Kalibr Cruise-type missiles on ISIL positions between Deir-ez-Zour and the Bishri Mountains. This smashed through those ISIL defences allowing Syrian ground forces to advancing into the 137th Brigade base breaking the siege.

The Syrians still need to clear ISIL fighters from the pocket between Dalhah and Deir-ez-Zour on the southern bank of the Euphrates. They also need to break the siege on their positions in the east of Deir-ez-Zour City.

However this is a significant strategic victory by the Syrians. Yesterday (7/9/17) saw the first convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid to arrive in the city in more than three years. Syrian soldiers and civilians in Deir-ez-Zour are overjoyed.

What has allowed the Syrians to focus their resources on ISIL is the Astana Process. This was established following the liberation of Aleppo City and sees Russia, Syria, Turkey and Iran work to find solutions to the conflict which has raged in Syria since 2011.

At the fifth round of meetings in the Astana Process on May 3rd (3/5/17) and May 5th (5/5/17) agreement was reached to create four zones within Syria dubbed; "The Astana Zones." This saw fighting between the Syrians and the Army of Conquest suspended in four proposed areas of Syria.

The first zone to be established was the areas of Deraa and Quneitra Provinces along Syria's borders with Israel and Jordan. Fighting in that area has periodically caused artillery and rocket fire to stray into Israel. This has prompted Israel to conduct airstrikes in retaliation.

The last thing anybody wanted was for Israel to act unilaterally within what is an already extremely crowded and complex battle space. Therefore all parties have been happy for a ceasefire to take effect in that area in order to remove the threat of further Israeli involvement in the conflict.

Apart from the stray fire hitting its territory Israel has also been concerned by the presence of the Lebanese group Hezbollah who have been fighting alongside the Syrians at Syria's request.

In 1982 Israel intervened in the civil war in Lebanon which neighbours both Israel and Syria. This led to the creation of Hezbollah in 1985 as a way to counter Israeli interference in Lebanon and the wider region. Since then Hezbollah and Israel have periodically attacked each other. Most notably in the 2006 Lebanon War.

Israel's main concern is that Hezbollah's involvement in the current conflict in Syria has significantly increased the group's military capabilities. This includes them being supplied with advanced weaponry by the Syrians and more alarmingly being supplied with factory facilities to produce their own advanced weaponry.

There has been particular concern over a rumoured Hezbollah missile factory at a site adjacent to the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre at Masyaf. This is located in Syria's Hama Province around 40km (25 miles) east of the Mediterranean coast and 45km (25 miles) north of the Syria/Lebanon border.

Israel is so concerned that the missiles produced at the Masyaf factory could soon be used against them that on Monday (11/9/17) they are commencing a 10-day "Light of the Grain" military drill.

Involving thousands of reservists being mobilised this will be the largest military drill that Israel has conducted in 20 years. It is specifically to test the nation's readiness is response to Hezbollah attacks from Lebanon and Syria.

Israel has repeatedly and strongly raised its concerns about the Masyaf factory both with the Astana Parties and CJTFOIR.

On August 23rd (23/8/17) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. There he again raised his concerns over Hezbollah in Syria.

To emphasise Netanyahu's concerns the meeting coincided with a number of Israel tanks crossing into the Syrian section of the Golan Heights. They drove around for a couple of hours before returning to Israel.

Yesterday (7/9/17) Israel's strategic patience ran out. Using stand-off weapons fired from aircraft flying over Lebanon Israel blew up the Hezbollah missile factory at Masyaf. For good measure they also blew up the Scientific Studies and Research Centre adjacent to the missile factory.

The Israeli strikes come the day after the United Nations (UN) Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Syria published its quarterly report covering the period between March and July 2017. This included the events of April 4th (4/4/17) in Khan Sheikhoun.

You may remember that on April 4th (4/4/17) reports emerged of a serious Chemical Weapons incident in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. This is located around 75km (45 miles) south of Idlib City and around 45km (30 miles) north of Hama City in the area designated; "The Sudetenland."

Led by Turkey which wishes to annex the Sudetenland many western nations immediately blamed this attack on the Syrians. On April 7th (7/4/17) the US fired 59 Tomahawk Cruise-type missiles at Syria's Shayrat airbase claiming that it had been the source of the Chemical Weapons attack.

On April 10th (10/4/17) Russia tabled a resolution at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) calling for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to visit Khan Sheikhoun to conduct an investigation to determine who was responsible. This resolution was immediately vetoed by the US, the UK and France.

The quarterly report published by the CoI on Syria on Wednesday (6/9/17) covers a range of events in Syria between March and July 2017. As part of that it covers the Khan Sheikhoun incident but does not constitute a full investigation into it.

In compiling their commentary on Khan Sheikhoun the CoI on Syria took a number of steps;

They conducted 43 interviews with people who claim to have been present in Khan Sheikhoun at the time. However they do not detail how and where these interviews were conducted or by whom.

They do though acknowledge that those interviewees are either located or have family members located in an area of Syria under occupation by Al Qaeda. Therefore they cannot be considered reliable either due to duress of political ideology.

The CoI also took receipt of tissue and other samples collected by Turkish authorities within Turkey. These were compared with other similar samples that have been collected by the Syrians at their Scientific Studies and Research Centre in Barza.

Finally and probably most reliably the CoI examined satellite imagery of Khan Sheikhoun both before and significantly after the incident. No imagery at the time or in the immediate aftermath of the incident was considered.

These steps resulted in the CoI concluding that a metal canister containing a Sarin-like substance had been exploded within Khan Sheikhoun.

This explosion was caused by a plastic explosive called "Research Department Explosive (RDX)." Sometimes known by the brandname "Semtex" this one of the most widely used plastic explosives used globally.

The CoI then declared that this metal canister was a Soviet-era KhAB 250/500 Chemical Bomb. However those bombs can be detonated in several ways. None of which use RDX or an explosive similar to it.

The CoI offered no reasoning to explain why it had rejected the scenario in which Al Qaeda had simply blown up a metal canister with a bit of Semtex.

During the period of this quarterly report one of the three members of the CoI - Switzerland's Carla del Ponte - quit complaining that too many people are committed to obstructing the work of the CoI. Despite her attempts to remove herself from this report the remaining two members of the CoI still use her name on it.

There seems to be very serious questions over whether Obama appointee Karen Koning Abuzayd can continue to represent the US on the Commission of Inquiry.

16:55 on 8/9/17 (UK date).