Daily Management Review

As Russian Jets Hit Rebel Towns, Syrian Army Edges Towards Islamic State Bastion


As Russian Jets Hit Rebel Towns, Syrian Army Edges Towards Islamic State Bastion
As allied Russian jets kept up air strikes on rebel-held towns north of Aleppo, the Syrian government forces were poised to advance into the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Saturday.
The move by the Syrian government forces to advance into Raqqa is seen as an attempt at pre-empting any move by Saudi Arabia to send ground forces to fight Islamic State militants in Syria and re-establishing a Syrian government foothold in the province for the first time since 2014.  
Ahead of "a cessation of hostilities" agreed by major powers on Friday, Russia is pressing ahead with its four-month-old air campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad. The agreement is due to come into effect in a week.
Backed by allied Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian fighters, the Syrian army have cut the main rebel supply route from Turkey into opposition-held parts of Aleppo and announced the capture of more ground in the northern Aleppo area.
Damascus would deal a crushing blow to the insurgents who were on the march until Russia intervened last September if its forces retake Aleppo and seal the Turkish border. This would shore up Assad's rule and pave the way to the current advances.
Since it was not signed by the warring parties - the government and rebels seeking to topple Assad in the five-year-long war that has killed 250,000 people, the cessation of hostilities agreement falls short of a formal ceasefire.
The Islamic State and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front fights in many areas of western Syria against the government forces in close proximity to insurgents deemed moderates by Western states and hence Russia has said it will keep bombing of targets held by these forces.
While also attacking Islamic State further east the Syrian army and its allies have been pursuing offensives on crucial front lines of western Syria with the help of Russian air power.
After making a rapid advance eastwards along a desert highway in the last few days from Ithriya, the government troops were just a few kilometres (miles) from the provincial borders of Raqqa, the Observatory said. The Syrian army could not immediately be reached for comment. Since Islamic State insurgents captured Tabqa air base in 2014, the Syrian government has not had a major foothold in Raqqa province.
"They are on the provincial borders of Raqqa," Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said.
In separate campaigns by a U.S.-led alliance and the Syrian government with Russian air support, the Islamic State whose main aim is to expand its "caliphate" rather than toppling Assad and reforming Syria is being targeted.
The Islamic State in Raqqa is also being fought against by U.S.-allied Kurdish forces. Capturing an Islamic State-held town at the border with Turkey, last year they advanced into Raqqa province from the northeast.
They would be willing to send in troops as part of any U.S.-led ground attack against Islamic State said the Gulf states that want Assad gone from power. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are expected to send commandos to help recapture Raqqa, said the U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Friday.