Syria: Bluff Called, Reply Awaited, by Jim Dunnigan.
The Syrian government is accused of using nerve gas in a recent attacks on a rebel village in Idlib province. This would be a clear violation of the 2013 Russian brokered deal where Syria surrendered all its chemical weapons in return for no foreign intervention (as the U.S. has promised) because chemical weapons were used. An August 21 2013 attack used nerve gas to kill over 1,400 people in a rebel controlled village outside Damascus.
The evidence was overwhelming for the 2013 attack and this latest one in Idlib is equally incriminating. This time the United States quickly retaliated by launching sixty cruise missiles (from two warships in the Mediterranean) at the Syrian Shayrat air base in Homs province. Most of the Syrian air strikes in northern Syria are flown out of Shayat, which is now inoperable. …
After the 2013 agreement there were still chemical weapon attacks in Iraq and Syria and the Assad government was always suspected of carrying out some of them but there was no conclusive proof. In 2015 it was believed that 69 attacks occurred and about the same number in 2016. Most of these attacks used toxic industrial chemicals (usually chlorine) rather than stuff designed to be a weapon (like mustard or nerve gas).
It is believed that the Syrian Army used mustard gas in July 2015 but there was not enough proof that Syria had made that particular attack. … Most of the other attacks were apparently the work of ISIL, which appears to have used mustard gas during August 2016. The story going around was that this chemical weapon was part of some secret supply of mustard gas that the Assad government did not surrender and that ISIL captured.
It is possible that someone stole some Syrian chemical weapons in 2013 and later sold it ISIL or even to someone who got it back to the Assads. Back then the UN was having a hard time getting some rebel factions to allow UN chemical weapons destruction teams to reach bases where some of these weapons were stored. In 2013 Syria appeared to have had 700 tons of nerve gas (sarin) and 300 tons of mustard gas and agreed to have them destroyed by the UN. This was completed by June 2014.
Meanwhile ISIL fades worldwide:
In February American intel analysts estimated ISIL had only about 12,000 armed members in Syria and Iraq. This means ISIL has lost at least half the armed personnel it had in early 2016. That number has since shrunk to 10,000 or less and most (at least 6,000) are in Syria and most of these are in or near Raqqa and preparing for a final battle.
ISIL forces in Iraq are in worse shape. Only about a thousand are left in downtown Mosul and about 2,000 are operating in smaller concentrations along the border trying to keep roads open to Syria. A thousand or more are in still smaller groups in or near cities to plan, prepare and carry out terror attacks.
Most of the ISIL fighters left in Mosul (and Raqqa) are young men from other countries. These would stand out to anyone guarding a checkpoint and would not withstand interrogation. So these foreigners are inclined to fight to the death.
At the same time ISIL leaders have been trying to get their key personnel (and their families) out of Iraq and Syria. Many of the lesser known ISIL personnel are advised to return to their homeland and establish more of an ISIL presence there. Efforts to establish another base area for ISIL have, so far, failed (in Libya. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt) so the “disperse and raise hell at home” seems to be the official plan.
In response the Iraqis fighting in Mosul and the Kurdish led forces closing in on Raqqa are resigned to a slow, methodical advance. Nevertheless ISIL is expected to lost both Mosul and Raqqa by the end of 2017.