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Pentagon Spokesman Says ISIS Is Weak. ISIS Thrashes Syrian Rebels, Ends Erdogan's 'Safe Zone' Dreams

ISIS ensures it remains the best card Erdogan has to play against the Kurds in Syria

Well, talk about not-so-great timing. Thursday colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the US' war on ISIS reassured Twitter that ISIS hasn't won a battle since May 2015 and was weak.

Friday ISIS drove through US/Turkish-backed rebels in Northern Aleppo like a hot knife through butter, ended illusions that Azaz pocket can be transformed into a major rebel enclave and perhaps doomed the entire pocket.

Azaz pocket is rebel-held territory in northern Syria which used to be known as the Azaz corridor -- before Russian-backed Syrian forces cut its link to Aleppo and therefore ended its role as the primary rebel supply route from Turkey.

It now sits as an isolated rebel enclave south of the Turkish border sandwiched between Kurds to the west and ISIS to the east. However, rather than give up on it Ankara had hoped it could serve as a staging ground for a rebel offensive to wrestle the control of the ISIS-held Syrian-Turkish border.

Turkey desperately needs this. ISIS control of this area serves to keep Syrian Kurds separated in two unconnected territories just fine, but it is politically tricky for Turkey to aid ISIS against the Kurds -- also everybody assumes ISIS is not long for this world.

Rebel control of the area between the two Kurdish territories would be much preferable as Turkey could prop them up openly and to the hilt ensuring Kurds remain broken up forever.

Moreover, with rebels safely in control of a large Turkish-sponsored 'safe zone' Ankara's ability to influence the peace talks and final settlements might rival that of Russia and the US.

The first of what was hoped to be a series of such offensives was underway last month, but despite US air cover ultimately achieved only limited success, as a chunk of its considerable early gains were soon reversed in an ISIS counterstroke.

Friday ISIS did even more than that and in a surprise attack severed the connection between its two largest towns Azaz and Mare and isolated and cut off the later completely.

In a tactical sense this isn't earth-shattering, the pre-war population of Mare was 16,000 so this isn't exactly the Battle of Stalingrad here. However, the strategic repercussions of this are huge and significant for the entire war. Moon of Alabama explains:

Another movement against Turkish plans is underway. In the north-west of Syria Turkish supported "rebels" are holding Azaz and several towns near the Turkish border against the Islamic State on the eastern side and Kurdish forces on the western and southern side.

Last night the Islamic State took (map) several towns and villages from the "rebel" side in that enclave and might soon be able to eliminate all Turkish supported forces there.

Turkey had big plans for the ragtag forces there including defeating the Islamic State and a renewed march towards Aleppo. Those illusions are now gone.

Whether ISIS is able to keep the pocket split in half or not (there are already uncomfirmed reports the rebels have re-established the severed connection) the fighting has already served to provide a reality check for Turkish ambition in Syria. Whether it survives or not Azaz pocket will remain irrelevant to the outcome of the war at large, even the Turks must see that now.

This incidentally means that Erdogan can not afford to throw ISIS under the bus just yet. By thrashing his favored rebels ISIS has just ensured it remains relevant for the Turkish agenda in Syria.

Speaking of more ISIS weakness. The Washington Post reports that the last remaining Pentagon-trained rebel group thrown in the fight against ISIS is on the verge of defeat.

Last March the "New Syrian Army" crossed over from Jordan and took over a largely unpopulated chunk of desert in the south which had been nominally under ISIS control.

At the time this meant having to defeat only very light ISIS presence but since ISIS has re-grouped and seems to be probing their defences in preparation of a full scale counter-offensive. Faced with the prospect of hard combat the small group is now debating whether to simply flee before ISIS hits them in earnest:

Those who survived are now questioning whether they want to remain at all in their sparsely defended desert outpost to await further attacks, Tallaa [Lt. Col. Mohammed Tallaa, the group’s commander] said in an interview near the southern Turkish town of Reyhanli.

“I’m not saying the Americans let us down, but there is dereliction of duty. They are not doing what they could,” he said. “We don’t want the Americans to disrespect the lives of our men.”

Yes, the tide has turned against ISIS, colonel Warren is right about that. But even this "weak ISIS" can still win battles and shatter opponents. Particularly the various Syrian rebel groups which have shown to be far less cohesive than the far more disciplined Caliphate troops.

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