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Syrian army pushes offensive in central Homs
Syrian government forces launched an offensive Thursday in the central province of Homs under the cover of Russian air strikes in an attempt to clear the central region of militants and open the highway between Syria's third and fourth largest cities, a military official and activists said. Hama is under government control but the highway connecting Hama and Homs is largely controlled by a patchwork of rebel groups. A military source in Syria said the Homs operation was "linked strategically" to regime operations in neighboring Hama province in recent days. "The operation will continue until it reaches its goal of securing northern Homs and severing contacts between militants in Hama and militants in Homs," the source said. [AFP, AP, 10/15/2015]

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I spent early 2011 trying to ease tensions between Syria and its neighbors. I never predicted the brutality that would come from inside.

Now and then I am asked if I had predicted, way back in March 2011 when violence in Syria began, that within a few years a quarter-million people would be dead, half the population homeless and hundreds of thousands of defenseless civilians terrorized, traumatized, tortured and starved. The companion question, more often than not, is if I had forecast the failure of the West to offer any protection at all to Syrian civilians subjected to a systematic campaign of mass homicide. Having first been exposed to Syria as a teenage exchange student, I was expected by questioners to know something about the place. And as a State Department officer, I was assumed to know something about my government.

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Syrians stood up against the Assad regime’s tyranny, many sacrificing their lives to bring freedom to their country. However, the near half-century of endemic corruption has left its mark on Syrians and their attitude toward government and private institutions. The corruption that the Assad regime sowed to keep itself in power has permeated Syrian society. To finish their revolution Syrians need to rid themselves of it.

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Regime forces, ISIS, rebels square off in Aleppo

ISIS militants battled rival insurgent groups on Wednesday north of the city of Aleppo, where officials say the Syrian army is preparing an offensive of its own backed by Iranian soldiers and Russian jets.  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the road used by Aleppo residents heading north to the Turkish border remained closed on Wednesday. "There are mobilizations by the regime in most parts of Aleppo, particularly in Bashkoy," said Hassan Haj Ali, head of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal rebel group. Iran has sent thousands of additional troops into Syria in recent days to bolster one offensive currently underway in Hama province and in preparation for another in the Aleppo area, two senior regional officials said. Supported by two weeks of airstrikes, the Syrian army and its allies have been fighting insurgents in northern Hama province and neighboring Idlib and Latakia provinces, trying to reverse rebel gains over the summer that threatened the coastal heartlands of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority. [Reuters, 10/14/2015]

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Obama administration ends Pentagon program to train Syrian rebels
The Obama administration has ended the Pentagon’s $500 million program to train and equip Syrian rebels, administration officials said on Friday, in an acknowledgment that the program had failed to produce any kind of ground combat forces capable of taking on ISIS in Syria. Pentagon officials are expected to announce the termination of the program officially today. US officials said new efforts would focus on embedding recruits with established Kurdish and Arab units rather than sending them directly into front-line combat. [NYTAP, 10/9/2015]

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President Barack Obama's take on Syria is that there is the Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS, or Daesh) in the east - an entity that must be degraded and destroyed - and the Assad regime in the west - an entity that should be negotiated out of existence. The United States will bomb ISIL from the air in the east.

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Residents in Latakia and Hama in northern Syria are preparing for Russian air strikes and potential ground attacks. Intensive reconnaissance missions fill the air with the roar of plane engines for hours on end in the rural airspace of Latakia and Hama. Russian forces have already begun bombing opposition positions in Latakia, striking the US-supported and trained First Coastal Division. Civilians fear that the Russians will continue bombing opposition-controlled areas in the coming months, ruining any chances to stabilize areas behind the front lines.

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“Ali” is a former Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighter. Before joining ISIS, he was a university student known among his friends for his kindness and friendliness. His joining has bewildered his friends, especially since ISIS killed a close relative of his. His uncle said of him, “I was responsible for raising Ali. I know him well, he has a good heart and would never even harm a cat. I was shocked to hear he had joined [ISIS]. Ali would never take on that extremist thought and he doesn’t need money. However, the brainwashing and the violations that the Kurdish militias committed against the Arabs were major reasons for his joining.”

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Responding to reporters' questions on October 2, President Barack Obama made clear the inadmissibility in Syria of any US cooperation with "a Russian campaign to simply try to destroy anybody who is disgusted and fed up with Mr. Assad’s behavior."

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The Russian military carried out its first reported air strikes in Syria on September 30, targeting the northern suburbs of the strategically important city of Homs and the village of Lataminah further north. Russia insists that its mission in Syria is fighting the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), which the Russian Defense Ministry claimed was the target of the strikes.

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