– Assad wins strategic victories ahead of Vienna talks
– United States to cripple ISIS-controlled oil fields in Syria
– US air strike targets ‘Jihadi John’ in Syria
– ISIS claims deadly twin Beirut explosions
– Two soldiers killed in PKK mine attack in Turkey’s southeast
– Kurdish forces seize Iraq’s Sinjar town from ISIS

Assad wins strategic victories ahead of Vienna talks
Syrian state television broadcast the capture of a strategic town on Thursday near the Damascus–Aleppo highway, marking President Bashar al-Assad’s second key victory in less than two days. Government troops are now in “full control” of al-Hader, a town just 15 miles from Aleppo and a former stronghold for opposition forces. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) confirmed the government’s takeover of al-Hader, which had previously been controlled by the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front and other allied Islamist factions. “The town is the biggest headquarters for rebel forces in southern Aleppo, and capturing it would bring the army closer to the key Aleppo–Damascus highway,” SOHR said. “Today’s advance is the most important strategic advance for Syrian regime forces since the Russians began their air strikes.” [AFP, Reuters, 11/13/2015]

United States to cripple ISIS-controlled oil fields in Syria
US officials said this week that Washington and its allies have increased air strikes targeting Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL)-controlled oil fields across eastern Syria. Despite the coalition’s periodic strikes on ISIS oil refineries in Syria over the past year, the jihadist group’s engineers have apparently been able to repair any damage quickly, allowing one of the group’s main sources of revenue to continue unabated. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has called ISIS’s oil exports “a critical pillar of the financial infrastructure” of the group, generating nearly $40 million a month according to estimates by the US Treasury Department. The goal of the operation is to destroy eight major oil fields – about two-thirds of the refineries controlled by ISIS. [NYT, 11/12/2015]

US air strike targets ‘Jihadi John’ in Syria
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday US officials were still assessing the strike that targeted ISIS militant “Jihadi John,” whose real name is Mohammed Emwazi. “We are still assessing the results of this strike but the terrorists associated with Daesh [ISIS] need to know this: Your days are numbered and you will [be] defeated,” said Kerry. The United States carried out an air strike in Raqqa, Syria targeting Emwazi who participated in gruesome videos showing the killings of American and British hostages. [AFP, Al Arabiya, 11/13/2015]

ISIS claims deadly twin Beirut explosions
At least thirty-seven people were killed and more than 181 wounded on Thursday after two suicide bomb blasts, claimed by ISIS, hit a crowded district in Beirut’s southern suburbs. The blasts occurred almost simultaneously and struck a Shia community center and a nearby bakery in the commercial and residential area of Borj al Barajneh, security sources said. The attackers were identified as Syrian Khaled al-Khaled and Palestinians Hamed al-Balegh and Ammar Salem al-Rayyes. “What happened here is a crime … this battle against terrorists will continue and it is a long war between us,” Hussein Khalil, an assistant to Hezbollah’s leader, said from the site of the explosions. [Al-Arabiya, Naharnet, 11/13/2015]

Two soldiers killed in PKK mine attack in Turkey’s southeast
Two soldiers were killed on Friday in an outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) mine attack in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır. PKK militants detonated a mine placed on a road in the Lice district as a military convoy was passing. Two soldiers were killed in the attack, according to initial reports. A wide-scale operation has been launched to apprehend the militants responsible for the attack. [Hurriyet, 11/13/2015]

Kurdish forces seize Iraq’s Sinjar town from ISIS
Kurdish Peshmerga forces backed by US air strikes seized the Iraqi town of Sinjar from ISIS on Friday in one of the most significant counter-attacks since the militants swept through the north last year. The Kurdish regional security council said in a tweet that ISIS was “defeated and on the run,” as the Peshmerga secured Sinjar’s wheat silo, cement factory, hospital, and several other public buildings. Iraqi Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani also publicly declared victory in the offensive, which could provide critical momentum in efforts to capture the western provincial capital Ramadi and Mosul in the north. The operation severed vital supply routes, including highway 47, used by ISIS to move fighters, weapons, oil, and other illicit commodities that provide funding for its self-proclaimed caliphate. Civilians appeared to have fled the town before the operation began. It is still not clear if most ISIS militants had carried out a tactical withdrawal. [Reuters, 11/13/2015]