– Syria troops advance against ISIS in Homs province
– Kerry in Abu Dhabi for Talks on Syria peace plan
– Assad says Syria troops advancing thanks to Russia strikes
– US ground forces traveling soon to Syria
– Turkish warplanes pound Kurdish militant targets in southeast Turkey
– Iraq closes northern airspace over missiles launched at Syria 

Syria troops advance against ISIS in Homs province

The Syrian army recaptured a town and village in the central province of Homs from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) on Monday, state media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. “The army in cooperation with popular defense groups [pro-regime militias] took control of Maheen and Hawareen in the southeast of Homs province after inflicting heavy losses on Daesh,” state television said. SOHR confirmed the troops, backed by pro-government gunmen, entered the town of Mheen and the nearby village of Hawareen after midnight Sunday and were in full control of the area hours later. ISIS forces launched their assault on Maheen from neighboring al-Qaryatain, which the group captured earlier this year, kidnapping hundreds of civilians and destroying ancient Christian sites. [AP, AFP, 11/23/2015]

Kerry in Abu Dhabi for Talks on Syria peace plan
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Abu Dhabi on Monday to meet his Emirati counterparts on efforts to build a Syrian opposition coalition to lead peace talks with the Damascus regime. Kerry has scheduled meetings with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan. US officials said he also hoped to meet Saudi officials. Kerry is spearheading international efforts to halt Syria’s war by putting opposition and rebel factions around a table with President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Major powers with an interest in the conflict have set a target date of January 1 for talks and a ceasefire to begin, but the participants have yet to be identified. [AFP, 11/23/2015]

Assad says Syria troops advancing thanks to Russia strikes
Syrian government troops are advancing on “nearly every front” thanks to Russian air strikes that began in September, President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview released Sunday. The President also said he favored new peace talks to be hosted in Moscow.” In the interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix television, Assad said the situation in Syria had “improved in a very good way” since Russia began air strikes. “Now I can say that the army is making advancement in nearly every front… in many different directions and areas on the Syrian ground,” he said. The army has made minimal progress on the ground, according to groups monitoring the war, though the Russian strikes have reportedly boosted morale among government troops and supporters. [AFP, 11/21/2015]

US ground forces traveling soon to Syria
Dozens of US special operations forces will arrive in Syria “very soon,” as promised by President Barack Obama’s administration, a senior official said. The troops will have the task of organizing local forces battling ISIS in northern Syria, according to Special Envoy Brett McGurk. In late October, Obama authorized no more than fifty special operations forces to deploy to northern Syria in a non-combatant, advisory role to help coordinate local ground troops and anti-ISIS coalition efforts. The US troops will assist an Arab-Kurd coalition that includes the main Syrian Kurdish militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Arab groups, and Syriac Christians. “This is focused on isolating the capital of ISIL in Raqqa,” McGurk said. [AFP, 11/23/2015]

Turkish warplanes pound Kurdish militant targets in southeast Turkey
Turkish warplanes struck Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant targets on Saturday, part of an air and ground offensive against the group in southeast Turkey, where some areas have been under curfew for as long as ten days. The Turkish army said it hit PKK shelters and supply points in the mountainous Semdinli district of Hakkari province, north of Turkey’s borders with Iraq and Iran. A round-the-clock curfew in Mardin’s Nusaybin district entered its tenth day on Sunday, during which ten PKK militants and two civilians had been killed, according to a statement by local governor’s office. Seven districts of Diyarbakir had a three-day curfew lifted on Sunday morning, though the restrictions stayed in place in other parts of the city. [Reuters, 11/22/2015]

Iraq closes northern airspace over missiles launched at Syria
Iraq closed its northern airspace to commercial flights on Monday for at least two days due to military traffic from Russia’s air campaign in neighboring Syria. The closure was expected to affect domestic routes to Irbil and Sulaimaniya as well as international flights from Turkey, Jordan, the Gulf, and Austria. Russia began launching cruise missiles and long-range bombers from warships in the Caspian last month, passing over Iran and Iraq and covering a distance of some 1,500 km to reach their targets. A spokesman for the US-led coalition, which conducts some operations near Irbil airport, said he was not aware of the cause for the shutdown. [Reuters, 11/23/2015]