LAST MONTH, A rag-tag group of foreign fighters announced the creation of the first LGBTQ brigade fighting against the Islamic State in Syria. Their name? The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army, or TQILA (yes, pronounced “tequila”).

“TQILA’s members have watched in horror as fascist and extremist forces around the world attacked the Queer community and murdered countless of our community members,” their statement reads, going on to say that they could not “idly watch” as ISIS threw gay men off buildings in the Middle East, or influenced the LGBTQ nightclub shooting in Florida.

“It is this necessity and desire to strengthen the gains of the women’s revolution, while advancing the queer struggle, that has motivated the Queer comrades of the IRPGF to form TQILA.”

TQILA is a small unit within the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces — a battalion of self-identified anarchist foreign fighters who traveled to support the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in their fight against ISIS. While some have questioned whether TQILA actually exists, the group has released several photos ostensibly from Raqqa, including one sending a message in solidarity with the Stockholm Pride Parade in Sweden. (A spokesperson for the brigade did not respond to questions from The Intercept.)

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Washington’s Dead End in Syria – By Sam Heller July 18, 2017

GORAN TOMASEVIC / REUTERS A camp for people displaced from fighting in Raqqa, Syria, July 2017.

On July 4, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), broke into the Old City of Raqqa, the jihadist pseudo-state’s de facto Syrian capital. Although fighting in Raqqa will continue to be a bloody grind, when it is over, the battle will be the capstone of what is now a successful, years-long collaboration between the U.S.-led coalition and the SDF.

But the battle against ISIS will not end with the liberation of Raqqa, and neither will the United States’ commitments in Syria. Washington’s approach to fighting ISIS in Syria—and in particular the local Kurdish partner it has chosen—has granted a victory that can last only as long as the United States stays. If one looks beyond Raqqa and the immediate campaign against ISIS, the bigger strategic picture is alarming: the United States has set itself up for an indefinite presence in northeast Syria, in the middle of an unsettled and unfriendly region, with no obvious way to leave.


The SDF is a Syrian force led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), with which the coalition struck up a tactical partnership against ISIS in 2014. In 2015, the U.S. military helped rebrand the YPG and its smaller, subordinate allies as the “SDF,” apparently in order to put the group in a slightly less controversial package. The YPG is closely linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in neighboring Turkey, Washington’s NATO ally. Further, the YPG and its civilian parallel, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), are seeded throughout with PKK-trained cadres. This has not been lost on Turkey, which sees the PYD-YPG as the PKK’s Syrian affiliate. Since 2014, Ankara has watched the group’s territorial and numerical expansion with alarm, even as it has grappled with a revived PKK insurgency inside Turkey.

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Big Changes And Major Dilemmas Loom In Next Phase Of ISIS War In Syria – TOM BOWMAN ALICE FORDHAM ALISON MEUSE March 23, 2017 5:06 PM ET

U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, made up of an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, regroup on the northern outskirts of Deir Ezzor as they advance to encircle the ISIS bastion of Raqqa on Feb. 21.

Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Marine artillerymen are now in place on Syrian soil, north of the last stronghold of the Islamic State. A force of local Kurdish and Arab fighters is moving south, continuing to isolate the city of Raqqa.

They’re in the opening stages of a major military operation that officials say could last into the fall.

What comes next is expected to have huge implications not only for the fate of ISIS but also for the relationship between Turkey and Russia, as well as the geographic outlines of the future Syrian state.

It will be very complicated.

Sometime next month, following a Turkish referendum that could give more power to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the U.S. is expected to take a controversial step: equipping local Arab and Kurdish forces in Syria with small arms, heavy machine guns and other weapons to begin the final battle for Raqqa.

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War Correspondents Describe Recent U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen   Malak Habbak March 22 2017, 2:58 p.m.

Photo: Yunus Keles/Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesSentiment in Washington may not reflect that the U.S. is at war, but two war correspondents described the astonishing extent and toll of recent U.S. military strikes in Iraq, Syria and Yemen on Intercepted, the weekly podcast by The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill.

Subscribe to the Intercepted podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher,and other platforms. New to Podcasting? Click Here.

In Iraq, U.S. forces are helping Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers in their months-long battle to drive ISIS out of western Mosul. As many as 600,000 civilians are trapped there, amid widespread hunger and destruction, and more than 1,000 civilians were killed or injured last month in Iraq.

“There are American special forces on the ground but much more important than that is U.S. airpower, without which the Iraqi forces would not be able to get very far,” explained author and journalist Anand Gopal.

“And they’ve been hitting pretty much everything in sight and there’s been an extraordinary number of civilian casualties — just kind of gone through the roof in the last couple of months especially coming into Mosul.”

Gopal explained that the western half of the city, where the fighting is now, is the older part, with densely packed neighborhoods.

The “houses are really close together and so you can have a case where an ISIS sniper is on a house and the Americans are dropping bombs on the house and killing everybody inside including families that are cowering in the basement, people who are being shot on the street in sight. It’s a real humanitarian disaster that’s unfolding as we speak.”

The United States is also building up its own troop strength in Syria. “There the U.S. is allying with Kurdish forces — with the YPG — in the push towards Raqqa, and then if you look at the pattern of where the U.S. is deploying — where its airstrikes are hitting in Syria — what you see is the entire U.S. effort in Syria is to attack the enemies of [President] Bashar al-Assad,” Gopal said.

In Palmyra, for instance, U.S. warplanes in February carried out 45 strikes to help the Syrian government forces — the only forces on the ground — recapture the city from ISIS.

“You know, we tend to think that the U.S. is supporting regime change in Syria but on the ground it’s not the case,” Gopal said. “In fact, the U.S. has been avoiding doing anything to antagonize the Syrian regime and instead has been really focusing its fire on ISIS or on other enemies of the Assad regime.”

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  Russia in power-broking role as Syria peace talks begin in Astana – Patrick Wintour Monday 23 January 2017 04.03 EST

Indirect talks between Syria’s rebels and representatives of Assad’s government seen as test of Moscow’s power

Representatives of the Assad regime and rebel groups assemble for Syria peace talks at Astana’s Rixos President hotel on Monday. Photograph: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

Representatives of the Assad regime and rebel groups assemble for Syria peace talks at Astana’s Rixos President hotel on Monday. Photograph: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

Indirect talks between Syrian rebel factions and government representatives have opened in Kazakhstan, as Russia takes on the role of Middle East power broker.

The meetings, scheduled to last two days at a luxury hotel in the Kazakh capital, Astana, will focus on how to extend the ceasefire negotiated after the opposition’s crushing military defeat in Aleppo at the hands of the Russian air force and Iranian-backed militias.

It had been hoped the talks would lead to a face-to-face meeting between opposition fighters and representatives of Bashar al-Assad’s government. However, rebels said on Monday they had no plans for direct talks.

The talks are sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran. The US, the EU, Saudi Arabia and the UN are, for the moment, largely marginalised. Russia faces a new set of challenges as it attempts to move from participant in the conflict to peace broker.

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Why The Battle For Aleppo Is So Important – ALICE FORDHAM October 4, 2016 4:44 PM ET

Smoke rises after aircraft belonging to the Russian army bombed a residential area in the Darat Izza neighborhood of Aleppo on Tuesday. | Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

For two weeks, a battle has raged in Aleppo, generating tragic images of injured civilians amid the rubble.

The city — once the country’s most populous, and a commercial hub — is a key prize in the civil war. For four years, it has been divided between government and rebel forces and was in effect a military stalemate.

Russia is among the supporters of Syrian president Bashar Assad, while the U.S. supports rebel forces. They were talking to try to find a way to calm the violence in Syria, but the negotiations collapsed this week.

With a diplomatic solution a distant prospect, attention has shifted to the battlefield, and the possibility that the Syrian military could capture Aleppo, the last major city where rebels have a real presence.

“The battle of Aleppo is the culmination of many years of fighting,” says analyst Jennifer Cafarella with the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War. For four years, she says, Assad’s forces and regional allies fighting alongside them have planned to recapture the whole of Aleppo city and the surrounding countryside.

The last two weeks have seen significant advances around the city by pro-regime ground forces. This is largely because Russia has stepped up its air support of Assad’s offensive. Residents of eastern Aleppo describe bombs which destroy buildings down to the basement, and incendiary weapons.

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Why Did Trump and Clinton Ignore Syria Last Night? – MAX J. ROSENTHAL SEP. 27, 2016 5:50 PM

The death toll is picking up, but it’s off the campaign radar.

Even by the already horrific standards of the Syrian civil war, the violence in the city of Aleppo during the past week has been brutal. Russian and Syrian government airstrikes killed more than 300 people, targeted the last vital scraps of medical services in rebel-held areas, and used bunker-busting bombs in what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called “new depths of barbarity.” The attacks only added to the 25,000 people who have died in Syria since a temporary truce ended in April, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Yet with the carnage in Syria only getting worse, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton discussed the Syrian civil war during Monday night’s presidential debate, to the dismay of analysts and activists. “The fact that it wasn’t mentioned in the presidential debate is depressing, to say the least,” says Kenan Rahmani, a legal and policy adviser to the Syria Campaign, an advocacy group that focuses on protecting Syrian civilians. “This [was] one of the worst weekends since the start of the conflict.” Lena Arkawi, the spokeswoman for the American Relief Coalition for Syria, issued a statement on Tuesday saying her group was “deeply disappointed by the utter failure of last night’s debate to even mention Syria. That oversight is far more telling than Gary Johnson’s Aleppo gaffe.”

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Pentagon Warns Assad Regime to Avoid Action Near U.S. and Allied Forces – By PAUL SONNE and RAJA ABDULRAHIM Updated Aug. 19, 2016 7:14 p.m. ET

U.S. scrambled fighter jets after Syrian warplanes target area used by U.S. military personnel

Syrian Kurdish civilians flee reported shelling in the northeastern governorate of Hasakah, toward the city of Qameshli. | PHOTO: DELIL SOULEIMAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Syrian Kurdish civilians flee reported shelling in the northeastern governorate of Hasakah, toward the city of Qameshli. | PHOTO: DELIL SOULEIMAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The Pentagon warned the Syrian government Friday not to strike U.S. and coalition personnel in Syria, a day after the regime carried out airstrikes in an area near American special operations forces, prompting the U.S. to scramble jets to protect them.

The U.S. jets arrived just as the two Syrian government Su-24 bombers were departing, according to Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis, who said none of the U.S. forces on the ground were harmed.

The Syrian government bombers had been striking Kurdish positions near the city of Hasakah, where the U.S. has been backing Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State.

Thursday’s close call prompted the U.S.-led coalition to begin patrolling the airspace over Hasakah, and led to another incident Friday, in which two Syrian Su-24 bombers attempted to fly through the area but were met by coalition fighter jets, a U.S. defense official said. According to the official, the Syrian bombers departed without further incident. The official said the U.S. is closely monitoring airspace over areas with American forces.

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Fighting ISIS: Emmy-Nominated VICE on HBO (Full Episode) – Published on Aug 15, 2016

The invasion of Iraq was supposed to turn the country into a democracy that posed no threat to the United States, or the rest of the world. Thirteen years later, Iraq has collapsed into three warring states. A third of the country is controlled by ISIS, who have also taken huge amounts of territory in Syria. VICE correspondent Ben Anderson gains exclusive access to the three front lines in Iraq, where Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish forces are fighting for their lives. Anderson visits with the Russian military forces in Syria, meets captured ISIS fighters in Kurdistan, and interviews US policymakers about how the situation in Iraq spun out of control.

VICE on HBO is nominated for three Emmys in 2016, including Outstanding Informational Series or Special. For your consideration, VICE and HBO are releasing three full episodes, starting with Fighting ISIS. Fighting ISIS received two Emmy nominations, Outstanding Picture Editing and Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Non-Fiction Series.

Erdogan’s counter-coup weakens the Syrian rebels – The Economist Jul 24th 2016 | GAZIANTEP

Arrests of senior officers and a look inward in Turkey mean setbacks for rebels in Syria

SYRIAN rebels looking to the heavens for salvation have grown used to seeing Russian incendiary and Syrian barrel-bombs raining down instead. But at least they could count on succour and sustenance from across the Turkish border. After the aborted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that seems in doubt.

The commander of the second army, who is entrusted with securing Turkey’s southern borders, is in prison, says a veteran Turkish commentator. So too are most of the commanders of combat units on Syria’s border. (They are among more than 100 generals and admirals and 9,000 security personnel arrested since the coup attempt.) As Mr Erdogan focuses on the enemy within, he has tried to batten down what hatches he can, periodically closing the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, hitherto the prime supply route to Syria’s Sunni opposition-held territory. “We’re seeing a more inward-looking, introverted posture,” says the commentator. “The military’s ability to project Turkey’s power regionally has been undermined.”

The downturn in Turkey’s relations with America, which harbours Fethullah Gulen, whom Mr Erdogan accuses of masterminding the coup, also fractures the external alliance backing Syria’s rebels. Irked by America’s sanctuary for Mr Gulen, Mr Erdogan temporarily cut electricity to Incirlik, a large air base, interrupting the American-led bombardment of Islamic State. The private American companies based near Turkey’s borders with Syria that are contracted to extend non-lethal support to Syrian rebels wonder whether they too might be swept into the fray. Both Turkey and America, for separate reasons, now appear to be hedging their bets on the war’s outcome. Both are seeking a working relationship with Russia, the prime sponsor of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president whom the rebels had vowed to overthrow. “We’ve staked everything on changing the regime,” says a glum spokesman of the Free Syrian Army, the umbrella group holding Eastern Aleppo, the largest urban centre still in opposition hands. “Instead everything has changed but the regime.”\

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