Syria almost lost its second city to the jihadists of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra Monday night when hundreds of fighters stormed into the provincial capital, Idlib, captured the newly installed governor's office and began beheading Syrian army officers.
By the time government troops recaptured the building, at least 70 soldiers – many senior officers – had been executed, leaving one of the oldest cities in Syria in chaos. “They were slaughtered,” a message to Damascus said before the army was able to declare Idlib saved. Their murder – by ritual beheading with a knife rather than shooting – was entirely in keeping with ISIS policy.
The eastern city of Raqqa has been in the hands of ISIS for months, but Idlib lies strategically placed between Aleppo and the coastal city of Latakia – both of which are still held by President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Idlib's fall would have been a devastating blow to the government.
The ferocity of the attack – some soldiers managed to call Damascus to alert the government to their imminent execution – shows just how hard-pressed the Syrian regime is in its battle against the same enemy that the US President, Barack Obama, has promised to “degrade and destroy”. Degraded was the one thing the armed men who stormed Idlib appeared not to be.
Meanwhile, dozens of Kurdish peshmerga fighters left a base in northern Iraq yesterday and headed for the battleground Syrian town of Kobane, an AFP journalist reported.
The town on the Turkish border has become a crucial front in the fight against the ISIS group, which overran large parts of Iraq in June and also holds significant territory in Syria.
Last week, under heavy US pressure, Turkey unexpectedly announced it would allow the peshmerga fighters to cross its territory to join the fight for Kobane.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has revised its estimate of the cost of the US air war in Iraq and Syria, saying the price tag for the campaign against the Islamic State group comes to about $8.3 million a day.
Since air strikes began on August 8, the campaign -- which has involved about 6,600 sorties by US and allied aircraft -- has cost $580 million, said Pentagon spokesman Commander Bill Urban.
The Defense Department had previously put the average daily cost of the military operation at more than $7 million a day.
In Iraq, a suicide bomber killed at least 27 Shia militiamen outside the Iraqi town of Jurf al-Sakhar on Monday after security forces pushed ISIS militants out of the area over the weekend, army and police sources said.
The attacker, driving a Humvee vehicle packed with explosives and likely stolen from defeated government troops, also wounded 60 Shia Muslim militiamen, who had helped government forces retake the town.