The Islamic State continued their offensive today in Aleppo province in Syria. Their forces are moving against the strategic city of Azaz just next to a key border crossing into Syria from Turkey.
Azaz has been occupied by several different rebel groups since 2012, but of late the Islamic Front — no relation to the Islamic State — has controlled the area. The Islamic Front is an umbrella group of Islamist rebels. If the group loses Azaz to the Islamic State it will have lost the last main site they control in northern Syria and all of the border with Turkey would be under control of the Islamic State except for a few Kurdish controlled areas such as that around Kobane. The control of the border would allow the Islamic State to import foreign fighters and supplies through Turkey.The Islamic State has advanced to within 30 miles of Bab al-Salam, one of the main border crossings between Syria and Turkey and is only 7 miles from the main supply route to the south and Aleppo. The crossing had just reopened in May to commercial traffic and humanitarian aid.The Islamic Front, desperate to avoid defeat, has called on the U.S. to provide air strikes against the Islamic State as they advance. The weekend assault caught Islamic Front rebels by surprise just as happened when the group recently took the city of Palmyra in Syria and the Iraqi city of Ramadi. In spite of more than eight months of air strikes by a US-led coalition the Islamic State is still able to advance into new territory although they have lost some ground.Rebel commanders worry that control of Azaz by the Islamic State will cut off the main supply line to rebels in the Aleppo area. Rebels were rushing reinforcements north to the area. Leader of the rebel group Thuwar al-Sham, Abu Mohammed said: “Automatically, the Islamic State would gain control of Aleppo city. The situation is dire.” In villages recently seized by the Islamic State, rebels have been beheaded and some family members have been held hostage as well according to a defected former Syrian air force colonel now part of a rebel coalition group. The Assad regime has made no move to stop the offensive. The Islamic State attack has delayed a planned offensive by rebels against the Assad regime in Aleppo and other areas as they are now forced to send reinforcements north to fight the Islamic State.