Syria – “Rebel” Infighting and Turkish Losses Help the Government and Its Allies
On the last days of the Obama administration the U.S. military hit a large Al-Qaeda training camp in Idleb governate in Syria. The camp was known as a training area for European fighters. B-52 strategic bombers dropped a large amount of bombs on the camp Over 100 people were killed in the attack. The camp’s existence, though probably not the exact location, was known since 2013 but the U.S. had not touched it before. Some suggested that the attack had the purpose of destroying evidence of U.S.-al-Qaeda cooperation in Syria.
The Turkish, Russian and Iranian governments had agreed on talks in Astana in Kazakhstan between delegations from “moderate” militant groups in Syria and the Syrian government. Ahrar al Sham, which ideologically borders between al-Qaeda and the “moderates”, was also invited. It declined to take part in solidarity with the not invited designated terrorist group Jaish Fateh al-Sham (the former Nusra Front aka al-Qaeda in Syria).
Russia had suggested the talks with the intent of separating the “moderate” Takfiris under Turkish control from the designated “terrorist” Takfiris. The talks had no immediate results but still achieved their purpose. Shortly after the talks began al-Qaeda attacked Ahrar al Sham. After some on and off fighting al-Qaeda started yesterday to attack all “moderate” Takfiri groups in Idleb and Aleppo governate. (Al-Qaeda is allied with Jund al-Aqsa, an ISIS splinter group, and with the Zinki group, a CIA vetted “moderate” gang known for receiving TOW missiles from the CIA as well as for the beheading of a Palestinian child.) As al-Qaeda it is the biggest group on the rebel held ground it can only be fought by a united opposition. That fight is currently ongoing.
The separation of “moderates” from “terrorists” has thereby happened. Russia had asked the U.S. for over a year to help with the separation. But all Russian agreements with the State Department were sabotaged by the CIA and the U.S. military and the U.S. claimed that the groups were too “mingled” with al-Qaeda to be separated. from them Now, without U.S. interference, the separation has happened.
The “moderate” groups depending on Turkish supplies are now also fighting al-Qaeda and have thereby a common enemy with the Syrian government. Russia will surely try to diplomatically build upon that commonalty.
The Russian and Syrian military are holding back from the area. One should not disturb the enemy when it is making mistakes. Let the Takfiris fight each other and sort themselves out. What is left after that fight will be easier to defeat.
The situation in Damascus is still bad. The water from Wadi Barada on which 5-6 million people in Damascus depend is still cut off. Several ceasefire agreements in Takfiri held Wadi Barada were broken by al-Qaeda elements. During the last one the main Syrian negotiator was killed by an al-Qaeda sniper when visiting the area. The Syrian army has surrounded the Wadi and intense fighting is going to liberated the occupied water wells.
Further south preparations seem to be ongoing for a rearming of Takfiri groups via Jordon. During the last days the Syrian government interdicted the smuggling of at least 19 TOW missiles and large amounts of other ammunition. Someone has plans to reignite a fight in the south which had been quiet for most of the last year.
Around al-Bab east of Aleppo the Turkish army is still trying to take the city of al-Bab away from ISIS. The Turks depend on a lousy infantry made up of some Syrian rebel groups and are weakened due to Erdogan’s purges of the Turkish army and airforce. Over a third of the pilots have been kicked out of the service. Many others are under investigation. IThe Turkish soldiers seem to have little will to fight. Yesterday 34 soldiers failed to show up at a hearing in Istanbul over alleged participation in the coup against Erdogan. They are fighting somewhere near al-Bab and had received no court notice. Some air force pilots have to check in with the police when they start to fly against ISIS and have to again check in with the police when they come back. They are not allowed “to leave the country” but still get orders to bomb in Syria. It is no wonder that such an army is incapable of effective fighting. Yesterday 5 Turkish soldiers were killed and two more main battle tanks were lost. Turkey makes no progress at al Bab but has steady losses of men and heavy equipment.
South of al-Bab the Syrian army has started an operation to clean ISIS territory between the Qweiris airbase and the city. It may well reach al-Bab from the south before the Turks come near to it from the north.
Further east the U.S. supported Kurdish SDF is nearing the Tabqa Euphrates dam west of the ISIS capitol Raqqa. Capturing the dam will be very difficult. In a warning ISIS opened several gates of the dam and further downstream flooding is now a serious concern. Blowing up the dam would have catastrophic results for many people in east Syria as well as in Iraq.
Further east the fighting in Deir Ezzor continues. The city is besieged by ISIS and a large attack recently managed to split the Syrian army garrison from the living quarters of the 100,000 inhabitants under government protection. Air supplies were impossible.
A large Russian air campaign has helped to push ISIS back. Up to a 100 strikes per day have disabled ISIS artillery in the area and helicopter landings to bring in supply and reinforcements are now again possible. Food supplies for the population are again being dropped from large transport planes. During the last three days the Russian airforce flew strategic bombers from Russian territory to Deir Ezzor and intensely bombed ISIS held positions. ISIS reinforcements coming from Raqqa and Palmyra were interdicted before they could reach the area. Deir Ezzor already looked lost but it now may survive the latest ISIS attempt to storm it.
In various areas of Syria different configurations of enemies and allies are fighting each other. The situation seems to get more complicate by the day as Turkey and the U.S. are permanently changing their positions and intentions. While U.S. supported “moderates” in the north fight the former allied al-Qaeda, the “moderates” in the south receive resupplies despite their intimate local alliance with al-Qaeda. ISIS is fought by the U.S. in coalition with the Kurds but not in coalition with its NATO ally Turkey. Meanwhile ISIS is supported by the U.S. in its campaigns against the Syrian army.
Turkey is hopelessly lost. It barely controls the “moderates” in the north and any fighting against al-Qaeda and ISIS will find a brutal terror echo in Syrian cities. Its campaign against al-Bab is stuck but with mounting losses. How long will it take Erdogan to finally give up on his neo-Ottoman dreams about new Turkish land in Syria?
One might hope that the new U.S. administration will find some sense and engage in a coalition with Syria and Russia to eliminate all Takfiris on Syrian ground – ISIS, al-Qaeda and any “moderate” Islamist group that rejects to make peace. But the Trump administration is not (yet) organized at all. Some groups within it see their priority in fighting Iran which is needed to make peace in Syria as well as in Iraq, Afghanistan and maybe even in Yemen. Others want to fight ISIS and al-Qaeda, others see Russia as the biggest enemy. Fighting all at the same time is simply not possible. But is there someone who can set the priorities? A compromise strategy within the administration will be a chaotic mishmash of tactical measures that will contradict each other. That is what I expect to see.
It may well take months if not a year before sanity will settle in and some reasonable plan will emerge. Until then Syria will stay in a chaotic fight though with a growing advantage on the side of the government and its allies.
Source: Moon Of Alabama