The Daesh Hostage Drama Is Damascus’ Last Chance to Liberate the Northeast
Daesh’s takeover of a refugee camp in the US-controlled part of Syria is the last possible chance that Damascus has to liberate the northeast, but even attempting to do so is a serious gamble that might not even be undertaken because of its astronomically high strategic risks.
Daesh unexpectedly came back from what most of the world had prematurely thought was its death and suddenly seized control of a refugee camp in the US-controlled part of Syria along the Euphrates River last weekend. The terrorists now hold an estimated 700 hostages, some of whom are actually US and EU citizens, according to the startling revelation that President Putin made while speaking at the Valdai Club. The Russian leader also said that Daesh threatened to execute 10 hostages a day, which adds a sense of urgency to freeing them all as soon as possible. Additionally, he lambasted the US for allowing this to even happen when considering that this brazen act occurred within its unofficial zone of responsibility in Syria beyond the so-called “deconfliction line” of the Euphrates River.
President Putin’s public comments on the matter have now turned this tragic but nevertheless local catastrophe into a global issue and provided a very brief window of opportunity for Damascus to possibly launch its last conceivable attempt at liberating the northeast. The US, despite being in de-facto control of this part of the Syria and in possession of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance equipment, apparently didn’t do anything to stop the terrorists from taking over this small sliver of territory in the desert. There’s now a slim chance that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) might make its long-awaited move across the “deconfliction line” on the basis of liberating the refugee camp from Daesh and preventing them from carrying through on their threat to kill 10 hostages a day.
The US and its Kurdish allies evidently haven’t responded to the terrorists’ takeover of the refugee camp in the five days since it happened, so the internationally acceptable argument can be made that the only ground force willing to do so and capable of actually attempting this daring operation is the SAA, though it would nonetheless be in violation of the tacit “gentlemen’s agreement” between the US and Russia dividing the country into two “spheres of influence” along the Euphrates. The last time that the SAA made a move in this direction was back in February when it and the Russian mercenaries who were speculated to have accompanied them were utterly destroyed by a disproportionate display of American firepower intended to send them a stern message.
Now that the lives of approximately 700 people are on the line after the US and its Kurdish allies didn’t prevent Daesh from seizing control of the refugee camp and have yet to respond to this terrifying development, it now falls upon the SAA to try and save the hostages instead, thus giving them a pressing humanitarian reason to violate the “deconfliction line”. This would in turn put the Pentagon in the position where it would be unquestionably aiding the terrorists if it bombed the only forces trying to liberate the hostages in response, meaning that either the US and its Kurdish allies must act as soon as possible to save them or the SAA might take a shot at it instead.
If Damascus decides to do so, then it would most likely need to coordinate this impromptu operation with its military allies in Moscow in order to guarantee the air support that it would need if this gamble is to stand any chance of succeeding, but Russia’s support can’t be taken for granted. Not only might it not want to risk an armed standoff with the US (which it suggested as much by never kinetically responding to America’s two highly publicized cruise missiles strikes against Syria in as many years), but it also has cynical reasons related to its envisioned “balancing” strategy to want to see Syria “decentralized” and the northeast remain outside of Damascus’ full control.
Even on the off chance that Russia agrees to provide air support to the SAA, then that would only be against Daesh and not the US or its Kurdish allies, which could lead to its partners being “sitting ducks” and getting blown away by American bombs if the Pentagon once again decides to decimate them despite this implicating America in directly perpetuating the terrorists’ control of the seized refugee camp. On the other hand, the SAA might act against Russia’s possible advice not to in order to provoke an international scandal between these two Great Powers that it and its Iranian brothers-in-arms might seek to exploit for their own ends, knowing full well that they’d have legitimate reasons for doing so because they’d be trying to free the hostages.
Whichever way one looks at it, Daesh’s surprising capture of the refugee camp presents the last possible chance that Damascus conceivably has to liberate the northeast from the US and its Kurdish allies’ clutches, at least in the sense of potentially breaching the “deconfliction line” across the Euphrates, though only provided that the US cares more about its international reputation than its long-term strategic interests and doesn’t bomb the SAA if it attempts to do so. Should this speculative gamble succeed, and it’s not even clear whether it will be undertaken in the first place, then it would open up the door for Damascus to eventually expand its area of anti-terrorist operations and slowly but surely try to reassert the central government’s sovereignty over the entire northeast.