The Russian Defense Ministry has recently announced, while citing the Center for Syrian Reconciliation, that the United States is training a new armed force on the basis of the former refugee camp in the El Khaseq province. It’s believed that this force will be used in an attempt to topple the legitimate Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad. What is even more curious is that the militants of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra are going to form a backbone of this military force. The Western coalition led by the United States carries on its attempt to flirt with the remnants of radical militant groups in Syria, in spite of its repeated statements that it is determined to wipe the jihadi forces off completely. According to the details provided by the above mentioned Center, American special forces instructors are forming new armed units from previously dissociated groups of militants. Local residents report that Western coalition has been using what used to be a refugee camp for six months now to create a new armed forced, bringing militants to El Khaseq from various Syrian regions. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, some 750 terrorists arrived from Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor, Abu Kamal and the territories to the east of the Euphrates. The newly formed backbone of the gang consists of more than 400 battle-hardened ISIS militants, who, due to the support of the United States left Raqqa last October without any. It is expected that soon this armed unit will be deployed in southern Syria to engage government forces. Earlier Russia’s media announced that the spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Igor Konashenkov accused the Pentagon of lying to the international community regarding Washington’s plans to withdraw American forces from Syria. According to the head of the US Department of Defense, James Mattis, ISIS forces are defeated in Syria, but the war with them is not over yet.
It’s curious that as far as similar training camps for militant forces across Syria and beyond its borders are concerned, there’s well over a dozen of those, with a number of them operating in Jordan. Those camps are being used by all sorts of intelligence agencies, including Iranian, American, and even Turkish. Each of these agencies pursues its own stated goals, which is logical, especially against the backdrop of the recent statement made by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s at the Khmeimim military base about Moscow’s intention to significantly reduce its military presence Syria until the end of the year. That is why Washington is busy preparing “its own” militants to fight Assad, to whom they haven’t promised anything for sure. Moreover, Saudi Arabia and Israel make no secret of their plans to strike the positions of Iranian troops and the Hezbollah in southern Syria simultaneously with launching a military operation in southern Lebanon. It is expected that Washington is going to support these actions by providing close air support to Saudi and Israeli forces in Syria. That is why the militants of the so-called Free Syrian Army, that is formed with deserters from the regular Syrian army, were being trained in Jordan. The strikes inside the Syrian territory are to be launched from several directions – from the area of the Golan Heights occupied by Israel, across the Lebanese border once Lebanon is infiltrated by Israeli forces, across the Jordanian border. It’s curious that there’s no more that 60 miles to cover from the border with Jordan to Damascus, an over a half of these lands has already been occupied by the armed opposition forces. It can not be ruled out that pro-US SDF Kurdish forces will strike Damascus from the east, although this step can provoke an outrage of Ankara that doesn’t want to see Kurdish forces gaining new territories. But one should keep it mind that anti-Damascus can launch rouge strikes from within refugee camps, where ISIS militants are being trained, as it’s been announced by Russia’s Ministry of Defense.
Should events start unfolding along this scenario with Russia’s air corps departing, Damascus is going to find itself trapped in a tight corner by its opponents. After all, the forces of the Free Syria Army have recently reached 30 thousand people. There’s another 25 thousand ISIS militants scattered along the Euphrates and hiding in Idlib. In the south-west of Syria, there’s another 10 thousand anti-Assad militants that are prepared for action. As for Damascus, it has no more than 40 thousand soldiers at its disposal supported with up to 40 thousand men strong force of Iranian soldiers and Shia militias from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. As for the Syrian Air Forces, they are pretty much nowhere to be found these days, while the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have a lot to write home about in this department. Moreover, Riyadh is building up a military coalition against Syria out of a long list of Arab countries, including the UAE, Jordan and Egypt. So the Assad government is quite clearly at the disadvantageous position here together with Iran and the Hezbollah.
In fact, the announcement made by the Russian Defense Ministry hasn’t broken any news, except for the announcement that those camps were recruiting militants. All the states engaged in the conflict were pursuing their own interests in Syria in the period from 2011 to 2015, before the arrival of the Russian Air Corps. This struggle implied that those forces would be training various proxy groups for them to support the cause of external players. However, in the camp of Assad’s opponents this operations were far better organized, as they have an abundance of resources. That is why the scales started tipping in favor of anti-Assad and his Iranian allies three years ago. In 2015, Russia entered the war, breaking the back of anti-Assad militants, but it doesn’t mean that it secured a victory. In fact, it’s a long way ahead if it is still attainable for Damascus. What Moscow could actually achieved would be the destruction of the black market economy created by anti-Assad forces, which could make the struggle against Damascus extremely costly and highly unprofitable. War is a business, even if it’s a bloody one, so those engaged in it are always concerned with such concept as cost efficiency.
In fact, the Soviet Union was fully aware of the fact that if one wants to have strong allied countries, when have to provide them with a strong economic foundation to rely on. Back in the day a number of Arab, African and Asian countries would have strong economies built for them in order to have sustainable military forces. Due to a variety of reasons this work hasn’t always been highly successful, but the advantages of such are strategy are simply undeniable. Modern Russia hasn’t spent a lot of time doing this job but largely due to the lack of a common ideology, since back in the Soviet days Moscow believed it was its duty to support national liberation movements aimed at achieving certain social benefits for a government. But even today Moscow is trying to make its allies highly self-sufficient, but the problem is that without direct Russian support they are still incapable to survive economically.
Here, in fact, the answer to various kinds of questions and statements regarding the end of the war in Syria. Undoubtedly, the United States, the West as a whole and local regional players like Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran and Turkey will continue to pursue their policies, including through proxy forces. It is only possible to oppose those game through a symmetrical policy of strengthening the Assad government or to create in its place a more capable one that would enjoy more popular support. If there is no such policy, but only media events, then the transfer of attention to illegal US actions is just an attempt to get people distracted from the very real agenda of the Syrian problem. The United States behaves as it sees fit, as it is fighting for its own interests, instead of supporting rather abstract norms of international law.
As a matter of fact, the International law was trampled by Washington itself first in Yugoslavia, then mortally wounded in Iraq and then finally buried under the “color revolutions” of Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova. This means that the US is going to recklessly pursue its interests in Syria and the Middle East. Understandably, Washington is desperate to keep under its control the leading oil and gas producing region, to keep its control over the main sea transport routes from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, keeping its hand on the flow of goods from Europe to Asia and vice versa. That is why the US is going to oppose in every possible way the growing Russia’s influence in the Middle East. This means it will be blocking the supply of Russian gas to the EU by land from the south – through Turkey, Syria, whether it is the “Turkish flow” or the “southern stream” through Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean coast and further to Greece and Italy. But that’s no ideological struggle, but the one that relies on pure pragmatism. As long as Russia is in Washington’s way, it will not be able to resist China, derailing such project as One Belt, One Road.
And as Russia’s President Putin will try to get out of the Syrian swamp as fast as possible, then the task of the West is the opposite – to drag Moscow in the Middle Eastern affairs, in Syria, Egyptian, Libyan and Sudanese ones, while attaining its own internal goals, among which the overthrow of Assad is a top priority. And it does just that, so don’t be surprised to see the failure of the Geneva negotiations. It is no accident that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennadiy Gatilov has commented the statement of the Syrian opposition about the mandatory resignation of the President of the Syrian Arab Republic in frankly negative tones. According to Gatilov, the opposition of Syria continues to insist on the resignation of Assad, despite the fact that earlier all parties agrees that there will be no preconditions to the negotiations. Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Foreign Ministry noted that this is a serious embarrassment. In Gatilov’s opinion, it is unclear what kind of reaction the Syrian opposition expects in this case from the delegation from the Syrian delegation. Therefore, in part the talks took place without the participation of the delegation of the Syrian government, as it described opposition’s demand for the mandatory resignation of Bashar al-Assad unacceptable. So the games in the peace process are over. The new war is unavoidable.
The commanders of the Syrian “Tigers”, a special forces unit that remains to be the best regular unit in the army of Bashar al-Assad didn’t try to conceal their irritation when the militants of the pro-Damascus Fatemiyoun Brigade and Liwa al-Quds surrender a number of positions between Mayadin and Abu Kamal, that had previously been liberated by the Tigers at the expense of huge losses. And one can easily understand their position, as ISIS intensifies its operations, Syrian forces have little to no air support to rely on. That why both Syrian and Iranian forces have been suffering extremely high losses lately. In just two days they have lost more than 100 men, while pro-Damascus forces keep surrendering territories and positions every day.
Iran assembled two divisions the Fatemiyoun Brigade and Zeynabiyun with Shia natives of Afghanistan and Pakistan, respectively. The leadership and training of these units is entrusted to the Iranian special forces of the al-Quds division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps General Kasem Sulejmani. On the territory of Iran there are up to a million refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Iranian leadership is trying to employ these people. The war in Iraq and Syria requires huge human resources, that is why Afghan and Pakistani refugees became a part of it. In dire situations people are usually forced to agree to sign a contract. Iranian citizens also go into mercenaries, and a large part of them go to war in about the same way: among them there are many ordinary criminals. It is clear that the morale of all of these people is extremely low level, and therefore they are fighting badly. What is worse is that Syrians of non-Alawite origin are not too eager to fight either, too, so the impending beginning of a new anti-Damascus does not hold much hope for peace in this war torn country.
Alexander Orlov, political scientist and expert Orientalist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”