While in Washington they stubbornly pretend that the United States is merely fighting against international terrorism manifested in ISIL in Syria and Iraq, in reality the White House is actively preparing for an operation to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. The other day President Obama ordered the shipment to Iraq of 1,500 US troops to train the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces for armed confrontation with the forces of the “Islamic State” (IS). The first 50 soldiers have already arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan.
But then the question arises – are American soldiers arriving for the fight in Iraq or to prepare a base for the invasion of Syria? Especially when you consider that a week ago the Peshmerga of the Iraqi Kurdish leader M. Barzani went through Turkey to the Syrian city of Kobani, clashing with the forces of the IS on Syrian soil. But Barzani is known to be an ally of Washington on which he has placed his bet in creating an independent Kurdish state in Iraq, and possibly Syrian Kurdistan. Thus, Ankara finally allowed Kurdish groups to pass through its territory, on the firm insistence of Washington. At the same time a permanent overland logistics route was worked out for Kurdish militia through Turkish territory.
And another important point is the recently shifting centre of gravity of the confrontation with the IS to the Syrian vector. The fight against IS troops in Iraq has entered a sluggish phase. With the active participation of the United States, Ankara and Riyadh have maximally equipped a segment of the armed Syrian opposition at the expense of “repainted” Islamists from the pro-Saudi “Dzhabhat en-Nusra” and the remnants of the Syrian Free Army fighters (SFA). At the same time the possibility of air support to these units by the Turkish and Saudi Air Forces is under serious consideration. They are already regularly making reconnaissance flights over Syrian territory.
According to incoming reports, the military scenario against Damascus will be implemented immediately upon completion of the training and arming of “new” Syrian opposition groups and the stabilization of the situation in the area of Kobani. All this practically amounts to the attempts by Americans, Saudis and Turks to depose the Assad regime “under the guise of” fighting the IS. It is no accident that the West has revived attempts to push through the UN Security Council a new draft resolution on combating terrorists in Syria and Iraq. Foreign media have already begun active shaping of public opinion in this direction. The main “brake” to the adoption of the resolution is again the position of Moscow and Beijing. There is an attempt to repeat the “Libyan version” of legitimizing a foreign military intervention in the SAR and establish similar “no-fly zones” over Syrian territory, since without it the implementation of the plans of the Americans, Saudis and Turks in Syria would be very difficult.
In this case, the position in Tehran, which has influence on Damascus and is able to render Assad effective military assistance, is extremely important. But the Iranians in this situation are manoeuvring so as to tightly link their position on Syria with concessions on Iran’s nuclear program during the negotiations taking place in Oman. The positive moment is that Iran is rapidly creating a modern-day Iraqi analogue to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the core of which will be the anti-American fighters, the “Mahdi Army”. This suggests that Iran does not intend to give up the Shiites of Iraq and Syria to be devoured by the US and Saudi Arabia.
With regard to the IS, its total combat potential is currently estimated at about 45,000 fighters, of which about 10-12 thousand are foreigners, representing the entire geographic range of Arab countries. These are primarily emigrants from the KSA. The elimination of such a military structure by a ground operation will require deployment in Iraq of approximately 100-120 thousand American troops. Now Barack Obama plans to get permission to conduct land operations from the US Congress, which after the last election is dominated by Republicans. Having become a “lame duck”, the American president is trying to share all the coming risks with his competitors in the United States. But the Republicans will hardly fall for this trick.
The alarming thing is that the White House, talking about a ground operation, somehow always mentions Syria, although the main focus of the IS forces is still in Iraq. Here we can clearly see an attempt of Obama to realize US aspirations to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad under the guise of fighting Islamists, especially because in the “Syrian option” Americans can count on the fact that the main forces for a ground operation will be the Turks and the Saudis, who are actively preparing for such a scenario.
Meanwhile, an analysis of the military-political situation in Syria shows that the main fighting between government forces and armed opposition took place during October – early November on four fronts: in the suburbs of Damascus, in the south of the country in the areas of Quneitra and Deraa, in the north of the province of Hama, and in the region of Aleppo. Government forces are experiencing increasing difficulty sustaining simultaneous battles on several fronts. This is due to personnel losses incurred during the three-year civil war, as well as serious losses of equipment. At the beginning of the conflict the Syrian Arab Army numbered 320 thousand, now it is 175 thousand. The loss of 140 thousand persons includes those killed and wounded, and deserters. Moreover, not all of the army units have entered the fray. A significant portion is used for the protection of the borders with Turkey and Israel, holding the rear areas. Although there are 120 thousand soldiers on the side of the government troops from the national self-defence forces, but their fighting capabilities are poor.
At the same time, government troops have achieved significant success in the suburbs of Damascus. However, they failed to defeat the Islamists in the province of Idlib. Furthermore, on October 27, militants of the “Islamic State” managed to break into the city of Idlib and seize two-thirds of the city. Thus, it became the second largest city of Syria after Raqqa to fall into the hands of jihadists. The city with a population of two hundred thousand is important, as it is located between Aleppo and the Mediterranean coast of the SAR. In general, neither the government forces nor the opposition have sufficient forces to turn the tide in their favour, which opens the way to overtly extremist forces like the IS.
Currently the pro-Saudi warlord Zahran Alloush is being actively promoted by his sponsors as a “moderate” Islamist candidate for the leadership of the armed opposition, despite the fact that he is not only cooperating with terrorists from “Dzhabhat en-Nusra”, but is also distinguished by his radical Salafi views. Characteristically, in the battles against government troops Mujahideen from the “moderate” factions “Harakat al-Hazm” most patronized by Washington, which received in the spring of this year anti-tank missiles from US intelligence, fought alongside jihadists from “Jaish al-Muhajireen” led by Chechen commander Omar al-Shishani, that have sworn allegiance to “Al-Qaeda”.
Another interesting fact is that when the Islamists of “Dzhabhat en-Nusra” captured a number of areas in the Syrian province of Idlib and went to the Turkish border, of the five thousand men from among the “moderate Syrian armed opposition” sent to confront them, some joined the ranks of the attackers, and some branched off and moved into Turkey. It has become yet another failure of the US in the Middle East. Six months ago Washington set out on a course to create a new segment of “secular” armed opposition in Syria, which was to replace the rising power of Islamists manifested in “Dzhabhat en-Nusra” and “Islamic State”. For these purposes 500 million USD has been allocated, and most of it has already been “liquidated”. After the surrender of the new military force in Idlib it has become clear that all the effort and money have been wasted in vain.
As you know, in August of this year the US, Turkey, KSA, and Jordan had decided to organize in Turkey several training camps for the formation of new armed groups. The basic outlines of the strategy are already clear: filling the new military wing of the Syrian opposition with militias controlled by Riyadh and Ankara. If for Turkey these are the remnants of the Syrian Free Army (SFA) formerly supervised and now finally vanished from sight, then for the Saudis it is “Dzhabhat en-Nusra”, which they created. Taking control of the border area in Idlib logically fits into this concept, as it creates a corridor for logistical replenishment of the created opposition units. They must act under the air support of several helicopters captured from the Syrian army. Although in reality, these helicopters can increasingly serve as a cover for the participation in battles of warplanes of the KSA, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, who now coordinate aerial combat operations at one of the air bases in Turkey.
Thus, there is nothing unexpected in the capture of the area’s boundaries by Islamists. The Saudis are just consistently pursuing their line. And the CIA, together with Jordanian intelligence services, are actively reviving the Islamist group “Junud al-Sham” and converting it into a separate military force, which is now manned by Jordanian “volunteers” from among former soldiers of the national army.
That is, Washington, despite its anti-Islamist rhetoric, is actively working on the same field as the Saudis. The preparatory phase of aggression against Assad by Saudis and Turks under the guise of detachments of the “new” Syrian opposition has begun.
Alexander Orlov, political scientist, expert Orientalist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.