While the US-led coalition’s airstrikes in the eastern parts of Syria have been told to have taken place due purely to an “accident”, the incident stands out as yet another unmistakable evidence of America’s dual strategy and potentially conflicting aims of countering ISIS and removing Assad from power in Syria at the same time. Hence, the strike. While countering ISIS has become a necessity due to the group’s presence in Europe and the attacks it has orchestrated recently, the objective of toppling Assad remains the primary most concern of the US’, and those of its allies’, strategy for regional domination in the Middle East—and the one that continues to prevent the US from co-ordinating its operation against ISIS with Russia and Syria. However, the question still remains relevant and the recent incident has made it even more pressing: why can’t the US militarily co-ordinate with Russia to cleanse the Syrian territory of the jihadists?
Grotesque though it sounds but the fact is that the ceasefire deal, which is itself an indication of diplomatic co-operation between Russia and US, cannot be translated into military co-operation due to the prevailing so-called distrust in the US establishment of the “Russian intentions”—a narrative which continues to be reproduced every now and then by the US media too.
A New York Time story, published after the US led-coalition’s “accidental” strikes in Syria, thus built the case against Russia to prove to the world how frivolous the ceasefire deal, which is now under threat of falling apart, actually was due to what the US officials believe ‘Russian non-seriousness.’ To quote NYT:
Many American officials believe that the Russians were never serious about the deal that was sealed in Geneva. The officials argue that the Russians were looking for an excuse that would derail it and keep a status quo in which they have more control over events in Syria than any other power, with the possible exception of Iran.
With many high-ranking US officials, including those from its Defence establishment, being sceptical about the deal and opposing it to disallow Russia from buttressing Assad, could it not be that the strike, which certainly could not have taken place without Pentagon’s approval, was actually meant to derail the deal? Is that just a coincidence that chief among those opposing the deal is Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, the only senior member of the administration and Pentagon Chief, to vocally oppose the deal on the night Mr. Kerry reached it in Geneva? Mr. Carter had feared that the accord would reveal too much to the Russians about American targeting intelligence, and argued that Moscow was cynically dragging out the process in President Obama’s final months in office.
A look at the pattern of how the US-led coalition has been striking in the region would further reveal that the last strike, which killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers, was not simply a mistake. ISIS and the Syrian army have been fighting in the region, in Deir ez-Zor, for a long time. How come it be that the US led coalition never struck ISIS when it was rather successfully moving westward, for example, when it took Palmyra last year? Consistent with its current narrative, the US officials might like to put on this question another mask of “coincidence” and deep “regret.”
However, the fact remains that the strike has taken place at a time when the Syrian army was successfully pushing the ISIS back and bringing more and more region under its control—a situation that was clearly running counter to the US’ other objective i.e., to weaken the Syrian army to prevent it from making headways into the troubled parts of the country to re-establish Assad’s authority and legitimacy as the country’s lawful ruler. Were such a situation to prevail, the US would further lose on its rugged stance regarding Syria i.e., “Assad must go.”
As such, the key point to understand here is who this strike has benefitted? Neither the Russians nor the Syrians have gained anything even remotely beneficial out of it. It is ISIS because the strike hit the unit of Syrian army which was fighting ISIS, not the US led coalition forces. As such, could it be just another coincidence that the ISIS fighters launched an attack on the Syrian army immediately after the coalition jet had struck them?
A result of “accident” and “coincidence” it is though according to the Americans, many hawkish raiders in the US administration, who are opposing the deal and the possibility of co-operation between both countries, will also certainly be overjoyed by the prospects of this and others-to-come strikes complicating the already complex relationship between Moscow and Washington when it comes to resolving the Syrian crisis. Moreover, it could well undermine, if not completely ruin the basis for Russian-American cooperation on Syria.
According to some analysts, this is simple and clear escalation, and according to others it is the new American strategy, aimed at targeting Russian allies on the ground just as Russian jets have targeted ‘America allies’ in Syria i.e., the so-called CIA backed “moderate terror-groups.” This strategy clearly signals that the Washington considers Syria, as also Russia, its primary enemies and that as long as Assad remains in power, no ceasefire deal would work and the war see an end.
That is to say, while the US has officially moderated its stance that Assad must go, this has not happened actually. Till today, this remains to be the US’ primary objective in Syria. What we see is only frequent changes at tactical level. Previously the US was arming “rebel groups” and using them against Assad, now it has begun to directly hit the Syrian army, which is by far the most effective, organized and successful force against ISIS and other terror networks, which, in turn, are key pawns in the US’ strategy of chaos.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.