With Syria gradually coming under the control of the Syrian army, backed as it is by the Russian and Iranian forces, the Western propaganda about Assad and its allies has equally lost its grip. In fact, nothing else could have proved the West wrong about Syria than the simple fact that the Syrian forces, despite suffering from a war fatigue of five years, have held their ground and retaken a lot of territory that they had previously lost to the “rebels” and other terrorist organisations. With Aleppo only inches from falling and with rebels now being cornered in the province of Idlib and a few isolated pockets of territory in Aleppo and Homs Provinces and around the capital, Damascus, the US president Obama’s early warning about Russia and Iran being trapped in Syria has quite convincingly been proven wrong.
In his first ever comment about Russia’s military campaign in Syria, given in October 2015, Obama had clearly said Russia and Iran’s attempt to “to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won’t work,” adding further that “they will be there for a while if they don’t take a different course.”
It doesn’t appear to be quite a convincing assessment when we compare it to what Syria and its allies have achieved in terms of rolling back, containing and eliminating proxy groups and other terror outfits being supported by a number of Araba and non-Arab countries.
Even the fact of Russia’s success in Syria is now being recognized, willy-nilly though, in the official and semi-official circles. “The Russian and Iranian intervention has completely changed the dynamic for Assad,” said Robert S. Ford, a former American ambassador to Syria and now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. “Look at the fighting in Aleppo,” he added. “There are at least as many Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi-Iranian militia fighters as there are soldiers born in Syria, so the war of attrition that was going against Assad is no longer doing.”
While the dynamics of war have most certainly changed, the story doesn’t end here. It has been followed by a programme of consolidation through the creation of systematic settlement programmes. According to the latest figures provided, on last Friday, by the Russian centre for reconciliation, new reconciliation agreements were signed with representatives of six more settlements in Syria, including two in the province of Hama, two in the province of Latakia, one in the province of Damascus and one in the province of Homs.
It further stated in its bulletin that “the number of settlements joining the reconciliation process has reached 1,018”, adding further that “talks on joining the regime of cessation of hostilities were continued with field commanders of illegal armed groups in the province of Damascus and commanders of armed opposition groups in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Aleppo and al-Quneitra.”
Although these facts largely remain unreported in the West, and a gloomy and dark picture of Assad and Russia is portrayed, this deliberate refusal to accept that Assad is going to stay in power in the future and that the Syrians themselves should decide their future would not in itself change today’s ground realities of Syria.
And the ground reality is that the Syrian forces, backed by its allies, have largely reversed the US and its allies’ programme to send Assad home. Therefore, what the US wants us to believe about Syria in terms of Syria being devastated by Russian and Syrian bombing isn’t really happening; what is, however, happening is a gradual recovery of the hold the Western supported “rebels” had established over Syria.
While Russia’s entry in Syria has turned out to be a turning point of the conflict, it has also meant a major loss for the US and its allies, which had poured in arms and ammunitions worth billions of dollars to topple Assad—something that these countries continue to see an ideal goal to work towards and achieve.
In this behalf, the latest relief for the rebels came in the last week when Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul-Rahman al-Thani, told the Reuters that the Gulf emirate was not thinking of abandoning the anti-Assad insurgents and would continue to arm them.
“This support is going to continue. We are not going to stop it. It doesn’t mean that if Aleppo falls we will give up on the demands of the Syrian people,” he said. Nor if President-elect Donald Trump decides to end US support for the rebels, which he has indicated he may. “We are not going to change our position.”
This continuation of support is in tandem with the new policy of protracted conflict being designed. If the old policy had aimed at ousting Assad, the new aims at not allowing him to consolidate his country and establish complete peace.
For instance, according to some US intelligence (CIA) officials, who spoke to Voice of America on the condition of anonymity, said that “the opposition will not be easily defeated.” “The possibility exists for the five-year Syrian civil war to descend into a protracted battle fought through hit-and-run-style attacks, which regime forces are not prepared to handle”, the official added further to the policy that the Qatari prince had hinted on earlier.
The post Aleppo fall scenario would thus, according to this constructed future-analysis, look like this: the Arab states would continue to provide weapons and the US would direct the new strategy to fight the Syrian forces and thus conveniently create conditions for more destruction to take place, and thereby, disable Assad from reconstructing his country.
However, notwithstanding the logic of this policy, the question is: will the foreign-backed rebels be able to sustain a fight on a scale and of the magnitude that might enable them to compensate for the myriad losses they have suffered in the last one month or so, particularly the loss of Aleppo?
With many of these groups are reportedly simply walking away and others willing to become part of Al-Qaeda in the wake of these loses, the US and its allies are only brewing a recipe of more violence and blood-shed in the country by sticking to the policy of arming proxies.
Now, this is something that is actually likely to happen but fails to attract the attention of the people because people in the West are provided with a factitious version of the conflict wherein Russia and Syria appear only as “villains.” However, the truth is that countries officially and unofficially funding “rebel” and extremist groups are creating chaos; while the Syria and Russian forces are clearing the Syrian territory of this extremist mess.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.