While the attention of the world has been focused on the increasingly strident rhetoric between the United States and North Korea, a rather different and potentially more dangerous series of moves has been playing out in Syria. In that context there have also been some significant revelations reflecting the true nature of the US’s tactics in Syria which the mainstream media have for the most part ignored.
Some commentators pointed to Trump’s pre-election statements about disengaging the US from endless wars as evidence of a change of policies should he be elected. Some even suggested that his post election posturing bellicosity was camouflage to his actual agreements with Russia and China. Such views ignore the long history of US foreign policy, and the fact that regardless of who occupies the White House, certain verities remain constant. Foremost amongst these is the maintenance of American hegemony, and the willingness to use force to ensure its longevity. Events of recent days have forcefully confirmed the realities of US foreign policies.
An organization called the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) have revealed the results of an extended investigation into the various terrorist groups in Syria, and more particularly, how and from whom they receive their seemingly endless flow of weapons and ammunition.
The weapons and ammunition used by the terrorists, the study revealed, have been organized by the CIA and the Pentagon, using two channels in particular, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and a little known weapons supply company, Picatinny Arsenal, based in New Jersey.
The weapons are purchased in a number of East European countries, all with NATO membership, and they are all weapons described as “non-standard” which is the NATO euphemism for weapons manufactured in East Europe, primarily Russia and the Czech Republic. These non-American sources give an added layer of deniability when the weapons are captured from the terrorists.
The weapons that are purchased are then transported to Syria, using a network of arms dealers, shipping companies, US military bases, and a Bulgarian airline called Silk Way Airlines. Under the terms of the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which the US has signed but not ratified, the end user of all weapons is required to be shown on all export certificates. None of the SOCOM certificates name any Middle Eastern country. The BIRN Report however, makes it clear that that is precisely where the weapons are destined.
The weapons and related armaments are typically either shipped into friendly ports, or flown into US bases in Turkey and Jordan and then shipped overland to their terrorist group destinations.
In July 2017 Trump ordered that the CIA cease supplying weapons to Syrian terrorist groups. The cessation of this program, known as Operation Sycamore, was welcomed at the time as one signal of the US’s changed policy regarding Syria. The program however, has simply carried on under different guises and using different conduits, of which Silk Way Airlines is merely one.
In September, Trump also announced that restrictions on private companies exporting weapons would be eased. A major consequence of this change of policy will be to make it that much harder to hold the US accountable for the export and end use of weapons. The privatization of the arms traffic is part of a more general privatization of military force, including the widespread utilization of “contractors” who in many cases, for example Afghanistan, vastly outnumber regular military forces.
The second major development, also largely unreported in the western mainstream media, was the attack by terrorist forces in Syria upon Russian military police in one of the so-called de-confliction zones. This occurred in an area to the north east of the city of Hama. That terrorists should violate agreements entered into by the major parties should come as no surprise.
What was interesting however, was the remarkably candid response from the Russian military authorities. The head of the Main Operations Department of the Russian General Staff, Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoi, issued a statement saying that “the offensive was initiated by American intelligence services to stop a successful advance of government troops east of Deir ez Zor.”
A similarly blunt statement was made by the Russian Department of Defence spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov. He said that Russia suspected the American backed Syrian Defence Force (SDF) of colluding with ISIS terrorists rather than fighting them. He said that SDF forces had twice attacked the Syrian and Russian forces at Deir ez Zor with mortar and rocket fire, and that “fire from regions controlled by the SDF will be suppressed by all possible means.”
Such a blunt response signals increasing Russian frustration with the duplicity of the Americans, exemplified in their continued arming of terrorists as noted above, and their active participation in military actions directed against Syrian military forces and their Russian allies. On the diplomatic front Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reminded the world that all American forces and their allies in Syria were there contrary to international law, reinforcing the messages given by Rudskoi and Konashenkov.
Given that Russian forces operate alongside their Syrian allies, and SOCOM forces are embedded with the SDF, there is an obvious risk of clashes producing casualties, with attendant political repercussions.
These blunt Russian warnings highlighted what has long been known but rarely alluded to in the western mainstream media: that ISIS, the SDF and the Americans are cooperating in Syria to overthrow the Syrian government. Further evidence of this cooperation comes from photos taken by Russian satellites and recently released that show American, ISIS and SDF forces moving freely within terrorist held areas without apparent fear or hindrance.
This was also referred to in Konashenkov’s statement when he said that Russia had detected the transfer of SDF militants from Raqqa to Deir ez Zor to join forces with ISIS terrorists. Russian drones and intelligence, he said, “have not recorded any confrontations” between ISIS and the “third force”, i.e. SDF.
Despite Trump and other western leaders allegedly disclaiming regime change as an objective in Syria, it is clear that this policy has merely been put on hold while other options are exercised.
A major objective in this context has been the attempt by the US and its allies to take control of the oil fields to the east of Deir ez Zor. This is one of the factors behind the blatant attacks by US led forces on Syrian government troops and their Russian and Iranian allies.
The Syrian territory east of Deir ez Zor contains the Koniko gas field and the al Azbeh oil field, both of which are vital to Syria’s post-war recovery. They are also vital to any autonomous Kurdish State that is established in the area. This would help achieve a long held Israeli goal of the dismemberment of its enemy neighbours, Iraq and Syria, into non-threatening statelets. It is another reason why American backed Kurdish forces have also been seeking a foothold in the eastern Syrian region.
The other element of importance in the area east of the Euphrates is that it is central to an overland route connecting Damascus with Baghdad and Teheran. Once established, that route will play an important role in connecting Iraq and Syria with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, in which Iran already plays a pivotal role.
These developments have the potential to transform the role of these three countries, plus Turkey, which as part of its reorientation to the East is forging links with both the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union. This represents a fundamental geopolitical realignment in the Middle East. It is little wonder that the Americans are fighting desperately to reverse their ever-diminishing role in the region. They seem prepared to risk war with Russia to do so. That is a prospect that should concern us all.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.