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Syrian endgame? “De-escalation areas” turn out to be “destroy Al-Qaeda areas”

Russian plan for de-escalation areas revealed to be plan to isolate, fragment and ultimately destroy Al-Qaeda in Syria.

Alexander Mercouris

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Publication of the Memorandum setting up the ‘de-escalation areas’ signed by the representatives of Russia, Turkey and Iran at the Astana conference, together with certain comments about them by representatives of the Russian and Syrian governments, have clarified their intended purpose.

It is now clear that the ‘de-escalation areas’ have nothing in common with the ‘safe havens’ constantly advocated by various people in the West – including at different times by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – and by the Jihadi themselves, and by Turkish President Erdogan.  Erdogan’s attempt at the joint press conference with Putin to pretend that they were was misleading in the extreme and plain wrong.

Nor is it correct to suppose (as I did) that the Russian proposal to set up the ‘de-escalation areas’ was prompted by Donald Trump’s recently re-discovered enthusiasm for ‘safe havens’.  On the contrary it is clear that the Russians have been working on this proposal for some time, almost certainly from before the alleged Khan Sheikhoun attack and the US missile strike on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base.

It is now also clear that the ‘de-escalation areas’ are envisaged by the Russians as a mechanism to achieve two objectives that they set themselves from the moment they first intervened in Syria in the autumn of 2015, and which were the subject of repeated failed negotiations between the Russians and US Secretary of State John Kerry over the course of 2016.  These objectives are

(1) the separation of what the Russians construe as ‘legitimate’ rebel groups from Al-Qaeda and ISIS; and

(2) a ceasefire between these groups and the Syrian Arab Army – and their eventual disarmament – so that the full force of the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian air force can be concentrated against the main terrorist enemies: Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

There is already supposed to be a Russian-Turkish backed ceasefire in existence in Syria, which is backed by a Resolution of the UN Security Council.  That ceasefire has however been only sporadically honoured, with the Turkish backed Jihadi groups who have supposedly joined the ceasefire repeatedly joining Al-Qaeda in attacks on the Syrian army.

What the ‘de-escalation zones’ are intended to do is build on this ceasefire by concentrating these groups in four designated areas in (Idlib province, parts of Homs province, eastern Ghouta near Damascus and in an area in southern Syria), and compel them there to cease all military activity, whilst surrounding them there with a network of observation posts and checkpoints in what is being called a ‘security zone’, which will control entry and exit from these areas, in order to ensure that that is what they actually do.

The key provision of the memorandum is the one which sets up these ‘security zones’

4.  The security zones shall include

Checkpoints to ensure unhindered movement of unarmed civilians and delivery of humanitarian assistance as well as facilitate economic activities;

Observation posts to ensure compliance with the provisions of the ceasefire regime;

The functioning of the checkpoints and observation posts as well as the administration of the security zones shall be ensured by the forces of the Guarantors by consensus.  Third parties might be deployed, if necessary, by consensus of the Guarantors.

(bold italics added)

In other words the three Guarantor Powers – Russia, Iran and Turkey – will directly supervise the administration of the ‘security zones’ – which will encircle the ‘de-escalation zones’ – and the ceasefire between the Syrian Arab Army and those Jihadi groups who have joined it.  They will have forces present on the ground to do this, though they may in theory seek help with additional forces from other countries.  Those ‘third party’ troops  can however only come from those states which are acceptable to all three Guarantor Powers.  That in effect excludes these troops coming from the US, NATO, or the Gulf Arab states, since that would be unacceptable to Iran.

Unofficially it seems that the ‘third parties’ that are being talked about are Egypt and Algeria (both allies of the Syrian government) and possibly Pakistan.

A commentary on the memorandum published by Syria’s official news agency SANA suggests that the Syrian Arab Army will also have a role in policing the ‘security zones’ and in manning the check points

It added that the de-escalation areas will include checkpoints to ensure the free movement of unarmed civilians and the delivery of humanitarian assistance as well as economic activities and monitoring posts to ensure the implementation of the provisions of the cessation of hostilities regime.

The document noted that the representatives of the Syrian Arab Army and the armed opposition groups, which have joined the cessation of hostilities agreement, will carry out their tasks at checkpoints and monitoring posts.

(bold italics added)

This provision does not appear in the text of the memorandum which has been published.  It may however appear in a separate document.  If this is correct then the Syrian Arab Army by agreement of all three of the Guarantor powers will be reintroduced into areas currently under Jihadi control in order to help police the ceasefire there.  Supposedly it will do so alongside “representatives of the armed opposition groups”.  Whether that is actually possible remains to be seen.

An essential point to understand about the ‘de-escalation areas’ is that they do not envisage the complete cessation of military activities inside them.  It it is only the Syrian Arab Army and the Jihad groups which have joined the ceasefire which must cease fighting each other within the ‘de-escalation areas’.  This is made clear by the following provision in the memorandum

2.     Within the lines of the de-escalation areas:

hostilities between the conflicting parties (the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the armed opposition groups that have joined and will join the ceasefire regime) with the use of any kinds of weapons, including aerial weapons, shall be ceased

(bold italics added)

By contrast military operations will continue against any Al-Qaeda and ISIS forces within the ‘de-escalation areas’

5.  The Guarantors shall:

……

take all necessary measures to continue the fight against DAESH/ISIL, Nusra Front and all other individuals, groups,undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaeda or DAESH/ISIL as designated by the UN Security Council within and outside the de-escalation areas

(bold italics added)

Al-Qaeda and ISIS (especially Al-Qaeda) are heavily embedded in all four ‘de-escalation areas’.  What the memorandum requires is that the Jihadi groups in these areas stand down, separate themselves from Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and cease interfering in the military operations in these areas of the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian air force against Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

In order to ensure this happens ‘security zones’ controlled in theory by the three Guarantor Powers but ultimately – since it is much the strongest power of the three – by Russia, will be set up to observe and police the areas in order to make sure that the Jihadi groups observe the ceasefire and do not interfere in the fight against Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Moreover in order to tighten control of these areas, entry and exit from them – including for humanitarian assistance and economic aid, which Al-Qaeda and ISIS have manipulated in the past to their advantage – will be controlled by the setting up of a network of observation posts and checkpoints manned by troops from a variety of sources (the Syrian Arab Army, those Jihadi groups participating in the ceasefire, and various friendly states) but which will again be ultimately controlled by Russia.

Needless to say these checkpoints are also intended to obstruct the movements of the Al-Qaeda and ISIS terrorists within the ‘de-escalation areas’ and to prevent them either escaping from or reinforcing themselves in these areas.

The ‘de-escalation zones’ are not therefore by any stretch of the imagination ‘safe havens’.  Nor are they really ‘de-escalation areas’.  Rather they are a device to isolate and break up the terrorist concentrations of Al-Qaeda and ISIS within these areas in order to destroy them there.

It remains to be seen whether this plan will ever be put into effect.  However if it is then it is the end of Al-Qaeda in Syria.

The four ‘de-escalation areas’ cover precisely those areas of Syria where Al-Qaeda is strongest, and where it has concentrated most of its forces.  If the plan is ever implemented they will be surrounded and divided from each other, making it possible for the Syrian army and the Russians to destroy them piecemeal.

Al-Qaeda has proved exceptionally skilled up to now at thwarting all previous Russian attempts to isolate it in Syria. This is however the most ambitious and thought-through Russian plan to do it to date.  Moreover it seems Turkey (historically Al-Qaeda’s primary backer in Syria) is going along with it.  Much will depend on whether Turkey continues to do so.  If it does then it is likely this plan will succeed.

As for ISIS, though it has a significant presence in all four ‘de-escalation areas’, its primary base areas lie outside them.  Even if the ‘de-escalation areas’ are thoroughly cleansed of Jihadi terrorists, ISIS can in theory continue to survive in its strongholds in eastern Syria, in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.  It will however be severely weakened and isolated, and as pressure on its strongholds mounts, its destruction will be just a matter of time.

It is because the ‘de-escalation area’ plan – if it is ever implemented – spells the doom of Al-Qaeda in Syria that the Jihadi groups represented in Astana opposed it so strenuously.

Al-Qaeda is by far the strongest Jihadi group in western Syria, and makes up the backbone of what is euphemistically called ‘the armed opposition’.  If Al-Qaeda in Syria is destroyed, then the Jihadis’ war against the Syrian government will have ended in defeat.  The Jihadi leaders know this, which is why the voiced such strong objection to the plan in Astana.  Their objections were however brushed aside, with Turkey – their biggest backer – signing up to the plan.

For the same reason the plan has been strongly welcome in Tehran and Damascus.  If it is ever implemented it represents for them victory in the war.

It remains to be seen whether the plan ever will be implemented.  The person on whom that depends is President Erdogan.  He has proved throughout the Syrian war to be a treacherous and unreliable partner.  However the fact that he has signed up to the plan – even if he seeks to misrepresent it – suggests that he too now finally realises that the Jihadis’ war in Syria is lost, and that it is in Turkey’s interests that it be brought to a close.

If that is indeed the case then it is justifiable to talk of the endgame being reached in Syria, with the prospect of the Syrian war being finally brought to an end.

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America’s wars are against American’s interests

War is a racket

Richard Galustian

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To advocate wars are good is insane!

For one, Afghanistan is about a ridiculously flawed US government foreign policy. it is not about ‘winning’ a war as Erik Prince describes in his video.

There is no reason for the US to be in Afghanistan.

Something Mr. Prince seems to fail to understand the reader can judge by watching Prince’s presentation promoting war.

That said, what Erik Prince explains about the military industrial complex is correct. Weapons purchases must be curtailed.

However more importantly, what he fails to say is America must stop its ‘’regime change policy’ and avoid future wars, is the real issue.

To provoke war for example with Russia or China is absolute insanity producing eventually only nuclear armageddon, the consequence is the destruction of the planet.

Trillions of dollars should not be spent (and wasted) by the Pentagon but that money should be used to build America’s roads; expand railways; build hospitals and schools, etc.

Especially also to pay much needed disability benefits to disabled vets who wasted their lives in past pointless wars from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq et al. Americans soldiers need to ‘go home’.

Withdrawing its unnecessary US bases worldwide; a left over outdated idea from the end of WW11, such as America’s military presence in Korea, Japan, Germany; the Persian Gulf, even in the UK.

Foreign military interventions are adventures pursued by ‘elites’ interests, ‘using’ NATO in most cases, as its tool, only for their (the elites) profit at the expense of ordinary people.

“War is a Racket” to quote the much decorated hero and patriot, US Marine, Major General Smedley Butler.

We can learn from history to understand America’s current predicament.

Brown Brothers Harriman in New York in the 1930s financed Hitler and Mussolini right up to the day war was declared by Roosevelt following the attack on Pearl Harbour.

A little taught fact in America’s colleges and ivy league universities is that Wall Street bankers (with a degree of assistance from the Bush family by the way) at the time had decided that a fascist dictatorship in the United States would be far better for their business interests than Roosevelt’s “new deal” which threatened massive wealth re-distribution to recapitalize the working and middle class of America and build America’s infrastructure.

So the Wall Street bankers recruited the much respected General Smedley Butler to lead an overthrow of the us government and install a “Secretary of General Affairs” who would be answerable to Wall Street, not the people; who would crush social unrest and shut down all labour unions. however General Smedley Butler only pretended to go along with the scheme, then exposed the plot. The General played the traitors along to gather evidence for congress and the president. When Roosevelt learned of the planned coup, he initially demanded the arrest of the plotters but this never happened because Roosevelt was in effect blackmailed by those same US bankers; another story!

Read the words of Major General Smedley Butler who explains what exactly happened.

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of our country’s most agile military force — the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from second lieutenant to major general. and during that period I spent more of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for wall street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. “I suspected I was just a part of a racket at the time. now I am sure of it. Like all members of the military profession, I never had an original thought until I left the service. my mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of the higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service. Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the national city bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of wall street. the record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that the standard oil went its way unmolested. During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals and promotion. Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. the best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts. I operated on three continents.” —

General Smedley Butler, former US Marine Corps Commandant, 1935.

We need peace not wars.

We need infrastructure building in America and Europe……not wars.

Somebody should explain this to Mr. Prince, and perhaps to his sister too…..who happens to be part of President Trump’s administration!

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Theresa May goes to Brussels and comes back with a big fat donut (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 39.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at Theresa May’s trip to Brussels to try and win some concessions from EU oligarchs, only to get completely rebuked and ridiculed, leaving EU headquarters with nothing but a four page document essentially telling the UK to get its act together or face a hard Brexit.

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Via Zerohedge


Any confidence boost that might have followed Theresa May’s triumph this week over her party’s implacable Brexiteers has probably already faded. Because if there was anything to be learned from the stunning rebuke delivered to the prime minister by EU leaders on Thursday, it’s that the prime minister is looking more stuck than ever.

This was evidenced by the frosty confrontation between the imperturbable May and her chief Continental antagonist, European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, which was caught on film on Friday shortly before the close of a two-day European Council summit that descended into bitter recriminations. After offering token praise of May’s leadership, Brussels’ supreme bureaucrat criticized her negotiating strategy as “disorganized”, provoking a heated response from May.

Earlier, May desperately pleaded with her European colleagues – who had adamantly insisted that the text of the withdrawal agreement would not be altered – to grant her “legally binding assurances” May believes would make the Brexit plan palatable enough to win a slim victory in the Commons.

If there were any lingering doubts about the EU’s position, they were swiftly dispelled by a striking gesture of contempt for May: Demonstrating the Continent’s indifference to her plight, the final text of the summit’s conclusions was altered to remove a suggestion that the EU consider what further assurances can be offered to May, while leaving in a resolution to continue contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit.

Even the Irish, who in the recent past have been sympathetic to their neighbors’ plight (in part due to fears about a resurgence of insurrectionary violence should a hard border re-emerge between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland), implied that there patience had reached its breaking point.

Here’s the FT:

But Leo Varadkar, the Irish premier, warned that the EU could not tolerate a treaty approval process where a country “comes back every couple of weeks following discussions with their parliament looking for something extra…you can’t operate international relations on this basis.”

Senior EU officials are resisting further negotiations — and suggestions of a special Brexit summit next month — because they see Britain’s requests as in effect a bid to rewrite the exit treaty.

Mr Varadkar noted that many prime ministers had been called to Brussels “at short notice” for a special Brexit summit “on a Sunday in November,” adding: “I don’t think they would be willing to come to Brussels again unless we really have to.”

In response, May threatened to hold a vote on the Brexit plan before Christmas, which would almost certainly result in its defeat, scrapping the fruits of more than a year of contentious negotiations.

Given that Mrs May aborted a Commons vote on her deal this week because she feared defeat by a “significant margin,” her comments amounted to a threat that she would let MPs kill the withdrawal agreement before Christmas.

Mrs May made the threat to German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron and EU presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk as the two day Brussels summit descended into acrimony, according to diplomats.

“At the point where there is no prospect of getting anything more from the EU, that’s when you would have to put the vote,” said one close aide to Mrs May.

If this week has taught May anything, it’s that her plan to pressure the EU into more concessions (her preferred option to help her pass the Brexit plan) was an unmitigated failure. And given that running out the clock and hoping that MPs come around at the last minute (when the options truly have been reduced to ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’) leaves too much room for market-rattling uncertainty, May is left with a few options, two of which were previously ‘off the table’ (though she has distanced herself from those positions in recent weeks).

They are: Calling a second referendum, delaying a Brexit vote, pivoting to a softer ‘Plan B’ Brexit, or accepting a ‘no deal’ Brexit. As the BBC reminds us, May is obliged by law to put her deal to a vote by Jan. 21, or go to Parliament with a Plan B.

If May does decide to run down the clock, she will have two last-minute options:

On the one hand she could somehow cancel, delay, soften or hold another referendum on Brexit and risk alienating the 17.4 million people who voted Leave.

But on the other hand, she could go for a so-called Hard Brexit (where few of the existing ties between the UK and the EU are retained) and risk causing untold damage to the UK’s economy and standing in the world for years to come.

Alternatively, May could accept the fact that convincing the Brexiteers is a lost cause, and try to rally support among Labour MPs for a ‘softer’ Brexit plan, one that would more countenance closer ties with the EU during the transition, and ultimately set the stage for a closer relationship that could see the UK remain part of the customs union and single market. Conservatives are also increasingly pushing for a ‘Plan B’ deal that would effectively set the terms for a Norway- or Canada-style trade deal (and this strategy isn’t without risk, as any deal accepted by Parliament would still require approval from the EU).

But as JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank anticipated last week, a second referendum (which supporters have nicknamed a “People’s Vote”) is becoming increasingly popular, even among MPs who supported the ‘Leave’ campaign, according to Bloomberg.

It’s not the only previously unthinkable idea that May has talked about this week. Fighting off a challenge to her leadership from pro-Brexit Conservative members of Parliament, the premier warned that deposing her would mean delaying Britain’s departure from the European Union. That’s not something she admitted was possible last month.

The argument for a second referendum advanced by one minister was simple: If nothing can get through Parliament — and it looks like nothing can — the question needs to go back to voters.

While campaigners for a second vote have mostly been those who want to reverse the result of the last one and keep Britain inside the EU, that’s not the reason a lot of new supporters are coming round to the idea.

One Cabinet minister said this week he wanted a second referendum on the table to make clear to Brexit supporters in the Conservative Party that the alternative to May’s deal is no Brexit at all.

Even former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is urging his supporters to be ready for a second referendum:

Speaking at rally in London, Press Association quoted Farage as saying: “My message folks tonight is as much as I don’t want a second referendum it would be wrong of us on a Leave Means Leave platform not to get ready, not to be prepared for a worst-case scenario.”

Putting pressure on Brexiteers is also the reason there’s more talk of delaying the U.K.’s departure. At the moment, many Brexit-backers are talking openly about running down the clock to March so they can get the hard Brexit they want. Extending the process — which is easier than many appreciate — takes that strategy off the table.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has continued to call for May to put her deal to a vote principally because its defeat is a necessary precursor for another referendum (or a no-confidence vote pushed by an alliance between Labour, and some combination of rebel Tories, the SNP and the DUP).

“The last 24 hours have shown that Theresa May’s Brexit deal is dead in the water,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. “She’s failed to deliver any meaningful changes. Rather than ploughing ahead and recklessly running down the clock, she needs to put her deal to a vote next week so Parliament can take back control.”

The upshot is that the Brexit trainwreck, which has been stuck at an impasse for months, could finally see some meaningful movement in the coming weeks. Which means its a good time to bring back this handy chart illustrating the many different outcomes that could arise:

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Ukraine’s President Says “High” Threat Of Russian Invasion, Urges NATO Entry In Next 5 Years

Poroshenko is trying desperately to hold on to power, even if it means provoking Russia.

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Via Zerohedge


Perhaps still seeking to justify imposing martial law over broad swathes of his country, and attempting to keep international pressure and media focus on a narrative of “Russian aggression,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko denounced what he called the high “threat of Russian invasion” during a press conference on Sunday, according to Bloomberg.

Though what some analysts expected would be a rapid flair up of tit-for-tat incidents following the late November Kerch Strait seizure of three Ukrainian vessels and their crew by the Russian Navy has gone somewhat quiet, with no further major incident to follow, Poroshenko has continued to signal to the West that Russia could invade at any moment.

“The lion’s share of Russian troops remain” along the Russian border with Ukraine, Poroshenko told journalists at a press conference in the capital, Kiev. “Unfortunately, less than 10 percent were withdrawn,” he said, and added: “As of now, the threat of Russian troops invading remains. We have to be ready for this, we won’t allow a repeat of 2014.”

Poroshenko, who declared martial law on Nov. 26, citing at the time possible imminent “full-scale war with Russia” and Russian tank and troop build-up, on Sunday noted that he will end martial law on Dec. 26 and the temporarily suspended presidential campaign will kick off should there be no Russian invasion. He also previously banned all Russian males ages 16-60 from entering Ukraine as part of implementation of 30 days of martial law over ten provinces, though it’s unclear if this policy will be rescinded.

During his remarks, the Ukrainian president said his country should push to join NATO and the EU within the next five years, per Bloomberg:

While declining to announce whether he will seek a second term in the office, Poroshenko said that Ukraine should achieve peace, overcome the consequences of its economic crisis and to meet criteria to join the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during next five years.

But concerning both his retaining power and his ongoing “threat exaggeration” — there’s even widespread domestic acknowledgement that the two are clearly linked.

According to The Globe and Mail:

While Mr. Poroshenko’s domestic rivals accuse him of exaggerating the threat in order to boost his own flagging political fortunes — polls suggest Mr. Poroshenko is on track to lose his job in a March election — military experts say there are reasons to take the Ukrainian president’s warning seriously.

As we observed previously, while European officials have urged both sides to exercise restraint, the incident shows just how easily Russia and the West could be drawn into a military conflict over Ukraine.

Certainly Poroshenko’s words appear designed to telegraph just such an outcome, which would keep him in power as a war-time president, hasten more and massive western military support and aid, and quicken his country’s entry into NATO — the latter which is already treating Ukraine as a de facto strategic outpost.

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