The battle of East Ghouta appears to be almost over, with news that thousands of Jihadi fighters previously holed up in the town of Douma – the last Jihadi stronghold in East Ghouta, the rest of which has been almost entirely recaptured by the Syrian army – have been withdrawing from Douma under Russian military police escort.
On 1st April 2018 Syria’s official news agency SANA reported that the Jihadis holding out in East Ghouta had agreed to leave under Russian military police escort.
This report was subsequently denied by one of their political leaders, Mohamad Alloush. However it seems that Alloush – who has previously represented Jaysh-Al-Islam, the Jihadi group in control of Douma, in peace talks in Geneva – may not be physically present in Douma, and may not be properly informed about the situation there, since there is no doubt that Jihadi fighters are indeed withdrawing from Douma in a way which is consistent with the withdrawal agreement which SANA had previously reported.
The negotiated withdrawal of Jihadi fighters from places like Douma is controversial. However refusing to negotiate with the Jihadi fighters and acting to eliminate them by force risks heavy casualties amongst the Syrian troops – which is something the still heavily over stretched Syrian military can ill afford – and even heavier casualties amongst the Syrian civilians trapped in these places – which would come with heavy political as well as humanitarian costs.
As for the Russians, contrary to what is often said they have repeatedly shown a marked reluctance to drive Jihadis out of urban settlements by inflicting on them the sort of heavy saturation bombing the US military has used in the past in places like Fallujah, Mosul and Raqqa.
In light of these constraints, negotiating the withdrawal of Jihadi fighters from places like East Ghouta makes political and military sense, just as it did during the fighting in Aleppo in 2016.
With all of East Ghouta apart from Douma now secured, and with Douma likely to pass under Syrian government control shortly, the security of Damascus – Syria’s capital and second biggest city – has now been fully secured.
The Syrian government and military have also secured their transport routes to the rest of Syria, with major roads which pass from Damascus through East Ghouta now being reopened.
All in all, this has been a well-conducted military operation, conducted with a rapidity and forcefulness of which the Syrian military was incapable of just a year ago, and carried out at minimal cost both in lives and material as the result of an artful combination of force and diplomacy.
The Syrian military – and the Russians – deserve their victory.