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Was Erdogan behind Al-Qaeda’s failed offensive in Damascus?

The Al-Qaeda led offensive in eastern Damascus has been comprehensively repelled by the Syrian army, which has recovered all the ground lost to the Jihadis since they began their offensive on Sunday.

Not only has the Al-Qaeda led offensive in eastern Damascus completely failed, but it has caused the Jihadi fighters such heavy losses that there are now suggestions that their hold over the remaining suburbs of Damascus that they still control is now gravely weakened.

Meanwhile the Moon of Alabama website, in a typically insightful discussion of this offensive, is suggesting that it was coordinated with Al-Qaeda led offensives in Hama province and in Deraa, and that all these offensives originate in a plan by Turkish President Erdogan to improve his negotiating hand with the Russians in the talks in Astana and Geneva.

Turkey is at a dead end in Syria. Erdogan’s dream of going on to Raqqa and Deir Ezzor  or even Aleppo city has been blocked by an agreement between the U.S. and Russia. His proxy forces are stuck north-east of Aleppo city and have no way to go further south, east or west. They conquered a piece of rural land that gives Erdogan no negotiation leverage but potentially a lot of headaches. A small Russian contingent has moved into the Kurdish enclave in north-west Syria around Afrin blocking any serious Turkish move against that area.

Turkey and its paymasters in Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have lost the fight over Syria. Still tacitly backed by the U.S. they are currently trying a Hail-Mary pass to again achieve some negotiation power for the next round of Geneva talks. This is likely to again fail. Their proxy forces in the north west, including al-Qaeda, moved from the north towards the city of Hama (see map, red=Syrian government). Over the last days they captured 11 small villages which were only lightly defended. The Russian and Syrian airforce are now devastating them and a counter-attack by the Syrian army is prepared and will soon throw them back.

Coordinated with the Hama attack was an attempt to capture ground on the eastern periphery of Damascus and in the south around Deraa. The Damascus attack has run its cause. No ground was taken and held by the Takfiris and the counterattack against them is advancing. The attack in Deraa failed to break the Syrian army defense lines.

Unfortunately past experience shows that such duplicity on the part of President Erdogan towards his Russian “partners” is all too possible.  Moreover arguing in favour of the Moon of Alabama’s analysis is that the offensive in eastern Damascus was joined by Jaish Al-Islam, a Turkish backed Jihadi group that was previously observing the Russian-Turkish sponsored ceasefire.

If Erdogan really was behind Al-Qaeda’s recent failed offensives then they – like all of President Erdogan’s other Syrian ventures – have ended in dismal failure, leaving him weaker than he was before.

This is especially so because in that case the Russians will undoubtedly know from their intelligence sources that Erdogan was behind these offensives.  Though the Russians are unlikely in that case to confront Erdogan about this fact directly (doing so would only produce a denial) they will undoubtedly have communicated their knowledge to Erdogan in some other way.

That would mean that not only would Erdogan and Al-Qaeda have seen their military position – and thus Erdogan’s negotiating hand – in Syria further weakened.  Erdogan would in that case also have been further humiliated and will have lost face.  He is known to care about this exceedingly, and if that is indeed what has happened then it will have further strengthened the psychological ascendancy Putin and the Russians already have over him.

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