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Huge advances by Syrian army transform Syrian war

Whirlwind advances of Syrian army send ISIS reeling and position Syrian army to recover all of central and eastern Syria from the Mediterranean to the Iraqi border.

Alexander Mercouris

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Though the Western media is barely reporting the fact, the last few weeks have witnessed a total transformation of the Syrian war.

Until the liberation of eastern Aleppo in December the Syrian war was being fought mainly in western Syria along a narrow stretch of Syria’s Mediterranean coast in a grinding war of attrition between the Syrian army and various Turkish backed Jihadi groups all of which were led ultimately by Al-Qaeda.

The intense pressure of this war obliged the Syrian army to withdraw from most of eastern Syria in order to protect the main centres of Syria’s population and power in the cities along the coast.  The resulting vacuum in eastern Syria was filled initially by various Jihadi groups, but ultimately by ISIS, which in 2015 gained essentially undisputed control of this area, save for the isolated city of Deir Ezzor.

Al-Qaeda’s defeat in December in Aleppo, and the rout of its offensive from Idlib province into Hama province in April, has left the Syrian government in control of all of Syria’s big cities – Damascus, Aleppo, Hama and Homs – whilst Latakia Province and its capital have always been firmly controlled by the government.  Though Al-Qaeda still has a presence in some areas in the countryside near Damascus, and is still firmly in control of Idlib Province, these areas are now covered by the agreements reached between Russia and Turkey in December, supplemented by further agreements reached by Russia, Iran and Turkey in May, which set up the so-called ‘de-confliction areas’ in these territories.

This combination of Al-Qaeda defeats and peace agreements means that the war of attrition in western Syria is at an end, and that the Syrian army there for the moment at least has won.

In saying this it is important to say that fighting between the Syrian army and Al-Qaeda in western Syria has not come entirely to a stop.  Bitter fighting still continues between the Syrian army and Al-Qaeda in southern Syria, especially in the bitterly contested town of Dara’a, where the original uprising against the Syrian government started in 2011.   Al-Qaeda still from time to time launches several raids on western Aleppo. People everywhere in Syria, including in the safest regions which are most securely under the government’s control, have to face the daily threat of terrorist attacks.

Nonetheless the agreements reached between the Turks and the Russians in December, and between the Turks, the Russians and the Iranians in May, have generally held.

This has allowed the Syrian army, sections of which have been extensively re-trained and re-equipped by the Russians, to take the battle to ISIS in the east in a serious way, for the first time since the organisation took over central and eastern Syria in 2014 and 2015.  Western commentators once claimed that the Syrian army and the Russians were leaving ISIS alone.  This was never true, but following the Syrian army’s recent advances into central and eastern Syria this claim has become completely unsustainable.

The first fruit of the stabilisation of in the west was the second liberation of Palmyra from ISIS in March 2017.  However since then events have quickened at an accelerating rate, with a whirlwind advance by the Syrian army eastward from Aleppo to Rusafa in the north, and an equally dramatic advance in the south, bringing the Syrian army for the first time in years to the Iraqi border.

The speed of these advances has no previous precedent in the Syrian war.  In 2014-2015 ISIS did accomplish equally rapid advances over comparable distances.  However with the Syrian army having withdrawn from eastern Syria these advances were largely unopposed.  By contrast the Syrian army’s advances over recent weeks have been sustained even in the face of  fanatical resistance from ISIS.

This is not the result of some general collapse of ISIS in eastern and central Syria.  Whilst the Syrian army has advanced at a blistering rate, US backed Kurdish forces in the north have been making extremely slow progress in their war against ISIS, which is supposed to end with the capture of Raqqa.

Compare for example the continued failure of the Kurdish militia to take Raqqa despite having launched their US planned and US backed offensive to capture Raqqa as long ago as November 2016 (“Operation Wrath of Euphrates”) with the latest rapid advances in Raqqa Province of the Syrian army

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA), spearheaded by the elite Tiger Forces, has seized more than 1,400 square kilometers of territory from ISIS in the province of Raqqah. In addition to this, several key oil and gas extraction and refinery sites have been liberated. Lastly, the Syrian Army also expanded their zone of control over the Ethriyah-Raqqah road including two key junctions in the Tabaqah area; this move opens the door to further advances into central Syria from the north by pro-government forces.

The suddenness and rapidity of the entire offensive has come as an absolute surprise for all observers of the Syrian War. In particular, the offensive has not only served to further accelerate the already fast decline of ISIS being witnessed in 2017, but now serves to block any further operations the US-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) might have had planned to expand into central Syria via Tabaqah and seize key oil and gas infrastructures which litter central areas of the country.

These whirlwind advances reflect an underlying reality of the Syrian war, which is almost never discussed.

The two most powerful military forces in Syria for most of the war (until the coming of the Russians) have been the Syrian army and Al-Qaeda.  ISIS and the Kurdish militia are no match for either, and the only reason ISIS managed to expand so rapidly in 2014 and 2015 was because the Syrian army and Al-Qaeda were too busy fighting each other to confront it.

Now that the Syrian army does not have to fight Al-Qaeda in its heartlands in western Syria – at least for the moment – it is having little difficulty defeating ISIS wherever it encounters it.

These Syrian army advances are transforming the political map of Syria.  Whereas only a few months ago most Syrian territory had fallen out of the control of the Syrian government, that is rapidly becoming no longer the case.

With two powerful columns of Syrian troops now converging on the eastern city of Deir Ezzor – one from Rusafa in the north, the other from Palmyra in the centre – there is now a real prospect that all of central Syria stretching all the way from the Mediterranean to the Iraqi border will soon once more be under the control of the Syrian government.

Should that happen the Syrian government’s opponents, far from being credible challengers for power in Syria, will be confined to enclaves in various parts of Syria: a US controlled enclave around the isolated garrison of al-Tanf in the south, a Turkish controlled ‘safe zone’ in the north west, Idlib province in the west, and a large Kurdish area adjoining Turkey in the north east.

With the Syrian government in control of most of Syria’s territory and population, it will be increasingly difficult to deny its legitimacy, and should this situation arise then it will soon start to have a serious bearing on the course of the negotiations in Astana and Geneva.

The situation in Syria is still not stable.  The two Syrian military columns converging on Deir Ezzor have powerful enemies on their flanks: the US in the south and potentially the Kurds in the north.  Intervention by either of these would however risk confrontation with Russia, whose Special Forces and advisers are accompanying the columns, and whose air force is providing them with air support.  Frankly I don’t think that will happen.

A far greater risk is that the unstable peace in western Syria will break down, and that Al-Qaeda will be reactivated, and will try to take advantage of the Syrian army’s advance eastward to capture territory in the west.

That would however require the support of Turkey, which has been badly burnt by its involvement in the Syrian war, and which is becoming increasingly concerned by US support for the Kurds in the north.

On balance, though any policy which depends on Turkish President Erdogan abiding by the agreements he has signed is fraught with risk, I think self interest in the end will win out, and that the precarious peace in western Syria will hold.

If so then the war in Syria may indeed be moving towards its end.

President Assad has said repeatedly, even in what were for him his darkest hours, that his intention was to bring all of Syrian territory back under the Syrian government’s control.

Once that attracted disbelief and incredulity in the West.  Suddenly it does not look so unlikely..

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Macron cuts ski holiday short, vowing crack down on Yellow Vests (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 109.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the 18th consecutive week of Yellow Vests protests in Paris. Following last weeks lower participation, Saturday’s Yellow Vests in Paris gathered larger crowds, with various outbreaks of violence and rioting that has been blamed on extreme elements, who French authorities claim have infiltrated the movement.

“Act XVIII” of the protests has shown that the Yellow Vests have not given up. France’s Champs-Élysées boulevard was where most of the violence occurred, with the street being left in a pile of broken glass and flames.

One day after Paris was set ablaze, French President Emmanuel Macron cut his ski holiday short, returning to Paris and vowing to take “strong decisions” to prevent more violence.

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Via Zerohedge


Paris awoke on Sunday to smouldering fires, broken windows and looted stores following the 18th consecutive Saturday of Yellow Vest protests.

Around 200 people were arrested according to BFM TV, while about 80 shops near the iconic Champs Elysees had been damaged and/or looted according to AFP, citing Champs Elysees committee president Jean-Noel Reinhardt.

The 373-year-old Saint Sulpice Roman Catholic church was set on fire while people were inside, however nobody was injured. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

The riots were so severe that French President Emmanuel Macron cut short a vacation at the La Mongie ski resort in the Hautes-Pyrénées following a three-day tour of East Africa which took him to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Macron skied on Friday, telling La Depeche du Midi “I’m going to spend two-three days here to relax, to find landscapes and friendly faces,” adding “I’m happy to see the Pyrenees like that, radiant, although I know it was more difficult at Christmas” referring to the lack of snow in December.

In response to Saturday’s violence, Macron said over Twitter that “strong decisions” were coming to prevent more violence.

Macron said some individuals — dubbed “black blocs” by French police forces — were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to “damage the Republic, to break, to destroy.” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Twitter that those who excused or encouraged such violence were complicit in it. –Bloomberg

The French President has family ties in the Hautes-Pyrénées, including Bagnères de Bigorre where his grandmother lived. He is a regular visitor to the region.

Emmanuel Macron (2ndL), head of the political movement In Marche! (Onwards!) And candidate for the 2017 presidential election, and his wife Brigitte Trogneux (L) have lunch April 12, 2017 (Reuters)

 

 

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Vesti calls out Pompeo on lying about Russia invading Ukraine [Video]

Secretary Pompeo displayed either stunning ignorance or a mass-attack of propaganda about what must be the most invisible war in history.

Seraphim Hanisch

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After the 2014 Maidan revolution and the subsequent secessions of Lugansk and Donetsk in Ukraine, and after the rejoining of Crimea with its original nation of Russia, the Western media went on a campaign to prove the Russia is (/ was / was about to / had already / might / was thinking about / was planning to … etc.) invade Ukraine. For the next year or so, about every two weeks, internet news sources like Yahoo! News showed viewers pictures of tanks, box trucks and convoys to “prove” that the invasion was underway (or any of the other statuses confirming the possibilities above stated.) This information was doubtless provided to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Apparently, Secretary Pompeo believed this ruse, or is being paid to believe this ruse because in a speech recently, he talked about it as fact:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine an attempt to gain access to Ukraine’s oil and gas reserves.

He stated this at IHS Markit’s CERAWeek conference in Houston, the USA, Reuters reports.

Pompeo urged the oil industry to work with the Trump administration to promote U.S. foreign policy interests, especially in Asia and in Europe, and to punish what he called “bad actors” on the world stage.

The United States has imposed harsh sanctions in the past several months on two major world oil producers, Venezuela and Iran.

Pompeo said the U.S. oil-and-gas export boom had given the United States the ability to meet energy demand once satisfied by its geopolitical rivals.

“We don’t want our European allies hooked on Russian gas through the Nord Stream 2 project, any more than we ourselves want to be dependent on Venezuelan oil supplies,” Pompeo said, referring to a natural gas pipeline expansion from Russia to Central Europe.

Pompeo called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an attempt to gain access to the country’s oil and gas reserves.

Although the state-run news agency Vesti News often comes under criticism for rather reckless, or at least, extremely sarcastic propaganda at times, here they rightly nailed Mr. Pompeo’s lies to the wall and billboarded it on their program:

The news anchors even made a wisecrack about one of the political figures, Konstantin Zatulin saying as a joke that Russia plans to invade the United States to get its oil. They further noted that Secretary Pompeo is uneducated about the region and situation, but they offered him the chance to come to Russia and learn the correct information about what is going on.

To wit, Russia has not invaded Ukraine at all. There is no evidence to support such a claim, while there IS evidence to show that the West is actively interfering with Russia through the use of Ukraine as a proxyWhile this runs counter to the American narrative, it is simply the truth. Ukraine appears to be the victim of its own ambitions at this point, for while the US tantalizes the leadership of the country and even interferes with the Orthodox Church in the region, the country lurches towards a presidential election with three very poor candidates, most notably the one who is president there now, Petro Poroshenko.

However, the oil and gas side of the anti-Russian propaganda operation by the US is significant. The US wishes for Europe to buy gas from American suppliers, even though this is woefully inconvenient and expensive when Russia is literally at Europe’s doorstep with easy supplies. However, the Cold War Party in the United States, which still has a significant hold on US policy making categorizes the sale of Russia gas to powers like NATO ally Germany as a “threat” to European security.

It is interesting that Angela Merkel herself does not hold this line of thinking. It is also interesting and worthy of note, that this is not the only NATO member that is dealing more and more with Russia in terms of business. It underscores the loss of purpose that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization suffers now since there is no Soviet Union to fight.

However, the US remains undaunted. If there is no enemy to fight, the Americans feel that they must create one, and Russia has been the main scapegoat for American power ambitions. More than ever now, this tactic appears to be the one in use for determining the US stance towards other powers in the world.

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Ariel Cohen explains Washington’s latest foreign policy strategy [Video]

Excellent interview Ariel Cohen and Vladimir Solovyov reveals the forces at work in and behind American foreign policy.

Seraphim Hanisch

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While the American people and press are pretty much complicit in reassuring the masses that America is the only “right” superpower on earth, and that Russia and China represent “enemy threats” for doing nothing more than existing and being successfully competitive in world markets, Russia Channel One got a stunner of a video interview with Ariel Cohen.

Who is Ariel Cohen? Wikipedia offers this information about him:

Ariel Cohen (born April 3, 1959 in Crimea in YaltaUSSR) is a political scientist focusing on political risk, international security and energy policy, and the rule of law.[1] Cohen currently serves as the Director of The Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). CENRG focuses on the nexus between energy, geopolitics and security, and natural resources and growth. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, within the Global Energy Center and the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.[2] Until July 2014, Dr. Cohen was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russia/Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Cohen has testified before committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the Helsinki Commission.[4] He also served as a Policy Adviser with the National Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Deterrence Analysis.[5] In addition, Cohen has consulted for USAID, the World Bank and the Pentagon.[6][7]

Cohen is a frequent writer and commentator in the American and international media. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, C-SPAN, BBC-TV and Al Jazeera English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian national TV networks. He was a commentator on a Voice of America weekly radio and TV show for eight years. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor to the National Interest and a blogger for Voice of America. He has written guest columns for the New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneChristian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, EurasiaNet, Valdai Discussion Club,[8] and National Review Online. In Europe, Cohen’s analyses have appeared in Kommersant, Izvestiya, Hurriyet, the popular Russian website Ezhenedelny Zhurnal, and many others.[9][10]

Mr. Cohen came on Russian TV for a lengthy interview running about 17 minutes. This interview, shown in full below, is extremely instructive in illustrating the nature of the American foreign policy directives such as they are at this time.

We have seen evidence of this in recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, and an honestly unabashed bit of fear mongering about China’s company Huawei and its forthcoming 5G networks, which we will investigate in more detail in another piece. Both bits of rhetoric reflect a re-polished narrative that, paraphrased, says to the other world powers,

Either you do as we tell you, or you are our enemy. You are not even permitted to out-compete with us in business, let alone foreign relations. The world is ours and if you try to step out of place, you will be dealt with as an enemy power.

This is probably justified paranoia, because it is losing its place. Where the United Stated used to stand for opposition against tyranny in the world, it now acts as the tyrant, and even as a bully. Russia and China’s reaction might be seen as ignoring the bully and his bluster and just going about doing their own thing. It isn’t a fight, but it is treating the bully with contempt, as bullies indeed deserve.

Ariel Cohen rightly points out that there is a great deal of political inertia in the matter of allowing Russia and China to just do their own thing. The US appears to be acting paranoid about losing its place. His explanations appear very sound and very reasonable and factual. Far from some of the snark Vesti is often infamous for, this interview is so clear it is tragic that most Americans will never see it.

The tragedy for the US leadership that buys this strategy is that they appear to be blinded so much by their own passion that they cannot break free of it to save themselves.

This is not the first time that such events have happened to an empire. It happened in Rome; it happened for England; and it happened for the shorter-lived empires of Nazi Germany and ISIS. It happens every time that someone in power becomes afraid to lose it, and when the forces that propelled that rise to power no longer are present. The US is a superpower without a reason to be a superpower.

That can be very dangerous.

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