With the situation in western Syria relatively stabilised following the ceasefire and the declaration of the ‘de-escalation areas’ there, the Syrian army has been able to commit more of its forces to the war against ISIS in eastern Syria.
The latest reports speak of the Syrian army, following rapid advances, closing on the town of Maskanah, ISIS’s last stronghold in Aleppo province. Apparently Syrian have now captured Maskanah’s railway station, leaving the ISIS fighters in Maskanah with the choice of either retreating from the town or being surrounded.
Further south, the Syrian army is continuing to clear territory around recently recaptured Palmyra, apparently in preparation for a major advance along the main road towards ISIS besieged Deir Ezzor.
The Syrian war in its present stage seems to be evolving into a race between US and Russian backed forces to decide which of them can capture more of Syria from ISIS before ISIS’s phoney Caliphate finally collapses. The most rapid advances at the moment are being made by the Russian backed Syrian army, with the US backed Kurdish militia which is concentrating around Raqqa apparently still not strong enough to capture the town. By contrast the Syrian army backed by the Russian air force has successfully carried out rapid advances against ISIS in the north in Aleppo – from which ISIS has been almost entirely cleared – and in central Syria on the line from Palmyra to Deir Ezzor.
The most dangerous potential flashpoint is southern Syria along the Jordanian border, as shown by the US bombing raid on pro-Syrian government militia forces of a week ago. Constant rumours of a US backed Jihadi advance from Jordan towards Deir Ezzor as part of some US plan to partition Syria have however so far failed to bear fruit. There are in fact reports that the US backed Jihadi groups in Jordan are too weak to carry out such an advance, and that the Jordanian government has made clear its opposition to the whole idea of such an advance.
It is however probably not a coincidence that there are reports of Russian Special Forces being deployed near the Jordanian border in southern Syria.
The good news is that the US and Russian militaries in Syria are apparently now in close – even intense – contact with each other. Moreover it seems that these contacts are going on at the same time as the two militaries also maintain contacts with each other at the highest levels. This contrasts sharply with the situation during the period of the Obama administration when former US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter did everything he could to block cooperation or even communication with the Russian military in Syria.
These contacts between the militaries of the US and Russia are the best reasons for hoping that a dangerous clash between the militaries of the two nuclear superpowers and their proxies in Syria will be avoided.