Russia warns US against attacks on Syrian forces

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Diplomats dissimulate, journalists exaggerate, politicians waffle, but an army general has no reason to obfuscate the stark ground reality. Therefore, the rare remarks by the commander of Russian forces in Syria, General Sergey Surovikin, merit great attention.Excerpts are reproduced below:

  • The US-led coalition lets militants of the Islamic State terrorist group leave Raqqa instead of killing them… The US-led coalition enters into collusion with ringleaders of the ISIS, who give up their settlements without fighting and head to the provinces where the Syrian government forces are active… The Russian force in Syria sees in the Raqqa area militants leaving the city and its suburbs unhindered. In early June, ISIS terrorists left the populated localities 19 kilometers southwest of Raqqa offering no resistance and headed toward Palmyra.

  • The Americans are using ISIS to robustly block the movement of government troops… The aviation of the US-led coalition is impeding the struggle of Syrian government forces against terrorists… They have blocked the way of government forces, who are eliminating ISIS militants and setting up border posts along the border with Iraq to the north-east of Al-Tanf.

The long and short of Gen. Surovikin’s chilling account is that although President Donald Trump vows to fight the ISIS with tooth and nail, Pentagon guys may have other ideas. They continue to use the ISIS with a hidden agenda where the Syrian government (and Iran) is the number one enemy. The US objective appears to be two-fold in Syria: a) create a buffer zone in southern Syrian regions bordering Israel and Jordan, which will be dominated by “good terrorists”; and, b) take control of the entire Syrian-Iraqi border on a North-South gradient so that Iran’s logistical capability to render help to the beleaguered Syrian government forces is sharply reduced.

Indeed, a ‘frozen conflict’ would effectively balkanize Syria. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank which is closely associated with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (a pro-Israel lobby group in Washington), featured a commentary recently, entitled Growing Risk of International Confrontation in the Syrian Desert. It implicitly warns Moscow of dire consequences if Russian forces intervene to disrupt the efforts by the US to prevent a Syrian government consolidation in the Al-Tanf / Deir Ezzur — Palmyra region.

However, no matter what the pro-Israeli think tankers in Washington pontificate, General Surovikin’s remarks underscored that Moscow is seized of the strategic importance of the Syrian government forces succeeding in re-establishing control over the country’s border with Iraq. Russia had earlier adopted a wary approach vis-a-vis the scramble for control of the Syrian desert regions bordering Iraq. But that seems to be changing — although Russian priority is to work with the Americans.

On Saturday, Russia has put the US on notice that the Syrian government forces intend to advance on Al-Tanf itself. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that US air strikes on the Syrian government forces are unacceptable. He called for “concrete measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.” 

A Syrian army statement went a step further to announce on Saturday their intent to advance to the Iraqi border north of Al-Tanf. It warned the western forces in the area against interfering — “The general command of the army and armed forces warn of the risks of repeated attacks of the so-called ‘international coalition’ and their efforts to block the advances of the Syrian Arab Army and its allies in their war on terror.”

The planned Syrian operations north of Al-Tanf will scuttle the US plans to stage a ground operation with “good terrorists”, aimed at reaching Deir Ezzur city ahead of the government forces who are advancing in easterly direction from Palmyra. The Iranian reports suggest that Russian jets are actively backing the Syrian government operations in the region to the northeast of Palmyra.

Simply put, Iran is creating new facts on the ground in southeastern Syria, which the US (and Israel) will have to learn to live with. An Iranian war dispatch says that “thousands of (Syrian) army men and Hezbollah combatants entered the countryside of Palmyra city to resume a fresh phase of one of the army’s greatest operation in Homs (province) in recent years.”

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