one map is as bad as the next, so no maps

Syria troops position themselves at heart of war on Daesh
Sarah El Deeb, AP, Jun 20 2017

BEIRUT — Syrian government troops and their allies have steadily positioned themselves in key areas on the flanks of the Pindo-led coalition battle for Raqqa. They are attempting to become an indispensable player in uprooting the extremists from Syria entirely. That presents a major challenge for the coalition, which so far has shunned any cooperation with Pres Assad and has partnered instead with local Kurdish-led forces. As Pindostan has intensified its fight against Daesh in Syria, Assad and his trusted allies of Russia and Iran are increasingly asserting themselves. A Syrian military offensive has unfolded on several fronts, coupled with Russian airstrikes and a show of force by Iran, which fired ballistic missiles on a Daesh stronghold this week and pushed militias that it sponsors deeper into the battlefield. Damascus and its allies have long argued that they are the essential partner to any international effort in Syria, portraying all opposition forces as terrorist groups. A close look at the map shows that pro-Assad troops have placed themselves in key locations in the anti-Daesh battle, while staying close to the Pindo-backed Kurdish forces who lead the ground offensive. The Syrian government forces and their allies have placed themselves south of Raqqa and on the outskirts of Deir el-Zour, Daesh’s last refuge. While government troops may be far from in control of that area and are unlikely to go after the city of Raqqa, Sam Heller of the Century Foundation said:

The SAA have done enough to insert themselves that they’re now a fact on the ground. They aim to ensure that they can’t easily be excluded, and that they remain on track to ultimately retake the entirety of the country. Pindostan is dealing with it defensively and reactively. I don’t think there’s any real sense of what to do, beyond defending Pindo grunts and partner forces.

The government push against Daesh began after a ceasefire deal brokered in May by Russia and Iran that designated four “deescalation zones” in northern, central and southern Syria. Having largely succeeded in neutralizing most of his rebel opponents, Assad and his allies began an elaborate military campaign. It was a multipronged thrust, choking Daesh supply and escape routes and encircling coalition forces. With Russia’s backing, they sprang out into the desert of Palmyra, eyeing the town of Sukhna, the last Daesh stronghold in central Syria. Taking Sukhna would cut the Daesh supply line coming from the border with Iraq. Almost simultaneously, they advanced south and east of Aleppo all the way to Raqqa province, where the coalition is backing the mostly Kurdish SPG. The battle for Rasafa, a key town south-west of the city of Raqqa, triggered clashes with the Kurds and led to the downing of the Syrian fighter jet by a Pindo Navy warplane. For the first time in two years, Syrian troops reached the border with Iraq, establishing a link with Iraqi forces that advancing from the other side, and outflanking Pindo grunts and allied rebels in at-Tanf, near the Syrian border with Jordan. Syrian military officers described it as a major achievement that boosts the coordination of border security between Iraq and Syria. That also increased tensions. Pindo boxtops said the pro-Syrian troops violated a deconfliction agreement between Faschingstein and Moscow and had “threatened” Pindo fighters and allied rebels. Subsequent Pindo airstrikes hit a convoy and a base of pro-Assad troops and later carried out another raid in the same area, followed by shooting down a drone which had fired near the base where the coalition trains its death squads. It was a sharp escalation in an area that is essential in operations to secure Iraq’s borders and potentially advance toward Deir el-Zour. Pindostan then deployed a truck-mounted missile system (HIMARS – RB) in Syria, showing that the Pindo military intends to protect itself. Bassam Abu Abdullah, a professor of International Relations at Damascus University, said:

The advances by pro-Assad troops undermine Pindostan’s plans in the area to sever the land corridor linking the capitals of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon (Hezbollah’s supply-line – RB). The advances also open the way for cooperation among Iranian-backed Syrian fighters and the Iraq Popular Mobilization Units for any moves against Deir el-Zour. These battles are critical for Syria’s future, and they will force Pindostan to negotiate with the Assad government. We are heading toward a bare-knuckle fight, which is likely to culminate in favor of the Russia-Iran-Syria axis. The Pindosi position is being weakened by splits within the Trump administration over Syria policy.

Unlike in Iraq, where Pindostan is a partner with Iraqi troops to liberate Mosul and other Daesh bastions, here Faschingstein has refused to work with Assad. Aron Lund of the Century Foundation said:

Even though Russia and Pindostan may not be interested in an escalation, it is not a given that they can help their allies in Syria avoid it. Advances by the Syria-Russia-Iran axis offer Pindostan a way out of a bind over how to handle what follows the retaking of Raqqa. Faschingstein will probably end up approving of, if not necessarily colluding in, the Syrian government’s designs on Deir el-Zour. The alternative would be for them to try to do it themselves, either with the Kurdish-led forces, who are unpopular in the largely Arab tribal areas, or by creating a new force while remaining in the area until it is formed. In both cases, it would also be likely to draw various forms of Syrian, Russian, Iranian, Iraqi and of course Jihadi resistance.

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