bless you, laura

Pindo Buildup All About Iran
Sharmine Narwani, AmConMag, Jun 28 2017


DAMASCUS – As the drive to push Daesh out of its remaining territories in Syria and Iraq rapidly advances, Pindostan and its allied forces have entrenched themselves in the south-eastern Syrian border town of al-Tanaf, cutting off a major highway linking Damascus to Baghdad. Defeating Daesh is Faschingstein’s only stated military objective inside Syria. So what are those Pindosi troops doing there, blocking a vital artery connecting two Arab allied states in their own fight against terrorism? Col R Dillon, spox for the Combined Joint Task Force of Operation Inherent Resolve, said by phone from Baghdad:

Our presence in al-Tanaf is temporary. Our primary reason there is to train partner forces from that area for potential fights against Daesh elsewhere … and to maintain security in that border region. Our fight is not with the regime.

But since May 18, when Pindosi airstrikes targeted Syrian forces and their vehicles approaching al-Tanaf, Pindo forces have shot down two Syrian drones and fired on allied Syrian troops several times, each time citing “self-defense.” In that same period, however, it doesn’t appear that the al-Tanaf-based Pindo-backed militants have even once engaged in combat with Daesh. Bouthaina Shaaban, media assassin flack to Pres Assad, is left bemused by that rhetoric. She says:

When asked what they’re doing in the south of Syria, they say they’re there for their national security, but then they object to the movements of the Syrian army inside Syria? Our army is now almost at the border, and Iraqis are at their border, and we are not going to stop.

She has a point. Under international law, any foreign troop presence inside a sovereign state is illegal unless specifically invited by the recognized governing authority, which in this case is Pres Assad’s government, the only Syrian authority recognized by the UNSC. Uninvited armies try to circumvent the law by claiming that Syria is “unable or unwilling” to fight Daesh and the threat to international security it poses. But “unwilling and unable” is only a theory, and not law, and since the Russians entered the Syrian military theater to ostensibly fight Daesh with the Syrians, that argument thins considerably. Dillon acknowledges the point but argues:

The SAA only just showed up recently in the area. If they can show that they are capable of fighting and defeating Daesh, then we don’t have to be there, and that is less work for us, and would be welcome.

It’s not clear who made Pindostan arbiters of such a ruling. Syria’s fight against Daesh has picked up considerably in recent months, since four “de-escalation zones” were established during May negotiations in Astana between Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Reconciliation agreements among government forces and some militant groups in those zones, and the transfer of other militants to the northern governorate of Idlib, has meant that Syrian allied forces have been able to move their attention away from strategic areas in the west and concentrate on the fight against Daesh in the east of the country. An Apr 2017 report by IHS Markit (Jane’s – RB) asserts that Daesh fought SAA more than any other opponent over the past 12 months. They state:

Between Apr 1 2016 and Mar 31 2017, 43% of all Daesh fighting in Syria was directed against the SAA, 17% against the SDF and the remaining 40% involved fighting rival Sunni opposition groups, in particular those who formed part of the Turkey-backed Euphrates Shield coalition.

In other words, during the period when Daesh territorial losses were most significant, SAA fought them more than twice as often as Pindo-backed forces. So what’s with the continued Pindosi presence in al-Tanaf, an area where there is no Daesh presence and where the SAA and its allies have been making huge progress against their militant Islamist opponents? If you look at the map commissioned by the author above, there are approximately three main highway crossings from major Syrian centers into Iraq. The northernmost border highway is currently under the control of Pindo-backed Kurdish forces who seek to carve out an independent statelet called Western Kurdistan. The Homs-to-Baghdad highway in the middle of the map cuts through Daesh-besieged Deir ez-Zor, where up to 120,000 civilians have been protected by some 10,000 Syrian troops since Daesh stormed its environs in 2014. While that border point to Iraq is currently blocked by Daesh, SAA are advancing rapidly from the west, north, and south to wrest the region back from Daesh control. The Damascus-to-Baghdad highway in the south of the country, which allied Syrian forces have largely recaptured from militants, could have easily been the first unobstructed route between Syria and Iraq until Pindo-led forces entrenched themselves in al-Tanaf and blocked that path. The Syrians cleared most of the highway this year, but have been inhibited from reaching the border by a unilaterally-declared “deconfliction zone” established by Pindo-led coalition forces. Dillon claims:

It was agreed upon with the Russians that this was a deconfliction zone.

Sergei Lavrov begs to differ. He says:

I don’t know anything about such zones. This must be some territory which the coalition unilaterally declared, and where it probably believes itself to have a sole right to take action. We cannot recognize such zones.

Since regime change plans fell flat in Syria, Beltway hawks have been advocating for the partitioning of Syria into at least three zones of influence, a buffer zone for Israel and Jordan in the south, a pro-Pindostan Kurdish entity along the north and north-east, and control over the Syrian-Iraqi border. But clashes with Syrian forces along the road to al-Tanaf have now created an ‘unintended consequence’ for the Pindostan’s border plans. Syrian allied troops circumvented the al-Tanaf problem a few weeks ago by establishing border contact with Iraqi forces further north, thereby blocking off access for Pindo vassals in the south. And Iraqi security forces have now reached al-Walid border crossing, on Iraq’s side of the border from al-Tanaf, which means Pindo-led forces are now pinned between Iraqis and Syrians on the Damascus-Baghdad road. When Syrians and Iraqis bypassed the al-Tanaf area and headed northward to establish border contact, another important set of facts was created on the ground. Pindo coalition forces are now cut off, at least from the south of Syria, from fighting ISIS in the north-east. This is a real setback for Faschingstein’s plans to block direct Syrian-Iraqi border flows and score its own dazzling victory against Daesh. As Syrian forces head toward Deir ez-Zor, Pindo-backed forces’ participation in the battle to liberate that strategic area will now be limited to the SDF from the north, while the SAA have established safe passage from the north, south, west and potentially from the east, with the aid of allied Iraqi forces. Re-establishing Syrian control over the highway running from Deir ez-Zor to Albu Kamal and al-Qaim is also a priority for Syria’s allies in Iran. Dr Masoud Asadollahi, a Damascus-based expert in Middle East affairs explains:

The road through Albu Kamal is Iran’s favored option. It is a shorter path to Baghdad, safer, and runs through green habitable areas. The M1 highway (Damascus-Baghdad) is more dangerous for Iran, because it runs through Iraq’s Anbar province and areas that are mostly desert. When those borders are re-opened, this will be the first time Iran will have a land route to Syria and Palestine.

If the Pindosi objective in al-Tanaf was to block the southern highway between Syria and Iraq, thereby cutting off Iran’s land access to the borders of Palestine, they have been badly outmaneuvered. Syrian, Iraqi and allied troops have now essentially trapped the Pindo-led forces in a fairly useless triangle down south, and created a new triangle between Palmyra, Deir ez-Zor, and Albu Kamal for their “final battle” against Daesh. Iran’s new Ambassador to Syria, Javad Turk Abadi, and others in Damascus remain optimistic that the border routes long been denied to regional states will re-open in short order. He says:

The Pindosis always plan for one outcome and then get another one that is unintended. Through the era of the Silk Road, the pathway between Syria, Iran, and Iraq was always active until colonialism came to the region.

In the same way that Western powers have always sought to keep Russia and China apart, that same divide-and-rule doctrine has been applied for decades in the Middle East to maintain a wedge between Syria and Iraq. Shaaban, who has just published a book on Hafez al-Assad’s dealings with Henry Kissinger, says:

In the history of the last half-century, it was always prevented for Syria and Iraq to get close, to coordinate. When Hafez al-Assad and Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr almost reached a comprehensive agreement, Saddam Hussein made a coup d’etat and hung all the officers who wanted rapprochement with Syria.

Saddam then launched an eight-year war against Iran, and the latter lost road access through Iraq for more than two decades. In early 2003, Pindosi troops invaded Iraq, deposed Saddam and occupied the country for the next nine years. During that era, Iranian airplanes were often ordered down for inspections instigated by occupation forces interested in thwarting Iran’s transfer of weapons and supplies to Hezbollah and other allies. By the time Pindosi troops exited Iraq in late 2011, the Syrian conflict was already under way, fully armed, financed, and supported by several NATO states and their Persian Gulf allies. Syrian and Iraqi forces have not yet checkmated the Pindosi forces operating in their military theaters. There is still talk of an escalation that may pit Pindostan against Russia. But in Baghdad, Dillon struck a slightly more nuanced tone from the more belligerent threats sounded in Faschingstein, saying:

We’re not in Syria to grab land. If the Syrian regime can show they can defeat Daesh, then we’re fine with that. The Walid border crossing is a good sign that shows these capabilities. We are open to secure borders both on the Syrian and Iraqi side. We’re not there with the intent to block anything, we’re there to defeat ISIS and train forces for that.

The fact is, Pindo-trained militants in the al-Tanaf garrison are not fighting Daesh today, and they suffered a “crippling defeat” in Jun 2016 when they last launched a major offensive against the terror group, 200 miles from al-Tanaf. Factoring in geography, balance of field forces and momentum, it is implausible that Pindo troops and their proxies on the southern Syrian-Iraqi border can achieve their stated objectives. It is time for them to surrender their positions to the Syrian state.

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