A week into December, the Russian president Vladimir Putin made the following announcement concerning the situation in Syria: “Two hours ago, the defence minister reported to me that the operations on the eastern and western banks of the Euphrates have been completed with the total rout of the terrorists. Naturally, there could still be some pockets of resistance, but overall the military work at this stage and on this territory is completed with, I repeat, the total rout of the terrorists.” This announcement came after the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) had sealed up the last gaps along the west bank of the Euphrates river, liberating village after village as it went and sending the remnants of Daesh forces fleeing into the desert (‘Syria – ISIS is defeated – the US is next in line’, Moon of Alabama, 9 December 2017).
In subsequent developments, the SAA and its volunteer auxiliaries in the National Defence Forces swept through the northern Hama countryside, liberating a string of villages in their wake. At the same time, the SAA and Hizbollah launched a joint operation with the aim of mopping up Daesh pockets in the eastern Homs desert and the Deir Ezzor desert. They liberated over 2,000 square kilometres between the T-2 gas pumping station and Abu Kamal, advancing some 18 kilometres on the first day of operations (see ‘Military situation in Syria and Iraq’, South Front, 11 December 2017).
Whilst such good news gladdens the hearts of all Syrian patriots and all true friends of Syria, it is as welcome as a hole in the head to US imperialism. The first US response to the sight of Syria advancing towards its own liberation is to do all it can to hamper and obstruct the operations of the liberation forces. And when that fails to stop the advance, imperialism resorts to the tactic of belittling the achievements of the liberation forces and inflating its own (negligible) role in the defeat of Daesh. Countering the infantile claim that Russian forces, invited into Syria by the government of the country to assist in Syria’s national defence, had “only conducted a fraction of counter-ISIS operations”, Russian Senator Frants Klintsevich laid it on the line: “The statement is nothing new, the same typical snobbery. Even with total resistance from the US special services, those who know how much Russia and the Syrian military forces have done, how many lives were lost, simply cannot say that Russia has done nothing” (‘Pentagon to keep forces in Syria “as long as we need”’, RT, 5 December 2017).
How US imperialism ‘fights terrorists’
As the senator’s reference to US special services makes clear, the chief imperialist contribution throughout the war has been to heap difficulties on the path to liberation, even going so far as to direct deadly firepower against the Syrian army under the guise of ‘accidental friendly fire’, as happened most notoriously near Deir Ezzor when US-led coalition fighter jets bombed and strafed SAA positions for an hour or more. More recently, the US treated the world to a sick parody of liberation when it bombed Raqqa to near-total destruction, and then prevailed on the Kurdish-led SDF forces to grant safe passage out of the ruins to 3,500 Daesh fighters, in the hope that they would continue to be a thorn in the side of the SAA. And, according to one report, a comprehensive pact was allegedly sealed between the SDF and Daesh in Hasakah (a north eastern city close to the Turkish border) starting on 28 November, declaring a mutual ceasefire deal between SDF and Daesh, which leaves Daesh free to attack “parties not part of the ceasefire” (i.e. the SAA) and guarantees that oil wells under Daesh control will remain so (https://twitter.com/AlSuraEnglish/status/935287566835896320).
SDF hedges its bets
The above deal, if true, offers a measure of just how far subordination to an imperialist agenda has corrupted the SDF from its early origins in local militias set up to defend Kurdish communities from assault by the throat-cutters of Daesh. Yet it now seems that the SDF has served its turn and the US has announced it will no longer be arming its rent-an-army. With the current US obsession now being to prevent the liberation forces from completing the liberation east of the Euphrates (and maybe with a forlorn hope of thereby mending fences with Turkey as relations with the Kurds cool), it seems that some in the SDF at least are hedging their bets and casting glances towards Russia.
Interestingly TASS reported on 4 December that, according to the Russian Centre for Reconciliation, “Kurdish formations are ready to provide security for Russia’s task force on the eastern bank of the Euphrates river.” Speaking as co-chairman of the newly formed Committee for Governance of the Eastern Bank of the Euphrates, Mahmoud Nuri “pointed out that the Kurdish militia had been effectively fighting against the Islamic State… under the Russian command, and thanked Russia for helping bring peace back to Syria.” The Committee’s inaugural meeting, held in the town of Al-Salhiyah, was attended by 23 delegates drawn from all the different ethnic and religious groups living east of the Euphrates. Russia’s representative, Major General Poplavsky said that Syria’s territory east of the Euphrates would be liberated from terrorists in the coming days (‘Kurds to provide security for Russian task force on eastern bank of Euphrates river’, TASS, 4 December 2017).
Russian airpower faces down USAF provocations
Meanwhile the skies over the Euphrates valley are very busy, with Russia providing air support for all the forces tackling Daesh whilst USAF planes are at the least getting in the way, and at the worst, and with increasing frequency, actively threatening Russian planes and jeopardising the lives of pilots. In one case, on 23 November, two Russian Su-25 strike planes were trying to bomb a Daesh base to the west of the Euphrates when they found their mission obstructed by a US F-22 fighter, which proceeded to engage in bizarre and threatening antics, firing decoy flares, slamming on air brakes and zigzagging about as if simulating aerial combat. Happily, when a Russian SU-35S fighter plane put in an appearance, the US plane desisted from this idiotic behaviour, but such provocations are a regular occurrence. Needless to say, the Pentagon adopts the pose of the wounded party, claiming that “We saw anywhere from six to eight incidents daily in late November, where Russian or Syrian aircraft crossed into our airspace on the east side of the Euphrates River” (emphasis added). As the Russian military noted sardonically, claims that any part of the airspace of Syria belongs to the US are “puzzling”, to say the least, especially as Russia is there by invitation and the US and its coalition side-kicks are gatecrashing outlaws in breach of all international law (‘Russian SU-35 chased away rogue US F-22 jet’, RT, 9 December 2017)
Panorama goes off-message
With the liberation of the entire Syrian homeland in sight, imperialism is starting to lose its grip on the propaganda front as well. Where before, the BBC’s Panorama programme could be relied upon to stick to serving up fake stories about ‘regime chemical attacks’ along with the rest of the pack, now it has suddenly started dishing the dirt on the British government’s funding of jihadi terror gangs. The government has now been obliged to suspend funding until the furore dies down, and, although funding of jihadis will doubtless be continuing via other channels, such revelations serve further to weaken and divide the imperialist camp.
The so-called ‘Free Syrian Police’ (FSP) was set up by Adam Smith International (ASI) in 2104, with funding from Britain and five other countries. As recently as last April, Boris Johnson stumped up another £4 million towards the scheme, of which the professed aim is to bring ‘law and order’ to areas controlled by ‘opposition’ forces in the provinces of Aleppo, Idlib and Daraa. Now that real law and order is in the process of being restored in these areas thanks to the activities of the SAA, and the population is no longer condemned to submit to rule by cut-throats, the stinking truth about these barbaric ‘police’ and their yet more barbaric (though ‘civilised’) Western paymasters comes spilling out, to the extreme discomfiture of the self-proclaimed champions of freedom and democracy who find themselves in the spotlight.
It turns out that these supposedly harmless bobbies providing ‘community policing’ are acting in close collaboration with the local jihadi torturers and executioners, the Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement. These cut-throats have been linked to a number of atrocities including the beheading of a young prisoner in 2016. The FSP cooperate with kangaroo courts that carry out summary executions, helping grease the wheels of Zinki ‘justice’ by writing up warrants, delivering notices and turning alleged criminals over to the court. Other courts, run by the al Qaeda affiliated al Nusra Front, also enjoyed the support of the FSP, two of whose officers were present when two women were stoned to death near Sarmin in December 2014. These ‘community police’ closed the road so that the execution could take place. Recruitment to this mercenary constabulary is conducted under the watchful eye of the jihadis, who pick out those considered to be most pliant to their ends.
The FSP are paid in cash, which cash then passes straight into the hands of terrorists, whether voluntarily or by coercion. Dead and fictitious people have popped up on the payroll, whose salaries are doubtless another lucrative source of funding for the thugs in charge. In one case ASI inspectors visited a police station in Idlib province that was supposed to be the base for 57 officers and were unable to trace a single one (see ‘UK foreign aid money “diverted to extremists” in Syria’, BBC, 4 December 2017).
What next for the US?
Having seriously alienated Ankara by adopting the Kurdish SDF as its favoured ally, the US now looks to be in turn alienating the Kurds, announcing an end to arming the SDF. In both cases, alienation from US imperialism expresses itself in a pull towards Russia which, in tandem with Turkey and Iran, now constitutes the real diplomatic centre of gravity as the world starts to take stock of the repercussions from Syria’s victory in its national liberation struggle against imperialist subversion.
Having compromised its alliance with Turkey and the SDF alike, where else can the US look for allies to do the heavy lifting? Can Riyadh and Tel Aviv be relied upon to pick up the slack? Saudi Arabia under the direction of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or ‘MBS’, is already bogged down in an unwinnable war in the Yemen and busy trying to push through an eleventh-hour reform programme and anti-corruption campaign which (hopes MBS) will postpone the collapse of the corrupt feudal kingdom for a little while longer. Riyadh’s gross interference in the domestic politics of the Lebanon, summoning prime minister Hariri and leaning on him to make a mock ‘resignation’ announcement from the Saudi capital, backfired badly. Instead of raising sectarian tensions in the Lebanon and weakening Hizbollah, as was the goal, this crass provocation succeeded only in strengthening national unity. Both the Lebanese president, Aoun, and the leader of Hizbollah, Nasrullah, called for a principled national unity, and the population rallied around the call. This is not the kind of ‘help’ Washington needs in its struggle to reassert its hegemony and weaken the axis of resistance.
And whilst it has long been an open secret that Riyadh and Tel Aviv share a common reactionary agenda which belies all the pro-Palestine lip-service, hopes that this tacit cooperation could ripen into an open alliance, one that could help rebuild US hegemony in the region after America’s humiliating failure in Syria, received a severe setback with US President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to ‘recognise’ Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, promising to move the US embassy there. This gratuitous provocation sparked outrage throughout the region and beyond, making it well-nigh impossible for Saudi Arabia now publicly to abandon its lip-service support for Palestine.
Meanwhile, whilst Israel continues to patch up terrorists in field hospitals in the Golan, sending them back to cut more throats in Syria, and continues to fire missiles across the border against SAA positions (many of them shot down by Syrian air defences), these provocations cannot change the course of the war.
Regardless of its wavering allies, the US has ground forces of its own, of course. The Pentagon lied about the number of troops, telling journalists that there were only 503 soldiers. This contradicts the Defence Manpower Data Centre figure which counts 1,720 soldiers in Syria (see ‘The continued US military presence in Syria three times larger than previously reported’, Sputnik News, 2 December 2017). Needless to say, this is itself a very conservative estimate, discounting the lengthy baggage train of contractors and special ops personnel which slip under the radar. The Pentagon talks tough, bragging that “We are going to maintain our commitment on the ground as long as we need to, to support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups” (‘Pentagon to keep forces in Syria ‘as long as we need’, RT, 5 December 2017). But where exactly are its ‘partners’? Or was it perhaps planning a ground war all on its own? Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.
Victory to the Syrian President, Government, Army and People!