On Wednesday 7 February US coalition helicopter gunships launched a murderous assault on popular forces engaged in a reconnaissance mission against a suspected Daesh sleeper cell, leaving scores of militiamen dead or wounded. The reconnaissance sortie had been prompted by a recent surge in the shelling of patriotic forces, attributed to a surviving pocket of Daesh terrorists effectively sheltering behind the brazen occupation of the area by what the US dared to describe as a ‘well-established Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters’, in blatant disregard for the fact that neither the 2,000 US troops nor the SDF units in which they are embedded have any right in international law to occupy areas of Syrian soil and use them to launch acts of aggression. It is no accident that the massacre occurred in the vicinity of the former oil processing plant of Al-Isba in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor. The US has the temerity to proclaim the area north-east of the Euphrates, a region which commands a major role in Syria’s oil production, a no-go area for the government’s own forces!
This latest war crime suggests that, after the failure of seven years of proxy war to effect ‘regime change’, US imperialism is nudging ever closer to direct military intervention to prosecute an open war of plunder and partition, assisted in this dirty enterprise by its Kurdish hirelings in the SDF. The Russian defence ministry correctly identified the US aim in Syria as ‘capture and retention of economic assets’ i.e. plunder (Anne Barnard and Richard Perez-Pena, ‘US-backed coalition in Syria strikes pro-Assad forces’, New York Times, 8 February 2018).
Not without cause US imperialism has shown great reluctance to expose its own troops to the perils of an open ground war, and has exhibited great cunning in avoiding this, relying instead on proxies to do the heavy lifting, first the jihadis and now the SDF. But with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson bragging about an extended US presence in Syria, supposedly to combat ‘Iranian influence’, and with the increasing likelihood that sooner or later trigger-happy ‘embedded’ Americans will cross paths with Russian peacekeepers, it seems that Uncle Sam is in danger of forgetting all he had previously been taught in Korea and Vietnam. The New York Times quotes the view of Aaron David Miller, a former state department official, who complains that “We’re now protecting a territory the size of Indiana and deepening our commitment to the SDF, with no sense of where this is going, no sense of strategy, no sense of endgame” (ibid.).
Imperialist hypocrisy at Geneva
Hoping to achieve through diplomacy the regime-change agenda that is clearly not being won on the battlefield, Britain, the US and France, together with Saudi Arabia and Jordan, on 26 January submitted to the UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura what they describe as a ‘practical approach’ to a ‘slow’ political process in Syria. Under this plan, most if not all of the powers of the president would be removed, reducing the role to that of a figurehead. Most of the central government’s powers would also go, boosting the power of local authorities. This very ‘democratic’ sounding experiment in decentralisation in fact would point a dagger at the heart of the unity of Syria and the secular and progressive character of its national life, opening the door to the effective balkanisation of the country into a number of protectorates under the sway of foreign powers. Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s representative to the UN, describing the imperialist plan as a “black comedy”, drew attention to the staggering hypocrisy of its signatories in daring to pose as champions of peace and democracy, asking:
“How can a state like this [the US] whose hands are covered in Syrian blood and has directly attacked Syria talk about the political solution and the future in Syria? How can countries such as Britain and France, who follow American policy like the blind leading the blind, envision of any solution or political horizon in Syria? And a state like Jordan, which hosts the secret military operations room and has opened its territory to terrorists: how can it talk about sovereignty, politics, and participation in making a political solution in Syria? And last but not least, Saudi Arabia: how can such a medieval country contribute to devising an advanced vision for a Syrian constitution?” (‘US, UK, France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan propose own political plan to solve Syrian crisis’, Southfront, 26 January 2018).
The timing of this US-devised damp squib was not accidental, coming as it did as over 1,500 delegates, drawn from all of Syria’s ethnic and confessional groups and from a wide range of political parties and opposition groups, were converging on the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi to participate in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress. The Congress, called jointly by Russia, Iran and Turkey, was attended by Staffan de Mistura, who expressed confidence that it would be “an important contribution to a revived intra-Syrian talks process under the auspices of the UN in Geneva” (‘Paving way for Syrian Peace’, RT, 29 January 2018).
This upbeat assessment was not shared by London, Washington or Paris, however, who boycotted the Sochi Congress, preferring to create a distraction by announcing their own pet plan for Syria’s future. Naturally this manoeuvre encouraged some of the ‘opposition’ groups invited to Sochi to indulge in the kind of self-defeating melodramas that have helped stall negotiations in the past. One group representing an armed faction refused to leave the airport in Sochi, declaring itself mortally offended by the presence of Syria’s flag and emblem. Another, the Saudi-backed and self-styled High Negotiations Committee (HNC), pulled out of its commitment to attend Sochi at the last minute. Interestingly though, this cowardly decision precipitated a split in the HNC, with some delegates opting to attend the Congress regardless.
In the end, all who were prepared to talk without preconditions did so. And whilst the organisers were at pains to point out that the intention of Sochi was not to supplant Geneva, but rather to give diplomacy a boost, the reality is that the spirit of Astana and Sochi is more in touch with developments on the ground in Syria, where numerous local reconciliation and disarmament deals are being worked on, than with a Geneva process that is dominated by imperialist grandstanding, slander and mendacious resolutions hostile to Syria.
Turkey: NATO does the splits
The harder imperialism conspires to destroy the unity of the Syrian nation by its barely hidden policy of annexation, the sharper and deeper become the contradictions plaguing the imperialist camp itself. Tensions between fellow NATO members US and Turkey reached a new high when Washington announced its plans for training and funding a so-called ‘Border Defence Force’ (BDF), 30,000 strong, founded on the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF has acted as a rented army under the direction of the US. In return US air power has enabled the SDF to occupy a large stretch of northern Syria, including predominantly Arab areas.
Washington calculates that by playing on Kurdish national aspirations it can further its own goal of leaving a postwar Syria divided, weakened and open to plunder. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov accused the US of planning to partition Syria. “In fact, that means separation of a huge territory along the border with Turkey and Iraq. The actions we currently see indicate that the United States does not want to keep the territorial integrity of Syria.”
And these balkanising dreams not only fly in the face of international law but also bring the US into direct contradiction with its NATO brother-in-arms, Turkey, which nurses balkanising ambitions of its own. President Erdogan has described the proposed BDF as a “terrorist army” and called on NATO “to take actions against the ones who threaten the border security of your allies.” His tone towards the US has grown increasingly sharp: “Here is what we say to all our allies and friends: lower your flags on the terrorist organisation yourselves so that we won’t have to hand those flags over to you ourselves. Rip your insignia off the terrorists’ uniforms so that we won’t have to bury them alongside terrorists.” Whilst it may be argued that some of the rhetoric is intended to impress a domestic audience (after all, Turkey’s Incirlik air base remains at US disposal), this split in NATO is real enough and cannot be smoothed away by NATO chief Stoltenberg’s assurances to Erdogan that he “understands his concerns” (‘Erdogan demands NATO take stand on US-backed Syrian Border Force’, RT, 16 January 2018).
Many crocodile tears are being shed over the fate of Afrin at the hands of the Turkish army. The fact is that, by throwing in their lot with the US occupation of Syria (including 2,000 US troops embedded within SDF units), the Kurds have exposed themselves to this Turkish assault on Afrin and elsewhere. When the Kurds were fighting against terrorists, not acting as shameless bag-carriers for a foreign occupation, both Damascus and Moscow were the first to help arm them. But now, as the Kurds refuse to release their grip on the oil fields of Deir Ezzor, refuse to recognise the Syrian government’s exclusive responsibility for defending Syria’s northern border, and cheer on US helicopter gunships as they rain death upon patriotic forces loyal to the Syrian government, they will have to rely upon the US supply of MANPAD and TOW missile launchers to defend them – until Uncle Sam tires of them and finds other willing vassals, that is.
The struggle continues
Meanwhile the Syrian army is pressing on to liberate Aleppo, Hama and Idlib governorates in the north, where pockets of al-Qaeda-linked groups are making their last stand, equipped with murderous firepower including US anti-tank missiles and Turkish-manufactured Panthera F9 armoured personnel carriers. On 3 February a Russian SU-25 fighter jet was shot down by a MANPAD over the village of Khan al-Sabil. Surrounded by terrorists, the wounded pilot waited until the enemy was closing in and then set off a grenade that blew up both himself and his would-be captors, after shouting “This one is for the boys”. This indomitable warrior against imperialism, Major Roman Filippov, has been posthumously awarded the Hero of Russia. We salute him.
Down with the imperialist war of plunder and annexation!
Victory to President Assad, the Syrian government, the Syrian Arab Army and the Syrian people!
As we go to press, the news has come first that Turkey and the US have now reached agreement and are supposedly best friends again, and second that Syrian troops and their allies are mobilising to help the SDF expel the Turks from Afrin. Bearing in mind that SDF and US troops have up to now been closely embedded with each other, it would seem that the cat is well and truly among the pigeons. Only time will tell what will emerge from the chaos