With recent events in Syria escalating dramatically in the last few days, it appears that the US is throwing its support behind any terrorists willing to fight against Russians and Syrians, including Al Qaeda and ISIS, sensing impending defeat of its strategic objectives.
Fighting Russians and undermining the Astana de-escalation agreement
Firstly, Idlib province in Syria, currently under a trilateral Russian-Iranian-Turkish de-escalation agreement, has recently seen Al Qaeda, formerly al-Nusra or Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a non-signatory to the agreement, wage an ultimately failed offensive in southern Idlib/northern Hama to specifically kidnap and murder a dispatch of Russian-Caucasian military police forces sent to observe the de-escalation agreement. Russian special forces had to be sent in on a rescue mission, followed up by a vicious counter-response by the Russian Airforce (RuAF) conducting a blitz aerial bombing campaign over Idlib, sparing no major terrorist stronghold, while destroying high ranking Al Qaeda leadership and claiming multiple hundreds of casualties of Al Qaeda operatives in the process. Russian intelligence claims US tentacles are all over the failed Al Qaeda offensive, a suspicion fuelled by their objective to attack Russian forces specifically.
Secondly, Deir el-Zor province in eastern Syria, an area rich in oil and currently having its provincial capital, Deir el-Zor, liberated by Russian forces assisting a massive bulk of Syrian forces and Iranian-backed allies. Meanwhile, US Kurdish proxies, the SDF, were able to pass through ISIS territory in northern Deir el-Zor province relatively unscathed, while the bulk of ISIS attacks focused on Syrian and Russian positions. The SDF are also marching straight towards Syrian forces who are busy liberating Deir el-Zor, essentially walking through ISIS territory. This has fuelled suspicion that US special forces and CIA operatives on the ground are colluding with ISIS. Russia has unusually come out into the public and published satellite imagery of US forces operating within ISIS territory. This highlights the level of frustration the Russians are experiencing with an increasingly rogue and quite frankly, pathetic attempt by the US military to clutch at straws over their loss in Syria. A prominent Russian general, Valery Asapov, who helped lift the siege of Deir el-Zor, was targeted in a pinpoint mortar attack on September 24th. While we can speculate on who provided the intelligence to ISIS to conduct such a pinpoint strike on a high-ranking Russian general, the fact that the Russian military has increasingly come out to implicate US forces, – something it doesn’t do very often, highlights how seriously they believe the US is currently hampering peace in Syria.
Thirdly, terrorist group Faylaq al-Rahman, currently in control of various segments of the last pocket of resistance in Damascus, – the eastern Ghouta pocket, today conducted a large attack against Syrian troops. Faylaq was supposedly a signatory to the de-escalation agreement in Ghouta to observe the truce. However, it appears that either its foreign backers or Al Qaeda have given orders to resume attacks and break the agreement. Faylaq al-Rahman has close ties with Al Qaeda.
US strategy has not changed – will Russia’s change?
As I outlined the basic mechanics of US strategy here, this is all but a continuation of the same strategy. By pushing against the Russians via proxy, the US is hoping to escalate and invite a response from Russia and Syria, where it can then quickly justify further escalation in response. However, US war planners, who have become increasingly desperate, are relying on the fact that Russia won’t directly confront the US over this underhanded behaviour. We will have to see how much the US is willing to push against Russia, before Russia does respond by force, or finds yet another cunning way to neuter the aggression. We will have to also keep an eye on whether any other zones in the de-escalation agreement suddenly resume hostilities. This could further indicate a concerted agenda trying to undermine the agreement for peace. Taking a guess at which side that might be, would not be that difficult.