The sands are shifting in the Syrian war, from Aleppo province down to the southeastern Al-Tanf border crossing into Iraq. With the Astana4 safe zones supposedly separating the ceasefire zones from the shooting war zones, we find the Syrian coalition concentrating its offense onto ISIS and its changing militant allies.
In east Aleppo, where the town of Maskanah, SW of Lake Assad, is ISIS’ last base, we find the Tiger Forces flanking widely in to the west to hook up with their forces protecting the Khanasser highway that is currently the only open supply road north to Aleppo. The Palmyra perimeter is being expanded and the ISIS pockets behind it to the southwest have been cleared of ISIS forces, leaving jihadi-cleared interior logistic lines in central Syria.
Much of this success is due to the combined operations executed with the Russian and Syrian close air support of the ground forces. One of the tactics being used is low-flying helicopters making their attack runs from behind attacking SAA forces, so they are never subjected to ground fire. This is resulting in no air losses and light ground loses, which is critical for maintaining morale in a long fight like the Syrians are in.
These clearing operations are freeing up more fighting forces for the big push from Palmyra west on the M20 road to Deir-Ezzor. Part of that preparation includes capturing the oil and gas producing assets along the way, which Syria will need for getting the country back on its feet economically. That is why ISIS’ Gulf State backers supported their seizure, part of the Balkanization planned for Syria so Assad would not be holding those assets when the nitty gritty political talks eventually get started.
Will the Syrian War be decided in the desert and border crossings with Iraq
The usually quiet SE Syrian desert has become the focal point of a new conflict. With the safe zone around Dara on the Jordanian border, and the successful amnesties or transfers of over 10,000 militants to Idlib, Damascus announced Operation Grand Dawn, which it says will be its biggest anti-ISIS operation. Its goal is to clear the eastern desert areas of ISIS and militant groups and secure its remaining border with Iraq that is not in Kurdish hands in the northeast. It will include the recapture of all the oil-producing capacity in those areas.
But therein lay a trip wire, one that Damascus felt was time to cross. US and British Special Forces have been operating in that area with new Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants, so they say. We call them ISIS, as many have switched sides a number of times already, depending upon who is winning and who is paying. It is a game the US coalition has been playing all along, fighting and supporting terrorists at the same time, depending on whether they will fight Assad and not US militant and terrorist proxies like Al-Nusra.
The US fighters out of Jordan attacked a modest Syrian coalition force moving out into the SE Syrian desert to set up an observation base at a high point to be able to monitor US militant group movements. They did not ask the US for permission. The Pentagon goofed by attacking them like 50 kms away from their militant training base at Al-Tanf on the Iraqi border, claiming it was a “force protection strike”. That was a bad move, because it crossed a Syrian-coalition red line and tipped the US’ hand on its plan. The US wants to put as much of the Syrian-Iraqi border area in the hands of its militant proxies to enhance its negotiating position in the peace talks.
It also triggered new interest about a story that did not get much coverage earlier in the year, when Baghdad began talks with Syria on potential joint operations once Mosul had been liberated. The Iraqi army did not want to get into a never ending musical-chairs war with ISIS shifting around, in and out of Syria, or over the border to the Saudis to rest, rearm and reinfiltrate again.
Will the Iraqi Popular Militia Forces attack Deir-Ezzor from the rear?
The Popular Militia Forces (PMF, or PMU), a primarily Shia force funded by Iran as part of its anti-terror contribution to the Iraqi coalition, has been fighting a long drawn out battle in Nineveh province’s desert, west of Mosul.
One of their strategic objectives has been to clear the entire area of ISIS bases, spread out among the numerous small towns and hamlets, until it reached the Syrian border to make sure the cleared areas would not be reinfiltrated by ISIS. If they could do that quickly enough, they offered Syria the option of having part of its 100,000-man, highly experienced fighting force cross over into Syria to help crush ISIS and the militant groups there for their mutual security.
The news of the US Special Operations having a base at the Al-Tanf crossing in the southeast and having the Baghdad-Damascus road blocked caught most Syrian War watchers by surprise. Next came the discovery of the US-FSA group moving north along the Iraqi border toward the Al-Bukamal crossing on the Euphrates River. It is the only other major border-crossing route where the PMU could join the SAA in a joint pincer attack on ISIS at Deir Ezzor down to Al-Bukamal, with the PMU pushing up the Euphrates River, which would have ISIS boxed in.
Was taking the Syrian-Iraqi border the plan Mattis gave to Trump?
So it seems that a strategic goal of General Mattis at the Pentagon is to compete with Damascus for control of its own major border crossings, by taking them with mercenary fighters which fill the US and Gulf coalition ranks. You might have noticed Mattis’ escalating rhetoric about Russia being the US’ most dangerous threat, doing a Butch Cassidy and Sundance kid number, with Trump declaring Iran the regional terrorism sponsor, when The Donald was in Wahhabi-land, no less. You just can’t make this stuff up.
If the US side was so interested in fighting terrorism, why would it want to disrupt the evolving collation of the now very experienced Iraqi and Syrian armies and their regional supporters in Iran and Russia, who have both viewed Iraq and Syria as the front lines of the War on Terror? Thousands of Russian Federation terrorists have been killed and quite a few Chinese terrorists also, in Syria and Iraq.
I had predicted early on when the ceasefires first started that the US coalition would seek to win in the peace negotiations what it could not win on the battlefield with its opposition groups. It played for time to wear the SAA down while building a PR campaign that Assad was blocking the peace by refusing to leave, so it could clear the way for installing a puppet government.
This sad Syrian affair could end up as another failed US regime change that left death and destruction in its wake, over a million lives since Afghanistan. As I type, an Iraqi Popular Militia Force recon unit has reached the village of Um Geris on the Syrian border in Nineveh province, where there is a paved road south along the border all the way down to Al-Bakumal.
The shared border multiplier effect
We now have a situation where the battlefield planets are realigning. If Iraq and Syria can secure their border, they will have a multiplier effect for not only winning the current war, but to be in a much stronger position to blunt the guerrilla and terror-bombing war planned by the terrorists and their many foreign supporters if they are not successful now.
Rather than the border being a weak spot, it can give both countries secure interior lines with which to shift infantry, armor, airpower and air defense assets around as needed to meet a variety of threats, be they from the US-coalition armored force in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, or of course Turkey.
This Iraqi-Syrian effort could be the beginning of a new anti-terrorism template, showing that where a shared border exists, preparation should be made to assist each other militarily, if and when needed. The Iraqis sat and watched the Syrian war, as they were busy dealing with their never-ending car bombings, never thinking that ISIS would come over the Syrian border and almost tear their country apart.
Iraq was totally unprepared, with its head in the sand, and paid a huge price in blood and national treasure. Others should learn from this that only multi-country coalitions have resources to stand up against the scale of terror being used now, the state-sponsored kind.
Is the New Cold War getting ready to get hot?
We are beginning to see a shift away from the talk of a New Cold War, toward having to face that a new hot war may be the only solution to avoid death by a 1000 cuts in a never-ending terror wars.
For example the American people will not support US troops in any more foreign wars as the world policeman, particularly the manufactured wars where the major Intel agencies have ready made version, to be used whenever needed. All during the Cold War, staged terror incidents were commonly used.
If Trump stumbles or gets manipulated into an unnecessary and unwanted war in Syria, where a lot of American lives could be lost, he would not get a second term. Trump is not 1% of a Lyndon Johnson, who had a bad war take him ddown. Where the US goes into a country without permission, a UN mandate or invitation, it must be kicked out for the safety and the benefit of everyone, including Americans.
We must bring on the day when, if a US Secretary of Defense claims that the Russians on the other side of the world are our most dangerous threat when they are spending less than a tenth of the US on defense, and where they need every penny of it for defense, he should be booed off the staged as a “Fake Secretary of Defense”.
Political and security leaders promoting ‘fake threats” is now a new a form of terrorism in my book, and it’s long past time we started calling them that. I think the fair term to describe them is “political terrorists”. They have earned it. Why not assign it to them?
Jim W. Dean, managing editor for Veterans Today, producer/host of Heritage TV Atlanta, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.