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Monday, October 5, 2015

Update: Russian plans for an offensive in Syria using Iranian and militia troops and Russian air support.

Link: Russian airstrikes in Syria continue to target anti-Assad forces, not ISIS.

Everyday we get a better idea exactly what Vladimir Putin intends to do in Syria.  Normally, the Russians would attempt to be a bit discreet, but Putin realizes that he is experiencing a rare moment of complete freedom to do as he pleases.  The Russians are moving quickly, before someone in the international community decides to object and attempt to slow things down.  One would have thought that Putin would have been a bit more subtle with his intention to destroy the anti-Assad indigenous movement first, but he has decided it is more prudent to act quickly, before any real opposition can manifest itself.  During three days of bombing sorties, the Russians exclusively targeted anti-Assad forces, as the disinformation campaign went into gear, identifying the locations bombed as the "ISIS command center at Raqqah City".  Satellite imagery identifies the town of Al Latamneh in Hama Province as being the actual target.  The Russians will continue to spin a web of disinformation at every opportunity, as they have learned from the Ukraine crisis that disseminating false information is effective.  The worst tragedy is that it appears the majority of the casualties in three days of Russian airstrikes haven't even been anti-Assad combatants, but civilians.  Not that the Russians mind.  Killing civilians is a very useful motivational tool.  And to think just a few weeks ago, Europe and the United States were up in arms over the photograph of one drowned Syrian child.

For years, we have wondered what location on the relatively meager Syrian coastline would the Russians chose for their Mediterranean Naval Base.  I thought that Putin would want to build a shiny, new base in Latakia, but it appears from construction that has already started, that the base will be at Tartus instead.  Tartus, which is south of Latakia and a few kilometers north of the Lebanese border, has some existing port facilities, which are proving useful to the Russians, who are conducting naval and amphibious exercises just offshore.  It is believed that Putin will soon grant "combatant status" to the Russian troops already in Syria, and evidence strongly suggests that Russia is preparing for a broader military intervention than repeatedly claimed by Moscow.  With the announcement of the Iran/Iraq/Russia joint combat coordination center in Baghdad, we considered the possibility that the Iranian government would order full military intervention in Iraq, on the grounds of self defense, as ISIS attacks in Diyala Province are having an impact on neighboring Iran.  The persistent presence of ISIS in Diyala gives the Iranians the justification for greater involvement.  It seemed the ideal scenario for Iran, fighting alongside the militias and the Iraqi Security Forces, to pressure ISIS from the east, while Russian forces attacked from the west in Syria.  At this point, Putin no longer sees the battlefield as being separated by national boundaries, and he is prudent in his assessment.  ISIS must be dealt with on all available fronts, with as much pressure as can be applied.  Since Iranian troops, along with some militia units, have arrived in Syria, the fear that Iran will directly intervene in Iraq, although still a likely possibility, has lessened somewhat.

At the moment, the goal for Russia is to successfully re-introduce Bashar al-Assad to the international community as the legitimate president of Syria.  It is believed that the Russians are planning an operation to retake the ancient city of Palmyra, which will provide Assad with a tremendous publicity opportunity.  Ideally, the recapture of Palmyra (by Syrian regime forces, no doubt) will remind the Syrian people that Assad is a great warrior who will eventually outlast his enemies.  Why Putin insists on propping up Assad is still a bit of a mystery.  He could remove Assad, which would please the Turks and the Gulf Arabs immensely, and install another pro-Russian government.  But for the moment, Assad is experiencing a rejuvenation, as his forces are re-equipped and greatly assisted by the Russian air campaign.  The West must be very careful, that the anti-Assad groups that we have been supporting, don't turn to Al-Qaeda surrogate Jabhat al-Nusra for assistance.  Its a real possibility, as all they have seen since Russia's arrival on the scene, is typical diplomatic hyperbole.  U.S. Secretary of State has threatened that the U.S.-led air coalition might very well increase its anti-ISIS bombing sorties in Syria, as opposed to ending them altogether, as Russia has demanded.  If it is possible to increase the bombing sorties against ISIS, why weren't we doing so before the Russians arrived?

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