In just the last two weeks, Islamic State (IS) has carried out two major attacks abroad, killing approximately 350 people: the first was the explosion on board a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai Peninsula, the second – the string of terrorist attacks in Paris. This is why Russia has announced its intention to exercise its right to self-defense, as permitted by Article 51 of the UN Charter.
The Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov released a statement calling on the international community to work together to suppress the global terrorist threat. That document stresses that «[t]his is truly an objective that is central for all, requiring priority attention and, most importantly, action without any linkages or preconditions». But is Washington prepared to work with Russia?
Based on a survey conducted by Bloomberg, most Americans, confronted by the common threat of terrorism, want to join forces with Moscow. In the US, 53% of respondents indicated that they would be in favor of creating a Russian-American coalition to battle terror. However, the cynicism of much of the American media can be seen in their assessments of the motives and significance of Russia’s military operation in Syria. It is very difficult for Americans to free themselves of their predilection for always assuming a dominant role, wherever they go. But clearly this is something they must learn to do.
Ian Bremmer, the president of Eurasia Group, one of the world’s largest consulting and research firms, has noted, «The lack of Syrian fighters on the ground that look like acceptable partners is as true today as it was before the France bombings». However, even after the terrorist attacks in Paris, President Obama is ruling out any change in US strategy in the war on terror. Washington continues to seek Assad’s hasty ouster. Today, just as a month ago, the Americans are making this the main prerequisite for building a cooperative relationship with Moscow. But Russia feels it is objectionable to take such a stance toward the legitimate leader of a sovereign state. And Washington understands this as well. So what can we expect from the American policy in Syria?
This is a simple question, and the answer can easily be found in the latest statements by the US secretary of defense. Ashton Carter acknowledges that it will not be possible for the US military to eradicate the terrorists in Syria and Iraq without the support of «motivated local forces». «Such members of the moderate opposition have to be part of the future of Syria», said Carter. Without this, the United States cannot count on maintaining a presence in the Syria of tomorrow. Watching how the Syrian army is working on the ground to consolidate the victories of Russia’s air campaign, and seeing how the towns that have been liberated from the terrorists are taken under the control of Syrian government forces, the Pentagon’s biggest worry is that it will not be possible to reverse this process.
The Americans are getting anxious, because when their aircraft bombard IS strongholds they may unwillingly contribute to Russia’s success. But, first of all, their air battle against IS terrorists has not been highly productive, and second – it is still early to be counting those chickens before they’ve hatched. IS militants have a large swath of Syria and one-third of Iraq under their control. In Iraq, the Americans have retained a monopoly on operations against the local IS forces, but the Americans are in no hurry about that – their big rush is to wrest the initiative in Syria away from Russia. US diplomats and intelligence agencies have been brought in to resolve this problem.
The State Department is trying to use John Kerry’s efforts in the Syrian peace talks to block Russia, by making it sign a truce with the «moderate Syrian opposition». Their goal is to provide the «warriors of jihad» with a respite to catch their breath and replenish their stocks of ammunition and weapons in order to continue the war. The radical Islamist groups supported by the Americans have recently obtained 50 tons of ammunition. This is the second delivery of arms to Assad’s opponents – they received the first shipment in mid-October. The US government is not deterred by the fact that the Russians are insisting that the ceasefire offer not be extended to include the terrorists. In early October, Washington abandoned its program to train Syrian rebels, acknowledging that it had been useless. So, who exactly is the US arming with ammunition and weapons, and whose forces does it intend to provide with air support?
Neither Kerry’s office nor the intelligence agencies are addressing this issue. The so-called Syrian Democratic Forces were established in early October, with the direct involvement of the CIA. The Americans argue that this new alliance was created to resist IS. In their reports, the CIA lists the alliance members as: the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG), the forces of the Christian Assyrians, and also units of the Syrian Arab coalition. This partnership currently exists only on paper, and it is entirely possible it will remain an American pipe dream. If the Kurds form the backbone of the alliance – well, it’s true they are outstanding fighters. But they do battle on their own, strictly within their own borders, and they do not want to cooperate with the Arab groups, who are not battling ISIS so much as actually assisting terrorists.
For example, Jaysh al-Sanadid has previously collaborated with Jabhat al-Nusra, or in other words – with al-Qaeda. Another member of the alliance, Jaysh al-Qassas, has directly cooperated with IS. Fajr al-Hurriya is a criminal gang that is well-known for looting and armed robberies. It is hard to imagine that the Syriac Military Council, which is an influential member of the alliance, could find common ground with these «warriors of jihad». Nearly 100,000 Assyrian Christians live inside Syria, whom the Islamic radicals have plans to exterminate. What kind of cooperation would be possible under these circumstances?
At the moment, the new pro-American military alliance has been assigned the task of preparing for a ground operation against IS, with the support of an air coalition led by the US. They must also make sure that the Americans can play a «victorious role» in Syria by liberating the IS capital of Al-Raqqah. The Americans are preparing to storm the city using the alliance’s forces, but few are confident of the success of that operation. It is more realistic to imagine that the Pentagon might green-light the carpet bombing of the city by an American strategic air campaign. It is worth leveling Al-Raqqah just to detract from Russia’s role in the fight against terror? Washington certainly seems to think so.