Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
January 24, 2016

Syria: The Battlefield Negotiations Now Favor The Syrian Government

The Syrian army today liberated the the town Rabiah in Latakia province as well as several other villages in the area near the Turkish border. Rabiah, together with Salma which was liberated a few days ago, was one of the jihadists strongholds in the region. Russian air support and artillery (vid) was again decisive. Pictures from the town showed graffiti the "moderate" foreign supported insurgents left behind. It read "All Alawites will be exterminated".

This map shows the current frontline as well as the old frontline from where the Latakia campaign started a few weeks ago.

bigger hi-res

The jihadis evacuated all positions west of Rabiah and are on the run. Turkey closed its border to prevent them from crossing it. They will seek refuge in Kinsabba near the Jabal al-Akrad heights, their last strong point, which will be attacked next. After that the general attack will be launched at Jisr al Shanghaur in Idleb province from the west and the south after which a larger pincer attack on Idleb city is planned.

Latakia province and the Russian bases there are now secured. Opposition supply lines from Turkey are largely severed. The momentum is clearly on the side of the government troops.

In the south there the Syrian army continues to clear Sheikh Miskeen near the border to Jordan. Should the city be freed the southern insurgents supply lines from Jordan will be in jeopardy. The lines are already restricted as Jordan clamps down on militants crossing its border.

In the north as well as in the south various rebel groups started to fight each other. Clashes between various groups were reported from Daraa in the south and in Idleb between Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra groups. Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's section in Syria, is now under heavy pressure on many fronts and has called for more foreign fighters to join it. There are already strategic discussions within Nusra to end the open war and to go back being an underground guerrilla to hit at the Syrian government and other entities from behind their lines. But the guerrilla fish needs the water of the population to swim in and it is doubtful that Nusra has support of more than very few Syrian citizens.

The Syrian army also liberated Qatar (vid) from the Wahhabi Islamic State supporters. Unfortunately this Qatar was not the country at the Persian Gulf but a small town north east of Aleppo.

The Syrian government troops and some 200,000 civilians in Deir Ezzor in east Syria are under continuing heavy attacks from fighters of the Islamic State. The Syrian army sent reinforcements by transport helicopters, the Russian air force has dropped tens of tons of food for the population and Russian jets provide air support for the defenders.

In the Kurdish area in the north-east of Syria Russian specialist are working to establish another air base. The Turkish President Erdogan said such a base would not be tolerated. But what can he do besides launching an open war against Russia which Turkey would lose just like the other 17 wars it once waged against Russia. The U.S. is establishing its own base nearby to supply Kurdish forces. The Russian base will make sure that the U.S. base will not gain any permanence.

A report in the NYT describes how the U.S. organized the attack on Syria while the Saudis provided the financing at a rate of several billions per year. The report misleads as it only looks from 2013 onward. We already know that the CIA provided weapons and fighters from Libya reached Syria in late 2011 to early 2012.

But the U.S., as well as the Syrian government side, now wants the conflict to die down. It is putting a lot of effort into the next Geneva talks between some opposition groups and the government. Those opposition groups have been selected by Saudi Arabia and Russia has rejected the inclusion of the Salafi Army of Islam and the lack of representation of Kurdish groups. A compromise over this may now be possible with the Kurds and other non-Islamist opposition groups coming to Geneva as a third delegation.

But the war will not be decided through talks. The real negotiations happen on the battlefield. The Syrian government and its supporters will continue the attacks and will build on their recent successes. It is now likely that they will achieve war deciding results before the Geneva talks become serious.

Posted by b on January 24, 2016 at 17:13 UTC | Permalink

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Oops, date of the Crosstalk episode is 1/28, not 10/28.

Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 29 2016 3:22 utc | 101

Written by Eric Zuesse, a member of the Baathist amen corner.
Posted by: Louis Proyect | Jan 28, 2016 7:21:18 PM | 99

Yes, the Junk Journalists have really got their knickes in a knot, haven't they?
Personally, I reckon Green Eggs & Ham, or Cat in the Hat were better.
The Jamestown Foundation had a particularly silly piece of drivel a few days ago about Putin's failed strategy in Syria. If you like a good laugh mixed with infantile hyperbole, I recommend it.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Jan 29 2016 15:55 utc | 102

Re #102 (Jamestown).
Russia's Air Operations in Syria Expose Problems[tt_news]=45026&tx_ttnews[backPid]=228&cHash=c09444aa1d7d351759fd127b79d9a3dd#.VquNgE_6jGs

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Jan 29 2016 16:09 utc | 103

Re #102, #103

Indeed, The Jamestown Foundation made a coherent summary of texts of Russian nitpickers, while ignoring the actual picture. Example 1: long distance bombing raids are ineffective. True, they are more "proof of concept", but the bulk of the operations are short range raids in which an aircraft can enter the action many times during a day. Example 2: Russia inevitably will face the issue of deploying ground forces. That ignores the fact that Russia is but one of the members of the coalition supporting the government, the second is Iran that sponsors fresh ground forces. The forces that actually enter battles seem non-Iranian but various volunteers, and they need time to achieve higher effectiveness, but they indeed seem to achieve it, with two solid (if not spectacular) offensives in Aleppo area. Example 3: Russian government seemed to rush to escalate with Turkey. Turkey was and remains main conduit of arms, money and people to the rebels, so it is the chief opponent and escalation so far convincingly showed Turkey dangers of qualitative escalation, delivery of anti-helicopter weapons (or even anti-aircraft). It would be much sweeter if Turkey refrained from delivering anti-tank weapons, but anti-helicopter missiles are a veritable dog that did not bark here.

The most important aspect to me is a bit speculative. A decisive edge over the rebel and ISIS would come from the fusion of solid ground troops, rapid reaction airborne firepower and accurate to-the-minute intelligence from human assets and observations from satellites, aircraft and drones. All needed elements are there, but making it work takes quite a learning curve. Analysis of images requires hundreds if not thousands of specialists who have to learn how to do it, ground troops have to have morale and good training in new weapons, and proper command and selection of tactics similarly takes time. Thus for first 2-3 months the achievements were so-so, back and forth where the government was loosing here, gaining there, with a small positive net balance. Latakia front was a particularly good example of advances and retreats of fraction of a mile, which added up to several miles in that period. But now, within two weeks, two whole regions, Salma and Rabia, have fallen to the loyalists, and the offensive in the third, Kinsibba, seem to proceed at reasonable clip. I think that rebel supplies and reinforcement are intercepted from the air much more effectively than before. while the loyalist forces are more effective and better coordinated with air support.

This is a war of hundred fronts, so the picture is inevitably mixed. Just now, loyalists advance impressively in East Aleppo and Latakia, somewhat in Daraa and Ghutas of Damascus, while some potential debacle looms between East Qalamoon and Syrian Desert, ISIS being the opponent there. Another problematic front is to the north of Hama. It is hard to extrapolate reliable from Twitter, but

(a) previous ISIS advances on Khamasser highway, Ma'an and Deir Ezzor were reversed, so one can be optimistic that the command knows how much they can risk before shifting forces from elsewhere;

(b) gains in Latakia and Aleppo will be highly strategic. Turkey and rebels ill loose one third of the supply routes and a blow to morale, Erdogan pet "Turkomans" loosing the control of mountains between the border and current loyalist position, with thousands of troops available to deployment elsewhere. In Aleppo, loyalists (with big proportion of Iran directed volunteers) created an ISIS vortex and work to close it, liberating main power plant of Aleppo region and improving significantly the safety of the main population center under loyalist control.

"Trillion dollar question" is if there will be tipping point of rebels, a collapse. In Rabia, we have seen a local collapse.

Posted by: Piotr Berman | Jan 30 2016 6:14 utc | 104

Thanks! That RT Crosstalk was great ... I've done a lot of reading up on the "crisis" in Madaya and it looks like yet another attempt to ramp up R2P ... what's interesting is that apparently there Madaya (pro-rebel) and the other 2 pro-government villages which have been "under seige" and a 4th pro-rebel town (I think it's Moadamiyeh. There has been a round-robin agreement with aid shipments being delivered. It took days before the Red Cross corrected the narrative that they had been "underseige since July or August" as if they had not receive supplies since then ... they received supplies that SHOULD have lasted until the end of December in October, but these were largely commandeered by the "rebels' (that the village has supported). Death by starvation takes more than a few weeks when there is some food and plenty of water ... and while there were people "dying" -- and 400 who needed urgent medical evacuation (who were-- it turns out -- in a hospital) -- there were also children running out to greet the convoy ... so, whose children were dying and what happened to the food?
So far, apparently the 400 have not been evacuated... but crickets ... no outrage.
I found one report from Madaya in which a woman with a starving child needed to see a doctor outside the town so she paid a smuggler to take her out (one of the smugglers tripped on a landmine and died, but there are people smugglers who apparently (she said) also smuggle things / food in ... so, again, why are people dying of starvation?
Here is a post-delivery report from WaPo -- mostly unsourced or anonymously sourced.

In a besieged Syrian town: ‘We’re still starving, and it’s getting colder’
They seems to be saying, Gee, thanks for the food, but we're still hungry, we're still under siege and the UN isn't saving us ...

There no mention of how to protect this recent food delivery from being commandeered by the "rebels" ... no mention of concern about keeping it for "the people"

this article describes smugglers wapo2.

Note: I have no doubt that people are hungry and conditions are miserable and that some people have died ... although most recent reports have said that people died of complications of malnutrition and starvation ... hmm.

massive weasel words/language

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recently requested permission to conduct a nutritional assessment in Madaya, but the Syrian government has not responded, said Linda Tom, a spokeswoman for the U.N. agency. However, Elizabeth Hoff, the World Health Organization representative in Damascus, said the government recently approved a request to send mobile medical clinics to Madaya.

This all appears to be a massive ramp up for R2P assist/pretext ... (absolutely bizarre considering the hunger and malnutrition in Yemen of half the population, about 10 million)

There have been no cell-phone calls to the 2 government supporting villages which have been "under seige" since March ... almost no reports at all ...

Hassan Hassan, a Syria analyst based in Washington, said government sieges tend to be harsher and affect a far larger number of people than rebel-imposed ones. Furthermore, he said, Assad’s forces have aircraft, which rebels lack, to bomb areas it is besieging and airlift aid to loyal populations that are surrounded by opposition fighters.

Conditions are also difficult in areas besieged by opposition forces, such as the areas of Deir al-Zour that are surrounded by the Islamic State, which controls vast territory in Syria and Iraq. But activists from the city also accuse the Assad government of exploiting the misery of residents who face brutal attacks by the militant group, highlighting perhaps the unexpected difficulties of those who live under blockade.

Government air drops of food aid are insufficient and confiscated by officials, who then sell the food to desperate residents for exorbitant prices, said Jalal al-Hamad, director of Justice for Life in Deir al-Zour, a monitoring group that has activists in the city. To flee the area, government officials charge hefty fees that most residents are unable to pay, he s

Allegedly in both government and rebel sieges, the soldiers are allegedly stealing all the food, and selling it at inflated prices ... but in the government-allied cities there is nobody dying.

Its' all very confusing and I am very skeptical of all reports ... but it sounds like this one-sided anti-government Assad-starves his people campaign is going to get louder to be part of the anti-negotiation strategy. It's very interesting to see pictures ... Madaya has high-rise apartment buildings and clean streets ... it's located in a "resort area" ... the cognitive dissonance is profound.

Posted by: Susan Sunflower | Jan 30 2016 7:27 utc | 105

oh, and about this

Conditions are also difficult in areas besieged by opposition forces, such as the areas of Deir al-Zour that are surrounded by the Islamic State, which controls vast territory in Syria and Iraq. But activists from the city also accuse the Assad government of exploiting the misery of residents who face brutal attacks by the militant group, highlighting perhaps the unexpected difficulties of those who live under blockade.

I've heard (didn't save source) about this -- allegedly the rebels who surround these government-aligned cities are in turn then surrounded by ISIS who simply kill any rebels who try to defect ... (so who are these "rebels" this time? that they steal from the civilians and are also being killed by ISIS ...

Well, sounds like no-one is winning hearts and minds .... oh and every sparrow that falls is Assad's fault ...

Posted by: Susan Sunflower | Jan 30 2016 7:33 utc | 106

two or three little points -- as far as I can tell, the rebel-held government-surrounded cities have rebels (soldiers trapped within the cordon as well as civilians, who mostly support or supported them.
I can't tell, but I'm not sure that the Rebel-held, government-supported cities have SAA soldiers in there with the civilians, apparently government supportingl

No reports of starving rebels or rebels without ammunition.

I guess I'm just wondering how tight a seal there is around Madaya ... the seal around the pro-government cities is a double-ring, but the government has planes to do drops.

No one seems to consider that maybe, just maybe the rebels of Madays might recognize that they lost that battle and -- for the sake of the people -- they should either surrender or slink away under cover of darkness ... maybe pay smugglers.
A global research article estimated there were 600 rebels in Madaya , population 20,000, just for frame of refernce.

Posted by: Susan Sunflower | Jan 30 2016 8:03 utc | 107

All eyes on Syria ... this guy says Iraq is being partitioned as we watch that shiney objectnow ... can it be so?

Posted by: jfl | Jan 30 2016 10:37 utc | 108

re 108

.. this guy says Iraq is being partitioned as we watch that shiney objectnow ...
I don't think that guy has it right about Iraq being partitioned. There's been a new policy for about nine months now of devolution of power to the provinces. Budgets which used to be administered from the centre are now being split among the provincial governments (muhafaza). I should think Lvov is confusing that with partition. It is certainly an attempt to deal with Sunni discontent, by giving partial autonomy, but it isn't partition. Curiously, pretty much undiscussed in the MSM.

Posted by: Laguerre | Jan 30 2016 12:50 utc | 109

Partitioning (on this side of the Atlantic) was a vast success in was used to be Yugoslavia -- it only took 15+ years and is a less clear success with the people involved.

Iraq's partitioning -- aside from being unpopular -- has a fatal flaw wrt the oil being distributed overwhelmingly in Shiia and Kurdish territories ... much of Sunni Iraq has none and the Kurds have a "disproportionate" abundance.

Biden (who else) is talking about Syrian partitioning. Again, much of Syria is very sparsely populated, the Kurds already functionally have their territory and the Sunni are already a significant part of the Assad/SAA ... it's not a Sunni/Shiia conflict, so pushing "partition" is pushing that false narrative that all Sunni are "rebels" ... most of Syria is Sunni ... including the pro-government areas

The interesting thing about partition-talk wrt Iraq and Syria is that it appear to be trying to give the Sunni 'sector' responsibility for dealing with ISIS (ha! the Saudi's would approve!!! although just what KSA would do with ISIS if given a free hand can only be guessed at ... but they'd never turn down a foot-hold in Iraq -- and Iran would never allow same -- Minor consideration (cough): Syria's sovereignty would be destroyed, Iraq's puppet government might "agree" but then they might be considered even more illegitimate in destorying sovereignty of the nation of Iraq.)

Love the selling point that it's doing away with Sykes-Picot.... irony without end

Posted by: Susan Sunflower | Jan 30 2016 19:01 utc | 110

@109 LG @110 Suzy

Thanks for your respective insights. Federations, whether in Ukraine or the Mideast, seem to be at once salvation and doomed to failure.

Posted by: jfl | Jan 30 2016 21:23 utc | 111

The last time anyone asked Obama about Allepo and the Russian's airforce's recent actions in Syria, he ran from the room. Later,
they found him hiding under his bed. A flashlight revealed he had a pillow over his head and was saying the sh-- word over and over again. No one has been able to get him to come out so far.
Posted by Hotep

Posted by: Syl McNinch, Jr. | Feb 7 2016 11:37 utc | 112

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