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After Rakki Assad with the support of Russia hopes to regain the territories lost during the war

After Rakki Assad with the support of Russia hopes to regain the territories lost during the war

Tags: War in the Middle East, Syria, Kurds, Turkey, Russia, United States, Militants, Terrorism, IGIL, Politics, Analytics

The rapid offensive by Russian and Iranian government forces in eastern Syria is destroying the hopes of the US military for advancing deeper into the territories of the "Islamic state" (a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation - ed.) After winning the battle for Rakku.

The expansion of territories held by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will also strengthen the position of the Assad regime in political negotiations on the future of this country - negotiations that the UN hopes to resume in November.

In his statement this week, UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted that changes in the situation in Syria point to "the urgent need to resume the political process".

The advancement of government troops led to the fact that the US-backed Syrian democratic forces were cut off from the remaining positions of militants in the south-eastern part of the country, including Al-Bukamal, near the Syrian-Iraqi border.

With the support of Russian military aircraft that struck in violation of the agreement on the creation of a deconflictification zone along the Euphrates River, which, according to US officials, Moscow agreed, government forces surrounded and seized control of another sector that the US military planners had counted on. This is the city of Al-Mayadin, where, according to some reports, many influential leaders of the "Islamic state" were hiding. Terrorists did not have almost no resistance - apparently, most of them managed to escape.

The unexpected withdrawal of militants has refuted the assumption of the US military that they will be able to get ahead of the government troops in moving to the key fortified positions along the Euphrates river, said Nicholas Heras, a researcher at the Center for New American Security. "Since the fighters of IGIL decided not to engage in a fierce battle against Assad's forces, this led to a change in the assumptions about what will happen on the ground," Geras said.

As a result of this advance, government troops and supporting Russian aircraft advanced east of the river, deep into Syria's main oil producing region, the Dair al-Zor province, which used to be the main source of income for the "Islamic state".

"I will not answer the question of whether the agreement on the creation of a deconflictification zone was violated," said Colonel Ryan S. Dillon, representative of the military operations management against IGIL, during a telephone interview. "That's why we continue to conduct a dialogue with Russia."

In addition to the daily contacts between representatives of the two armies on the hotline, American and Russian generals have held two personal meetings in the last few weeks, one in Jordan, to discuss their air operations in the Euphrates River valley and the operations of the ground forces they support.

Progress in the fight against IGIL in Syria since 2016 is measured by the number of cities and villages along the Euphrates, recaptured from militants by the Syrian democratic forces, which include Arab militants and Syrian Kurds and who are supported by the US Air Force and advisers. The city of Manbij in the north of Syria, near the Turkish border, was won in 2016 year, after which At-Tabka and Rakka were recaptured.

It was supposed that after the Rakki the Syrian democratic forces would pass down the river through Al-Mayadin to Al-Bukamal, where they would connect with the Iraqi government forces and try to regain control over the IGIL-held city of El-Qaim, located in Iraq near the border with Syria. One of the main aims was to prevent Iran from creating a land corridor through Iraq between Tehran and Damascus.

Dillon refused to say whether the plans of the American forces had changed.

"There are always plans," he said. "You are not fighting with the plan, you are fighting the enemy ... where he is." The American army, he said, does not care about "more ambitious political decisions" about who is fighting with militants or who controls Syria, unless it is an "Islamic state".

"This is not a race, we are not engaged in the seizure of territories. We are here to fight with IGIL, "he added.

Others are much less optimistic about the consequences of expanding the zone controlled by government troops. They are convinced that Assad's ability to remain in power will give the militants of the "Islamic state", hiding in the vast desert, the opportunity to regroup.

"That's what you get when you make a deal with the Russians," said Jennifer Cafarella of the Institute for War Studies, who oversees the conflict in Syria. "Now we are seeing attempts by the regime and its allies to seize key infrastructure facilities, such as oil and gas fields, and disrupt further operations of the anti-Ihilov coalition along the Euphrates River."

Since the remaining strengthened positions of IGIL in Syria are likely to soon be in the hands of the Syrian government, the Trump administration will have to decide whether the US military will remain in Syria in order to protect those territories now under the control of the Syrian democratic forces, where the leading role is played Syrian Kurds from the People's Self-Defense Forces.

On Thursday, October 19, female militants from the People's Self-Defense Forces celebrated the victory in Rakka, raising a gigantic portrait of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan over the central square where the guerrillas conducted the most executions. Ocalan, who heads the Kurdish movement in Turkey - the Kurdistan Workers' Party - is currently serving time in a Turkish prison for terrorism.

The public statement of allegiance to Ocalan, voiced by the Syrian Kurds leading the attack on Rakku, points to one of the many problems facing the Trump administration, which is developing a coherent policy for the era that will begin after the defeat of IGIL. Although the Syrian Kurds took many Arabs into their ranks, they still retained control over the command and ideology of the coalition of the Syrian democratic forces.

Turkey, which shares a long border with an autonomous enclave created by Kurds in northeastern Syria, is furious that the US military is supporting the Syrian democratic forces, which, in its view, are an appendage of Ocalan's terrorist movement. In this regard, it is likely that Turkey will take military steps to deprive the Syrian democratic forces of the opportunity to realize their dream of a mini-state in the territory of Syria.

Many Syrian Arabs also do not like the prospect of the Kurds controlling them. The overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Rakki are Arabs, and photos of the poster with Ocalan, spread on the Internet, caused a storm of indignation from the Arabs.

"We, the inhabitants of Rakka, do not know what the capture of our city by the Syrian democratic forces - liberation from IGIL or occupation," wrote Tareq Sham, who used to live in Rakka, and now lives in Turkey on his Facebook page. "The overwhelming majority of us believe that we simply changed one occupier to another."

If the US remains in Syria to protect its Kurdish allies, they risk becoming entangled in future conflicts between Arabs and Kurds and between Turkey and the Kurds.

The vulnerability of the positions of the Kurds is also caused by the fact that the Syrian government declared its readiness to regain territories that it lost during the war, which began with political unrest in 2011. Much of what will happen in Rakka will depend on the speed and success of the reconstruction process. Currently, in the Raqqi area is US Special Representative Brett McGurk, accompanied by the Saudi Arabian Minister for the Gulf Affairs, Tamer al-Sabhan, whose government, as the Trump administration hopes, will finance this process.

Karen DeYoung, Liz Sly The Washington Post, USA
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