One cannot blame the average media consumer for not being able to understand what really is going on in Syria, because
1. There are at least six actors who pursue different, most times conflicting, and only accidentally concurring goals.
2. The relations, alliances, and front lines between these actors are constantly changing.
3. Reporting by mainstream media is biased and sloppy, either pure propaganda or nonsense written by media workers who are ignorant and uneducated.
This text here is biased too, written from a position of secularism, anti globalization, anti US-imperialism. Maybe some readers can agree with these starting points, maybe others want to inform themselves about alternative views.
A short description of the present situation in Syria:
The main actors are:
a. Syria, supported by Russia, Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraq’s Shia militias (PMU)
b. Kurdish PYD (YPG/YPJ) + allied Arab and Turkmen militias in the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces)
c. USA + Western NATO allies + Israel
d. Turkey + Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Jordan
e. Wahhabi jihadists (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, Turkistan Islamic Party, most of the moderate rebel groups)
f. IS (Islamic State) + affiliated rebel groups
The main objectives of these actors are:
a. Syria, Russia + allies: Defeating and eliminating the Islamic insurgents. Reinstating state control over all Syrian territory. Keeping the options open to regain the Golan Heights and establish water rights for the Euphrates River. Russia: Establishing a permanent military base in Syria. Resisting Western hegemony. Crushing Islamic terrorists. Iran + Hezbollah: Keeping the supply line to Hezbollah open. Defeating Wahhabi terrorists. Resisting Israeli pressure on Lebanon and Iran.
b. Kurdish PYD (Kurdish Democratic Union Party) + allies: Establishing a semi autonomous area in northern Syria along the border with Turkey in a federal Syria. Defeating the Wahhabi jihadists and IS.
c. USA + NATO + Israel: Destroying the Syrian state to eliminate any future threat for Israel. Militarily weakening Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Iraq’s Shia militias. Establishing Western full spectrum dominance in the region. Killing Islamic terrorists.
d. Turkey + Gulf allies: Crushing the Kurdish PYD. Weakening Syria to make any resistance to the Southeastern Anatolia Project (Euphrates dams) impossible. Gulf States: weakening Iran, destroying secular and socialist Arab movements (Baath party) and imposing Wahhabism in Syria and all the Middle East.
e. Wahhabi jihadists: Destroying the secular state and imposing Sharia law. Subjugating or killing as many infidels as possible. Establishing a Caliphate.
f. IS: Same as Wahhabi jihadists.
Recent military and political moves by the mentioned actors to achieve their goals:
a. Syrian forces have encircled and partly captured the Islamist controlled eastern districts of Aleppo. If they are able to defeat the Islamists in Aleppo, ten thousand troops and more would be available to attack and conquer Idlib province in a pincer movement from Latakia (Jisr al-Shugur) and western Aleppo province. At present fighting focuses around the 1070 apartment project and Hikma hill in southwestern Aleppo. Syrian troops try to capture elevated points in the area (Tal Uhd, Tal Mutah, Tell Bazo), to cut supply corridors of the Islamists.
In preparation for another offensive by the jihadists, extensive fortification, barricades, earth berms, and trenches are being built around southern Aleppo. Mine fields and ATGM (anti-tank-guided-missiles) positions are set up to fend off SVBIEDS (suicide-vehicle-born-improvised-devices) and tanks.
The pockets of insurgents around Damascus are cleared one after the other (Daraya, Muadamiya, Qadsaya). The southern front along the Jordanian border is quiet and will probably be appeased in a negotiated settlement. All this would lead to the complete defeat of the Wahhabi jihadists and after that Syrian forces could clean the eastern parts of the country from IS.
b. The Kurds, supported by US airstrikes, have conquered Manbij in northern Aleppo province from IS in a bloody and exhausting battle. They would like to move westwards to connect the Kobane and Jazira cantons with the Afrin canton.
Afrin forces moved eastwards but were confronted by Turkish jihadist groups, Turkish tanks, artillery, and air strikes. A push of the Turkish jihadist groups against Sheikh Isa and Tal Rifaat was repelled, ending in a humiliating defeat of the Islamists. The Afrin Kurds though have stopped pushing east.
The USA btw. tried to set up a meeting between SDF and Turkish militias, proposing that the SDF hands over Tal Rifaat in exchange for a non-aggression pact, but the SDF understandably refused. PYD (Kurdish Democratic Union Party) leaders accused US officers of cooperating in the Turkish assault.
There is an old adage: “The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.”
When Turkey and Turkish jihadists invaded northern Syria in the operation “Euphrates Shield,” IS retreated without any real battles taking place, letting the Turkish groups entering the vacated places (Jarabulus, Dabiq). After heavy clashes between Turkish groups and SDF (Kurds and Arab allies) a political intervention by the USA stopped the fighting for a while, establishing the Sajur river as a temporary demarcation line.
Tal Rifaat would have been the fastest route to Aleppo city, but the SDF’s successful defense ended any hopes of reaching Aleppo directly. The Islamists now intend to march towards al-Bab, which is another gateway to Aleppo city and also the biggest remaining IS-held town which the Kurds absolutely need to take if they want to connect their cantons.
A high ranking Russian delegation flew to Syria and presented a memorandum about the possibility of granting Kurds a special status within the framework of Syria.
Salih Gedo, secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Syrian Kurds, attended the meeting. “The Russians had a document ready. It was in our favor. They wanted federalism in Syria while reinstating the rights of Kurds. We accepted all of the stipulations and suggested some additions.”
According to Gedo, the Syrian government’s delegation did not accept the agreement, saying it would split the country.
c. The Western allies (USA / NATO) increase arms shipments (Grad rocket launchers, ATGMs (TOW BGM-71), MANPADS) to jihadists, hoping that both sides will suffer heavy casualties.
The CIA-program to train and equip vetted “moderate rebels,” has been a catastrophic failure and US experts know that they are just training criminals and the next generation of jihadists. The USA support the Kurds in the fight against IS and has set up basis in Kurdish territory (Karah Kuzak, Rmeilan, Kobane), deploying special operations commandos against strong Turkish objections.
The USA would like to get rid of Turkish President Erdogan and US agents were probably involved in the failed coup. Erdogan is regarded as megalomaniac, unreliable and prone to shift alliances on a whim, his neo-Ottoman ambitions (Mosul) directly confront US hegemony.
The direct involvement of Russia in Syria has given the West a rare chance to attack and weaken the Russian military via proxies — US strategists hope to repeat the Afghan scenario. The Islamists will get wide ranging artillery and anti aircraft systems. A propaganda campaign about alleged atrocities of Syrian and Russian forces prepares Western populations for tougher military actions like a no-fly zone across Syria and war with Russia.
Prospective US President Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, UN ambassador Samantha Power, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, Brookings fellow Robert Kagan, former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, retired General John Allen are main representatives of the war party, which dominates Washington’s political establishment.
Israel sits on the sideline, just bombing Syrian army positions regularly to support Islamist attacks, providing logistic support and health services to the jihadists.
d. Turkey pretends to fight IS in Syria, but together with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies it still uses IS and other Salafist terrorist groups (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham) to destroy the Syrian secular state. IS is not anymore supported by the oil trade, but the ping-pong game of capture and retreat, where the Turkish militias in northern Aleppo province leave all their weapons to IS when they are chased out of villages they just entered the day before, is a covert weapons transfer program.
IS operatives can still cross the border easily, IS cells in Turkey operate unhindered, the large scale oil trade may have stopped, but antiquities and all kind of other looted items are still sold via Turkish companies, middle men, and in bazars.
70,000 alleged Gulenists have been detained after the failed coup, but only a handful of IS-members have been apprehended. There are no high profile IS trials, the charges against IS-members usually are trivial, the sentences more than lenient.
There is a crackdown on the Gulen movement, on the free press, on liberal teachers, on the independent judiciary, on supporters of Kurdish rights, on everybody who opposes Erdogan, but there is no crackdown on IS.
There is no crackdown on IS and there will not be one in the near future, because IS and its Wahhabi brethren have permeated Turkish society to such an extend that all hell would break loose if anyone in Turkey would take them on. Even though the IS network may be not as far reaching and well organized as the Gulen network, IS-supporters are armed and determined, ready to plant bombs, kill opponents, blow themselves up in spectacular terror attacks.
The Chechen wars would be a minor disturbance, a cakewalk compared to an anti-IS campaign in Turkey, but one doesn’t have to speculate about this, because Erdogan will not even try.
Islamic militias like the Sultan Murad Brigade and Muntasir Billah Brigade, which Turkey has built up and trained for years, proved to be utterly incompetent during the “Euphrates Shied” invasion of northern Syria. Even with artillery, air strikes, and Turkish special operations commandos they were not able to break Kurdish defenses.
This may change, as commanders of these formations boast now, that their ranks have increased threefold because of recent professed successes. The successes are, that IS forces just melted away and disappeared without a trace when Turkish militias approached Jarabulus and Dabiq.
One can easily connect the dots and one doesn’t have to look fare for the disappeared IS fighters.
Erdogan, knowing that the USA wants to get rid of him, has turned to Russia and tells the world, that “together with my friend Putin” he will fight terrorism. But he resists Russian demands to stop the weapons flow via Turkey to Salafi jihadists; Turkish artillery constantly bombard Kurdish targets in northern Syria and Turkish jets attack Kurdish positions — both Syria and Russia have issued blunt warnings to stop such intrusions.
Erdogan reportedly assured Putin in an October 19 telephone conversation that he would help to eject Jabhat Fatah al-Sham from Aleppo and he made additional proposals for cooperation in Syria, one must assume that Putin doesn’t take such conversations seriously.
Erdogan announced, that the Islamic militias will conquer two major cities in northern Syria, al-Bab (currently IS) and Manbij (currently Kurdish-dominated SDF). He knows that this would be unacceptable for Russia — is his announcement bluster or perhaps testing the waters?
At the moment Russia confronts Turkish forces, Erdogan will instantly pivot back to the West, invoking Article 5 of the NATO treaty and giving Western powers all the reasons they need to start war with Russia.
Erdogan wants to convert the area along the border, which IS amiably conceded to Turkish militias, into a safe zone for Syrian refugees. Turkish construction companies are already starting with building work for housing, schools, and power stations. Resettling the refugees would significantly change the ethnic composition of the border area by replacing the Kurdish population (which mostly fled IS) with Sunni Arabs.
The Euphrates Shield invasion is not only aimed at the Kurds, but also meant as relief offensive towards Aleppo city, and the West will eventually try (for humanitarian reasons) to morph the safe zone along the Turkish border into a no-fly zone, where Islamic militants can retreat and prepare their next offensives unbothered and unharmed.
Erdogan sent 2,000 soldiers to Bashiqa north of Mosul and ignored the Iraqi governments ultimatum to leave Iraq. Mosul is regarded a part of the “Ottoman sphere of influence.” Will the “Euphrates shield” invasion of Syria be complemented by a “Tigris Shield” invasion of Iraq?
Turkey not only stays at the Bashiqa camp, it also objects to the involvement of al-Hashd al-Shaab Shiite militias in the Mosul offensive and to the presence of PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Part) troops in the Sinjar region. It demands that Shia soldiers stay out of the largely Turkmen town of Tel Afar.
Erdogan tries to play all sides, he is trying to dupe the USA, the EU (refugee crisis), Russia, Iraq, Iran at the same time. This is a nearly impossible challenge, a tough task, a high risk gamble — only an imperious, self-obsessed Turkish supremacists like Erdogan will dare to play such a game.
e. The Wahhabi jihadists have again gathered between 4,000 and 8,000 fighters near Aleppo. They have received additional arms and military equipment, including MANPADS (portable anti-aircraft missile systems) and GRAD rocket launchers.
The Islamists seem to plan a joint attack on the 3000 apartments project from both the outside and inside of Aleppo. Lately they have been heavily shelling the Assad military academy directly adjacent to the 3000 apartments and there’s been continuous clashes in the 1070 apartments area, also right next to it. The unusually dedicated defense of the 1070 apartments project is another indication that the attack will again come from the southwest direction.
The Islamists inside eastern Aleppo have rejected all humanitarian proposals by Russia, Syria, and UN relief organizations. They blocked the six exit corridors and prevented civilian as well as fellow fighters from leaving. Three Russian officials were injured by sniper fire.
An offensive in north Hama spearheaded by IS affiliate Jund al-Aqsa was the biggest challenge for Syrian forces since a long time, but it fizzled out after infighting between Jund al-Aqsa and Ahrar al-Sham caused heavy casualties in Islamist ranks. To avoid being annihilated by Ahrar al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa fled into the fold of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which again made clear that there is no ideological difference between the various jihadist groups.
Influential Saudi Arabian cleric Sheikh Abdullah Muhaisny, the supreme judge of Jaysh al-Fateh (Army of Conquest), released a video begging for Turkish university students to abandon their studies and move to Syria to join the Islamist ranks in order to replace the massive casualties they just suffered in Aleppo.
Muhaisny also lamented the loss of public support for the jihadist movement in Syria, saying that Idlib is tired of the rebels and their infighting, and that people are starting to doubt the Syrian jihad.
f. IS in Syria is quiet at the moment, probably waiting for the evacuated fighters from Mosul to join the besiegers in Deir ez-Zor. It appears that the Western anti-IS alliance will open a corridor from Mosul to Syria, herding IS-terrorists to a place where they could be most useful for the momentarily stalled Syria regime-change project.
Deir ez-Zor is besieged since three years and only survives with airdropped supplies. The town is constantly shelled, making life unbearable. Western consumer of mass media are probably surprised to hear that, as besieged government enclaves are never even mentioned in the Western press.
If Deir ez-Zor with about 120,000 inhabitants, mostly relatives of soldiers and government supporters, falls into IS hands, it will be the biggest massacre of this war, it will also be the crowning atrocity of the IS-monsters.
The Western press will cry crocodile tears, US, NATO, Gulf troops will be set in march and invade eastern Syria (for humanitarian reasons), Syria will be partitioned.
Is this plan B or plan C?
Never mind, just remember: the empire never retreats or compromises.