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Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Liberation of Palmyra & the Way Forward

The liberation of Syria’s Palmyra is much more than just another victory for the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and another defeat for the Daesh terror group.
The Liberation of Palmyra & the Way Forward
The strategic military importance of Palmyra cannot be understated. The capture of the city by Syrian forces – located in the country’s central Homs province – has greatly reduced the ability of Daesh to threaten key Syrian government supply lines, especially along the M5 highway and the road to Aleppo.
Already characterized by some as the biggest rout of the Daesh terror group yet, the liberation of Palmyra and an adjacent airbase in eastern Homs was synchronized with the advance of Iraqi government forces towards Mosul.
This strategy, reportedly orchestrated by Baghdad’s intelligence sharing center [courtesy of the ‘4+1′ alliance comprising Syria, Russia, Iran, Iraq and Hizbullah], deprived Daesh of the ability to deploy reinforcements to Palmyra.
Aside from providing crucial air support to Damascus in its fight against terrorism, Russia’s military involvement in Syria has also helped remove the various factors that led to the fall of Palmyra almost a year ago.
In the summer of 2015, the Nusra Front and allied militant groups, backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, launched a major offensive to capture Syria’s north-western Idlib province. As a result, the Syrian army was compelled to shift its contingent in Palmyra to reinforce positions in Idlib and neighboring Latakia.
In early March of this year, however, the Syrian government and its allies were finally able to concentrate a large ground force – numbering over 5,000 men – on the Palmyra front. They were able to do so thanks to a ceasefire that was imposed on militant groups and their international backers on February 27, after Russian airstrikes helped sever the insurgents’ main supply lines to Turkey, and encircle militant-held parts of Aleppo.
Exposing the Western Narrative
The Americans and their allies in the Middle East had endeavored to portray the battle against Daesh as a project of the US-led coalition, while accusing the Russians of attacking the dubiously labeled ‘moderate’ rebels, rather than the extremists.
However, the developments in Palmyra have served to uphold an entirely different narrative.
In contrast to efforts by the US-led coalition, Russian strikes have actually crippled Daesh. Toward the end of last year and only three months into Moscow’s military intervention in Syria, the Russians had already eliminated the terror group’s leading source of revenue by targeting their oil-smuggling routes to Turkey.
During a presser following the liberation of Palmyra, the US State Department spokesperson, Mark Toner, had a tough time hiding his disappointment about Daesh’s most recent losses.
When asked by a reporter if he preferred to see Palmyra remain in the hands of Daesh, Toner struggled to find the right response.

“Uh… it’s truly a… uh… uh… um… Look. Uh… I think what we would… uh… like to see is… uh… the political negotiations, that political track… uh… pick up steam. Uh… that’s part of the reason the Secretary’s in Moscow today, um… so we can get a political process underway, um… and deepen and strengthen the cessation of hostilities into a real ceasefire and then…”
The reporter interrupted the US official. “You’re not answering my question,” he insisted.
“I know I’m not [laughs]. Um… I’m giving a broader view. Uh… and then we can all increase our efforts to… uh… to go after Daesh and dislodge it,” Toner said.
Damascus-based journalist and political commentator Alaa Ibrahim is not surprised by Toner’s response.

“We have to remember that the narrative of the Obama administration and western governments has always been that Daesh is the product of the policies of the Damascus government, and as a result they have always blamed the Syrian government for the rise of Daesh and of course they wont be happy if their arch enemy [the Syrian government] is making political and media gains,” Ibrahim said.
What’s Next and the Hidden Agendas
Iraqis smuggled out of Mosul say that Daesh is buckling under military and economic pressure. In just under two years, the terror group has lost Sinjar, Ramadi and Tikrit in Iraq, while the Kurds and the Syrian army are driving the militants back in Syria and closing in on Raqqa. Today, Daesh is avoiding set-piece battles and no longer fights to the last man to defend its positions. In short, the group’s administrative and economic infrastructure is beginning to crumble under the strain of bombardment and blockade.
Following the battle for Palmyra, the Russian Air Force stepped up its aerial campaign across Homs. The airstrikes are widely believed to be part of an effort to establish a foothold for an expected offensive by Syrian forces through the Palmyra-Sukhanah road, aimed at breaking the Daesh siege of government-controlled areas of the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.
As such, very few people around the world today are still debating whether Daesh is facing imminent defeat.
Nonetheless, the terror group is no longer the only force threatening the territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq.
More than five years of war have effectively produced three de facto/quasi states in both Syria and Iraq. Aside from the so-called Islamic State, Syria’s Kurds recently declared their autonomy in the area they gained control of when the Syrian army largely withdrew in 2012, and which now, thanks to a series of victories over Daesh, stretches across northern Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates.
In Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG], already highly autonomous, expanded its territory by some 40 percent, taking over areas long disputed between itself and Baghdad, including the Kirkuk oilfields and some mixed Kurdish-Arab districts.
The Kurds, who had always lobbied for a state, have suddenly found themselves enjoying US support and co-operating with the US-led coalition against Daesh, paving the way for what could very well redraw the borders of the Middle East.
The American reaction to the liberation of Palmyra reinforces the narrative that US officials, such as Mark Toner, may not necessary be sad to see Daesh go, but they are clearly unhappy about who is replacing them.
According to Ibrahim, “the Syrian army has a very important choice ahead of it.”

“Either go ahead and attack Deir Ezzor and break the Daesh siege over 10,000 soldiers and 200,000 civilians, or proceed towards Raqqa. This is an important choice because many people believe that there is a secret deal in place that would allow for the division of Syria, facilitating the advance of Kurdish forces onto Raqqa, backed by the US-led coalition while the Syrian army advances to Deir Ezzor and takes the city. [This] would allow for the division of Syria, something that many Syrians are worried about,” Ibrahim added.
Meanwhile, what is certain is that the situation on Syria’s battlefield remains highly fluid. The tug of war between the various parties is intensifying, and as the Syrian army and its allies race to liberate the country from Daesh, they are also doubtless in a race to prevent what increasingly seems as the inevitable partitioning of their long-suffering homeland.

Source: al-Ahed News
04-04-2016 | 09:07
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