Strength of Russian-Backed Syrian Army Has Rebels, US-Backed Kurds Conceding Without a Fight

The Russian-Syrian offensive against rebels in southern Syria is taking most ground without fighting, and now even the US-backed Kurds are making important concessions to Damascus

A little over a month ago, I wrote about a possible diplomatic breakthrough in southwest Syria. The core of this breakthrough was and remains an intense effort to speed peace negotiations between Damascus and various opposing forces in Syria. It was key to the SAA’s recent successes in reducing the eastern Ghouta, Homs and even the Yarmouk refugee camp pockets.

The same methodology has enabled the rapid recent success in Daraa. This effort is spearheaded by the Russian Reconciliation Center based at Khmeimim Air Base in Latakia. In addition to pushing peace deals, it coordinates relief aid to newly reconciled areas.

This carrot of reconciliation would not be effective without the stout stick which the SAA has become. We are all familiar with the formidable Tiger Force and the growing list of their combat successes.

That success is being reinforced and replicated throughout the SAA by the Russians. Units are being reorganized and re-equipped along the Russian Army model without destroying what the Syrians themselves built over years of painful combat experience.

Units raised independently of the SAA, including those trained and advised by the IRGC and Iranian Green Berets, will be folded into the SAA. This is also happening with some former rebels who have reconciled with Damascus. We could learn something from this experience given how we screwed the pooch with the Iraqi and Afghani armies.

So, how is this carrot and stick approach working now? Prior to commencing the Daraa offensive, Damascus fully expected a large number of the rebels/jihadists to accept reconciliation. That has happened and is expected to continue to happen.

At the same time they moved the cream of the SAA into place. Those forces led by the Tiger Force are gaining territory and killing jihadists at a good clip. They will be indispensable in subduing the diehard jihadists now holding the area around the Nassib border crossing and the IS jihadis adjacent to the occupied Golan Heights.

Those two battles may end up being fights to the death since neither Jordan nor Israel want those jihadis crossing their borders. They’re also running out of places to be green bussed to as the SAA, Hezbollah and Iranian militias are steadily reducing the IS presence west of Dier Ezzor and al Bukamal.

Major events are also shaping up in YPG/SDF held territory. Damascus and the PYD reached an important agreement in al Hasakah. The YPG is removing all Ocalan posters in al Hasakah while the SAA is reopening recruiting offices throughout the governorate. The SAA and YPG will soon set up joint checkpoints. Damascus wants the YPG/YPJ to join forces with the government throughout the country, handover the Tal Kojar and Simalka border crossing with Iraq along with the al Darbasiyah and al Ayn crossings into Turkey.

A similar deal is in the works for the al Raqqa governorate. In exchange, the YPG wants the Kurdish language taught in the Syrian educational system, time served in the YPG to count as service in the SAA and to have Kurdish representation in the oil ministry. If all goes as planned, many YPG/YPJ units may be incorporated into the SAA.

In other news, Ankara is slowly withdrawing their troops from the Afrin region, leaving their local proxies in charge. In my opinion this is part of a broad plan brokered by Russia in which Syria regains full control of Rojava and the border with Turkey thus negating the Kurdish threat to Turkey from Syria. Eventually, most if not all the Turkish proxy forces in Afrin will be reconciled with Damascus with Turkish/Russian prodding. 

This depends on two things, Putin’s influence on Erdogan’s ambitions (I know nothing about the extent of that influence) and Trump’s willingness to let it all go in the region. I hope Trump does just that when he meets Putin in Helsinki. Sure he will catch holy hell from the borg collective and he will undoubtedly be called Putin’s puppet for surrendering US influence in the ME to Russia. So be it. I still think it’s the smartest move we can make and Trump is the only one who can make that move. 

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