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Syria: Turkish MANPADs, Iranian Regulars, US Bombing the Crossings – Everybody Is Upping the Ante

So many new important Syrian developments in such a short time – and it's all pointing to an escalation

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Syrian army fights ISIS, rebels fight Syrian army

After Syrian army backed by Russians liberated Palmyra from ISIS in late March, most of the forces involved in that operation moved some 70 kilometres westwards where they over the next few days liberated al Qaryatayn. The latter is a Christian-majority town of originally some 15,000 people that was captured by ISIS in August 2015, 3 months after their capture of Palmyra to the east.

<figcaption>The 2nd Syrian plane lost in April. Who supplied Al Qaeda the missiles?</figcaption>
The 2nd Syrian plane lost in April. Who supplied Al Qaeda the missiles?

While crack Syrian units were busy clearing Homs province from ISIS the rebels struck in Aleppo. They managed to overrun several Syrian army positions and captured the village of al Eis.

The rebel attack was spearheaded by Al Nusra but also involved 'moderate' rebel groups which had earlier committed to the ceasefire regime.

At least 25 pro-government and 16 opposition fighters died in the clashes south of Aleppo, where the Nusra Front and rebel militias captured a village overlooking a major highway, a Britain-based monitoring group told The Associated Press. 

A number of groups — including some nominally party to the truce agreement — acknowledged on social media that they were battling government forces.

This naturally did not go down well with Damascus which therefore made it known it considered the ceasefire in southern Aleppo null and void and prepared for a campaign to retake lost positions

So far there are conflicting reports whether pro-government forces have by now retaken al Eis, but there is little doubt that if they have not yet they soon will.

Iran ups the ante

What is particularly interesting about the Syrian army campaign in southern Aleppo is that it for the first time involves advisors from the regular Iranian army. Previously the only Iranians in Syria were members of the Revolutionary Guard and volunteer militiamen.  

US and Damascus claim credit for the same air strike on Al Qaeda

Monday Pentagon revealed that US air force had bombed Al Nusra militants and killed its spokesperson Abu Firas al-Suri who was an old associate of Osama bin Laden.

Funny thing is Syria itself had already taken credit for the same air strike before Pentagon did. 

Regardless of who it was that carried out the raid this really goes to show that Syrian government and the US are really natural allies.

US' real security interests align far more closely with those of Bashar al Assad than those of Erdogan's Turkey, Wahhabi Saudi Arabia or Syrian jihadi rebels.

Were it not for the crooked influence of neocon ideologues a US led by a patriotic, nationalist or a realist foreign policy establishment would have surely never sought to undermine the secular Syrian government.   

A change in US policy?

Aside from openly hitting Al Nusra for the first time the US has widened the scope of its bombing in one other way.

It has for the first time delivered numerous, sustained air strikes against ISIS in Jarabulus reportedly killing up to 60 of its fighers in what is the last remaining major Turkish-Syrian border crossing in ISIS hands. 

Moreover, ISIS control of Jarabulus is directly threatened by the Kurdish YPG which sits just outside the city on the other side of the Euphrates river.

Of course, the Turks have previously warned they would intervene against the YPG if it ever crossed the Euphrates, and the US has so far been sending strong signals to the Kurds that Jarabulus was off limits.

Were the strikes some sort of a signal to Turkey that US can unleash the Kurds?

Or is it the case that US is actually getting ready to support a Kurdish offensive against Jarabulus and the rest of the Manbij pocket which would cut off ISIS from Turkey (allegedly its main supplier of weapons)?

The US has allegedly previously participated in the Tishrin Dam offensive which established a Kurdish bridgehead on the right bank Euphrates, which was technically beyond the Turkish "red line". Certainly the well-informed Al Masdar believes the current US strikes were in support of the Kurds.

The remaining Syrian-Turkish border in ISIS hands. Jarabulus area marked with red square
The remaining Syrian-Turkish border in ISIS hands. Jarabulus area marked with red square

Turkey? ups the ante

Wednesday rebels shot down the second Syrian combat jet this month. In both cases the the planes were downed by al Nusra fighters using a shoulder fired anti-air missile.

Such weapons were previously not regularly observed in rebel possession. 

This raises the question who supplied these missiles to rebels now. It's possible it was Qatar or Saudi Arabia, but best candidate is Turkey. Whether this would have been coordinated with the US or not is anyone's guess.

Another interesting question is did the introduction of MANPADs to Syria's battlefield played a role in the Russian withdrawal?

When Russian downgraded their fixed wing presence in Syria in March they left behind the great majority of Su-24 and Su-34 interdiction bombers, but flew back their entire fleet of Su-25 close air support aircraft. Generally a Su-25 would engage the enemy from a lower attitude and be far more vulnerable to shoulder-fired missiles.

Conclusion: Events are gaining critical mass

Just weeks after the partially successful ceasefire agreement and the partial withdrawal of the Russian air legion the war looks on the brink of a major escalation.

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