A Syrian Update – TTG

Map by Agathocle deSyracuse

“It has been a long time coming, and it seems that an escalation in Greater Idlib might be on the way. After frequent ceasefire violations by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and other terrorist groups of the so-called “moderate opposition”, the cup seems to be spilling over. On June 10th, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian support began a heavy shelling operation on various HTS positions throughout Greater Idlib. Significantly, a pinpoint strike claimed the lives of HTS’ military spokesman, Abu Khalid al-Shami, media coordinator, Abu Musab al-Homsi, and Mu’ataz al-Nasir, commander of the group’s internal security forces. Four other, unnamed militants were also killed. Footage was released from a Russian drone which was tracking the three commanders. They were reportedly located with advanced electronic intelligence systems. The HTS officials were likely targeted with a Russian 2K25 Krasnopol laser-guided artillery shell, with their vehicle being laser painted with an UAV prior to that.”

“In addition, warplanes of the Russian Aerospace Forces carried out a series of airstrikes on militants’ positions in Greater Idlib. In total, more than 20 air strikes were inflicted on the settlements of Fatira, Ain-Lapuz, Muzapa, Maapata, Khaluba and Majdaliya in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the south of the Syrian province of Idlib. A day before, a Russian service member was killed and three others were wounded in a landmine blast in northeastern Syria.”

“The large-scale operation of the SAA and Russian forces seems to be a response to the death of a Russian soldier, as well as frequent ceasefire violations by HTS and other militant groups in the region.”  (SouthFront)

Comment: This one short SouthFront article nicely sums up what is going on in Idlib right now. Yes it does look imminent that the R+6 is finally about to launch the final assault to retake the province, killing as many jihadis as possible and driving out what remains. Erdogan’s troops who stand in the way will undoubtedly suffer the same fate. However, several observers, more steeped in this region than I, do not feel an R+6 assault is imminent. I’m inclined to agree with them. Yes, the Russians and Syrians will continue to pick off jihadis and their leaders with the full range of weaponry available to them. And yes the jihadis will also continue shooting at Russians and Syrians although with far less precision and effect. That’s just the new equilibrium reached in what passes for a ceasefire. Al Masdar News reports what this new equilibrium looks like outside of Idlib with the recent killing of 200 jihadis at a training and base complex near Palmyra, and the destruction of several other jihadi headquarters locations south of Raqqa.

On the other hand, SouthFront also reports that HTS and the Turkish military are massing forces and munitions in preparation for an offensive of their own. That may be Erdogan’s and his jihadis’ plan, but this build up is already under Russian observation. Those massing forces can easily fall prey to the same kinds of attack that killed the HTS commanders last week. I’m still sticking with the new equilibrium… for now.

In the meantime there are signs that the HTS, the reigning jihadis in Idlib, are not that confident of their hold on the people. Aaron Y. Zelin of WINEP alludes to this in his recent article “Hanging on in Idlib: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s Expanding Tribal Engagement.” Zelin surmises that HTS efforts to win the win the hearts and minds of the Idlib tribes “is more performative and coercive than benevolent, aimed at helping the group appear more in control than it really is.” Zelin concludes that “if HTS was stronger, it would likely just ignore tribal dynamics as it did in the past.” 

What does HTS need for this approach, no matter how performative it is? It needs a steady supply of aid coming into the province. Without this aid, their shit is weak. That aid is largely provided by the UN and various NGOs through the established and internationally approved entry point of Bab al Hawa. This program is up for UN renewal. Russia and China hold veto power over the continued use of the Bad al Hawa entry point. Remember this.

Another problem for Damascus is the continued US presence east of the Euphrates and our imbecilic effort to establish a YPG/SDF controlled statelet. We’re apparently still wedded to the “Assad must go” policy. The only bright spot in this goat roping is Biden’s cancellation of the contract of a US company taking over the oil fields and oil production in the region. The Trump administration, or at least the Pentagon, saw that contract as a means to fund the YPG/SDF statelet and deprive Damascus of those resources. Biden seems to be losing interest in that idea. He is also actively negotiating with Baghdad on a timetable for the removal of all coalition combat forces from Iraq. We can’t have forces in Syria with out forces in Iraq. So I doubt our heart’s in staying in Syria, either.

What our heart is in is the continuation of the UN sanctioned aid program for Syria. Why this is, I don’t know. It probably has something to do with our forlorn hope of mythical moderate jihadis toppling Assad. That’s nothing but a delusion. For whatever reason, this gives Biden and Putin something to talk about this Wednesday. How about getting our troops out of Syria in exchange for Moscow’s support for continuing the UN aid program. It doesn’t have to be announced. It just has to play out. At that point the Russian Reconciliation Center can start crafting the return of the Rojava Kurds and the eastern tribes to Damascus. Without the US presence, the Rojava Kurds should come to their senses and accept the inevitable. The sooner they do so, the better chance of salvaging some kind of limited local autonomy.

The return of Syria east of the Euphrates to Damascus will provide much needed resources, both oil and oil revenues, along with additional military units to complete the reconquest of all Syrian territory. The ability to redeploy existing SAA units to the northwest alone will be a big advantage. Even if this Putin-Biden deal doesn’t come to fruition, Putin can stop the UN aid from flowing through Bad al-Hawa putting both the HTS jihadis and Erdogan in an untenable position. Idlib will be liberated one way or another, followed by the expulsion of Erdogan’s forces from Syrian soil.

TTG

A Day of Reckoning in Syria

Turkish Forces Preparing to Launch Attack in Northwestern Hama Northern Lattakia

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/hanging-idlib-hayat-tahrir-al-shams-expanding-tribal-engagement

https://www.csis.org/analysis/implications-un-cross-border-vote-syria

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/inside-story-how-trump-kept-oil-syria-and-lost

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/7/us-agrees-to-move-remaining-combat-troops-from-iraq

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30 Responses to A Syrian Update – TTG

  1. LeaNder says:

    Thanks, TTG, will take a closer look.
    Just stumbled across this. What is this about?
    https://thegrayzone.com/2021/06/09/washington-positioning-syrian-al-qaeda-mohammad-jolani-asset/

    • TTG says:

      That Ben Norton article in The Grayzone News lays out the history of the moderate jihadi myth and, more importantly, the vast lobby in and outside our government propping up that myth. The conclusion of that article is key. Norton quotes Lindsey Snell, a journalist who was held captive by Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

      “Actually, their rebranding campaign started when I was their captive,” Snell told The Grayzone. “They changed their name for the first time and they announced their split from Al Qaeda when I was their captive. And of course, it didn’t actually change anything.”
      “To this day most of them still call themselves ‘Nusra,’” Snell added. “Their split from Al Qaeda was really just a cosmetic, surface level thing and they’re still the same terrorists inflicting Sharia law on everyone in their territories.”

      As far as I can see, this pro moderate jihadi lobby is still in firm control at the Pentagon with Dana Stroul as DASD for the Middle East. Two years ago she said the US “owns” Syria’s “resource-rich” “economic powerhouse” region. And via sanctions, it can “preventing reconstruction aid and technical expertise from going back”, leaving Syria in “rubble.” Biden put her in there. The question remains as to whether he will listen to her.

      • Nick Paddy says:

        I wonder if Green Berets are still involved in the ‘Timber Sycamore’ training program to train moderate jihadis in Syria after a few of them (Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group) were killed a few years back?

        Btw, in Green Beret news, former Green Beret Michael Taylor and his son plead guilty today in Tokyo to helping former Nissan Motor Co. chief Carlos Ghosn escape to Lebanon. (Nb: Michael Taylor served in Lebanon back in the early 1980s as a Green Beret paratrooper. Taylor met his wife in Lebanon, and speaks fluent Arabic.)

        From the WSJ article today: https://archive.fo/tZtiU

        • TTG says:

          I do believe GBs were seconded to CIA for Timber Sycamore. That ended several years ago. There was also a Syria Train and Equip Program run by DoD and administered by GBs in Jordan which ran a lot longer. I think the crap at Tanf is part of that or an offshoot of that program. Tanf is still active. None of those programs were/are effective. The initial deployment of a team or two to assist the YPG was a rousing success. I’m proud of that one. I’m not sure who is training the SDF’s oil field protection force. That’s definitely still in place.

          Taylor would have been in 10th Group when I was there, but I never heard of him. That’s not unusual. With all the deployments and training, we were lucky to know everyone in the company. Where Taylor went wrong was to link up with a PMC. He was involved in a righteous hostage rescue of a US journalist before he linked up with Ghosn. That’s life.

          • Leith says:

            Tanf is the longest pole in our withdrawal. Even when we leave Iraq, Tanf could be supported via Jordan. That’s a mistake I believe. But I don’t see us leaving there in the near future.

      • Desayuno con diamantes says:

        Well, Dana Stroul seems to not be even the worst in this case, there are others less visible who seem to have shaped both wars in Syria and Iraq from the most sensitive places where IS was raised, funded and trained and occupied wide zones…After all she is not but pushing the familiar business in the IC….

        https://www.mintpressnews.com/jessica-ashooh-reddit-national-security-state-plant/277639/

  2. JerseyJeffersonian says:

    Thank you for this informative encapsulation, along with a gallery of links.

    Fumigation against the vermin is still necessary, no thanks to the US & allies, and not forgetting to mention would-be sultan Erdogan. These people are still crafting their own punishments in Hell, or in their next lives if you are of that belief.

  3. Nightsticker says:

    TTG
    Good post. I look forward to your periodic estimates.
    Nightsticker

  4. James says:

    Thanks very much for the update, TTG.

  5. blue peacock says:

    Well done TTG!

    This is the type of analysis that should be in corporate media to provide Americans a broad range of analysis. Unfortunately corporate media and the think tanks are so far down the rabbit hole they can’t do anything but promote propaganda.

    Would you have any thoughts on why only “state sponsored” information is given coverage by media entities? Why do we now have media that gives the People’s Daily and Pravda a run for their money?

    • TTG says:

      I seriously doubt there is much interest or expertise in covering these events in corporate media. There’s no money in it. There’s a lot of info out there, but you have to dig for it vigorously and compare info from several sources. I like to think of it like that old BBC show “Connections” with James Burke. You dig for details and follow the threads to reach what we hope to be a reasonable facsimile of the truth. Definitely don’t stick to a few news sources that seem to always confirm your beliefs. That’s just offering up your ass to have smoke blown up it. I’ve read a report that such bias confirmation releases endorphins. It gives one pleasure and is addictive. Screw dat! Embrace the suck of digging for the truth.

      • Sam says:

        “There’s a lot of info out there, but you have to dig for it vigorously and compare info from several sources.“

        Isn’t this what journalism ought to be? It appears there’s no room for this type of “digging” as it doesn’t comport with the groupthink. All we’re left with is spin. Like the “spin room” for the candidates in an election cycle. How can an open society remain open when all we have is spin?

      • earl says:

        loved that show!

  6. d74 says:

    “the expulsion of Erdogan’s forces from Syrian soil.”

    If true, it’s a long haul.

    Turkey is the problem.
    The Kurds scare this country. All Kurds: Kurds in its borders, Kurds in Syria, Kurds in Iraq and Kurds in Germany. Kurds from babies to old women and men.

    In KRG (Irak) the Turks have undertaken an invasion of the border area. They empty the villages of their inhabitants by forced migration. They cut down the forests, 400 tons of logs per day. Just the continuation of what they have done in Turkish Kurdistan since 1992 with 4000 villages destroyed.

    In the Kurdish areas they controlled in Syria, they proceed to a methodical ethnic cleansing with turkmen. These areas are subjected to turkification (currency, post offices, schools etc…).
    The only positive aspect: bashibazouks kill each other quite often with heavy weapons. For sharing of the booty is difficult.

    Not to mention the aggressions against Greece in the Aegean Sea and not to forget the game of bashibazouks in Libya and perhaps in Kashmir and Afghanistan in the future. The Sultan of Ankara talks too much. He has to outdo himself in order to hold on to his office.

    The Turks are blackmailing NATO and Europe which subsidizes them to keep their refugees. The Turks are blackmailing Russia, too.

    The expulsion of Erdogan’s forces from Syrian soil will be a tough job.
    One positive point: the economy is in free fall.

    bashibazouks: auxiliary troop of undisciplined killers. Very low value fighters. Pay: from 2000$ in Armenia, a promise not kept, to 1000$ in Syria, a huge sum for this country.

    • Ishmael Zechariah says:

      re: Turkey is the problem”

      d74,
      Really? We consider izzies, ziocons , those who are willing to follow these blindly for promises of “independence”, and those who supported and trained these “tools” knowing that they will be betrayed sooner or later, as the real problem.
      tayyip was being lauded by ziocon megaphones as THE paragon of democracy just a decade+ ago; he was “defanging” TSK, fixing the economy, “opening” to the kurds… the idiot thought he was an economic genius and the co-leader of the “Great Middle East Project”! Then he went off the reservation, or it looks like he did. I am not sure. The game is too deep to read.
      If history is any guide the Turks will clean up their own house one way or the other. OTOH, if, ever, the US has to pull out of Syria, their collaborators should consider pulling out with them. No amount of “treaties” will make the locals forget their treachery. Fielding battalions of “democratic women warriors” will not change the outcome any better than it did in Afrin. Feel free to join them. Mayhap you will change the outcome and you will get a medal.
      Ishmael Zechariah

      • LeaNder says:

        You seem a bit more touchy than usually, IZ, Ishmeael, if I may?

        re: Turkey is the problem”

        That’s no doubt an hyper-, oversimplification considering that present Syria matters have a long history going back to 2003 events. … At least from within my limited horizon. …

        I do wonder about Turkey – Syria relations post Öcelan’s arrest. No chance vs red carpets in Washington? Or? Old grievances don’t go away that easily?

        What’s your take on the larger Sedat Peker business and his dear friend Tayyip?

        • Ishmael Zechariah says:

          LeaNder ,
          1-The Peker-tayyip exchange is quite amusing. No honor among thieves. I had posted about that here in an OT post-script. Seems like an operation to weaken and eventually bring down tayyip. Might work in the long term.
          2-Had d74 written “Turkey is A problem” I would not have bothered to comment. Turkey under the management of “tayyip-the-klept”, the golden boy of the “democratic west” 15 years ago, is a problem, both for her neighbours and for the Turks. He is growing senile and running out of options, but he can still cause a lot of problems.
          3-I would not call our problems w/ “Syria” old. Syria, as constituted today, is not that old as we reckon time; dates only back to Sykes-Picot. Our real issue is with those who tried to impose said treaty. They are still trying, using local “tools” who never ever learn the meaning of BOHICA. It is hard not to be irritated. But I should resist the temptation. Sorry.
          IZ

          • LeaNder says:

            the golden boy of the “democratic west” 15 years ago,
            Well as Trump he had entertaining strains, not least when he clashed with Peres in Davos. 😉

            3, yes, I understand. Turkey was treated worse than Germany was in Versailles in Sevres. And she paid a heavy price in Gallipoli, Sykes-Picot, Sevres et al.

            A favorite prof of mine dwelled extensively on Gallipoli in one his lecture series on British literature.

            I had the Diplomatic Thaw in mind, it feels. Vague memorytrail on my mind.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syria%E2%80%93Turkey_relations#Diplomatic_thaw_2003%E2%80%932011

            Thanks, Ishmael.

  7. Leith says:

    I believe Agathocle got that map from the Syrian opposition group ETANA. Or perhaps he made the map for them. It is not quite correct though. There is a huge swath in the north running from Manbij area east to Qamishli that is under the cooperative control of both the SDF and elements of Assad’s Syrian Arab Army that is fighting incursions by Turks and their proxies. That area is shown in orange on this map: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_opposition#/media/File:Syrian_Civil_War_map.svg

    I’m a skeptic that Turkey intends an offensive against Latakia and northern Hama as claimed in that southfront article. No way Erdogan wants to piss off the Russians. If he did he would lose Putin’s seemingly tacit support regarding Turkish occupation of Afrin, el Bab, and the Tal Abyad – Ras alAyn axis.

    Stroul is or was Winep. Definitely not to be trusted. Winep is actively behind the moderate-jihadi-lobby in the pentagon you mentioned.

    Good on Joe for cancelling that oil contract.

    • TTG says:

      Yes, much better map. Russian patrols call along that contact line east of the Euphrates and regularly runs into US patrols in the area. They also are now using bases at Qamishli, Tabqa and Sarrin.

      Another reason to doubt an offensive in Idlib at this time is the deployment of key SAA formations further south and east, including the 25th Special Forces Division. BTW, it is definitely not a division. There are only about a 1,000 fighters. I figured as much. Every engagement photographed or filmed shows no more than platoon or slightly larger formations. HTS units don’t seem any larger. It appears to be a platoon leader’s war.

  8. Desayuno con diamantes says:

    A bit off-topic, but at the same time on-topic, as we talk about the ME…Breaking!

    Could these simultaneous events happen to be a coincidence just in the verge of Geneva US-Russia Summit, or is it someone trying to waste it by throwing wood to the fire ( and never better said in this case..)?

    https://www.rt.com/usa/526540-fire-chemical-plant-illinois-rockton/

    https://www.rt.com/russia/526515-russia-gas-station-explosion/

    Yesterday, I was watching a recent lecture by Sheikh Imran Hossein in Pakistan ( where he stays lately..) on eschatology of the end of times, and, in the questions time, at one of his responses, he asured it had been Lavrov who had stopped the Israeli war on Gaza…
    Just today I read at Voltairenet that Lebanon falls on Russia sphere of influence at Yalta II…
    Who would strongly disagree since it needs eternal war and US at odds with everybody ?

    https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2021/06/14/as-strategic-balance-inverts-israel-politically-and-militarily-paralysed/

    • TTG says:

      No, those industrial fires are not part of some vast conspiracy. Shit happens all the time without some sinister orchestration.

      As for the end of the recent Gaza unpleasantness, I’m sure Lavrov conveyed Moscow’s desires. However, the fighting didn’t end on Lavrov’s command. I do believe Netanyahu pretty much started it in a selfish attempt to retain leadership. It stopped because it wasn’t going as well as Netanyahu expected it to go and world opposition was fairly strong. Hamas may very well have had more rockets than Israel had Iron Dome missiles. Also, Hamas had no desire to fight to the last Palestinian.

  9. James says:

    The continued existence of Idlib provides one benefit to Russia – it gives them a laboratory in which they can try out and further develop their most up to date weapons and tactics, as well as train their people in pretty darn good training environment.

  10. Leith says:

    There is an interesting article today at FPRI – ’Assessing Biden’s Interim Syria Strategy’. Key takeaway is that the administration has openly told Moscow that it intends to stay in Syria. But recognizing the permanence of Assad they will not take any steps to engender regime change. Plus they will offer aid for access, possibly including aid delivered via Damascus instead of just to the northeast or via Bab al-Hawa.

    https://www.fpri.org/article/2021/06/assessing-the-biden-administrations-interim-syria-strategy/

    So what does that leave for horse trading tomorrow at Geneva with Putin? I suspect Putin would like the US to cancel the sanctions in the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act signed by Trump in 2019. But that was passed by bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate, so is outside of Biden’s ability to change unless he can convince Congress otherwise.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesar_Syria_Civilian_Protection_Act

    IMHO Joe should unofficially send Tulsi to Damascus. But that ain’t gonna happen either.

  11. aleksandar says:

    Thanks TTG
    Agree that there is in fact no ” ceasefire “.
    Attrition war is going on slowly but surely ” by sword and by fire ”
    Every week an HTS commander is killed, sometimes HVT, sometimes low level jihadist but it never stopped.
    What is interesting is that sometimes the job is done by SYR/RUS AF, sometimes by SYR SF.
    Look like the move freely behind the line to kill targets on opportunity, be it by landmine, direct fire or IED.
    HTS seems unable to maintain a high level of security in Idlib.
    I sometimes wonder what the tribes have in mind, maybe they give some help to SYR SF, maybe they just look the other way
    That’s for manpower.
    In the same way RUS/SYR AF never stopped to blow up ammunition storage, at the pace of one each month.
    I doubt any offensive can take place before desert from Palmyra to DEZ is ” cleaned”
    Problem tied to Al Tanf and what the US are doing there.

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