There are indications being reported that Russia is on the verge of launching a new offensive against Al Nusra in the Aleppo area. For the first time, Al Monitor reported on Friday, "converging signs indicate a relaunching of part of the Russian military operation — with renewed coordination with the Syrian army — ever since Moscow unilaterally decided to halt the Aleppo operation and impose a truce, even on Damascus, which reluctantly agreed to it." The problem, Al Monitor says, is that the truce "has allowed armed factions, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to reorganize and rearm their ranks and rebuild most of the infrastructure destroyed by the joint Russo-Syrian operations." Though they don’t say it, this would suggest a double cross on the part of the US and its allies against Russia stemming from the regime change mentality that the US and certainly the Turks and the Saudis never abandoned. The intervention this time around, Al Monitor says, will be directed at isolating Al Nusra from other armed groups. "It should be noted that isolating Jabhat al-Nusra from other armed factions, which is a difficult and complicated objective, would strike a painful blow to those factions since Jabhat al-Nusra’s military and ideological might form the backbone around which those factions unite."
The Al Monitor report goes on to indicate that over the past weeks, there has been a policy disagreement among Putin‛s top advisors. The military favors a re-engagement in Syria, while the Foreign Ministry believes that work towards a political settlement must continue. The problem for the diplomats, however, has been the continued US refusal to cooperate with Russia in the military sphere against ISIS either in Raqqa or northern Syria. "Moreover, neither during Russia’s military operation nor after the truce went into effect did the Americans stop re-arming militant factions," Al Monitor goes on. "It should be noted that this has been a clear Obama policy objective aimed to prevent embarking on any political solution as part of the United States' desire to isolate Russia." This, it seems to me, is the height of stupidity.
This brings us back to the signs of preparation of a new operation. The Russians this week disembarked ground forces and paratroopers in the port of Tartus to support more than 3,000 Russian volunteers dispatched to the region in the past few weeks, in a bid to revive coordination with the Syrian army. Furthermore, Syrian sources stated that the Russian joint command staff, which coordinated aerial support operations last fall, had returned to the Hmeimim military base in Latakia province to begin preparations for new operations.
Coherent with this report is one in Al Jazeera, which reports that the Russians have sent three messages over the past few days: First, the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front is to be blamed for violating and jeopardising the truce; Second, the US is to be blamed for failing to separate the "moderate opposition units they control from terrorists; and, third, the Turkey border is still being used to smuggle weapons to "terrorists" in Syria. "These statements are being made for a reason. Moscow may be justifying and paving the way for a large-scale offensive against al-Nusra," says AJ. They say until now the Syrian government, Iran and Russia did not share the same goals in Syria because the Russians wanted to tip the balance towards compromises at the negotiating table, but that didn‛t work. "Now, the Russian air force has clearly stepped up its engagement. Heavy air strikes in the northern province of Aleppo, particularly on and near the only road in and out of the rebel-controlled east of the city, has practically laid siege to the enclave."
The Russian offensive might even have begun already. Al Masdar reports, this morning, that "The Russian Air Force has illuminated the night-sky over the northern Aleppo countryside tonight with their relentless airstrikes over the jihadist controlled ‘Anadan Plains." An Al masdar correspondent in the area reported 15 air strikes over night.
The most that the Russians have said on this so far seems to be the remarks that Anatoly Antonov, the deputy defense minister, made in at the Shangri La Dialogue conference in Singapore. He said that the situation in Syria remains complicated and that "There is still much to be done to support the Syrian army…" The Russian reconciliation center at Russia's airbase in Latakia reported, yesterday, ten cease fire violations, most in Aleppo and attributed, as they have been over the past several days, to Jaish al Islam. Perhaps Al Nusra won‛t be the only target of a renewed Russian offensive. Al Nusra, they say, "has regrouped its forces, replenished armament and ammunitions storages, and launched active warfare having exploited opportunities of the ceasefire regime and locations of “moderate opposition” formations, which had been located in the same regions." "In the south-west from Aleppo, armed formations (more than 1,000 men) launched offensive on positions of the Syrian Armed Forces near Buraij and military training town located in al-Nasr sector. The attack has been performed from Ansari, which had been controlled by forces of 'moderate opposition.‛" The Russians report that more than 270 civilians were killed and hundreds more wounded by militant shelling.
Kurdish units on Aleppo province are also under attack. "Kurdish militia units left the defended positions in the neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsood in Aleppo and retreated as a result of intense artillery fire and non-stop attacks by the militants from Nusra Front and Ahrar ash-Sham terrorist groups on the positions of Kurdish militia and volunteers from local residents," a spokesman for the Russian center told Sputnik.
To the southeast, the Syrian army is pressing ahead with its offensive towards Raqqa. The Syrian army has reportedly liberated a new hilltop along the Salamiyah-Raqqa Highway this morning and is closing in on Arak, on the highway to Deir Ezzor.
The US backed SDF is also still on the offensive. SDF units are now reported to be 5-6 km from Manbij. "We made big progress and we are trying to ensure the safety of civilians before we begin our assault on the town," said Sharfan Darweesh, a spokesman for the Military Council for Manbij.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the signs are that, in contrats to the Russian work with the Syrian army, the Iraqi army isn’t up that’s expected of it from the US. In a lengthy report posted, on June 3, Reuters announced that the US effort to train a combat capable Iraqi army has failed. They attribute the failure, in part, to Iraqi reliance on Shiite militias and the continuance of the sectarian divide. While there have been some military successes " the presence of 4,000 American troops has failed to change the underlying Iraqi political dynamics that fuel the rise and growing power of sectarian militias." About the only success has been the Iraqi special forces—also known as the Counter Terroris Service–but they're in danger of wearing out after two years of continuous combat. The Iraqis, of course, deny that there's any problem, and they say that the Shiite militias are firmly under control, that is, that they're not under the sway of Tehran and the IRGC.
The New York Times followed the Reuters report with one of their own, reporting that “An exhausted and ill-equipped Iraqi Army faces daunting obstacles on the battlefield that will most likely delay for months a long-planned major offensive on the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, American and allied officials say.” The Times goes on to say that "The delay is expected despite American efforts to keep Iraq’s creaky war machine on track." The US military is increasingly running the support functions of the Iraqi army, particularly logistics, the movement of supplies, fuel, water, food, ammunition, from depots in Baghdad to Iraqi army units in the field, because, for whatever reasons, the Iraqi army is simply unable to make those functions work. US advisors are pushing the Iraqis to improve their equipment maintenance and are the lead in preparing detailed schedules for moving troops, training them, and delivering ammunition and equipment to the battlefield. “Extending the reach of the Iraqi security forces also requires logistics planning,” General MacFarland, the US military commander in Iraq, said. “We are doing a great deal of that for the Iraqis because we recognize that Rome wasn’t built in a day.”