Syria’s probable future


(editorial comment)

It seems to me that what is coming is a de facto partition of Syria.   I doubt if there is an actual understanding or agreement on the subject but the actions of the players indicate that they comprehend what the outcome will be if present trends and actions continue.

IMO the SAG should have re-captured Idlib Province in the period immediately following their victory at Aleppo.  The jihadist enemy was then on the run, disorganized and demoralized by defeat.  The correlation of forces was very much in the government's favor. This did not happen.

Instead the SAG went east from Aleppo City to secure water and electric energy supplies for the re-construction of Aleppo.  Success led to further and further exploitation to the east and the opportunity was lost to re-take the province.  Whether or not the government still has the means or the will, or enough Russian support to re-capture the province is debatable.  The Turks are busy conquering the Afrin district.  Can anyone seriously doubt that they will succeed in the end?  When that happens we will see an effective barrier against government control established farther south by Turkish forces closing up on their "observation posts" in Idlib Province.  These OPs are IMO positioned to impede the SAA.

On the line of the Euphrates River a de facto frontier has already emerged between government control to the south and US/SDF to the north and east of the stream.  Evidently the US intends to discourage a SAG/SDF reconciliation in the hope of maintaining  the dream of eventual destruction of the Damascus government.  The enclave around al-Tanf on the Jordanian border is yet further indication of American desire to impeded and embarrass SAG efforts to re-consolidate power.  I think the US will cling to that enclave "until the last dog dies."  (American modismo).  What will be the administrative center of the US protectorate on the other side of the Euphrates?  Will it be the former IS capital in the damaged city of Raqqa?  Will the denizens of that be-deviled place see a proliferation of KFC and McDonald's.  If so, will the franchisees be Chinese?  The US is leaving Iraq, diverting forces to the unwinnable war in Afghanistan.  Iraqi politics will encourage that departure.  When that happens the US will be in possession of a landlocked territory in eastern Syria that is inhabited by people who don't like us very much even if necessity has made them our allies.

The SAG has massed a significant percentage of its mobile forces to capture the jihadi stronghold of East Ghouta.  The preparatory fires have naturally excited the jihadis who hold the area and their media allies in the US and Europe.  I expect that this size force will do an adequate job of jihadi cleansing in the near future and then move on to browner pastures.  With the prospect of having to govern a rump Syria under Russian, Iranian and Chinese tutelage, the SAG will probably move to clean up the several rebel held pockets aligned north to south from the Jordanian border to north of Hama City.

Will the Syrian government acknowledge the loss of its territories?  They will not.  pl

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41 Responses to Syria’s probable future

  1. b says:

    I doubt that the U.S. will be able to cling to the north-east. The Arabs there are already infuriated about the Kurds and their protectors.
    Balanche, who just returned from a three-week research trip to northern Syria, told Al-Monitor in a wide-ranging interview, “America’s current policies … will lead to America’s defeat in Syria. At some point they will be forced to pull out because … US soldiers will get blown up.” Balanche said he had reached this conclusion after talking to scores of Arabs living under effective Kurdish control in the mainly Arab towns of Raqqa, Tell Abyad and Manbij.
    A story in today’s NYT is supposed to show that the YPG is progressive and feminist. But what it describes as YPG success in Manbij is a push by force of anarcho-marxist and “liberal” values onto a conservative Sunni landscape. It’s not going to end well.
    Turkey will likewise have trouble holding onto the land it captures. It is using the worst goons one can find as front troops. They plunder, rape and kill for nothing without remorse. Resistance to them will build and express itself.
    Russia and Syria currently allow Turkish bombing of Afrin. They will continue to do so until the Kurds come to their senses and submit to Damascus. Then the Turkish air superiority will end and without that its troops will be in trouble.
    Last week Russia upped its fighter contingent in Syria by 12 machines and also added another AWACS type. It is at every turn emphasizing Syrian unity and sovereignty over its land. It will not stop its support and neither will Iran.

  2. Barbara Ann says:

    I see TF were en marche today in the eastern extremity of E. Ghouta. Looks like the aim, as so often, is to nibble a small chunk off. What tenacious mice they are.
    The concept of a US fast food franchise in Raqqa is amusing. That would be the fasted food you’d ever want to purchase. Wonder if they’d have a drive thru?

  3. Seamus Padraig says:

    “When that happens the US will be in possession of a landlocked territory in eastern Syria that is inhabited by people who don’t like us very much even if necessity has made them our allies.”
    True. And Washington can also kiss Iraq and Turkey good-bye, as neither country will appreciate us stoking the flames of Kurdish secessionism in their backyard.

  4. Jony Kanuck says:

    I am not going to be surprised when I hear of roadside bombs going off east of the Euphrates. The Syrian govt has probably been planning this for a while. Politically this has a few effects to recommend it; the US occupation will become more costly, painfully. The Kurds & US forces will have to react, thus pissing off the Arab population. Improvised explosive devices; Oh it’s probably Islamic State remnants. I think the Russians will be behind this now too; I make Russian nationals casualties in the air attack on the Syrian probe(?) as five killed (names are out) & 11 wounded admitted to Moscow & St Petersburg hospitals (my Russian friends). The Presidential election in Russia is next month, so there needs to be plausible deniability.
    I have not got the story straight about the air attack on the Syrian column; the Syrians & Russians are not really saying anything. Bernard’s (Moon of Alabama) analysis is probably the most likely at this time: Wagner gets 25% of the proceeds from any oilfield liberated. I looked at pictures of the many funerals on the Syrian side after that incident. Syrians, particularly the ISIS Hunters, blame the Kurds for enabling the attack. More ethnic hatred stored up. When will Syria find peace?

  5. different clue says:

    (reply to comment 1)
    If/when the Sunni Arab resistance you predict for the Kurd-controlled zone and the Turk-controlled zone arises, it will be a Cannibal Liver Eating Jihadi resistance. Probably an al qaeda type resistance.
    The DC FedRegime would be well pleased with that, though it would never say so. The DC FedRegime would view that as an opportunity to help the CLEJ forces to establish 2 little jihadi emirates. The reason the DC FedRegime would want to help that happen would be an eventual hope of toppling Assad’s successors sooner or later and finally someday turning Syria into a Jihadi Emirate.
    One hopes that in the meantime, Russia/Iran/China/etc. fund up, rebuild, etc. the SAR zone of control to make it unconquerable and to give it its own fighting chance of retaking the Kurdish and Turkish zones someday maybe. One also hopes that the SARgov practices “extreme vetting” when deciding which refugees to allow back into its own zone of control. CLEJ sympathisers should never ever be allowed to return to SAR territory. Let them all go to the Kurdish and Turkish zones of control so they can all be kept on two concentrated places in case something can be done about them at some future time.

  6. Peter AU says:

    The Idlib civilian population or what remain of them seem generally hostile to the Syrian government. If Syrian forces had retaken that territory early on, either the civilian population would have to be pushed back along with the jihadi’s or many troops tied up controlling the hostile population. As time goes by, many seem to turn away from the jihadists and back towards the Syrian government.

  7. ISL says:

    Dear Colonel,
    I would argue that there has been a defacto partition of Syria for many years now; however, it is coalescing to four areas (There is an Israeli rebel controlled area, too), Your post raises the important question, will it stand?
    I think the US partition will not stand because it will be costly, and I do not think President Trump will pay the price (President Hillary would have).
    Just recently, Trump contradicted the meme by Tillerson and generals that the US is in Syria to stay until the SAG falls or the cows come home. I predict once the issues you raise become reality (landlocked territory surrounded by hostile locals), at some point Trump will inform the deep strategic, neocon thinkers around him “Out!” – our president clearly has no strategic instincts, and when his out will not be a request.
    Meanwhile, the slowness of the Turkish progress suggests the purge did significant harm to their military capabilities.. I guess the question is would Turkey be willing to grind on in Northern Syria? If the grind is strong enough (certainly encouraged by Syria), then Kurds in Turkey will look towards seizing the opportunity, and then Turkey would have to pull back. IMO, Turkey can either support Idlib as an uncontrollable terrorist territory, or try (emphasis on try) to control the border Kurdish lands, but if they try both then they likely will fail at both.

  8. Barbara Ann says:

    I am not so sure the Afrin Kurds coming to their senses will save them now. Turkey has made it clear by attacking SAG forces entering Afrin that it considers them hostile. Erdogan wants his Lebensraum so Turks can “go everywhere our forefathers went on horse-back”.
    Russia seems to be faced with the choice of risking outright war with Turkey (& maybe US) if it goes as far as shooting TAF planes down, or accepting the loss of Afrin & probably Idlib to bring an end to its involvement in the war. Purely in terms of its strategic assets in Syria why would the latter option be unacceptable to it? It is 4 weeks to the Russian Presidential elections, by that time there may not be much left of Afrin to save.

  9. catherine says:

    The US might not inhabit anything in Syria.
    “We’re there for one reason: to get ISIS and get rid of ISIS, and to go home,” Trump said on Friday, during a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the White House. “We’re not there for any other reason and we’ve largely accomplished our goal.”
    That was this week, next week might be different.

  10. Yeah, Right says:

    “The Turks are busy conquering the Afrin district. Can anyone seriously doubt that they will succeed in the end?”
    If the YPD insists on fighting to the bitter end then, yes, that is the assured outcome.
    But if the Kurds in Afrin bend the knee towards Damascus in a humiliating and without-any-strings fashion then I think that Erdogan will proclaim that he has what he wants and then turn around and go home.
    After all, his aim is to extinguish Kurdish independence of action. I don’t think that he much cares about the details of how those aspirations are extinguished, just that they are.
    An end-result where the Kurds in Afrin become supplicants to the Syrian central government should satisfy Erdogan, and he will be able to claim (rightly) that it was his actions that caused the Kurds to humiliate themselves in this manner.
    Don’t get me wrong: it’s not enough that the YPG allow the Syrian Arab Army to fight alongside them; they have to hand their weapons over to the SAA and step aside (or, more likely, they have to agree to don SAA uniforms and take orders from SAA commanders).
    Because I suspect that Russia is busy telling the YPG that they really, really, really need to roll over and show the belly to Assad.
    And that the Russians have already asked Erdogan if this will satisfy him, and he has said “Yes”.

  11. turcopolier says:

    Yeah, right
    I prefer to make my judgments on the basis of what people do rather than what they might be doing. Erdogan has invaded Afrin. pl

  12. outthere says:

    Assad seeks to regain every inch of Syria, he has said so many times. But I think Putin has been careful NOT to say that is Russia’s aim. Some commentators here seem to imply to the contrary. I would like to see citations in support of this view as I doubt they exist.

  13. pl,
    The SAG has been enduring a de facto partition of Syria for years. I think it will take another several years for most, if not all, Syrian territory to once again come under SAG control. The Idlib area is seeing a new round of jihadi on jihadi violence. The more of this, the better. That may have been part of the SAG plan all along. The game with the Turks, FSA and Kurds is high risk. I do think the Kurds will eventually turn back to Damascus, but I don’t know if the Turks will ever leave voluntarily. I do think we’re playing a losing hand. Our presence there will only please Tel Aviv.

  14. EEngineer says:

    Rather than permanent partition, could this just be the phase where the frog (Kurds) is slowly boiled? The Turks seem to be making slow work of Afrin. Perhaps this is a sign that the point isn’t capturing of territory per se, but to just keep the heat on with an economy of force. After all, isn’t the Turkish army big enough to swarm in and take the place easily? That’s my tell that everyone seems to be playing for time. Once the Kurds throw in the towel, it’s over. The real question is: just how stubborn are they? My guess: very…
    Could Trump’s recent declaration that the US is going to leave once ISIS is defeated setting the stage to declare victory and pull out? If the Kurds make a deal with Assad that would leave the US without even a fig leaf of legitimacy to be in Syria anymore.

  15. turcopolier says:

    The Turkish Army has not fought anyone since Korea. That is all the explanation you need as to why this is hard going for them. pl

  16. turcopolier says:

    TTG et al
    You don’t understand what I mean. IMO the emerging partition is likely to last a long time. Syria is only 80 years old as a state and a prolonged de facto partition as opposed to wartime occupation can easily become more or less permanent as was the case with Turkey’s acquisition of Hatay. pl

  17. Yeah, Right says:

    I certainly don’t dispute that Turkey is invading Afrin. And I agree with you that if things continue to stand as they are now then that invasion will continue until all of Afrin has been overrun.
    But to simply extrapolate from what has happened into the future suggests that circumstances won’t change or – if they do – that Erdogan will continue on like some wind-up automaton.
    If the Kurds of Afrin throw themselves on the mercy of the Syrian government in Damascus then Kurdish autonomy is squashed in that enclave. And, when it is all said and done, isn’t that what Erdogan really wants?
    If the Kurds are too stupid or too proud to play that card then, yeah, sure, you and I both agree that they will be ground into the dirt.
    But if they do supplicate to Assad then the situation changes.
    You (I assume) believe that in that circumstance Erdogan will continue to grind on with this invasion regardless.
    I believe he will beat his chest and then go home.
    One of us will be wrong, and one of us will be right.

  18. John_Frank says:

    As widely reported in the media, on Saturday, the UN Security Council, by a vote of 15 – 0, passed a resolution calling for an immediate 30 day ceasefire in Syria between the various warring parties. has posted a good read out on what transpired at the meeting, along with the text of the resolution as passed.
    Security Council Demands 30-day Cessation of Hostilities in Syria to Enable Humanitarian Aid Delivery, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2401 (2018)
    People can also watch a video of the meeting as posted on the UN website:
    Security Council: The situation in the Middle East (Syria) (8188th meeting)
    However, the resolution is arguably already a dead letter, as Turkey has said it will not cease with “Operation Olive Branch.”
    As best as I understand it, Turkey claims that as the forces it is fighting in Afrin canton are terrorists, it can ignore the call for a cease fire.
    However, the language in the resolution is very specific. The first two paragraphs of the body of the resolution reads:
    “1. Demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay, and engage immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation of this demand by all parties, for a durable humanitarian pause for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria, to enable the safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services and medical evacuations of the critically sick and wounded, in accordance with applicable international law;
    2. Affirms that the cessation of hostilities shall not apply to military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council;”
    The resolution applies to all of Syria. Afrin Canton is in Syria.
    Despite claims by the Turkish Government, ISIS forces are not fighting in Afrin Canton on the side of the People’s Protection Units (YPG); and the Popular Mobilization Unites (or the Syrian National Defense Forces – SNDF) which have recently joined the fighting on the side of the YPG.
    (There is some evidence to suggest fighters aligned with either ISIS, Al Qaeda, Al Nusrah Front or other groups designated as terrorist organizations by the UN Security Council are fighting on the side of the Turkish Government under the Free Syrian Army banner, but that is the subject of a separate discussion.)
    Furthermore, while Turkey claims the YPG is a terrorist organization, due to an association with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), that is irrelevant, as neither the YPG nor the PKK have not been designated as a terrorist group by the UN Security Council.
    For a complete list of all individuals, entities and groups on the UN SC sanctions list, including those designated as terrorists:
    Consolidated United Nations Security Council Sanctions List
    As such, how can Turkey avail itself of the exception found in paragraph 2 of the resolution?
    So, the question becomes, what if anything will the UN Security Council do about Turkey’s failure to comply?
    Even if Turkey could establish on balance that it has the right to continue with its invasion, called Operation Olive Branch under the exception created in paragraph 2, or on some other justifiable basis, serious questions have been raised about how it is conducting the military operation.
    In that regard, after passage of the SC resolution, the spokesman for the Secretary General issued the following statement:
    Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Syria
    “The Secretary-General welcomes the Security Council’s adoption of a resolution demanding a cessation of hostilities throughout Syria for at least 30 days. The Secretary-General stresses his expectation that the resolution will be immediately implemented and sustained, particularly to ensure the immediate, safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services, the evacuation of the critically sick and wounded and the alleviation of the suffering of the Syrian people. The UN stands ready to do its part.
    The Secretary-General reminds all parties of their absolute obligation under international humanitarian and human rights law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure at all times. Similarly, efforts to combat terrorism do not supersede these obligations.”
    Presuming that the Secretary-General is correct, the Turkish military and their allied militia forces have been studiously and deliberately ignoring the obligation to “protect civilians and civilian infrastructure at all times” in the conduct of the misnamed “Operation Olive Branch.”
    All that written, is the UN Security Council prepared to hold Turkey to account?
    Alternatively, is the Russian military prepared to act and shut down Turkish access to the air space over Afrin Canton, while sending in military observers to monitor compliance with a cease fire?
    Yes, in theory, the Syrian Government could use Syrian Arab Army anti-aircraft defenses to deny the Turkish Air Force access to the air space over Afrin Canton, while sending in ground units of the Syrian Arab Army to bolster the YPG defenses, so causing the Turkish Army to cease hostilities, but I am of the view that the Syrian Government and more importantly the Syrian Arab Army does not do anything without the consent and approval of the Russians or the Iranians as applicable.
    So, the real question is why is Russia willing to allow Turkey to continue on with “Operation Olive Branch?”
    Attempt to weaken US influence among the groups making up the Syrian Democratic Forces?
    Facilitate the sale of two s-400 anti-aircraft missile systems to Turkey, despite the State Department pointing out the potential ramifications under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act?
    Avoid any ‘delays’ with the completion of the TurkStream project (, which will allow Turkey to become a hub for the supply of Russian natural gas to south and south-east Europe?
    Whatever the reason, as long as the Russians are prepared to allow the Turks to continue on with their invasion, it is likely the Turkish military, aided by the militias aligned with Turkey, will ultimately, after a very bloody and brutal fight, achieve the objective of taking control of Afrin Canton and moving 500,000 Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey into the conquered territory.
    P.S. While events in Ghoutta were the raison d’être for the action taken by the UN Security Council, I reserve comment as to whether Syria, Iran and Russia, in continuing on with hostilities against the forces they are forcing in that Damascus suburb, are violating the cease fire resolution.
    I note in passing the following tweet posted Sunday afternoon by Liz Sly, Washington Post Post Beirut bureau chief covering Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and beyond, with a link to her report. The tweet reads “The new Syria ceasefire voted on by the U.N. on Saturday is a bust already. New air strikes, a ground incursion and a chlorine attack in Ghouta today. So much for international diplomacy.”
    The headline to her linked report is Violence rages unabated in Ghouta as Syria defies U.N. cease-fire resolution
    The Syrian Arab Army would not be continuing with the effort to retake Ghouta without the backing of Russian and Iran. Being unfamiliar with the actual makeup of the forces that the Syrian Arab Army is seeking to defeat, and whether they do or do not fall within the scope of paragraph 2 of the cease fire resolution, I can not assess whether Ms. Sly is wrong.
    I can anticipate what the Russians will say, based on the remarks of the Russian Ambassador to the UN after the vote on the ceasefire resolution, but I do not know whether his stated assessment of the makeup of the forces being faced is accurate or not.
    Suffice it to say, the Syrian Arab Army would not be proceeding with hostilities in Ghouta, without the full backing and support of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation.
    So expect more wrangling at the UN Security Council while the fighting continues.
    P.P.S. Why have I spent so much time on this point? While the Russians have a certain level of control over the Syrian Government, they have been unable to bring Bashar al-Assad and his retinue to the negotiating table at Geneva. So, the hostilities will continue and unless the situation changes, out of the ashes of what was once the Syrian Arab Republic, at least two new States will likely emerge in its place.
    On this whole matter, people may find the following talk given by Dr. Jonathan Spyer at an event held on February 7 in London, UK at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in conjunction with Fathom, the Journal of the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (BICOM), of interest.
    The blurb for the event as posted on the RUSI website:
    Days of the Fall: A Reporter’s Journey in the Syria and Iraq Wars
    The transcript of Dr. Spyer’s remarks, along with the Q & A, as posted on the Fathom website:
    The space between the Iraq-Iran border and the Mediterranean Sea today constitutes a single arena of conflict, by Jonathan Spyer
    P.P.P.S. It is very unfortunate that Congress passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act as this law has, as President Trump predicted at the time, driven North Korea, Iran and Russia closer together, while making co-operation between Russia and the United States even more difficult.

  19. LondonBob says:

    Turkey has an enormous current account deficit, their companies are heavily indebted, much of it in foreign currencies. They are reliant on Russian and Iranian gas. Erdogan would be a problem best handled in concert with the Russians, but I think Erdogan is smart enough to realise the US elites are more interested in their contrived new cold war. Hopefully the rumours are true and McMaster is off, but then I am not hopeful his replacement will be up to much either.
    I think the Kurds will come to their senses sooner rather than later. I think you are right that the Turkish military is not up to much, and someone needs to call Erdogan’s bluff.

  20. John_Frank says:

    First Update to my earlier post:
    President Macron had a telephone call with President Erdogan this morning. After, the call, according to a statement released by Élysée Palace as reported by Reuters:
    France’s Macron tells Erdogan Syria truce also applies to Afrin
    “PARIS, Feb 26 (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday told his Turkish counterpart that a U.N. call at the weekend for a ceasefire across Syria also applied to Syria’s Afrin region.
    Turkey deployed police special forces to the northwestern Syrian region of Afrin on Monday for a “new battle” in its five-week campaign against the Kurdish YPG militia.
    Macron also told Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call that it was imperative that the cease-fire be fully respected and added that France’s monitoring of humanitarian access and chemical weapons is “total and permanent,” Macron’s office said in a statement.” (Reporting by Ingrid Melander Editing by Richard Lough)
    How will the Turks respond? Will the Turks ignore the French, or will they forthwith cease hostilities and honor the call for a ceasefire?
    My bet? Unless and until the Russians inform the Turks that the gig is up, the Turks will thumb their nose at the French and continue on with “Operation Olive Branch.”
    In response, will the French, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council raise Turkey’s non-compliance and if so, will anything happen, or will Russia protect Turkey? Time will tell.

  21. turcopolier says:

    Yeah, Right
    You are arguing with me for the sake of argument. In my post I wrote something like “if present trends continue.” In other words if conditions change seriously my projected scenario may not be played out in full. But, I know the Turks well, and I can see what Erdogan is, and it is clear to me what he intends tp do if he can get away with it. pl

  22. John_Frank says:

    Second Update to my earlier post:
    It is being reported by Syria Online @SyriaOnline based on a retweet of a claim by Kevork Almassian @KevorkAlmassian (Syria Online and Kevork Almassian are both supportive of the Syrian Government led by Bashir al-Assad) that Russian Foreign Minister Lavarov is saying that as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam are cooperating with the Al-Nusra Front in Eastern Ghouta, therefore the cessation of hostilities does not apply to them.
    Presuming this claim of what the Russian Foreign Minister is saying as justification for the continuation of hostilities in Eastern Ghoutta is correct, a number of questions:
    Has not Al-Nusra Front ceased to exist in Syria? Did not Al-Nusra Front, after renaming itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, claim to have broken all ties with Al Qaeda in July, 2016? Is not Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, sometimes called HTS the successor organization, being a merger of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham with three other smaller groups? How do you co-operate with Al Nusra Front, when that group no longer exists?
    Here is the entry for Al-Nusra Front on the consolidated UN Security Council sanctions list –
    جبهة النصرة لأهل الشام :(script original (Name A.k.a.: a) النصرة جبهة) the Victory Front; Jabhat al-Nusrah; Jabhet al-Nusra; Al-Nusrah Front; Al-Nusra Front) b) جبهة
    الشام فتح) Jabhat Fath al Sham; Jabhat Fath al-Sham; Jabhat Fatah al-Sham; Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham; Fatah al-Sham Front; Fateh al-Sham Front) c) Conquest of the Levant Front d) The Front for the Liberation of al Sham e) Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant f) Front for the Liberation of the Levant g) Front for the Conquest of Syria
    h) المجاهدين أنصار شبكة) Ansar al-Mujahideen Network – sub-unit name) i) الجهاد ساحات في الشام مجاهدو) Levantine Mujahideen on the Battlefields of Jihad – sub-unit name) F.k.a.: na Address: a) Syrian Arab Republic (Operates in) b) Iraq (Support network) Listed on: 14 May 2014 ( amended on 7 Jun. 2017 ) Other information: Associated with Al-Qaida (QDe.004). Brought Syrian and foreign Al-Qaida in Iraq (QDe.115) and Asbat al-Ansar (QDe.007) fighters, along with other foreign Al-Qaida operatives, to join local elements in Syrian Arab Republic to carry out terrorist and guerrilla operations there. Previously associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),
    listed as Al-Qaida in Iraq (QDe.115), and its leader Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai (QDi.299) but separated from that group in 2013. In Jul. 2016, Abu Mohammed Al-Jawlani (QDi.317), the leader of Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, announced the group had changed its name to Jabhat Fath al-Sham and was no
    longer affiliated with any external entity. Despite the announcement and attempts to distinguish itself from Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, the group remains aligned with Al-Qaida and continues to carry out terrorist operations under this new name. Previously listed between 30 May 2013 and 13 May 2014 as an aka of Al-Qaida in Iraq (QDe.115) INTERPOL-UN Security Council Special Notice web link: click here”
    Does the UN Security Council designation and sanctions committee need to update its listing, given that Al Nusrah Front first rebranded itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, after claiming to have broken with Al Qaeda, and then merged with 3 other smaller groups, emerging under the name Hayat Tahrir al-Sham?
    The language in paragraph 2 of the body of the ceasefire resolution is important:
    “2. Affirms that the cessation of hostilities shall not apply to military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council;”
    So the question becomes are Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam either designated as associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, or designated as a terrorist group in their own right by the Security Council? If not, the cessation of hostilities would apply to those two groups, irrespective of claims by the Russians that they are co-operating with a designated terrorist entity, especially as that entity no longer exists, being supplanted by a successor organization that has yet to be listed.
    A search of the consolidated UN Security Council sanctions list does not show either of these two groups being designated as associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, or designated as terrorist groups.
    As such, IMHO, based on the existing list of UN SC designated and sanctioned entities, the obligation to cease hostilities does apply to Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam. Could be wrong, but that is my reading of the matter.
    Needless to say the people fighting on the ground do not care much for these niceties, it having been made clear by the spokesperson for the SAA Tiger Force that they are proceeding with their operation in Ghoutta, irrespective of what the UN Security Council may or may not have to say.
    Meanwhile, earlier this morning, the following tweet was posted to the account of the UN Secretary General:
    @antonioguterres Security Council resolutions are only meaningful if implemented. Eastern Ghouta cannot wait. High time to end this hell on earth.
    So, the Secretary General’s view is straight forward. The Syrian Arab Army and allied forces, including the Russian Air Force must cease hostilities in Eastern Ghouta.

  23. ISL says:

    Dear Colonel,
    Could not Syria simply treat east Syria as the Turks treat east Turkey? Its population is quite small, and concentrated by water (or the lack of water) resources? I.e., sustain a low grade guerilla war for a decade-ish until it tamps down, while making deals with some of the tribes to switch loyalty? Given the politics of US casualties, I cant see the US staying, particularly given that our friends would also be happy to cut our throats.
    Your assessment that Idlib is another question as it can be kept permanently out of the Syria’s control by shifting weapons and jihadis across the Turkish border ad infinitum. Turkey will never allow the same to Syrian Kurds, nor Iraq.

  24. turcopolier says:

    I am somewhat frustrated by the inability of some to understand that what I am talking about is an extended period of de facto partition while various processes work out. In re Afrin and Idlib Province I think it will take majrt power action (Russia and Iran) to get the regular Turkish armed forces and jendarma out of there. pl

  25. JohnsonR says:

    As you suggest, the disagreement is based upon differing assessments of what Turkish objectives in Syria are. You think their only important goal is suppressing Kurdish independence, and that having achieved that they will go home.
    You might be right, but personally, I’m with the gaffer here on this one. Erdogan has made enough noise about Assad to make it difficult for him to be in cooperation with him at all, and certainly gives the impression of having irredentist goals. Taking long term control of a slice of northern Syria seems like it would be a winning proposition for Erdogan. Certainly initial Turkish responses to so far limited Syrian moves in Afrin have the whiff of burned bridges about them, as far as both rhetoric and actual attacks are concerned.
    Imo, Turkey will only leave Afrin if it is made to do so, and Syria alone probably cannot do that. But we shall see.

  26. Wunduk says:

    The Kurdish areas maintained and still maintain Arabic-speaking bureaucracies, land registers, etc. While to some starry-eyed Westerners the story is told differently, on the ground the Syrian administrative tradition continues. I don’t see this as a partition as long as the cadastre is still a unified system.
    Could this in any way be compared to the Syrian involvement in Lebanon? I happened to be there when the Syrians had just crushed Michel Aoun, and I think this intervention was borne out of a Syrian desire to react to events, and led to the Syrian occupation as a result of backing their local clients, the desire to profit from the relative wealth of Lebanon. thanks to the Kuwait war, the opportunity was there, too.
    With the added advantage that it is the Syrian indigenous structures that dominate life in East Syria. And I see no attempts to change this.
    The difference to what we see now is that the Syrians in Lebanon respected the internal structures, and tried simply to make them work in their favor. The structures of Idlib (international and Islamist NGOs under the umbrella of an unstable coalition of AQ- and IS-inspired, enabled and directed groups) is different. Building went on without any regard for the cadastre, and I don’t know if anyone has been kept around to run the whole thing. So it is chaos. Seems the Turks have something like that in mind for the are they now conquer in Afrin, too.
    it will be good for Erdogan to be able to point out that he too, like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, added territory in this case enlarged hinterland of Antioch (Hatay). With this he can fend off criticism by the nationalist military sympathizers. The violence is good for him, too, as everyone is now a patriot.

  27. turcopolier says:

    “Cadastre?” as in cadastral survey? Why do you find this so important? pl

  28. John_Frank says:

    Unfortunately, no link is provided to support the quote.
    In any event, I already noted how HTS came into being. Yes, people can decry the name change as being mere propaganda, while saying that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham or Tahrir al-Sham is simply another name for Al Nusrah Front and Al Qaeda.
    However, the UN Security Council select committee that maintains the list of designated terror organizations and the sanctions list, have not added Hayat Tahrir al-Sham or Tahrir al-Sham to the list of groups affiliated with Al Nusrah Front or Al Qaeda and therefore a designated terrorist group subject to sanctions nor has the applicable select committee designated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham or Tahrir al-Sham as a terrorist group in its own right.
    Furthermore, there is no indication that the applicable UN Security Council select committee has concluded that Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam is affiliated with Al Nusrah Front and so designated terrorist organizations and therefore subject to sanctions.
    That is important given the very express wording found in paragraph 2 of the ceasefire resolution as referenced above. Keep in mind the resolution text was the subject of significant negotiations by the member states of the UN Security Council.
    So, until either the applicable select committees make the needed designations, or the UN Security Council instructs the committees to do so, as it stands, presuming that the Russians are claiming they are entitled to continue hostilities against Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam because of an alleged affiliation with Al Nusrah Front, they have a problem.

  29. divadab says:

    @turcopolier – re: cadastre – this is the inventory of private landholdings – and the record of ownership and liens, mortgages, etc. The Domesday book was a summary of all cadastres in the newly-conquered Norman England, a historical example. If you accept that private property is the fundament of our system of law and economy, the cadastre is its holy writ. My Dad said that if you know the cadastre of a place you know its history and its structure. And clear title to land is the essential element of a cadastral system. If that is lost or destroyed (or never existed in the first place), you have chaos.
    Consider the problems of the original SPanish land grant owners in CA, TX, AZ, UT – they had to spend a great deal of time and money to enforce their ownership under the new common law legal structures of the US of A, which for various (mostly venal) reasons did not recognize the SPanish cadastral arrangements. I know of a family for whom it took two generations to restore their ownership of their SPanish land grant territories. Worth fighting for as black gold underlay it.

  30. Wunduk says:

    The cadastral survey is next to security the most basic government service. As the Palestinians had to find out to their loss, sharia-conform descriptions of land holdings were worthless (unless recorded in the Ottoman dafatir). The SAG’s most appealing offer to its people is to guarantee ownership of the prime resource for economic activity. As long as this is being handled by the Government, people will continue to back it and the eventual re-establishment of authority will occur. Take it away, and the land is up for grabs. What happened in Idlib seems to have been an extreme loosening of building codes, immovable property rights in general (same in the ISIL-held areas), and I believe this aimed at destroying the attachment to Syria on the ground. I am not aware of new system replacing the Syrian cadastral survey yet, but for me this would be an indicator as to the long-term attachment of the area. The Kurds maintaining the Syrian cadastral system (in Arabic by the way) is for me an indicator that they have opted to stay for the long term within the Syrian state.
    This is not the only indicator, but I think a valid one. If Turkey is preparing right now for a major land grab, I would expect to see some sort of management of immovable property to be introduced in the land under their control and take it out of the Syrian system.

  31. turcopolier says:

    You are a professor of Oriental Studies at Freiburg? As I recall the Ottoman cadastral survey classified land into five categories before registering it in the dafatir (Registers – This is a world I have not seen for a long time). One of these was un-owned land and the Zionist pioneers took advantage of that by acquiring such lands. Am I correct in “remembering” this? pl

  32. Anna says:

    Israel does want the US (NATO) to continue pulling chestnuts from the fire for Israel, even if this “pulling” results in the ongoing slaughter (already counting the millions of human beings) and in migration of war refugees from ME and economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe. The fruit of the US/NATO “humanitarian” interventions (see Libya and Syria) and “defensive” wars (see Afghanistan and Iraq) is now for the EU citizenry to test:
    “The problem of no-go zones is especially acute in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany’s most populous state.”
    Some stories to ponder:
    “- Once Duisburg-Marxloh was a popular shopping and residential area. Now clans claim the streets for themselves. The police are powerless. The descent of the district is nightmarish.” — N24 Television.
    – A 17-page report prepared for the NRW State Parliament revealed how Lebanese clans in Duisburg divide up certain neighborhoods in order to pursue their criminal activities, such as robbery, drug dealing and extortion.
    – Two police officers stopped a driver who ran a red light. The driver got out of the car and ran away. When police caught up with him, they were confronted by more than 50 migrants. A 15-year-old attacked a policeman from behind and began strangling him, rendering him unconscious.”
    No-go zones in France: “In the heart of Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille, Grenoble, Avignon, districts here and there have been “privatized” by a mix of drug traffickers, Salafist zealots and Islamic youth gangs.”
    Viva Bush & Cheney & Blair & Sarkozy for providing the amazing educational experience for the Europeans. Sigh…

  33. Wunduk says:

    @turcopolier comment 32: You remember correctly. if you don’t mind I just repeat for the general public’s benefit: The five categories of the Ottoman land reform law of 1858 (tanzimat period) were an innovation, attempting to make people pay taxes more reliably, register the population for modern warfare, while at the same time still protecting the pious foundations that kept social services intact. In order to avoid paying taxes, and providing military service, Arab peasants who according to sharia worked and owned the land and held qadi-supplied titles registered not as owners. They avoided registration and let a lot of land be registered as communal undeveloped land or abandoned unworkable land. This ensured that a certain part of the village’s harvest was not taxed. The irrigated land which was undeniably farmed and owned was not registered by the peasants themselves, but they declared them to be tenant farmers of large absentee landlords. The absentee landlords then registered in the dafter as the owners, paid the taxes and bribes, and everyone was happy. Frequently the absentee landlords were happy not to register as “mulk” (e.g. freehold property) but as “grant” (miri) – meaning the property was state-owned and given as grant to the landlord like in the traditional iqta system in return for services rendered. There were tax breaks for all kinds of granted land, some of them making the holding even completely tax-free (suyurghal), like the “waqf” land (third category, grants for pious purposes like hospitals, bath-houses and caravansarays). These categories were later accepted by the mandate authorities.
    The Zionists from the 1880s onwards then bought up that prime land (mulk) from the absentee landlords. Mandate and Israel authorities later discovered the state ownership of the miri and waqf (worldly and pious grants), matruka (abandoned) and mawat (unproductive) lands, This did massively disadvantage the Arab holders and cultivators.
    But back to Syria: As far as I know, the system remained intact in the SAR. At the root, the State can do with all the land what it wants, except the tiny portion registered as mulk.And not a lot of people registered as mulk.
    If we believe Erdogan to be serious about sending Syrian refugees into the “liberated areas”, one indicator for their long term installation would be the creation of a system of land registry, which would necessarily need to repeal and transform the titles of the present residents. The civil servants to do this would need to be retrained or re-appointed and would no longer be paid by the SAR.
    Would the Kurds have wanted to create an independent state, they would also have made some new system of land registry. What seems is that they maintained the system, but manipulated it to their advantage with the backing of the remaining civil servants, who continue being paid by the SAR.

  34. Barbara Ann says:

    Re “enough Russian support”:
    Interesting description of Moscow’s ‘Plan B’ if UN-led peace negotiations drag on forever from a Moscow-based analyst yesterday:

    By now, however, Moscow is firmly set to diminish its ownership of the Syria problem and has no intention to keep a large-scale, formal, military role in Syria for the long term. This is why Russia cannot afford to indefinitely support any persistently failing effort to find a way out and will choose the type of arrangement that will best ensure a gradual, even if not complete, disengagement in practice, even if it implies tactical and reputational costs.


    Moscow has no intention to spoil its relations with its two main regional partners, Turkey and Iran, by radically intensifying political pressure on any of them regarding Syria.
    Too many biased observers (e.g. Magnier) seem to presume Russia has infinite patience & capacity to fight Assad’s war indefinitely, in my view. If its efforts to help Assad recover more territory necessitate actions detrimental to its wider strategic interests, why wouldn’t Russia look to call it a day soon? And going to war with Turkey or the US are certainly not among those interests.
    I agree that Idlib, Afrin and NE Syria may remain out of government hands for the foreseeable future.

  35. Thomas says:

    “Too many biased observers (e.g. Magnier) seem to presume Russia has infinite patience & capacity to fight Assad’s war indefinitely, in my view.”
    Do you think the institute you link to has a bias?
    From your link:
    “This is why Russia cannot afford to indefinitely support any persistently failing effort to find a way out and will choose the type of arrangement that will best ensure a gradual, even if not complete, disengagement in practice, even if it implies tactical and reputational costs.”
    How is the effort failing? They are winning just look at the MSM’s communal cry for the besieged of Eastern Ghouta, it seems to be the new installment in the franchise (see Aleppo last year).
    “And going to war with Turkey or the US are certainly not among those interests.”
    It is in the interests of a country to survive, so if your adversaries force war upon you then you fight.
    For Turkey, all you have to do is send Recep to the expedited exit interview in front of the Celestial Throne and his successor will come to a mutually beneficial understanding.
    As for the United States, what is in our interests to fight Russia over Syria? The usurping subversives and their leashed borgian beast it goes without saying what they are fighting for, but if push comes to shove that Land will once again be rubble, ruins, dust and ashes as demonstrated through history.

  36. Barbara Ann says:

    Yes of course PONARS is not without its own bias and if it were predicting Russian victory, all of Syria liberated and Turkey and the US vanquished I would probably have paid the piece little heed. But I found it interesting precisely because it admits that Russia may have to settle for less than its ‘Plan A’ “..even if it implies tactical and reputational costs.”.
    The R+6 have certainly been winning so far. But have you considered why the SAA’s elite forces redeployed to Ghouta from Idlib at the very point that “a crushing defeat of HTS and collapse of jihadi resistance in the province” seemed possible? The move to Ghouta indicates to me the prelude to a Russian exit from the war; make Damascus safe, perhaps help Assad wrap up a couple of extra pockets, as the Colonel describes here and then make peace.
    Re the survival interests of Russia: Has Turkey or the US forced war on her in Syria? Yes, to the extent that Russia felt it had to intervene to avoid the collapse of the Syrian state. But that state now seems secure – if somewhat diminished territorially. Do you not think Russia could quit at this point – and if so why? If you were Putin, would you make war on a NATO country just to enable Assad to reclaim some real estate which has little strategic value to you?
    As for arranging an exit interview for Erdogan – someone tried that around 18 months ago – didn’t work out so well I recall. Regime changing is not Russia’s style anyhow, but if it was I’m sure they’d do a far better job of it.
    Finally, re the US: I agree that it is not in US interests to fight Russia – over Syria or anything else. But I am not one of the cadre of generals steeped in CW2 Russophobia who seem to be effectively dictating FP in Syria right now. I (& Magnier) think the US Rojava project is destined to die the death of a thousand cuts – no need to risk WWIII over it.

  37. Thomas says:

    “Do you not think Russia could quit at this point – and if so why?”
    No, they are winning and accomplishing their goals of protecting Syrian State sovereignty, removing the jihadi threat that “Western” powers use as their destabilizing proxies (Chechnya 1990s, etc.), and establish a lasting peace for regional (and eventually global) stability.
    “If you were Putin, would you make war on a NATO country just to enable Assad to reclaim some real estate which has little strategic value to you?”
    State sovereignty has extremely GREAT strategic value because if allowing it to be destroyed among others it will only be a matter of time before the perpetrators will do it unto you. By the way many citizens of Syria do not want to live in a Wahhabi World lawless dystopia, so this isn’t just about Assad only (many Russia citizens also live in Syria).
    “…one of the cadre of generals steeped in CW2 Russophobia”
    Ironic that you blame the Generals when the majority of the hate comes from the civilian side with many of the bandwagoneers having roots in early twentieth and late nineteenth century Russia.
    I recommend reading a transcript of today’s speech by Vladimir Putin. The simple take away is “if you attack, we fight” final warning.

  38. Barbara Ann says:

    And your take on the rationale for the large redeployment away from Idlib to Ghouta and its timing?

  39. turcopolier says:

    Barbara Ann
    My post made it clear that I think the Syrians believe that Russia is reaching the limit if its active participation in the Syrian War and in that context they are cleaning up their backyard. pl

  40. Barbara Ann says:

    Sorry Colonel, I meant to address that last comment on the redeployment to Ghouta to @Thomas – you did indeed make your own view on the subject clear, thanks.

  41. Thomas says:

    “And your take on the rationale for the large redeployment away from Idlib to Ghouta and its timing?”
    It is the same as Colonel Lang’s, clean up the other key areas before the final push into Idlib.
    Ghouta is important since the jihadis are still using it as a base to shell Damascus and as a cause celebre for the western media. An added benefit is allowing the jihadis in Idlib to continue their internecine warfare which will help reduce Syrian casualties when the day of reckoning arrives.
    End the war and Russia goes home.

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