SYRIA: Russian & US Forces Close to Open Conflict – In Depth

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The competition between Russia and the USA in the northeastern part of Syria is growing, the two strongest military powers are increasingly struggling for peaceful coexistence in the Arab Republic. Since the beginning of the year, the American side has moved to the tactics of blocking the movements of Russian troops on the strategically important M4 highway (Aleppo – Rakka – Hasake), demonstrating with all its appearance that the United States is still too early to write off at the Syrian military-political theater. Russia responds with a consistent strengthening of its position in the north-east of the SAR, where more recently, overseas “partners” reigned supreme.

The competitive approach of Russia and the United States in Syria began in the skies of an Arab country, to this day moving into the ground phase. A hotline between the military of the two world powers was established with the aim of eliminating incidents in the airspace. It still operates with varying success, but on land the interaction to avoid collisions was clearly not set. The Pentagon followed agreements on the aerial component of deconfliction very selectively. There are several cases where the US Air Force operations in the Syrian sky, which affected the interests of Russia, its military group in the SAR was not made known. The Americans kept their hands free in the Syrian sky right up to the climax of the “lead” of their Russian colleagues in October last year,Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi . The hunt for him was conducted by the VKS, as well as the Special Operations Forces of the RF Armed Forces. Having “lost” the leader of the Ishilovites to the Americans, the Russian military immediately “recouped” on the ground. Moreover, they succeeded with the direct participation of Turkey – the so-called US ally in NATO.

Ankara puzzled Washington with the launch of Operation Source of Peace in northeast Syria against American wards in the face of the Kurdish People’s Self-Defense Forces (YPG). It was so perplexing that before the invasion of the Turkish army on October 9, Donald Trump gave the order to withdraw all American troops from the north-east of the Arab Republic. But then he changed his mind and returned a part of the contingent retiring to neighboring Iraq.

It turned out to be a very paradoxical situation, which, as we can safely assume, to the current stage led the Americans to use the tactics of ground blocking of the Russian military. The fact is that the Turkish “Source of Peace” was stopped precisely by the Americans after eight days from the start of the operation – October 17. On that day, a second person arrived at Ankara with a special mission in the White House – Vice President Michael Pence . The fighting in Syria was essentially stopped by the Americans, but the Russian side took advantage of the pause of the “Source of Peace”. On October 22, the head of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Sochi to negotiate with Vladimir Putin and agreed to sign a memorandum on northeast Syria.

According to the agreement, Russia undertook to ensure the withdrawal of Kurdish YPGs from the Turkish “security zone” – a 120-kilometer-long and 30-kilometer-deep section of the territory between the Syrian cities of Tel Abyad (Rakka province) and Ras al-Ain (Hasake ave. ) Another point of the Russian-Turkish agreement was the deployment of joint patrols on the territory “cleared” of Kurds to the west and east of the “security zone”. It so happened that Moscow took on the mission that Washington had successfully failed at one time, for Ankara was pushing for Washington to withdraw the Kurdish militia from the Syrian regions bordering with Turkey. Moreover, a joint patrol mechanism was launched, which meant a very simple thing – Turkey actually brought Russia by hand to that part of Syria.

Resentment against the NATO ally and anger at a potential Russian enemy, the US military began to take out the same blocking of roads. Yielding to emotions, the Americans hastily left several bases and strongholds in the north and east of Syria in the first half of October. The resulting “vacuum” filled the Russian command. Closer to the Syrian-Iraqi border, tactical aircraft of the Russian Air Force, units of the army special forces and military police were deployed. In the Arab media, there were even reports about the deployment by Russia near Iraq of several batteries of anti-aircraft missile systems (SAM) S-400, allegedly deployed from the Khmeimim air base in Syrian Latakia.

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Whether the “vacuum” was created due to the feverish movement of the Americans across the border of the two Arab countries, including the new deployment of the S-400 air defense system, seems dubious. But full of publications about the Russian rush to the east of Syria, to the places of the former US-based, the Arab press is pretty annoyed with the American warriors. And they answered in a peculiar way, having transformed for a while from the Marines into a harsh “road patrol service” along the M4 highway.

Recall that the US military since the beginning of the year has shown great aggressiveness towards the Russian presence in northeastern Syria. So, on January 21, they again blocked the movement of two Russian military convoys to checkpoints under the control of government forces in the Arab Republic. According to local military sources, the first Russian convoy was blocked by the Americans at a fork in the village of Tel Baidar, located in the northern part of Hasak province, near the city of Kamyshly (the capital of the Syrian Kurdistan, which was removed from the framework of the Sochi memorandum of October 22). The second Russian convoy was blocked by a division of the US Armed Forces near the city of Malikiya in the same province.

Since the beginning of this year, the US military has become increasingly hostile to Russian and Syrian “colleagues” in the north-eastern part of the SAR, Arab media say. The epicenter of it all is the M4 highway. The reason why the US impedes the movement of the Russian and Syrian military is not officially explained by the Pentagon. However , veiled signals from the US Department of Defense have previously appeared in the American media that, in this way, “Russian capture of oil fields in northeast Syria” is being prevented.

On January 15, a Russian military convoy was stopped on its way to one of the oil fields in the Rumeilan region, where the US air base is located. A Russian convoy of 60 vehicles advanced from the base in the Tel Tamra area. The task of the military of the Russian Federation included the creation of a checkpoint in this region of Syria.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced October 21 last year that the Donald Trump administration would leave part of the US military in the oil field in eastern Syria, where the Kurdish “Syrian Democratic Forces” are located. The Russian Ministry of Defense issued a statement in which it indicated that the United States is engaged in “robbery on a state scale” in Syria, carrying out industrial mining in illegally seized areas of the country. This is evidenced by published satellite images of the Russian Ministry of Defense, which depicts the process of oil extraction by the Americans on Syrian territory and its subsequent export. As recalled by the military department, Syrian oil, both before and after the victory over the IS in Zaevfraty, was “actively extracted by the reliable guard of the US military.”

It is hard to say how long the lawlessness of the American DPS in Syria will last. There is a noteworthy assumption that the Americans will quickly “tire” of obstructing the Russian military on Syrian roads and will move on to the old and relatively effective tactic of “deterring Russians”. This is a demonstration of even greater freedom of hands in the sky of the SAR, with a hint of a possible rejection of the airborne component of deconfliction, if the Russian military continues to squeeze the “partners” in Zaevfrati, systematically narrowing their operational space on the ground. Therefore, one should most seriously prepare for the provocations of the US Air Force in the form of “accidental strikes” on the Syrian government forces, which could also hurt Russian troops. Good, Americans for such provocations have an “alibi” in the form of a “terrorist target” they have chosen everywhere in the Middle East — the Iranian special forces “Kods” as part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). There are not so many Iranians in northeast Syria, but this may not particularly concern Americans. That’s the “accident” when you allegedly aim at one, but you fall into another. In the one who was the real goal.

* U.S. President Donald Trump first gave the command in December 2018 to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria. But then he decided to leave a “limited contingent” of 400 US soldiers and officers (at the end of last year, about 2,200 US troops were in the SAR). In October, Trump again ordered the complete withdrawal of troops from northeastern Syria (about 1 thousand US troops) before Turkey launched Operation Source of Peace against Kurdish militias in this part of the Arab Republic. However, then the White House and the Pentagon again outplayed their previous plans, saying they were now ready to leave 500 to 600 US troops to protect its oil fields from IS fighters.

from EAD

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