As we go to press, the situation is escalating further.
As predicted, the ceasefire was a one-sided affair, with the multifarious jihadi gangs taking advantage of the opportunity to regroup and launch attacks with impunity. But the death blow to the ceasefire was delivered by the US-led coalition itself, with the self-confessed participation of British imperialism, when it struck directly at the Syrian Arab Army in the area of Deir el-Zor, killing some 62 soldiers and injuring over a hundred more.
The two F-16 jet fighters and two A-10 support aircraft that conducted the assault came from Iraq; some reports suggest that an RAF Reaper drone might also have been involved. Right on cue, Islamic State mercenaries took the opportunity to launch new attacks. Understandably, Damascus drew a line under its seven-day truce, a truce that the Syrian Arab Army and its allies alone had observed. Syria’s restraint had been rewarded with what President Assad correctly termed an act of “flagrant aggression”.
As Russian representative Vitaly Churkin told the UN security council: “It is highly suspicious that the US chose to conduct this particular air strike at this time,” adding that the slaughter of the Syrian soldiers did not look like an honest ‘mistake’, as Washington maintained. And if this massacre really was a mistake, what then? Russian defence spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov spelt it out: “If the airstrike was caused by the wrong coordinates of targets, than it’s a direct consequence of the stubborn unwillingness of the American side to coordinate with Russia in its actions against terrorist groups in Syria.”
The imperialists have since done their best to distract attention from their criminal massacre of ceasefire-abiding Syrian forces by blaming Damascus and Moscow for the subsequent attack on an aid convoy approaching Aleppo. But this latest Big Lie began to unravel within days: early assertions that the attack had taken the form of an airstrike were countered by a statement from the UN that all it could confirm was that an attack had occurred.
For its part, the Russian military reported that there were no signs of any ammunition having hit the convoy: there were no craters and the limited damage to the vehicles did not tally with an airstrike. Concluded Konashenkov: “All the video footage demonstrates that the convoy caught fire, which strangely happened almost at exactly the same time as militants started a large-scale offensive on Aleppo.”
The attempt to smear Moscow and Damascus for the attack took another knock back when Russia handed over data demonstrating that a US Predator drone had been present at the time and place of the attack, contrary to the US assertion that it had conducted no missions there at that time. (See US coalition Predator drone spotted at time and place of Syria aid convoy attack – Russian military, RT, 21 September 2016)
Expect the barrage of propaganda lies to intensify in proportion to the progress Syria makes in defending her unity and independence.
The rapidity with which US imperialism is currently being forced to make its Syrian policy shifts, one moment backing the Kurds against Islamic State (IS) and the next moment backing Ankara against the Kurds, all the while talking a good fight against its own unacknowledged Islamic State brat, conveys the impression less of a master puppeteer in total control than of a man caught between three or more fires, dashing from side to side to escape getting scorched.
However tangled the web of treachery and deceit which imperialism weaves, what cannot be concealed is the scale of its humiliating defeat in the proxy war of subversion upon which it has staked so much. It is that galling defeat that now conditions every move the US makes. However nimble its footwork, and however deep its cynicism, it can at best do no more than make the most of a very bad job.
At worst, it is in danger of permanently alienating allies it can ill afford to lose.
A one-sided ceasefire
12 September marked the beginning of a ceasefire in Syria agreed on by Moscow and Washington. For its part, Damascus undertook a seven-day ceasefire. Contrary to the mischievous spin put on the agreement by White House press secretary Josh Earnest (who slyly told reporters that “we need to see Russia make good on the commitments they’ve made in the context of this arrangement to prevail upon the Assad regime to observe the cessation of hostilities”), it is from the ‘opposition’ that real threats to sabotage the ceasefire were to be heard.
One supposedly ‘moderate’ group, Ahrar al-Sham, refused outright to abide by the ceasefire, refusing to break with its buddies in the rebranded Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (previously known as al-Nusra, aka al-Qaeda – what’s in a name?) Quizzed on the attitude of the so-called ‘moderate’ opposition to the ceasefire, a state department spokesman, whilst cautiously professing himself to be “not aware of any single group that has come out rejecting” the ceasefire (hardly a ringing endorsement), was obliged to concede that “certain of them have doubts, have concerns”. (US officials offer mixed reactions to Syrian ceasefire, RT, 13 September 2016)
Following this, over 20 other militant groups declined to honour the ceasefire, including Failaq al-Sham, Nour al-Deen al-Zanki, Jaish al-Islam, Shamia front, Ajnad al-Sham, Jaish al-Nasr and Jaish al-Tahrir.
This shilly-shallying faithfully reflects foot-dragging by the US itself. The head of the Russian reconciliation centre in Syria, Lt Gen Vladimir Savchenko, complained that “the US has still not provided information allowing the identification of the exact operational places of Jabhat al-Nusra in the combat area”, adding that this failure “is hampering the fruitful joint work”. (Syria ceasefire begins, RT, 12 September 2016)
It is of course to imperialism’s disadvantage for a clear distinction to be drawn between ‘moderate sheep’ and ‘terrorist goats’, with open season declared on the ‘goats’ and the onus resting on the ‘sheep’ to break off all relations with their erstwhile brothers-in-arms. It would much better suit imperialism to keep endlessly spinning the kaleidoscope of names and affiliations behind which the jihadi terror gangs shelter, always ready to claim immunity as ‘moderates’ (with the west’s active encouragement).
By contrast, Moscow, now that events have obliged the west at least to parrot the language of peace at Geneva, was businesslike in organising the practical arrangements for the truce. Lt Gen Sergey Rudskoy of the Russian general staff confirmed that “the Russian side has completed all the necessary preparations” for the ceasefire, noting that “the Russian reconciliation centre in Syria has established special monitoring groups in all Syrian provinces to observe the cessation of hostilities”.
He further urged the reinstatement of contact between the Russian reconciliation centre and its US counterpart in Amman. In addition, he announced the plan to establish a joint US-Russian centre to coordinate air strikes. (Over 20 militant groups reject the Syrian ceasefire agreement by Paul Antonopoulos, Al-Masdar News, 13 September 2016)
Kurdish advance at Manbij
We may be certain that, whilst the US feels obliged to talk peace at Geneva or at the UN, it will continue to do all it can to prolong the war and the suffering, still bent on securing either a unified Syria under imperialist tutelage or else the country’s balkanisation.
As of the beginning of August, it seemed that US balkanisation plans were largely staked on the headway that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) were making on the ground against IS, bolstered by US air power.
Cynically capitalising upon Kurdish dreams of establishing their own ‘Rojava’ state on Syrian territory, imperialism went all-out to assist the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF, in which the YPG is dominant but which also includes some Syrian terrorist groupings) in the taking of the IS stronghold of Manbij, which sits on top of a key supply route between the Turkish border and Raqqa. For three months, US-led coalition warplanes had bombed and strafed the city, with US officials claiming as many as 2,000 IS fatalities, preparing the way for the SDF’s successful ground offensive.
Celebrations over this success were qualified by the US admission that vehicles carrying between one and two hundred IS jihadis had been given safe passage out of the city after their weapons had been surrendered. US Colonel Carver suggested that there were civilians accompanying the jihadis, some of whom might have been hostages – though if weapons had truly been surrendered it is hard to see what threat the ‘hostages’ faced.
Whilst Carver attributed the decision to the SDF, the outcome accords with the fundamental attitude of imperialism to IS and its kindred spirits: they are to be contained and controlled, not destroyed. (US-backed forces give hundreds of Isis fighters safe passage, RT, 17 August 2016)
Operation Euphrates Shield
It is uncertain whether imperialism ever saw (or sees now) the creation of Rojava on Syrian soil as its best balkanising option, given the threat this would pose to the US relationship with Turkey. For the moment, at any rate, the SDF had served its purpose as the boots on the ground on behalf of the US, and it was time to try to mend fences with Turkish President Erdogan, for whom the sight of Kurdish forces streaming west across the Euphrates was like a red rag to a bull.
So it was that, on 24 August, Turkish forces, backed by US air power and augmented by Erdogan’s own favoured jihadi warriors, crossed into Syria with the declared dual objective of routing both IS and the YPG, targeting first the town of Jarabulus. Just in case the YPG missed the true dimensions of the US treachery, vice president Joe Biden stood shoulder to shoulder with Turkish PM Binali Yildirim to tell the Kurdish fighters that the US would cut off all support unless they returned to the eastern side of the Euphrates: “We have made it absolutely clear that they must go back across the river. They cannot and will not, under any circumstances, get American support if they do not keep that commitment.” (YPG’s short-term gain for long-term loss by Paul Antonopoulos, Al-Masdar News, 25 August 2016)
Ankara has made little secret of its real strategic goal: the imposition of a so-called ‘safe zone’ on the border. In the wake of the incursion, Turkey’s deputy PM stated that proposals to establish an “internationally policed buffer area” should be considered. (Turkey invades Syria, backed by US by Brandon Turbeville, Global Research, 26 August 2016)
De facto, this is what Operation Euphrates Shield aimed to establish: a Turkish land-grab designed to keep the border clear for the transmission of aid and succour to Ankara’s preferred groups of jihadists.
Rubbishing claims that the operation was counter-terrorist in character, the Syrian foreign ministry pointed out: “Any party that wishes to fight terrorism on Syrian soil must coordinate with the Syrian government and army. What is happening in Jarabulus now is not a fight against terrorism. Rather, it is substituting one form of terrorism for another.” (US vice-president Biden meets with Erdogan by Halil Celik, Global Research, 26 August 2016)
The struggle for Aleppo
Meanwhile, back in the real war against terror, the Syrian Arab Army continues to advance, step by step.
It recently regained control over three military academies in Aleppo, cutting off the supply route to the jihadi-held east of the city. The army, assisted by artillery and air cover, recaptured this strategic complex on 4 September.
With the encirclement of east Aleppo re-established and the army in control of the main routes into the city from north and south, the terrorists are being squeezed hard. This means that Russian troops can now be deployed on the main Castello road into the besieged east, offering safe passage to humanitarian aid deliveries agreed under the ceasefire arrangements.
As the struggle intensifies around Aleppo, western propaganda has been painting the picture of a starving city held to ransom by ‘Assad’s regime’, while the west’s role is portrayed as consisting solely of valiant efforts to get humanitarian aid past ‘brutal regime forces’.
In fact, the west’s primary role is to make sure the foreign mercenary terrorists are well supplied with all they need to prolong an agonising war of subversion – a war the west cannot win but dare not be seen to be losing. Conversely, the role of the Syrian Arab Army is to protect all Syrians from the horrors of life under the sway of terrorism.
In Aleppo city, this means keeping up the pressure on the jihadist forces occupying the eastern sector of the city. These, predominantly al-Nusra, are making life hell for those it holds hostage, shooting anyone who tries to flee and using the occupied zone as a launchpad from which to attack the much more populous west of the city that is under government control.
The terror gangs are endlessly lobbing mortars, improvised gas bottle bombs and toxic gas indiscriminately into residential areas – including the main maternity hospital in the city, the al-Dabeet. In a grotesquely cynical move, a photo of 150 doctors demonstrating outside the bombed hospital, protesting against the terrorists and showing their refusal to give in to barbarism, was then stolen and posted on the internet and billed as an anti-Assad demo in the eastern sector.
Completely unreported in the corporate western media are the privations suffered by the inhabitants of the government-controlled western Aleppo at the hands of surrounding terrorist gangs – privations which hopefully will diminish now that the Syrian army controls the main roads north and south of the city.
According to solidarity activist and blogger Eva Bartlett: “Because the ‘rebels’ control the main roads around Aleppo, Aleppo has suffered blockades, sometimes for a few days and other times for many, many weeks. During those many weeks, nothing was able to enter Aleppo: no food, no vegetables, no fruits, no gas, no medical equipment, no drugs … the people of Aleppo suffered a lot.
“The water supply has been cut by ‘rebels’, because the main water stations are in ‘rebel’ areas. Many times they cut the water for weeks or months. So for three years, we had to use the water of wells — we now have in Aleppo 300 wells, which we had to use to provide water for the 1.5 million persons living in Aleppo under the Syrian state. In addition, we don’t have power supply, because the electricity generator and power supply are in the ‘rebel’ portion of Aleppo.” (See Western corporate media ‘disappears’ over 1.5 million Syrians by Eva Bartlett, Global Research, 14 August 2016)
Just as in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya, in addition to the direct slaughter of men, women and children in war crimes, countless more lives have been blighted or lost indirectly through the policy known as ‘degrading infrastructure’. What lies behind this anodyne phrase was spelt out recently by Syria’s permanent representative to the UN, Dr Bashar Ja’afari.
“Speaking at a meeting of the UN security council, the diplomat stressed that initially the coalition ‘was formed without an approval from the UN and the Syrian government. It [the coalition] began to strike at innocent civilians in Syria and infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, factories, schools and hospitals.’ According to him, the damage caused to Syrian oil and gas facilities during actions of the coalition amounted to at least $2bn.” (US-led coalition’s actions caused multibillion-dollar damage, South Front, 23 August 2016)
These war crimes against the Syrian people, horrific as they are, have only left the nation more stubbornly united in defence of its unity and independence. By contrast, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, key instruments in the waging of the proxy war of destabilisation, are themselves becoming destabilised in the extreme.
Imperialism may for a while be able to prolong the agony of war, tapping new supplies of jihadist nihilism from corners of the world poisoned by imperialist degeneracy. But whilst it can drag the war out, it cannot win it, its resolve broken on the rock of Syria’s steadfast resistance, assisted by Russia.
Victory to the Syrian president, government, army and people!