As the Syrian Arab Army, backed up by the Russian air force, steadily consolidates its gains across the country, there are three outstanding areas where jihadi cut-throats and their imperialist backers continue to make mischief.
These are: al-Tanf, the US garrison in the south-east of the country near the borders of Iraq and Jordan; the Kurdish-held territory in the north-east of the country bordering Turkey; and the governorate of Idlib in the north-west, again bordering Turkey.
Russia has repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that jihadi groups have been sheltering under US protection in the zone around al-Tanf. In the neighbouring Rukban refugee camp languish 40,000 refugees living in squalor. From this pool of misery jihadi groups fish for recruits, safe from the attentions of the Syrian army.
The US military and its SDF (the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces) auxiliaries jealously guard this part of Syria, which they occupy illegally. They pretend to be concerned about the welfare of the refugees, but stoutly resist positive efforts by Syria to improve the circumstances of these unfortunates, even going so far as to block a joint Syrian and Russian convoy of buses tasked with ferrying refugees off to other parts of Syria for safe and permanent resettlement.
According to US regime sources, when the bulk of the US military decamps from Syria the plan is to keep 200 US troops sitting tight at al-Tanf, prolonging the misery of the displaced people at Rukban and fanning the dying embers of jihad. (Trump says he’ll maintain some troops in Syria, media says 400 ‘peacekeepers’ to stay, RT, 22 February 2019)
The same regime sources suggest that a further 200 US soldiers will stay on to prop up the SDF in the oil-rich north-east. The oil fields found in this area are a precious national resource that US imperialism would dearly like to get its hands on.
However, the plan to set up a ‘buffer zone’ on the Turkish border, to be patrolled by Kurdish units, runs into two problems. Firstly, such a buffer zone would draw the wrath of Turkey, inviting a violent response and driving an even deeper wedge between Ankara and Washington, a division between Nato brothers-in-arms that is already significantly weakening imperialism.
Secondly, wiser Kurdish heads may take a look at the dwindling US military presence and conclude that the time is right to mend bridges with the Syrian government in Damascus.
President Bashar al-Assad made the situation clear in a recent televised speech: “We say to those groups who are betting on the Americans, the Americans will not protect you. The Americans will put you in their pockets so you can be tools in the barter.” Warning that reliance on foreign powers would only result in their becoming “slaves of Turkey”, he stressed: “Nobody will protect you except your state.” (US will sell you out, no one can protect you but Syria, RT, 17 February 2019)
The third and nastiest obstacle to the full liberation of Syria is the swarm of jihadi gangs holed up in the north-western governorate of Idlib, also on the Turkish border. As one jihadi bolt-hole after another has been closed down by the liberation forces, an increasing number of displaced terrorists have gravitated towards Idlib, terrorising the local population and using the territory from which to launch further attacks on the Syrian people.
Last autumn it seemed a near certainty that the Syrian army would follow through on its advance to the outskirts of Idlib. At that time both the US and Turkey raised a scare, warning darkly of dire consequences if the army pressed home its advantage. The west was all prepared to paint the imminent liberation of Idlib as a humanitarian disaster, repeating the same lies that were told during the victorious liberation of eastern Aleppo.
Then on 17 September last year Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a joint communique, proposing the establishment of a demilitarised zone (DMZ) in Idlib, behind which al-Nusra and its fellow terrorists would be required to withdraw.
The DMZ was to be enforced by joint Russian and Turkish patrols, and the Turks were to have the opportunity to use their influence with some more ‘moderate’ jihadis (notably the so-called ‘FSA’ [Free Syrian Army]) to separate the supposedly ‘moderate’ sheep from the more extreme goats.
In practice, Ankara has failed to deliver on key parts of the agreement. If the plan was for the Turkish-backed FSA to rein in the most ruthless gangs coalescing around al-Nusra, it backfired badly. Instead of taming al-Nusra, the FSA has been pressured into accepting ‘civilian’ control by an al-Nusra-backed administration!
It is clear that al-Nusra’s foray into local government will be concerned with matters other than refuse disposal and street repairs. Russian foreign ministry representative Maria Zakharova told the press: “A threat to security and stability in Syria is coming from terrorists of the Nusra-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, which controls almost the entire Idlib de-escalation zone.
“Field commanders are carrying out events on reshaping allied groups with the goals of increasing their offensive capabilities in the directions of Aleppo, Hama and mountainous Latakia. The militants plan to expand the sphere of their influence and establish full control of Idlib.” She reported a rising number of ceasefire violations, with almost 40 recorded in the past four days.
The toll on the home population of Idlib is appalling and getting worse, as recently flagged up by the new United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres. His report detailed terrorist atrocities against civilians, the suppression of ethnic and confessional minorities, illegal detentions and disappearances. (Terrorists in Syria’s Idlib are beefing up abilities for an offensive, warns diplomat, TASS, 28 February 2019)
It is clear that crunch time is approaching over Idlib. A number of things have changed in the world since last autumn. The DMZ agreement, which has largely failed in practice, has nevertheless had the virtue of exposing once and for all the fiction about ‘moderate’ versus ‘extreme’ terrorists.
And the close diplomatic ties between Ankara and Moscow, formed in the course of working together over the DMZ agreement, cannot but further drive in the wedge between Ankara and Washington.
The Syrian army’s decision not to press on with the liberation of Idlib last autumn sprang not from a position of weakness, but from the earnest wish that every diplomatic approach that could help minimise bloodshed should be explored, and to rob imperialism of a pretext for escalating the west’s military intervention.
Now, with diplomacy exhausted and al-Nusra on the offensive, it seems clear that, tactics aside, the strategy is unwavering: the uprooting of terror and the liberation of every inch of the homeland.
Russian deputy foreign minister Sergey Vershinin, speaking on the sidelines of the Munich security conference, drew attention to the fact that 90 percent of Idlib is controlled by al-Nusra and noted: “Idlib is a serious problem, this is probably a major concentration of terrorists in the region and maybe beyond its borders,” adding: “our principled stance is no to any compromise with terrorists, they must be eliminated”.
Vershinin stressed that the liberation of Idlib could be achieved without prejudicing Turkey’s security and with minimum civilian casualties, concluding: “Can this be done? Yes.”
Russia, Iran and Turkey, the driving force of the Astana peace process, are actively discussing ways to avoid harming or endangering civilians, said Vershinin: “In this context, we will be committed to full implementation of humanitarian international law.”
In the circumstances, these do not sound like hypothetical scenarios. Idlib is a nut that must sooner or later be cracked. (Compromise with terrorists in Idlib is impossible, they must be eliminated – diplomat, TASS, 17 February 2019
Home to roost
Whilst Syria and her allies square up to the task of clearing away the last of the obstacles that stand in the way of complete national liberation, the imperialist countries that egged on the jihadi invasion in the first place, dressing it up as a ‘democratic revolution against tyranny’, are now having to live with the consequences of their actions.
There is no great mystery to the ‘radicalisation’ of some young muslims. Whilst ‘Prevent’ sleuths sniff around mosques and schools looking for hidden clues, the most successful recruiting sergeants for jihad have all along been the imperialist media themselves, operating in plain view.
Subjected to the endless regurgitation of lies about the “butcher Assad slaughtering his own people, bombing hospitals, using chemical weapons” etc, why would some young muslims, already scarred by having seen one muslim country after another laid waste to by the west, not be persuaded that the jihadis in Syria were fighting the good fight?
Now that the real fight for liberation – the one that is being steadfastly led by the Syrian Arab Army – is approaching victory, imperialism is tying itself in knots over what to do about the thousands of deluded Shamima Begums who now want to come home.
Its dilemma is perfectly summed up in the case of Tauqir Sharif, a British man based in Idlib whose supposed ‘humanitarian work’ there has been lauded in the imperialist media. However, in 2017 the government quietly revoked his citizenship, determining that he was “aligned with an al-Qaeda-aligned group”.
Now Sharif has decided to fight the case in public, forcing the government to explain its logic. Sharif, who admitted in a BBC interview that he had fought in Syria and carried an AK-47 assault rifle, has worked with, among others, the infamous White Helmets, the bogus western-funded ‘civil defence’ outfit that operates exclusively in jihadi-controlled areas and enjoys the closest relations with terrorists.
The problem for the government lies in the fact that, in the course of trying to justify stripping Sharif of his citizenship, too much else will be revealed about the west’s own deep complicity with the failing proxy war against Syria’s legitimate government.
The closer Syria advances to her liberation, the harder it gets for imperialism to keep control over its own propaganda.
Victory to the Syrian president, government, army and people!