Russia has accused the US of ‘reducing air strikes against Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq to allow the militants passage into Syria and fight the Russian–backed Syrian army’. While Pentagon has outrightly rejected the Russian accusations, wouldn’t it be prudent to find out why Russia has made such a claim in the first place?
At the heart of the matter is the Russian backed Syrian regime’s latest success in pushing the IS militants out of eastern Dier Azzor. Meanwhile, Russian military spokesman Igor Konashenkov pointed a finger at US assistance to IS militants by accusing that, “the arrival of IS militants from Iraq into Dier Azzor was boosting the militant fighters numbers”.
War has its own logic but building and developing that logic is a consequence of definite military actions on the ground.
Defeating IS no doubt requires effective military action but if the great military powers give priority to furthering their military victory and achievement of their solution to the Syrian conflict, IS will remain a potent threat
Russian accusation is in conflict with the established and declared US goal of eliminating IS – so is the US backing off from its established commitment for the purpose of seeking some military ascendancy in the ongoing civil war in Syria? Can Russia produce a smoking gun to justify its accusation?
Russia has already blamed the US for the death of its top general, Lieutenant –General Valery Asapov, 51 (Chief of Staff of Russian forces deployed in Syria, later became the commander of Syrian Fifth Corps of volunteers), who was killed along with two Russian Colonels, by a mortar shell fired by the IS militants outside Dier Azor in the last week of September.
Russian Defence Ministry has questioned ‘how did IS know that the general was visiting that particular military position?’ and ‘how could IS militants fire so accurately? A few months back, US air force had bombed and killed Syrian army defenders in Dier Ezzor (killing over 60 Syrian troops)– the Russians and the Syrians claimed this was a deliberate military action to target the troops engaged in the fight against the IS militants. Given that after this American strike, IS militants broke through the Syrian lines and cut the city of Dier Ezzor in half. This raised many Russian and Syrian military eyebrows on American justification of calling this strike a mistake.
Saudis and the Gulf Arab States to be its members but all these states are determined to see the back of President Bashar Al Assad. No wonder, the US, and the Russian objectives in the ongoing Syrian civil war hardly seem to be compatible
Is the US implementing a two-faced policy in Syria? Ideally, Washington’s stated aim of fighting and eliminating the IS militants should be in line with its military actions on the ground. The attack on the Syrian military troops and even the aerial images that the Russian Ministry of Defense has published ‘showing US army Special Forces equipment lying close to IS militants deployed north of Syrian town of Dier Ezzor’ raises question marks on the stated US policy of elimination of IS militants in Syria.
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Given that Russia also claims that its surveillance shows that the US-backed Syrian democratic forces (SDF) are ‘avoiding fight with IS militants’ and that the IS militants are in communication with the US ground and air force for target indication and acquisition – a military mind is forced to ask – Are there any military, political or geopolitical goals that are forcing US to take a back step and do the opposite (not fighting IS militants) for the time being. Is the Syrian civil war being subjected to take a US designed direction?
Is the IS serving US purposes to end Bashar Al Asad’s regime?
IS has been the most effective enemy fighting the Syrian forces in Syria, so not punishing IS for US means allowing it to continue to pose a potent threat to the Russian backed Syrian regime of President Bashar Al Asad.
Is the US willing to do anything to implement the strategy of seeing an end to Bashar Al Assad’s regime and are its allies, Britain, France, and Turkey who are themselves victims of IS sponsored terrorist attacks, in the heart of their own countries, willing to allow the US to employ such a ‘go easy on IS’ military strategy?
The US also accuses Russia of bombing the US supported opposition rebel forces including Kurdish militias. It views Russian actions in Syria as a direct attempt to divert the attention of the world away from Ukraine crisis
Looking at the Syrian civil war from the American perspective, it detests the role that Russians are playing in Syria and in doing so demonstrating to the world how despite US sanctions and political animosity, it is still relevant as a political and military power to participate and solve global international challenges.
The US also accuses Russia of (accidentally) bombing the US supported opposition rebel forces including Kurdish militias. It views Russian actions in Syria as a direct attempt to divert the attention of the world away from Ukraine crisis.
IS militants in Syria should be common enemy of both Russia and US. But the aims of both the military powers in the Syrian civil war stand at cross purpose. Many jihadists from Central Asia and Azerbaijan have joined IS ranks and Russia knows well that if not neutralized in Syria, they will at some point in time come back home and cause trouble.
Yet Russia’s top purpose in the Syrian civil war is to salvage the Assad regime and in doing that, it warns and even carries out military actions against opposing forces supported by the west. Russia has proposed the formulation of a grand alliance to fight the IS militants, yet joining that grand alliance for the US and the west means joining Russia’s coalition with Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria.
Is the US implementing a two-faced policy in Syria? Ideally, Washington’s stated aim of fighting and eliminating the IS militants should be in line with its military actions on the ground
Any grand alliance would require the Europeans, Saudis and the Gulf Arab States to be its members but all these states are determined to see the back of President Bashar Al Assad. No wonder, the US, and the Russian objectives in the ongoing Syrian civil war hardly seem to be compatible.
While Russians military priority is the continuity and sustenance of Assad’s regime the US and its allies want to ensure the opposite. The geographical proximity of IS threat (Iraq and Syria geographically much closer to Russia than US) and also the warning by IS that it would ‘liberate Chechnya’ and that it would ‘wage a war in north Caucasus’ are major reasons for Russia to engage and obliterate the IS threat in Syria but would the same reasons be motivating the US to do the same.
Defeating IS (a global threat) no doubt requires effective military action but if the great military powers give priority to furthering their military victory and achievement of their solution to the Syrian conflict, IS will remain a potent threat. It may take another form and shape like Al Qaeda in Iraq transformed into ISIS but it will not cease to remain a threat – not unless the powers that stop implementing dual faced policies that suit only their interests.
Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan did his doctorate in International Relations from Karachi Univ; where he also teaches. His Ph.D. work is on ‘Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan’. He served for 25 years in Pakistan Army and remained an Instructor in Pakistan Military Academy. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.