While the U.S. seems to have given up on regime change in Syria it is still trying to sabotage the progress of the Syrian government and its allies.
The recent drone attack on the Russian base Khmeimim in Latakia is just one example. Thirteen sophisticated armed drones with a reach of some 100 kilometers attacked the base at the same time as a U.S. electronic warfare plane was circling off the Syrian coast. The attack was unsuccessful. Russia has sophisticated electronic warfare means and hijacked the command over six of the drones. The other seven were taken down by Russian air defenses.
To claim, as the U.S. does, that ISIS or some “rebels” did this is nonsense. ISIS has made short range weaponized drones flown by remote control in line of sight mode. This attack was by autonomous drones using GPS and barometric sensors to find their way to their targets. This is qualitatively on a whole new level. I doubt that Russia will let this go unanswered. Look out for some “mishap” that may soon hit some U.S. troops or interests abroad.
Three significant military operations took place over the last few weeks.
In the south-west Syrian government troops, in cooperation with local Druze, managed to completely take the area of Beit Jinn next to the Lebanese border and the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.
Al Qaeda elements within the pocket gave up after Syrian troops captured the nearby mountain tops and achieved fire control over the area. They were transported off to Idleb. The northern blue part in the map above is now under government control.
Immediately east of Damascus city the Ghouta pocket, held by various Jihadi groups, has long been a huge problem. Grenades fired from the area can easily reach the center of Damascus. Over the last eight weeks more than 350 civilians in Damascus city have been killed or wounded by such attacks.
Ghouta is controlled by al-Qaeda elements, Ahrar al-Sham and the Saudi financed Jaish al-Islam. In the western side of the area government forces have long held on to a large military base. Two weeks ago elements of Ahrar al-Sham broke an existing de-escalation agreement and attacked the base with a huge force. The third grade troops guarding the facilities had problems defending against the attack and were losing ground. They were encircled and isolated. After a few days government reinforcements lifted the siege on the base and expanded the corridor leading to it.
It is high time to eliminate the Ghouta pocket. But the area includes densely built-up quarters and a move on it would require a large force and be very bloody. The Syrian government and its Russian supporters seem to believe that the Saudis can be influenced to give up on their Ghouta “rebels”. It might then be possible to regain control over the area without an all-out fight.
The third, largest and most importent operation of the last week is a fight in north-Hama and east-Idleb governorate.
When in 2015 Idelb was occupied by U.S. and Turkey supported “rebels” the government held city of Aleppo lost its road connection to the southern core of the country. The Syrian government built a new road through the desert further east to resupply the city. But that road is insufficient for the amount of traffic needed to rejuvenate the now liberated Aleppo.
A direct road connection from Damascus, Homs and Hama to Aleppo is needed passing through al-Qaeda held territory in eastern Idleb. After weeks of preparation by aerial bombing elite Syrian forces attacked from Hama northward towards Aleppo. After breaking through al-Qaeda’s defense line they liberated nearly 100 townships and cities. In a new phenomenon local inhabitants of the area evicted the al-Qaeda “rebels” even before SAA troops arrived. These troop are now on the border of the large Abu-al-Duhur airbase which is the most strategic point in the wider area.
The al-Qaeda forces east of the wedge the government forces drove into Idleb governorate are in immediate danger of encirclement. They have started to flee towards the western parts of Idleb which are still open towards the Turkish borders.
When the new road to Aleppo is secured the government troops will consolidate the pocket east of it. Further operations will then depend on the outcome of the various diplomatic initiatives which are currently worked on.
The U.S. supported forces in north-east Syria still have problems to get a grip on the last ISIS held townships north of the Euphrates. The U.S. special forces have turned several local tribes, which had earlier fought with ISIS, to its side. They are re-training these forces. But the local tribes lack the fighting spirit and motivation to attack their former allies.
In late January Russia will convene a large conference with hundreds of Syrian opposition and government figures to talk about the constitutional changes and elections in Syria. It is not yet sure who will take part in it. One problem are Kurdish organizations which Turkey, as one of the sponsors of the de-escalation process, does not want to see recognized as political entities. Turkey under Erdogan continues to be hostile to the Syrian government and people. Weapons are still flowing through the Turkish border to Jihadis in Idleb and ISIS fighters who flee the country towards Europe can still pass. Turkey covets the Kurdish Afrin enclave in north-west Syria but the current balance of force does not allow it to attack.
In the greater picture (recommended) the Turkish anti-Kurdish occupation in the north-west of Syria and the U.S. pro-Kurdish occupation in the north-east cancel each other out. Neither force can move further without endangering their common NATO interests. Politically and militarily the U.S. is still the biggest threat to peace in Syria.
The U.S. insists on a continuation of the stillborn Geneva process that was once convened by the UN to find a political solution in Syria. It still wants the government under President Assad to leave. People in the Trump administration still hope to gain at the conference table what they could not achieve in seven years of vicious proxy-fighting against the Syrian people. It is unlikely that they will now succeed.
Syria has shown that it has the will and ability to resist U.S. “regime change”. The military and its allies will continue to consolidate the current positions. But to free all of its northern parts from Turkish and U.S. occupation is too big of a task for the still small army. This can be more easily achieved by local insurgencies. Syria has battle hardened militia outside of its regular military. These have been trained by and fought with Hizbullah. They can be infiltrated into the occupation zones and make the situation unbearable for the occupiers. Syrian interests in these areas far outweigh those of the occupying countries. While it will take time there is little doubt that -in the end- the people of Syria will win this fight and liberate their country.