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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Syria: February 9, 2016

Publication: Putin in Syria
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
US Allies Feel "Betrayed" By Obama's Policies In Syria. The Rift Goes Deeper Than The Western Media Is Reporting

There are plenty of voices in the Western press that believe that the United State's behavior in allowing the Russian air campaign in Syria is a "betrayal" of the allies of the United States, and perhaps of the Syrian people themselves. At best, the United States has allowed foreign fighters to flock to Syria while Russian air strikes have pummelled groups that the United States continues to insist should be major players in the discussion about who should run Syria. The Assad regime is advancing with the help of Hezbollah fighters, a terrorist organization; Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps fighters; and Iraqi Shia militias. At worst, the United States may have pulled the plug on the anti-tank munitions that these groups were using to advance in Syria back in December, contributing to the sudden collapse of the rebel lines near Aleppo.

In Foreign Policy Magazine, IISS's Emile Hokayem argues that President Barack Obama's policies amount to a "disastrous betrayal" of Syria's moderate rebels:

After a slow start — and despite wishful Western assessments that Moscow could not sustain a meaningful military effort abroad — the Russian campaign is finally delivering results for the Assad regime. This week, Russian airpower allowed Assad and his allied paramilitary forces to finally cut off the narrow, rebel-held “Azaz corridor” that links the Turkish border to the city of Aleppo. The city’s full encirclement is now a distinct possibility, with regime troops and Shiite fighters moving from the south, the west, and the north. Should the rebel-held parts of the city ultimately fall, it will be a dramatic victory for Assad and the greatest setback to the rebellion since the start of the uprising in 2011.

In parallel, Russia has put Syria’s neighbors on notice of the new rules of the game. Jordan was spooked into downgrading its help for the Southern Front, the main non-Islamist alliance in the south of the country, which has so far prevented extremist presence along its border. Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian military aircraft that crossed its airspace in November backfired: Moscow vengefully directed its firepower on Turkey’s rebel friends across Idlib and Aleppo provinces. Moscow also courted Syria’s Kurds, who found a new partner to play off the United States in their complex relations with Washington. And Russia has agreed to a temporary accommodation of Israel’s interests in southern Syria.

Inside Syria, and despite the polite wishes of Secretary of State John Kerry, the overwhelming majority of Russian strikes have hit non-Islamic State (IS) fighters. Indeed, Moscow and the Syrian regime are content to see the United States bear the lion’s share of the effort against the jihadi monster in the east, instead concentrating on mowing through the mainstream rebellion in western Syria. Their ultimate objective is to force the world to make an unconscionable choice between Assad and IS.


Obama's Disastrous Betrayal of the Syrian Rebels

What a difference a year makes in Syria. And the introduction of massive Russian airpower. Last February, President Bashar al-Assad's regime and its Shiite auxiliaries mounted a large-scale attempt to encircle Aleppo, the northern city divided between regime and rebels since 2012 and battered by the dictator's barrel bombs.

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Feb 10, 2016 03:01 (GMT)

Jo Cox, a British MP and member of the Labour Party, and Omid Nouripour a member of the German Bundestag, argue in The Telegraph that the United States is actively selling out Syria's rebels -- at the cost of regional and global security -- and Europe needs to stand up to Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:

The problem is that until now Europe has never spoken with one voice on this conflict. In negotiations for a Syrian peace plan there has been weak cooperation, no joint strategy and a distinct lack of sustained pressure that will be necessary to contain the conflict and put a stop to Assad's brutal tactics.

This is a problem because the US seems intent on a peace settlement that will be dangerously unbalanced. Such is the US determination to secure deal at any cost that they are prepared to offer far too many concessions to Assad and their Russian allies. This undermines the Syrian opposition, who feel betrayed by the international community. It also diminishes the chance for a sustainable peace and relegates the protection of civilians virtually out of the conference room. If we don't stand up for them, nobody will.

The fact that Russia has intensified its bombing campaign in Syria during the build up to peace talks speaks to the futility of the US approach and the need for a much more muscular European response. One which must start today, on two fronts.

[...]

The idea that you can build trust while the Syrian government and some opposition groups continue to systematically kill and starve civilians is absurd. Broad coalitions of Syrian civil society groups have made clear that if they don't see progress to end the regime's medieval tactics of war, the peace talks will not be credible in their eyes - and so any agreements will not last. If nothing is done to improve the humanitarian situation of the many suffering Syrians, more of the Sunni population will be alienated, driven closer to Da'esh rather than towards a negotiated settlement to this war.


We must not let America sell out the Syrian rebels to Putin and Assad

The problem is that until now Europe has never spoken with one voice on this conflict. In negotiations for a Syrian peace plan there has been weak cooperation, no joint strategy and a distinct lack of sustained pressure that will be necessary to contain the conflict and put a stop to Assad's brutal tactics.

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Feb 10, 2016 03:01 (GMT)
Adding to this sense of "betrayal" is the fact that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have pledged that they are willing to send ground troops to Syria to combat ISIS, but so far indications are that the United States is opposed to such a move. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops have been sent to Syria to support Assad while the US has done little to stop them:

Syria: 'Tens of thousands' of Iran's revolutionary guards pour in to bolster President Assad

Iran has ramped up the number of troops sent to fight in Syria in recent weeks, with tens of thousands of ground troops sent to combat opposition forces.

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Feb 10, 2016 03:02 (GMT)
While the coalition of Russian and regime airstrikes, and ground troops from Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq, have assisted the Assad regime in its advance in the north. Voice of America reports that some rebel forces, "citing betrayal," have retreated from the fighting near Aleppo.

Citing Betrayal, Some Syrian Rebels Withdraw From Front

Citing Betrayal, Some Syrian Rebels Withdraw From Front After a week-long attack from Russian warplanes, some Syrian rebels are withdrawing from the fight in northern Syria. The rebels are fighting against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Some anti-Assad forces have taken shelter in tunnels or bomb-made craters, but some fighters are quitting.

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Feb 10, 2016 03:02 (GMT)
The obvious (and very important) analysis is that the Russian air support has been absolutely critical to Assad's victories, as have the foreign fighters upon which the regime is now completely reliant, but what's less obvious from just looking at the maps is that these foreign fighters have streamed into Syria right under the noses of the US air force:

If the Obama administration has betrayed Syria's rebels, the nature and scope of that betrayal may go much further than any of these editorials suggest. How so? The answer has everything to do with the rebels' complicated relationship with Syria's Kurds.

Syrian rebels in Aleppo say that they are now surrounded by enemies, and yet at first glance the maps that even rebel groups put forth suggests otherwise to the untrained eye.

The problem is that the Syrian rebels are not just fighting Assad's coalition of forces. Kurdish YPG forces, shown in the map above in yellow, have broken their truce with the rebels and extended their own territory. Syrian rebels cannot move through territory held by the YPG, so by extending their battle lines east to Nubul and Al-Zahraa last week the Syrian regime has effectively cut Aleppo's supply route to the north.

The YPG has also made its own advances:

Turkey supports many Syrian rebel groups, and several Kurdish groups are also allied with Syria's rebels, but both Turkey and the majority of Syria's rebels are opposed to the YPG. Aaron Stein, the Senior Resident Fellow for Turkey with the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, explains that the YPG is benefiting from protection from both the US and the Russian air forces, a dynamic which is heightening tensions with Turkey:

With US air support, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) has managed to consolidate control over much of the Turkish-Syrian border. Its militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), is manning a several hundred mile long front line against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). In parallel, YPG forces in Efrin appear to be receiving Russian air support, particularly near Azaz, a key city currently occupied by elements of the Turkish-backed anti-Assad insurgency. Open source airstrike data suggests that the SDF could seize Manbij with US backing, while the Assad regime moves north from Aleppo to Al Bab. The YPG, in turn, could then cut a deal with the regime to travel through regime held territory to Efrin.

Turkey has said such action would result in military action. However, this proposed route may be protected from Turkish bombardment. Ankara is no longer flying missions over Syria over concerns that Russian aircraft could target Turkish aircraft, in retaliation for the November 24 bombing of one of its jets. Turkish artillery has struck positions inside Syria, but the M4 highway—the road that could link the three Kurdish cantons—is out of range.

The PYD is Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a US-, EU-, and Turkish-designated terror organization that has waged an insurgent campaign in Turkey for autonomy since 1984. A large number of the YPG’s leadership spent time as PKK members in the group’s stronghold in Iraqi Kurdistan’s Kandil Mountains before being dispatched to Syria to aid in the governing of Rojava. Turkey does not distinguish between the PYD and PKK, arguing that the former is simply a subunit of the latter. Specifically, both the PKK and the PYD have recognized Turkish and Syrian territorial integrity, albeit with an important caveat: the idea of “autonomous governance” includes governing structures that centralize power in PYD hands, in parallel with a longer term proposal for free travel between other Kurdish areas—a proposal Ankara views as akin to a plan for an independent Kurdistan.

Turkey's Problems in Aleppo

The Atlantic Council promotes constructive leadership and engagement in international affairs based on the central role of the Atlantic Community in meeting global challenges. Founded in 1961, the Council provides an essential forum for navigating the dramatic shifts in economic and political influence that are shaping the twenty-first century by educating and galvanizing its uniquely influential, nonpartisan network of international political, business, and intellectual leaders.

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Feb 10, 2016 03:04 (GMT)

Turkey is further frustrated because they will be the ones who have to deal with a massive wave of Syrian refugees who are fleeing the fighting in the north. Already tens of thousands are building on Turkey's borders, and today Turkish deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus warned that 600,000 refugees could soon be headed to Turkish border crossings.

From Turkey's perspective, Turkey bears the brunt of those fleeing Russian bombardment, Russia has violated their air space, bombed the Turkmen who have strong ties to the Turks, broken the battle lines of Syrian rebel groups which Turkey has supported, and they have done so while Turkey's enemies -- Assad and the YPG -- have grown stronger.

Furthermore, the United States has failed to designate the YPG, the fighting force in Syria, as a terrorist organization, choosing instead to give that designation to the YPG's parent organization the PKK. ABC's Alexander Marquardt reports:
Voice of America's Jamie Dettmer provides more context:
The former leader of the Free Syrian Army has also expressed his concerns with the YPG:
Turkey is warning of a worsening humanitarian crisis in northern Syria, and the Assad regime is moving closer and closer to the Turkish border:
-- James Miller
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Doctors Without Borders Confirms Three Dead In Airstrike On Hospital In Southern Syria

Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) has confirmed that an airstrike has hit one of its hospitals in southern Syria, killing three. AFP reports:

The strike on Tafas field hospital, some 12 kilometers (seven miles) from the Jordanian border, took place on the night of February 5. It caused partial damage to the hospital building, and put its heavily-used ambulance service out of action," MSF said in a statement.

A nurse was among the casualties, it added.

"The hospital is the latest medical facility to be hit in a series of airstrikes in southern Syria, which have been escalating over the past two months," it said, without specifying who was behind the strikes.

MSF says that 177 hospitals have been destroyed and 700 medical workers killed since the start of this conflict, but many hospitals have been hit since the start of this year. While MSF won't point fingers, Russian airstrikes have been fingered by international observers in many of the hospital bombings since last September:

"Since the start of this year alone, 13 health facilities in Syria have been hit, confirming that hospitals and clinics are no longer places where patients can recover in safety," the charity said.



Syria airstrike hits MSF-supported hospital, 3 dead: statement

An airstrike hit a hospital in southern Syria that is supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), killing three people and wounding six, the medical charity said on Tuesday

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Feb 09, 2016 23:06 (GMT)
-- James Miller
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
International Hospital And Refugee Camp Hit In Separate Russian Airstrikes In Syria
Last week, citing many other experts and our own analysis, we warned that Russian airstrikes were creating a humanitarian and political catastrophe in Syria, particularly around Aleppo:
Today there are reports that at least 15 people have been killed in rural Idlib province, not far from Aleppo, when a Russian airstrike hit a camp for internally-displaced-persons, IDPs, otherwise known as refugees:

That's just the result of a single Russian airstrike in the north. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCCS) are reporting that at least four people have been wounded and one killed in a Russian airstrike on Al Bab, north of Aleppo, and other Russian airstrikes have reportedly killed or injured civilians from Deir Ez Zor to Dara'a province and many places in between.

Most disturbingly, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) is reporting that one of their hospitals in the south, in Dara'a province, has been hit by a Russian airstrike:

MSF also reports a massive spike in hospital traffic, the result of Russia's air campaign and the ground offensive launched by Hezbollah, Iran, and Assad:
Global Post reporter Richard Hall reports that Russian aircraft are circling Aleppo province even as he's interviewing survivors of Russia's air campaign:
Another picture of Russian contrails, reportedly right on the Turkish border:
There are also reports that Russia is using cruise missiles against Idlib province, the stronghold of the Western-backed rebels and an area where ISIS is not present:

We'll continue to track these reports during the course of the day.

-- James Miller

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