I’m getting a bit tired of reading about the “US-backed alliance of Syrian militias” and their advance against Isis. The ‘alliance’ is largely Kurdish – which is why, I suppose, the Americans talked about northern Syria when they announced the visit of General Joseph Votel, the head of US Central Command, to the little Kurdish enclave.
General Votel could only set foot in the tiny strip of territory along the Turkish border partly held by Kurdish and a sprinkling of Turkmen groups. A visit to northern Syria by an American general is thus a lot less impressive than it sounds.
It’s interesting to see a US commander crossing the border to cheer on participants in a civil war. That’s also what the American military has been doing in Iraq, where forces have been encouraging Shia militias fighting on the outskirts of Fallujah, and even providing air support to the forces of the perilously weak government in Baghdad.
For Iraq now meets many of the definitions of civil war. Yet in Syria, the Americans started by supporting “democratic” forces fighting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and mysteriously supported the same men (and women) when they were ready to fight Isis for Ain al-Arab (or Kobani for those who prefer the Kurdish version of the name).
How did this transfer of allegiance come about? Are the Kurds supposed to fight their way into Raqqa and when Isis has turned tail and run across the Iraqi border, to fight on against the Syrian government army and its Lebanese militia allies and its Iranian allies?
Has anyone in northern Syria looked at any maps? And do the Kurds think that Turkey will allow their mini-state to survive?
“We do, absolutely, have to go with what we’ve got,” according to General Vogel. And I couldn’t agree more. What that means is that the “Assad has got to go” routine is changing. We haven’t heard many Americans saying that recently, and we’ve hardly noticed it.
The Russian military is still in Syria (albeit scaled down), but we saw plenty of them at Palmyra after its recapture. Assad’s forces want to take back Deir El-Zour, where their soldiers are still fighting under siege.
I suspect that the Assad-must-go campaign is going to be gently dropped – thanks to Isis, of course, which is even more hateful for the Americans than the Syrian government in Damascus.
Certainly, Isis still exists on the border with Lebanon. Incredibly, nine soldiers are still being held in an enclave on the Lebanese border after being captured almost two years ago.
The father of the Lebanese soldier Mohamed Hamieh, executed at the time by the Jabhat al-Nusra Front (recently credited as “moderates” by Saudi Arabia and Qatar), this week went to the Lebanese home of his killer’s nephew (Sheikh Mustafa Hujeiri is a well-known figure on Islamist tapes) and shot the 20-year old 35 times. He then left the corpse on the grave of his own son.
It was a bad week in Lebanon. The government staged the usual military parades to mark Liberation Day when guerrilla fighters finally persuaded the Israeli army to flee across the border after 22 years of occupation in 2000. Tanks and armoured vehicles drove through the streets of Beirut amid public assurances (and private fears) of inter-communal violence amid the generals.
In pictures: Syria conflict
In pictures: Syria conflict
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Syrians carry children amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl on a street covered with dust following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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Syrians react as they stand amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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An injured Syrian man walks out from the rubble of a destroyed building following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian woman makes her way through debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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People stand on the rubble of collapsed buildings at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the Al-Fardous neighbourhood of Aleppo
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Syrian residents stand amid the rubble of destroyed buildings
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A Syrian resident grasps a mattress amid rubble in the al-Firdous neighborhood of the northern city of Aleppo
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A bullet-riddled parking sign stands amid debris in a deserted street leading into the old city of Homs
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A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted square in the old city of Homs after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas
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A mosque is pictured through shattered glass in the old city of Homs, as rebel fighters withdrew from the city centre in line with a negotiated withdrawal deal with the government after having held out under tight siege for nearly two years
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Buses carrying Free Syrian Army fighters leaving Homs. Exhausted and worn out from a year-long siege, hundreds of Syrian rebels left their last remaining bastions in the heart of the central city of Homs under a cease-fire deal with government forces. The exit of some 1,200 fighters and civilians will mark a de facto end of the rebellion in the battered city, which was one of the first places to rise up against President Bashar Assad's rule, earning it the nickname of "capital of the revolution"
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Syrian government forces hold up a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad (L) while others raise the national flag on top of a pole in the old city of Homs
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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad run through Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr crossing after their release by rebels. They were freed as part of a larger deal which saw the last remaining Syrian rebels in central Homs city evacuate their positions and free captives in several locations in northern Syria
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A Syrian woman and two children walk past heavily damaged buildings in the northern city of Aleppo
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A man carries a wounded girl following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Mowasalat neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A wounded man sits as he is treated at a makeshift hospital following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Sakhour district of the northern city of Aleppo
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Debris rises in what Free Syrian Army fighters and Islamic rebels said was an operation to strike Al-Sahaba checkpoint, which is considered a gateway to Al-Dayf valley, and remove forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Maarat Al-Nouman, Idlib province
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Men try to put out fire at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Civil Defence members try to put out fire
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Survivors react at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Residents queue as they wait to receive food aid distributed by the UNRWA at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, south of Damascus
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Belongings of Syrian rebels inside a chapel at Crac des Chevaliers, the world's best preserved medieval Crusader castle in Syria. The village was destroyed in fighting between the government and rebel forces while the castle, listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, also has been damaged over the past two years
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Hosen Sabah, a 16-year-old student is comforted by his mother at a hospital in Damascus. Nosen was wounded by a mortar outside his school, while 14 other students were killed and over 80 wounded
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A Free Syrian Army fighter works on a locally made launcher before firing it towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Mork town
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Syrian policemen and citizens inspecting the site of a car bomb at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus. According to Syria's Arab News Agency (SANA), a car bomb explosion has gone off in the countryside of Damascus and initial information say there are casualties, where a car rigged with explosions was remotely detonated at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus during engineering units it was trying to dismantled it
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Opposition fighters carrying a rocket launcher during clashes against government forces in the Sheikh Lutfi area, west of the airport in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man helps a woman to make her way through debris following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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A Syrian man reacts as he carries the body of injured boy following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 33 civilians were killed in the attack
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Syrian rescue workers carry the body of a woman following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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Syrians gather at the site of reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
Many of those resistance men who drove out the Israelis are now fighting – and dying – for the Assad regime in Damascus. Thus has the Syrian war touched Lebanon again. The fears are, of course, of a Sunni-Shia conflict starting in the Beqaa Valley.
The Syrian war has already divided Lebanon, not least because so many Hezbollah men have perished in Syria. They are “martyrs” to the militia and many Shiites, but the source of great anger to Lebanon’s Sunnis. The Islamists up at Arsal, including the Nusra Front men, are Sunnis.
And still, in Syria as well as Lebanon, there are no plans for a future. No plans for post-war development. No plans for future policy towards Assad.
The Syrian army is going to have a role in any New Syria. Maybe the Russians realise this, which is why they intervened so dramatically. But Syrian military casualties are so high – half the government soldiers I have met since the start of the conflict in 2011 are now dead – that it was probably inevitable that Moscow decided to bring its air force to Lattakia and Tartous.
If Isis is ‘beaten’ – and the recapture of Fallujah and Raqqa will not achieve that – then there must be projects for those Syrians who fought on both sides. The Syrians are specialists on ‘mediation’ committees, but this will have to be far greater than that.
And what do we have? Turkey threatens Isis, and Nusra and Isis remains a threat right across the Middle East. Saudis support Isis and Qatar supports Nusra, and Hezbollah supports the regime.
The Americans seem to have left the air bombing to the Russians (after complaining about it) and Putin is not afraid to say the obvious: that the government in Damascus is a better bet than Isis.
We shall see who wins. “We do, absolutely, have to go with what we’ve got.” That pretty much sums it up.Reuse content