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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Defeat of the Islamic State in Syria will not be end of conflict

While the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces are confronting the Islamic State in eastern Syria and beginning to enter the strategic city of Raqqa, the Syrian Army has been taking control of positions in their rear further west.

Around the end of May , the Syrian Army captured almost 100 square kilometers in the desert sparsely populated Badia area — a huge region that stretches to the southern border of Syria with Jordan and Iraq. Assad forces took over the country's largest phosphate mine and the strategic highway from the ancient city of Palmyra to Damascus. Both Assad forces and rebels, some supported by the U.S., are racing to gain control of territory as the Islamic State is forced to retreat.
The U.S. has insisted on focusing on the defeat of the Islamic State. However, the U.S. is now making it clear that it will also defend the rebels it supports from Assad attacks. At the time of the Assad advance, Al-Baraa Fares, a spokesperson for Free Syrian Army (FSA) group Mitaghawir al-Thawra (MAT), said: “The coalition is a partner of ours in the war against Daesh [the Islamic State], but when it comes to fighting the regime and its foreign militias, [the coalition] is not our partner. The role of the international coalition is to train members of MAT and to provide logistical support, weapons, ammunition and all that is needed to eliminate the terrorist Daesh." However. the U.S. has now made it clear that it will defend rebels that it supports from attacks by Assad forces.
This appears to be a new and dangerous emphasis that will inevitably give rise to new clashes and more involvement by the U.S. in the Syria war. The Assad regime is not likely to give up attacking rebels who are enemies of the Assad regime and will attack them when they get a chance. The U.S. has already shot down an Assad jet because it was said to be dropping bombs close to rebels supported by the U.S. The Assad regime said that it was on a mission against the Islamic State. Russians claim that the hotline was not used to talk to them before the plane was downed. As a result of the incident, Russia has declared that coalition planes flying west of the Euphrates will be considered targets, a clear escalation of tensions between Russia and the U.S.-led coalition.
The U.S. has a base in the Badia numbering about 100 special forces based in a small military outpost near the Tanf border crossing between Syria and Iraq. The base trains fighters of vetted forces to fight against the Islamic State. However the Free Syrian Army sees things differently and adopted a campaign titled "Badia Volcano" a campaign to "cleanse the Badia of Iranian and foreign militia". These militias are of course Assad allies. No doubt the groups involved in the campaign will demand U.S. support as they battle against pro-Assad Hezbollah and Iranian forces. The Iranians have upped their involvement in Syria by launching missile attacks on the eastern Syrian city of Deir rl-Zour. It was said to be in retaliation for an earlier attack in Iran on the parliament claimed by the Islamic State that killed at least 18 people. Within the last 12 days the U.S. has shot down two Iranian drones near the outpost of al-Tanf.
The U.S. maintains a defensive area around that Tanf base with a radius of 55km within which it will not permit the regime or its allied forces to enter. Earlier in the month, coalition warplanes attacked a group of tanks. armored vehicles and others who were advancing towards the outpost. In other words, the U.S.-led coalition has defined a zone that it occupies as off limits to the country to which it belongs. It can hardly expect to avoid further clashes. Yet a CENTCOM spokesperson said: “The continued armed and hostile presence of forces inside the de-confliction zone is unacceptable and threatening to Coalition forces. Coalition forces are prepared to defend themselves if pro-regime forces refuse to vacate the de-confliction zone.” The regime may be trying to re-establish trade links between Iraq and parts of Syria or even for troops and supplies to come from Iran.
The increased conflict appears to be confined to areas where regime forces, rebels and the Islamic State are in close contact. It may be that as the Islamic State loses more and more territories conflict could arise between forces loyal to Assad and the Syrian Democratic Forces supported by the U.S. In some areas of the country, there is rebuilding and cessation of hostilities as the enclosed video shows.

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