FeaturedInternationalVolume 14 Issue # 08

New battlegrounds in Syria after Daesh defeat

World and regional powers have turned Syria into a new battleground after the defeat of Daesh or Islamic State in the country. The United States has made its intentions clear. It is not leaving the country until it obtains its objectives of a regime change and Iranian-commanded forces leave Syria.


Observers say the US is laying the groundwork for a long-term commitment to eastern Syria that will include “stabilization” after the defeat of Daesh and also the demand that “Iranian-commanded forces” leave Syria before the US withdraws. Over the last six months, the policy has increasingly crystallized. It was finally spelled out by US special representative for Syria engagement James Jeffrey. The US, Europe and their Gulf allies backed the losing side in Syria’s war but are loath to admit it. As the opposition splintered, then-President Barack Obama was reluctant to commit to full-scale war or regime change. The US wants to maintain a military presence in the area to counter the influence of Russia and Iran. Western powers, which chanted for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s exit for years, are now trying to save face with some kind of political deal that allows the possibility of an eventual future without Assad.


When it comes to Syria’s future, Russia is in the driver’s seat. Russian forces turned the tide in the international fight against Daesh extremists — and then Moscow clinched victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by sending warplanes, generals and alleged mercenaries to cripple and dissipate the Syrian rebellion. After reshaping the Syrian battlefield, Russia is now trying to design the peace. Its peace efforts alongside Turkey and Iran have sidelined or subsumed parallel Western negotiating tracks. Russia also struck a bold deal with Turkey that averted a battle for Idlib. Russia is also trying to drum up Western money for Syria’s costly reconstruction. Syria’s Cold War patron, Russia wants to maintain influence over Damascus once the war winds down, to keep a strategic foothold in the Mideast and a stable client for Russian weapons and commodities — and to warn the US and its allies against future interference. Russia’s announcement that it will supply Syria’s government with sophisticated S-300 air defense systems sent the message loud and clear.


Turkey is the last hope left for Syria’s splintered rebels, but its leverage is waning after years of shifting allegiances. Turkey has gained little from working with Russia and Iran on the peace process, and its relations with the US and Europe are at an exceptionally low point over President Erdogan’s hard-line leadership. So Ankara is playing Russia and the West against each other. Turkey wants to avoid a new wave of refugees and stop extremists it once tacitly supported from setting up camps on Turkish soil. And most of all, Ankara wants to keep the region’s Kurds at bay.


Iran is playing a long, unwavering game. Syria’s closest ally, Iran had fighters on Syrian soil since early in the war. Iran has no plans to leave, and wants to maintain latitude for its proxy militia Hezbollah and keep Syria allied against Israel. Iran is loath to see an expansion of Turkish and US influence in the region, and argues that the West fueled jihadis with past support for the Syrian opposition. However, Iran’s economy and clout are weakened by the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord and new sanctions. But Iran has time on its hands, and will stick it out in Syria until everyone else goes home.


The new battle lines have been drawn after Syrian government forces managed to wrest control over the last holdout of the Daesh in the country’s south. The territorial gain came after Daesh elements “withdrew from Tulul al-Safa and headed east into the Badia desert. According to reports, the Syrian forces also discovered weapons and ammunition, including US-made missiles, left behind by the terrorists between the town of Babbila and the village of Beit Sahem in the southern Rif Dimashq Province. A field commander said US-made TAO missiles, launchers, RPGs, machineguns and hand grenades were among the weapons seized. Media reports said groups affiliated to the terrorist outfit were preparing to use chemical weapons against civilians and blame the attack on the government of President Bashar al-Assad in a bid to justify a new Western military aggression.


Experts have also warned that Jordan could be the next target of Daesh. According to the American Foreign Policy Council, growing signs within the Kingdom suggest that the country, for all of its ties to the West, could soon become a save haven for the terrorist organisation. It reported, “We can expect foreign fighters to make their way back to their respective countries of origin. In the case of Jordan, 250 of them already have. And while previously Amman had been successful at preventing attacks, it will become increasingly difficult to do so as the Jordanian “alumni” of the Syrian civil war begin to flood back. These foreign fighters, equipped with Daesh’s corrosive ideology and armed with combat training and battlefield experience, will have the ability to recruit and mobilize vulnerable populations directly—or influence them through proxies and family connections. The most at risk of these is arguably the country’s Syrian refugee population. As of February 2018, there were estimated to be 657,628 Syrian refugees in Jordan, roughly equivalent to seven percent of the country’s overall population of 9.5 million. These refugees currently reside in dire conditions, living in overcrowded camps where they are subject to high levels of hunger, poverty, and local crime—all of which serve as major potential contributors to radicalization.”


It appears the US has not learnt a lesson from Afghanistan. It created and regrouped the Taliban to wage of interests in the region and then waged a so-called war on terror to dismantle them, but the world peace was shattered in the process. It has adopted the same tactics in Syria and results would not be different. The dream of peace in the world cannot come true until the US stops interfering in the affairs of other countries.