is mounting that the Russians are cranking up to resume large scale
bombing in and around the Syrian city of Aleppo.
background is an agreement which was concluded by the US and the
Russians in February. This called for a “cessation of hostilities”
between the various Syrian factions in return for which Russia’s
bombing campaign in Syria was to be scaled down.
“cessation of hostilities” was not a ceasefire and was not
intended to be. This was because the two biggest groups fighting the
Syrian government – Daesh (“the Islamic State”, also sometimes
called ISIS) and Al-Qaeda’s local Syrian franchise – Jabhat
Al-Nusra – were expressly excluded from it. The UN Security Council
previously declared both organisations terrorist organisations and
neither were parties to the “cessation of hostilities” agreement.
In fact both denounced it.
fundamental part of the “cessation of hostilities” agreement was
that the US would persuade the various groups it supports in Syria –
the so-called “moderates” who form the so-called “Free Syrian
Army” – to separate their fighters from these two terrorist
reason the Russians are now cranking up to resume their bombing in
and around Aleppo is because the separation of so-called “moderate
fighters” from those of Daesh and Jabhat Al-Nusra in and around
Aleppo has never happened. On the contrary the fighters of the
various Syrian groups remain intermingled with each other and
continue to fight alongside each other.
for the US, there is little or no evidence that it has ever made any
serious attempt to persuade the so-called “moderate fighters” it
supports to separate themselves from Daesh or Jabhat Al-Nusra. On the
contrary the whole weight of the US’s diplomatic activity over the
last few weeks has been to dissuade the Russians from bombing Jabhat
Al-Nusra from in and around Aleppo on the grounds that this might hit
the so-called “moderate fighters”.
understand how extraordinary that demand is, just consider that the
US has never in all the air campaigns it has waged in the Middle East
– whether against the Taliban in Afghanistan or in Iraq or in Libya
or Syria – ever sought to distinguish between “militants” and
the US bombed Afghanistan in 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11
terrorist attacks its stance was totally straightforward – it
bombed the Taliban everywhere and anywhere it could without making
any distinction between its supposed militant and moderate factions.
It was left to anyone who wanted to avoid getting bombed to get out
of the way. This despite the fact that such different factions within
the Taliban – actually a loose coalition of different groups –
are known to have existed, and despite the fact that Al-Qaeda (the
nominal target of the whole campaign) and the Taliban were distinct
organisations. The mere fact the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were physically
connected with each other sufficed for the US to bomb them both.
fact the US has been pressuring the Russians to desist from bombing
Jabhat Al-Nusra – ie. Al-Qaeda in Syria – has been barely
reported in the West or in the US. If the families of the victims of
the 9/11 attacks – or indeed the US soldiers who fought against the
Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families –
were ever to learn that in Syria the US is protecting Al-Qaeda they
would surely feel betrayed.
series of complaints and messages from Russian Foreign Minister
Lavrov suggests that the Russians are now close to having enough.
Lavrov has made clear that the Russians consider the US in breach of
the “cessation of hostilities” agreement the Russians and the US
concluded with each other in February.
Russians also see what is in fact obvious, that Jabhat Al-Nusra make
use of any cessation of the bombing to re-equip and redeploy and to
launch new attacks against Syrian army positions. Moreover when they
do so the US’s so-called “moderate fighters” enthusiastically
cooperate with them. A short while ago fighters from Jabhat Al-Nusra
in cooperation with fighters of one of the so-called “moderate”
groups together stormed an Alawite village and jointly massacred 19
of its civilian inhabitants including children and old people.
it is necessary to say something about the true situation in Syria.
This is that the so-called “moderate forces” the US and the
Western media constantly talk about quite simply don’t exist.
collapse of the government’s authority over much of Syria meant
that various village militias set themselves up to fill the void in
different parts of the country. Some of them have claimed to be
affiliated with the “Free Syrian Army” in order to get access to
Western supplies, and many of them get lumped together by the US as
if they were a coherent united fighting force. These militias are
however focused on their own districts and are not seriously involved
in the war.
our writer Afra’a Dagher – who is an actual Syrian journalist
based in Syria – has
those fighters who are actually rebels – that is those fighters who
actually fight the Syrian army and who seek to overthrow the Syrian
government – call themselves at various times by different names
but in reality are simply one and the same people.
order to attract fighters, arms supplies and donations from the Gulf
and elsewhere, they say they are Daesh or – if they are fighting
around Aleppo – Jabhat Al-Nusra, or by any of various other
colourful names that jihadi extremist groups in Syria like to use
when it suits them. When they want to prevent the Russian air force
bombing them, or when they need to get diplomatic support from the US
or from Turkey or the West, they pretend to be “moderates” and
call themselves the “Free Syrian Army”.
the US and the Russians know all this perfectly well. Both have for
different reasons engaged in the fiction that there are “moderate
fighters” in Syria who can be distinguished from the armed jihadis.
The US does this because its priority is the overthrow of the Syrian
government, not the defeat of violent jihadism in Syria. The Russians
do it because they have always sought a diplomatic solution to the
Syrian conflict, which would involve the Syrian rebels’ keep
supporters – Saudi Arabia and the US – which they see as the only
way to secure an end to the war.
of a major rebel offensive against Aleppo’s Kurdish districts over
the last few days has however brought Russian patience to breaking
point. Diplomatic engagement with the US having failed to prevent
this offensive, the Russians are all but saying that bombing is about