Since the beginning of September Russia has been deploying military personnel and equipment at the Bassel al Assad Airbase in Latakia, Syria. The deployment, and development of defensive positions and offensive capabilities at the airbase indicates a significant shift in the Syrian conflict’s landscape, and one that is likely to muddy the waters of “good guy” v. “good/bad guy”.
On or around September 4th satellite imagery from AllSource Analysis (http://allsourceanalysis.com/) showed the beginnings of a Russian military insertion into the coastal Syrian city of Latakia. The Russians quickly set about resurfacing aprons and runways at Bassel al Assad, concurrently deploying equipment able to provide stand-off security in the event one-or-more of the jihadist groups fighting in the country attempted to interfere with the deployment. Today, the Russians have deployed quite a formidable force that will allow them to conduct air and ground attacks primarily against the Islamic State (IS), but also those jihadist groups opposed to current Syrian ruler Bashar al Assad. And this is where things start to get complicated.
Toward the end of July the US deployed its first fully trained “moderate” rebels – “Division 30” – into Aleppo Province who were quickly rounded up by al Qaeda’s (AQ) Syrian franchise group Jabhat al Nusrah. While some members of the “rebels” fled to Syrian Kurdish held areas, the AQ group held some US-sponsored militants for a number of days before releasing them back to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) who were located in Northern Syria. This was really a demonstration that the US trained and funded militants were impotent against veteran jihadi’s who have been fighting the al Assad Government (and anyone else who opposes them) for the past few years. Obviously, this sent concerns throughout the US Administration and the ranks of further Div 30 militants. This became obvious when the next batch of Div 30 militants were inserted into a less dangerous area under cover of US air support and defections to the AQ franchise began almost immediately.
Initially the US intended to identify “moderate” jihadists to fight, and hopefully topple the al Assad Government. However, they have since been “re-tasked” to fight the Islamic State. So while the US strategy of toppling and replacing al Assad flounders and its goalposts continue to shift, Russia has deployed its military might with one clear goal: fight the Islamic State and protect the al Assad Government to ensure it is not replaced by a Sunni militant faction.
It appears the US is now “allowing” the Russians to continue building its forces in Syria to take a leading role in the fight against IS. But it continues to espouse the theory that “the al Assad Government must be removed if peace is to prevail”. US Secretary of State John Kerry recently stated that the US is happy for Russia to deploy in Syria providing it provides a pathway for al Assad’s departure. Again, this is indicative of the concerns held by the Obama Administration that the Russians are in town, and they mean business.
Along with the myriad aircraft – both air and ground attack air frames – that the Russians have deployed, a number of Russian “military advisors” that look a lot like Spetsnaz (Russian Special Forces) have been observed in Northern Syria working alongside Syrian Government troops. This of course makes sense since the Russian fighter aircraft (Su-30 multi-role fighters, Su-25 attack fighters and Mi-24 (Hind) attack helicopters) will require trained (Russian) ground troops to enhance the capabilities and effectiveness of each air assault against the Islamic State.
The reality is, at ground level it is a complete and utter quagmire that can be somewhat cleaned up if the Russians are provided the space to do what the US and its loose coalition of “allies” haven’t succeeded at to date; degrading the Islamic State to the point it is no longer a credible threat to the Syrian population which allows the al Assad Government to focus solely on combatting the innumerable amount of jihadist groups that are unable to unite, or agree on what Syria is to look like post-al Assad. And therein lays the issue. Not only does the Russian deployment threaten the future of the Islamic State in Syria, it directly threatens any group that is intent on removing Assad. That absolutely means the US Government funded and trained “moderate” rebels.
There are still some hard days ahead for the Syrian population. But we are certain that the Russian military build-up will bear more fruit than what the US et al has borne over the last 2+ years. We are expecting IS to fight back however, once Russia commences its offensives against them we are also expecting a mass exodus of cowering IS fighters fleeing across the border into Iraq. And hopefully the US and its Western allies have taken a few leafs from the Russian playbook by then and continues to “bring the pain” to al Baghdadi’s cronies to end the suffering they have heaped on Syrian and Iraqi civilians.
In amongst all the static the MSM is putting out about the Russian military build-up in Syria, one thing is for certain: the bear is in there, and it means business.