10:16 GMT +326 March 2017
    A Syrian national flag flutters as the ruins of the historic city of Palmyra are seen in the background, in Homs Governorate, Syria April 1, 2016.

    Aleppo's Liberation, Palmyra, and Washington's Dilemma

    © REUTERS/ Omar Sanadiki
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    John Wight

    The ability of Daesh (also known as Islamic State) to retake the Syrian desert city of Palmyra, nine months after being originally forced out, raises serious questions for those leading the various ongoing military operations in the country against the terrorist organization.

    When it comes to the Syrian Army, for obvious reasons the bulk of its forces and its main focus have been on the military operation to liberate Aleppo, partly occupied by anti-government forces since July 2012. 

    At time of writing the battle to take back full control of Syria's second city is close to completion, with the scenes of thousands of men, women, and children celebrating in the streets putting the final nail in the coffin of a western narrative depicting the SAA and its allies as the ‘bad guys', while in the process reinventing Nusra Front as a latter day French resistance or Partisans of Second World War repute.

    In the wake of this successful outcome in Aleppo, and at a point in the wider conflict where pro-government forces appeared to have gained an unstoppable momentum, Syrian and Russian military commanders will no doubt be eager to assess how such a military reverse as the one that has just taken place in Palmyra could have occurred.

    What should not be forgotten is that Russia's military presence in Syria is not so large that it can cover the entire country at any given time. Moreover, we cannot overlook the fact that the skies over Raqqa — the self-declared capital of the so-called Islamic State — are currently dominated by the US Air Force (USAF). When married to the advanced surveillance capabilities of the US, just how is that 4-5000 armed men were able to travel over such long stretches of open desert to converge on Palmyra from different directions without being destroyed in the process?

    Just as Daesh fighters were able to move en-masse from their bases in and around Raqqa to take Palmyra back in May 2015, now they have been able to do so again, thus fueling suspicions that Washington is less concerned to see the downfall of Daesh and the defeat of terrorism in the country, as it is to effect the downfall of the Assad government in Damascus. Here the memory of the US-led airstrike against SAA positions in and around the besieged city of Deir Ezor in September springs to mind. Moreover, immediately after said airstrikes, which lasted over an hour in duration and killed 62 Syrian troops, Daesh mounted an attack on the same Syrian Army positions, suggestive of an element of cooperation and pre-planning.

    Another factor that needs to be borne in mind vis-a-vis the ability of Daesh to retake Palmyra, is that in the course of the ongoing US-led operation to retake Mosul in western Iraq, the progress of which has faltered in the past couple of weeks, thousands of Daesh fighters have been able to escape across the border into Syria, making them available to be redeployed elsewhere. Here again we discern the grievous consequences of the refusal of the Americans to countenance the repeated invitation by Russia and the Syrians to unite in what should be a common struggle to defeat terrorism.

    Ultimately, the success enjoyed by Daesh in retaking Palmyra will be short-lived. Though this fact may come as little comfort to the families of the soldiers killed as a result of this setback, it is a point worth emphasizing if only to illustrate that Daesh is an organization whose military defeat is now certain — a matter of when not if. In this regard, using the Second World War as an historical parallel, the Daesh military operation against Palmyra is one we could equate to the German Ardennes offensive of late 1944, which came as the last gasp of a Nazi war machine approaching its inevitable demise.

    What this brief military reverse does also is shine an even harsher light on President Obama's decision to lift the legal prohibition put in place, under the terms of the US Arms Export Control Act, when it comes to supplying weapons to various groups involved in the conflict in Syria.

    Though widely believed to be a decision designed to enable the US to arm the Kurds they have been supporting, perhaps with a view to a push on Raqqa early next year, there is justifiable reason to be concerned that advanced weaponry could fall into the hands of ISIS or other anti-government groups as a consequence. Even worse is the prospect of the US arming so-called moderate anti-government groups with MANPADS, shoulder held missiles capable of bringing down helicopters, given that the Obama administration has yet to retreat from the position of regime change in Damascus.

    We are also entitled to speculate if at least part of the motivation behind this inexplicable demarche by Obama is to saddle president-elect Donald Trump with a fait accompli. The president-elect has made no secret of his intention to embark on a step-change in US foreign policy with regard to Syria and the wider region. His priority, one he has stated repeatedly, will be combatting terrorism rather than those who already are combating terrorism — i.e. Russia and Syria.

    In reaching the point at which Syria's survival as a pluralist, secular, and non-sectarian state is assured, there can be no negotiation over the right of the Syrian people and Syrian people alone to determine the future of the country going forward. Given what they have suffered over the past five years, this is surely one right they have earned.

    For those in any doubt, there are no Sunnis, Shiites, Druze, Alawites, Turkmen, Kurds, or Assyrians in Syria. There are only Syrians.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.


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    rebels, terrorism, conflict, war, Daesh, Syrian Army, US Air Force, Bashar al-Assad, Palmyra, Syria, United States, Russia, Aleppo
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    • avatar
      Ok now let the Americans liberate Palmyra and give their concert in the roman theater !!!
    • avatar
      A desperate attempt with great assistance from US who jammed radio signals and bombed the rear guard in Mosul to let Terrorists through to spoil the celebrations in the liberation of Aleppo.
      Well unless there is a massive increase in terrorists to that front the Palmyra offensive will be extremely short lived.
      It does take away some resources from the march to liberate Al-Bab and Raqqa which will be very interesting will US cooperate or attack SAA?
      Will the S300 etc be moved into range and defend Syrians if they are attacked? perhaps Trump will intervene in the nick of time and turn those assets on the Terrorists which would likely result in a complete surrender of Daesh and co.
    • choticastile
      "What this brief military reverse does also is shine an even harsher light on President Obama's decision to lift the legal prohibition put in place, under the terms of the US Arms Export Control Act, when it comes to supplying weapons to various groups involved in the conflict in Syria."

      To me this action of Obama's or on whoever's instructions he was doing it-- can be compared to the peeve of a five year old throwing a tantrum! Has the man lost his brain completely?

      Russia and the SAA et al, returning Syria to sanity, clearly thwarted and continue to make the US, Israel, Saudi and Qatar foam at the mouth-- as they cannot fulfil their agenda in Syria-- its not that Assad is the evil, they try sell him as to the world, rather it is, that Syria and then Iran to follow, must become theirs to break up-- as Bill Clinton did to Yugoslavia-- as Obama did to Libya-- divide and rule. Every reasonably informed common sense human being can see through the US' hideous agenda.
    • avatar
      Palmyra Dec.2016 is a clear, undisputed failure at all levels of the Syrian-Russian coalition.
      A failure of reconnaissance - no warnings were issued.
      A failure of contact line surveillance - while a contact line should be sealed off for any kind of traffic, it was easily and without detection permeated by a massive number of Daesh fighters. Not ONE infiltrating Daesh individual has been detected, apprehended and interrogated in order to find out what was going on.
      A failure of object and area security - the garrison was not ready to fight in 3 directions simultaneously (as the contact line was), no mining of the enemy access areas, no reserves at ready to intervene and stabilize the front lines.
      A failure of territory control - no checkpoints with ID checks, firearms checks.
      A failure of strategy - when positioned in the shape of a long sharp wedge as Palmyra region was, the Syrian army was supposed to be in clear superiority relative to their enemy. Well, the enemy was actually superior to the army in the long sharp wedge and thus capable of encircling the Palmyra garrison. Only a hasty retreat (abandoning a huge cache of military hardware) saved the day to avoid encirclement. This weak standing in the long wedge is a profound error of the Syrian-Russian staff.
      A failure of situational awareness - all military and intel echelons behaved as blindfolded, they acted as they never expected an attack at Palmyra.
      It is mystifying how much complacency and errors is this episode revealing especially when considering the 1,000 years of Russian military experience.
    • avatar
      The US will never work with anyone to destroy their proxy armies. Russia will have to eliminate them with Syria alone.
    • Jammy
      So russia won't put boots on the ground in Syria, won't bomb city's and did not bomb ISIS from the air when they were heading to re-take Palmyra plus at least twice they have turned the S400's off when Israel wanted to bomb inside Syria.

      The SSA is down to dropping barrel bombs because the five year war have left them out of bombs and few jets to deliver them with so that says to me that Russia is doing little to help in Syria and won't even provide weapons so that Syria can fight it's own fight but it was only too happy to let Turkey invade.

      Something does not smell right here, wars don't run like this unless we are in for never ending war like written in the book 1984
    • Jammyin reply tomario828282(Show commentHide comment)
      mario828282, Yes i agree with you, sums not adding up are they
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