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Well, goodness. Think anyone’s going to notice that? I hope not. It might make future allies a little uneasy about allying with us.
Russia has targeted Syrian rebel groups backed by the Central Intelligence Agency in a string of airstrikes running for days, leading the U.S. to conclude that it is an intentional effort by Moscow, American officials said.
The assessment, which is shared by commanders on the ground, has deepened U.S. anger at Moscow and sparked a debate within the administration over how the U.S. can come to the aid of its proxy forces without getting sucked deeper into a proxy war that President Barack Obama says he doesn’t want. The White House has so far been noncommittal about coming to the aid of CIA-backed rebels, wary of taking steps that could trigger a broader conflict.
U.S. officials said Russia’s targeting of its allies on the ground was a direct challenge to Mr. Obama’s Syria policy. Underlining the distrust, the Pentagon decided against sharing any information with Moscow about the areas where U.S. allies were located because it suspected Russia would use that information to target them more directly or provide the information to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“On day one, you can say it was a one-time mistake,” a senior U.S. official said of Russia’s strike on one of the allied rebel group’s headquarters. “But on day three and day four, there’s no question it’s intentional. They know what they’re hitting.”
U.S. officials say they now believe the Russians have been directly targeting CIA-backed rebel groups that pose the most direct threat to Mr. Assad since the campaign began on Wednesday, both to firm up regime positions and to send a message to Mr. Obama’s administration. …
One of Russia’s first targets was a CIA-backed group known as Tajamu al-Ezzeh or the Ezzeh Gathering in Hama province in central Syria, U.S. and rebel officials said.
The first strike on the group came at 9 a.m. on Sept. 30, catching its fighters off guard. Seventeen more strikes were launched against the group over the first three days of the Russian campaign, injuring 25 of Ezzeh’s fighters. Some of the injured had received CIA training, according to their commander, Maj. Jameel al-Salih. Four strikes on the first day targeted Ezzeh’s headquarters.
American officials and the allied commanders said several other rebel groups covertly backed by the U.S. and its coalition allies have also been targeted by the Russians. They include the First Coastal Division, whose base in northern Latakia province near the Turkish border was struck twice on Oct. 2 starting at 9:45 p.m., according to the group’s commander, Capt. Muhammad Haj Ali.
Members of the brigades said in interviews they believed they were being targeted by the Russians to weaken the moderates, without whom the West would have to accept Mr. Assad’s continued rule. The other rebel groups on the battlefield are too radical for the West to work with, they said.
U.S. officials and rebel leaders said the White House thus far has taken no tangible steps to offer the groups support.
Twitter rumor has it that both Russia and ISIS were targeting FSA Suqour al-Jabal at the same time in Aleppo last night, by air and ground.
Meanwhile, remember how just a while back we were all having earnest debates about the Iranian nuclear deal, and those of us who remained concerned about it were told we were off our rockers? (Remember how The New York Times launched the Congress Jew Tracker?) So, precisely as our own government and newspaper of record were brightly intimating that anyone who wasn’t fully on board with Obama’s plan must be a Zionist stooge, this is what Moscow and Iran were up to:
“Soleimani put the map of Syria on the table. The Russians were very alarmed, and felt matters were in steep decline and that there were real dangers to the regime. The Iranians assured them there is still the possibility to reclaim the initiative,” a senior regional official said. “At that time, Soleimani played a role in assuring them that we haven’t lost all the cards.”
Three senior officials in the region say Soleimani’s July trip was preceded by high-level Russian-Iranian contacts that produced political agreement on the need to pump in new support for Assad as his losses accelerated.
Their accounts suggest planning for the intervention began to germinate several months earlier. It means Tehran and Moscow had been discussing ways to prop up Assad by force even as Western officials were describing what they believed was new flexibility in Moscow’s stance on his future.
Before the latest moves, Iran had aided Assad militarily by mobilizing Shi’ite militias to fight alongside the Syrian army, and dispatching Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps officers as advisors. A number of them have been killed.
The decision for a joint Iranian-Russian military effort in Syria was taken at a meeting between Russia’s foreign minister and Khamenei a few months ago, said a senior official of a country in the region, involved in security matters.
“Soleimani, assigned by Khamenei to run the Iranian side of the operation, traveled to Moscow to discuss details. And he also traveled to Syria several times since then,” the official said. …
Khamenei also sent a senior envoy to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin, another senior regional official said. “Putin told him ‘Okay we will intervene. Send Qassem Soleimani’. He went to explain the map of the theater.”
Russian warplanes, deployed at an airfield in Latakia, began mounting air strikes against rebels in Syria last week.
Moscow says it is targeting Islamic State, but many of Russia’s air strikes have hit other insurgents, including groups backed by Assad’s foreign enemies, notably in the northwest where rebels seized strategically important towns including Jisr al-Shughour earlier this year.
In the biggest deployment of Iranian forces yet, sources told Reuters last week that hundreds of troops have arrived since late September to take part in a major ground offensive planned in the west and northwest.
Around 3,000 fighters from the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah have also mobilized for the battle, along with Syrian army troops, said one of the senior regional sources.
The military intervention in Syria is set out in an agreement between Moscow and Tehran that says Russian air strikes will support ground operations by Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces, said one of the senior regional sources.
The agreement also included the provision of more sophisticated Russian weapons to the Syrian army, and the establishment of joint operations rooms that would bring those allies together, along with the government of Iraq, which is allied both to Iran and the United States.
One of the operations rooms is in Damascus and another is in Baghdad.
“Soleimani is almost resident in Damascus, or let’s say he goes there a lot and you can find him between meetings with President Assad and visits to the theater of operations like any other soldier,” said one of the senior regional officials.
Syria’s foreign minister said on Monday that the Russian air strikes had been planned for months.
Now right about then, if I recall rightly, the president said, “We must be willing to test whether this region is willing to move in a different direction.” He said the deal offered Iran an opportunity “to move in a new direction” away from a “policy based on threats to attack your neighbors and annihilate Israel.”
So he’s saying this even as Soleimani is “almost resident” in Damascus and running up frequent-flyer miles to Moscow, where he’s signing plans for Russian air strikes to support ground operations by Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces. Well, folks, if this is how you pass that test, I’m not sure how you can lose, really.
As for the the theory that welcoming Iran back in from the cold would bolster regional stability? High five, guys, you nailed that one:
Dozens of conservative Saudi Arabian clerics have called for Arab and Muslim countries to “give all moral, material, political and military” support to what they term a jihad, or holy war, against Syria’s government and its Iranian and Russian backers.
Although the clerics who signed the online statement are not affiliated with the government, their strong sectarian and anti-Christian language reflects a growing anger among many Saudis over Russian and Iranian involvement in Syria’s civil war.
And what do you think it might mean when Sultan bin Khalid Al-Faisal says ‘”With the United States and other Western powers disengaging from Middle Eastern conflicts, “We are going to have to take care of ourselves?”
Speaking fluent English, Sultan said with emphasis, “We are moving the armed forces to a level needed today to lead — lead — the Middle East.”’
I find that insinuation so … ambiguous.
But back to my original point. Hapless, strategically-blundering, and misguided thoughout our strategy may have been, we certainly backed quite a lot of rebel groups in Syria who are now being shot like fish in a barrel by Russians. They’re begging for help, but we’re “noncommittal.” When I ask myself, “How likely is anyone in the world, ever, to forget that the Americans seem to be the last people you want on your side when things go pear-shaped,” my answer, realistically, is three generations. It will take that long.
Meanwhile, I hope we’re at least airdropping those poor guys some moral support. Like maybe a nice James Taylor mix tape.