Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Crowded Skies and Proxy Wars

"If we just stood by and let Syria get gobbled up, thousands of people running around there now with Kalashnikovs would end up on our territory, and so we are helping President Assad fight this threat before it reaches our borders."
"We must take pre-emptive action. Of course, there are risks, but let me say that these risks existed anyway, even before we began our operations in Syria."
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Syrian soldiers under attack Sunday in Hama Province. Government troops advanced there Monday, aided by Russian air power. Credit Alexander Kots/Komsomolskaya Pravda, via Associated Press
"We get what we ask for [from U.S.-sponsored coalition support] in a very short time. [In two days we destroyed seven armored vehicles and tanks with seven TOWs:] Seven out of seven."
"They [liaison officers in Turkish operations center] told us they would deliver our requests to their countries. We understand that it is not an easy decision to make when it comes to antiaircraft missiles or a no-fly zone, especially now that Syrian airspace is filled with jets from different countries."
Commander Ahmad al-Saud Division 13, Syrian rebel group

The newly revamped U.S. approach to provide equipment, including ammunition, to Syrian rebel groups who fight ISIL, resulted from the American decision to no longer attempt to build a new Syrian rebel force, identifying those groups instead who share the resolution that ISIL must be defeated. US. cargo planes are dropping small arms ammunition to groups fighting ISIL now, in northern Syria.

These are groups whose leaders were vetted and who have been active in the conflict to remove ISIL forces from northern Syria. Meanwhile, in central Syria, Russian jets have flown intensified airstrikes, giving government forces the opportunity to meet in battle with the rebels in the rebel-threatened province of Latakia.

Officials in Syria now claim that the heavy aerial barrages of Russian airstrikes has enabled the regime's military to seize villages held by the rebels, though the Syrian rebels claim to have repelled the attack. Capture of the Kfar Nabudeh village would give government forces access to Idlib, restoring it to government hands after its capture by the Nusra Front.

According to the Russian defence ministry, Russian warplanes struck 53 ISIL targets in the past 24 hours, in the process destroying command centres, ammunition and fuel depots along with training camps used by foreign militants in the central provinces of Homs and Hama, Latakia and Idlib. Areas where Islamic State has a limited presence. Russia's multi-pronged land-and-ground assault has been carried out in areas in the control of mainstream rebels, along with the Nusra Front.

The People's Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish groups have formed a "Forces of Democratic Syria" coalition with the objective of fighting ISIL. The US. provided over 100 tonnes of weapons and ammunition to the YPG, representing the main Kurdish militia in conflict with ISIL in the area, according to Mustafa Bali, an area Kurdish official. The coalition embraces Arab, Kurdish and Syrian rebel factions.

A march on the northern city of Raqqa, Islamic State's declared capital is in the works.

Syrian soldiers and pro-government forces in the village of Atshan in Hama Province on Sunday. Credit SANA, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Russian authorities claim that roughly 2,400 Russians have joined Islamic State. The concern being that they may return to Russia and pose a violent threat. According to Russian intelligence sources, Sunday saw the arrest of a number of terror suspects whom security officials state were planning an attack on Moscow's public transport system. Russia is no stranger to deadly bombings by Chechen Islamists.

The potential for vastly complicating the conflict in Syria, with the presence of the U.S. arming the rebel factions and the Russian aerial strikes targeting those very same rebel factions, is certainly a factor one might expect both sides to be keenly aware of. Syria's skies are not that vast that Russian warplanes in flight might never come across U.S. planes, leading to accidental encounters of a type that could escalate the conflict and draw both protagonists in even deeper.

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