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The U.S. and Russia have been supporting opposing factions on the ground to claim as much territory as possible along the Euphrates River Valley in eastern Syria in the last few months of the war. Even so, the U.S. has apparently given up its longstanding bid to confront the Syrian government directly, though not without taking a political stab at Syria and Russia first.
“We are seeing the movement of limited numbers of ISIS militants westward,” said British Army Maj. Gen Felix Gedney, deputy commander for strategy and support for Operation Inherent Resolve. “They seem to be moving with impunity through regime-held territory showing that the regime is either unwilling or unable to defeat [ISIS] within their borders.”
Gedney’s accusation is surprising considering it recently emerged that the U.S. intentionally allowed safe passage for thousands of ISIS fighters leaving Raqqa unscathed. His accusation also runs contrary to the reality that the Syrian regime is the most heavily engaged entity fighting in Syria.
That being said, Gedney’s allegations detract from the real development that has gone largely unnoticed — the U.S.-led coalition has announced it has “no intention to operate in areas that are currently held by the regime.”
As the Military Times notes, this decision came as Russia announced its plans to enter into a long-term agreement with Syria for a permanent military presence. The agreement will entail that Russia will expand its naval base at Tartus, with Russian land and air forces remaining at Hmeymim Air Base.
The decision also comes on the heels of Russia’s call for U.S. forces to leave the country completely. Approximately a week ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, said there was no longer a reason for the U.S. to maintain a military presence in Syria and that Washington’s reasons for staying were baseless.
“Any reasons cited by the Americans to justify their further military presence … are just excuses and we think their presence must end,” Lavrentiev allegedly told reporters.
In other words, Russia’s permanent military presence means that Washington has been forced to admit its movements in Syria will be completely restricted. The two military superpowers essentially have no-fly zones of their own established in different parts of the country, but only one of them has the authority to fly there, and the U.S. is well aware of this legal disparity.
However, according to Gedney, the U.S. will continue to remain in Syria – illegally – to defeat ISIS in the areas its partnered forces control on the ground. Even with Washington’s stubborn approach to occupying Syrian territory, the recent admission suggests the U.S. knows there is little they can do in Syria without taking on Russia directly.
Perhaps this is why the attention is being diverted from Syria towards Iran — another longtime American adversary — instead.