Russia Sets Sights on Raqqa and Mosul for Routing ISIS
Vladimir Putin has reached 60 years back into history to find a model for his master plan for shifting the regional balance of power, which he launched with Russia’s military intervention in Syria.
In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower led the United States into establishing the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) as a military pact between Britain, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran. It was conceived by American strategists as a barrier for holding the Soviet Union back from the Middle East and its oil fields. Based on a chain of Western-aligned countries bordering the USSR, Iraq was thrown in to attract fellow Arab nations to join the alliance. Turkey provided a link to NATO and Pakistan to SEATO, alongside the US, Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the Philippines.
The Soviet Union and its satellites were thus completely encircled
Ironically, the US, which created CENTO, never joined formally for fear of alienating non-member Arab countries. And Israel, whose prime minister at the time, Moshe Sharett, did informally apply for membership, was turned down by Washington.
Russian-led CENTO designed to isolate US from ME energy sources
CENTO turned out to be one of the least successful American Cold War projects. Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who seized power in an army coup, was dead against the pact, claiming it imported the “imperialist” superpowers and therefore the Cold War, into the region.
The alliance nonetheless held together for 29 years, disbanded only in 1979 in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution which brought the ayatollahs to power in Tehran.
Russia’s president is now digging out the moribund pact to recreate his own, contemporary version of CENTO.
His first step was to build up Russian ground, air and naval forces in Syria, where he found a willing host in Bashar Assad, whose survival he guaranteed.
His next step only just begun is to go after the Islamic State, which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has so far led from conquest to conquest in Iraq and Syria.
Putin understands that vanquishing ISIS and destroying its infrastructure in Syria and Iraq is the key to achieving his goal of building a strong Russian-led political and military alliance linking Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hizballah and Lebanon.
Ground campaign set for wiping out ISIS
The Russian leader hopes this pact will be tantamount to a high wall under his control for isolating the US from the oil and gas fields of the Middle East. At some point, Putin hopes Egypt too may be persuaded to join and possibly even some of the Gulf emirates
Washington is far from impressed by the Russian leader’s aspirations. US President Barack Obama used a White House press conference on Oct. 2 to heap scorn on Russian hopes of a victory against ISIS, predicting that Putin would soon find himself in a “quagmire” in Syria and fail.
But Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and an important architect of Obama’s Middle East policy – especially on the nuclear deal with Iran – is more equivocal.
On Oct. 4, Brzezinski wrote in an article: “In these rapidly unfolding circumstances the US has only one real option if it is to protect its wider stakes in the region: to convey to Moscow the demand that it cease and desist from military actions that directly affect American assets. Russia has every right to support Mr. Assad, if it so wishes — but any repetition of what has just transpired should prompt US retaliation.”
Since Putin knows that Obama has no intention of retaliating, he is continuing to drive ahead with preparations for the undoing of ISIS by Russia’s first ground campaign in Syria.
Pro-Russian Chechen and Caucasian volunteers for Syria
On Monday, Oct. 5, a prominent Russian politician predicted that Moscow was about to deploy ground forces in Syria, although a week earlier, Putin denied Russia was planning ground operations “right now.” Adm. Vladimir Komoyedov, head of the Russian parliament’s defense committee, said Moscow may dispatch “volunteers” to Syria – a roundabout way of alluding to ground troops.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources take this to mean that some of the Russian boots on the ground may be contributed by Chechen government army units – not necessarily Russian marines, who account for about 2,000 of the troops already in place in Syria. An offer came from the Chechen strongman ruler Ramzan Kadyrov on Oct. 3, when he said in a Russian radio interview: ”I demand that we be authorized to come (to Syria) and take part in special operations. This is not idle talk."
These volunteers could also come from Caucasian lands, like the autonomous republics of Adygea, Karachay–Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, and Dagestan.
In this overall context, DEBKA Weekly’s military and Intelligence sources discern four broad stages in Putin’s planned offensive against ISIS and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front:
Throwing ISIS out of Raqqa and Mosul
- To drive the rebels out of central Syria, mainly the cities of Homs, Hama and Palmyra
- To recapture all of northern Syria, especially the Idlib region, and drive the rebels out of Aleppo, the country’s second biggest city
- Attack Raqqa, the ISIS capital in Syria. Russia’s assumption is that if this town is recaptured, the leadership of ISIS and most of its fighters will flee to northern Iraq.
- Chase the jihadis into Iraq and recapture the northern city of Mosul, the terrorist organization’s capital in the country. This will write finis to Russia’s military campaign and spell the demise of ISIS.
It will also provide Russia with an important foothold in Iraq with influence in Baghdad.
Early days for assessing Putin’s chances of success
Those objectives are still broad and general in outline, remaining to be fleshed out with details as operations unfold. But there is no doubt about Putin’s overall goals. And if his campaign runs into difficulties, the Russian president will have no qualms about sending the full might of his air force, infantry, tanks and artillery into the breach. .
At the moment, Russian troops appear to be advancing into the northern fringes of Homs and Hama after the opposition was first pummeled with air strikes. Russian weaponry, including heavy artillery and four BM-30 multiple-launch rocket systems, has accompanied the troops taking up positions between the northern cities of Homs and Idlib in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
According to our military sources, the Russian president, who has personally taken charge of the war, has run into two obstacles: the large concentration of rebel forces in southern Syria, which pose a threat to Damascus and the Assad regime; and the reluctance of Kurdish Syrian militias to fight alongside the Russian and pro-Russian forces in the north.