Last-Minute Breaking News: Washington is winding up negotiations with Moscow on terms for the withdrawal of US special forces from the Syrian-Iraqi border crossing at Al-Tanf. It will be handed over to the Syrian government, which thereby gains full control of that border, along with its allies, Iran, Russia and Hizballah.
On Tuesday, Sept. 5, Bashar Assad, aided by two Hizballah elite brigades and massive Russian air and missile might, chalked up a pivotal victory at the east Syrian town of Deir ez-Zour, by nearly breaking through the Islamic State’s three-year long iron siege.
This was not just ISIS’ longest-running siege on an important Syria city (whose population shrank from 250,000 to 80,000 during that time). It also blockaded Syria’s main eastern air base and locked in the 5,000 soldiers serving there.
While some skirmishes remain before Deir ez-Zour is completely in the bag, the Syrian regime is entitled to celebrate the success of its campaign to win back southeastern Syria. It already has many game-changing ramifications, which are outlined by DEBKA weekly:
1. The liberated eastern region also contains the Syrian-Iraq-Jordanian border triangle. The Syrian army has therefore moved forward to a position that is face to face with the Jordanian and Iraqi armies and the US special forces based at the Al-Tanf crossing.
2. For the first time in the six-year war, Syrian border crossings with Jordan and Iraq are open, as is the Damascus-Baghdad highway – meaning that direct pre-war business relations among the three countries can soon be restored.
3. DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report that three brigades of the Iranian-backed Iraq Population Mobilization Units (PMU) are standing by on the Iraqi side of the Deir ez-Zour border. They are waiting for the defeated Islamic State forces to pull back towards another of their bastions at Abu Kemal, before linking up with two Hizballah brigades on the other side, to open up the last section of Iran’s coveted overland bridge from Tehran through Iraq to Damascus.
4. So where are the US contingents that were posted at the Syrian-Jordanian border and Anbar in western Iraq for the precise purpose of ascertaining that Iran never attained this bridge? Well, in the past fortnight, US numbers have been diluted, and their officers ordered to stay out of the latest events.
5. US non-intervention in the Syrian and Iranian advances has had its first domino effect: Syrian rebel militias deployed in eastern Syria and northern Jordan are breaking up and scattering, with Washington’s multibillion dollar investment in their training and armaments going to pot.
Some have crossed the lines and offered their services to Syrian army units.
6. The Trump administration, the Pentagon and CENTCOM decided to drop the plan they started out with to limit America’s military involvement in Syria and Iraq to the war on the Islamic State terrorists and confine it to the Euphrates Valley. The US military presence there, in control of both sides of the Syrian-Iraq border, was also meant to block Iran’s drive for that strategic corridor.
This strategy has been finally scrapped.
7. Also consigned to the dustbin is the supplementary plan for the Kurdish-led SDF to finish up the Raqqa operation against ISIS and then head south, along with US force concentrations in northern Syria, for a joint push into the Euphrates Valley to fight the ISIS forces still holding ground on Syria’s eastern border with Iraq.
As DEBKA Weekly reported in its last issues, the Americans are in the process of shrinking their war on ISIS and turning the campaign over to Moscow and Tehran.
8. This withdrawal by the Trump administration casts a large, historical shadow on the rest of the Middle East. The Islamic State has demonstrated time and again in Iraq and Syria that, when thrown out of its strongholds, its fighting men don’t scatter in disorder; they withdraw in military formation, often regrouping for counter attacks. They were taught these tactics by Saddam Hussein’s senior officers, who used them against the US invasion of Iraq fourteen years ago.
By dropping the counter-ISIS mission in the laps of Russia and Iran, America is not just in the process of quitting the war in Syria, but also on the way to saying goodbye to Iraq, remaining only in Afghanistan for the time being.
9. By its Deir ez-Zour victory, the Syria army’s victory has also recovered its eastern oilfields, from which the jihadist pumped their primary source of income. The Assad government will now have this foreign currency revenue to use for rebuilding the shattered country and its economy.
10. With eastern Syria more or less recovered, Assad will turn his attention to the northwestern province of Idlib, where almost all the radical Islamist rebel militias have assembled.