In obedience to a White House directive, two US war rooms have been set up in Irbid, northern Jordan, to carry forward a plan for pro-American Syrian rebel forces to take control of a wedge of southeastern Syria, enclosed by the Lebanese, Israeli, Jordanian and Iraqi borders.
(See attached map in second article)
The two war rooms fall under Commander of US Special Operations Command, Adm. William Harry “Bill” McRaven, who is headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
An American general, whose identity is kept secret for fear of an al Qaeda assassin, is posted on the spot. His job, supported by a team of US officers, is to operate the two war rooms and assign their tasks to the 12,000 American special forces and air force troops personnel posted in the Hashemite Kingdom.
Their primary mission is to run the units charged with taking control of an area covering roughly one-tenth of Syrian territory.
They will be fighting to prevent Al Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham) from reaching Syria’s borderlands with Jordan, Israel and Lebanon – or coming close to Damascus.
A key part of Washington’s plan is to defend Syrian central government in the capital, including that of Bashar Assad, against Al Qaeda encroachment from the east.
Obama promised Saudi King Abdullah a more proactive US role in Syria
On the broader canvas, the pro-American enclave taking shape in southern Syria is additionally charged with standing in the way of al Qaeda elements seeking to reach Saudi Arabia via Jordan; prevent them linking up in Jordan with the Yemen-based AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula); and block their path to the jihadist movement’s cells in Sinai, which operate in conjunction with the AQAP command.
The need for two operational command centers instead of one stems from the separate Obama administration commitments to different Middle East governments and their internal ties.
Operations Room 1 consists of US, Saudi and Jordanian army, special forces and intelligence officers. It was set up so that President Barack Obama could discharge his pledge to Saudi King Abdullah for America to stop “leading from behind” and move into the driving seat for the Syrian war.
As first revealed by DEBKA Weekly 613 on Nov. 29, that pledge was contained in the packages of benefits the US administration extended to Saudi Arabia and Israel in the hope pacifying them and easing their concerns about the six-power nuclear deal signed with Iran in Geneva.
This command center’s job is to organize, coach and spirit groups of fighters into Syria and oversee their combat activity. According to our military sources, around 1,000 fighters have gone in so far, most of them Jordanian. The Saudis are bankrolling the operation of these “Jordanian bands.”
Saudis dance with two partners – at least
However, DEBKA Weekly’s Gulf sources are not sure how far the Saudis are committed to collaborating with the United States, beyond posting officers to the first war room.
Those sources note that the Saudis are functioning on two levels – working side by side with the Americans in the Jordanian war operations room, on the one hand, while also holding a quiet dialogue with Moscow on Syria’s future.
A good picture of which way the winds are blowing in Riyadh was undoubtedly gained by Republican Senator Robert Corker of Tennessee, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the first American official to be received by Saudi rulers in many months.
He and Saudi intelligence director Prince Bandar Bin Sultan talked for three hours on Monday, Dec. 2. To finish his conversation with the US senator, Bandar was willing to delay his flight to Moscow and his date with President Vladimir Putin.
Corker was also given interviews with Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef and National Guard Commander Miteb bin Abdullah.
Israel now predicts a long drawn-out Syrian conflict
Operations Room 2 is manned by US, French, British, Israeli and Qatari officers, most of them members of elite commando forces. The funding comes from Qatar.
One of the functions of the US general in charge of the venture is to coordinate the work of the two war rooms and make sure they don’t clash with each other or overlap.
Israel is there as the only active military and logistic support supplier to the Syrian rebels and civilians stranded on the Syrian side of the Golan and certain parts of southern Syria. These relations have also evolved, mainly through the IDF, with the populations of the Wadi-ar-Raqqad River district and Raqqad town in the Israeli-Syrian-Jordanian triangle up to the little Syrian township of Saham al-Jawlan nearby.
After consistently staying clear of the Syrian civil war, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was the first Israeli official to finally confirm that Israel had begun extending humanitarian aid to villages a stone’s throw away on the Syrian side of the Golan.
During a tour of inspection of the Golan Tuesday, accompanied by the head of the Northern Command Maj. Gen. Yair Golan and other officers, the minister said: “We are helping Syrian civilians face the winter, and sending baby food and other essentials to the Syrian villages of Golan which are under (Syrian military) siege and cut off from aid from any other source.”
It was his opinion that the Syrian war would be long and drawn out before reaching a decision.
The Israeli intelligence assessment of Assad’s prospects has therefore shifted in the light of the latest events. Until recently, they were sure that Assad would soon be gone.