Washington and Moscow appear close to agreeing to their armed forces teaming up for war operations in Syria and Iraq. Nothing definite has so far emerged about this potential collaboration, or even if it is to be conducted covertly and experimentally ad hoc or seriously and out in the open.
A comment suggesting that the Obama administration was ready for a new direction on Syria came from US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter Tuesday, Oct. 27. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said, “we won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL…or conducting such mission directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground."
According to Pentagon sources, the US intends to deploy small units of Special Operations forces in Syria and “special advisers” in Iraq, which too are believed to be special operations units under another name.
However, debkafile’s military sources point out that small-scale military ventures in open-ended war situations tend to extend beyond the scale originally intended. Therefore, it is more than likely that both the US and Russia will find themselves committing increasing numbers of air and ground troops if the conflicts in the two countries continue.
The way matters are going now, the plan for Iraq is for US forces to join Iraqi and Iranian units in launching an offensive to recover Ramadi, capital of the Western province of Anbar, 110 km West of Baghdad, which ISIS captured in May.
In Syria, American troops plan to work with the northeastern Kurdish PYD-YPG militia for marching on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s headquarters in that country.
At the Senate hearing, Carter pointed to last week’s rescue operation in northern Iraq near Kirkuk, in which US Delta commandos and Kurdish peshmerga special forces stormed a prison held by the Islamic State and freed dozens of Kurdish prisoners. After it was over, the US Defense Secretary said the military expects “more raids of this kind.”
This joint US-Kurdish raid brought forth a furious response from Turkey.The Turkish military twice directed machine gun fire at the Syrian Kurdish PYD force in the Syrian town of Tal Abyad Sunday, Oct. 25.
debkafile’s military sources note that Tel Abyad is the closest point to Raqqa to have been reached by America’s Kurdish allies.
Ankara is vehemently opposed to the US partnership with the Kurds of Syria and Iraq, and puts its campaign against their separatist trends ahead of its commitment to the anti-ISIS coalition.
However, the Obama administration appears to have finally come down in favor of a combined operation with the Kurdish forces, even at the expense of its ties with Ankara, another pointer to the up-and-coming US ground operations in Syria.
Neither Washington nor Moscow has commented on their possible military cooperation for the fight to vanquish ISIS. But straws in the wind point in that direction.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeated: “I have no plans to put ground troops in Syria,” indicating that Moscow would confine itself to air strikes.
The US Defense Minister Tuesday explicitly mentioned “…direct action on the ground” as well as, ”supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL."
debkafile’s military sources find common elements in the American and Russian modes of action. Whereas the Americans plan to deploy ground troops for fighting with Kurdish forces, the Russians will stick to aerial attacks in conjunction with certain Syrian rebel groups.
Moscow’s plan unfolded on Monday, Oct. 26, when a delegation of the Free Syrian Army, which is backed by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, turned up in Moscow seeking to coordinate its military operations with the Russians.
It is hard to tell if US-Russian military cooperation in the Syrian and Iraqi wars actually ripens into a productive effort or proves ephemeral. Israel’s concerns and its responses to the fast-moving, explosive situation on its northern borders are scheduled to be thrashed out in the talks Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is holding this week in Washington with Defense Secretary Carter.