US, Russia Ratchet up Mid-East Military Cooperation

Unheeding of the investigation into his alleged associations with Moscow, President Donald Trump has added another notch to US military cooperation with Russia in Middle East conflicts (which was first reported by DEBKA weekly 749 on March 24: Trump Starts Working Secretly with Russia in Syria – Ahead of FBI probe.)
Their joint projects rarely break surface and may be hard to discern in the complicated web of American and Russian war moves in the region. At times, they are seen working in conjunction, at others at loggerheads.
However, finally on March 27, US-Russian teamwork was admitted by the most competent source, Army Lt Gen. Steven Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.
He stated that all the forces in Syria “have converged literally within hand-grenade range of one another.” American and Russian commanders are in contact as a result, although the Pentagon stopped military-to-military cooperation after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, the general said.
Some military commentators called up the Kurdish factor to obfuscate the general’s clear statement: “The Kurdish forces that the Russians and Americans are both fighting alongside do not take orders from the powers supporting them,” said one. “These surrogates are doing their own operations and then the sponsors are doing air cover and artillery cover.”
However, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources have the true picture: Kurdish forces (the YPG militia) in their northwestern Syrian Afrin region and in Kurdish neighborhoods of Aleppo are working closely with the Russian army, whereas the Kurdish forces deployed around Manbij further to the west and in the northeastern enclaves of Qamishli and Hasaka operate in close rapport with American officers.
American-Russian liaison on Kurdish military movements is channeled directly through Gen. Townsend at US CENTCOM HQ in Baghdad and Lt. Gen. Alexander Zhuraviev at the Russian Khmeimim air base near Latakia. They have direct lines to the Pentagon in Washington and the defense ministry in Moscow.
A recent example of the quiet understanding between the two presidents emerged when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu turned to President Trump, after failing to obtain the Russian president Vladimir Putin’s assent, when they met in Moscow on March 9, for keeping hostile pro-Iranian Shiite militias and Hizballah away from Syria’s borders with Israel.
Netanyahu also sought Putin’s consent to stop the Russian air force from clobbering Syrian rebels close by in southern Syria, because, he said, those rebels held Iran’s armed surrogates back from the border.
This week, the White House came back with the Kremlin’s answer. Putin had granted Israel’s requests in spades. The problematic Russian air strikes would be discontinued, he promised; no foreign forces would be permitted to enter southern Syria and, moreover, the Russian army would no longer initiate military action in this sensitive border region.
After turning Netanyahu down, the Russian president had acceded to a request from the US President.
Syria is the not the only area of collaboration between them.
The deployment of Russian forces earlier this month at the Egyptian air base of Sidi Barrani within reach of the Libyan border was likewise the result of strategic coordination between the two presidents.
President Trump has no interest in another American adventure in Libya after the one “led from behind” by his predecessor in 2011. He informed Putin and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi that, as far as Washington is concerned, the Russians have a free hand in Libya.
In his view, the Europeans should fix the mess the NATO campaign left behind in Libya after ousting its ruler. But Trump understands the Europeans own neither the military resources nor the ability to take on Libya’s dark and dangerous problems. He is therefore not averse to letting Russia through the Libyan door and putting European noses out of joint, especially when they still refuse to respect him as the duly elected US president.
Furthermore, Russia is fully supported in its Libya venture by Egypt, whose president is closely coordinated with Moscow and Washington alike.

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