The Slaughter in Syria May Be Entering A New Phase

Syria's bitter conflict, which has captured the attention of the entire world for the past six years, appears to be entering its final phases. The battlefield success of the Syrian Arab Army (supported of course with Russian airpower and materiel) has driven rebels from Aleppo city and is making continuing strides against the remaining rebel forces in rural Aleppo province. On March 7, the Syrian forces retook a crucial water source that had been shut off by ISIS, and returned water supplies to the citizens of that area. ISIS, besieged on all sides, appears to be losing steam and readying for their last stand against Syrian, Kurdish and Iraqi forces closing in on them in their respective theaters. While many may see great promise for peace in the continued defeats of ISIS and other rebel factions, the sponsors of the various proxy forces in Syria may be poised for significant conflict continuing well into the future.

According to long-time Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, Assad presently appears to have won the struggle against ISIS Eastern Syria. However, the territory lost by ISIS and other groups of rebel forces is rapidly being filled by other forces with mutually contradictory interests. The multifaceted conflict brought a bizarre mixture of competing groups into the area, which greatly intensified the conflict and turned Syria into a sort of international proxy battleground. The homicidal lunacy and global aspirations of ISIS was able, to an extent, to bring common cause out of these various factions. It appears that American and British goals of unseating Assad have been largely abandoned, and the Russian policy of supporting the Syrian government appears to have paid off. While superficially promising, there are numerous unresolved issues in this conflict that will not go away with the defeat of ISIS and the victory of the regime.

The area being retaken from ISIS is now packed with opposing forces in the form of the Kurds, Americans and Turks, each with their own interests in the area. The Kurds, backed by high tech American firepower, are positioning themselves for a potential state of their own, which Turkey fears will cause disruption in the Kurdish population within that country. Turkey, as an ally of the United States and the second largest military in NATO, is in a precarious position as it advances toward war with the U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels in Syria. Kurds had long relied on American support, but over the course of the Syrian War they have become an ever more important of American policy in the region, and their dreams of statehood haven't appeared this promising since the initial years of American victory in Iraq. The United States is in the unfortunate position of openly funding and supplying weapons to a group that is considered a sworn enemy of a NATO ally they are obligated to defend in the event of attack. American soldiers and artillery have just recently been deployed to aid with the Kurdish invasion of the ISIS capital of Raqqa, which is sure to have significant ramifications no matter the result.

Analysts now worry that these opposing forces in Syria might be positioning themselves to make war on each other in the wake of the defeat of ISIS. Proxy forces of the Gulf States, Turkey, the United States, Russia and Iran might find no common cause in the event that a Syrian government victory becomes assured. Russia has already been accused of attacking the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a charge which Russia denies. Kurdish forces, after sacrificing so much to capture territory from ISIS, are reluctant to turn over villages to the Syrian army. Various U.S. backed forces have fought each other in Syria for a long time, creating absurd situations where the different groups each turn their U.S.-bought weapons against each other.

Some kind of diplomatic resolution must be found to prevent a new bloodbath in the wake of a Syrian government victory, but the misguided and contradictory policies pursued up to this point have made this prospect a rather remote one. The Syrian war might continue as the old rifts that led to the conflict in the first place remain unresolved, and many fighters on the ground are still sitting on piles of munitions and have no incentive to surrender to Assad's forces. These forces are so disunited that their only real goal is to gain and hold territory, especially now that overthrowing the regime is an impossibility. While it is certainly good news that ISIS seems to be rapidly losing ground and hurdling toward defeat, the dizzyingly complex Syrian conflict is still full of enough contradictions to smolder for years to come.


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