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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Latest From Syria Isn't Good, but It Isn't Bad Either

There are five basic native groups fighting in Syria:  the Alawaite (Shiite) Assad regime, ISIS (Sunni terrorists), al Nusra (Sunni terrorists affiliated with as Qaeda), the non-terrorist Sunni rebels and the Kurdish forces.  On top of that, there are also foreign forces from Iran, Russia and Hezbollah that help Assad, and US and other allied forces that are fighting ISIS.  A good way to describe the situation in Syria is "complicated".

When the fighting began, it was Assad against the non-terrorist Sunnis.  Had help been given to the rebels, Assad would have been ousted long ago, but president Obama chose to stay uninvolved with the fighting.  He left the well armed Assad forces strong enough to hold off the poorly armed non-terrorist Sunnis.  This left an opening for both the al Qaeda group and then for ISIS.  Some years back, Obama started trying to train and arm the non-terrorist Sunnis, but the effort was missing.  Obama spent hundreds of millions but trained fewer than 500 fighters.  The program was a joke.  Meanwhile, the Russians and the Iranians moved in and gained footholds inside Syria.

The USA finally decided to take on ISIS even inside Syria, but Obama did that slowly and without pushing forward with real blows.  At the same time, the Russians propped up Assad and gave him the power to make some forward moves.

Right now, ISIS is collapsing.  The Caliphate still packs a punch, but that is failing rapidly.  The non-terrorist Sunnis are also in a bad way even though they represent a majority of the people in Syria.  The Kurds have taken the areas inside Syria that would be part of a Kurdish state should it ever be declared.  Al Nusra is still fighting, but it focuses more on the other Sunni fighters than on Assad.

Two recent developments have changed the situation on the ground a bit.  First, there is the cease fire in South West Syria worked out by the USA and Russia.  This actually allows the Assad forces to move their troops into more consolidated positions across Syria.  It protects the people of the region, but it provides no real long term gain for peace.  Second, the al Nusra troops are moving to defeat the non-terrorist Sunnis in the Northwest part of Syria.  These are the forces that the USA stopped arming a few weeks/months ago.  It was basically throwing good money after bad since the non-terrorist forces had reached such a low ebb after years of being ignored by the USA and its allies that they could no longer field much of a fighting force.  This move by al Nusra will actually help Assad because he will be able to portray his fight in the region as the government against al Qaeda.

Hopefully, the situation in Syria is setting up to have the country divided into multiple zones.  One will be the Kurdish controlled region in the north.  A second will be the Assad regime territory running from Damascus up the Mediterranean coast almost to Turkey.  A third will be a Sunni controlled region in the eastern part of Syria.  Hopefully that will not mean control by al Qaeda, but that remains to be seen.  The Druse may have their own region along the Israeli and Jordanian borders, but they may be too small to maintain such a regional authority.

It is still way too soon to know how things will finally turn out in Syria.  We seem to be at least getting some indications now of where things are going.

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