Syria’s War Will Not End Until U.S. Troops Leave
The head of the Russian military’s command and control center warned that the war in Syria was unlikely to end unless U.S. forces withdrew from the country.
National Defense Control Center chief Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev presided over a joint Russian and Syrian emergency meeting Wednesday focused on dismantling the Rukban refugee camp located in a remote stretch of southern Syria under the control of a U.S.-led coalition and allied rebel groups. The United Nations has described the camp’s desperate conditions in statements sent to Newsweek and the senior Russian military official accused the U.S. of allowing them to continue to deteriorate.
“The United States and its allies are indifferent to the fate of ordinary Syrians,” Mizintsev argued. “The Americans need hotbeds of tension in Syria only to justify their illegal presence on the territory of a sovereign state and to satisfy their geopolitical ambitions by any means. Wherever there is an American presence, one can see devastation, famine, epidemics and rampant crime.”
“We believe that the illegal presence of the United States and its allies in Syria only exacerbates the criminal situation and hinders the restoration of peaceful life in the country,” he later added. “It is possible to stabilize the situation in the region only after the complete withdrawal of the American contingent and the transfer of the occupied territories to the control of the legitimate government of Syria.”
Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011 as popular demonstrations against the government devolved into civil war, with the U.S. and regional partners such as Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey offering support to opposition forces. Iran and allied militias backed the Syrian military as it battled an insurgency that grew increasingly Islamist in nature, with the Islamist State militant group (ISIS) spreading rapidly across the border from Iraq.
The U.S. mobilized an international coalition to begin bombing ISIS in 2014 and, as a CIA program to assist rebels began being replaced with a Pentagon effort to back a mostly Kurdish militia the following year, Russia entered the fight on behalf of the Syrian government. The two rival campaigns pursued separate offensives that largely defeated ISIS, but incited further geopolitical tensions.
U.S. presence was largely in Syria was largely limited to north and eastern stretches under the control of the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, but also included a roughly 34-mile zone surrounding a base at Al-Tanf. Within this U.S-controlled area and just miles from the sealed border with Jordan, residents of the Rukban camp have suffered from starvation, chronic disease and exposure as they were caught in the middle of an international dispute as to who was responsible for their wellbeing and ensuring the delivery of assistance.
Earlier this month, the first joint United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy in seven months reached the camp, but The Defense Post reported Tuesday that this mission was cut short last week as residents’ fears that the number of supplies was insufficient boiled over into tensions that threatened the safety of aid personnel. Russia has pushed for the camp to be removed altogether and its inhabitants relocated to areas under the Syrian government‘s control, something the U.N. has said must only be done voluntarily.
As Wednesday’s Russian-Syrian interdepartmental meeting concluded, however, senior shift officer Colonel Antonik Leonid Leonovich said Moscow had “received the updated operational plan for the removal of the remaining residents of the Rukban camp” via government-established humanitarian corridors from U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria Corinne Fleischer. He said the deadline was set for September 27 and Mizintsev called the news “unexpected, but very pleasant.”
Syria, Russia and Iran have repeatedly called on the U.S. to withdraw from the country, viewing it as an occupying power as it did not operate under the authority of Damascus, which also viewed Turkish intervention as illegal. Though Ankara remained the last major sponsor of opposition forces, it has worked alongside Moscow and Tehran as part of trilateral peace process whose national leaders last met earlier this week to support the formation of new Syrian constitution.
Washington has largely ignored these talks, however, preferring a largely stalled framework hosted by the United Nations in Geneva. The U.S. has continued to call for the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, accusing him and his allies of war crimes, and has stepped up efforts to sever his administration’s support from Iran, the target of a “maximum pressure” campaign by the White House.
Israel too has pushed for the removal of forces suspected of being under Iranian command in Syria and has stepped up airstrikes against sites said to be associated with Tehran. Moscow has condemned such attacks and has reportedly stepped in to prevent several operations, though it was not known to have intervened directly against Israeli raids.
With Syria’s rebel and jihadi uprising largely defeated, much of the country’s fighting has been confined to the final opposition bastion in northwestern Idlib province. Since last year, the area has been subject to a Russian-Turkish ceasefire, but violence continued clashes between militants and Syrian pro-government forces led to a new offensive that saw the latter reclaim more territory, including the key town of Khan Sheikhoun as the fate of Idlib’s rebels, jihadis and up to three million civilians remained uncertain.