is a military commentator for RT.com. He is a retired colonel. He served as an officer at the main operational directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.
To avoid any potential incidents, Americans should simply withdraw and end the unlawful presence of their forces in Syria. And abstain from alarmist headlines foreshadowing a shooting war.
American commanders in Syria are scrambling to protect their forces from an expected surge in activity by military units from Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Syrian government. They believe these countries pose a greater danger than Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) forces, the New York Times reports.
Anonymous sources, questionable statements
According to anonymous Department of Defense officials, “commanders have requested guidance outlining how American forces might deal with an attack from the assortment of armed groups, including Russian-backed Syrian government forces that have, in the past, tried to seize territory held by the United States.”
This statement seems fairly questionable, since any commander of a unit deployed to a war zone has clear-cut instructions from their superiors on what to do in a particular situation. Claiming otherwise, especially about an army as organized and efficient as the one the US has, would probably be unjustified from any possible point of view. Naturally, the directives coming from the HQ are top secret. If we assume their content was revealed to the NYT by a military source, the US should first focus on finding who in the DoD is leaking top secret information.
Also according to the NYT, “For now, the American command heavily relies on the instincts of junior commanders on the ground, cautionary phone calls to officials from Russia and Turkey and overhead surveillance — susceptible to failure in poor weather — to help avoid close encounters with other forces in the Euphrates River Valley, where most American troops are based.”
Firstly, it is not only the American command that are taking measures to prevent any incidents. The commanders of the Russian armed forces deployed in Syria are doing the same just as diligently (perhaps even more so). Starting from 2015, both the American and the Russian military command have been doing their best to prevent any clashes on the ground or in the air. To ensure this, special communication channels have been established to facilitate exchange of information regarding combat operations and other activities of the troops.
Secondly, you can never rely on the instincts of junior commanders in matters of such grave importance. If you do, an error of judgment by one of the lieutenants could have disastrous consequences – including an accidental nuclear strike.
Thirdly, all the means and methods of reconnaissance available are usually employed in the combat area: human-gathered intelligence, special reconnaissance, signals intelligence, aerial and space reconnaissance, reconnaissance by special forces. The term “overhead surveillance,” employed by the NYT, is therefore not entirely correct.
No positive agenda
The NYT quotes Jennifer Cafarella, Research Director at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, as saying that “These forces are at risk without a clear understanding of what they are expected to achieve, and without the political support of their nation, if or more likely when, one of these American adversaries decided to attack them. These guys are deployed in one of the most risky, complex and rapidly evolving environments on the planet.”
I definitely agree with this assessment – combat and operational goals of the American forces in Syria are extremely ambiguous. Even high ranking US officials have a hard time explaining what sort of military and political objectives they are pursuing. The US military presence in Syria has no positive agenda. And the few American units that are stationed in the Syrian Arab Republic right now, are there illegally.
Interestingly enough, the NYT quotes a source in the Defense Department who said that “the Russian military is far more reliable in navigating the difficulties of such a contested battlefield,” whereas Turkish-backed fighters are often poorly managed by the Turkish military.
We have to keep in mind that Turkey is a NATO country and America’s closest ally in the region. And if there are tensions between allies, Ankara and Washington should settle their differences without dragging Russia into it.
It’s not ‘the regime’, it’s the legitimate government
The New York Times also quotes Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of the military’s Central Command, who said that protecting the oil fields might ultimately draw a larger challenge from Syrian Army troops west of the Euphrates. “I’d expect at some point the regime will come forward to that ground,” General McKenzie said.
It’s not “the regime.” It’s the legitimate Syrian government’s army. If they “come forward,” they will be coming forward into their own territories.
And the Americans are not really concerned with protecting Syrian oil – they are openly stealing the country’s natural resources. At this point, the Syrian state doesn’t gain anything from these oilfields, which hampers the government’s efforts to restore the economy.
We might expect an interesting situation when the Syrian army and border patrol forces regain total control over the country’s eastern border. And that will happen soon.
If the Syrian troops reach the eastern border and manage to gain a foothold there, thus giving the Syrian state full control over the nations’ boundaries, it would lead to a curious situation: in order to continue with their oil smuggling operation and retain their profits, the Americans would have to find a different way to export the oil.
Currently, there are only two viable channels – the official route, through Damascus and then over the Mediterranean Sea, and in Syria’s east, through its border with Iraq. But if both routes are controlled by Assad’s forces, the Americans would have to negotiate a new way out with the government in Damascus. Another potential outcome is that the Americans remain in control of Syria’s oil fields and refineries, but unable to export the final product and sell it on the global market.
So, in order to “protect their forces from an expected surge in actions by military units from Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Syrian government,” the US needs to take a radical yet straightforward approach – withdraw from Syria and put an end to America’s illegal presence in the country.
Also, they should probably abstain from heating up the situation in the region by publishing articles that speak of a potential military face-off between Russia and the United States.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.