Saturday, 17 October 2015

Russia's ‘quagmire’ destroys all hope of defeating ISIS

Kenan Rahmani

The first Russian airstrikes in Syria targeted Talbiseh, a rebel-held village in the northern suburbs of Homs, killing 30 civilians and 3 children. That Sunni community has been a hotbed of anti-Assad activity since early 2011, and for the past few months, its residents have been resisting advances by nearby ISIS. Just before Russia bombed Talbiseh, ISIS assassinated 3 of the town’s Sunni clerics because they had rallied local rebel fighters and residents to fight ISIS. Russia’s attacks on these anti-ISIS communities effectively makes Russia the air force of ISIS.

 By eliminating the moderates and empowering ISIS, Putin is forcing Obama to accept Assad’s role in the fight against ISIS and in a future Syria. Sadly, it seems Obama has succumbed to Putin’s strategy even if it means that ISIS will win, at least in the short term. On Monday, the administration’s spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, Army Colonel Steve Warren, said: "We have seen ISIL make progress based on Russian airstrikes." The next day, White House spokesman Josh Earnest reminded reporters that countering Russia's involvement in Syria is not a high priority. Combined, these statements are a tragic admission of Obama’s resignation to accepting ISIS because of his unwillingness to confront Putin and Assad.

 The White House should be worried now, not only that the policy goal of a Geneva-type Syrian peace process has become impossible, but that Putin’s actions may have destroyed all hopes of defeating ISIS too. Though many Syrians want to fight ISIS, their first priority is to stop the number one killer of civilians: the regime’s barrel bombs, which now have Russian backing. The no-fly zone that Syrian rebels need in order to focus on fighting ISIS is needed now more than ever, but it has also become more difficult and less likely due to the newest player in Syria’s skies. And while Russia targets the anti-ISIS rebels in Idlib, Latakia, and Aleppo, it is openly challenging radical Islamists from around the world to a fight that the Syrian people will pay the price for.
 Obama long ago abdicated the U.S.’s moral imperative to protect Syrian civilians, and to promote peace. Now he is also capitulating to Putin on a core strategic imperative by failing to recognize and confront Russia’s empowerment of ISIS. This may be the final nail in the coffin of the US’s fight against ISIS, which has already been a complete failure due to micromanagement of the anti-ISIS airstrikes and a laughably misguided train-and-equip program. Any hope of ending this horrible conflict--or even just defeating ISIS--has now been lost, and all that a generation of Syrians will remember is that U.S. and Russian warplanes joined the Assad regime in bombing their country to oblivion.'

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