Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The West's Dilemma: Why Assad Is Uninterested in Defeating Islamic State

Photo Gallery: Free-For-All in Syria

 "Sunday, Nov. 29, was market day in Ariha, a small city located in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib. The people shopping at the market didn't stand a chance. Just seconds after the roar of the approaching Russian Sukhoi fighter jet first became audible, the first bombs struck. They killed passersby, vegetable sellers and entire families. "I saw torn up bodies flying around and children calling for their parents," said a civil defense rescuer hours after the attack.

Jets from both Syria and Russia continue unhindered to bomb markets, hospitals, bakeries and pretty much any other place where people gather in the provinces that are under rebel control. Two years ago, Russia voted in favor of United Nations Resolution 2139, which was supposed to bring an end to attacks on Syrian civilians. But that hasn't prevented Russia from flying hundreds of exactly those kinds of bombing raids itself since the end of September. And that, in turn, hasn't prevented France from talking to Russia about the possibility of conducting coordinated air strikes and joining together in the fight against Islamic State.

Moscow had been hoping that massive air strikes would force rebel fighters in opposition-held areas to abandon the fight. That would then pave the way for Assad's ground forces to advance and take back those regions. But in October, when Assad's tank units rolled into those areas that Russian jets had previously bombed, they didn't get very far. Instead of fleeing, rebels there had dug in instead.

 Near the northern Syrian city of Tal Rifaat in early November, an IS suicide attacker detonated his car bomb at an FSA base, though without causing much damage. Just half an hour later, two witnesses say, Russian jets attacked the same base for the first time. Was it a coincidence? Likely not. There have been dozens of cases since 2014 in which Assad's troops and IS have apparently been coordinating attacks on rebel groups, with the air force bombing them from above and IS firing at them from the ground.

Sending ground troops into such a situation, or even lending legitimacy to the Russian-Syrian offensive, would unwittingly transform Europe into Assad's vassals. Beyond that, the dictator would have to be given troop reinforcements so that he could halfway successfully advance against the enemy.

 Even if one were to ignore all of the military problems, there is also a significant moral question: Would the West really want to go into battle with a regime that has used, aside from nuclear weapons, pretty much every weapon imaginable against its own populace in an effort to cling to power? And once Islamic State is defeated and driven away, what should happen with the cities -- such as Raqqa, Deir el-Zour, al-Bab, Manbij and Abu Kamal -- that they now hold? All those cities had been take over by local rebels long before Islamic State moved in. Who should such areas be given to?

 Certainly not to Assad. That would merely turn the clock back on this war by three years. Rebel groups would once again try to throw out Assad's troops -- and ultimately Islamic State would strike again."

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