Russia backs Assad's new offensive

Submitted by Matthew on 21 October, 2015 - 11:04 Author: Simon Nelson

The Russian military intervention has had its intended effect of strengthening the Syrian Army, enabling it to start a major offensive in the north east of the country.

Both Aleppo and the valley of Orontes, previously strongholds of Jabhat al-Nusra, are now under sustained attack by the Syrian military with the support of Russian airstrikes. Russia’s air war is being guided by Damascus. Independent reporter Robert Fisk claims Russia receives up to 800 coordinates a night for targeted airstrikes.

These co-ordinates are being shared with Turkey, and Fisk reports a communications system now operates between the Russian base on the Syrian Mediterranean coast and the Israeli Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv. Meanwhile numbers of US-led airstrikes have fallen.

Russia has a particular interest in driving rebels out of Aleppo and Latakia in the north east, where their coastal bases are located. This has pushed the Syrian ground troops into the area and far closer to the Turkish border.

Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State of Daesh, is still being targeted by coalition airstrikes.

The BBC report that at least 70,000 people are now on the move south of Aleppo. The Free Syrian Army has been provided with US anti-tank missiles, but it is highly unlikely that this will be enough to repel Government forces.

With the attacks getting closer to the Turkish border, there could be a further exodus of refugees into Turkey joining the 11 million Syrians displaced since 2011 and the four million plus that have fled abroad.

Amnesty International have accused the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the largest military force in the autonomous Kurdish Syrian region known as Rojava, of war crimes.

Their report We Had Nowhere Else to Go includes allegations mostly from Arab and Turkmen Syrians that their villages were razed to the ground by the YPG following Daesh being driven out. They claim that Arabs were forced to leave their homes and have had their land occupied and taken over by the YPG.

One villager is quoted saying that: “They told us we had to leave or they would tell the US coalition that we were terrorists and their planes would hit us and our families.” Other reports from villagers say the YPG would regularly use the threat of US airstrikes to drive people out of their homes.

The report has been widely disputed by the YPG and their political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). They say forced evictions were undertaken to protect civilians from militarised zones that included mines and IEDs left by Daesh.

Amnesty International does not accept this version of events and says that forced displacement constitutes a war crime.

In a sign that the US is increasingly cautious about open support for the YPG and Kurdish forces linked to the Turkish based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) Colonel Patrick Ryder announced that military aid was being given to a new organisation, the “Syrian Democratic Forces”, which is made up of Arabs and Assyrian Christians who have previously worked with the YPG.

His statement says that the leaders of this movement have been “appropriately vetted by the United States” and makes no mention of the role of the YPG.

Such a weakening of formal if not informal support will weaken the YPG’s drive to increase its presence in Jarablus, which remains a Daesh stronghold. A military incursion that drove Daesh out of Jarablus would allow the PYD to link together Jazeera and Kobani with Afrin and strengthen Rojava’s position as a contiguous territory.

The US believes that this expansion would increase tension with Turkey and will not give the YPG formal support to go ahead.

Amnesty International has previously noted that the PYD seem happy to comply with outside scrutiny, despite the fact the findings may question their compliance with international human rights law.

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