Live Updates: Russian airstrikes have reportedly hit a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Syria’s south and and an IDP camp in the north.
There are plenty of voices in the Western press that believe that the United State’s behavior in allowing the
Russian air campaign in Syria is a “betrayal” of the allies of the
United States, and perhaps of the Syrian people themselves. At best, the
United States has allowed foreign fighters to flock to Syria while
Russian air strikes have pummelled groups that the United States
continues to insist should be major players in the discussion about who
should run Syria. The Assad regime is advancing with the help of Hezbollah fighters, a terrorist organization; Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps fighters; and Iraqi Shia militias. At worst, the United States may have pulled the plug
on the anti-tank munitions that these groups were using to advance in
Syria back in December, contributing to the sudden collapse of the rebel
lines near Aleppo.
In Foreign Policy Magazine, IISS’s Emile Hokayem argues that
President Barack Obama’s policies amount to a “disastrous betrayal” of
Syria’s moderate rebels:
After a slow start — and despite wishful Western assessments
that Moscow could not sustain a meaningful military effort abroad — the
Russian campaign is finally delivering results for the Assad regime.
This week, Russian airpower allowed Assad and his allied paramilitary
forces to finally cut off the narrow, rebel-held “Azaz corridor” that
links the Turkish border to the city of Aleppo. The city’s full
encirclement is now a distinct possibility, with regime troops and
Shiite fighters moving from the south, the west, and the north. Should
the rebel-held parts of the city ultimately fall, it will be a dramatic
victory for Assad and the greatest setback to the rebellion since the
start of the uprising in 2011.
In parallel, Russia has put Syria’s neighbors on notice of the new rules of the game.
Jordan was spooked into downgrading its help for the Southern Front,
the main non-Islamist alliance in the south of the country, which has so
far prevented extremist presence along its border. Turkey’s shooting
down of a Russian military aircraft that crossed its airspace in
November backfired: Moscow vengefully directed its firepower on Turkey’s
rebel friends across Idlib and Aleppo provinces. Moscow also courted
Syria’s Kurds, who found a new partner to play off the United States in
their complex relations with Washington. And Russia has agreed to a
temporary accommodation of Israel’s interests in southern Syria.
Inside Syria, and despite the polite wishes of Secretary of State
John Kerry, the overwhelming majority of Russian strikes have hit
non-Islamic State (IS) fighters. Indeed, Moscow and the Syrian regime
are content to see the United States bear the lion’s share of the effort
against the jihadi monster in the east, instead concentrating on mowing
through the mainstream rebellion in western Syria. Their ultimate
objective is to force the world to make an unconscionable choice between
Assad and IS.
Obama's Disastrous Betrayal of the Syrian Rebels
What a difference a year makes in Syria. And the introduction of massive Russian airpower. Last February, President Bashar al-Assad's regime and its Shiite auxiliaries mounted a large-scale attempt to encircle Aleppo, the northern city divided between regime and rebels since 2012 and battered by the dictator's barrel bombs.
Jo Cox, a British MP and member of the Labour Party, and Omid Nouripour a member of the German Bundestag, argue in The Telegraph that the United States
is actively selling out Syria’s rebels — at the cost of regional and
global security — and Europe needs to stand up to Obama, Russian
President Vladimir Putin, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:
The problem is that until now Europe has never spoken with
one voice on this conflict. In negotiations for a Syrian peace plan
there has been weak cooperation, no joint strategy and a distinct lack
of sustained pressure that will be necessary to contain the conflict and
put a stop to Assad’s brutal tactics.
This is a problem because the US seems intent on a peace
settlement that will be dangerously unbalanced. Such is the US
determination to secure deal at any cost that they are prepared to offer
far too many concessions to Assad and their Russian allies. This
undermines the Syrian opposition, who feel betrayed by the international
community. It also diminishes the chance for a sustainable peace and
relegates the protection of civilians virtually out of the conference
room. If we don’t stand up for them, nobody will.
The fact that Russia has intensified its bombing campaign in Syria during the build up to peace talks
speaks to the futility of the US approach and the need for a much more
muscular European response. One which must start today, on two fronts.
The idea that you can build trust while the Syrian government
and some opposition groups continue to systematically kill and starve
civilians is absurd. Broad coalitions of Syrian civil society groups
have made clear that if they don’t see progress to end the regime’s
medieval tactics of war, the peace talks will not be credible in their
eyes – and so any agreements will not last. If nothing is done to
improve the humanitarian situation of the many suffering Syrians, more of the Sunni population will be alienated, driven closer to Da’esh rather than towards a negotiated settlement to this war.
We must not let America sell out the Syrian rebels to Putin and Assad
The problem is that until now Europe has never spoken with one voice on this conflict. In negotiations for a Syrian peace plan there has been weak cooperation, no joint strategy and a distinct lack of sustained pressure that will be necessary to contain the conflict and put a stop to Assad's brutal tactics.
Qatar have pledged that they are willing to send ground troops to Syria
to combat ISIS, but so far indications are that the United States is
opposed to such a move. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Iranian
Revolutionary Guard Corps troops have been sent to Syria to support
Assad while the US has done little to stop them:
Syria: 'Tens of thousands' of Iran's revolutionary guards pour in to bolster President Assad
Iran has ramped up the number of troops sent to fight in Syria in recent weeks, with tens of thousands of ground troops sent to combat opposition forces.
from Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq, have assisted the Assad regime in its
advance in the north. Voice of America reports that some rebel forces,
“citing betrayal,” have retreated from the fighting near Aleppo.
Citing Betrayal, Some Syrian Rebels Withdraw From Front
Citing Betrayal, Some Syrian Rebels Withdraw From Front After a week-long attack from Russian warplanes, some Syrian rebels are withdrawing from the fight in northern Syria. The rebels are fighting against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Some anti-Assad forces have taken shelter in tunnels or bomb-made craters, but some fighters are quitting.
support has been absolutely critical to Assad’s victories, as have the
foreign fighters upon which the regime is now completely reliant, but
what’s less obvious from just looking at the maps is that these foreign
fighters have streamed into Syria right under the noses of the US air
If the Obama administration has betrayed Syria’s rebels, the nature
and scope of that betrayal may go much further than any of these
editorials suggest. How so? The answer has everything to do with the
rebels’ complicated relationship with Syria’s Kurds.
Syrian rebels in Aleppo say that they are now surrounded by
enemies, and yet at first glance the maps that even rebel groups put
forth suggests otherwise to the untrained eye.
The problem is that the Syrian rebels are not just fighting Assad’s
coalition of forces. Kurdish YPG forces, shown in the map above in
yellow, have broken their truce with the rebels and extended their own territory. Syrian
rebels cannot move through territory held by the YPG, so by extending
their battle lines east to Nubul and Al-Zahraa last week the Syrian
regime has effectively cut Aleppo’s supply route to the north.
The YPG has also made its own advances:
Turkey supports many Syrian rebel groups, and several Kurdish groups
are also allied with Syria’s rebels, but both Turkey and the majority of
Syria’s rebels are opposed to the YPG. Aaron Stein, the Senior Resident
Fellow for Turkey with the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East,
explains that the YPG is benefiting from protection from both the US and
the Russian air forces, a dynamic which is heightening tensions with
With US air support, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union
Party (PYD) has managed to consolidate control over much of the
Turkish-Syrian border. Its militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG),
is manning a several hundred mile long front line against the Islamic
State (ISIS or ISIL). In parallel, YPG forces in Efrin appear to be
receiving Russian air support, particularly near Azaz, a key city
currently occupied by elements of the Turkish-backed anti-Assad
insurgency. Open source airstrike data suggests that the SDF could seize
Manbij with US backing, while the Assad regime moves north from Aleppo
to Al Bab. The YPG, in turn, could then cut a deal with the regime to
travel through regime held territory to Efrin.
Turkey has said
such action would result in military action. However, this proposed
route may be protected from Turkish bombardment. Ankara is no longer
flying missions over Syria over concerns that Russian aircraft could
target Turkish aircraft, in retaliation for the November 24 bombing of
one of its jets. Turkish artillery has struck positions inside Syria,
but the M4 highway—the road that could link the three Kurdish cantons—is
out of range.
The PYD is Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan
Workers’ Party (PKK), a US-, EU-, and Turkish-designated terror
organization that has waged an insurgent campaign in Turkey for autonomy
since 1984. A large number of the YPG’s leadership spent time as PKK
members in the group’s stronghold in Iraqi Kurdistan’s Kandil Mountains
before being dispatched to Syria to aid in the governing of Rojava.
Turkey does not distinguish between the PYD and PKK, arguing that the
former is simply a subunit of the latter. Specifically, both the PKK and
the PYD have recognized Turkish and Syrian territorial integrity,
albeit with an important caveat: the idea of “autonomous governance”
includes governing structures that centralize power in PYD hands, in
parallel with a longer term proposal for free travel between other
Kurdish areas—a proposal Ankara views as akin to a plan for an
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Turkey is further frustrated because they will be the ones who have
to deal with a massive wave of Syrian refugees who are fleeing the
fighting in the north. Already tens of thousands are building on
Turkey’s borders, and today Turkish deputy prime minister Numan
Kurtulmus warned that 600,000 refugees could soon be headed to Turkish border crossings.
From Turkey’s perspective, Turkey bears the brunt of those fleeing Russian bombardment, Russia has violated their air space,
bombed the Turkmen who have strong ties to the Turks, broken the battle
lines of Syrian rebel groups which Turkey has supported, and they have
done so while Turkey’s enemies — Assad and the YPG — have grown
Furthermore, the United States has failed to designate the YPG, the
fighting force in Syria, as a terrorist organization, choosing instead
to give that designation to the YPG’s parent organization the PKK. ABC’s
Alexander Marquardt reports:
and the Assad regime is moving closer and closer to the Turkish border:
Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) has confirmed that an airstrike has hit one of its hospitals in southern Syria, killing three. AFP reports:
The strike on Tafas field hospital, some 12 kilometers (seven miles) from the Jordanian border, took place on the night of February 5. It caused partial damage to the hospital building, and put its heavily-used ambulance service out of action,” MSF said in a statement.
A nurse was among the casualties, it added.
“The hospital is the latest medical facility to be hit in a series of airstrikes in southern Syria, which have been escalating over the past two months,” it said, without specifying who was behind the strikes.
MSF says that 177 hospitals have been destroyed and 700 medical workers killed since the start of this conflict, but many hospitals have been hit since the start of this year. While MSF won’t point fingers, Russian airstrikes have been fingered by international observers in many of the hospital bombings since last September:
“Since the start of this year alone, 13 health facilities in Syria have been hit, confirming that hospitals and clinics are no longer places where patients can recover in safety,” the charity said.
Syria airstrike hits MSF-supported hospital, 3 dead: statement
An airstrike hit a hospital in southern Syria that is supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), killing three people and wounding six, the medical charity said on Tuesday
That’s just the result of a single Russian airstrike in the north. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCCS) are reporting that at least four people have been wounded and one killed in a Russian airstrike on Al Bab, north of Aleppo, and other Russian airstrikes have reportedly killed or injured civilians from Deir Ez Zor to Dara’a province and many places in between.
Most disturbingly, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) is reporting that one of their hospitals in the south, in Dara’a province, has been hit by a Russian airstrike:
Surreal moment at the Turkey-Syria border. Had just finished interviewing victims of Russian airstrikes in a nearby hospital. Drove two minutes to the crossing and see two (presumably) Russian jets circling over Aleppo province. They did two laps before disappearing. #syria #turkey
"Surreal moment at the Turkey-Syria border. Had just finished interviewing victims of Russian airstrikes in a nearby hospital. Drove two minutes to the…"
We’ll continue to track these reports during the course of the day.
— James Miller