By Alexander Orlov

It is now crystal clear that the unexpected counterattack that ISIS militants launched near the Deir ez-Zor and Palmyra that forced Russia’s air group deployed in Syria to take urgent measures to repel the horde of radicals that have almost overrun the positions occupied by Syrian army forces was staged by the US and its Kurdish SDF allies along with a number of local Sunni tribes. As for the death of the Russian General Valery Asapov that was struck dead by a mortal shell at his C2 post, it’s curious that the shot that murdered Russia’s high-profile officer was made with a deadly precision. There’s no chance that one could land such a shot without access to satellite and air photos. It’s hardly a secret that ISIS has no access to this level of reconnaissance assets, but Washington does.

Moreover, a detachment up to 6.000 men strong couldn’t approach Deir ez-Zor from the southeast unnoticed, thus getting an opportunity both Sukhny, Palmyra and Al-QaryataynSuch a force would be inevitably detected by US-coalition aircraft and satellites. But Washington couldn’t care less about transferring this information to the Russian military command, since the United States was pursuing several goals at once by choosing this course of action:

  • to ensure that pro-US Kurds forces would be able to occupy vast oil fields near Deir ez-Zor;
  • to disrupt the crossing of Syrian army troops to the left bank of the Euphrates via a pontoon bridge built by Russian military engineers;
  • to undermine the prestige of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and the forces he commands on the eve of the 2-year anniversary of the arrival of the Russian air group to Syria.

However, Washington hasn’t simply assisted ISIS by concealing reports about the approach of a large militant force to Deir Ez-Zor, but it has also struck a deal with Sunni tribes that the Islamist horde will cross their lands unreported and unopposed.

Therefore, Damascus had to urgently strip a sections of the front Idlib-Khama off its best forces to rapidly organize defense along the strategic road Palmyra – Deir ez-Zor. On the night of September 30, a total of 800 men and 50 tanks of the Syrian battle-seasoned elite force Tigers arrived to Palmyra. Apparently, the command of the Syrian Armed Forces perceived the threat of a militant assault of the city as inevitable. The Islamic State has already released a report on its website that its radicals have managed to destroy two Syria’s military jets stationed at the T-4 base. A brief look at the map of Syria can tell you that the above mentioned airbase is to be found in the city of Tadmur that is only a couple of miles away from Palmyra. That also means that jihadists are approaching Palmyra from the west. Under these circumstances, the Syrian government will have little choice but to strip other fronts of the most battle-capable units which will to defend Palmyra, which will reduce its liberation efforts taken across the country. Actually, this was the very goal ISIS was pursuing. Moreover, all of the US-coalition aircraft have ceased patrols over the Euphrates river, which means that ISIS has the ability to launch offensives in this area as well. By scattering their forces across a narrow 60-miles long front radical militants have considerably militants reduced the effectiveness of the air strikes carried out by both Syrian and Russian military jets, especially in a situation where the Russian air corps has been heavily employed near the Idlib area.

Mere days after the launch of an ISIS offensive the Kurds started seizing oil fields along the left bank of the Euphrates river. It was reported that they occupied the Jafra oil field, heading to the largest oil field in Syria – al-Omar. While the US demonstrates its utter lack of respect towards the Syrians and Russian “partners” in the fight against terrorism by frozing all military flights across the right bank the Euphrates river for at least a week, granting ISIS a massive area of operations, while the left is occupied by SDF forces, Damascus had to abandon its plan of regaining its control over the reach oil fields, focusing its efforts on a way more complex goal tiresome and bloody task of eliminating ISIS forces attacking the Mayadin.

Simultaneously, Turkey started occupying certain parts of Syria’s Idlib province. Ankara pursuits the same old goal – creation of a buffer control that would separate Kurdish enclaves in Syria from the Turkish sovereign lands. Erdogan couldn’t care less about Washington’s plans to balkanize Syria, but at the same time he has no intention to discuss the buffer zone that Turkish armed forces are now creating.

In the meantime, in the south of the Syrian Arab Republic, ISIS keeps attacking Syrian positions in a series of hit and run engagements For instance a small gang of a 100 militants would capture the town of al-Qaryatain west of Palmyra three times over the period of just two days. During their first assault they would capture a total of 20 avid supporters of the Syrian government to execute them hours later. If one is to take into account the fact that it’s a remote city that is far away from any major engagements that are taking place on the ground, while the group operating in the area represents one the reactivated sleeper cell of ISIS, one can start to comprehend how difficult its for Damascus to coordinate its forces wisely. In just two days of ongoing skirmishes Syria lost more that 500 of its brave sons. At the same time, Syria’s foreign allies like Hezbollah, Afghan volunteers and Shia soldiers of the Army of Mahdi are suffering equally serious losses. There’s almost no reports coming from Al-Qaryatayn, since Syrian armed forces are opposed by far the most elite troops within ISIS ranks – Amniyat al- Kharji. It’s known that this task force is being deployed extremely rarely and always when there’s an imporant mission an hand. So, in such a deadly face-off no side is eager to give any clues to the enemy.

It won’t be an exaggeration to state that the situation remains extremely complicated in Deir ez-Zor. Clashes occur both in the outskirts and within the city, but ISIS militants are almost exclusively attacking the positions where Russian military advisors can be found. The plan of action that the Islamic State has is pretty clear now, the terrorist force will take every effort to capture Palmyra in an attempt to relieve out of its groups that Syrian army had previously surrounded. In a difficult situation that Russia, Iran and Syria found themselves due Washington’s cunning plan, ISIS militants are clearly counting on their luck. Theoretically, Damascus can return the situation under its control if it manages to stall the terrorist offensive in the foreseeable future. But in order to achieve this goal, Damascus has to manage whatever forces it has wisely.

Military experts argue that the Kurds will reach the Khabur River and stop there to take a better look at what the Syrian military will be able to achieve on the right bank of the Euphrates.

Apparently, they are waiting for when the government forces to head for Mayadin. After all, Washington has made it pretty clear for the Kurds that it doesn’t simply want them to occupy oil fields, but also prevent Damascus from establishing control of the Syrian-Iraqi border and block the root along which Iran could send troops and equipment to Syria. This is by far the most important goal in Syria today from Washington’s point of view. Iranian Foreign Mohammad Javad Zarif wasn’t particularly picky with words when he stated that Washington is eager to cooperate with any force, including ISIS, in a bid to prevent the Syrian army from securing the border with Iraq, which would create a land supply channel from Iran to Syria.

The can be hardly any difference of opinions about what the US is trying to do in Syria. In fact, it’s trying to stab its partners in the fight against terrorism in the back simply because it somehow fits Washington’s twisted interests. Western attempts to get Moscow drawn even deeper in the Syrian war even is a part of the ongoing attempts to undermine Russia’s economic situation on the eve of the presidential elections.

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