Friday, May 05, 2017

Red Line in Syria

Has anybody noticed that Russia and our Turkish "ally" just declared a no-fly zone in Syria that basically bans American aircraft?

Because that's what this sounds like:

The "de-escalation zones" to be established in Syria will be closed to military aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition, the Russian official who signed the new agreement said Friday.

Alexander Lavrentyev spoke a day after he and officials from Turkey and Iran agreed to establish the zones, in the latest attempt to reduce violence in the Arab country.

Under the Russian plan, President Bashar Assad's air force would halt flights over the designated areas across the war-torn country.

This could get sticky if "Syrian" air defenses (even if a Russian or contractor is sitting at the controls) open fire on our coalition aircraft. We might need to rely more on armed drones, cruise missiles, and longer-ranged Army/Marine Corps rockets.

Not that we should rule out using aircraft. If the Russians push us back a little they will keep pushing.

But we should be careful so we don't go to war with Russia over Syria where we have no apparent objective other than destroying ISIL.

UPDATE: Four no-fly zones are proposed. This is a particular problem:

The fourth zone will include parts of the Deraa and Quneitra provinces in southern Syria, according to the memorandum seen by AFP.

That would really crimp the southern front. Which is likely not a coincidence at all.

UPDATE: Remember that Russia wants to extricate itself from the fight in Syria and simply enjoy their air and naval bases there.

Don't buy the consensus that Russia has basically won the war for Assad. Assad is still in deep trouble.

From Stratfor:

Russia's intervention in Syria, operating alongside Iran in support of Syrian loyalist forces, has succeeded in several ways. For one, Russia's involvement stabilized the battlefield and restored the advantage to Syrian troops. Furthermore, its entry into the conflict not only secured basing in the country but also provided a proving ground in which to season personnel and showcase Russian military hardware. Finally, the intervention has elevated Moscow's geopolitical heft, marking the Kremlin as a key player in the region.

Nevertheless, having played a major part in the conflict, Russia is now seeking to remove itself from the battlefield in a timely manner. For all the gains reaped from its involvement in the Syrian crisis, Moscow also understands the considerable costs — and, more important, that the advantages it has accrued thus far could easily be squandered over time, especially if the war drags on with no end in sight.

Russia certainly halted the rapidly declining fortunes of Assad. But that is far from saying Assad has won the war--or even can win the war.

When Russia intervened, I advised we should complicate Russia's choice and let them have fun storming the Syrian castle:

Russia does not want to fight for Assad. Putin wants to save Assad as cheaply as possible so he can get back to picking apart eastern Ukraine while consolidating the conquest of Crimea (and then Belarus will be in Putin's crosshairs, prior to focusing on the Baltic states). Our cooperation is key to letting Russia win in Syria on the cheap.

Don't fall for Putin's ploy. Bid him good luck and tell him to have fun storming the castle.

At the end of last year, I noted that the Russians could hardly be enjoying their adventure, and wanted America to continue to complicate their intervention:

We can still defeat Assad, Russia, and Iran in Syria. Talk of having to accept that Assad will win ignores the cost and casualties Assad and his backers have suffered just to finally--after more than four years--make serious progress in taking Aleppo in Assad's corner of Syria. There are still a lot of people fighting Assad and they will fight if supported.

Don't save Russia from the problems of their own aggression.

UPDATE: Seriously, if the Russians want to protect civilians from air attack they could stop barrel- and gas-bombing civilians without any special initiative.

This is all about pulling Putin's balls out of the vice he placed them in. We should not cooperate.

UPDATE: America's reaction:

A State Department official on Friday said that the Russian proposal calling to bar U.S. military aircrafts from flying over designated safe zones cannot “limit” the U.S.’s mission against ISIS in the country in any way.

“The coalition will continue to strike ISIS targets in Syria,” the official told The Wall Street Journal. “The campaign to defeat ISIS will continue at the same relentless pace as it is proceeding now.”

Which doesn't mean we fly aircraft over the Russian no-fly zones without caution. And it doesn't mean we might not use other means to strike ISIL in those zones when we can.

But we won't let the zones stop our aircraft when we need to use them.

Let's be careful out there.