The last three weeks in Syria were marked by further consolidation of the Syrian government positions. While this will likely continue, a new front of contention with the U.S. occupation force in north-east Syria is building up over Deir Ez-zor city and the oil-rich rural areas east of it.

Last week the Syrian army liberated Sukhnah east of Palmyra from the Islamic State occupation. The fighting was less severe than anticipated. After nearly surrounding the city and the killing of the local ISIS commander the enemy forces mostly fled towards the Euphrates and Deir Ez-zor.

Two large ISIS held pockets are forming in the east-Hama area. The 3,000 square-kilometer western encirclement is by now complete and remaining ISIS forces within the pocket are hunted down by Russian helicopters and Syrian army commandos. This will eliminate any danger for the narrow supply route to Aleppo city. The second pocket will soon close too. Within the next week the Syrian army will have consolidated the whole area. Troops currently concerned with surrounding the pockets will be freed for the push further east towards Deir Ez-zor. There will be no more danger of large surprise attacks in the back of advancing forces.

One such attack recently overran a desert outpost and killed 18 fighters from an Iran-supported group on the Syrian government side. These lost units were replaced by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The injection of IRGC units is a new phenomenon. So far IRGC involvement was restricted to commanders of irregular units recruited from Iraq or Afghanistan or as advisors to Syrian army units, While Iran adds forces to the Syrian government side the Lebanese Hizbullah has reportedly reduced its involvement from a peak 20,000 forces to about 5,000. This was possible after several “rebel” held areas in west-Syria and near the Lebanese border were pacified and consolidated. The only area in the western part of Syria with active fighting is now the east-Ghouta enclave to the east of Damascus. A mix of fighters from al-Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra) and Salafists of the Faylaq Al-Rahman continued to reject ceasefire offers. After increasing losses over the past weeks and a difficult supply situation Faylaq Al-Rahman today gave up its resistance. It is only a question of time until the al-Qaeda elements will also agree to give up their fight and accept offers for an evacuation to Idleb province.

After the total defeat of Ahrar al-Sham Salafist groups Idleb has become the al-Qaeda refuge and stronghold in Syria. Turkey has limited supplies to the area to humanitarian goods and infighting between various local groups and al-Qaeda is causing daily carnage. For now no party – Syria, Turkey or the U.S. and its Kurdish proxies – is interested in the costly venture of liberating the area. It will be left to rot until spring.

Strategically the U.S. has lost the war it waged against Syria. All that is left is to defeat ISIS at Raqqa and to leave. But the imperial U.S. military, the neoconservatives and the liberal interventionists will not be happy with that outcome. They attempt to resist the inevitable.

The U.S. occupation force in the north east of Syria and its Kurdish proxy forces make slow progress in their assault on Raqqa. ISIS resistance continues to be strong and the city is being “destroyed to save it”. The Kurdish forces assume that a prolonged fighting might be to their advantage in accumulating more U.S. support and equipment.

The U.S. has set up 12 smaller and bigger bases in the Kurdish held north-east Syria. The Kurds, under control of the authoritarian, anarcho-marxist YPG group, hope for a long lasting support and a permanent stationing of U.S. forces. But the U.S. is an unreliable partner and its strategic interest is determined by its relations to Turkey which vehemently opposes any Kurdish control over any parts of Syria.

The U.S. military has plans to move from Raqqa along the Euphrates towards Deir Ez-zor and further east to the border city of Abu Kamal. A second front would move from the north towards the Euphrates and capture the al-Omar oil fields. That would consolidate the significant oil reserves north of the Euphrates and currently under ISIS control into the U.S. occupied zone. It seems unlikely that these U.S plans will succeed. The (assumed) Syrian plan (below) currently looks more viable.


In these plans the Syrian army will approach Deir Ez-zor from the north-west along the southern bank of the Euphrates and from the south-west through the Syrian semi-desert. After liberating Deir Ez-zor the Syrian army would cross the Euphrates and continue on both banks of the river up to the Iraqi border until it has liberated all areas under ISIS control. The crossing of the Euphrates would require significant Russian support.

The U.S. does not have enough proxy forces to move towards the east and south and to attack Deir Ez-zor. The areas are Arab and U.S. recruiting of Arab proxy forces there has proven abysmal. A few hundred more or less reliable fighters is insufficient for any larger endeavor. Attempts to move tribal proxy fighters from the Jordanian border area towards the northern Kurdish held areas have mostly failed. Everyone anticipates the U.S. engagement in east-Syria, surrounded by countries which reject a Kurdish controlled entity in Syria, will be temporary. The long term interests of the Arab tribes lie with the Syrian government.

Israel is pressing for further U.S. engagement. A full reestablishment of Syrian government control over Syria is seen as a “nightmare scenario”. The preferred outcome is a balkanized Syria in which Israel can play off various sectarian or ethnic groups against each other. While its optimal outcome is now unlikely to be achievable Israel will continue to press for an autonomous Kurdish area under U.S. control. To be economically viable that area needs the oil fields north of the Euphrates. We can therefore expect some resistance from the U.S. military and Israel influenced experts against a Syrian army move across the Euphrates and to capture the oil fields.

I expect the Euphrates crossing and the consolidation of the oil-fields to become the next contentious issue between the U.S. and Russia in the Syrian war theater.