The US’s handling of the Russian intervention in Syria. Following the passage of the Iran Nuclear Deal in the Fall of 2015, there was a good deal of optimism among foreign policy circles that Russia and the US would finally be able to put the past behind them and work towards a more cooperative future. The Iran Nuclear Deal was a landmark agreement that provided a road map for resolving many of the biggest geopolitical issues of the day. In the final negotiations of the Iran Deal, the Russians took the US, UK and France aside and proposed a joint campaign against ISIS. According to the Russian plan, the US and Iraq would be tasked with eliminating ISIS in Iraq, while Russia and France, Syria’s historic guarantor, would be tasked with eliminating ISIS in Syria. The plan was for Russian, US, French and British airborne and air assault forces to drop behind ISIS’s lines, seizing airfields and disrupting their internal supply lines. With their internal lines of communication cut, Syrian and Iraqi mechanized forces would have been able to annihilate ISIS’s forces on the front line piecemeal. Following the defeat of ISIS, all of the remaining sides to the Syrian civil war would sit down and negotiate a durable and inclusive resolution to the conflict.
Su-34 Taking off From Khmeimim Airbase in Syria
To gauge US support for such an operation, Russia requested permission from the US to send a small contingent of fighter planes to Latakia province to prepare the ground for an offensive, which the US promptly granted. When Russia committed to the conflict, Assad’s forces were close to collapse. To bolster them, Russia immediately initiated a furious bombing campaign against ISIS. Prior to Russia’s intervention few would have suspected the Russian Air Force of mounting such a campaign. Throughout the first few months of the campaign, Russian planes launched as many as 3 or 4 sorties per day, dropping smart bombs on ISIS positions throughout the country. Initially the Russians targeted command posts and other key ISIS installations deep behind their lines. Immediately Russian forces were able to turn the tide of the war in favor of Assad.An Su-25 Firing Rockets at ISIS Militants
However, a month after Russia’s entrance into Syria, ISIS launched attacks throughout Paris. Immediately, there was an international outcry for a coordinated response against ISIS. Russian diplomats worked night and day trying to convince the US to accelerate the timetable for military operations against ISIS. However, all of their efforts were stonewalled by the Obama administration, as the US backed out of joint operations. At that point, Putin and the Russian government realized Obama’s motives in allowing Russia to intervene in Syria. The Obama administration believed that the war in Syria was won. They did not think that a Russian intervention would be capable of turning the tide, rather viewing this as an opportunity to humiliate Putin. Although Putin had hoped to avoid direct combat with American proxies, he came to the conclusion that it would be unavoidable. Upon realizing that he had been allowed to intervene solely for the purposes of drawing Russia into a quagmire, Putin opted to expand the war. He directed his forced to begin striking militants backed by the US. American special operations embedded with these forces found themselves in the cross hairs as Russian bombs came raining down on their positions, as the two superpowers came closer to a direct confrontation than they had in decades, if not ever. Only through the hard work of a small number of Russian and American diplomats was a direct conflict avoided.
Russian SSO near Palmyra
Throughout 2016, the Syria conflict dragged on. However, it became apparent within the first few months following the Russian intervention that Assad would survive. Throughout the year, Russian forces liberated city after city, retaking ground from the clutches of ISIS, Al Nusra and other terrorist organization. The Russian-Syrian campaign in 2016 culminated with the Battle of Aleppo. At Aleppo, Syrian forces were able to encircle a large number of rebel and terrorist troops, forcing them to surrender. Following the fall of Aleppo, Russian and Syrian forces were able to cut off of ISIS’s supply lines through other Syrian rebel groups to the outside world. This was the final nail in the coffin for ISIS. Without access to supplies from the outside world, ISIS was doomed.
The Obama administration’s decision to allow Russia to intervene in Syria with the hopes of drawing Putin into a quagmire was the dumbest decision that I have personally witnessed. Not only did it cost the US the war in Syria, it nearly led to a nuclear war. Only through the timely action of diplomats on both side was such a conflict avoided. Syria will probably be remembered as Obama’s biggest mistake.
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