March 16th, 2016.
Russia Announces Withdrawal of its Military from Syria.
On the eve of UN brokered peace talks, the Russian Government has made the shock announcement that they will withdraw the “main part of their military grouping in the Syrian Arab Republic” beginning immediately.
The statement from the Kremlin does not say how many of the Russian Aircraft and troops will be withdrawn from Syria nor how long it would take but it has already started.
FIRST VIDEO: Russian warplanes leaving airbase in Syria
This is a very strange turn of events when it is considered that Russia was sending more warplanes to Syria less than a fortnight ago. South Front reported in early March that Russia had just sent several extra aircraft to the Syrian base and provided an updated inventory of the Russian Airforce in Syria.
What Forces does Russia have in Syria?
The Russian Air force has stationed almost 100 aircraft in Syria, the estimates for the number of Russian troops in Syria range between 5 and 20,000. Whatever the number, Russian forces have not played a significant role in ground battles.
Officially, the Russian military have suffered three deaths during the Syrian operation, two on November 24th last year when Turkey shot down the Russian SU24 aircraft and another soldier died in the rescue effort and a soldier who died earlier this year as the result of a reported ISIS mortar attack.
There were also credible reports that a car bomb attack in Latakia claimed by Ahrar al Sham had killed at least ten Russian soldiers in late February.
The story disappeared but there were people on both sides telling neutral sources it happened.
The Russian decision comes as a shock as they are a vital element of the loyalist coalition that is midway through several major operations.
The motives for this decision will become clear over time but it seems that Russia has decided to put its will towards ending the war in Syria.
It is possible that Russia is attempting to send a message to their Syrian Government allies that they must be flexible in their negotiations with the opposition.
In recent days the Syrian Foreign Minister stated that the status of the Syrian President Bashar al Assad was not up for negotiation. It is possible that Russia would like to see Assad and coterie head into exile as a way to end the war.
Russia has tended to be at least one step ahead of Western observers in recent years so only when we see what happens next will Russia’s intent become recognisable.
There are three obvious possibilities.
- This is a ruse designed to bolster the Geneva talks and Russia’s international image.
- The US and Russia have made a secret deal regarding Syria’s future that will end the war.
- Russia wants Bashar al Assad to leave Syria and is trying to make Assad understand that he must yield to the demands of the opposition and leave power.
My understanding is that Russia is perfectly happy to see Assad leave as they understand that the demand for his departure is merely an excuse for the destruction of Syria via a continuation of the war, their priority has clearly been the survival of the Syrian state and the Syrian army, under whatever leadership. If the war could be ended by his departure, in an orderly way it is highly likely that Russia would request that Assad leave Syria.
Brief Summary of the Military Situation in Syria.
International Military Review – Syria–Iraq, Mar. 14, 2016
International Military Review – Syria, Mar. 16, 2016
A Cessation of Hostilities?
Around one hundred small insurgent groupings chose to participate in the partial ceasefire. The cessation did not apply and was never intended to apply towards either ISIS nor the local al Qaeda franchise the al Nusra front. Another large grouping Ahrar al Sham chose not to participate in the cessation due to the fact that the al Nusra front, their close ally, were excluded.
Therefore the only insurgent groups of any significance to participate was the Jaish al Islam, largely based in the outer Damascus area and the Southern Front coalition of insurgents fighting in the far less active southern parts of Syria.
On paper it seemed then that the cessation of hostilities would make little difference but the fighting has been sharply reduced in the fortnight since implementation and Russia has been helping to negotiate a series of local amnesties and ceasefires, building on a tactic the Syrian Government has been using for several years and that has seen insurgents allowed to leave many areas including Homs city.
Since the cessation began anti Government demonstrations have resumed in the rebel held areas but they are neither large nor enthusiastic. On the weekend an attempt to hold a pro-democracy rally in Idlib backfired badly when the “democratic’ protesters were attacked by Islamists advocating the implementation of Sharia law. The overwhelming desire of the majority of the people appears to be for the war to end and be able to resume their lives.
The sooner it is over the better, but the problem of al Nusra, ISIS and their sponsors is not suddenly going away, even if the Americans decide to call it a day, there are strong indications that neither Turkey nor Saudi Arabia would follow the advice or direction of the US.
Major Current Government Operations.
The Latakia offensive is almost complete and the assault is poised to move onto Idlib province in the coming days and weeks.
Drone footage of Syrian Army MRLs against militants in Kabbani – Latakia
Syria Latakia : SAA NDF military operations in Vicinity of Kabani
A large operation is also underway against ISIS in the area around Palmyra in central Syria.
Syrian Army prepares to storm Palmyra | March 10th 2016
Rain of BM-30 Smerch, TOS-1A and BM-27 by SAA on ISIS in Palmyra
Fighting continues in the Hama and Homs countryside and in southern Aleppo.
Battles for Syria | March 12th 2016
Battles for Syria | March 13th 2016 | North Hama Plain
Besieged Der ez Zour and Conclusion.
Thousands of Syrian troops and hundreds of thousands of civilians remain encircled by ISIS in the eastern city of Der az Zour and although ISIS are on the path to total collapse in both Syria and Iraq, without Russian air support it is hard to see the Syrian Army liberating Palmyra and defeating ISIS and al Nusra in Syria.
The attempt to end the war is admirable but this will not solve the problem of al Nusra and ISIS each of which retains significant territories within Syria.
It must be assumed that Russian air strikes will continue in Syria for many months at the very least with a scaled down presence conducting a smaller campaign. Anything less would be a betrayal of all they have achieved up to this point.
International Millitary Review & Analysis – Withdrawal of Russian Military from Syria
First group of aircraft has left Hmeymim airbase for permanent location airfields in Russia