Only a day after a U.S-Russian ceasefire brought some calm to Syria’s southwest, Syrian, Russian, and Iranian forces have launched an offensive against mostly Bedouin tribes outside of the ceasefire zone near Iraq, according to Reuters. The assault occurred along a stretch of desert that is largely inhabited by nomads, and which slipped from Bashar al-Assad’s control early on in the conflict. It sits on the site of several border points with Iraq, where supplies and arms can cross from sympathetic Sunni forces.
Some sources, including Al-Masdar News, see the blitz as proof that the Syrian army has started to recover from its losses and become operationally capable of more efficient war making. However, the region’s comparative emptiness makes the fighting comparatively easy, especially considering how little progress the Assadist army has fared in Idlib province to the north, a more populous and better-armed province with factions that include Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate.
The assault is a clear indication of Assad’s hopes to recover his eastern border and slow the supplies via Iraq. However, he faces major obstacles, including American forces stationed at al-Tanf not far from where the current assault in unfolding. U.S. forces have bombed Assadist troops twice as they attempted to move on their position in that location. The offensive in the southeast threatens to surround this garrison, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, small-scale truce violations in the southwest, where Russia and America agreed Sunday to a ceasefire, have tested the truce. Although major outlets continued to report that the truce was holding, these violations tested the ability of rebel forces to hold back from retaliation.
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Largely considered defeated in 2015, Bashar al-Assad’s regime has enjoyed a rebound thanks to generous Russian air cover and rearmament, with the biggest victory being the conquest of Aleppo in late 2016. Kurdish-Arab forces aligned with the United States are meanwhile grounding down the Islamic State in northern Syria, leaving only Idlib province, southern and southwestern Syria, and the Kurdish north outside of Assad’s writ. The remnants of the Free Syrian Army, the umbrella organization that originally launched the rebellion 2011, are scattered and only enjoy support from Turkey and some Gulf Arab states.
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President Trump’s deal making ability is widely seen as on the line during this cease-fire deal. If Assadist forces surround the al-Tanf garrison where American troops are stationed, it will almost certainly test Trump’s reputation as a strongman and a negotiator.
[Featured Image by Syrian Central Military Media/AP Images]