Opposition groups announced the “Ibrahim al-Yousef” offensive earlier this month to break the government’s siege on rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.
It was another sign of the cataclysmic sectarian confrontation the battle of Aleppo has become for the rebels arrayed against Assad, not to mention the growing integration of hardcore jihadists in rebel ranks despite U.S. efforts to wean the opposition of them.
Although the five-year civil war in Syria began as anti-government protests, it has devolved into a sectarian bloodbath that has pitted the largely Sunni opposition against forces loyal to Assad, which include Shiites, Druze, Sunnis and Christians. Shiites in Syria, including Assad’s Alawite sect, comprise roughly 13% of the population but long have had an outsized role in state affairs.
The battle has drawn Shiite militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan on the side of Assad, even as Sunni would-be jihadists from around the world have filled the ranks of the many Islamist groups fighting his rule, including the Islamic State extremist group.
That would be the Syrian civil war in which presumptive President-to-be Hillary Clinton wants to see more extensive direct military intervention.
Dan Wright reminds us in With Libya, US Now Has Ground Forces in Four Wars Shadowproof 08/11/2016:
While it is impossible to know all the dirty deeds of America’s sprawling global empire, news that US ground forces are now fighting in Libya means that US troops are involved in at least four active wars:Paul Pillar also notes the US ground combat forces in Syria and suggests the US could learn something constructive from Russian conduct in the Middle East (Russian Realism in the Middle East National Interest 08/17/2016):
Afghanistan: A planned draw-down of troops in 2015 was curtailed by President Obama to leave more troops for combat and advisory missions. This week, US forces were forced to abandon military equipment that then fell into the hands of ISIS.
Iraq: After a removal of major combat forces in 2011, Iraq has become a battleground once again. President Obama has sent 4,600 troops roughly in for combat and advisory roles and built a new base in northern Iraq called “Firebase Bell.”
Syria: Though the US had been supporting Syrian rebel groups, including jihadists, since 2013, US troops have entered the fighting in the country. In January of this year, US special forces took control of a military base in northern Syria.
Libya: In 2011, the US assisted in the overthrow of the Gaddafi government in Libya. In the aftermath, Libya has fallen into total chaos, making it ripe for ISIS to establish a significant presence. Now, according to the Pentagon, US forces are fighting on the ground to drive ISIS out.
The United States is conducting airstrikes in Syria, too, and, although it seems to escape our notice sometimes, a limited ground war against ISIS as well. The United States has more of a military presence in the Middle East, and is doing more with that presence, than anything Russia is doing there. If we are worrying about Russia one-upping us in the Middle East, it is not because the Russians are doing more militarily in the region than we are.
The lesson we should draw from the Putin government's policy in the region is how an outside power is able to pursue its objectives and interests more fully and freely because it is willing to do business with anyone, not limiting itself to business only with states it considers allies and not letting old animosities or current differences get in the way of diplomatic initiatives and practical cooperation.