Damascus (GPA) – As the reign of the Islamic State comes to an end, the predictable tensions between Russia and the US are now rising.
Two major battles in eastern Syria – Raqqa and Deir Ezzor – are coming to a close but there are now new problems arising between the different forces in the area. While the fight for Deir Ezzor is primarily being won and led by both the Syrian and Russian militaries; farther north, the US and their allies are slowly encroaching on these gains “as part of the Raqqa campaign.”
According to statements by the Russian government yesterday, the new conflict arising between Moscow and Washington is, once again, being triggered by the US-allied and Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Russia now claims members of the SDF have been diverting forces south away from Raqqa and attacking Russian special forces in Deir Ezzor.
This conflict arose yesterday after Russia reported to US leaders that they had come under several mortar and artillery attacks by SDF fighters. The SDF forces are alleged to have been launching attacks on Russian troops from across the Euphrates river in the area between Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.
Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov addressed these issues today, telling reporters that he had spoken earlier to US military commanders based in Qatar. Konashenkov told the reporters that his call included a warning to the US that “any attempts of shelling from the areas where the militants of the Syrian Democratic Forces are based will be immediately curbed.”
In case that wasn’t clear enough, Konashenkov spelled out exactly what it meant, saying “Firing points in these areas will be immediately suppressed by all means of destruction.” He also voiced concern that, according to Russia’s intelligence, they weren’t observing many clashes between IS and a “third force, ” i.e. the SDF.
In Konashenkov’s mind, this seems to leave some doubt on whether the SDF actually opposes IS as much as they claim. While this claim would be heresy in the US, it doesn’t seem impossible, especially when you take into account Kurds previously pardoning IS members in areas that have come under their control. (A fact that strangely does make it into western media.)
Also located amongst the SDF forces spread throughout eastern Syria are US special forces carrying out “advise and assist” missions. This is the main point of concern for anyone observing these skirmishes, as Russia is rapidly moving north towards Raqqa along the Euphrates, capturing 160 miles of riverbank just this week.
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian operations have primarily been carried out on the river’s west banks. Yet this week also saw SAA forces cross the river amid threats by the SDF that the country’s legitimate army would face the consequences for “taking SDF territory.”
Russia has also accused the SDF of sabotaging their operations. Several critical dams along the Euphrates are located north of Deir Ezzor in SDF territory, and according to Russia, as soon as the SAA began crossing the river, water levels began to rise.
This week also saw accusations by Russia that the US is still working with “former” Al Qaeda affiliate Jahbat al Nusra. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says this side of US-backed forces is the one causing trouble in other regions of Syria, like the de-escalation zones near Hama.
These latest incidents are likely only the beginning of a pattern we will likely see continue. IS is currently losing on two fronts in eastern Syria, with the SAA now controlling 85% of Deir Ezzor and the SDF with 80% of Raqqa, and will no longer be the legitimizing buffer in Syria that the US uses as rhetorical cover for their occupation.
The world should also be prepared to watch the US lose control of yet another proxy as more people turn on the SDF as it becomes apparent that US proxies are an outsourced part of an occupation force.
James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.