The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 3rd February 2017

Syrian forces hammer rebels on all fronts

by our Arab Affairs correspondent

THE SYRIAN Arab Army, backed by Iranian and Lebanese volunteers, the Kurdish militia and the Russian air force, are continuing to hammer ISIS and Muslim Brotherhood gunmen across the country. Syrian troops liberated a strategic enclave near Damascus and regained control of a swathe of territory along the border with Lebanon while the Syrian government and some rebel militias took part in peace talks sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran, in Astana, the capital of the former Soviet Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan.

Back in Damascus Syrian President Bashar al-Assad quashed western reports that he had been shot by “his Iranian bodyguard” or struck down by a stroke by appearing fit and well at a meeting with local manufacturers on Tuesday.

Rumours about Assad’s failing health, a cocktail of disinformation and wishful thinking, have been peddled by western intelligence and their willing tools for years. In March 2013 rebel gunmen were said to have killed the Syrian president during a clash in Damascus. In March and December 2015 reports claimed that Assad was killed by a bodyguard. In November 2015 media outlets in the Gulf claimed that he suffered a stroke.

These latest lies appeared in the Lebanese media last week and were soon taken up by the bourgeois media in Europe and the United States.

Syrian rebels have abandoned the Wadi Barada valley that controls the water supply line to the capital. Following a successful Syrian army offensive some rebels accepted a government amnesty while others chose to be evacuated to a rebel-controlled region in the north. Syrian troops are also advancing south of the rebel stronghold of Al Bab and along the road to Palmyra.

Meanwhile Turkish troops remain bogged down near the ISIS-held town of Al Bab in northern Syria that their president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claimed was about to fall in December. The Turkish sortie into northern Syria was primarily intended to drive a wedge between the border lands controlled by the Syrian Kurds and pave the way for the capture of Al Bab and the ISIS “capital” of Raqqa in eastern Syria. But the Turks are meeting fierce resistance from the ISIS militia. They’re still nowhere near taking Al Bab and Raqqa in a struggle that is clearly beyond the capacity of the Turkish army.

After returning from his African tour last week, President Erdogan struck a rare note of realism saying there was now no need “to prolong and expand” the ongoing Turkish military operation in al-Bab. Retired General Ismail Hakki Pekin, the former chief of the Turkish General Staff Intelligence Department, told the Russian media that this decision was made due to a number of factors including the unwillingness of the Turkish army to clash with the Syrian armed forces advancing on Al Bab from the south, the peace talks in Astana, and US President Trump’s call to establish safe zones on Syrian territory.

On paper the Turkish armed forces are the second largest contingent in NATO — the first being those of the Americans themselves. But morale has been weakened by last year’s failed military coup and the subsequent reprisals of the Erdogan government. Waves of arrests followed the abortive attempt to seize power by an Islamic sect, led by Fethullah Gulen, once allied to Erdogan but now in underground opposition. Around 6,500 members of the Turkish military, among them more than 150 generals and 300 air force pilots, were accused of sympathising with Gulen’s movement and dismissed.