American Occupied Syria The Russian Viewpoint

The civil war in Syria seems to almost never make the Western mainstream media, unless of course, Washington is accusing the Assad government of attacking its own citizens.  That said, if one spends a bit of time searching, the conflict is still an important part of news coverage.  In this posting, you will find comments by Russia’s military leadership that illuminates a great deal of what is currently happening and America’s involvement in rebuilding Assad’s Syria as the civil war winds down.

Here are some quotes from a report by Russia’s Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev found on the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation website regarding the current situation in Syria:

On this day, a year ago, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation successfully completed an counter-terrorism operation against terrorist groups, including the ISIS army of many thousands in the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic. Only several US-backed disparate groups have survived in regions east of the Euphrates and in Al-Tanf area. The remnants of Jabhat al-Nusra militants have been blocked in the Idlib de-escalation zone.

During the operation, 1,411 settlements were liberated, with 96.5 per cent of the country’s territory under control of government troops and militia.

The completion of the operation made it possible to significantly reduce the grouping of Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria and begin to restore peaceful life.

In accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 on ways to resolve the Syrian crisis, the Constitutional Committee is being formed with participation of opposition and representatives of the entire spectrum of the Syrian multinational civil society.

This autumn there were first municipal elections in past eight years, during which more than 40,000 candidates from various parties and movements claimed 18,478 seats.

Since the beginning of this year, under an active mediating role of Russia, more than 100 negotiations and meetings have been held at many international venues at various levels, including with participation of the leaders of the guarantor countries in Sochi, Astana, Tehran, Istanbul and Geneva, on settlement of the Syrian crisis and restoration of peaceful life in Syria.

Amid positive changes, there is a massive refugees inflow back to Syria.

The Russian joint coordination centre on repatriation of refugees was established on 18 July this year to intensify repatriation of refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic back to their places of pre-war residence. Representatives of over 20 Russian ministries and departments are working in the centre….

Ten crossing points have been deployed at the Syrian-Lebanese and Syrian-Jordanian borders, as well as in the area of the Idlib de-escalation zone, at the port of Banias and at Damascus international airport. They are operating 24 hours a day.

There are 1,497,650 places arranged to receive and accommodate refugees in 412 settlements less affected by the combat actions.

Work is actively carried out on construction and reconstruction of industrial, agricultural, transport and socially important facilities in Syria. In November this year, the Syrian government adopted a program of post-war development of the country and began its implementation. It is based on formation of industrial clusters to revive production capacity and organize return of Syrian citizens in order to restore human resources.

The UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency is interested in developing contacts with the Syrian government and Russian representatives in Syria and in identifying priorities for ensuring the return of refugees to the country, including legal challenges, logistics and a set of social issues.

At present there are 1,550,009 Syrian returnees including 1,259,731 internally displaced persons and 290,278 refugees from abroad.

Since the beginning of the year, 291,311 Syrian citizens have returned to their homes, including 117,369 internally displaced persons and 113,942 refugees from foreign countries.”

Here are some details about how Syria’s infrastructure is being rebuilt with Russian assistance:

Over the past week, the following facilities were repaired and commissioned in:

4,690 houses,

266 medical institutions,

1,464 educational institutions,

284 water supply facilities,

274 bakeries,

1,022 power supply stations,

14,239 industrial enterprises.

Currently, in 336 settlements work is underway to overhaul:

206 schools,

184 kindergartens,

190 bakeries,

225 water pump stations,

195 power substations,

183 medical institutions,

2,108 houses and 91 places of worship.”

The Colonel General notes that Syrians returning to their homes see that “the war is over” and that “revival of the country is well underway”.

Now, let’s look at what Colonel General Mizintsev has to say about American involvement in the reconstruction of Syria:

Probably, only our American partners still do not want to see how much has been done to revive peaceful life in Syria. With unfathomable stubbornness, they retain the 55km-zone around al-Tanf, where six thousand armed militants on the loose, and impede dismantling of the Rukban refugee camp.

This is almost the last stronghold of evil, injustice and horror for ordinary Syrian citizens, arranged by the United States on the territory of the independent state.

I would like to stress once again that Rukban is a territory, illegally occupied by the United States, so the entire responsibility for the living conditions of Syrian citizens in the camp lies only with the United States.

The idea of a second humanitarian convoy to the Rukban camp is now being promoted through the United Nations. Both Russian and Syrian sides are ready to support this initiative.” (my bold)

Here is a map showing the location of the al-Tanf American base (in light green in the centre of the map) and the region along the borders with Jordan and Iraq that the United States controls:

What is interesting to note is the strategic location of the al-Tanf base which, to most of us, would appear to be located in the middle of nowhere.  The American base is located on Syria’s Route 2 which connects to Iraq’s Route 1, the main highway connection between Baghdad and Damascus.  An agreement between the United States and Russia allowed for the establishment of a 55 kilometre areal deconfliction zone around al-Tanf (which includes the Al Rukban refugee camp as you will see later in this posting) meaning that Russia will not challenge U.S. control of the area.   This also means that the United States will not support rebel attacks on Assad’s forces and will adhere to its policy of beating back Islamic State fighters from al-Tanf.

Here is a screen capture from Google Earth showing the al-Tanf base:

Colonel General Mizintzav also mentions the al-Rukban refugee camp.  Internally displaced Syrians have been stranded in a very desolate region near the frontiers between Jordan, Syria and Iraq with the camp straddling the border between Syria and Jordan, a location that adds geopolitical complications to the issues surrounding the camp, who is responsible for it and how the camp will ultimately be depopulated.  Civilians have been trapped in the camp since Jordan closed its borders in June 2016 following an Islamic State suicide bombing that killed seven Jordanian soldiers.  Passage of refugees from the camp into Jordan is not permitted since Jordan regards the refugees as Syrians, making them a Syrian responsibility.  Aid has been blocked by several of the parties in the conflict including the Syrian government, ISIS, Jordan and armed fighters that live in the camp itself.  According to The Century Foundation, one of the additional problems is that the United States military controls the area but will not guarantee the safety of aid workers seeking access to the camp.  Here is a satellite photo of the camp from Google Earth taken in July 2017:

Here is a satellite photo showing both the al Tanf base (upper right) and Rukban refugee camp (lower left):

Here is an air photo from the United Nations showing the extremely high density of refugees at Rukban:

In October 2018, the United Nations estimated that there were 10,876 shelters on the Jordanian side of the border but that some shelters may have been missed because they are of a small size.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)  Agency estimates that there are between 50,000 and 65,000 refugees in the camp.  No American forces are located within the camp which has been subjected to repeated bombings, assassinations and factional shootings.  It is estimated that there could well be more armed camp-dwellers than there are American military personnel at al-Tanf.  Control of the camp lies with Maghawir al-Thawra (aka MaS or the Revolutionary Commando Army), a group that has fought against the Islamic State under U.S. supervision and training for the past three to four years and whose roots lie with Syrian Arab Army defectors and other rebel groups.  

As you can see, the situation in the territory surrounding America’s al-Tanf base is highly complex and has led to a geopolitical stalemate that has resulted in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who are suffering under subhuman conditions.  While Colonel General Mizintzav’s update shows the progress that a post-civil war Syria is making under Russia’s guidance and assistance, it certainly appears that little is being done to improve the lot of Syrian refugees living in a massive refugee camp that is in territory controlled by an uninvited party, the United States, to the eight year-old Syrian conflict.

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