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Syria Today – U.S. Sends Troops; Wildfires Spread in Coastal Region

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – U.S. Sends Troops; Wildfires Spread in Coastal Region

Recently, the U.S. made an announcement about the deployment of 2,500 troops to the northern regions of Syria. These areas are presently under the control of Kurdish units, which Turkey considers to be terrorist organizations. Meanwhile, firefighters are currently battling multiple wildfires in the central Syrian countryside.

US deploys troops to Northern Syria, prompting concerns over counterterrorism commitment in Vilnius

The U.S. has recently announced the deployment of 2,500 troops to northern regions of Syria, which are currently under the control of the “PKK organization”, Turkish Yeni Safak reported

This decision has prompted concerns about the US government’s dedication to counterterrorism efforts, especially considering its recent pledge for a joint fight against terrorism at the NATO Summit. 

The development has triggered criticism, notably from Türkiye, a crucial NATO ally deeply involved in combating the PKK. President Erdogan expressed dissatisfaction, asserting that the US’s support for the PKK’s Syrian extension undermines the unity and integrity of the alliance.

The significant reinforcement of US presence in the region indicates a concerted effort to bolster the PKK’s stronghold. By deploying additional troops and considering the deployment of F-16s, the US’s unwavering support for the terrorist organization becomes more evident. These developments cast doubt on the clarity and steadfastness of the US’s counterterrorism position, and raise questions about its commitment to its allies.

Several sources reveal that the 2,500 US soldiers, having completed their training, are scheduled to be deployed to Syria and Iraq for a minimum of nine months. 

Joining the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) operating in Syria, their primary objective will be to support the YPG/PYD, the Syrian branch of the PKK. Unofficially providing security for the YPG/PYD within the CJTF, the US has engaged in joint exercises with the group and supplied them with military equipment and ammunition.

In addition to the troop deployment, the US has dispatched substantial military equipment and supplies to the region. HIMARS missile systems have been deployed to the Deir-ez-Zor region, which is under PKK control, allegedly in response to perceived harassment and threats from Russia and Iran. Furthermore, plans to deploy an F-16 fleet to the region are being evaluated by the US Department of Defense, citing enhanced deterrence as the primary objective.

U.S. must play ‘bad cop’ in battling Syria’s Captagon trade

Representative French Hill, a Republican who sponsored the legislation, said the US could help to counter the pills that have become a vital source of funding for Mr Al Assad.

“Because of our strategy and our desire to cut off the funding to Assad … we should be the bad cop here,” Mr Hill told The National.

“Maybe those [Arab] countries can be good cop on how they’re going to compel change,” Mr Hill said.

The US counter-Captagon strategy does not put Washington at odds with regional partners increasing engagement with the Assad regime, Mr Hill stressed.

But he voiced concerns about Syria’s readmission into the Arab League “without any conditionality.”

“It would be my goal that the United States lead in discussions with the neighbouring countries to take our Captagon strategy … and use that as additional leverage and a big stick to compel change in Damascus,” he said.

Mr Hill said he was cautiously optimistic about Washington taking the lead in countering Syria’s drug trade.

“The United States can be a real leader,” he said. “Captagon is just one piece of that leadership to be a force for measurable change, actionable change, and we hope that we are an aid to our Arab League allies, who say they want that change.”

Mr Hill singled out Jordan as one of the most important regional actors for Washington to work with.

Amman is seeking cooperation from the Assad regime to halt cross-border Captagon flows, as the kingdom supports re-establishing regional ties with Damascus.

“There’d be no better player then the head of security services or King Abdullah in Jordan. And I have no doubt that in their private meetings with their colleagues in the region, they’re talking about it,” he said.

Russian fighter jet flies dangerously close to U.S. warplane over Syria

A Russian fighter jet flew very close to a U.S. surveillance aircraft over Syria, forcing it to go through the turbulent wake and putting the lives of the four American crew members in danger, U.S. officials said Monday.

The officials said the incident, which happened just before noon EDT on Sunday, was a significant escalation in what has been a string of encounters between U.S. and Russian aircraft in Syria in recent weeks. The intercept by the Russian Su-35 impeded the U.S. crew’s ability to safely operate their MC-12 aircraft, the officials said, calling it a new level of unsafe behavior that could result in an accident or loss of life.

In recent weeks, Russian fighter jets have repeatedly harassed U.S. unmanned MQ-9 drones, but the latest incident raised alarms because it endangered American lives.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of a military operation, would not say how close the Russian jet got to the U.S. warplane. The MC-12, which is a twin-engine turboprop aircraft routinely used by special operations forces, was doing surveillance in support of operations against the Islamic State groups in Syria, the officials said.

The U.S. is considering a number of military options to address the increasing Russian aggression in the skies over Syria, which complicated efforts to strike an Islamic State group leader earlier this month, according to a senior defense official. The U.S. was eventually able to launch a strike and kill the militant.

The official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations, declined to detail the options under consideration but said the U.S. will not cede any territory and will continue to fly in the western part of the country on anti-Islamic State missions.

The Captagon Factor: Assessing the Future of GCC-Syria Ties

New Arab published a report on the issue of Captagon and its impact on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-Syria ties. Captagon is primarily produced in Syria and exported to GCC countries, leading to a significant increase in drug seizures at various entry points in the region. The drug is popular among different groups in the Gulf who seek its stimulating effects.

During the Syrian crisis and the rise of the Islamic State, Captagon production became widespread in Syria, where various factions, including those supporting and opposing the Assad regime, utilized the drug to boost their fighters’ energy and confidence. The Syrian government, upon regaining control, recognized the profitability of the captagon trade and started exporting it to circumvent Western sanctions.

The article highlights that the GCC, particularly Saudi Arabia, is the main destination for Syrian-produced captagon pills, leading to a social and security crisis in the region. The prevalence of captagon consumption poses a significant threat to Gulf societies, with its addictive nature and affordability contributing to its popularity. Combating the demand for the drug and addressing the associated social issues are key challenges for the GCC countries.

According to the report, the illicit Captagon trade has influenced regional dynamics, leading to a normalization of diplomatic relations with Syria. Policymakers in the Gulf and the wider Middle East believe that engagement and cooperation with the Assad regime are necessary to tackle the captagon problem effectively. While the restoration of diplomatic ties may help address the crisis, uncertainties remain regarding the extent of Syria’s government’s willingness and ability to control production and export.

The magnitude of Captagon seizures in the Gulf emphasizes the scale of the crisis. With Syria heavily reliant on the revenue generated from drug trafficking due to ongoing sanctions, it is unlikely that the Assad regime will abandon this multi-billion-dollar industry. The situation may lead to a rise in organized crime, impacting regional stability.

The report concluded that the success of Syria’s rehabilitation and its impact on the captagon crisis in the Gulf will depend on the priorities of the GCC states. The article suggests that GCC countries will have to weigh the potential benefits of curbing captagon trafficking against other demands they may make of the Syrian government, considering the challenges and concessions involved.

Russia is using Syrian border, Ukraine grain deal to blackmail Turkey – analysis

In a long article, The Jerusalem Post claims that Russia is using humanitarian aid and a grain deal as leverage and blackmail against Turkey. Russia reportedly disrupted a deal at the UN to allow aid into northwest Syria and sabotaged a grain deal it had with Turkey, Ukraine, and the UN. The Secretary-General of the UN and the US have criticized Russia for its actions, with the US Secretary of State accusing Russia of weaponizing food.

The article suggests that Russia’s actions are part of a broader strategy to cut off aid to areas in Syria influenced by the US or Turkey, aiming to starve those areas of resources and regain control over them. The international community has struggled to establish aid corridors, enabling Russia to exert power at the UN and limit aid flow.

The article also highlights that the border closure for aid delivery affects the return of Syrian refugees to their country. Ankara, which has been trying to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees, faces challenges if aid cannot flow through the open border.

The author argues that Russia’s stance on Syria and the grain deal with Ukraine is connected. By using humanitarian deals, Russia aims to advance its interests and power in both Syria and Ukraine. The article suggests that Russia’s actions may be related to Turkey dropping its opposition to Sweden joining NATO. Russia, Turkey, and Iran have often discussed Syrian issues as part of the Astana process, where they oppose the US role in Syria.

The motivations and specific demands of Russia in relation to the grain deal and aid to Syria are not fully revealed in the current reports. However, the author suggests that Russia’s actions demonstrate its willingness to use these issues to achieve its goals in Syria and Ukraine.

Syria struggles to contain wildfires as temperatures rise

Firefighters were battling on Tuesday to extinguish multiple wildfires raging across the central Syrian countryside, local civil defence officials said, as temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius in parts of the country, Reuters reported.

One fire broke out on public farmland in the central province of Hama, where firefighting teams were working to stop it spreading to surrounding areas, the head of the local forest protection centre, Amjad Hammad, told state news agency SANA.

Another was raging across agricultural zones in the adjacent province of Homs, the head of civil defence there told SANA, saying civil defence teams were struggling to contain it due to “the mountainous and rugged terrain”.

Local outlet Sham FM reported that families from the village of al-Marana had fled their homes as the wildfire approached.

The state news agency said temperatures were up to six degrees Celsius higher than average across the country on Tuesday, with active gusts and “very hot clouds”.

They hit 40C (104F) in the ancient city of Palmyra, in the province of Homs, and touched 39C in the capital Damascus, where chronic power cuts have made it hard for families to stay cool.

One group of women in the capital charged tiny electric fans with portable batteries and regularly dunked their feet in cool water to make up for the lack of air conditioning.

“We move the couches here, pour water on the ground and direct the fans towards the ground, then we feel like we are in the Maldives,” said one of them, Mounira Wassouf.

Lebanon Holds Onto Plan to Return Syrian Refugees Back Home

The Lebanese cabinet has stuck to its plan to discuss with Damascus the repatriation of Syrian refugees, despite the decision of caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib not to head a ministerial delegation commissioned to tackle the issue with Syria, Lebanese ministerial sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday.

They said a solution to this issue is under discussion to continue the work of the Lebanese ministerial committee commissioned to address the refugee crisis.

The sources said the ministerial committee will operate even after Bou Habib said he would not head the delegation to Syria.

“The solution will be either by appointing another minister to head the delegation or tasking the committee to carry out its work bilaterally, or in other words to task concerned Lebanese ministers to hold direct meetings with their Syrian counterparts,” they said.

The sources denied any political obstacles to the cabinet’s plan to solve the Syrian refugees crisis with Damascus.

Meanwhile, Lebanese parties continued to express rejection to the European Parliament vote in favor of a resolution supporting the continued presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. 

World powers continue to squabble as Syrians suffer

Chris Doyle, director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding, has published an op-ed in Saudi Arab News.

The article highlights the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria and criticizes the squabbles among world powers that hinder the delivery of aid to millions of Syrians in need. It discusses the UN Security Council’s authorization of aid delivery through the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing from Turkey to northwest Syria, which is a vital lifeline for 80% of those living in Idlib.

Russia’s frequent use of its veto power at the UN Security Council is seen as a tactic to reinforce the regime of Bashar Assad. The Syrian regime, with Russian and Chinese support, aims to shift aid delivery from cross-border to a cross-line mechanism, which would give it greater control and influence over aid distribution in northeast and northwest Syria.

The article notes that the conditions set by the Syrian regime for aid delivery are deemed unacceptable by the UN, as they include restrictions on communication with certain groups and the exclusive involvement of specific organizations that are not operational in the region.

To overcome the impasse at the UN, some international actors have proposed an alternative approach called the Interim North Syria Aid Fund. However, the article raises concerns about whether this mechanism will be pursued and whether Turkey would consent to it, as it may seek guarantees on Kurdish and refugee issues.

The article emphasizes the urgent need to prioritize the well-being of the 4.1 million Syrians dependent on aid, particularly women and children. It criticizes the political squabbles among world powers and calls for a focus on delivering both immediate aid and long-term development assistance to address the needs of Syrians in the region.

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