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Terrorists’ downfall close at hand but US reluctant to leave Syria — top brass

November 23, 19:12 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Russia’s Defense Ministry reports the western bank of the Euphrates River will be fully liberated from terrorists soon

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© Valery Sharifulin/TASS

MOSCOW, November 23. /TASS/. The western bank of the Euphrates River will be fully liberated from terrorists by the Syrian government troops soon, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported on Thursday.

In the ministry’s opinion, this will help complete the operation to wipe out the Islamic State terrorist grouping (outlawed in Russia) in east Syria.

As the terrorists’ imminent rout is becoming increasingly obvious, there can be seen more active attempts by those who would certainly want to take part in the subsequent settlement of the Syrian crisis and simultaneously prevent other players from joining this process.

As The Washington Post reported, the United States intends to keep its military presence in northern Syria even after the Islamic State is routed to prevent the Syrian troops supported by Iran to regain control of these territories.

Downfall close at hand

As a result of the military campaign launched against the Islamic State, the IS has lost 95% of the territory in Iraq and Syria it controlled in the summer of 2014, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Iraq Jan Kubis said at a UN Security Council session on Wednesday.

"Since the summer of 2014, the IS has lost 95% of the territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria and over 7.5 million people were liberated from its oppression," he said.

The diplomat’s words were confirmed by the Russian Defense Ministry’s statement that "the western bank of the Euphrates River will be fully liberated soon by the government troops under the command of legendary Syrian General Suhel, which will make it possible to complete the operation of routing the IS remnants in east Syria."

As the Russian Defense Ministry noted, the Syrian government troops supported by the Russian air task force continue their successful offensive along the Euphrates after liberating Abu Kamal from IS terrorists.

"As part of the offensive planned under the direction of Russian military advisers, the Syrian army units commanded by General Hassan Suhel have fully liberated the community of al-Kraya from IS terrorists in the past twenty-four hours. The Syrian army units commanded by General Hassan Suhel and supported by the Russian air task force are pursuing and destroying terrorist groups in the valley of the Euphrates River and developing their offensive along its western bank," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The assault groups commanded by General Suhel have played an important role in liberating the towns of Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor, Mayadin, Abu-Kamal, and also dozens of communities in the provinces of Homs and Hama, the ministry said.

"Peaceful life is returning to the liberated towns of Abu-Kamal and Mayadin. General Suhel has organized the delivery of medicines, water and foodstuffs to the towns. The troops under his command are taking an active part in the mine-clearing operation in the liberated towns," the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Trio’s decisive role in Syria settlement

As Head of Russia’s Federation Council Committee for International Affairs Konstantin Kosachyov said, the trio comprising Russia, Turkey and Iran is playing a dominant role in the Syrian settlement.

"The accords reached by Russia, Turkey and Iran are conclusive evidence that the ‘trio’ has taken the initiative to resolve the Syria issue and is not going to abandon it. Of course, this has become possible thanks to Russia’s decisive interference in the conflict, after which the situation has changed radically. But Russia does not seek to fully control everything and everyone, which is the reason why the three countries have become the guarantors of the ceasefire agreements and the upcoming peace process," the Russian senator said, commenting on the negotiations of the Russian, Iranian and Turkish presidents held on Wednesday.

The heads of the three countries stressed in their statement after the summit that the creation of de-escalation zones and other political initiatives aimed at resolving the Syrian crisis "under no circumstances" should "undermine the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic."

Besides, the three countries’ leaders agreed to continue "coordinating efforts to ensure the irreversibility of the downward trend in violence."

"It is clear that to win peace in Syria will be more difficult that to win the war. But the defeat of the major terrorist forces says that there is a true chance for peace, as well as the leading players’ willingness to acknowledge the constructive activities of Russia and the trilateral group. Besides, everyone in Syria has grown tired of the war, while the West has been forced to give Russia a blank check," Kosachyov noted.

According to him, the United States and its allies are particularly concerned over the possibility that Iran, and not Russia or Turkey, will strengthen its influence in the region. "The US will, first and foremost, do everything possible to prevent Iran from enhancing its influence in the region and preserving its presence in Syria, while Washington views Russia’s presence as an inevitable but acceptable fact. The West could make Iran’s withdrawal from Syria the main condition for its own withdrawal," Kosachyov said.

"One way or another, the Americans are not in the position to impose conditions, which is perfectly clear," he concluded.

Reluctant to withdraw?

However, the United States does not seem to abandon its positions. As The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, the US authorities are looking at preserving their military presence in northern Syria even after the defeat of the Islamic State terrorist group in order to prevent Iran-supported Syrian government troops from regaining control of the territory.

As the article says, "the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria could be imminent - along with an end to the U.S. justification for being there."

The US withdrawal could complete "Assad’s sweep of Syrian territory and help guarantee his political survival - an outcome that would constitute a win for Iran, his close ally," the paper says.

In order to avoid that outcome, "U.S. officials say they plan to maintain a U.S. troop presence in northern Syria - where the Americans have trained and assisted the SDF [the Syrian Democratic Forces] against the Islamic State - and establish new local governance, apart from the Assad government, in those areas," according to the paper.

In the paper’s opinion, the support of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces will also give a possibility to pressure Assad to make concessions at United Nations-brokered peace talks in Geneva.

As the Pentagon reported earlier, there are currently 503 US troops in Syria.

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday he doubted the reliability of media reports that the United States allegedly plans to keep its forces in Syria after the defeat of the Islamic State.

"We know nothing about their sources, we know nothing about the reliability of this information. So, I would leave it without comment," he told journalists when asked to comment on The Washington Post’s publication.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the State Duma Committee for Defense Vladimir Shamanov has castigated Washington’s ‘brazenness’ in seeking to keep its troop presence in Syria after quashing the terrorists.

"This is utter brazenness, these are phonies, breaking into someone else’s abode," he told reporters on Thursday.

"I specifically meant them, a third power, when I said that any future post-war settlement process will depend on outside factors. First and foremost, the Americans with their unpredictable behavior," he stressed.

Course towards Sochi

While the United States is thinking about the possibility of keeping its presence in Syria, Russia is in full-swing preparations for convening in Sochi the Syrian National Dialogue Congress called upon to become an important stage in the Syrian political settlement.

"There is a stable consensus that the Congress will be convened soon, this will happen after intense work at the expert level on agreeing on the list of participants of this Congress," Kremlin spokesman Peskov said.

"Obviously, this list should be inclusive to the maximum extent as a viable formula of political dialogue may be ensured only due to the participation of the broadest representation of all [groups] in Syria," he said.

Speaking on the joint statement made by the Russian, Iranian and Turkish presidents at their meeting in Sochi on Wednesday, Peskov stressed that this is "not a protocol of intentions but an absolutely clear position."

The Kremlin is aware of Turkey’s remarks on the forces that it considers as posing a threat to its national security. "But this does not mean that the work won’t be carried out. Now very intense expert work will be conducted on agreeing and confirming the lists. After it is finalized, we expect this Congress to be convened in Sochi, and this was declared in the document," Peskov said.

Peskov noted that the date of the meeting "did not emerge during the night," adding that the Kremlin press service will announce if the contacts on this issue take place or phone conversations with US President Donald Trump are held.

The Syria settlement and the preparations for holding the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi will top the agenda of the negotiations, which UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will hold in Moscow on Friday. He is expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and will also possibly visit Russia’s Defense Ministry.

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