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Russian experts about likely participants in ground operation against Islamic State

December 04, 2015, 16:56 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
© Alexander Yelistratov/TASS

MOSCOW, December 4. /TASS/. The need for coupling air strikes against the Islamic State with a ground operation puts on the agenda the question of who is able to participate in the fighting on the ground alongside the Syrian government forces, polled experts have told TASS.

At Thursday’s meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers in Belgrade US Secretary of State John Kerry said, "I think we know that without the ability to find some ground forces that are prepared to take on Daesh (the Islamic State is also known by this name), this will not be won completely from the air." US President Barack Obama last Thursday said once again that he remained firmly committed to the promise to avoid a rerun of the Iraqi scenario, implying a decision to send US ground forces to Iraq and Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin, too, has ruled out the participation of Russian troops in the operation on the ground.

At the moment all ground operations against the Islamic State in Syria are being carried out by the Syrian government army, Iranian commandoes and Kurdish paramilitary militias. Russia’s air group provides support from the sky.

The president of the Institute of Religion and Politics, Alexander Ignatenko, has pointed to Kerry’s statement it was up to the Syrian and Arab armed forces to fight with the Islamic State on the ground. "I believe that he was referring to the Syrian government army, the moderate Free Syrian Army and also armed forces of Sunni Arab states - Jordan and Egypt," Ignatenko said.

In the course of the Vienna process the parties to the negotiations over a settlement in Syria agreed on a special provision on the need for preserving Syria’s government institutions intact, he recalled. In the meantime, Syria’s government army is the most important state institution. The role of Syria’s President Bashar Assad has been left on the sidelines. "This means that the West, in the first place, the United States, does not wish to repeat the mistake committed in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein’s army was disbanded and its Sunni personnel became the backbone of the Islamic State. Also, they permit the possibility of the Syrian government troops’ participation in the struggle with the terrorists," Ignatenko said.

"The United States sees a role for Kurdish forces in the anti-terrorist operation. The Pentagon just recently dispatched 200 commandoes to the border between Syria and Iraq, where Kurdish militias are based for establishing the interaction of US air forces with the Kurds for logistic purposes. Naturally, the Turks and the government of Iraq don’t like this," Ignatenko said.

In various talk shows on federal television channels some Russian experts were pressing in favor of an idea Russia might provide support for the Kurdish forces in the east of Syria to block the Syrian-Turkish border in the area the Islamic State was using to transit oil to Turkey. "It is common knowledge that Russia has good relations with some Kurdish forces, but that’s a separate, delicate theme," he said.

For their part, Iraqi Kurds maintain a good relationship with Turkey. Quite noteworthy in this respect was Thursday’s statement by the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, to the effect the satellite images the Russian Defense Ministry made public just recently showed convoys of tanker trucks carrying oil from Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey. "Masoud Barzani is known to have connections with the Saudis. On December 1 he was in Saudi Arabia, where a special operation had been conceived with the aim to whitewash Recep Tayyip Erdogan to make everybody think Ankara does not purchase crude from the terrorists," Ignatenko said.

The leading research fellow of the Oriental Studies Institute under the Russian Academy of Sciences, Boris Dolgov, believes that from the United States’ point of view the ground operation against the Islamic State must be mounted not by Bashar Assad’s army but by the Free Syrian Army, Jordan and also the Persian Gulf states: first and foremost Saudi Arabia and Qatar - in other words, the peacekeeping corps of the League of Arab States.

"At the same time the United States supports and arms Syria’s Kurds, who had deserted from the Syrian government army. These Kurdish forces are close to the Syrian opposition. They are protecting their territories from the Islamic State and from Bashar Assad’s army, too," Dolgov told TASS.

"In defiance of repeated requests for support the Syrian Kurds have addressed to Moscow Russia until just recently had preferred to stay neutral for the sake of preserving relations of partnership with Turkey. After the Turkish Air Force shot Russia’s Sukhoi-24 front-line bomber over Syria the situation has changed. It should not be ruled out that in this delicate matter Russia will be acting in its national interests," Dolgov said.

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