Left: The A- 10 plane is famed for its tank-destroying capabilities.
A day before Bashar Assad’s meeting with Russian President Putin in Moscow, the United States signed a deal with Russia, to avoid entering “the same battle space” over the Syrian sky. However, according to Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, this agreement, does “not constitute U.S. cooperation or support for Russia’s policy or actions in Syria. In fact, far from it, we continue to believe that Russia’s strategy in Syria is counterproductive and their support for the Assad regime will only make Syria’s civil war worse.”
At the same time as the deconfliction arrangement with Russia “to prevent any chance of a clash between US or Russian aircraft, “the US military has deployed a dozen A-10 ground-attack planes to the airbase at Incirlik in southern Turkey.”
However, according to Stephen Bryen the deployment of the A-10 “Warthog” planes “suggests just the opposite: that by using A-10’s to support “moderate” rebel group the US will be directly engaging in actions involving Syrian, Iranian and Russian and other Syrian-proxy forces such as Hezbollah.”
Bryen questions the US policy objective in provoking the Russians in Syria, concluding the following:
1. It is generally agreed that the US push to defeat ISIS is broadly shared among Washington policy-makers, both Democrats and Republicans. Defeating ISIS would remove a threat from Iraq and from Syria, and prevent the spread of ISIS operatives in Africa, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
2. It is also generally agreed that the US will supply air power but no ground troops. Efforts to promote a US ground presence have little or no public support.
3. The US has no answer to the refugee crisis and has been silent about the infiltration of ISIS and other radical elements in Europe. By agreeing to take such refugees into the United States, the terrorist danger inside the US is exacerbated. No steps appear to have been taken to manage the emerging problem caused by the White House’a unilateral policy taking large numbers of Syrian refugees.
4. The US support for the Free Syrian Army and the so-called Arab coalition is continuing. The statements by an unamed official about providing them air support invites a response by Russia and a serious escalation that may have implications well beyond the Middle East.
5. US policy is badly conflicted because of the US nuclear deal with Iran. This means considerable confusion. In Iraq it has meant that Iranian-supplied aircraft and pilots (Su-25’s) are in use against ISIS targets while the Iraqis learn how to fly the dozen used Su-25’s sent there by Russia. Meanwhile the US has been flying its own missions, and no doubt coordinating with the Iraqis and probably the Iranians. The outcome of all this is that Iraq is aligning itself with Iran. The US has some options to help the Kurds, but it wants to do this through Iraq because the Turks otherwise are against it. All of this makes the US look even weaker and ineffective.
6. While maintaining a strong anti-Assad posture, the US has also stepped up its anti-Putin rhetoric as well. This presents Putin with some opportunities in Europe if he decides to up the pressure on vulnerable and exposed NATO countries. Likewise, it shuts down avenues for accommodation. Some politicians also have picked up on anti-Russian rhetoric, most notably Marco Rubio….
The key question is when does “no-win” mutate to “lose-lose.” Right now the best that can be said of the US posture is that it is, optimistically, a no-win policy. Sustain the civil war and hope your guys win out, however unlikely the outcome. But lose- lose would mean that the war’s result is a truncated Syria with a good portion of the country under Assad-Russia control. If that happens the Russians can also come up with a government change that will make it appear they have put “responsible” leaders in place, effectively a Russian-engineered coup d’Etat to placate Europe and to show Russian flexibility and sensibility to European “values.” If this happens then the US goes to a lose-lose, leaving much of the once American-dominated Middle East in a shambles and Europe increasingly up for grabs.
* Read Stephen Bryen’s full analysis on Technology and Security.