Factual rulers in northwestern Syria. Map: Haghal Jagul. License: CC0 1.0. Gray: Islamic State (IS). Apricot: Syrian government. Hellgrun: al-Nusra Front and allies.
U.S. eavesdropper Kerry announces non-U.S. ground forces
On 31. In August, the Israeli news portal Ynet, citing unnamed sources, had reported that "Western diplomats" Reported that in the next few days Russia plans to bring to Syria aircraft, attack helicopters and a four-digit number of advisers, trainers, technicians, logisticians and pilots to support the Syrian military in the fight against the terrorist group Islamic State (IS) and rival jihadists led by the al-Nusra Front. An expeditionary force preparing the operation has already arrived and been stationed at a military airport near Damascus. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has now officially denied this report.
The portal also reported negotiations between Russia and Iran. In the talks, both countries are said to have agreed to supply more weapons to the Syrian army, which has been considerably weakened by defeats and territorial losses, and to help train soldiers. According to Arab media, a second Syrian port will be used in addition to Tartus so that more supplies can be delivered more quickly.
Moreover, according to Ynet, Russia and Iran agree that Bashar al-Assad must remain in office because he is a barrier against the spread of jihadism. Indicative of that view, at least in Iran, is a rehash of Iranian Deputy Auben Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian disseminated by the Iranian news agency ISNA: "There is only one political solution to the Syrian conflict, and Assad is part of that solution, because there are no alternatives at the moment". According to the newspaper al-Hayat (owned by Saudi royalist Khalid bin Sultan), UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura has therefore drawn up plans for the Syrian president to formally remain in office, but in effect hand over power to a transitional government involving Islamists.
In early August, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov publicly urged the United States on Russian television to cooperate with Bashar al-Assad in the fight against IS (cf. Syria: Signs of new cooperation between Russia and U.S?). A week earlier, he proposed to his counterpart John Kerry a new coalition against IS that would also send ground troops (cf. Moscow also wants coalition against Islamic State). Now Kerry also raised the prospect of ground troops on the CNN television network – but no American. Currently, Kerry said, he is discussing this option and the appropriate timing for it with "countries in the region". One of these countries could be Turkey, whose leadership has already repeatedly expressed its desire for a "Security Zone" al-Qaeda, which also aims to counter the rise to power of PKK-affiliated Kurdish militia.
Previously, former CIA chief David Petraeus had suggested, in the absence of "moderate rebels" recruiting fighters from the al-Nusra Front in Syria: the Syrian al-Qaida. Together with its allies, it now controls not only practically the entire province of Idlib, the west of Aleppo province,1 over half of the provinces of Darʿa and Quneitra, and larger areas in the provinces of Hama, Homs, and Damascus, but also the northeast of the Alawite province of Latakia.