Contributed by Jim Hayes
As fresh US forces move into northern Syria, ostensibly to take on ISIS, the real immediate objective is the control of Raqqa. Being a city near the border with Turkey and Kurdish land, this is an important strategic point.
However, the Syrian army, backed by the Russians, is moving in, fresh from a series of victories in the battlefield.
The 900 American soldiers and marines, are there to give back up support to their own surrogate forces on the ground. Given that these forces are generally linked to ISIS, it is likely that the real purpose is to secure a presence.
Cooling relations with Turkey and the resulting diplomatic turning of that country towards Russia, means that there has been a compromise with the Syrian government. These developments show that the diplomatic front has become crucial. The incursion into Ragga is mostly about establishing a presence that will give the Americans a place at the the negotiating table – once ISIS control is swept away.
Given that Turkey is also developing a closer relationship to Iran, there are implications that are wider than the war in Syria, encompassing new political balance in the region. An American presence on Turkey’s Syrian border will exert pressure.
Before the diplomatic realignment, ISIS and its allies had been able to benefit from backup and supply lines from Turkey. When these were cut off, it changed the game and the end is in sight.
Beyond the battle for Ragga, ISIS is facing defeat over the whole of Syria. The so-called government opposition forces are weak and demoralised. Establishing the post war Syria will turn the the shooting war into a diplomatic war. Washington wants to be involved and having a presence on the ground will strengthen the claim. A presence on the ground will also provide an opportunity to insist that the United States played a significant role in the destruction of ISIS and is therefore an interested party in the subsequent political and economic reconstruction.
It is highly likely that pressure would then be exerted to include the opposition groups in the new government, despite little support among Syrians and weakness in the battlefield. Should this come to pass, American political involvement in the affairs of Syria will be given the best opportunity to continue through already established surrogates.