While the United States and Iran risk all-out war with their game of chicken in the Persian Gulf, their proxy war is still playing out in Syria. Iranian ally and Syrian President Bashar al Assad won the war two years ago, but his victory was incomplete. Al Assad secured his throne, but two large swaths of the country remain beyond his reach. The Turkish army and rebel militants control the northwest. The mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by a small but unspecified number of U.S., British and French special forces, hold the area northeast of the Euphrates River near the Syria-Turkey-Iraq border triangle. Al Assad has said he will not give up the struggle until both areas revert to his dominion. The only other part of the country under foreign occupation is the Golan Heights, but al Assad is in no position to expel the Israelis.
Combat rages on the periphery of Idlib province in Syria’s northwest, where hundreds of civilians have lost their lives and as many as 300,000 have fled to relative, if uncomfortable, safety since the Syrian army launched its latest offensive two months ago. Rebel leaders told Reuters that Russian special forces were fighting alongside Syrian troops, although Russia has yet to comment on the allegation. What is known is that Russian warplanes from the Hmeimim air base have bombed towns in the rebel-held areas. On the rebel side, dependence on Turkish army protection, logistics, communications, ammunition and other supplies balances Russian help to al Assad. The Turks expelled the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units and Kurdish civilians from Afrin province near Idlib last year. That left a large zone abutting government-held areas around Aleppo, Hama and Latakia under Turkish occupation with local and foreign fighters to sustain pressure on al Assad’s forces…
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Main photo: Children in Tal Serdam camp, Fafin, northern rural Aleppo. © Hedinn Halldorsson / OCHA.