Russia to start pulling military out of Syria — with Assad’s blessing

posted at 6:21 pm on March 14, 2016 by Ed Morrissey

Do you want the good news ahead of the bad news? Russia has shifted its military focus in Syria since a cease-fire went into effect a little over two weeks ago, the Pentagon said earlier today. Their bombing sorties have focused mainly on ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, although they have not coordinated efforts with the US:

Russian airstrikes in Syria have focused largely on Islamic State militants since government and most rebel forces agreed to a ceasefire in the war-torn country, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.

However, Russia’s increased bombing of the Islamic State, which has captured large swaths of land in Syria and Iraq, does not mean the Pentagon has plans to coordinate attacks with the Russians against the terrorist group, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

The shift in Russian targets started about Feb. 27, Davis said, when the U.S.- and Russian-brokered ceasefire took effect. The deal aimed to end a five-year civil war between the Russian-backed Syrian government and opposition rebel groups, though some fighting has continued.

Don’t get used to it. Vladimir Putin just hung the “Mission Accomplished” banner over the hangar:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the start of the pullout of the Russian military from the Syria war, starting Tuesday.

Putin said the military has accomplished its goals and the move should help serve as a stimulus for Syria’s political talks. The president said he coordinated the move with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

He didn’t specify how many planes and troops should be withdrawn. Putin said that the Russian airbase in Hemeimeem in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia and a naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartous will continue to operate.

What does that mean for the renewed focus on ISIS? According to this AFP report, Putin doesn’t appear to be leaving too many air-force resources for it. Putin and Assad agreed on a residual force only to monitor the cease-fire:

The Kremlin announced that Putin had called President Bashar al-Assad to inform Moscow’s long-standing ally of the surprise move that appears to end the main part of its intervention in Syria’s conflict that began in September.

“The leaders noted that the actions of the Russian airforce allowed to radically change the situation in the fight against terrorism, to disorganise the fighters’ infrastructure and inflict significant damage on them,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

“Taking that into account, the President of Russia stated that the main tasks set before the armed forces of Russia in Syria had been completed. It was agreed to carry out the withdrawal of the main part of Russia’s airforce contingent,” the statement said.

The two leaders, however, also agreed that Moscow would maintain an airforce facility in Syria to help monitor the progress of a ceasefire in the war-torn country.

So much for the idea of a grand alliance against ISIS. While the Russians have lately been taking on ISIS, it appears that effort was mainly in support of its main objective, which was to keep Bashar al-Assad in power. With the so-called moderate rebels sidelined and Assad guaranteed to control the outcome of peace talks, the Russian air force can go home, except for just enough to make sure Putin’s influence remains.

What about ISIS? Tactically, it might help to have the Russians out of the way, and the withdrawal should keep from antagonizing Turkey any further. However, this move ends the pretense that the Russians wanted to play any significant role against terrorism in Syria and Iraq that didn’t directly threaten its own interests.


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