US breaks off Military Cooperation with Russia in Syria

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Arab press reacted to the announcement on Monday by the US government that it was ending its military cooperation with the Russian Federation in Syria. Masr al-Arabiya noted that the US underlined that that the step did not imply that all sorts of joint activity would be ended. For instance, multilateral talks will continue under UN auspices. Spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau said that the American goal remained to restart the ceasefire and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged populations.

On 9 September the US and Russia had reached an ceasefire agreement to be implemented for 48 hours and capable of being renewed twice. If it extended to 7 days, the US would have implemented full coordination with Russia in fighting Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) and the al-Qaeda-linked Levant Conquest Front. But the Syrian regime announced the end of the truce on 19 Sepetmeber and since that time it has launched round after round of heavy aerial bombing of rebel-held East Aleppo. Hundreds of civilians have been killed, including women and children.

The siege and bombardment of rebel-held East Aleppo threatens the lives of its some 250,000 residents.

For their part, the Russians accused the Americans of never following through on their pledge to separate the moderate Free Syrian Army units from Salafi Jihadi groups like the Levant Conquest Front.

But I fear that this Russian statement is propaganda. Nothing the US did required the Syrian regime and its Russian backers abruptly to bomb the bejesus out of East Aleppo, hitting two hospitals and killing hundreds, including women and children.

Rather, it appears that rebel advances north of Hama and of Salafi Jihadis and their allies into part of East Aleppo may have decided the regime and the Russians that Obama’s ceasefire was helping the enemy. But note that East Aleppo is not held by an al-Qaeda-linked group but by remnants of the old Free Syrian Army (admittedly fundamentalists). Moreover, the Levant Conquest Front was never part of the agreement, so how could its actions invalidate the agreement? Russia and the Damascus regime have increasingly made it clear that nothing less than conquest of East Aleppo is acceptable to them, and such an expansionist attitude is incompatible with a ceasefire.


Related video:

Euronews: “US suspends Syria talks with Russia over Aleppo offensive”

20 Responses

  1. Unless U.S. stops furnishing heavy weaponry to pseudo «rebels» that make their beds with Nusra any peace process is impossible.

  2. An exchange at a State Department press conference today seems to clarify the Obama administration’s position on the continued Jihadist attacks on Syrian troops during the cease fire. While Russian and Syrian air power observed the pause, Al -Qaeda (Al-Nusra), not a party to the cease fire, was able to exploit the protection granted to “moderate” jihadists to resupply and reorganize their own fighters in Aleppo province.

    The negotiated agreement excluded Al-Nusra, ISIS and allied groups, and the US declares it did ask the so called “moderate” groups it supports to stand down. However, since Al-Nusra was free to continue to fight (and be fought) and they were fighting by its side, the US considers its Jihadists were “defending themselves” and thus not violating the cease fire.

    For its part, Russia charges that the Obama administration “is in no hurry to separate US-oriented anti-government forces” from Al–Nusra, a designated terrorist organization known for years as an Al-Qaeda affiliate On the contrary, even though Al-Nusra has never been part of any ceasefire, the US “covers it with the shield of opposition groups which formally confirmed their participation in the cessation of hostilities.” In other words, Russia puts the blame on the break directly on the US for reneging on its promise to separate its “moderate” jihadists from the “terrorist” ones and, in fact, uses its Jihadists to protect the terrorist groups.

    In the press conference State spox Elizabeth Trudeau was asked if the US fulfilled its own obligation to separate the so-called moderate opposition from terrorists. She replied, “We believe we did.”She went on to say that “We had detailed negotiations with the [“moderate”] opposition, emphasizing the importance of ‘demarbleizing’ [separating] from Al-Nusra,”and referred to Washington’s official stance that “Nusra is Al-Qaeda, they are a terrorist organization.” In other words, the US shrugs and says “we did what we could but they are not our troops so we can’t order them.” The Russian point was not to order them but to delineate their coordinates to protect them from Russian attack. It seems they simply declined to “demarblelize”or separate from the main fighting force of Al-Nusra.

    When RT’s Gayane Chichakyan reminded Trudeau that several major rebel groups refused outright to abide by the ceasefire, she revealed the basic US position on why the US backed Jihadists did not violate the ceasefire when they engaged in combat: She responded:

    “If attacked, opposition groups have the right to defend themselves.”

    The press conference is on c-spam link to

  3. It invalidated the agreement and necessitated the intensified bombing of rebel positions expressly because the so-called moderates are fighting side by side with Nusra in east Aleppo. That is exactly the Russian complaint, and it is an absolutely legitimate one.

  4. Anyone surprised?
    “So it is with the results of a recent YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates, funded by the Qatar Foundation. Qatar’s royal family has taken one of the most hawkish lines against Assad – the emir has just called for Arab troops to intervene – so it was good that The Doha Debates published the poll on its website. The pity is that it was ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go.
    The key finding was that while most Arabs outside Syria feel the president should resign, attitudes in the country are different. Some 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay…”
    link to

    • The Qatar royal family owns Al-Jazeera, which might explain its outspoken pro-jihadist reporting on Syria.

  5. Russia/Iran & Syria are going to take East Allepo.

    US should immediately stop aiding all “moderate Jihadist’s ” & mind it’s own business.

  6. This makes the US bombing of Syrian army forces on Sept 18, killing 62 troops and wounding 100, an even bigger disaster- we may never know how that happened: whether intentional on the part of someone or not, it provides a pretext or excuse or cover for the heavy-handed Russian and Syrian attacks which sound horrible for civilians. The US policy continues to seem rudderless.

  7. This is the agreement that didn’t happen. It’s purpose was ambiguous which may well be why Russia dragged its heels and the US was so reluctant to publish the details. Teleologically it would seem to have been set up to feed the escalating stand-off between the US and Russia. It was not an agreement for a ceasefire, it was an agreement between the US and Russia to attempt to get those parties over which each was assumed to have influence to down weapons against all but Daesh and other UN designated ‘terrorists’. Well, some of the armed militias over whom the US was supposed to exercise influence distanced themselves from the agreement from day one. From that moment on, while both might still attempt to exercise their influence, the expressed hope for a broad humanitarian ceasefire was no longer on the cards; a one sided ceasefire is not a ceasefire, it’s capitulation. It has long been a tenet of US policy that a nation has the right to defend itself, vide Israel, Erdogan, etc., so why not Syria? Therefore, if Syrian forces or positions are attacked they, by logical extension, have a right to resist. Now, like a moth emerging from a cocoon, the US morphs the agreement into one where the parties had agreed to a ceasefire and Russia has broken it’s part of the agreement. This is logical nonsense and, quite apart from a casual regret for US/allied slaughter of 60 some odd Syrian soldiers, entirely justifies Russian impatience while adding to broad non-US disenchantment with whatever it is the US is doing. It is unbearably unfortunate for the Syrian people, but this could, together with the current electoral fiasco, and a host of other events worldwide, lead the US to take pause and refresh its founding principles.

  8. The Syrians and the Russians claim they have established humanitarian corridors for civilians to leave east Aleppo.

    I think you would agree that under the circumstances, any rational civilians would leave if they could. Particularly those with children.

    What in your view Juan is stopping the civilians from leaving? The Syrian side suggests that the “moderate rebels” are preventing people from leaving. If so they are monsters. I assume the rebels claim the Syrian army is preventing civilians from leaving. Which is it?

    Also, any legitimate NGO concerned about human rights would be calling (very loudly) for the civilians to leave east Aleppo if they can. I haven’t heard any such calls. Also, shouldn’t the USG government be urging the same thing?

  9. amazing, no mention of USA bombing of Syrian military, which is primary reason that Russia has no trust in USA promises.
    Dr Cole has joined the neocon propaganda!

    • Maurisurfer whatever you believe occurred from US miscalculated and dead wrong actions in Syria(where they should never have been involved militarily or otherwise) Juan Cole is a trusted progressive who would not be involved with neocon propaganda.

  10. To me, the truth is murky. Also, while some are eager to blame the US, Russia has a pretty sordid historical record in international relations and war, surpassing that of the US in perfidy (read about the Chechen War, as just one example). Here is a truism. If one side in a war believes it is winning and will win, it has no incentive to negotiate and any negotiations are likely to be a ploy for the winning side to exploit its situation. I think the Syrians and the Russians think that they are winning so that negotiations are really pointless. The US needs to just disengage.

  11. Somewhat tangential, but to the extent these manoeuvrings may be the prelude to a more aggressive US military involvement in the conflict, including attacking more Syrian forces, it is worth considering the role China might be provoked to play. Sputnik has a translation of the gist of a piece by Thierry Meyssan which provides interesting details of China’s long-term connections with the Syrian regime and military. link to . And further, a bunch of Chinese advisers will apparently shortly be joining Russian troops in the Latakia area link to . Assad has remained clear that in his government’s view, any group taking up arms against the state is not opposition, but terrorist. This definition, which he regards as universal, cannot but also be the view of both Russia and China.

    • And what interests would China have in Syria? I swear, some of the speculations I see here and elsewhere are reaches that make no sense. Try looking at things from the viewpoint of the nation state you are speculating about. China has never been involved in the Middle East before that I can recall.

  12. Well, here is looking forward to how the USA will liberate Mosul, “without breaking any eggs”. ;-)

  13. Neither the US nor Russia is capable of doing a god-damn thing in Syria. The US should have the sense to get out and accept refugees. Putin won’t have the sense to do so and may walk himself into a quagmire as bad as Afghanistan (which Gorbachev says was a major cause of the fall of the USSR) — advise him to get out and then let him make his own mistakes.

    I think Putin hasn’t noticed that he’s backing a puppet who’s already lost power. That is really really ineffective, and even less effective nowadays. He tried it in the Ukraine and failed.

    • I agree. Russia is simply playing the same “Great Game” it has been playing for over 200 years through Tsars, Bolsheviks, and now Putin. It’s a matter of geography, not ideology or personality. And there is no reason to think the Russian military will be any more effective than ours in imposing its will. Let ISIS be mad at him, not us, I say.

      I’m amazed at the American politicians who blithely call for the creation of a “safe zone,” as if that, at least, could be easily done. 150,000 US troops could not create any safe zones in Iraq — not even for themselves — and Afghanistan has been a similar exercise in futility. Syria presents an even worse prospect, since both sides of the conflict are abhorrent. The idea of “arming the moderate opposition” is absurd. The moderate opposition is in Germany.

      The situation in Syria is tragic and heartbreaking, and no one wants to say do nothing, but that doesn’t mean we should throw gasoline on the fire in the name of doing something. A nearly unbroken string of military failure since Vietnam has failed to convince Americans — neither the elites nor the man on the street — that our military, however lethal, cannot deliver the outcomes we want. Even our “successes” are failures. Kosovo is now the leading source of ISIS recruits in Europe.

      I don’t know what it will take. Gore Vidal had it right: The United States of Amnesia.

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