Vladimir Putin has just ordered his defense ministry to start withdrawing the bulk of Russia’s forces from Syria. This unexpected move has sparked a lot of excitement. What’s going on? Has Putin backed down in the face of western sanctions? Is he moving towards abandoning Bashar al-Assad? Or is this all a ploy to influence the upcoming peace talks? Personally I think a lot of people are over-analyzing the issue and there’s a much simpler reason why he’s scaling back his troop deployment.
It’s because he’s won.
Of course, the Syrian civil war is far from over. ISIS still controls a large part of the country and anti-government rebels dominate other areas. But the situation has changed dramatically since Putin’s bombers went into action in late September. Government forces have retaken over 4,000 square miles of territory, containing more than 400 towns and villages. The oil smuggling operation that brings ISIS most of their revenue has been seriously degraded and the group is having trouble recruiting.
Not all this damage has been done by Russian bombs; NATO is active in Syria too, and has pulled off some great strikes on high value targets. But the tempo of the Russian operation has been phenomenal. With around 50 combat aircraft in theater, they’ve generated more than 9,000 sorties against the jihadists – meaning each plane has flown an average of once a day. Over a period of almost six months, that’s pretty impressive.
Other aspects of the Russian deployment are less impressive. Most reliable estimates suggest they’ve killed several hundred civilians in the course of their operations, because while they don’t bomb indiscriminately they have much looser standards for collateral damage than we do. The so-called “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” puts the number of civilian deaths at more than 1,000 but, as the SOHR is one guy in England who hasn’t even been to Syria in nearly 15 years, it’s probably sensible to ignore what they say. Even ignoring dubious activists, though, there’s no doubt that Russia’s tactics would be unacceptable for a western nation.
The problem is that we’ve gone too far in the other direction. It’s one thing to have questions asked when a misguided missile kills innocent civilians, but why are people protesting when actual jihadists get the good news? When a Sukhoi bomber rains high explosive death on a column of ISIS oil tankers, the Russian people don’t complain that the drivers weren’t given a chance to escape; they pour a vodka and celebrate. Unlike many in the west, Russians still recognize the concept of “enemy.”
And that’s why Putin was able to come up with a plan, take violent and decisive action, make a real difference and start bringing his men home, all in less than six months. He might not have put all the wrongs of Syria right, but his objectives have been achieved. The rebels and jihadists are seriously degraded, the regime and its allies are winning on the battlefield and Assad’s position is a lot more secure than it has been for the last five years. Russia will keep its naval base in Syria, and the new air base that’s been set up at Latakia. Meanwhile, the west is still agonizing about which islamist rebels we should support. The answer, of course, is none of them. If it’s carrying a gun and shouting “Allahu akbar,” bomb it. Unsubtle, of course, but it seems to have worked for Putin.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.