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Did the US Really Want a Ceasefire in Syria?

Interview with Prabir Purkayastha |
Interviewed by Apurva Chaudhry
Ceasefire Breaks Down as the US Fails to Deliver.

Russia and Syria called off the latest cease-fire agreement that was brokered by the US Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Did the US side really want a ceasefire in Syria? Was it serious about the separation of the al Nusra forces from the rebels it supports, as it had committed? Or was it an attempt to stop al Nusra and rebels losing the fight for Aleppo, and provide them a breathing space? Syria and Russia now believe that the US either does not want, or is not capable of delivering what it commits in the negotiations. The Syrian and Russian side considered this failure to be a breach of faith, compounded by the "mistake" of the US bombing Syrian forces in Deir Ezzor and killing more than 80 soldiers. 

Rough Transcript:

Apurva Chaudry: Hello and welcome to Newsclick. Today we have with us Probir Purukaystha and we will be discussing the recent ceasefire breakdown that happened in Syria. So Probir why do you think that happened? What led to it?

Prabir: Well this was a breakdown after only seven days. After seven days there was supposed to be a renewal of the ceasefire and this ceasefire was to continue for a much longer duration. It broke down after seven days primarily because one of the conditions of the ceasefire was that the Americans would get the free Syrian Army or those groups that were aligned to the Americans to separate itself from the Jabahat al Nusra which are really and officially part of the Al Queda.So the Americans had agreed that the Jabahat al Nusra and Isis or IAS whatever name we want to call it are the ones that need to be isolated and fought . This is something the Americans have resisted for quite some time. They did not want Jabahat al Nusra to be identified as an enemy in spite of the fact that the Security Council has identified both these forces that need to be fought mainly because the Jabahat al Nusra and the Free Syrian Army which the Americans back have been fighting together as allies against the Basher Al Assad government. So given that for a long time the bone of contention between the Russian side and the Syrians and the Americans on the other hand was that you have to separate the Free Syrian Army from the Jab ahat al Nusra if you don’t do that we cannot then say we will not bomb the Free Syrian Army because essentially they are together. It doesn’t make any sense. The earlier ceasefire also had some of these conditions that they will identify which of them is fighting against the Jabahat al nusra.. and others will ignore.. but that hasn’t happened. But there was no condition that they will be separated, and the Americans will ensure the separation between the two. This time explicitly in the ceasefire there was a condition that they will separate the other forces i.e. rebel forces from jabahat al nusra and the other rebel forces and the Syrian army would get into a situation of cease fire. This was the condition of cease fire. There would be no cease fire against Jabahat al nusra or isis or ias… whichever.

Apurva: Sir, would you explain a little more about what new elements were there when this cease fire broke down compared to the earlier one which happened? If you could elaborate on that.

Prabir: The earlier cease fire essentially had identified again the Jabahat al nusra and isis forces that had to be fought, though it had not explicitly given that the Americans would separate the two forces that is the Free Syrian Army forces and the Jabahat al nusra . But what happened is for four or five months of the ceasefire that the Syrians maintained and the Russians also pulled back in that period led to Americans essentially re-arming the Free Syrian Army and using them as a conduit to supply arms to Jabahat ul Nusra and also Isis as well.

Essentially the Americans used the Free Syrian Army as a conduit to re- arm the opposition including Jabahat al nusra against the Syrian forces, the Syrian Government forces. Finally, the ceasefire broke down because the Islamic sectarian forces were fighting the Syrian Government forces and really the free Syrian Army essentially consists of Islamic sectarian forces what is called Al Queda light rather than Al queda itself. But they are not significantly different in what they want. They want a Sunni sectarian state, they want essentially Sharia as law,they don’t want a secular constitution and it is very doubtful that the other constituents of the Syrian State today who are not Sunni, who could be Alwhite, who are secular and who could be Christians that they would be allowed to stay on in the State except as second class citizens . So it is not clear what these forces want.

Apurva: The recent attempted coup in Turkey, how has that affected or changed the relationship between Turkey, Russia , Syria and America? How has that impacted the entire situation?

Prabir:I think there has been a very significant shift of the Turkish government vis a vis the Russians and the Americans and Syrians because as we know earlier Turkey was fully backing the rebels against the Syrian government, that was very clear from the beginning .One of the most strident opponents of the Syrian government was Turkey and it used its borders for a free flow of arms as well as free flow of what are called foreign elements, foreign jihadi elements to enter Syria so both were being used to fight against the Syrian government and also they provided a safe hinterland to fight and then go back to Turkey to rest and then come back and fight again.

So this is the role Turkey was playing as a front line state against the Syrian government forces.So after the recent coup Turkey has changed its position vis a vis Russia because as you know after the shooting down of the Sukhoi aircraft by Turkey, Russia had almost gone into cold hostilities against Turkey, they had stopped certain economic relations, they had stopped tourists, stopped importing certain Turkish products, so they had actually used their economic card against Turkey as well as threatened Turkey that if it wants to support any of the activities militarily in Syria they would not allow that to happen.

But after the attempted coup when Turkey felt that it is the CIA that has backed the attempted coup and Gulen who is in asylum in the United States or is in exile in the United States, Gulenist forces were behind the coup. Given that Turkey seems to have had a rapprochement with Russia and therefore Turkey has agreed that even if it enters Syria it will do so in a limited way and it will not support the forces like Jabahat al Nusra who are fighting in Aleppo and they will stop their advance at a certain point. Their main interest at the moment is to see that the Kurds don’t create Rojawa which will be the linking up of the AfrinCanton which they already have control over and Kobane which is on the east of the Euphrates river. That there was a ninety km zone which was not under Kurdish control ,YPG control and that YPG is trying to close. Turkey did not want that to happen and the Russians and Syrians seem to have agreed that Turkey comes in stops that from happening takes over the area from IAS then as long as they did not come further South they would be ok with it .And Turkey seems to have agreed that it will not explicitly support the rebel forces against the Syrian government. Now how far this will hold,how far this will continue we don’t know. But this is the shift that Turkey seems to have made vis a vis Russia and the Syrian government and it seems to have distanced itself from the American government.

Apurva: It was recently in the news that America bombed Deir Ezzor. They claim it was a mistake. What are your views on it? Why do you think that happened?

Prabir: It’s a very very difficult incident to understand .Deir Ezzor has been under siege for almost two and a half years or longer .Its only supply is from the airport where military planes come and provide supplies to Deir Ezzor city through this lifeline of the airport. This is a mountainous region overlooking the airport which gives it in some sense fire control over the airport and prevents the ISIS from attacking the airport and stopping the supplies . This has been under Syrian army control for at least the last six months. It is very difficult to understand why the Americans would not know that. Because this was not a recent change in the area, this was not something that happened recently that the Syrian army took over this and therefore the Americans did not know that. Secondly the Americans have a detailed view of the terrain of Deir Ezzor because they have eyes in the sky, drones in the area, aircraft in the area , so its very difficult to understand that they had no clue that the ISIS was not there. The second part of it was that it was not one or two bombs, there was a sustained bombardment which led to nearly a hundred soldiers getting killed. Immediate reports said two soldiers got killed but the casualties were actually supposed to be higher. A lot of the heavy equipment in their assault was concentrated in this area which was lost including tanks, artillery and so on . After this attack the ISIS launched a full scale attack on that mountain region and some reports indicate that they have captured part of the mountain region and therefore Deir Ezzor airport is under threat or maybe under Syrian army control. If that happens then Deir Ezzor is going to fall.So this is a very serious strategic mistake.

Apurva: So recently a UN convoy was bombed. Do you think the Russians or the Syrians were somehow involved with it?

Prabir: That’s the American claim that the Russians and the Syrian government were involved in the bombing. They mainly blame the Russians for it. This was an aid convoy under the Syrian Red Crescent equivalent of the Red Cross under UN supervision which was supposed to reach supplies to Aleppo. From the pictures that we see it seems they had stopped and parked at the side of the road when they were destroyed. Whether the destruction was from bombs from the sky, whether it was incendiary weapons that were used or whether it was set on fire by some other military action is not clear. The UN initially said that this was an air attack, afterwards it withdrew from this statement and said there was an attack , some kind of attack but they withdrew the word air attack from their statement. At the moment it’s very unclear who attacked them, what were the forces involved in the attack and whether it was an air bombing at all. If it was not an air strike then it is more likely to be the rebel forces. If it was an air strike it’s most likely to be the Russian or the Syrian government forces. So it is not clear at the moment what it was.

Apurva: Thank You Probir for talking with us.This is all the time we have at News Click. Thank you for watching.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for Newsclick are typed from a recording of the program. Newsclick cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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