East Aleppo drills: A strength show by Russia against US
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
Joint military exercises between the Russian forces and the Syrian regime forces began on July 5, east of Aleppo governorate, in which electronic warfare units participated to practice responding to supposed air attacks, a Russian news agency reported.
The six-day training, according to Sputnik, carried a number of messages, the most prominent of which was addressed to Washington and others to the Syrian opposition factions within the areas of Turkish influence.
Announcing the launch of military operations, the Russian Ministry of Defense said that the purpose of the exercises is to simulate the process of countering an air attack and achieving “air superiority” in Syria.
The ministry spoke at another time about “simulating a military operation in an area with a watery nature.”
The Euphrates River separates the areas of American influence in northeastern Syria from the areas of greater Russian influence in Syria, as they support the Syrian regime.
Balance in files
With the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on February 24, 2022, Russian warplanes flew over the northern countryside of Aleppo, where the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are stationed.
The shells fired by Russian planes at the time were interpreted as evidence of the continued presence of military weight in Syria, despite Moscow’s preoccupation with its war in Ukraine.
With the rebellion of the Russian mercenaries of Wagner and the heading of military convoys towards the capital, Moscow, Russian planes flew again in the region, but this flight was an extension of a previous military escalation by Russia in the region.
Nawar Shaaban, head of the Information Unit at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, told Enab Baladi that the latest Russian military maneuvers in the region are an attempt by Moscow to provide evidence of its continued military presence in Syria.
He added that Moscow’s military policy exploits geographical areas under Russian control to prove its ability to continue in the Syrian file, regardless of the events it may face in Syria or Ukraine, or the Wagner events, and others.
Russia is trying to suggest, with all its available tools, that its files are separate and that the Russian army in Syria is still maintaining its efficiency.
The researcher, an expert in military affairs, added that the aforementioned Russian mechanism is somewhat successful, given the military maneuvers that Moscow is conducting in Syria at a time when its forces are suffering in Ukraine. This could give the impression that its forces have preserved their military capabilities.
Shaaban believes the Russian military exercises in Syria are not likely to hide other strategic dimensions than a show of force.
According to information obtained by Enab Baladi from an observatory specialized in monitoring military activity in northwestern Syria, the ground exercises began in the vicinity of the town of al-Khafsa, east of Aleppo city, on the bank of the Euphrates River, which administratively belongs to the city of Manbij.
Later, Russian warplanes launched from the Hmeimim base in the countryside of Latakia governorate, western Syria, as well as regime forces’ L39 training aircraft, took off from Kuweires Military Airport, east of Aleppo.
In response to US exercises
The US Joint Task Force in Syria announced on July 4 the start of joint military maneuvers with its “local partners” in northeastern Syria, one day after the end of similar maneuvers at the US al-Tanf base on the Iraqi-Jordanian-Syrian border in eastern Syria.
The American exercises took place in or near the provinces of al-Hasakah and Deir Ezzor, according to the American announcement, to check the weapons systems and maintain the efficiency and readiness of the crew.
The head of the Rasd Center for Strategic Studies, Brigadier General Abdullah al-Asaad, believes that the joint Russian exercises with the Syrian regime forces came as a response to their American counterparts with the SDF.
He added that it is a clear response to the air frictions that are constantly taking place between Washington and Moscow in Syria, and it also revolves around raising combat readiness to full level, indicating that it may cause a change in the Syrian file in the future.
Enab Baladi contacted the US Central Command (CENTCOM) to find out its position on the recent developments and its comment on the Russian maneuvers adjacent to its areas of influence in Syria, but it did not receive a response in this regard.
Changing engagement rules
Amid the tension of the conflict of interests between the active foreign forces in the Syrian geography, Iran, Turkey, Russia, and America, there has been repeated talk recently about the return of military operations to the region.
While the military researcher, Nawar Shaaban, believes that the recent military exercises cannot produce a change on the strategic level, the former general in the Syrian army, Abdullah al-Asaad, believes that they will lead to a change in the rules of engagement between the actors, most notably Russia and America and the parties supported by them.
The US Central Command announced on June 14 the deployment of The 94th Fighter Squadron, which includes F-22 Raptor fighter jets, following the “increasingly unsafe and unprofessional behavior by Russian aircraft operating in Syria.”
The American air squadron is considered one of the oldest fighter squadrons in the history of America, according to what the United States announced about it through the official website of the Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
Washington attributed the reasons for deploying the air squadron in the region to its desire to “achieve air superiority after the violations committed by the Russian forces in Syria.”
Moscow also used the same description to refer to the objectives of its military exercises in Syria, as it said it was trying to maintain its air superiority in the region.
Mutual accusations of “violating protocols”
The US Air Force stated on July 5 that Russian military aircraft had engaged in “unsafe and unprofessional behavior” during their interactions with US aircraft in Syria.
Russian planes threw hot balloons, through which they obstructed an American plane and forced it to perform maneuvers, according to the statement.
The US Air Force added that the US “MQ-9” plane was carrying out a mission within the framework of combating the Islamic State organization in the region, but the Russian violations hindered its work.
The deputy head of the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria, Brigadier General Oleg Gorinov, said a day earlier that 14 cases of air traffic violations were carried out by the US-led International Coalition in Syria within one day.
In a previous interview with Enab Baladi, Teresa L. Sullivan, a Public Affairs Officer in the US Central Air Force (AFCENT), said that the Coalition forces and the Russian forces in Syria have well-established and agreed-upon protocols to prevent conflicts between the two sides’ operations.
Russian aircraft have been operating in Syria for some time in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner, according to Sullivan, who considered that Russia intends to carry out “aggressive maneuvers” and to commit non-deconflicted incursions into the areas of US army operations with increasing frequency.
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