By Saagar Enjeti, DCNF
Russian planes bombed a secret U.S. base for elite American and British special operators inside Syria in late June in a bid to pressure the Obama administration to sign a cooperation deal with Russia, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Reports indicate 20 British special operators were on the base just 24 hours before the strikes began. American intelligence officials told WSJ the strikes were part of a larger campaign to pressure President Barack Obama to cooperate with Russian President Vladimir Putin inside Syria. Obama agreed to the deal with Putin in early July.
The deal will entail cooperation between Russia and U.S. intelligence agencies and coordinated air strikes on Syrian rebels classified as terrorists — giving Putin and Assad everything they’ve ever wanted from the U.S. in Syria.
Pentagon officials strongly opposed the deal, believing the Obama administration was being duped by Russian officials who have a history of lying and reneging on international agreements. The White House and Department of State decided to pursue the agreement anyway, believing it will limit any expansionist U.S. role inside Syria.
The Syrian battlefield is described by many as a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia, however deliberate Russian targeting of an American facility surpasses even the proxy war norms of the Cold War. Russia has also operated within these proxy war norms by repeatedly targeting U.S. backed rebels, in one case continuing to do so despite an official request from the Pentagon to stop.
Obama’s deal with Putin legitimizes Russia’s intervention inside Syria and will have to negotiate the definition of “terrorist” with Russia when striking targets. Legitimization of Russia’s intervention in Syria is part of a concerted Russian campaign to get international recognition of its annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine. The deal will also likely remove the most effective battlefield forces against Assad without offering any meaningful U.S. assistance to another rebel group to replace Assad.
Despite an official U.S government line that Assad must go, the U.S. is essentially conceding that Assad remain in power and will not play a leadership role in determining Syria’s future.
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