Now that Moscow has officially confirmed that Russian boots are on the ground at Latakia and that the Kremlin is actively ramping up its technical and logistical support for the Assad regime, one point we've been keen to drive home is that rebels, "freedom fighters", and marauding, black flag-waving jihadists alike will now have a much tougher time routing government forces and taking control of the country.
After all, battling Assad's depleted army (which is effectively fighting a three-front war with limited resources) is one thing, but fighting Russian special forces is entirely another, which is of course why the US is so "concerned" about the Russian presence in Syria. Put simply: if the Kremlin doesn't want Assad to fall, then Assad will probably not fall if the only challenge comes from various ragtag militias and Islamic militant groups. That calculus obviously changes if the challenge suddenly comes from a US-backed coalition consisting of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France, Britain, Jordan, and Qatar.
It's with that in mind that we go to Reuters, who reports that the Russians may have breathed new life into Assad's forces which have reportedly begun using new weaponry and launching offensive strikes on Raqqa (the de facto ISIS capital). Here's the story:
The Syrian military has recently started using new types of air and ground weapons supplied by Russia, a Syrian military source told Reuters on Thursday, underlining growing Russian support to Damascus that is alarming the United States.
"The weapons are highly effective and very accurate, and hit targets precisely," the source said in response to a question about Russian support. "We can say they are all types of weapons, be it air or ground."
The source said the army had been trained in the use of the weapons in recent months and was now deploying them, declining to give further details other than saying they were "new types".
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Thursday Russia has provided new weapons and trained Syrian troops how to use them, without saying when or naming any specific systems.
He told state television the government would be prepared to go further and ask Russian forces to fight alongside its troops if needed - though he said there were no such soldiers there now.
Activists said Syrian government war planes had mounted at least 12 air strikes in Raqqa, often described as Islamic State's de facto capital. The raids started at around 11:30 a.m. and came in three separate waves that hit eight targets.
The strikes hit close to at least four Islamic State offices, including one used by its self-appointed religious police force, said an activist in Raqqa who was contacted via the internet and declined to be named for security reasons.
Islamic State imposed a curfew in two parts of the city.
What this seems to indicate is that regime forces are now set to take the fight to ISIS, which could mean that an already fluid situation is about to become even more indeterminate, so we thought this an opprtune time to remind readers that if you're having a difficult time keeping track of who's fighting who and why, you're not alone.
Take it from us, the haphazard collection of foreign forces, jihadists, rebels, mercenaries, and militants is hard enough to keep track of on its own, and the situation is further complicated by ever shifting alliances, divergent objectives, and external meddling.
Throw in the fact that the US has, at various times, trained and inserted a variety of makeshift contingents, all of which (well, with the exception of “four or five”) have been either killed or captured, or have otherwise disappeared into the desert and you have, to quote an unnamed Pentagon official who spoke to CBS last month, “a friggin’ mess.”
Complicating things further is the fact that the Russians are on the ground and building forward operating bases near Latakia and Turkish troops, if they ever get tired of chasing Kurds in the mountains of Northern Iraq, will probably find themselves operating somewhere between Kobani and Aleppo. As for US SpecOps (which the Pentagon swears are not engaged in combat despite what Gen. Lloyd Austin seemed to suggest when speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday), there’s no telling where and with whom they’re fighting.
So, as the confusion and violence intensifies we present the following map from Reuters, which will hopefully be useful in helping to explain who controls what and where.