The conflict in Syria entered a new phase on Saturday after Russian and Syrian forces increased attacks on rebel held areas around Aleppo, resulting in thousands of Syrians fleeing the largest city in Syria where rebel forces have made inroads over Syrian government forces over the past year.
An estimated 70,000 Syrians are headed for neighboring Turkey where refugee camps are already overcrowded with Syrian refugees.
Controlling Aleppo and disrupting rebel supply lines would be a major strategic victory for Syria’s Assad government which is supported in the air by Russia’s Air Force and on the ground by forces that includes some Iranian special forces and intelligence services.
The five year Syrian war has taken a toll on Syrians across the fractured country that has seen over 250,000 causalities, 13.5 million Syrians in need of humanitarian support, and 4.59 million Syrian refugees settling in neighboring countries.
On February 4th at the London U.N. co-sponsored Syria Conference, American, European, and Arab countries pledged $10 billion in humanitarian assistance and support for 13.5 million of Syrians in dire need of humanitarian assistance inside the war torn country with 6.5 million Syrian internally displaced.
Donor nations have already given more than $7 billion since 2012.
In an opening speech to the conference, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon blamed the lack of humanitarian access for vulnerable Syrians, increased air raids, and military incursions for complicating the UN-sponsored peace talks held in Switzerland among world powers last November.
“It is deeply disturbing that the initial steps of the talks have been undermined by the continuous lack of sufficient humanitarian access, and by a sudden increase of aerial bombings and military activities within Syria” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged world powers to press the parties to have serious engagements ahead of the negotiations which are now scheduled to resume on February 25th.
The International Syria Support Group (ISSG) consisting of the Arab League, the U.N., the E.U., and 17 countries including Russia and the United States met on November 14th during the “Vienna Process” and established the groundwork for a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on the 2012 Geneva Communique.
Saudi Arabia’s Ground Troop Offer
On Thursday Saudi Arabian Defense Minister spokesman General Ahmed al-Asiri told the Associated Press that Saudi Arabia is offering to send ground troops to help fight Islamic State in Syria.
Saudi sources told CNN that a 150,000 strong army is now stationed in Saudi Arabia and will soon be dispatched to Syria and a host of other Arab Gulf countries along with Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei dispatching mercenaries.
On Friday Secretary of Defense Carter held a press conference at Nellis Airforce Base in Nevada with reporters and commented about Saudi Arabia’s recent willingness to send ground forces into Syria which has witnessed an incursion of Iranian troops supporting President Bashar al-Assad who is protected by Russian air support.
“I look forward to discussing that kind of contribution with Saudi Arabia and, by the way, 25 other nations, next week, in Brussels” Secretary of Defense Carter said.
“The Saudi government has indicated willingness to do more in the fight against ISIL, even as the United States, of course, has very much indicated our desire to accelerate the campaign to defeat ISIL. We’ll do that better, and it’ll be easier to sustain the defeat, and it’ll be, also, easier to accomplish all the nonmilitary aspects of the defeat, if other countries that are part of the coalition accelerate their efforts at the same time” Secretary of Defense Carter added.
Iran Mocks Saudi Arabia’s Troop Offer
On Saturday the leader of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) mocked an announcement by Saudi Arabia that it was prepared to send ground troops to Syria, saying that the Saudi Army has a “classic army” and “history tells us such armies stand no chance in fighting irregular resistance forces.”
Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari said that Saudi Arabia won’t not dare to send forces to Syria and it would be a “coup de grace” for them if the Saudi government deploys ground troops, according to the Iranian news agency FARS.