Earlier today US forces struck a Syrian mountain army base in Deir Al-Zour in Syria killing dozens and wounding hundreds, allowing ISIS forces to advance on the Syrian positions. Officially the United States claims this was an ‘accident’ and they regretted the loss of life, but unofficially this looks more like Washington was sending a message. The attack comes during a tenuous cease fire agreement reached between the US, Russia and Syria in which all sides have accused the other of failing to live up to their side of the agreement.
To understand what kind of message, it’s important to look at the geography of the strike area. Deir Al-Zour is an island of Syrian government control in a sea of ISIS territory. It’s a strategic location because it is on the eastern supply route to Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital. But it’s also close to oil fields and of certain economic interest to the Syrian regime. Keeping ISIS in power in the east places pressure on the Syrian government and prevents them from being able to target the eastern flank of US allied rebel groups. Additionally, Syria has prevented aid convoys on the Turkish border from reaching the besieged city of Allepo.
Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s goal there has been to starve and bomb the population into surrender. The US, on the other hand, wants Allepo to be part of a future Western-friendly democratic Syria, and for its civilians to be fed. Syria has refused entry of the aid convoys because, in their words, US-backed Rebels continue to shell Syrian positions. But that seems implausible as a reason because it’s tough if not impossible to stop all rebel groups, especially those allied with Islamic extremists (who are not part of the ceasefire) and feeding Allepo will set Syrian forces back months in their timeline to starve the civilians out if their city, forcing them to walk a refugee corridor towards Turkey. While the US apologizes for the ‘inadvertent’ strike, it almost certainly a warning to Syria that it will have no qualms about preventing it from retaking some of it’s territory back in certain strategic areas.