If there was such a thing as an “ideal scenario” for ISIS, it is quickly transforming to a reality in Syria as the group’s rivals are dealt severe blows by the Russian offensive, while a regional war in proxy is distracting from any serious ground mission to defeat it.
Russia’s 444 sorties in the last week around Northern Aleppo were very much in line with Moscow’s targets since last September and the beginning of its operation in Syria. As this map, prepared by “People Demand for Change” group, shows, the Kremlin’s hit list since the beginning of its operations in September has been far from ISIS strongholds, and focussed on anti-Assad forces. Another recent map by the Institute for the Study of War, highlights the groups that Moscow has targeted, with the goal of helping the regime and its allied sectarian militias regain control of the Northern border.
While Moscow’s battle-plan could succeed in the short term in handing military victories to Assad and pro-Iranian groups, it is a recipe for a counterterrorism disaster in the long run, and one that largely benefits ISIS. Russia’s tactics aiding a cruel dictator, bombing schools and hospitals and fueling sectarian tension, make a perfect recruiting tool for the extremists. Added to this, is that it’s generating a massive influx of refugees feared to be infiltrated by ISIS members, fleeing Syria into Turkey and Europe.