Some of the ambiguity and mystery surrounding the nature of President-elect Donald Trump’s relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin may disperse after the new US president takes office Thursday, Jan. 20, because one of their first joint military actions is ready to go.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources disclose exclusively that a combined US, Russian, Syrian and Jordanian force is preparing for a major operation to liberate the Syrian heritage town of Palmyra from the Islamic State.
Its capture by this allied force would have important ramifications: It would isolate the ISIS forces dug in in northern and central Syria and disconnect them from the jihadists who control extensive areas in the east and the south, including the Euphrates Valley which runs from Syria to Iraq.
From Palmyra, the key offensive for ousting ISIS from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, would move a step closer. The Islamic State would also be distanced from directly menacing Jordan’s borders with Syria and Iraq.
This menace came closer last week when ISIS commanders decided to make a grab for the eastern Syrian town of Deir ez-Zour, after they saw Syrian government forces leaving their bases in the town and heading north to Palmyra. Until then, ISIS had occupied part of the strategic town, while keeping the government-held part and the big Syrian air base nearby under siege for the past two years.
The allied operation to liberate Palmyra will be the first joint US-Russian military venture embarked on by the Trump administration. It will be a litmus test for the ability of the new US president and the Russian president to work together.
This was what the president-elect was referring to when he commented last Wednesday, Jan 11: “Russia can help us fight ISIS. If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks, that’s called an asset, not a liability.”
The next day, he was publicly contradicted by his nominee for Pentagon chief, Gen. James Mattis, who is no admirer of Putin. But the general went on to add: “I’m all for engagement, but we also have to recognize reality and what Russia is up to.”
Our sources report that the US and Russian armies are already in the process of exploring common ground for their “engagement” from their war-rooms outside Amman: The US Central Command (Forward) and the Russian-Jordanian command center not far away.
Syrian government army officers have arrived in Jordan for the first time since the civil war erupted in 2011, and were housed in the Russian war room. The operation to recover Palmyra is by now in advanced stage of coordination.