30.05.2020 Author: Vladimir Platov

In Syria, Washington Moves to Vietnam-Style “Scorched Earth” Policy


It is now clear, not only in the USA but also beyond its borders, that US efforts to quietly oust the Assad regime in Syria have failed.

Washington’s original mission of “protecting the civilian population” in Syria quickly turned into “fighting terrorism,” but this, of course, primarily meant engagement with the very same jihadists from Daesh (terrorist formation banned in the Russian Federation – ed.) who were armed and trained by the United States.  Subsequently, in August 2014, a 15-state coalition was formed to reinforce the intervention and included Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco, as well as the NATO allies. Then the Kurds were brought into the fray, used by Washington to seize control over all major oil and gas deposits in the east of the country.

After the defeat of terrorist group Daesh (banned in the Russian Federation – ed.) and its transformation into a run-of-the-mill underground armed Islamist movement akin to Al-Qaeda (also banned in the Russian Federation – ed.), another terrorist formation previously nurtured and used by Washington, the White House began a new escalation of tensions in Syria and neighboring Iraq. To this end, Washington’s new line became that of fighting “Iranian expansion” which it intended to use to justify the continued presence of its military contingent. This contingent, together with the US’s allies, was engaging in the flagrant plundering of Syria’s natural resources.

Recently, official US rhetoric has increasingly spoken of the “revelation” that the US’s main objective in Syria is “to defeat the Russians.” Admittedly, such “revelations” are not new. A year after Russia’s involvement in Syria began in 2015 (upon the invitation of President Assad), former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell admitted in a television interview that, in his opinion, the US should “covertly” participate in the business of “killing Russians and Iranians.” More recently, James Jeffrey, US special representative in the region, said of US troops in Syria that:  “My job is to make it a quagmire for the Russians.”

The conveyer belt of plundered Syrian natural resources has been bringing significant profits to the very military-political elite which initiated the intervention in the country for several years now. So, too, has the export and sale of Syrian archeological treasures (unfortunately, US law does not allow for any serious punishment for theft of artefacts from territories of other countries, which is evidenced by reports of similar crimes committed by Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq).

However, the covert distribution of the profits from the smuggling of oil and archeological treasures into the pockets of those who initiated the intervention is evoking increasing resentment and discontent among members of the elite not lucky enough to be part of this exclusive club of profit mongers. So have the billions spent in vain by the White House on the war in Syria (a significant part of which has also remained in the personal accounts of select members of the US military-political elite), which, according to experts, equate to around $11.5 million per day since August 2014, or $7 billion over the past six years. This is why Democrats regularly criticize Donald Trump for exorbitant spending on pointless wars in the Middle East.

All this forced Sean O’Donnell, inspector general of the US Department of Defense, to report to Congress with a 134-page document on Operation Inherent Resolve and US actions in Syria and Iraq. The report openly says that the main objective of the “counter-terrorism” operation in the Euphrates Basin is the security of oil and gas deposits controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces and the US coalition. US officials have thereby confirmed that, under the guise of protecting their troops, they are actually engaged in business and the plundering of natural resources rather than any sort of fight against terrorism.

So, to give further impetus to its actions in Syria, the White House has moved not just to “making it a quagmire for the Russians”, but to the Vietnam tactic of “scorched earth.” This in particular has been indicated over the past few days by a number of reports in various media and internet resources on the mass burning of civilians’ agricultural land in the east of Syria. On the morning of 17 May, according to inhabitants of Adla, a village in the Al-Shaddadah area south of the city of Al-Hasakah, the occupying US forces’ Apache helicopters were flying low and dropping incendiary bombs, setting wheat fields on fire while hot, dry winds fanned the flames. After making their “delivery”, the helicopters began flying aggressively low above residential buildings, frightening residents and especially children and giving a clear signal: do not sell your wheat to the Syrian government. On 24 May, a similar tactic was again employed: an American military patrol in the area of Al-Manajir intentionally launched an incendiary rocket in the direction of arable land owned by an Arab farmer, causing a field in the north-west of the Al-Hasakah province to catch fire.

It is important to remember that bread is Syria’s most important food product and, despite the global coronavirus pandemic, Damascus is interested in protecting its grain supply, with the country’s annual wheat harvest having begun two weeks ago. The northern provinces of Al-Hasakah, Raqqa, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor, together with the central province of Hama, produce 96% of the country’s wheat. Through the use of fire as a weapon of war, 85,000 hectares of grain were burnt in 2019, and the Syrian government was forced to import 2.7 million tons to cover the losses. According to UN statistics, Syria suffered severe food shortages and some 6.5 million people were considered food insecure in 2019.

Today, the eradication of Syrian agriculture and the White House’s revival of the Vietnam “scorched earth” tactic have become the US military strategy in Syria. All this should be addressed by international public and legal organizations, and Washington should be officially charged with war crimes in Syria, as well as the murder of thousands of peaceful citizens of the country by American forces.

Vladimir Platov, Middle East expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.