Russia is intensifying the Syria conflict

Sharif Nashashibi writes: The U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has been a boon for the jihadist group’s recruitment efforts – to the extent that, according to American officials in late July, Islamic State has managed to offset with new recruits the number of its fighters who have been killed (between 10,000 and 15,000).

There is every reason to expect the same result from Moscow’s newly launched air campaign, together with reports of Russian troops already engaged in ground combat with Islamic State, and Iran having sent hundreds of troops to take part in a major upcoming ground campaign alongside the Syrian government, Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and other Shiite militias with Russian air cover.

Jihadists in Syria have long whipped up anti-Western and anti-Shiite sentiment to swell their ranks. To the same end, they are now also refreshing bitter memories of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, as well as Russia’s devastation of Chechnya. The triple combination of foreign involvement by Western, Shiite and now Russian forces will likely enable a recruitment bonanza.

The Russian Orthodox Church’s description of Moscow’s campaign as a “holy war” – reminiscent of former U.S. President George W. Bush’s reference to a “crusade” against terrorism – will only add fuel to the fire.

The U.S. and Russian campaigns have certain similarities. That does not bode well for Moscow’s initiative, given that more than a year of U.S.-led airstrikes – in addition to operations by numerous ground forces in Syria and Iraq – has failed to tangibly weaken ISIS. [Continue reading…]

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