How the White House disregarded mounting evidence of an imminent Russian intervention in Syria

Reuters reports: Last July, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seemed to be losing his battle against rebel forces. Speaking to supporters in Damascus, he acknowledged his army’s heavy losses.

Western officials said the Syrian leader’s days were numbered and predicted he would soon be forced to the negotiating table.

It did not turn out that way. Secret preparations were already underway for a major deployment of Russian and Iranian forces in support of Assad.

The military intervention, taking many in the West by surprise, would roll back rebel gains. It would also accelerate two shifts in U.S. diplomacy: Washington would welcome Iran to the negotiating table over Syria, and it would no longer insist that Assad step down immediately.

“That involved swallowing some pride, to be honest, in acknowledging that this process would go nowhere unless you got Russia and Iran at the table,” a U.S. official said.

At the heart of the diplomacy shift – which essentially brought Washington closer to Moscow’s position – was a slow-footed realization of the Russian military build-up in Syria and, ultimately, a refusal to intervene militarily.

Russia, Iran and Syria struck their agreement to deploy military forces in June, several weeks before Assad’s July 26 speech, according to a senior official in the Middle East who was familiar with the details.

And Russian sources say large amounts of equipment, and hundreds of troops, were being dispatched over a series of weeks, making it hard to hide the pending operation.

Yet a senior U.S. administration official said it took until mid-September for Western powers to fully recognise Russia’s intentions. One of the final pieces of the puzzle was when Moscow deployed aircraft flown only by the Russian military, eliminating the possibility they were intended for Assad, the official said. [Continue reading…]

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