RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The Syrian battleground has taken a new turn, one that is also strangely familiar. Russian aircraft are bombing rebel positions, helping Syria's government troops rout those who are threatening the regime of Russia's ally, Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, in another part of Syria, American planes are striking the Islamic State and air-dropping ammunition to help the rebel groups fighting them. As NPR's Tom Bowman reports, Syria could become, like a number of countries during the Cold War, split between two superpowers.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The Obama administration keeps saying there's no military solution in Syria. So far, that's all that's happening. The U.S. and Russia aren't talking about forming a new government. They're talking about how to keep their warplanes from running into each other as they race toward their targets. The Russians are dropping dozens of bombs in rebel areas north of Damascus, and the rebels, some of them armed with American anti-tank weapons, are slowing the advance of Syrian forces. A small fraction of Russian airstrikes, say U.S. officials, are hitting Islamic State targets. Fred Hof worked for the Obama Administration on Syria policy. He's now at the Atlantic Council and says Russia's strategy is to leave only two fighters standing - Assad and ISIS - and then press the Americans to accept the lesser of two evils - Assad. And Hof says that once Russia pacifies northwestern Syria, they could move south to attack American-backed rebels who want Assad out and hold a swath of the country south to the Jordanian border. The American move, now that they've abandon a failed program to train moderate Syrian fighters, is to help another collection of established fighters, both Arabs and Kurds, on the other side of the country, who already have made gains on the battlefield. Their eventual goal is the Islamic State headquarters, the city of Raqqa, and the hope that the caliphate will start to whiter. The result could be a country partitioned. And the Islamic State, they just put out an audio message calling for a holy war against Russia and America in what it calls their Crusader War. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.