Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts

20 May 2017

Who’s Who in Syria’s Civil War

Zachary Laub

Syria’s civil war has grown ever more complex in the six years since protesters first challenged the government. President Bashar al-Assad aims to reassert control nationwide, while predominantly Sunni Arab opposition forces seek to wrest the state from him. The diverse groups making up the opposition, however, differ on their visions for a post-Assad state, with their ostensible aims ranging from liberal democracy to theocracy.

Unlike Assad and the opposition, the self-proclaimed Islamic State is intent on erasing Syria’s borders to establish a state of its own in territory spanning parts of Iraq and Syria. Kurdish militants, who have fought to establish an autonomous, if not independent, national homeland in the country’s northeast, are the group’s primary foe.

The fight has been further complicated by outside powers who have funded and armed combatants and, in some cases, backed them with air support or manpower. Outgunned by pro-regime forces, many opposition groups have aligned with jihad factions.

By 2017, tens of thousands of combatants were involved in the fighting. Up to half a million Syrians have been killed, most by pro-regime forces, and more than half the country’s prewar population of some twenty-two million has been displaced. The armed groups have been marked above all by flux—in their membership, capabilities, alliances, and ideologies. Broadly speaking, they each belong to one of four networks. 
Pro-Government Forces 

19 May 2017

*** Russia Tries the Diplomatic Approach in Syria


It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.

For months, Russia has been looking for a way out of the Syrian conflict. Moscow is working to devise an exit strategy that will enable it to both safeguard its interests in the war-torn country and avoid getting stuck in a quagmire there. To that end, Russia proposed a plan during the latest round of peace talks in Kazakhstan to set up "de-escalation zones" in Syria. Iran and Turkey agreed to the deal, and Moscow has since pressed the United States to join in. The issue figured prominently in U.S. President Donald Trump's conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when the two met in Washington on Wednesday. Though the de-escalation zone initiative — Russia's latest attempt to ease its way out of Syria and improve its standing with the United States — is a risky one, it has several factors working in its favor. Still, its success is far from certain.

The de-escalation zone plan is full of loopholes and deliberately vague, excluding key areas where loyalist forces are still advancing. These features could prove strong selling points for Iran and the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, Russia's primary — but increasingly wary — allies in the conflict. Moscow crafted the plan so as not to interfere with the loyalist campaigns currently underway against rebel sectors. The proposal includes a clause sanctioning strikes against terrorists, a provision Russian and loyalist forces could invoke to continue their attacks on rebel forces. (Each party, after all, has demonstrated its skill in labeling the same rebel factions alternately as terrorist groups and as opposition fighters to suit their operational military goals.) At the same time, however, the plan gives loyalist forces the option to halt the fighting in rebel-held areas as needed.

10 May 2017

*** Why Russia Can't Quit Syria

YURI KOCHETKOV
Source Link

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.

In the resort town of Sochi, on the Black Sea coast, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a possible exit strategy from Syria with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Today's meeting reinforces the urgency with which Russia is trying to extricate itself from the situation it has become mired in. One of the topics up for discussion was the implementation of de-escalation zones — or so-called safe zones — in Syria, part of a proposal to advance the political negotiations on ending the ongoing conflict. Elsewhere in the region, however, Syrian rebels walked out of peace talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana on May 3, spoiling efforts to get Syrian belligerents to discuss a potential solution to the conflict. The move highlights the difficulties Russia is facing — and just how unlikely the Kremlin is to succeed in its plan of making a smooth departure.

8 May 2017

*** Why Russia Can't Quit Syria

Source Link

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.

In the resort town of Sochi, on the Black Sea coast, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a possible exit strategy from Syria with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Today's meeting reinforces the urgency with which Russia is trying to extricate itself from the situation it has become mired in. One of the topics up for discussion was the implementation of de-escalation zones — or so-called safe zones — in Syria, part of a proposal to advance the political negotiations on ending the ongoing conflict. Elsewhere in the region, however, Syrian rebels walked out of peace talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana on May 3, spoiling efforts to get Syrian belligerents to discuss a potential solution to the conflict. The move highlights the difficulties Russia is facing — and just how unlikely the Kremlin is to succeed in its plan of making a smooth departure.

Russia's intervention in Syria, operating alongside Iran in support of Syrian loyalist forces, has succeeded in several ways. For one, Russia's involvement stabilized the battlefield and restored the advantage to Syrian troops. Furthermore, its entry into the conflict not only secured basing in the country but also provided a proving ground in which to season personnel and showcase Russian military hardware. Finally, the intervention has elevated Moscow's geopolitical heft, marking the Kremlin as a key player in the region.

Russian Military Braces for Possible Follow-Up Attacks by US in Syria and Beyond



Russian state propaganda has definitively changed its portrayal of United States President Donald Trump after the April 7 Tomahawk cruise missile strike on the Syrian airbase of Shayrat (Homs province). The forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (the Syrian Arab Army—SAA) had allegedly used this base to launch chemical weapons attacks, on April 4, against a rebel-held area of Khan Sheikhoun (Idlib province). According to a poll published this week by the Kremlin-controlled pollster VtSIOM, 82 percent of Russians believe Washington’s attack on the Shayrat airbase was “unjust” and a “US provocation designed to destabilize the situation.” According to VtSIOM general director Valery Fedorov, only 6 percent of Russians believe the US attacked Shayrat to punish the al-Assad regime for allegedly using chemical weapons. The rest believe it was an act of illegal aggression and a provocation designed to harm Russia and its allies. The Russian public supports its country’s continued military involvement in Syria (53 percent), though this support is not overly high despite a continuous pro-war message broadcast by state TV propaganda. VtSIOM data reveals that 34 percent want Russian forces to withdraw from Syria. According to Fedorov, the Tomahawk attack has dramatically diminished the previously positive image of President Trump in Russia (Wciom.ru, April 20). The latest VtSIOM poll concludes that Trump’s popularity among Russians has decreased from 38 to 13 percent; 39 percent of Russians see him today in a negative light, compared to 7 percent a month ago (RIA Novosti, April 17).

7 May 2017

Who’s Who in Syria’s Civil War

Syria’s civil war has grown ever more complex in the six years since protesters first challenged the government. President Bashar al-Assad aims to reassert control nationwide, while predominantly Sunni Arab opposition forces seek to wrest the state from him. The diverse groups making up the opposition, however, differ on their visions for a post-Assad state, with their ostensible aims ranging from liberal democracy to theocracy.

Unlike Assad and the opposition, the self-proclaimed Islamic State is intent on erasing Syria’s borders to establish a state of its own in territory spanning parts of Iraq and Syria. Kurdish militants, who have fought to establish an autonomous, if not independent, national homeland in the country’s northeast, are the group’s primary foe.

The fight has been further complicated by outside powers who have funded and armed combatants and, in some cases, backed them with air support or manpower. Outgunned by pro-regime forces, many opposition groups have aligned with jihad factions.

In the Horrorscape of Aleppo


Sameer al-Doumy

For what can War, but Acts of War still breed,
Till injur’d Truth from Violence be freed….—John Milton “To My Lord Fairfax” (1694) 

Dawn breaks to a daily chorus of artillery and mortar fire in two of humanity’s most ancient settlements that today are Syria’s two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo. Projectiles rain on their rural peripheries, where opposition groups still fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad shelter in tunnels below mountains of rubble. Muezzins wake the faithful to prayer, and warplanes deliver the day’s first payloads just after 5:00 AM. The rebels respond with desultory mortar rounds fired at cities they once dreamed of ruling. In Damascus, their shells explode in the Christian neighborhoods closest to the eastern front lines. In Aleppo, artillery batters opposition bases along the western frontier with Idlib province. Both cities’ exhausted citizens have cause to fear for their country’s uncertain future. 

4 May 2017

Stability Operations in Syria The Need for a Revolution in Civil-Military Affairs

Anthony H. Cordesman


In an ideal world, the U.S. military would only have a military role. But, in practice, no one gets to fight the wars they want, and this is especially true today. The United States is deeply involved in wars that can only be won at the civil-military level, and where coming to grips with the deep internal divisions and tensions of the host country, and the pressures from outside states, are critical. Unless the United States adapts to this reality, it can easily lose the war at the civil level even when it wins at the military level. This is especially true in the case of the “failed states” where the United States is now fighting. The United States either has to hope for a near-miraculous improvement in the governance and capability of host-country partners, or focus on successful civil-military operations as being as important for success as combat.

So far, the United States has failed to recognize the sheer scale of the civil problems it faces in conducting military operations. It has failed to understand that it needs to carry out a revolution in civil-military affairs if it is to be successful in fighting failed-state wars that involve major counterinsurgency campaigns and reliance on host-country forces. The U.S. military role in Syria is a key case in point, and it illustrates all too clearly that any military effort to avoid dealing with the full consequences of the civil side of war can be a recipe for failure.

2 May 2017

Kremlin Reels From US Missile Strike on Syria



The nearly five dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles that the United States fired on Friday night (April 7) at the Syrian Al-Shayrat airbase produced far more political resonance than kinetic impact. Nonetheless, Russian President Vladimir Putin found himself on the receiving end of the shockwave. He was quick to condemn that “act of aggression.” At the emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, the Russian representative elaborated on the “breach of international law”—only to hear from Ambassador Nikki Haley about US readiness to take more “balanced” measures of the same kind and to hold Russia responsible for crimes committed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime (Newsru.com, April 7). Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev posted on his Facebook page a vitriolic comment on the Donald Trump administration’s “extreme dependency on the opinion of the Washington establishment,” which brought US policy in the Syrian conflict to “the verge of a military clash with Russia” (Interfax, April 7). Yet, no amount of angry rhetoric can camouflage the sharp deterioration of Russia’s international profile and its position in the Middle East.

1 May 2017

Coping with Noncombatant Women in the Battlespace


When soldiers prepare to deploy to a conflict zone, it is logical for them to learn as much as possible about the area in which they will be operating. The enemy already has the home-field advantage; it is only appropriate to mitigate that advantage by learning as much as one can about the land and the people who live there. Additionally, it is important to learn more about the growing power of nonstate groups, the mounting importance of multinational organizations, and the shifting cast of allies and partner nations that may become involved in operations for their own purposes, and how each adds complexity to, and affects, operational environments.

To our Army’s disadvantage, it must remain adaptable to fight across the geographical spectrum, which means it is compelled to train generically when there is no known specific threat or target. Therefore, there will be a shortage of time to train on specific geographical areas and focus on familiarizing the force with specific cultures as unexpected contingencies arise. However, even in the face of so many unknowns, experience has shown that there are constants that can be expected to emerge as factors during most foreseeable operations. These can be anticipated and our forces should prepare to deal with them. Among these are constants that were not fully recognized until comparatively recently.

29 April 2017

CAUSALITY COLLISIONS: WHY SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES REMAIN THE BEST WEAPON TO DEFEAT ISIS IN SYRIA

Scott Harr

Taking meaningful action against a challenging problem requires first and foremost an understanding of the cause-and-effect relationships that characterize the challenge. While that statement might be so obvious as to border on platitude, inaccurately assessing those relationships has proven to derail more than a few US efforts to come to grips with strategic security challenges. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer today than in the struggles that US policymakers have had in crafting a coherent strategy to defeat ISIS. Like the comically overweight character in the Austin Powers film who declared, “I eat because I’m unhappy, I’m unhappy because I eat,” defense planners have wrestled with the question of whether ISIS’s strength causes a requirement for more US troops, or the prospect of more troops will cause ISIS to grow in strength.

Examining this causality puzzle requires an understanding of ISIS’s grand strategy. As a report by the Institute for the Study of War concludes, ISIS has adopted a three-tiered geographic worldview to advance, protect, and prosecute its global strategic objectives. The first tier involves protecting the borders of its declared caliphate and physical domains in Iraq and Syria. ISIS views this territory as its heartland and prioritizes protecting and preserving its territorial gains for the sake of the group’s credibility and to maintain access to the natural resources that fund its operations and governance. Outside this heartland lies the second tier—the Middle East and North Africa, what the group conceives of as its “Near Abroad.” Here, ISIS aims to destabilize apostate (“Western-friendly”) governments in order to create conditions favorable for recruitment and an eventual replacement with ISIS-aligned governments. Finally, the third tier consists of the rest of the world—the “Far Abroad.” In this space, ISIS aims to export its terrorist activities to foment fear and induce an over-reaching international response. Ultimately, ISIS has a very real “doomsday” end-state in which the Western world is drawn into a military conflict in Syria that ends with Islam’s triumph over Western armies on the fields of Dabiq, a region in Syria where the proposed “Armageddon” battle will take place.

27 April 2017

Syria Changed the World


By ANNE BARNARD

ISTANBUL — The world seems awash in chaos and uncertainty, perhaps more so than at any point since the end of the Cold War.

Authoritarian-leaning leaders are on the rise, and liberal democracy itself seems under siege. The post-World War II order is fraying as fighting spills across borders and international institutions — built, at least in theory, to act as brakes on wanton slaughter — fail to provide solutions. Populist movements on both sides of the Atlantic are not just riding anti-establishment anger, but stoking fears of a religious “other,” this time Muslims.

These challenges have been crystallized, propelled and intensified by a conflagration once dismissed in the West as peripheral, to be filed, perhaps, under “Muslims killing Muslims”: the war in Syria.

Now in its seventh year, this war allowed to rage for so long, killing 400,000 Syrians and plunging millions more into misery, has sent shock waves around the world. Millions have fled to neighboring countries, some pushing on to Europe.

25 April 2017

Why Is Trump Fighting ISIS in Syria?


Thomas L. Friedman 

The Trump foreign policy team has been all over the map on what to do next in Syria — topple the regime, intensify aid to rebels, respond to any new attacks on innocent civilians. But when pressed, there is one idea everyone on the team seems to agree on: “The defeat of ISIS,” as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it.

Well, let me add to their confusion by asking just one question: Why?

Why should our goal right now be to defeat the Islamic State in Syria? Of course, ISIS is detestable and needs to be eradicated. But is it really in our interest to be focusing solely on defeating ISIS in Syria right now?

Let’s go through the logic: There are actually two ISIS manifestations.

One is “virtual ISIS.” It is satanic, cruel and amorphous; it disseminates its ideology through the internet. It has adherents across Europe and the Muslim world. In my opinion, that ISIS is the primary threat to us, because it has found ways to deftly pump out Sunni jihadist ideology that inspires and gives permission to those Muslims on the fringes of society who feel humiliated — from London to Paris to Cairo — to recover their dignity via headline-grabbing murders of innocents.

The other incarnation is “territorial ISIS.” It still controls pockets in western Iraq and larger sectors of Syria. Its goal is to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria — plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies — and to defeat the pro-Iranian Shiite regime in Iraq, replacing both with a caliphate.

19 April 2017

IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY: FINDING LEVERAGE IN SYRIA

AARON STEIN

For special access to experts and other members of the national security community, check out the new War on the Rocks membership.

The execution of Assad’s April 4 chemical weapons attack was a textbook use of these weapons. This suggests that the decision to use them was military in nature, not a complicated exercise in signaling to the outside world. Reported Russian military activity in the area clearly implicates Moscow as one of two things: either an impotent and clueless backer of the Syria regime, incapable of monitoring the activities of an air force it is co-located with, or party to a war crime

At President Donald Trump’s order, a barrage of cruise missiles collided with the Syrian air base that was purportedly the source of the chemical attack on Kahn Sheikhoun. This use of force has been widely praised and hailed as a potential turning point in the Syrian conflict. However, the use of limited cruise missile strikes to change state behavior has a poor historical track record. It is too early to tell if the strikes will contribute to the immediate goal of deterring future chemical weapon use in Syria or even a second goal now articulated by some members of the Trump administration: forcing Russia to reevaluate its support for Bashar al Assad.

Chuck Spinney explains why both parties love the Syria poison gas story

By Franklin “Chuck” Spinney

Summary: Trump has received much applause for bombing Syria. Republicans, Democrats, journalists, and geopolitical gurus all cheered. Here insightful defense analyst Chuck Spinney asks inconvenient questions about the lack of evidence and illogic of the “Assad did it” story. This is a follow-up to Before believing the new Syria sarin attack story, ask if the 2013 story was true


If there was a centerpiece to Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign for President of the United States, it was her struggle to convince the American people that Donald Trump was congenitally incapable of reacting rationally when surprised by a dangerous international crisis. She struggled futilely to contrast her experience and gravitas to Trump’s reckless impulsiveness. 

In a rational world, the recent Trumpian brain fart of firing 59 cruise missiles (worth about $90 million) at a nearly empty — and forewarned — Syrian airfield should be a candidate case study to test Clinton’s psychological theory. But it won’t be. Mr. Trump merely did what Ms. Clinton called on him to do a few hours prior to the attack; see this video. Moreover, the political response to Trump’s attack has been one of widespread bipartisan support, with particular enthusiasm among senior Democrats. For example, see … 

16 April 2017

SYRIA STRIKE OPENS DOORS FOR U.S. STRATEGY

Genevieve Casagrande

The U.S strike against an Assad regime base in northern Syria on April 6, 2017 opened the door to a reorientation of American strategy in the Middle East. President Trump’s action could reset the terms of America’s confrontation of other hostile states, such as North Korea. President Trump may be shifting away from a narrow focus on the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) as the strategic priority in Syria and toward a new approach. It remains unclear whether he will take additional action against the Assad regime, but his statement after the strike appeared to signal an emerging anti-Assad policy. Responses from major international powers and key regional actors indicate that these parties perceive the strike represents a possible strategic inflection rather than an isolated incident. President Trump has the opportunity to exploit the effects of his limited action to pursue America’s strategic goals.

Regional actors responded as if a wider American reorientation against Assad is possible. Traditional U.S. partners in the region like Saudi Arabia and Jordan supported the strike. Turkey also praised the strike and called for additional U.S. action against the Assad regime. These reactions indicate that the strike created an opportunity for President Trump to repair America’s relationships with traditional partners, which had begun to reorient toward Russia or to act unilaterally in dangerous ways in the absence of American leadership. European states under Russian pressure also supported the strike, indicating that the U.S. can still shape European policies toward Syria. President Trump may have an opportunity to leverage European support for counter-Assad measures to reengage Europe on the need to confront Russia in Syria. Actors deeper within the Russo-Iranian orbit, including Egypt and Iraq’s Shi’a political parties, expressed caution.

SYRIA: A JOURNEY INTO THE UNKNOWN

MICHAEL HANNA AND SAM HELLER


There is reason for some extremely cautious optimism about last Thursday’s U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian regime air base. America has thus far avoided some of the most obvious, dangerous pitfalls of any possible intervention in Syria. So, at a minimum, Americans should be happy not to find themselves in a worst-case scenario.

But there is certainly still reason for concern. Washington has endeavored to clearly communicate the limited objectives of its strikes, but there is nonetheless substantial ambiguity about American aims, much of it of Washington’s own making. Any reaction or counter-escalation by U.S. adversaries is now largely out of America’s control, and some opportunists are already trying to repurpose U.S. action for their own, less focused ends.

15 April 2017

The Country with the Most to Gain from Trump is not Russia; It’s China


China—not Russia—has the greatest potential to gain international influence over the long run. China’s goal to become the global superpower runs straight through its overseas development and climate change efforts; exactly where President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint will decrease U.S. influence the most.

Russia dominates our headlines in ways not seen since the Cold War. There are reported ties to the Trump campaign, Kremlin-sanctioned interference in the 2016 elections, silence over Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on anticorruption protesters, and regular trafficking in dangerous false equivalency “whataboutisms.” With all this focus, one could plausibly assume that Russia has the most to gain from the Trump presidency.

That would, however, be a mistake. China is both better positioned and has much more to gain.

U.S. withdrawal from its obligations to the liberal international order—which would be the effect of President Trump’s budget blueprint if passed by Congress—creates unprecedented space for Chinese opportunism. China is poised to replace the United States as global trade leader, and President Trump’s renunciation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has given it an opportunity to strengthen regional trade opportunities that were once available to the United States. It is no secret that China desires even more global influence, a pursuit that, to a certain extent, has been checked by U.S. global leadership. Until now.

TRUMP’S ATTACK ON SYRIA: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

RYAN EVANS

At the order of President Donald Trump, the U.S. military lobbed dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian air base from which a chemical weapons attack was launched this week that killed Syrian civilians — to include children. Trump’s critics are already denouncing the strikes as a sign of his recklessness and America’s deepening and unwise involvement in the Syrian civil war. His supporters are celebrating the attack as a sign of the sort of American resolve that has been missing for the last eight years as well as a message to the world’s bad guys. So which is it? Should we condemn or praise Trump’s decision? The answer, of course, is not so easy. I offer my thoughts below. It is late, I am tired, and I have more questions than answers, but here it goes.

The Good

When the Obama administration was leaning towards a military response to the 2013 Syrian chemical attack to enforce its declared red line — even though I did not favor an attack without broad-based popular, Congressional, and allied support — I observed that anything less than a large attack on Assad’s ability to project airpower would not send a strong enough message. We all know what happened next, of course, and President Obama has been heavily criticized for not acting (but I am of the view that the bigger mistake was the red line, not the failure to enforce it). The fact that most of Assad’s chemical arsenal was subsequently destroyed per an agreement brokered by Russia provided a net gain for U.S. interests.

Syria and Chemical Weapons. What Now?

The Syrian government is accused of using nerve gas in a recent attacks on a rebel village in Idlib province. This would be a clear violation of the 2013 Russian brokered deal where Syria surrendered all its chemical weapons in return for no foreign intervention (as the U.S. has promised) because chemical weapons were used. An August 21 2013 attack used nerve gas to kill over 1,400 people in a rebel controlled village outside Damascus. The evidence was overwhelming for the 2013 attack and this latest one in Idlib is equally incriminating. This time the United States quickly retaliated by launching sixty cruise missiles (from two warships in the Mediterranean) at the Syrian Shayrat air base in Homs province. Most of the Syrian air strikes in northern Syria are flown out of Shayat, which is now inoperable. Russia and Iran, the two major allies of the Assads, are under pressure to make a suitable response. Initially both nations simply condemned this violation of Syrian sovereignty and warned of serious consequences. This could be serious, or not. Iran has been calling for the destruction of the United States (and Israel) since the 1980s but so far, aside from a few terror attacks, it’s been mostly talk. Russia has become more hostile to the United States since a new government took power in 1999 and revived the old Cold War attitude that the Americans were out to destroy Russia in any number of devious ways and were responsible for most of the internal and external problems Russia faced. As with Iran, this attitude had more to do with local politics (keeping an unpopular ruler in power) than with reality. The “blame America” angle only works if you can convince your people that the U.S. will back off if confronted. That’s what happened when Iran (in 2012) and Russia (in 2016) openly intervened to support the Assads. The Russians were quite proud of themselves for how they get the Americans to back down in 2013 in the aftermath of the Assads using nerve gas. Neither Russia nor Iran want outright war with the United States, even though Russia has threatened to use nukes against the United States to discourage too much military support for Ukraine (which Russia is trying to annex parts of). Russia may be able to get some support (in forcing the Americans to back off) by appealing to the NATO countries that criticized the recent American cruise missile attack. In other words Russia and Iran don’t have any good options here.