Forecast: The Syrian Theater

A normal person might think that our continuous war in the Middle East has hit upon a stalemate….the news about Russia, North Korea, health care, protests by athletes, etc…the Middle East is a place of quiet reflection right now.

Nothing could be further from the truth…..civilians are still dying, ISIS is still attacking in various ways, Kurds are demanding independence and so on…..and since this is the region that I focus most of my work on then I need to keep my readers up to date as much as possible…..

Unless you read blogs then you might think that all is well in the Middle East especially Syria…..

This is a report by the Institute for the Study of War……..

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The United States will continue to risk its vital strategic interests in the Middle East unless it changes its policies in Syria and Iraq. President Donald Trump and his administration inherited a weakened U.S. position, with Russia imposing constraints on American freedom of action and options. The Trump administration has taken initial steps to advance U.S. prestige in the region by reassuring America’s traditional allies and acting more firmly against its enemies and adversaries. The tactical tasks of recapturing Mosul and liberating Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) are complete and nearly complete, respectively. Nevertheless, its efforts to define and execute policies that secure America’s vital interests are moving more slowly than those of America’s enemies, adversaries, and spoilers who are more agile than the U.S. These actors include Russia, Iran and its proxies, Turkey, ISIS, al Qaeda, and some Kurdish elements, who are pursuing goals that threaten American objectives and are exploiting the current situation to make strategic gains as the U.S. champions short-term gains and tactical success.

The Trump administration has not yet broken with its predecessor’s approach to the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq. It has prioritized conducting counterterrorism operations against ISIS to recapture ISIS’s territory. American military forces have accelerated this campaign by relying on the most readily available local forces, including Kurdish forces in northern Syria that are aligned with terrorists targeting Turkey. The administration has eschewed a U.S. role in addressing the regional war’s underlying drivers, including the role of the Bashar al Assad regime in Syria and sectarianism in Iraq stoked by Iran. The main effort of the counter-ISIS fight must become preventing the organization from reconstituting and its rivals from inheriting its leadership of the Iraqi and global jihad. ISIS re-emerged from a defeated al Qaeda in Iraq and controlled Iraqi cities only three years after American troops departed in 2011.

Read the full report (PDF).

AS the reader can see….there is more going on than the news media lets us mere mortals onto…..but thanx to my dogged desire to see that the situation in the Middle East remains in the forefront….and that my readers keep abreast of the situations that they will be paying for in the future with cash and blood.

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How Depressing Can Syria Become?

The forces of darkness (depending on where you stand geopolitically) are turning Syria into the death watch for ISIS….Russia is aiding Assad….the US is aiding the “rebel” factions…..Turkey is in it for themselves….the Kurds…who f*cking knows?

But as ISIS winds down what to look for in the near future…..

Ongoing fighting between two rival jihadist factions, Ahrar al-Sham and Tahrir al-Sham continues to rage in northwestern Syria’s Idlib Province, with small skirmishes turning into bigger gunbattles and more dramatic large-scale deployments into the area.

While so far it’s been a fairly limited exchange, compared to some of the past ones, there are growing concerns that this build-up could quickly lead to a full-scale explosion of the rebel-packed province, leading to more bloodshed and humanitarian crises.

While Tahrir al-Sham is already drawing on much of its leadership, al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, the Ahrar al-Sham faction is trying to get more of its fighters into the same areas as tensions rise, with Turkey sending around 150 of their allied rebels into the area to fight alongside Ahrar al-Sham.

Ideologically there is limited difference between the two groups, as the Nusra Front is literally an al-Qaeda affiliate, while multiple Ahrar al-Sham leaders have pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.  The fighting appears largely related to them both being largely stuck within the Idlib Province, having lost most of their other territory, and each side wanting to dominate that last region at all costs.

(antiwar.com)

Of course anything that happens in Syria will be watched by Israel……plus who knows how far these interlopers have gone in Syria….if anyone can destroy a chance it would be Israel.

Israel has made no secret of not liking the southern Syria ceasefire, negotiated between the US and Russia, complaining in particular that it doesn’t keep the Syrian government, and its Iranian allies, totally barred from that part of the country, which they see as tantamount to letting Iran be too close to the Israeli border.

Israeli Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror is the latest to step up the ever-growing series of threats against Iran over the matter, attending a briefing with foreign correspondents today and warning that if the US and Russia don’t resolve Israel’s complaints, the Israeli military will “intervene and destroy every attempt to build infrastructure in Syria.”

Maj. Gen. Amidror went on to say that Israel “will not let the Iranians and Hezbollah be the forces which will win” the Syrian war. This comes less than a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted to a live microphone that Israel had attacked Iranian targets in Syria dozens of times.

Israel has always been keen on military confrontation with Iran, and this position is in keeping with repeated comments from Israeli officials that they would prefer ISIS to gain control over Syria, because Iran is always “the main enemy.”

(antiwar.com)

Israel has always worried about Iran….but they should worry about Russia as well…hwy?  Russia and Iran are allies in the Syrian thing…..and a new deal will keep Russia in Syria for awhile after the shooting has stopped….

The Federation Council (upper house) of the Federal Assembly of Russia just ratified relevant legislation which after Presidential approval will enshrine into a law an agreement to maintain a presence of Russian forces in the Syrian Arab Republic for 49 years.

The measure allows for an extension of the agreement for a further 25 years.

Russia has maintained a naval base in Tartus in western Syria since 1971, the year after President Hafez al-Assad, the current President’s father came to power in what was known as the Corrective Movement.

Russia has been a long time Syrian ally and today’s announcement ensures a partnership which will extend throughout the better part of the 21st century.

You, my reader, should keep in mind that the US under Trump is stopping the weapons and cash for the “rebel” factions…..

Despite a solid eight months of stories about President Trump considering ending the CIA program to arm Syrian rebels, yesterday’s announcement that he’s ending that program have the rebels claiming they were totally “blindsided” and never expected such a move.

Needless to say, they’re outraged by the decision, saying that the lack of US arms shipments would quickly lead to the collapse of the “moderate” Free Syrian Army, to the benefit of jihadist factions closely aligned with al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.

This is a surprising claim, particularly for the Free Syrian Army to make, since one of the big knocks on them for years has been how closely aligned they themselves have been with Nusra, with claims that Nusra effectively had been using FSA as a cover to secure US arms.

The “moderate” Syrian rebels, to the extent they ever existed, was largely sidelined much earlier in the war, and as fighting in Idlib recently demonstrates, the real factions of influence left are all jihadists of various stripes. Indeed, a big part of why the US froze the CIA arms program earlier this year was that too many of the weapons were being used by jihadist groups against one another.

The US has held several position on Syria….Assad must go….Assad can stay….the newest move with the rebels sort of hints at his remaining the leader of Syria….and if that is true then Assad will need to worry about the many militias and factions in Syria…

Over the past six years, the Syrian regime has delegated a large swath of its powers to loyal militias, entrusting them with preserving security, representing the regime and handling the day-to-day affairs of local communities. Today, it seems almost impossible for the state to recover its authority. In addition to the weakness of the Syrian state and its increasing failure to provide key citizen services, militias have gained so much ground that the state cannot restrain them and exert sole control over weapons and violence, even if it wishes to do so.

Source: Assad and His Militias: Disentangling the Syrian State | World Affairs Journal

The fighting is far from over….even with the defeat of ISIS…..the shooting will continue……

I pause here to give you a moment…….. to give you time to take in all the evidence and offer up an analysis….

Defeat Of ISIS–What Then?

It appears that ISIS is all but defeated in Iraq and it is not looking good in Syria…..so when the end arrives…..what then?

The Islamic State appears to be nearly ousted in the Iraqi city of Mosul, and now US-backed forces have the last 2,500 ISIS holdouts trapped in the group’s other stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, reports the New York Times. The militants are cut off from supplies, though the final battle to defeat them promises to be a difficult one that plays out building by building. ISIS leaders already have fled the city, and the group maintains control over smaller towns in both Syria and Iraq. Related developments:

  • The plan? Once ISIS is routed from Syria and Iraq, then what? The Los Angeles Times reports that the US doesn’t seem to have a clear strategy yet for the aftermath, one that takes into account factors such as Iran, Russia, reconstruction, safe zones, troop numbers, etc. Without “rules of the road,” it’s “a dangerous situation,” says one analyst.
  • Assad’s role: One particularly thorny problem for the US is whether to try to keep Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in check as he seeks to reclaim territory abandoned by ISIS. The AP has an analysis.
  • ‘Mom, I’m exhausted’: What’s it like for civilians still in Raqqa? “Mom, I’m exhausted and the situation is horrible, I can’t bear this life anymore,” writes a 23-year-old daughter to her mom. CNN takes a look at WhatsApp messages.
  • A leader emerges: Iraq’s success in Mosul has turned the spotlight on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. In a profile, the Wall Street Journal reports that the 65-year-old former electrical engineer has emerged as a genuine leader after three years, to pretty much everyone’s surprise.
  • Premature? But at BuzzFeed, Nancy A. Youssef writes that Abadi and other Iraqi leaders may have made a mistake in declaring the end of the ISIS caliphate last week. Too much fighting remains, in Mosul and elsewhere.
  • Abuses in Iraq:Human Rights Watch says it has reports of Iraqi soldiers beating and executing unarmed men fleeing Mosul.

The better plan is to start planning for ISIS 2.0……..it will be back and back with a vengeance…..

Lt Gen Stephen Townsend told the BBC Iraqis needed to unite to ensure IS was defeated across the rest of Iraq.

He also urged the government to reach out to the Sunni Arab minority.

“If we’re to keep… ISIS 2.0 from emerging, the Iraqi government is going to have to do something pretty significantly different,” he said.

“They’re going to have to reach out and reconcile with the Sunni population, and make them feel like their government in Baghdad represents them.”

Source: Mosul: US commander says Iraq must stop Islamic State 2.0 – BBC News

With the defeat…..does anyone know what ISIS thinks of the future?

In a conversation I had with a fellow university student in Damascus in 2000, he made curious remark. “Ana mubayie,” he said. The sentence, which translates into “I owe a pledge of fealty”, was a reference to a supposed secret oath he made to Mullah Omar, then the emir of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In a secular country like Syria, the lack of context for young students meant nobody made much of it beyond observing its oddity.

When I wrote about the anecdote for The National three years ago, ISIL’s announcement of a “caliphate” was widely dismissed as comic and a delusional ambition. Many hoped that ISIL’s military campaign soon would be reversed once the Iraqi army recovered from the initial shock. Even more than the military challenge, moreover, it was harder for politicians, clerics and observers to grasp the implications of the declaration on the region and the world, and the subsequent evolution of ISIL from a local insurgent group into a global organisation.

Source: What ISIL really thinks about the future – The National

The consensus seems to be that ISIS may be beaten but it is not yet defeated…..plans should be drawn up now that has an approach that will prevent a repeat of the last 4 years.

With the battles of Mosul and Raqqa dislodging the Islamic State (ISIS) from its strongholds in Syria and Iraq, and the Syrian civil war becoming a war of attrition, the Middle East’s most acute conflicts are evolving fast. But that doesn’t mean they will soon be resolved.

ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliphate was never a state that could be driven to unconditional surrender, meaning that the battles of Mosul and Raqqa were never going to be decisive, even if they did eliminate ISIS sanctuaries. As ISIS’s spread into Libya and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula underscores, there are plenty of loosely controlled areas available to be penetrated.

Source: The next phase of Middle East conflict | The Strategist

But with everything said maybe there is a rule of thumb they should adhere to……one question they should ask after the debacles of Syria and Libya……

Source: Is It Ever a Good Idea to Arm Violent Nonstate Actors? | RealClearDefense

Then what about all those “terrorists” that did not die defending the “caliphate”?  What will become of them?

The fall of Mosul and the likely fall of Raqqa won’t be the end of the Islamic State. The group has already reverted to its insurgent roots in some of the areas that have been lost. It also still controls some territory. The Islamic State will continue to function as a guerrilla army, despite suffering significant losses. In May, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) assessed that even though it was losing significant ground, the Islamic State “will likely have enough resources and fighters to sustain insurgency operations and plan terrorists [sic] attacks in the region and internationally” going forward. Unfortunately, I think ODNI’s assessment is accurate for a number of reasons, some of which I outline below. I also discuss some hypothetical scenarios, especially with respect to returning foreign fighters or other supporters already living in Europe or the U.S.

Source: The Terrorist Diaspora: After the Fall of the Caliphate | RealClearDefense

We will see….the world is watching…….

Are Tribes The Answer?

Back in the Dark Ages of the Iraq War, 2007, the president decided that he would send more troops into Iraq to help with security for Baghdad and Anbar province……the general at the time, Patreues, also conned the tribes of Anbar into working with the US and to stop the advance of the AQ backed insurgency.

Using the tribes was a novel idea….of course they were promised things like protection, weapons and most important money for their help with the problem.

I relive this part of the war history because it was a stroke of genius and that I do not understand why the technique has been abandoned.

We, the US, could be using tribes in several conflicts to do some of the lifting…..across the Middle East tribes are the central aspect of life…..so why not try to duplicate the small successes we have had in the past……

For instance in Yemen…where the US has had an on-going battle with AQAP…why not turn to the tribes that do not like AQ……some thoughts on the subject….

Source: The US is failing to exploit tribal anti-AQAP sentiments in Yemen – Middle East Monitor

Then there is Syria and its array of tribal connections…can the tribes work on the aftermath?

Some say no……

Source: After Raqqa: The Challenges Posed by Syria’s Tribal Networks – Jamestown

I keep harping on trying to find a new plan….I would say this idea would be considered a new plan….well at this time anyway….it had been a success…It could be again.

What we got to lose?

What Is The Real Course For Syria?

We have been fighting in Syria for a couple of years (were we ever invited into this conflict?) and slowly we have expanded our participation in the conflict…..to what end?

Its is a creeping invasion of Syria all under the guise of fighting ISIS…..

There was always going to be a reckoning. When President Obama began the American war against ISIS in 2014 — a belated and necessary step to stop ISIS’s blitzkrieg across Iraq — there was a lingering question: Then what? If and when we defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, what comes next? Ideally, American allies would defeat the world’s most vicious terrorists, the warring parties in Syria would then have the space to reach a political settlement, and a genocidal civil war would finally end.

Source: Syrian Conflict — Our Fight with ISIS Pits Us against Assad | National Revie

For us IR analyst this appears a rush to war…..but under the guise of fighting terrorism…..we have attacked a Syrian air base, shot down a Syrian plane and attacked an Iranian drone….all the while expanding our military footprint in the country.

The downing of a Syrian fighter jet by the United States – and, more recently, of an Iranian drone – augurs a confrontation that could take us down the road to World War III. The US media is echoing the Pentagon’s explanation, which is that the Syrian jet bombed (or was threatening to bomb) units of the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) around the town of Tanf. The Syrians say they were attacking forces aligned with ISIS, which both the US and the Syrian government are supposedly fighting.

The reality is that there is no such entity as the “Syrian Democratic Forces.” There are only loosely aligned groups, factions and splinters of factions, which proliferate seemingly on a daily basis in a mosaic of ethno-religious-ideological conflicts that reflect the chaos that has enveloped that country. The failure of the US to unite these various factions into the so-called Free Syrian Army – large units of which kept defecting to the various radical Islamist groups, including ISIS and al-Qaeda – led to an explosion of smaller groups centered around local, tribal, ethnic, and religious affiliations. The SDF is an attempt to solder these groups together in a military force capable of fighting and defeating the “Caliphate” established by ISIS – an effort that is far less successful than it seems.

Source: Our Rush to War in Syria – Antiwar.com Original

This is starting to sound like an attempt to poke Iran in the eye with the hope of a response……more than a fight against ISIS…..

Over the past several weeks, US military actions within Syria have been less and less ISIS-centric, with a handful of operations targeting Shi’ite militias in southern Syria, and even shooting down a Syrian government aircraft over the weekend.

This isn’t just the US idly getting into one-off fights in the course of a war they’re already fighting in Syria, but rather is reflective of a push by White House officials, with multiple National Security Council members looking at the Syrian War less as a fight against ISIS and more as a chance to pick a fight with Iran.

The Pentagon has made clear they object, with Defense Secretary James Mattis personally rejecting multiple proposals related to this. Still, attacks on Shi’ite militias whenever they got sort of close to a US-backed rebel base, and a public narrative presenting the militias as necessarily in league with Iran, have found the US heading down that path anyhow.

This isn’t a new battle. The Pentagon has been battling the CIA in recent years in a rather public fight over the war, with the CIA keen to make the war about regime change, and by extension fighting Iran, while the Pentagon has sought to keep the focus on fighting ISIS.

(antiwar.com)

The US is now poking Russia, Iran and Syria over some “alleged” gas attack in the making.

This situation needs to be handled carefully…..defeat ISIS and let the Syrians sort out their own problems after that.  Poking Iran in the eye will not lead to a peaceful region with ISIS gone.

Does Anyone Remember 2003?

I am talking about the mash up to the invasion of Iraq.

Recall all the news about WMDs and yellow cake uranium….the false narrative that Iraq was somehow involved in the 9/11 attacks……all propaganda to justify invading a sovereign country…..in this case Iraq.

They were making a case for invasion as they did in the 1990’s and the fist Gulf War.  If you recall back then it was babies left on the floor of a Kuwati hospital so the Iraqis could steal medical equipment…again that never occurred.

Again making a case for justification for invasion.

I bring up a little history because I think they are at it again……this time in Syria.

In a recent press conference Spicer had a bombshell (no pun intended) to drop…..

Raising speculation that the US is about to attack Syria again, the White House has issued a statement late this evening accusing the Assad government in Syria of conducting “potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack,” claiming that such an attack would involve the “mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”

The late night report was extremely light on details, but threatened to make Syria’s government and military “pay a heavy price,” suggesting that the statement was only issued to lay the groundwork for a new round of US attacks on Syrian government targets.

The US last attacked Syria in earnest in early April, firing 49 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base. The attack was carried out despite reports ultimately showing that the US intelligence community found no evidence a chemical weapon attack took place.

(antiwar.com)

Source: White House Says Syria May Be Preparing Another Chemical Attack, Warns Assad Will “Pay A Heavy Price”

It is sounding like the drums of war are getting louder.

Source: Our Rush to War in Syria – Antiwar.com Origina

Bang the drums….blow the trumpets….prepare!

Here we go again!

Are We Inching Toward All Out War?

When Russia sent in aircraft to help the Syrians fight against the rebels…..I wrote then that this was leading to a big mistake that could take the US and Russia into a confrontation……

Well the worse case scenario just happened…..

The US military shot down a Syrian Air Force fighter jet Sunday that bombed local forces aligned with the Americans in the fight against ISIS militants, an action that appeared to mark a new escalation of the conflict. The US had not shot down a Syrian regime aircraft before Sunday’s confrontation, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. While the US has said since it began recruiting, training, and advising what it calls moderate Syrian opposition forces to fight ISIS that it would protect them from potential Syrian government retribution, this was the first time it resorted to engaging in air-to-air combat to make good on that promise, the AP reports.

The US-led coalition headquarters in Iraq said in a statement that a US F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian government SU-22 after it dropped bombs near the US partner forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. The shootdown was near Tabqa, a Syrian town in an area that has been a weekslong focus of fighting against ISIS militants by the SDF as they surround the city of Raqqa and attempt to retake it from ISIS. The US military statement said it acted in “collective self-defense” of its partner forces and that the US did not seek a fight with the Syrian government or its Russian supporters. “The coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” the Pentagon said.

The Russians have a retort……

Russia’s defense ministry says it will treat US-led coalition planes in Syria that venture west of the Euphrates River as targets after the US military shot down a Syrian Air Force jet on Sunday, reports the AP. Moscow also suspended a military hotline the two nations have used to coordinate air missions over Syria, reports the New York Times. Russia condemned the US downing of the Syrian government fighter jet as a “military aggression” and demanded a fuller explanation. The US has said the Syrian jet dropped bombs near its partner forces, but Syria said its jet was attacking ISIS militants.

“All flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected west of the Euphrates, will be followed by Russian air defense systems as targets,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. The downing of the warplane—the first time in the conflict that the US has shot down a Syrian jet—came as Iran fired several ballistic missiles at ISIS positions in eastern Syria in retaliation for two attacks by the extremists in Tehran earlier this month that killed 17 people. Areas of northern Syria west of the Euphrates were controlled by ISIS before Syrian government forces captured most of them in recent months

Where will this end?

We know how Trump feels about using force……will that be the answer?

I mentioned the illegality of U.S. actions in Syria in an earlier post, but I wanted to say a bit more on that point. There has never been a Congressional vote authorizing U.S. military operations in Syria against anyone, and there has been scant debate over any of the goals that the U.S. claims to be pursuing there. The U.S. launches attacks inside Syria with no legal authority from the U.N. or Congress, and it strains credulity that any of these operations have anything to do with individual or collective self-defense. The U.S. wages war in Syria simply because it can.

Source: Syria and Our Illegal Acts of War | The American Conservative

Americans need to pay attention before it is too late.