Tag Archives: Syria

Last IS Strongholds Fall

Now the traditional antagonists in the region can get back to fighting each other.

The success of the Syrian government forces inevitably raises the potential for clashes between them and US-backed, predominantly Kurdish units who hold a significant swathe of northern Syria.

It is a powerful reminder that while the war against the IS “caliphate” is well on the way to being won, the situation on the ground in Syria is becoming ever more complex.

With Iran eager to consolidate its influence, questions remain as to the Trump administration’s future policy direction now IS is collapsing. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has consolidated his position and looks to squeeze opposition forces in the months ahead.

Escalating in Syria

See what I mean?

Russia has said it will treat US warplanes operating in parts of Syria where its air forces are present as “targets” amid a diplomatic row caused by the downing of a Syrian jet.

The country’s defence ministry said the change in position would apply to all aircraft, including those operating as part of the US-backed coalition.

It will also suspend a hotline between Russia and the US set up to prevent mid-air collisions.

U.S. Shoots Down Syrian Fighter

Boom.

The incident occurred in the town of Ja’Din, south of Tabqa, Syria, which had recently been retaken from ISIS by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group of Syrian Kurdish and Arab rebel forces supported by the U.S. in the fight against the militant group.

SDF came under attack from regime forces in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad around 4:30 p.m. Syria time. A number of SDF fighters were wounded in the assault, and the SDF soon left Ja’Din.

Coalition aircraft conducted a show of force overhead that stopped the initial pro-regime advance towards the town.

“Following the Pro-Syrian forces attack, the coalition contacted its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established ‘de-confliction line’ to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing,” said a statement from Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS.

“At 6:43 p.m., a Syrian regime SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters south of Tabqah and, in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet,” said the statement.

The Syrian pilot is believed to have been able to eject from the aircraft, according to a U.S. official.

The whole situation is set up to escalate very quickly if we let it.

Obama Praises Himself for Courage

Heh

“I actually think that the issue that required the most political courage was the decision not to bomb Syria after the chemical weapons use had been publicized and rather to negotiate them removing chemical weapons from Syria,” Obama said in an interview with Jack Schlossberg, the grandson of President John F. Kennedy, which was published Monday.

That decision has come under renewed scrutiny following last month’s deadly sarin gas attack on Syrian civilians carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad. President Trump subsequently ordered the bombing of a Syrian airfield and criticized Obama for not following through on a threatened military strike after Assad crossed what Obama had said was his “red line.”

“Now, we know subsequently that some [chemical weapons] remained, so it was an imperfect solution,” Obama said. “But what we also know is that 99 percent of huge chemical weapons stockpiled were removed without us having to fire a shot.”

Actually, we do not know that 99% of the chemical weapons were removed. We know nothing of the sort. What we do know is that Obama told us that 100% of the chemical weapons were removed and that hundreds of dead Syrians dispute Obama’s assertion.

Drifting toward Damascus, the sequel

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

In 2013, I opened a column called “Drifting Toward Damascus” with this paragraph: “As I sit down to write a column about our current situation in Syria, I fail to discern any coherent foreign policy coming from my president’s administration. If you can, you are probably filling in the gaps with wishful thinking.” As I sit down to write another column about Syria, the same opening would suffice.

After Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons to murder more than 80 people, including kids, President Trump retaliated with a missile strike on a Syrian air base. The scenario was reminiscent of Assad’s previous use of WMDs during the previous administration. In 2013, Assad used Sarin gas to attack more than 1,000 Syrians. In doing so, he crossed President Obama’s infamous “red line” and the Obama Administration responded with huffy rhetoric.

Now it is 2017 with the same Assad but a different American president. When Assad used chemical weapons this time, Trump responded immediately with a punitive strike and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is signaling a new American goal of toppling the Assad regime. Yet the Trump Administration is promising to keep American forces out of Syria and Trump’s rhetorical “America first” isolationism was a major facet of his recent successful presidential campaign. Although a different president has brought us a different reaction, America still lacks a coherent Syrian policy.

The problem is that there are no good answers left for America in Syria. There was a time when direct American intervention could have yielded positive results, but that time has passed. The Syrian Civil War began with an uprising in the spring of 2011. As part of the socalled Arab Spring, secular pro-democracy protestors rose up to demand Assad’s resignation. When Assad refused to resign, as tyrants are wont to do, and launched a violent crackdown on the protestors, the protestors hardened their opposition and the fight for Syria was on.

The time for American intervention was 2011. If President Obama had used the power of the United States to support the secular pro-democracy opposition at that time, there might be a peaceful, secular, democratic Syria today. But speculation in alternate histories is the luxury of writers. The Syrian Civil War has evolved significantly since 2011 and America must deal with the present realities.

Since 2011, the Syrian Civil War has descended into a sectarian war with no good guys for America to support. In battle with each other are Assad’s tyrannical government, radical Islamist Sunni rebels, Kurdish forces, Hezbollah, and of course, the Islamic State. According to the United Nations commission of inquiry, all of them have been engaging in horrific war crimes including murder, torture, slavery, using civilians as human shields, forced starvation, and the use of WMDs.

The Syrian Civil War has also taken on significant international importance as it pulled regional and world powers into the conflict. The deluge of refugees from Syria and surrounding areas has had a destabilizing effect on several Middle Eastern and European nations, putting pressure on the international community to intervene. As the war has devolved partially into a religious war between different Muslim sects, several Muslim countries have intervened to support their sides. Shia Iran and Lenanon are supporting Assad as Sunni Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and others support rebel factions. Finally, Russia entered the war on the side of Assad as part of Vladimir Putin’s lifelong effort to reclaim Russia’s dominance on the world stage. As America retreated from the Middle East, Russia entered the chasm.

In deciding what America should do about Syria, two questions must be answered. The first question is, should America do anything? That is a broad question the answer of which depends on one’s valuation of the word “should.” There are some who believe that America should be the world’s conscience and act in the name of human rights. There are some who believe that American should only intervene if there is a direct American interest at stake. And there are some who believe that America should never do anything unless directly attacked.

In this case, there are no good guys to support, there are no direct American interests at stake and America has not been attacked. The only good reason for America to intervene in the Syrian Civil War is as a general policy to try to stabilize the region to quell the radicalization of people and the outflow of terror groups.

If one thinks America should intervene, then the second question to be answered is, what can America do? Short of a full scale invasion and occupation of Syria with all of the risks of igniting a global conflict with Russia and Iran, America’s options are very limited. And the American people have no appetite for such an earth-shattering endeavor.

America should stay out of the Syrian Civil War. There is little likelihood that American intervention could yield a positive outcome and the risk of embroiling our nation in another long, bloody, and expensive war is very high. America should do what we can to help the suffering, assist our allies, and protect American interests and American borders. No more. No less.

Russia Escalates

Something to watch.

Russia has said it is suspending a deal with the US to prevent mid-air collisions over Syria in response to US air strikes on a Syrian air base.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said following Donald Trump’s decision to fire 59 cruise missiles at a military target in Syria on Thursday, Moscow was suspending a memorandum with the US that prevented incidents and ensured flight safety.

Under the memorandum, signed after Russia launched an air campaign in Syria in September 2015, Russia and the US had exchanged information about their flights to avoid incidents in the crowded skies over Syria — where Russia has several dozen warplanes and batteries of air-defence missiles.

U.S. Launches Punitive Strike Against Syria

Eh.

The US missiles hit the Shayrat airfield, from where Washington believes the chemical weapons attack was launched, one US official was quoted as saying.

A statement on Syrian state TV said “American aggression” had targeted a Syrian military base with “a number of missiles” but gave no further details.

Earlier on Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad should have no role in a future Syria.

His comments signalled a sudden shift in policy by the Trump administration.

I get the anger at Assad’s use of chemical weapons to murder civilians. It’s absolutely horrific and the latest horrible act by a truly evil man. But I question this attack as a matter of policy. We just blew $100 million or so on firing a bunch of missiles to punish him, but what did we accomplish? What is the goal? Regime change? It’s going to take more than that. Just punish Assad to reestablish America’s role in the world as a moral authority? Support our allies? Who?

We need to determine a coherent policy toward Syria, articulate it, and act on it. Fits of violent reaction don’t accomplish much.

Russia Brokers Syrian Ceasefire

As our Secretary of State was blathering about how he can’t stand by while Jews in Israel build communities for themselves on their land, a lot was happening next door in Syria as he stood by.

(CNN)Call it a pop-up alliance. After spending much of this year berating each other after Turkey shot down a Russian jet over the Syrian-Turkish border, the two governments are suddenly the “honest brokers” of a ceasefire in Syria — one that is designed to lead to political negotiations. The United States, which has long championed the stuttering diplomatic process on resolving the Syrian conflict, is nowhere to be seen.

The ceasefire — negotiated between Russia, Turkey and the Syrian government as well as Iran and Syrian rebel groups supported by Turkey — explicitly excludes factions deemed by the United Nations Security Council as “terrorists.” This rules out the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former al Qaeda affiliate in Syria that used to be known as Jabhat al-Nusra.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the ceasefire was only the first step, with other documents signed on enforcing the truce and beginning peace talks. The Syrian military promised to cease operations nationwide at midnight Thursday.

Assad and Russia’s Victory in Aleppo

And the world is a worse place for it.

The emptying of Aleppo winds down a four year standoff between opposition forces and those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That standoff has grown increasingly deadly in recent months, with an indiscriminate and relentless bombing campaign led by Assad and supported by Russia that targeted civilians and medical facilities, and allegedly involved the use of cluster munitions and chemical weapons.

But the retaking of Aleppo will count as a victory for Assad, and a sort of victory for his allies as well. A meeting on Tuesday between Iranian, Russian, and Turkish defense ministers produced a “joint declaration” to find a solution in Syria, despite the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey on Tuesday.

The United States has been notably absent from the movement in recent days, with Secretary of State John Kerry making diplomatic overtures that often went ignored.

SOS Kerry Wanted Military Action in Syria

Interesting.

“I think you’re looking at three people, four people in the administration. I lost the argument. I’ve argued for the use of force. I’m the guy who stood up and announced that we’re going to attack Assad for the use of weapons,” Kerry is heard telling the Syrian attendees, referring to internal deliberations within the administration of President Barack Obama that followed Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013.
Kerry also faulted Congress for failing to support such a retaliatory strike, saying, “The bottom line is that Congress refused even to vote to allow that.”
“We have a Congress that will not authorize our use of force,” he added, explaining that a new military intervention would be difficult to bring about.
The discussion in the recording occurred only days after the United States and Russia announced a ceasefire agreement in Geneva, an accord that has since collapsed with reports of regime bombing attacks and the positioning of some 10,000 Syrian regime-aligned troops preparing to advance on Aleppo.
I wonder if he is telling the truth here or just telling a bunch of Syrians what they want to hear. Also, I’d like more clarification on this statement:
Acknowledging that Russia’s military actions have “changed the equation” and made removing Assad more difficult, Kerry suggested that Syrian refugees could one day help eject Assad if given the right to vote.
Does Kerry mean that Syrian refugees could return to Syria and vote Assad out or that they might be given the right to vote in America and vote to support more aggressive American intervention? Given that there won’t be enough Syrian refugees to make an electoral difference in America, I have to assume that he meant the former. If that’s the case, what the heck is he smoking? Does he really think that a tyrant like Assad would allow refugees to return and cast votes against him? Assad is a totalitarian of the first order. The only way he leaves power is in a body bag.

U.S. Outmaneuvered By Russia in Middle East

Russia is playing chess while Obama and Kerry play tiddlywinks.

“Unlike Syria and Iran, Russia has no interest in fighting for territory,” he says.

“Moscow had sought to steadily destroy the moderate Syrian opposition on the battlefield, leaving only jihadist forces in play, and lock the US into a political framework of negotiations that would serve beyond the shelf-life of this administration.

“In both respects, it has been successful.

“Ultimately, the Russian goal is to lock in gains for Syria via ceasefires, while slow-rolling the negotiations to the point that true opposition to the Syrian regime expires on the battlefield, leaving no viable alternatives for the West in this conflict come 2017.

“Russia’s intervention, seeks to minimise losses, relying largely on the ground power of other actors to do most of the fighting, with its officers embedded in order to glue the military effort together and coordinate air strikes.”

No Peace for Syria Any Time Soon

America lacks the world stature and diplomatic acumen to negotiate a cease fire in Syria right now. This is another task that will be left for the next president.

NEW YORK (AP) — The United States and Russia ended any pretenses Thursday of their cease-fire for Syria remaining in force after days of increased violence and the Syrian military’s announcement of a new offensive in Aleppo.

“We can’t go out to the world and say we have an agreement when we don’t,” Secretary of State John Kerry said after meeting the top diplomats from Russia and more than a dozen European and Middle Eastern countries.

Kerry’s statement, after three days of private and public diplomacy on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, provided an ominous endnote to a week diplomats had hoped would be a major capstone toward peace.

Instead, Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who negotiated the truce two weeks ago, went their separate ways as violence in Syria flared up anew and the relationship between the two key foreign powers in the conflict appeared to reach a new low.

No one spoke of being able to quickly resuscitate the cease-fire. While Kerry and Lavrov were set to hold more talks Friday, even confidence-building measures seemed beyond their reach at this point.

[…]

The war has killed as many as a half-million people, contributed to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the Islamic State group to emerge as a global terror threat.

Obama Administration Denies “No Boots on the Ground”

Wow. They aren’t even trying to be creative with the lies. They are just flat out lying and expecting all of us to buy it.

Lee: For months and months and months, the mantra from the president and everyone else in the administration has been, “No boots on the ground,” and now —

Kirby: No, that is not true.

Lee: What?

Kirby: It’s just not true, Matt.

Lee: It is. It’s true!

Kirby: No it’s not. I just flatly, absolutely disagree with you.

Russia Withdraws Forces from Syria

Most of them.

In a surprise move, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his military to start withdrawing the “main part” of its forces in Syria from Tuesday.

He said the Russian intervention had largely achieved its objectives.

The comments come amid fresh peace talks in Geneva aimed at resolving the five-year Syrian conflict.

[…]

Russia’s intervention has achieved its main goals – consolidating President Assad’s position, enabling his forces to re-take key pieces of strategic territory and ensuring that Mr Assad remains a factor in any future Syrian settlement.

Mr Putin said that Russia’s Hmeimim air base in Latakia province and its Mediterranean naval base at Tartus would continue to operate as normal. He said both must be protected “from land, air and sea”.

Once again, Putin thumbs his nose at the international peace process and acts unilaterally. It just shows what a farce that process is. America would be better served acting according to its best interests as a great power and bringing our allies along rather than trying to do everything based on consensus with our enemies.

Assad Goes In for the Kill with Putin’s Help

Nothing makes the enemy easier to kill than convincing them to stop shooting back for a while.

MUNICH/AMMAN (Reuters) – Major powers agreed on Friday to a pause in combat in Syria, but Russia pressed on with bombing in support of its ally President Bashar al-Assad, who vowed to fight until he regained full control of the country.

Although billed as a potential breakthrough, the “cessation of hostilities” agreement does not take effect for a week, at a time when Assad’s government is poised to win its biggest victory of the war with the backing of Russian air power.

Mustard Gas Used in Syria

Red line?

The August 21 incident in Marea, a town about 28 miles (45 kilometers) north of Aleppo, exposed at least two people “to sulfur mustard, and there is reason to believe that a baby might have also suffered and died as a result,” according to an official with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The report doesn’t assign blame and even mention any force involved in Syria’s messy, years-long civil war — including ISIS, the terrorist group that’s taken over swaths of the country, or fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

“It’s very serious because mustard gas is a known chemical weapon,” the OPCW official said. “It’s obviously very, very dangerous and extremely toxic, so it’s a new level of concern.”

“No Boots on the Ground”

No Strategy in Syria

Indeed.

Kaine, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, gave a very cautious welcome to Obama’s shift in policy on Syria last week. The White House announced Friday that the president had ordered up to 50 U.S. special operators to be based in that war-torn country. Those elite commandos will advise and assist rebels who are battling the Islamic State but who also find themselves under fire from forces loyal to strongman Bashar Assad. Kaine said that the White House still lacks a clear strategy for taking on the Islamic State in Syria nearly 16 months after U.S. bombs first starting striking the group.

“They’ve got to put a credible Syria strategy on the table,” Kaine said. “They’ve got to put a strategy on the table that deals with the ISIL third of the problem, with the Assad third of the problem, and with the massive humanitarian disaster third of the problem. And they’re just not doing that.”

Kaine said the administration’s approach to taking on the Islamic State in Iraq was relatively clear, but “in Syria, it’s just not really a strategy.”

Assad Pays Homage to Benefactor

An alliance made in hell.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has visited Moscow on his first overseas trip since the civil war broke out in his country in 2011.

During the surprise visit, he held talks with President Vladimir Putin.

Russia launched air strikes in Syria last month against the so-called Islamic State (IS) and other militant groups battling Mr Assad’s forces.

Russia Hits Enemies From Caspian

Russia appears to be serious about this whole Syria thing.

Russia launches rocket strikes on Islamic State group in Syria from warships in Caspian Sea, Russian officials say