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Thread: Syria in 2015

  1. #41
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Crowbat,

    Thank you for that critique of the Brookings report. I can sometimes discern what the think tanks, advocacy groups and more within 'The Beltway' is simply wrong. It is as if their audience is within 'The Beltway', hence my practice of posting viewpoints from elsewhere.

    Understandably external access to Syria is harder today than at the start of the protests; not just for the media and recently I read how external charities & NGOs were having greater difficulties.

    One small aspect of the civil war has been the blockading of Yarmouk, a refugee populated Damascus suburb, where Palestinian factions fight on both sides. The terrible conditions that ensued got intermittent media reporting here. Not once have I spotted any Palestinian objections from outside Syria. "Pawns in the middle" being crushed comes to mind.
    Link to a slim Wiki account:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarmouk_Camp
    davidbfpo

  2. #42
    Council Member CrowBat's Avatar
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    Point is:

    - 'coordination on the battlefield', even 'joint operations' with an 'al-Qaida-linked group', is not the same like:

    - 'subjecting oneself to al-Qaida's rule', 'intending to wage a global Jihad', or whatever of that kind.

    Crucial matter of fact is: the JAN is there, USA not. Period.

    And since the JAN is there, and fighitng the very same regime other insurgents are fighting - even fighting the Daesh - they're in touch with it. Sometimes 'closely coordinating' operations with it. Other times they have contacts of other 'quality': see what happened to the SRF and the Harakat Hazzm, both of which learned the wrong way how such contacts usually end...

    Doesn't mean anybody there is looking forward to join al-Qaida and go crashing airliners against skyscrapers.

    (Hell... I've had contact to an al-Qaida group, back in late summer 1990. I just didn't know I've had it [and nobody called it 'al-Qaida' back then]. Doesn't mean I would ever come to the idea to join or even support it.)

    Now, compare this with US standpoints towards various insurgent groups, with on/off provision of 'aid' and - more often - cancellation of any aid as soon as regime is on advance etc. Foremost: compare this with the US letting all possible of its allies support extremists while these were exterminating moderates.

    What should one expect the insurgents to do?

    Sorry that joining the USA and declaring themselves the 51st federal state as 'thanks' for all 'support' they've got does not appear as a viable option to most of them...

  3. #43
    Council Member CrowBat's Avatar
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    Here a good example for 'close coordination':
    ...militants of the Syrian Al-Qaeda group “Jabhat Al-Nusra” and the 1st Brigade of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have captured this southern Dara’a city...
    As usually, this operation was run by the FSA (i.e. 'Southern Front'), which is using JAN idiots as suicide bombers and cannon fodder of all sorts. Under pressure, the NDF collapsed and fled.

    Ever since, the regime's 52nd Brigade is counterattacking. Supposedly, they are 'in full control over the castle' meanwhile, but regime admits that 'fierce clashes' are ongoing.

    Actually, it seems the JAN and the FSA are after the Suwaida AB, nearby, with Bosra being only a 'diversion'.

    BTW, Bosra is a lovely town. Centrepiece are ancient Roman ruins... including a completely reconstructed amphitheatre (surrounded by a medieval castle), basilica from the 3rd or 4th Century, giant water cistern, and a thermal bath. Hope, something of all of that is going to stay intact...
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    Last edited by CrowBat; 03-25-2015 at 12:17 PM.

  4. #44
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Egypt's Vietnam

    Citing only one question:
    Quote Originally Posted by flagg View Post
    Is Egypt's experience in Yemen in the 1960's relevant to Syria?
    Hat tip to Greg Johnsen on Twitter. Have you seen this book: Nasser's Gamble: How Intervention in Yemen Caused the Six-Day War and the Decline of Egyptian Power by Jesse Ferris, pub. 2012:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...A=0&pldnSite=1
    davidbfpo

  5. #45
    Council Member CrowBat's Avatar
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    This is now going to drag us away from topic, but...

    I've read the book above, it's really a good and fascinating read, but I cannot really agree with its thesis.

    Primary reason is Ferris' failure of considering a crucial document unearthed from Polish archives few years ago. The document in question, On Soviet Policy Following the Israeli Aggression in the Middle East is clearly showing that it was certain Comrade Brezhnev that provoked the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War - although unintentionally. Instead of finding out about this, Ferris is guessing about Nasser's reason for 'remilitarization of the Sinai' (expression which is a pure hogwash: Egyptian military never completely 'demilitarized' the Sinai before the June 1967 War; for example, el-Arish and Meliz/Bir Gifgafa were two major air bases with permanently deployed units, and there was a host of other, permanently based units in the area). Becasue of this, he'd drawing a multitude of wrong conclusions.

    Next reason is Ferris' failure to understand the 'private', indeed 'personal' dimension in relations between Nasser and Johnson. Surely, after all of his earlier blunders, Nasser was in deep trouble - at home and in the Arab world of the mid-1960s. However, it was the latter that never forgot that it was 'Nasser's MiG-21s' that have shot down a C-82A Packet transport with certain John Meachan, one of Johnson's closest friends, on board, in December 1964. And since Johnson wouldn't accept the fact that Mechan's aircraft violated the Egyptian airspace and then refused repeated requests to land and warning shots across its nose... well, this was one of crucial reasons for Johnson's suspension of the Food for Peace program which brought Egypt to the verge of bankrupcy and drove it directly into Soviet hands...

    Another reason... while much can be said about FM Amer's incompetence, corruption, even naivety and particularly weak nerves (as shown during the Suez War of 1956 and again in June War 1967), he cannot be blamed for 'lacking military skill' (just a citate from Ferris). He lacked higher military education (he never underwent any courses abouve those of the rank of Major, in early 1950s, but was promoted from Major straight to Field Marshal because of friendship with Nasser), no doubt. But, even Pollak in 'Arabs at War' is praising Amer's planning and leadership during COIN Operation Ramadan, in March 1963 not only as 'successful' but indeed for causing crippling losses to Yemeni Royalists and pushing them to the verge of defeat.

    Talking about Nasser's and Amer's relationship as of May-June 1967: yes, Nasser was concerned Amer might launch a coup (and it seems Amer was indeed planning one), but there was also a strict distribution of duties between them. Nasser didn't meddle into military affairs, and Amer didn't meddle into Nasser's political decisions. So if, as Ferris is explaining, Nasser became overconfident in Egyptian aerial supremacy (over Israel), then this happened not because of any experiences from Yemen, but because Nasser asked Amer (and other top commanders) - and that repeatedly - and they all told him that they are going to enjoy aerial supremacy over Israel, IF they attack as first (this is arguable at best, but that's another story). Informed by multiple sources that Israelis are about attack, Nasser killed all such ideas and ordered them to wait and receive the first Israeli blow instead. That's what one can read in such original Egyptian documents like 'Document 44' (Results of official investigation into Egyptian military failure during the June 1967 War).

    And so on and so on....

    Overall, while Ferris' book is certainly a very serious study (much more so than 'Foxbats over Dimona' hogwash, just for example), very informative and trully a great read, it's lacking in multipe details, and thus drawing wrong conclusions again.

    Decline in Egyptian military power of the 1960s was a self-inflicted affair, caused by Amer's corruption, nepotism, overcentralized command, and insistence on removing any officers that were showing even traces of own initative or of being 'warriors'. This was a process that resulted in obsolete and unrealistic military planning, near-idiotic procurrement decisions etc. What eventually happened to Egyptians in Yemen was a result of that failure, and not vice-versa - although there is little doubt that the costly war in Yemen has accelerated the bankrupcy of Egypt under Nasser in general.

    And to come back to the original question: nope, I do not think that Egypt's experiences from Yemen in 1960s are relevant to Syria.

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    Cheers Davidfpbo and CrowBat!

    Thanks for the links, analysis, and commentary.

  7. #47
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default What the fall of Idlib means: five points

    Scott Lucas has a short comment and starts with:
    Last Saturday, after a four-day offensive, rebels captured Idlib in northwest Syria, the third provincial capital lost by the Assad regime in Syria’s four-year conflict. The five major lessons of Idlib for the winners (the rebels, the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra), the losers (the Assad regime, mainstream media), and those on the side (the US, the Islamic State).
    Link:http://eaworldview.com/2015/04/syria...feat-in-idlib/
    davidbfpo

  8. #48
    Council Member CrowBat's Avatar
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    'For the records': JAN - aka Jabhat an-Nusra - didn't capture Idlib alone.

    It was just one part of the body named Jaysh al-Fatah. This is sort of 'temporary coalition' including Ahrar ash-Sham, JAN, Jund al-Aqsa, Faylaq ash-Sham, Ajnad ash-Sham, Liwa al-Haqq, Jaysh as-Sunnah and few others (mostly from the IF and the FSyA).

    As can be seen by now, and contrary to plenty of expectations, the JAN didn't declare a 'caliphate' with capital in Idlib either. Reason: it's not alone in posession of that city. On the contrary, Ahrar ash-Sham is something like 'in charge' there, and they have said that all the citizens are to be treated in same fashion, no matter of their confession.

    Correspondingly:

    - the JAN is not the only 'winner' of that battle (which, BTW, is going on, with elements of Jaysh al-Fatah fighting at several points further south, including Ariha, al-Mastoumah etc.)

    - describing the JAN - a group at least 50% of which are foreign Jihadists - as 'Islamists' makes one wonder how would that author call Ahrar (Salafists) and the IF (actual 'Islamists' here, in sense of being 'deeply religious Sunnis')?

    - the 'Islamic State', aka Daesh, has no stakes in Idlib, because it was kicked out of there already in January 2014.

    The USA even less so, especially since it abandoned the SRF and then the Hazzm, leaving them at the mercy of the JAN.

  9. #49
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Afghan Hazaras fighting in Aleppo

    A Der Spiegel report that explains how a few Hazaras have been captured fighting for the Assad regime in Aleppo. Coerced mercenaries who no-one cares for. Plus a description of recent fighting in the city:
    Exact numbers are hard to come by, but some 700 of them are thought to have lost their lives in Aleppo and Daraa alone. What's worse, most of them don't come completely on their own free will.
    Link:http://www.spiegel.de/international/...a-1032869.html
    davidbfpo

  10. #50
    Council Member CrowBat's Avatar
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    The Daesh has de-facto overrun Palmyra, the last few days. They have certainly secured all the nearby gasfields, some of underground storage facilities outside the town, and most of the town by now.

    The NDF (including the 18th Tank Battalion of the ex-SyAA) was forced to withdraw into the local air base and into magnificent ruins of ancient Palmyra (UNESCO's 'World Herritage Site'), where it's attempting to put up something like 'last ditch defence' now.

    With most of local archeological sites looted (by the regime) already back in 2012, guess it's time to say farewell to some of local sights now too...
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  11. #51
    Council Member CrowBat's Avatar
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    Here few additional photos... (showing the oasis and the 'downtown' of the ancient city, including the famous Bell Temple)...
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  12. #52
    Council Member Firn's Avatar
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    Years ago I actually planned to make a tour into the larger region where so many human activities have left traces small and great. Destruction and war are nothing new, but I have to say that the degree of ideologic zeal of the current fanatics does stand out, and sadly not only compared to our information age.

    As I have no idea about the current conflict I'm quite surprised that Palmyra has fallen so quickly to the Daesh, but then again so have many other, larger cities.
    Last edited by Firn; 05-21-2015 at 08:17 PM.
    ... "We need officers capable of following systematically the path of logical argument to its conclusion, with disciplined intellect, strong in character and nerve to execute what the intellect dictates"

    General Ludwig Beck (1880-1944);
    Speech at the Kriegsakademie, 1935

  13. #53
    Council Member CrowBat's Avatar
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    Yes, the sudden fall of Palmyra is a surprise. On one side. On the other it's not. It's like Ramadi: local population is - or better said: was (then, I doubt many of them are going to survive the next few days) - staunchly anti-Assad. Neither Alawites nor Druze have any sympathies for them, while the Daesh is going to slaughter anybody it suspects for cooperation with the regime, or any kind of anti-Daesh thoughts.

    Back in 2012, the regime brutally crushed the local uprisng and ever since held the area 'only' for reasons like:
    - local air base was one of major links to Iran
    - Palmyra lies on the road connecting Damascus with Dayr az-Zawr
    - Palmyra is covering the eastern side of T-4 AB, the most important of all of Syria, and
    - there is a large number of extensive underground storage depots around the town.

    Now, when the regime lacks the troop strenght to fight there, it just run away. And the local population is going to pay dearly for regime's idiotic tactics of cooperating with the Daesh.

  14. #54
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Syria has chemical weapons: proving it

    A short BBC article by SME on 'The challenge of assessing Syria's chemical weapons' when the regime has declared it has none:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-32778193

    He asks:
    So is the Syria declaration complete? Are chemical weapons still being used in Syria? And why is it so difficult to monitor what weapons they still have?

    (He concludes) But to prove the use of chlorine as a weapon, let alone determine the perpetrator, will be a huge challenge.
    The author is:
    Jerry Smith is the former head of contingency operations at the OPCW. He was the deputy head of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission to Syria.
    Temporary thread for visibility. Chemical Weapons feature in several threads on Syria and that dreaded phrase 'red lines'.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 05-26-2015 at 04:22 PM. Reason: This was a stand alone thread, now merged.
    davidbfpo

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    This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. The moderate Syrians that we're training are threatening to quit if they're not allowed to fight Assad. Since Assad has killed tens of thousands of Syrians it is unrealistic (the nicest term I can come up with) to assume that the moderates will act as our proxies and only fight ISIS, while at the same time ignoring their other existential threat Assad. Another reason we should probably just stay out of this conflict with the current executive in the White House not leading. His policy advisors are certified idiots. Sadly, but understandably, MG Nagata has apparently resigned from leading the effort.

    Exclusive: Key Rebels Ready to Quit U.S. Fight Vs. ISIS

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/article...t-vs-isis.html

    A centerpiece of the U.S. war plan against ISIS is in danger of collapsing. A key rebel commander and his men are ready to ready to pull out in frustration of the U.S. program to train a rebel army to beat back the terror group in Syria, The Daily Beast has learned.
    “[My men] don’t want to be beholden to this policy because it can be used against them in Syria—that they’ve betrayed the revolution and now they’re just mercenaries for the coalition forces,” Sejari said.
    If ISIS is our only concern, then we should have just supported Assad. It appears we're indirectly doing that anyway.

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    From the SWJ News roundup this morning.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/...4ae_story.html

    While nobody was looking, the Islamic State launched a new, deadly offensive

    If the Islamic State seized the area, it would also extend its reach along the Turkish border, amplifying its capacity to secure supplies and smuggle in foreign fighters at a time when Turkey’s government has imposed severe restrictions on travelers along its 580-mile border with Syria.
    The battle brought into focus the complexity of the war in Syria, where the Islamic State, the government of President Bashar al-Assad, the opposition and Syrian Kurds are fighting .

    The opposition had been on the brink of launching an offensive to push weakened government troops out of the loyalist-
    controlled portion of Aleppo city and were unprepared for the attack on their northern flank.
    http://www.voanews.com/content/islam...y/2803120.html

    IS Gains in Syria Threaten Rebel Links to Turkey


    Islamic extremists overran three towns in northern Syria this weekend, capturing them from Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels and Islamist brigades as Syrian warplanes struck widely across the north of the country, dropping barrel bombs on towns controlled by both competing insurgent groups.

    Despite FSA claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, were coordinating their attacks, two of the biggest barrel bombs were dropped on the town of Al Bab, controlled by Islamic State
    .

    As it has been long said, the truth is the first casualty in war. Is Assad coordinating with ISIL, or are resistance elements attempting to sway western opinion to change their existing policy that is at best ambivalent regarding Assad staying power, and at worst supports Assad staying in power?

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    Assad regime coordination with IS has been documented during many occasions during the conflict, with both sides content to eliminate rebel groups before turning full attention to each other. It seems that government forces have only confronted IS when key interests were at stake. Of course there are very notable exceptions including the IS seizure of Raqqa and most recently Palmyra from government control. It is very interesting seeing close coordination between IS and Assad so soon after Palmyra's loss.

    In some respects however, the current partnership in northern Syria has been in both sides interests. The regime wants to halt continued rebel advances from the north at all costs. IS does as well, but for the likely reason of leaving additional regime controlled population centers available for attacks in the future. Indications continue to be received that western support for rebel forces is focused on developing capabilities against the IS threat, not for their operations against the Assad regime given. The US reportedly does not want to risk relations with Iran degrading to the point of US advisory operations in Iraq being under threat from Shia militia groups. There seems to be a lot going on in terms of relationships and shifting priorities to say the least.

  18. #58
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Spioenkop's irregular blogs on the war are IMHO essential reading, especially when you read passages like this:
    ...the SyAAF remains largely unable to respond to actual developments, and often only joins the fray after the battle on the ground has been fought, better coordination between regime forces on the ground and SyAAF aircraft and helicopters in the sky is required to fully optimise the assests available at T4. Furthermore, the desperate revenge strikes flown by the SyAAF on recently lost towns could be stopped to spare not only the life of the many innocent civilians killed during these sorties, but also the precious airframes used in these useless sorties, with the wasted flight-hours instead allocated to supporting the regime's ground forces.
    Link:http://spioenkop.blogspot.co.uk/2015...se-at-war.html
    davidbfpo

  19. #59
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    ...If ISIS is our only concern, then we should have just supported Assad. It appears we're indirectly doing that anyway.
    ...and commentary of this kind is exactly why those Assadists thugs have done whatever was possible to help create and support the growth and spread of the Daesh (in Syria, and in Iraq).

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    I just posted this over in the Iraq thread but thought I should mention it here as well. I just did an interview with Fmr Amb. Robert Ford who was US Ambassador to Syria from 2011-2014. He talked about U.S. policy in both countries and what should be done. Here's a link.

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