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

15 July 2017

Ceasefire or No, US and Russia Remain ‘A Second or Two Away’ from Accidental War Over Syria


The head of Air Combat Command says one mistake by a pilot in an advanced warplane could mean an unintended escalation in Syria.

A fragile ceasefire may have taken hold in Syria but the country’s airspace — crowded with Russian, U.S., Syrian, and coalition warplanes — is as dangerous as ever, the commander of U.S. Air Combat Command says.

“Every day, we are a second or two away from miscalculation between airmen are flying on top of each other with advanced weapons, which could lead to an escalation in that conflict,” Gen. James M. “Mike” Holmes said at an Air Force Association event on Tuesday.

The fog of war over Syria has been thick since September 2015, when Russian forces arrived to bolster the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. The U.S. and Russian forces immediately set up a deconfliction line, basically a telephone in the U.S. Air Operations Center that connected to directly the Russians’ similar base. But in April, a confusing situation became a tense one after the U.S. fired a series of Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.

With Capture of Mosul From ISIS, Attention Now Turns to Raqqa in Syria


WASHINGTON - The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group may increase airstrikes and overhead surveillance support for the fight to retake Raqqa, Syria, now that the militants have been largely defeated in Mosul, Iraq, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said Tuesday.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told Pentagon reporters he doesn’t see a significant expansion of the U.S. and coalition effort in Raqqa. But he said he thinks there will probably be “a greater level of resourcing,” including intelligence and reconnaissance assets as well as more strikes.

“It will become more of a priority now that Mosul is concluded,” said Townsend.

The added support would aid the U.S.-backed Syrian forces who have encircled Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, breaching the fortified defenses and moving closer to the heart of the city. Officials are predicting a long, tough battle, estimating that more than 2,000 militants are holed up with their families and tens of thousands of civilians in the city’s center.

Townsend, however, cautioned that the battle in Iraq is not over. He said he believes Iraqi troops still need time to oust any remaining IS fighters from Mosul. And once that is done, he said, they will probably take a break to reset and rest before launching their fight against IS in Tal Afar and other remaining insurgent strongholds in western Iraq.

10 July 2017

Is War Between a Rising China and a Dominant America Inevitable?Is the U.S. Flirting with World War III in Syria?

By Tim Joslyn

Beginning as a national protest in 2011, the Syrian conflict has evolved into a complex regional and international conflict. Local protests spread into an armed rebellion, then becoming a national civil war and, finally, a proxy war reminiscent of the Cold War. In the mold of all such conflicts, regional and global powers were involved in the crisis from the civil war’s beginning. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad sought support –– from Russia, Iran, and Lebanon –– to put down rebel forces. As the Islamic State (IS) violently took over a third of Syria and Iraq, America got involved by enlisting a coalition to defend Iraq from IS and push them back into Syria’s eastern territory.

Beyond this simple plan for containment, no clear strategy was established for America’s involvement, what a successful intervention would look like, or an open public discussion of dealing with Russian military involvement. Initially, it was hoped that reclaiming lost Iraqi ground would be the end of U.S. involvement.

President Obama argued IS would only be defeated by engaging them within Syria, placing American forces and weaponry in opposition to Russian, Iranian, and Lebanese forces. Until recently, the armed conflict has been complex and bloody, but outright war between opposing forces has been avoided. However, over the past week, there were worrisome instances of U.S. allied forces being threatened by the Syrian regime and its allies. Once the U.S. fired back, the Russian response significantly raised the specter of a much larger conflict, perhaps even global.

8 July 2017

Russia Deploys a Potent Weapon in Syria: The Profit Motive

By ANDREW E. KRAMER

MOSCOW — The Kremlin is bringing a new weapon to the fight against the Islamic State militant group in Syria, using market-based incentives tied to oil and mining rights to reward private security contractors who secure territory from the extremists, Russian news outlets have reported.

So far, two Russian companies are known to have received contracts under the new policy, according to the reports: Evro Polis, which is set to receive profits from oil and gas wells it seizes from the Islamic State using contract soldiers, and Stroytransgaz, which signed a phosphate-mining deal for a site that was under militant control at the time.

The agreements, made with the Syrian government, are seen as incentives for companies affiliated with Russian security contractors, who reportedly employ about 2,500 soldiers in the country, to push the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, out of territory near Palmyra, in central Syria.

Most Middle Eastern wars are suspected of having some variant of this deal, but it is seldom made as explicit as in the Russian contracts.

“It’s all very simple,” Ivan P. Konovalov, director of the Center for Strategic Trends Studies, said by telephone of the deals, struck in December but just recently reported. “If a company provides security, then the country getting that service should pay. It doesn’t matter how the payment is made.”

7 July 2017

Postscript to the proxy war

Mohamad Bazzi
On June 18, a U.S. warplane shot down a Syrian regime jet after it bombed American-backed rebels in northern Syria — the first time the U.S. has downed a Syrian warplane since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011. Two days later, the Pentagon announced it had shot down an Iranian-made drone in the country’s south-east, where American personnel have been training anti-Islamic State fighters, and where a complex geopolitical battle is unfolding.

Since President Donald Trump took office, the U.S. military has struck the Syrian regime or its allies at least five times. Even if the Pentagon may not want to directly engage Syrian forces, or their Russian and Iranian-backed allies, there’s a danger of accidental escalation, especially as various forces continue to converge on eastern and southern Syria to reclaim strategic territory from the Islamic State (IS).

Mr. Trump’s willingness to use military force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his chief supporters risks sparking a widening confrontation, while distracting from what Mr. Trump insists is his top priority: defeating the IS in both Iraq and Syria. As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump campaigned on a pledge to avoid direct U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict. Today, he has become a major player in a regional proxy war that could determine West Asia’s dynamics for decades.

THE POST-CALIPHATE GAUNTLET IN EASTERN SYRIA

NOAH BONSEY

The war against the Islamic State (ISIL) has hit a pivotal, dangerous phase in eastern Syria. For the Trump administration, this poses a slew of challenges.

Even as a U.S.-backed offensive makes headway into Raqqa, policymakers in Washington must simultaneously address the danger of escalation between rival allies, a complex post-ISIL governance dilemma, and a rising risk of direct escalation with the Syrian regime and its patrons, Iran and Russia. The latter appears especially urgent, following the June 18 downing of a Syrian fighter jet by a U.S. aircraft, and several U.S. strikes on pro-regime forces advancing toward (or otherwise deemed threatening to) U.S. personnel and partner forces since May 18.

Thus far, the White House has emphasized two priorities in Syria: to gain ground from ISIL as quickly as possible, and to limit U.S. investment to the minimum required for immediate military objectives. A third priority, countering Iran’s influence, features prominently in the administration’s messaging, but has yet to be fleshed-out within its Syria policy.

The United States needs to address the tension among these objectives. What is fast and cheap often proves fragile and costly in the long run. And sliding into an escalatory cycle with Iran would not only endanger progress against ISIL, but also potentially redound to Tehran’s advantage. Two lessons from the post-2003 U.S. experience in Iraq seem apt: First, impressive military gains may give way to jihadist resurgence if fundamental threats to stability are left unaddressed. And second, Iran’s patience and proxy network render it formidable in a war of attrition.

4 July 2017

How America Armed Terrorists in Syria


Three-term Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, has proposed legislation that would prohibit any U.S. assistance to terrorist organizations in Syria as well as to any organization working directly with them. Equally important, it would prohibit U.S. military sales and other forms of military cooperation with other countries that provide arms or financing to those terrorists and their collaborators.

Gabbard’s “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” challenges for the first time in Congress a U.S. policy toward the conflict in the Syrian civil war that should have set off alarm bells long ago: in 2012-13 the Obama administration helped its Sunni allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar provide arms to Syrian and non-Syrian armed groups to force President Bashar al-Assad out of power. And in 2013 the administration began to provide arms to what the CIA judged to be “relatively moderate” anti-Assad groups—meaning they incorporated various degrees of Islamic extremism.

That policy, ostensibly aimed at helping replace the Assad regime with a more democratic alternative, has actually helped build up al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise al Nusra Front into the dominant threat to Assad.

2 July 2017

America’s War against ISIS Is Evolving into an Invasion of Syria


As ISIS crumbles, the chances for conflict with the Assad regime increase. 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. Yet when ideals meet the hatred and confusion of the Middle East, ideals always lose. 

US Should Stand Off In Syria; Not A Core Interest

By Daniel L. Davis

After a U.S. F-18 shot down a Syrian fighter-bomber last week, Assad’s ally, Russia, declared that it would consider shooting down any U.S. aircraft west of the Euphrates river. The White House defiantly declared the US would defend itself if attacked. Risking a war with a nuclear power over a Syrian policy that does not advance core American interests is foolhardy. We must make an immediate change in strategy. 

The overriding imperative for the U.S. Government is to ensure the security of the U.S. Homeland and its people abroad. Secondly, it is to expand global trade and improve the domestic U.S. economy. While fostering and encouraging the spread of democracy abroad remains a U.S. interest, it is not a core interest on par with the first two. Given these criteria, our current Middle East and Syria policies require considerable and immediate adjustment.

The primary justification for U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war is the requirement to destroy Daesh’s (aka the Islamic State) self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. To accomplish that goal, the Pentagon supports indigenous forces with airpower and select U.S. ground troops. But even if that goal were one day accomplished, it would neither solve the civil war nor remove the threat of Islamic terrorism to the United States. The region is a volatile, violent mix of a myriad of aggressive and competing interests.

Charles Krauthammer: It's the end of the beginning in the great Muslim civil war


WASHINGTON —

The U.S. shoots down a Syrian fighter-bomber. Iran launches missiles into eastern Syria. Russia threatens to attack coalition aircraft west of the Euphrates. What is going on?

It might appear a mindless mess, but the outlines are clear. The great Muslim civil war, centred in Syria, is approaching its post-Islamic State phase. It’s the end of the beginning. The parties are maneuvering to shape what comes next.

It’s Europe, 1945, when the war was still raging against Nazi Germany, but everyone already knew the outcome. The maneuvering was largely between the approaching victors — the Soviet Union and the Western democracies — to determine postwar boundaries and spheres of influence.

So it is today in Syria. Everyone knows that the Islamic State is finished. Not that it will disappear as an ideology, insurgency and source of continuing terrorism both in the region and the West. But it will disappear as an independent, organized, territorial entity in the heart of the Middle East.

It is being squeezed out of existence. Its hold on Mosul, its last major redoubt in Iraq, is nearly gone. Raqqa, its stronghold in Syria and de facto capital, is next. When it falls — it is already surrounded on three sides — the caliphate dies.

Much of the fighting today is about who inherits. Take the Syrian jet the U.S. shot down. It had been attacking a pro-Western Kurdish and Arab force (the Syrian Democratic Forces) not far from Islamic State territory.

30 June 2017

Mattis: After Raqqa, Syrian Battlefield Will Only Get More Complicated

by The Washington Post

As the fight against the Islamic State moves beyond its de facto capital in Raqqa, the Pentagon is readying itself for an increasingly complex battlefield in northern Syria, where U.S.-backed forces, pro-Syrian government troops and Russian jets will likely all be fighting near one another.

Speaking to reporters on his way to Germany Monday to meet with European allies, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis spoke broadly about the U.S. military’s future operations against the Islamic State in the Euphrates River Valley, adding that it will take “more precision” to stave off any incidents between the disparate forces operating there.

“You have to play this thing very carefully,” Mattis said. “The closer we get, the more complex it gets.”

Mattis also acknowledged that the U.S. would continue to supply Kurdish forces in the north with weapons despite objections by U.S. ally Turkey. “When they don’t need them anymore we’ll replace them with what they do need,” he said.

29 June 2017

East-West-North-South: The Race for Syria after the Islamic State


According to Udi Dekel, the race for territorial control in post-ISIS Syria now pits Iran, which has established a horizontal (east-west) axis, against America, which has created a vertical (north-south) one. Of particular concern is the war-torn country’s southern region, where contacts are seemingly underway between Israel, Jordan and the United States in order to formulate a joint strategy that will prevent the spread of Iranian influence in the area.

Increasing signs are pointing to the impending fall of the Islamic State in Syria, which has suffered a series of defeats in recent months. The territory in eastern Syria that will be freed of Islamic State control now constitutes a focus of the major struggle between the United States and Iran in Syria, as both are striving to seize the area. Early June marked the onset of the final phase of the US-led coalition’s offensive to conquer the city of Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State in Syria, with a combined Kurdish-Arab (though predominantly Kurdish) ground force – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – and air support provided by the international coalition, including the United States, other Western countries, and Arab states. At the same time, Iran and its proxies have also started intensifying efforts aimed at shaping Syria the day after the fall of the Islamic State. Forces of the pro-Assad coalition are currently trying to expand their control in the Deir ez-Zor region and improve their access to Raqqa and the surrounding area, and also seize key positions along the Syrian-Iraqi border.

How America Armed Terrorists in Syria

By GARETH PORTER 

Three-term Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, has proposed legislation that would prohibit any U.S. assistance to terrorist organizations in Syria as well as to any organization working directly with them. Equally important, it would prohibit U.S. military sales and other forms of military cooperation with other countries that provide arms or financing to those terrorists and their collaborators.

Gabbard’s “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” challenges for the first time in Congress a U.S. policy toward the conflict in the Syrian civil war that should have set off alarm bells long ago: in 2012-13 the Obama administration helped its Sunni allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar provide arms to Syrian and non-Syrian armed groups to force President Bashar al-Assad out of power. And in 2013 the administration began to provide arms to what the CIA judged to be “relatively moderate” anti-Assad groups—meaning they incorporated various degrees of Islamic extremism.

27 June 2017

The Danger of Mission Creep in Syria

Emma M. Ashford

On Sunday, a U.S. Navy fighter jet shot down one of Bashar al-Assad’s warplanes attacking U.S.-allied Syrian forces, drawing the United States deeper into that conflict. Raising tensions with Russia and potentially placing American troops in danger, this action was just another in a long line of tactical decisions which increase U.S. involvement in Syria without any viable long-term strategy for resolving or exiting the civil war.

Much of the criticism has focused on President Donald Trump’s impulsive and pugnacious personality. While Trump has accelerated this process, he is not wholly to blame for the slippery slope that the United States is now sliding down in Syria. The Obama administration resisted large-scale escalation, but their choices nonetheless contributed directly to today’s haphazard Syria strategy. The Trump administration needs to decide what it wants to achieve in Syria now, or the inevitable logic of mission creep may rob them of the ability to choose.

Obama’s Syrian Wars

24 June 2017

As ISIS Shrinks in Syria, the US and Iran Draw Closer to Conflict

BY MOHAMAD BAZZI

On Sunday evening, a U.S. warplane shot down a Syrian jet after it bombed American-backed rebels in northern Syria. This marked the first time the United States has downed a Syrian warplane since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011. On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced that the United States had shot down an Iranian-made drone in the country’s southeast, where American personnel have been training anti-Islamic State fighters. 

Since President Donald Trump took office, the U.S. military has struck the Syrian regime or its allies at least five times, in most cases to protect U.S.-backed rebels and their American advisers. Even if the Pentagon may not want to directly engage Syrian forces or their Russian and Iranian-backed allies, there’s a danger of accidental escalation, especially as various forces continue to converge on eastern and southern Syria to reclaim strategic territory from ISIS. Russia, for its part, angrily condemned the U.S. action and threatened on Monday to treat all coalition planes in Syria as potential targets

But the dangers are perhaps particularly acute when it comes to Iran, which made dramatic battlefield moves of its own on Sunday, when it launched several missiles from inside Iran against ISIS targets in eastern Syria. Officially, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said the volley of missiles fired at Deir Ezzor province was a response to a pair of attacks by ISIS in Tehran on June 7, which killed 18 people and wounded dozens; the attacks marked the first time that ISIS had struck inside Iran. But the Iranian regime had several less-dramatic means to exact revenge against ISIS targets in Syria—after all, there’s no shortage of Iranian allies operating in the war-ravaged country. 

22 June 2017

The stakes in Syria now include US-Russia war

By Ralph Peters

The stakes in Syria just jumped mighty high. Syrian troops attacked the anti-ISIS fighters we back. We warned them to knock it off. In reply, a Syrian aircraft struck our allies. An American jet shot it down.

Now the Russian government says it will view as hostile any manned aircraft or drone flying west of the Euphrates River. That means us.

Were we to accept Russia’s ultimatum, we could not support our allies and we’d be shut out of the endgame battle with ISIS when, as Raqqa falls, the terrorists make a last stand at Deir ez-Zor (a city with a grim history: It was the end-station for Armenian genocide victims death-marched across the desert).

The technical wording of their threat allows the Russians a little bit of leeway, but what makes the pronouncement dangerous is that it’s public — making it hard for Vladimir Putin to back down. Of course, Putin’s a gambler, and a canny one. He may be bluffing. But we can’t count on it. We must assume his forces in Syria are already setting ambushes for our aviators.

Meanwhile, the Russian media, in a Big Lie mode excessive even by Moscow’s shameless standards, insist US troops on the ground are supporting ISIS, while the noble Syrian forces — alongside their selfless Russian and Iranian comrades — are the only ones fighting the terrorists.

21 June 2017

SYRIA WAR: THE BATTLE FOR THE CAPITAL OF ISIS – PART I & II

BY YALENSIS‎

Dear Readers:

You may be aware that the Syria War entered a new stage in the past week or so. Things are looking up for the combined forces of the Syrian Army, with assistance from the Russian armed forces and also Hezbollah. Syrian tanks made a Rommel-like “lightning move” eastward all the way to the Iraqi border, cutting off ISIS/Daesh units from their Iraqi supplies. While this was going on, the pro-American so-called “coalition forces” entered Raqqa. Like the wiki says, Raqqa, a strategic Syrian city located on the Northeast bank of the Euphrates River, was captured by ISIS in 2013 and became the capital of their Islamic State.

The Headchoppers had their day in the sun, but now their time is almost up. It’s not an issue of “if”, but of “when” and “who”. And the race is on: the Americans seeking to gain some advantage and carve up the Syrian carcass to their own advantage. On the other side: the Syrian government and their Russian allies seeking to keep Syria together in one piece, while making some internal adjustments to benefit, for example, the Kurds.

To help explain the highly fluid military situation, I have this piece from VZGLIAD, by military/intelligence reporter Evgeny Krutikov. The headline reads:

The Battle for ISIS Capital City will Prove a Tough Slog for the Americans

The lede paragraph translates thusly:

The Syrian Opposition, with the assistance of the U.S., hastily entered Raqqa, the capital of ISIS, in an attempt to overtake the pro-government Syrian forces. For the Americans it is a matter of principle to overtake Assad’s forces and to not allow the Shiites to gain control over the borders of the Syrian Arab Republic. The question now is: Will they succeed? It is not excluded that the Americans will find an unpleasant surprise waiting for them.

20 June 2017

Backgrounder on Russia’s Military Intervention in Syria: 2015-Date

Russia’s announcement that the Islamic State group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been killed in a Russian airstrike in Syria in late May — if confirmed — would be a huge military coup for Moscow as a key player in Syria’s civil war and strengthen its hand in future peace talks.

It would also mark a climax in Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, in which it has sided with President Bashar Assad’s government, from the first days of the air campaign two years ago to boots on the ground in the city of Aleppo.

The airstrike would also highlight the capabilities of Russia’s modernized military, which has tested new precision weapons in Syria.

Here are some key moments in Russia’s military campaign in Syria.

QUICK DEPLOYMENT

A series of major battlefield defeats suffered by Assad’s army in 2015 prompted Moscow to intervene to protect its long-time ally. On August 26, 2015, Russia signed a deal with the Syrian government on deploying an air force contingent and other military assets at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s province of Latakia, the heartland of Assad’s Alawite religious minority.

Backgrounder on Russia’s Military Intervention in Syria: 2015-Date

Russia’s announcement that the Islamic State group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been killed in a Russian airstrike in Syria in late May — if confirmed — would be a huge military coup for Moscow as a key player in Syria’s civil war and strengthen its hand in future peace talks.

It would also mark a climax in Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, in which it has sided with President Bashar Assad’s government, from the first days of the air campaign two years ago to boots on the ground in the city of Aleppo.

The airstrike would also highlight the capabilities of Russia’s modernized military, which has tested new precision weapons in Syria.

Here are some key moments in Russia’s military campaign in Syria.

QUICK DEPLOYMENT

A series of major battlefield defeats suffered by Assad’s army in 2015 prompted Moscow to intervene to protect its long-time ally. On August 26, 2015, Russia signed a deal with the Syrian government on deploying an air force contingent and other military assets at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s province of Latakia, the heartland of Assad’s Alawite religious minority.

In a matter of weeks, Russia’s military built up the base so it could host dozens of Russian jets. It delivered thousands of tons of military equipment and supplies by sea and heavy-lift cargo planes in an operation dubbed the “Syrian Express.” On Sept. 30, Moscow declared the launch of its air campaign in Syria — Russia’s first military action outside the former Soviet Union since the federation’s collapse.

19 June 2017

THE TROUBLE WITH TANF: TACTICS DRIVING STRATEGY IN SYRIA

AARON STEIN

In what represents the biggest change to America’s use of force in Syria, U.S. forces have, on three separate occasions, struck Syrian government-allied militias. The incidents happened near Tanf, a border town seized by Syrian rebel groups trained in Jordan from the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIL, in March 2016. In all three cases, we are told, the strikes were nothing more than force protection measures and didn’t signify a major change in U.S. policy. U.S. General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made this point on May 19, just one day after the first strike, telling reporters, “That was a force protection strike. Our commanders on the ground felt like they were threatened at that point. And their rules of engagement allow them to do that.”

Yet, despite efforts to portray these strikes as one-off reactions to Syrian backed provocations, the attacks risk expanding the goals of the military campaign, currently aimed solely at defeating the Islamic State. America’s use of military force appears to be unfolding independent of any broader strategic or political guidance. It is not clear how these actions align with broader foreign policy goals. This lack of clarity allows tactical decisions (i.e., the need to protect U.S. forces) to dictate strategy. In this case, the purported link between the militias struck and Iran, the most important backer of Syria’s Bashar al Assad, risks a broader escalation — perhaps one that some hawkish voices in the Trump administration would welcome.