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Ed Webb

Leaving - 0 views

  • It will seem counterintuitive to many that someone would trade “senior official” status for a job in a “think tank” to exert more influence. But I had concluded in the late summer of 2012 that President Barack Obama’s words of a year earlier about Assad stepping aside were empty, and that my efforts in government to bring dead words to life were futile. 

    Instead of implementing what had sounded like the commander-in-chief’s directive, the State Department was saddled in August 2012 by the White House with a make-work, labor-intensive project cataloguing the countless things that would have to be in place for a post-Assad Syria to function. But how to get to post-Assad? The White House had shut down the sole interagency group examining options for achieving that end.
  • My job since April 2009, as a deputy to Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell, was to build a foundation for Syrian-Israeli and eventually Israeli-Lebanese peace. Progress on the former seemed to be happening. Yet by using deadly force on his own citizens, Assad ended, perhaps forever, a process that might have recovered for Syria the territory lost by his Minister of Defense father in 1967. 

    When the full story of Syria’s betrayal by a family and its entourage is written, the decision of Assad to sink a potentially promising peace mediation will merit a chapter.
  • President Obama would caricature external alternatives by creating and debating straw men: invented idiots calling for the invasion and occupation of Syria. 

    He would deal with internal dissent by taking officials through multi-step, worst-case, hypothetical scenarios of what might happen in the wake of any American attempt, no matter how modest, to complicate regime mass murder. The ‘logical’ result would inevitably involve something between World War III and an open-ended, treasury-draining American commitment. 

    The result of these exercises in self-disarmament would be Vladimir Putin and his ilk concluding that American power was, as a practical matter, equal to Palau’s; Ukraine could be dismembered, NATO allies threatened, and the United States itself harassed with impunity. He did not mean to do it, but Barack Obama’s performance in Syria produced global destabilization.
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  • It was not until the fall of 2014 when it became clear what was motivating him. The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon reported on a “secret” letter from the president to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, in which (among other things) Mr. Obama reportedly assured Khamenei that American military power aimed at ISIS (ISIL, Islamic State, Daesh) in Syria would not target the Assad regime. But why give Khamenei such a reckless assurance, one that would surely be relayed to Assad, enhancing his already massive sense of impunity, with deadly consequences for Syrian civilians?
  • if necessary, apply modest military measures to complicate civilian mass murder, and not only when the murder weapon is sarin nerve agent. 
  • The Trump administration is infinitely more open to considering policy alternatives than was its predecessor. Yet in Washington’s hyper-partisan state, some who fully understood and opposed the catastrophic shortcomings of the Obama approach to Syria reflexively criticize anything the new administration does or considers doing to end the Assad regime’s free ride for civilian slaughter. Letting Syrian civilians pay the price for self-serving political motives may never go out of style in some Western political circles.
  • I remain hopeful that American leaders will, at last, arrive at a Syria policy worthy of the United States. 

    Such a policy would stabilize a post-ISIS Syria east of the Euphrates River in a way that would encourage the emergence of a Syrian governmental alternative to a crime family and its murderous entourage. 
  • Tehran was indeed dependent on Bashar al-Assad to provide strategic depth for and support to its own jewel in the crown: Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Barack Obama feared that protecting Syrian civilians could anger Iran and cause it to walk away from nuclear talks. From his point of view, the prices paid by Syrians, Syria’s neighbors, and American allies in the region and beyond were worth the grand prize. It seems never to have occurred to him that Iran wanted the nuclear deal for its own reasons, and did not require being appeased in Syria. I was told by senior Iranian ex-officials in track II discussions that they were stunned and gratified by American passivity in Syria.
  • such a policy, while being open to any genuine offer of Russian cooperation in Syria, would recognize that (in the words of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats) “Frankly, the United States is under attack.” He was referring to Russia.
Ed Webb

The Trump administration's mixed messages on Syria - Axios - 0 views

  • President Trump, the Pentagon, and the State Department made conflicting statements about U.S. involvement in Syria on Thursday
    • President Trump: "We'll be coming out of Syria like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon, very soon we're coming out."
    • Pentagon: "Important work remains to ensure the lasting defeat these violent extremists....We cannot allow our focus to deviate from the most important task of eliminating ISIS from the region...We will continue to support the SDF."
    • State Department: Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she is unaware of any plans to pull the U.S. out of Syria. Former Secretary Rex Tillerson said at the beginning of the year that the U.S. should have a long-term military presence in the region.
Ed Webb

They're Still Pulling Bodies Out of ISIS' Capital - 0 views

  • Overall, an estimated 2,000 civilians were killed during bitter fighting for control of Raqqa, according to local casualty monitors—in an assault dominated by U.S. firepower
  • international media coverage of Raqqa dwindles away. Once the center of countless stories about the so-called Islamic caliphate, ISIS’s self-declared capital is now 80 per cent uninhabitable due to destruction from recent fighting, according to the United Nations.
  • according to an Airwars analysis, at least 95 per cent of strikes in Raqqa and all artillery strikes were American. At least 21,000 munitions—and possibly thousands more—struck the city
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  • Local monitors estimate that upwards of 2,000 were killed by all parties to the fighting
  • In Raqqa, a greater reliance on air and artillery strikes ahead of more cautious ground advances—as well as the limited firepower of local partner forces (the largest weapons wielded by the SDF were 120mm mortars)—all indicated that civilian harm would be more often tied to Coalition actions.

    Yet nine months later, only 11 percent of Coalition civilian harm assessments have resulted in an admission of responsibility. Out of 121 reports so far assessed for the Raqqa assault, the Coalition has confirmed involvement in just 13 strikes, which it says left 21 civilians dead and six injured—far short of the 1,400 likely Coalition-inflicted deaths Airwars tracked between June and October.

  • Fired from afar and usually targeted based on intelligence from local proxy ground forces,the SDF, U.S. bombs, missiles and artillery shells rained almost continuously into Raqqa. According to official figures provided to Airwars, the Coalition launched more than 20,000 munitions into the city during the five-month campaign. In August, that barrage had officially increased to more than one bomb, missile, rocket or artillery round fired every eight minutes—a total of 5,775 munitions during the month
  • During the first half of the battle for Raqqa, fire from A-10 “Warthog” ground assault aircraft accounted for roughly 44 percent of weapon use in Raqqa. The extensive use of A-10s in such an urban setting—which fire 30mm cannons and can also deploy bombs and missiles—was described by U.S. officials at the time as unprecedented
  • Quentin Sommerville, the BBC’s veteran Middle East Correspondent, reported extensively from both Raqqa and Mosul. His battlefield dispatches from deserted areas of Raqqa that had been captured from ISIS showed a city in ruins, even as fighting still raged in other neighborhoods. “24 hours of coverage wouldn’t do justice to the total devastation across Raqqa,” he tweeted from the city on Sept. 17. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
  • The so-called Islamic State bears significant responsibility for the destruction and death toll at Raqqa, according to investigators. “By deliberately placing civilians in areas where they were exposed to combat operations, for the purpose of rendering those areas immune from attack, ISIL militants committed the war crime of using human shields in Raqqah governorate,” the UN’s Commission of Inquiry for Syria noted in a recent report.

    “Despite the fact that civilians were being used as human shields, international coalition airstrikes continued apace on a daily basis, resulting in the destruction of much of Raqqah city and the death of countless civilians, many of whom were buried in improvised cemeteries, including parks,” the Commission also wrote.

  • Despite the horrors experienced by civilians during recent fighting, press reports from Raqqa have been filed far less regularly than its status as the former “ISIS capital” might have suggested. In Mosul, many more journalists covered the battle—often revealing important details about the civilian toll. In December for example, a major field investigation by the Associated Press put the overall civilian death in Mosul above 9,000.
  • “In Mosul, media were falling over each other; almost no stone was left unturned,” said Sommerville. “But Raqqa was more difficult to reach during the offensive, and is still difficult to get to. There we have barely scratched the surface. It seemed to me that wherever we went there were stories of civilian casualties. And no one was investigating.”
  • “The Coalition has not conducted interviews on the ground in or around Raqqa as part of any civilian casualty investigation,” a Coalition spokesperson told Airwars.

    “It is striking to see the Coalition continue to deny civilian casualties even after independent on the ground investigations found the contrary,” said Nadim Houry, of Human Rights Watch. “If they want to talk to survivors, they only need to visit these areas.”

Ed Webb

It's about time we all admit that Putin has prevailed in Syria | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • In Syria, Russia strode in where the west was hesitant, and just over two years on from the riskiest move in post-Soviet Russian foreign policy, the end game is clear. Assad, Russia and Iran will emerge victorious, and that is a direct result of Moscow’s decision to intervene in 2015 when its long-term ally, Assad, was on the ropes and struggling to survive.

  • Russia didn’t have to worry about the Turkish-Kurdish dimension, it was too busy steamrolling Syria’s disjointed opposition. ISIS to Russia was no different to other rebel groups; in the eyes of Moscow they were all a threat to Assad and warranted an iron fist.

    As Russia began to crush the anti-Assad opposition, the west could only watch from afar as the balance of power tilted in favour of the Syrian government.

  • the emergence of a US backed Kurdish powerhouse in the north of Syria and Turkish efforts to quell that rise. The sharp rise of ISIS and other Jihadist groups further muddied the waters, creating an extra element of risk for a possible US intervention. This all played into Putin’s hands.
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  • The Russians had an official casualty list of 41 soliders, though the real number may be higher, it is far removed from the thousands killed in the Soviet Union’s long and brutal insurgency war in Afghanistan.
  • Russia also has one eye on the future. In December it confirmed it will maintain a permanent military presence at its air and naval bases in Syria. The agreement signed for 49 years with Damascus will allow Moscow to harbour eleven warships in Tartus including nuclear ships.
  • Moscow ensured a position of strength for itself in Syria’s geo-political war, in the greater scope of things, it emerged victorious from a risky and dangerous decision to enter a foreign conflict.
  • Russia is also set for a long term economic investment in the country and has secured a long-term foothold in Syria’s energy sector potentially making Syria a future long term transit hub for oil and gas shipments to Europe. This allows Russia to expand and cement its control over a European gas supply.
Ed Webb

Can Russia Succeed Where America Failed in the Middle East? - LobeLog - 0 views

  • Specific criticisms included the claim by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that while Russia and Iran were working together to combat terrorism in Syria, U.S. policy was actually supporting it there. Sergey Karaganov, one of Moscow’s most important exponents of the Kremlin’s foreign-policy thinking, described American power as declining and hence ineffective while that of Russia, China, and India as rising in the Middle East. And several Russian speakers described Moscow as better placed to resolve the various conflicts in the Middle East since Russia has good relations with virtually everyone there (except, of course, the jihadists) while the U.S. has poor relations not just with its traditional adversaries in the region, but also with its traditional allies including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
  • In the panel on Yemen, Ali Nasser Mohammad (former president of South Yemen) recalled how in the latter stages of the North Yemeni civil war in the 1960s, the opposing Yemeni sides failed to reach agreement through bilateral negotiations. It was only when their main external patrons, Egyptian President Nasser and Saudi King Faisal, reached an agreement on ending the conflict that progress was made in the inter-Yemeni dialogue. He suggested that similar agreements between external actors in the Middle East’s ongoing conflicts would be needed to facilitate conflict resolution between internal antagonists as well.
  • Russia is clearly in no position to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians so long as Israel continues to receive strong support from the U.S. Nor does there appear to be any other case in which all the main local participants in a Middle Eastern conflict prefer to work exclusively with Russia and not with the U.S.
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  • Russian-American cooperation in the Middle East will be difficult to achieve when their relations are hostile in other areas, including Europe. And even if they could come to any such agreement, it is doubtful that they could impose the terms on the region’s many strong-willed actors. The leaders of Iran and Turkey in particular seem willing and able to defy both Washington and Moscow if they choose to do so.

  • Moscow may not actually want to resolve them since it is the continuation of these conflicts that allows Moscow entrée into the region by stimulating demand from local antagonists for Russian support
Ed Webb

Syrian frontline town divides NATO allies Turkey and U.S. - 0 views

  • A dispute between Turkey and the United States over control of a north Syrian town has put the NATO allies on opposing sides of the conflict’s front line, deepening a diplomatic rift ahead of a visit to Turkey by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
  • Turkish and U.S. troops, deployed alongside local fighters, have carved out rival areas of influence on Syria’s northern border. To Ankara’s fury, Washington allied itself with a force led by the Kurdish YPG, a militia which Turkey says is commanded by the same leaders overseeing an insurgency in its southeast.
  • Washington says it has no plans to withdraw its soldiers from Manbij, and two U.S. commanders visited the town last week to reinforce that message
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  • the Syrian town of Manbij
  • also warned that Turkey’s air and ground offensive in Afrin risks exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in Syria and disrupting one of the few corners of the country that had remained stable through seven years of civil war
  • As the grievances between Washington and Ankara have escalated, Turkey has built bridges with rival powers Russia and Iran - even though their support has put Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the ascendancy while Turkey still backs the weakened rebels seeking his downfall
  • Relations with the United States were “fragile and frustrating because pledges have been unfulfilled and there is a lack of coherence between the White House and the military”
  • a country where 83 percent of people view the United States unfavorably, according to a poll published on Monday.

  • “The U.S.-Turkey alliance can no longer be taken for granted,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, which promotes transatlantic cooperation, wrote in a report published ahead of Tillerson’s trip.

    “That this relationship has endured several stress tests in the past is no guarantee that it will survive this one”.

Ed Webb

Military audit confirms US tanks ended up with Iran-backed militias - 0 views

  • As many as nine US tanks provided to Iraq’s military for the fight against the Islamic State (IS) have ended up in the hands of Iranian-backed militants, a government audit revealed on Monday.

    The latest quarterly inspector general report for the US mission in Iraq and Syria confirms a string of on-the-ground reports that M1 Abrams battle tanks and other lethal equipment provided by the US government have ended up with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). The news adds credence to recent reporting by Iraq’s Al-Ghad news agency that Abrams manufacturer General Dynamics has suspended maintenance support for 160 of its tanks amid allegations that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) broke an agreement on their use.

  • In 2015, Iraqi Hezbollah brigades showed up in YouTube videos driving American-made M1 Abrams tanks, armored personnel carriers, Humvees and Canadian MRAP all-terrain vehicles, sparking concerns from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz
  • The State Department gave Iraq’s military $3.8 billion from 2015 to 2017 as it cleared out IS strongholds such as Mosul, Tal Afar and Fallujah. Iraq’s military now possesses more than 250 battle tanks and 1,000 armored personnel carriers.

    But even as support to Iraq’s military increased to root out IS in urban centers, the Defense Department has had limited “direct insight” into how effective more than 120,000 US-trained troops in Iraq will be, according to the inspector general report. That’s “mainly because the US military relied on Iraqi information and self-reporting to determine the skill and readiness of ISF troops,” the report found.

Ed Webb

Erdogan vows to 'destroy all terror nests' in Syria - 0 views

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to “destroy all terror nests” in Syria today, as he kept up his verbal attacks against the United States over its continuing support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

  • followed a night of shelling by Turkish forces and their Free Syrian Army allies targeting Afrin, the Kurdish-majority enclave on the Turkish border that is under YPG control
  • Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack Afrin and Manbij, an Arab-majority town that lies further east and is also under YPG control. But so far its actions have been limited to sporadic artillery strikes initiated from the Turkish side of the border and from within the Euphrates Shield zone run by Turkey and its rebel allies.
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  • Russian forces patrol the skies over the region and are present on the ground. Similarly, targeting Manbij could trigger a confrontation with hundreds of US special forces deployed in the YPG-controlled areas, which extend from Manbij all the way to Iraq
  • “The feeling, increasingly even within traditionally cautious Turkish Foreign Ministry circles, is that Turkey’s prestige is on the line. And that an operation is feasible.” Russia may well consent to a limited and clearly defined Turkish foray
  • Erdogan took direct aim at the United States. “Lower your flags over the terrorist [YPG] bases so that we are not forced to hand them over to you ourselves, so that we are not forced to bury those who stand by the terrorists in the ground,” he warned. “The Turkish Armed Forces will settle the Afrin and Manbij affairs in the shortest possible time. The offensive can begin any second.”
  • Turkey has so far swallowed the US partnership with the YPG — albeit kicking and screaming — on the assumption that it would end once IS was vanquished and that the United States would not embark on any form of nation-building that would cement the Kurds’ territorial and political gains. But recent statements from top US officials suggest the United States is reviewing its options
Ed Webb

Making a Killing - OCCRP - 0 views

  • Since the outbreak of war in Syria, weapons from Central and Eastern Europe have flooded the conflict zone through two distinct pipelines – one sponsored by Saudi Arabia and coordinated by the CIA, and the other funded and directed by the Pentagon.

    A series of investigations by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) have brought to light these multi-billion-dollar weapons deliveries -- exposing the misleading and potentially illegal documents on which they rely, the shady dealers at its heart of the trade, and the governments that have profited from the war.

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    Detailed reports on arms pipelines into Syria
Ed Webb

President Trump's thoroughly confusing Fox Business interview, annotated - The Washingt... - 0 views

  • When you see that, I immediately called General Mattis.

    I said, what can we do?

    And they came back with a number of different alternatives.  And we hit them very hard.

    Now, are we going to get involved with Syria?

    No.  But if I see them using gas and using things that — I mean even some of the worst tyrants in the world didn't use the kind of gases that they used.  And some of the gases are unbelievably potent.

    So when I saw that, I said we have to do something.

    • Ed Webb
       
      This seems to confirm that the President decides to act based on what he sees on television.
  • people just don't see this, the level of brutality, the level of viciousness.
    • Ed Webb
       
      Plenty of people have been documenting the brutality of the conflict for over five years, including journalists and activists who have given their lives to do so.
  • I was sitting at the table.  We had finished dinner.  We're now having dessert.  And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it.

    And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do?

    And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way.  And I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you.  This was during dessert.

    We've just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing.

    BARTIROMO:  Unmanned?

    Brilliant.

    TRUMP:  It's so incredible.  It's brilliant.  It's genius.  Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five.  I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing.

    • Ed Webb
       
      I wonder if delivery of this news put Pres. Xi off his chocolate cake. It is striking that both Trump and the interviewer are astonished by guided missile technology that has been around for decades.
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  • So what happens is I said we've just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq and I wanted you to know this. And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.
    • Ed Webb
       
      Maybe he was silent because he was very confused about why you would be attacking Iraq, rather than Syria...
  • But I think he understood the message and I understood what he was saying to me.
    • Ed Webb
       
      I am sure Xi understood what he was dealing with.
Ed Webb

Trump's Syria Strike Was Unconstitutional and Unwise - The Atlantic - 3 views

  • Congress erred by doing nothing when Obama waged war illegally in Libya. It will compound that error if there are no consequences now for Trump.  Every legislator who has expressed the belief that it would be illegal to strike Syria without their permission should start acting like they meant what they said. Given what recent presidents have been permitted, impeachment over this matter alone would understandably lack popular legitimacy. But I wouldn’t mind if anti-war legislators created a draft document titled “Articles of Impeachment,” wrote a paragraph about this strike at the top, and put Trump on notice that if he behaves this way again, a coalition will aggressively lobby their colleagues to oust him from office.
  • The alternative is proceeding with an unbowed president who is out of his depth in international affairs, feels entitled to wage war in ways even he once called illegitimate, and thinks of waging war as a way presidents can improve their popularity.
Ed Webb

Trump May Have Changed His Syria Policy And The Pentagon Is Confused - 1 views

  • three defense officials told BuzzFeed News they cannot begin to craft a military response, if that is what Trump wants, without a clear understanding of what the president wants to see happen in Syria. Does he only want the Assad regime to stop using chemical weapons? Does he want regime change? Is he seeking a negotiated settlement? Or were Trump’s comments simply rhetoric?
    • Ed Webb
       
      When you're in a powerful political position, words matter quite a bit. Bullshitting won't cut it.
  • Assad may have launched Tuesday’s attack to test the president, particularly after members of his administration had indicated Assad could stay in power
  • On Tuesday, as reports of the chemical attack became public, the White House stuck to its new policy. It called Assad’s grip on power, despite a six-year civil war, a “political reality,” and that it was up to the Syrian people to decide the country’s future.
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  • On Wednesday, however, Trump and Haley shifted tones again.

    Haley portended US intervention, saying: "When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action. Pointing the blame at Russia, she added: "For the sake of the victims, I hope the rest of the council is finally willing to do the same."

    But both stopped short of outlining what an acceptable outcome was or what US intervention could look like.

  • military options in Syria are limited. Under the current strategy, the US could destroy air strips or Syrian aircraft, but that would only have a short term effect. The Syrians could easily repave an airstrip or obtain planes from their Russian allies. Non-military options like sanctions have the same problem; the Russians would likely supplement any lost funding
  • under what authority would it enter Syria? The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which has become the catch-all legal justification for military operations against groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, would be hard to contort towards Assad. After Tuesday’s attacks, Trump faced criticism from fellow Republicans, who have long argued for greater intervention in Syria, but have yet to vote on new authorities
  • Crafting a new policy does not happen in a day and the civil war in Syria transcends its borders; it’s become a regional, global proxy war as well. But the absence of answers to the questions that shape policy makes its hard to say for sure what kind of change is happening, if any, officials around the Pentagon explained.
Ed Webb

Trump's Syria Strategy Would Be a Disaster | Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • A brief history lesson should suffice to demonstrate the Assad regime’s lack of counterterrorism qualifications. This is the government whose intelligence apparatus methodically built al Qaeda in Iraq, and then the Islamic State in Iraq, into a formidable terrorist force to fight U.S. troops in that country from 2003 to 2010
  • Trump’s suggestion to partner with Russia in “smashing” the Islamic State is little more than a non sequitur, given Russia’s near-consistent focus on everything but the jihadi group
  • contrary to an increasingly popular narrative, fighters in these vetted groups are not, with very few exceptions, handing over U.S. weapons to jihadis, nor are they wandering off to join the extremists themselves. The cornerstone of the CIA effort has been to supply rebel groups with U.S.-manufactured BGM-71 TOW anti-tank guided missiles, which have ensured that the moderate opposition has remained a relevant actor in the conflict. Thus far, according to publicly available information, at least 1,073 TOW missiles have been sent to Syria and used in combat, only 12 of which have changed hands and been used by nonvetted groups — amounting to an impressively low proliferation rate of 1.1 percent
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  • the Kremlin’s focus has unequivocally and consistently been on fighting Syria’s mainstream opposition, not the Islamic State. Much of its targeting has been against U.S.-linked members of Syria’s opposition
  • Regional states may also feel justified in breaking a long U.S. taboo in sending anti-aircraft weapons like MANPADS to their closest proxies on the ground in Syria. To a certain extent, this illicit flow of anti-aircraft weaponry has already begun in response to perceptions of insufficient U.S. “muscle” in preventing the brutal assault on the besieged eastern districts of Aleppo. According to well-placed opposition sources, at least three small shipments of MANPADS have entered northern Syria since late 2015.
  • he risks exacerbating six major threats to U.S. domestic and international security
  • The widespread perception that Washington is indifferent to the suffering of Syrian civilians has led ever more members of the Syrian opposition to consider al Qaeda a more willing and more effective protector of their lives and interests than the United States, the supposed “leader of the free world.” Trump’s proposed abandonment of the Syrian opposition would permanently cement that perception and make Syria a pre-9/11 Afghanistan on steroids. This should be deeply troubling to anyone concerned about international security, given Syria’s proximity to Europe.
  • Removing that U.S. role risks re-creating the chaos and infighting that ruled the early days of the Syrian crisis, but this time in a context where extremists are poised to swiftly take advantage.
  • it would not be altogether surprising to see Qatar or Turkey — for example — switching the bulk of their support to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and similar groups were the United States to cease supporting the opposition
  • Trump appears to be indicating a preference for combating the symptoms of a crisis — that is, terrorism — while strengthening their principal cause: Assad’s dictatorship and his refusal to negotiate
  • Although a U.S.-Russian alliance would likely increase the threat to the Islamic State’s territorial holdings in Syria, at least in the short term, such a partnership would be an invaluable long-term boon to the group’s propaganda. Were Russia to employ the same carpet-bombing tactics it has used in its attempt to crush the Syrian opposition, the consequences of such “victories” would ensure that the Islamic State has a ready-made narrative to attempt a determined resurgence with some level of popular acceptance or even support.
  • a potential U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria could also further energize the Islamic State’s calls for attacks against targets in the West, particularly in the United States
  • Paired with the possibility that Trump may introduce newly oppressive domestic policies on immigration and other issues relating to race and religion, this scenario portends greater threats, not a safer America
  • As a staunch opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, it is surprising that Trump appears to be proposing Syria policies that would save Iran from a geopolitically crippling defeat and strengthen its regional influence
  • Were President-elect Trump to drop America’s insistence that Assad has lost his legitimacy and must be removed through transition, not only would Iran gain immeasurably, but the greatest immediate terrorist threat to Israel would be free to point its formidable weapons array toward America’s most valued regional ally
  • Putin seeks to secure a Russian rise at the expense of American power and influence, not in equal partnership with them.
  • A combination of all or some of the above-mentioned scenarios would produce dynamics that would undoubtedly further exacerbate Syria’s refugee crisis, leaving as many as 5 million Syrians permanently outside their country’s borders. With Assad remaining in power and his various backers secure in his defense, a quarter of Syria’s entire prewar population would be highly unlikely to ever return to their homes, meaning that neighboring states would be left to shoulder the unsustainable costs of housing them while many refugees would embrace desperate attempts to get to Europe.
  • Although it remains possible that President-elect Trump will do away with his perilously simplistic reading of the Syrian crisis, the dangers of pursuing a policy based on his limited understanding should be well-understood. As five years of failed policy under President Barack Obama has shown, treating the symptoms of the crisis rather than its root cause — Assad’s dictatorship — will only lead to further displacement and ruin.
Ed Webb

How Many Guns Did the U.S. Lose Track of in Iraq and Afghanistan? Hundreds of Thousands... - 0 views

  • In all, Overton found, the Pentagon provided more than 1.45 million firearms to various security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, including more than 978,000 assault rifles, 266,000 pistols and almost 112,000 machine guns. These transfers formed a collage of firearms of mixed vintage and type: Kalashnikov assault rifles left over from the Cold War; recently manufactured NATO-standard M16s and M4s from American factories; machine guns of Russian and Western lineage; and sniper rifles, shotguns and pistols of varied provenance and caliber, including a large order of Glock semiautomatic pistols, a type of weapon also regularly offered for sale online in Iraq.

    Many of the recipients of these weapons became brave and important battlefield allies. But many more did not. Taken together, the weapons were part of a vast and sometimes minimally supervised flow of arms from a superpower to armies and militias often compromised by poor training, desertion, corruption and patterns of human rights abuses. Knowing what we know about many of these forces, it would have been remarkable for them to retain custody of many of their weapons. It is not surprising that they did not.

  • the Pentagon said it has records for fewer than half the number of firearms in the researchers’ count — about 700,000 in all
  • Overton’s analysis also does not account for many weapons issued by the American military to local forces by other means, including the reissue of captured weapons, which was a common and largely undocumented practice.
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  • In April, after being approached by The New York Times and reviewing data from Armament Research Services, a private arms-investigation consultancy, Facebook closed many pages in the Middle East that were serving as busy arms bazaars, including pages in Syria and Iraq on which firearms with Pentagon origins accounted for a large fraction of the visible trade
  • The American arming of Syrian rebels, by both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department, has also been troubled by questions of accountability and outright theft in a war where the battlefield is thick with jihadists aligned with Al Qaeda or fighting under the banner of the Islamic State.
  • One point is inarguable: Many of these weapons did not remain long in government possession after arriving in their respective countries. In one of many examples, a 2007 Government Accountability Office report found that 110,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and 80,000 pistols bought by the United States for Iraq’s security forces could not be accounted for — more than one firearm for every member of the entire American military force in Iraq at any time during the war. Those documented lapses of accountability were before entire Iraqi divisions simply vanished from the battlefield, as four of them did after the Islamic State seized Mosul and Tikrit in 2014, according to a 2015 Army budget request to buy more firearms for the Iraqi forces to replace what was lost.
  • many new arms-trading Facebook pages have since cropped up, including, according to their own descriptions, virtual markets operating from Baghdad and Karbala
  • According to its tally, the American military issued contracts potentially worth more than $40 billion for firearms, accessories and ammunition since Sept. 11, including improvements to the ammunition plants required to keep the cartridge production going. Most of these planned expenditures were for American forces, and the particulars tell the story of two wars that did not go as pitched. More than $4 billion worth of contracts was issued for small arms, including pistols, machines guns, assault rifles and sniper rifles, and more than $11 billion worth was issued for associated equipment, from spare machine-gun barrels to sniper-rifle scopes, according to Overton’s count. A much larger amount — nearly $25 billion — was issued for ammunition or upgrades to ammunition plants to keep those firearms supplied. That last figure aligns with what most any veteran of ground combat in Iraq and Afghanistan could tell you — American troops have been involved in a dizzying number of gunfights since 2001, burning through mountains of ammunition along the way.
  • The data show large purchases of heavy-machine guns and barrels. This is a wink at the shift in many American units from being foot-mobile to vehicular, as grunts buttoned up within armored trucks and needed turret-mounted firepower to defend themselves — a matériel adaptation forced by ambushes and improvised bombs, the cheaply made weapons that wearied the most expensive military in the world.
  • a startlingly risky aspect of the Pentagon’s arming of local forces with infantry arms: the wide distribution of anti-armor weapons, including RPG-7s, commonly called rocket-propelled grenades, and recoilless weapons, including the SPG-9. Each of these systems fires high-explosive (and often armor-piercing) projectiles, and each was commonly used by insurgents in attacks. After the opening weeks of each war, the only armor on either battlefield was American or associated with allied and local government units, which made the Pentagon’s practice of providing anti-armor weapons to Afghan and Iraqi security forces puzzling. Why would they need anti-armor weapons when they had no armor to fight? All the while rockets were somehow mysteriously being fired at American convoys and patrols in each war.
  • a portrait of the Pentagon’s bungling the already-awkward role it chose for itself — that of state-building arms dealer, a role that routinely led to missions in clear opposition to each other. While fighting two rapidly evolving wars, the American military tried to create and bolster new democracies, governments and political classes; recruit, train and equip security and intelligence forces on short schedule and at outsize scale; repair and secure transportation infrastructure; encourage the spread or restoration of the legal industry and public services; and leave behind something more palatable and sturdy than rule by thugs.
  • The procession of arms purchases and handouts has continued to this day, with others involved, including Iran to its allies in Iraq and various donors to Kurdish fighters. In March, Russia announced that it had given 10,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles to Afghanistan, already one of the most Kalashnikov-saturated places on earth. If an analysis from the United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or Sigar, is to be believed, Afghanistan did not even need them. In 2014 the inspector general reported that after the United States decided to replace the Afghan Army’s Kalashnikovs with NATO-standard weapons (a boon for the rifles’ manufacturer with a much less obvious value for an already amply armed Afghan force), the Afghan Army ended up with a surplus of more than 83,000 Kalashnikovs. The United States never tried to recover the excess it had created, giving the inspector general’s office grounds for long-term worry. “Without confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons,” it noted, “Sigar is concerned that they could be obtained by insurgents and pose additional risks to civilians.”

  • What to do? If past is precedent, given enough time one of the United States’ solutions will be, once again, to ship in more guns.
connelth

Putin in Syria: Chechnya All Over Again - 0 views

  •  
    The difference between Aleppo now and Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, at the turn of the millennium is that Western leaders are at least trying to save the Syrians trapped in the besieged city. A decade and a half ago, there were precious few diplomatic missions for the Chechens.
Ed Webb

Debate Gaffes, Platitudes and Absurdities On National Security | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • voters and foreign governments are likely more perplexed than ever before about where America could be headed on crucial national security issues, thanks to a litany of contradictory and confusing statements from Republican nominee Donald Trump — as well as another round of vague platitudes from his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton
  • The wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan:

    One of the two candidates on the debate stage  ultimately will be charged with overseeing the military campaigns to retake the Islamic State-held cities of Mosul, in Iraq, and Raqqa, in Syria. Within months of taking office, the new president will have to work through a latticework of constantly shifting local alliances to keep some sort of peace in those sprawling cities while keeping Russian and Turkish forces — and political complexities — at bay.   

    Yet more mental energy was spent Monday  debating police tactics in New York City and 1990s-era beauty pageant contestants than how to close out 15 years of Washington’s wars — in which approximately 13,000 U.S. troops remain on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clinton stuck to the points she has long advocated: ramping up airstrikes on ISIS fighters, launching an “intelligence surge” to pinpoint targets while hitting extremists before they can attack Americans, and doubling down on eliminating the Islamic State’s leadership.  

    In short, continuing what President Barack Obama has been doing, just more of it. And Clinton made no mention of imposing a “no-fly-zone” in Syria, a proposal she has advocated during the political campaign, and gave no indication whether she would take a tougher line with the regime in Damascus.

    Trump, as always, wouldn’t reveal his so-called secret plan to win the war against ISIS, while complaining that “we should have taken the oil” before leaving Iraq, an idea he has never explained. Apart from being illegal and physically impossible, as some senior officers have pointed out, it would require thousands of U.S. troops to stay behind to guard the oil facilities.

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