The conflict in Syria reaches its tipping point

In Ankara and Riyadh a decent night’s sleep must be hard to come by nowadays, what with the prospects of the Sunni state they’d envisaged being established across a huge swathe of Syria slipping away in the face of an offensive by Syrian government forces that is sweeping all before it north of Aleppo, threatening to completely sever supply lines from Turkey to opposition forces in and around the city, and all but ensuring that its liberation is now a question of when not if.

The success being enjoyed by government forces and its allies on the ground is a testament to their remarkable morale and tenacity despite the battering they have endured over five years of unremitting conflict. Key to this reinvigoration and success in routing opposition forces – forces which only a few months ago were in the ascendancy – has of course Russian air, communications, and logistical support. Moscow’s decision to intervene at the end of September last year may have been pregnant with risk, but so far it has been validated, and perhaps even beyond initial expectations.

Moscow not Washington is calling the shots in the region now, announcing the birth of a multipolar world and marking an astonishing recovery given the parlous state of Russia throughout the 1990s as it struggled to recover from the demise of the Soviet Union. No sooner was the hammer and sickle removed from atop the Kremlin than a procession of crazed free marketeers descended from the United States, and elsewhere in the West, to impose neoliberal nostrums in return for an IMF loan that was necessary in order to avert complete economic collapse. The record shows that rather than this collapse being averted it was accelerated by the structural adjustment reforms implemented by Yeltsin and other Russian converts to the new religion.

In Washington at the time ‘end of history’ triumphalism reigned as oh how they laughed. Well, they’re not laughing now.

Regardless, at this stage in the Syrian conflict neither the Russians nor anybody else with a vested interest in the country’s survival as a non-sectarian state will be prepared to predict victory. Not with the noises coming out of Ankara and Riyadh over the possibility of both countries sending in ground troops.

Though they claim that any such troop deployment would be carried out with the objective of confronting ISIS, only those of a gullible disposition who could possibly believe it. In truth any such intervention would carry with it the primary goal of regime change in Damascus, staving off the complete collapse of opposition forces in and around Aleppo, with Turkey harbouring the additional objective of crushing the Kurdish YPG forces that have been enjoying inordinate success against both ISIS in the north east and rebel forces further west as part of the general tightening of the noose around the city.

Saudi aircraft deploying to Incirlik airbase in Turkey, from where the US has been flying sorties over Syria in recent months, is a significant development, one that indicates the extent of panic in Riyadh at the way the conflict has turned against them since this latest offensive by the Syrian Arab Army and its allies began.

The days when an American president could pick up the phone to Washington’s allies in the Middle East and have his bidding done have passed. The impotence of the Obama administration in the face of these developments has arrived as the culmination of a decade and half of disastrous overreach in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving US power and credibility severely weakened. Even if the President wished to follow a vigorous and assertive policy towards the region and the conflict in Syria, the cost not just in money but political and public support at home negates it as a serious proposition. In Washington what was once known as the Vietnam Syndrome is now the Iraq Syndrome.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, is acting safe in the knowledge that his popularity and support at home remains rock-solid, with a consistent approval rating of around 80 percent making him the envy his Western counterparts. It probably won’t be until historians a generation from now look at this period and crisis, doing so with the benefit of hindsight and distance, that Putin’s political, tactical, and leadership nous will be properly appreciated. The same goes for his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who’s reduced his US counterpart John Kerry to the role of a hapless apprentice looking on in awe at the finished article.

Proof of this comes with the outcome of the most recent talks on the conflict in Munich. Russia, in the person of Lavrov, arrived with its air campaign proceeding at full tilt, and left again having reached an agreement that it should continue at full tilt. The speed with which the narrative promulgated by the US and its allies has unravelled as a consequence of Russia’s presence is measured in the way they cling on to the fiction of ‘moderate rebels’. The most grievous example involved British Prime Minister David Cameron during last year’s Commons debate on British participation in the conflict. His claim there were 70,000 of these moderates in Syria, just waiting to install a nice and cuddly liberal democracy in Damascus the morning after Assad is forced out, met with howls of laughter everywhere apart from Syria, where Cameron’s ‘moderates’ have turned a large swathe of the country into a living hell.

It bears emphasising: the only moderates fighting in Syria are the troops of the Syrian Arab Army, made up of Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Druze and Christians. They and their allies, which include the Kurds of the YPG, comprise the forces of non-sectarianism in the country and the region, engaged in a pitiless conflict against the most reactionary and retrograde current of extremism the world has seen since Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were rampaging across Cambodia.

For Saudi Arabia and Turkey talking tough is one thing, backing it up is a quite another. The world already got the measure of Erdogan after a Turkish jet shot down a Russian bomber a few months ago. The Turkish president went scurrying straight to his NATO allies requesting that Article 5 of its treaty, committing its members to the collective defence of each when under threat, be invoked. His request was denied by Obama and, no wonder, given he’s had reason to doubt Erdogan’s credentials as an ally since. Turkey’s attempt to paint the Kurds of the YPG as a terrorist threat to rank with ISIS is not going down well in Washington, where the Kurds are rightly viewed as an invaluable ground component of the anti-ISIS struggle and have been receiving US and Russian air support with this in mind.

With Russia’s military presence in and around Syria entrenched, and with the US increasingly disenchanted with Erdogan’s Janus-faced role in the conflict in Syria, not to mention the bellicosity of its Saudi client over Iran and a human rights record that makes every utterance in support for the kingdom a howl of hypocrisy, we are at the absolute tipping point when it comes not only to Syria’s future but the future of the region. The stakes involved leave no doubt that the mounting threat of a Saudi-led invasion of Syria speeds the hour when Iran and Russia commit their own ground troops in significant number.

The second act of this conflict draws to a close. The third and final act is about to begin.

End.

108 comments on “The conflict in Syria reaches its tipping point

  1. I have found Aron Lund to be an interesting, and seemingly well informed, commentator on events in Syria, his latest is worth reading:

    http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=62765

    Since the Vienna meeting in November, Russia has tried to persuade the Security Council to add two other Sunni Islamist groups to the list of terrorists: the Islam Army and Ahrar al-Sham. Neither group has been implicated in acts of international terrorism, but they are starkly fundamentalist, hostile to democratic governance, and some leading members have ties to pre-2011 jihadism in Iraq and elsewhere.

    If roles were reversed, the United States might not have been so picky. The U.S. army spent almost a decade refusing to distinguish between al-Qaeda in Iraq and other armed Sunni groups, labeling them all “terrorists” and bombing them with little concern for their differences. But in Syria, the White House has suddenly become a scrupulous advocate of nuance. This is of course because the Americans realize that if the Islam Army and Ahrar al-Sham were relegated to the jihadi camp, there would be very little left of the moderate opposition they are trying to leverage simultaneously against Assad and the Islamic State.

    The United States has therefore preferred to describe these groups as problematic albeit legitimate members of the Syrian opposition and it has resisted their inclusion on a terrorist list.

    and

    The devil is, as always, in the details. There are certainly plenty of unresolved issues that could delay, undermine, and ultimately prevent an implementation of the Munich deal.

    The most obvious one is that two of Syria’s most powerful armed groups, the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, will not be covered by the ceasefire. Islamic State territory is fairly well delineated, as the group is at war with everyone else in Syria, but the Nusra Front will be a harder nut to crack. The group has embedded itself deep within the broader Syrian opposition, and it is a mainstay of opposition forces in the Idlib-Hama region and certain areas around Aleppo. If the Nusra Front continues to fight, and the Syrian and Russian governments continue to attack locations where Nusra jihadists are said to be present, how is a ceasefire supposed to hold? This is where the U.S. bet on a moderate opposition being able to carry the day once the fighting ends becomes problematic; even the best-case options look bad.

    If hostilities end, in whole or in part, the Nusra Front could decide to keep its head low and avoid disturbing a peace in order to not lose face with the civilian population or rebel allies. Some people in touch with the group have suggested it would do so. But such a step might easily split the group, which already faces legitimacy issues vis-à-vis the Islamic State, and it would at best postpone the problem.

    Other rebel groups could also decide to face down the Nusra Front militarily. But for that to succeed, it would require both Ahrar al-Sham and the Islam Army to take a stand against the group, potentially splitting their own ranks. The ensuing infighting would likely destabilize the rebel movement to an even greater degree than the insurgents’ 2014 split with the Islamic State, providing spoilers on all sides with ample reason to restart the war.

  2. This is an interesting point you make John

    The impotence of the Obama administration in the face of these developments has arrived as the culmination of a decade and half of disastrous overreach in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving US power and credibility severely weakened. Even if the President wished to follow a vigorous and assertive policy towards the region and the conflict in Syria, the cost not just in money but political and public support at home negates it as a serious proposition. In Washington what was once known as the Vietnam Syndrome is now the Iraq Syndrome.

    Vice President Joe Biden has since the beginning of the Obama presidency argued that the war in Afghanistan is politically unsustainable, and militarily unwinnable.

    I have been reading Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s wars” and it is interesting to see how US policy over Afghanisan/Pakistan has often been shaped by sensible understanding of what needs to be done, but complete inability to deliver it. This combined with the military – backed by Clinton – having its own agenda for prosecuting the war that even the White House knows cannot succeed.

    A good case in point is that when the White House decided on a counter insurgency strategy of winning hearts and minds of the civilian population, the military did something completely different, deploying 8000 marines into Helmand for a drawn out war of attrition with the Taliban. According to Ahmed Rashed, the situation is even more complex in that the deployment to Helmand was the decision of the marines corps themselves acting outside even the US Afghan command.

    I mention this because it is clear that US policy has got itself mired into interdepartmental rivalries, internal politics, inertia and institutional interests, so that the world’s most powerful military is not able to deploy its advantages

  3. Andy Newman,

    Thanks for the links to the Carnegie article by Aron Lund. He provides a good insight into the intra-opposition relations and tensions on the ground.

    Overall, with the Saudis just announcing the start of military exercises involving 20 nations, it’s becoming increasingly likely that both the Iranians and the Russians will have to commit ground forces to the conflict in order to meet the very real threat of large scale invasion.

    The first and second acts of this conflict are over. The third and final act is about to begin.

  4. brianthedog on said:

    An excellent article.

    Its a shame that much of the left fell for and continues to fall for the western imperialism and its middle-east Emirs and Sultan (Erdogan) partners line of other throwing the secular Syrian Government.

    The trusted game of demonization began early and included in my opinion a chemical attack not carried out by the Syria Government but with the help of Turkish or Gulf state backing. The belief was that Syria would go the way of Iraq and Libya but thankfully it hasn’t and the arming, training and supporting of IS and Al Qaeda and is being exposed for all to see. Usually the truth comes out after the event and then its too late but not the time.

    The Syrian Government is far from perfect but when the only other option being pushed and supported by the West and its Turkish and Gulf friends is medieval barbarism i know what side I am on.

    The UK’s role in helping turn Syria into a bloodbath is shameful and to witness the hapless foreign secretary Hammond who thinks that if he keeps saying ‘Assad must go’ enough times it will somehow magically happen is laughable.

  5. redhand on said:

    “Though they claim that any such troop deployment would be carried out with the objective of confronting ISIS, only those of a gullible disposition who could possibly believe it.”

    As gullible as those who believed Russia’s intervention was about striking ISIS? Physician, heal thyself.

  6. redhand:
    Aftermath of an airstrike on a hospital in rebel-held territory:

    https://t.co/gX0IsJA21e

    Warning: Lots injured jihadi women and children.

    Who knew that innocent civilians are slaughtered in conflicts? The amount of those slaughtered in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya over the past decade and more is legion. Surely the issue, at least for those interested in going beyond the shrill moralising, is the root causes of said conflicts.

    Re Syria, my position is that without Russia’s intervention the Syrian government would have fallen by now. And if that had been allowed to happen the carnage we’ve seen thus far would be child’s play by comparison with what would ensue.

    What’s your position?

  7. redhand: As gullible as those who believed Russia’s intervention was about striking ISIS?

    If you accept the US claim that only 10% of Russia’s air strikes in Syria are against ISIS, that means that Russia hit around 188 ISIS targets last week in Syria (out of 1,888 targets hit by Russia in total).

    In the same period, the US military claimed to have struck 16 targets in Syria.

    Which suggests that as a minimum, the Russians are striking ISIS more than 10 times harder than the Americans are.

  8. redhand on said:

    So having an issue with a regime and its foreign backers deliberately and systematically targeting civilians constitutes “shrill moralising” does it? Are there any war crimes Putin or Assad could commit that you would try subsequently to justify? `

  9. Btw, just to emphasise the point that the alternative to Assad in Damascus is not the nice wooly liberal democracy or socialist utopia that the ‘only solution is revolution’ crew want us to believe, how about this latest from those sons of liberty in Riyadh – http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/Assad-will-be-removed-by-force-if-peace-talks-fail-Saudi-foreign-minister-says/articleshow/50992529.cms.

    Assad will be removed by force they pledge.

    Headchoppers of the world unite.

  10. redhand: So having an issue with a regime and its foreign backers deliberately and systematically targeting civilians constitutes “shrill moralising” does it? Are there any war crimes Putin or Assad could commit that you would try subsequently to justify? `

    War itself is a crime. There is no such thing as a clean war. It is a non sequitur. The idea that I am justifying war crimes is, again, inidicative of someone who isn’t interested or able to deal with root causes, and instead satisfies himself with a view of these issues from the vantage point of some illusory moral high ground that only exists in his or her imagination.

  11. redhand: a regime and its foreign backers deliberately and systematically targeting civilians

    Oh really, and why on earth would they deliberately target civilians rather than the extremist jihadis?

    Or do you believe it is to “exacerbate the refugee crisis and use it as a weapon to divide the transatlantic alliance and undermine the European project”, as per Senator McCain?

  12. redhand: As gullible as those who believed Russia’s intervention was about striking ISIS?

    Was that claim ever made?

    Russia’s objective in engaging in the Syrian civil war has been to consolidate Damascus’s control over “useful” Syria.

    This is a necessary but not sufficient condition for defeating ISIL; and would be a “fact on the ground” on which a lasting peace could be built, including a probable accommodation with Kurdish autonomy/independence on the behalf of the Syrian government.

    It is worth pointing out that some of the rebel groups represented at the Riyadh conference of Syrian oppositionists in December included groups who support Russian bombing.

  13. John Grimshaw on said:

    John:
    Btw, just to emphasise the point that the alternative to Assad in Damascus is not the nice wooly liberal democracy or socialist utopia that the ‘only solution is revolution’ crew want us to believe, how about this latest from those sons of liberty in Riyadh – http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/Assad-will-be-removed-by-force-if-peace-talks-fail-Saudi-foreign-minister-says/articleshow/50992529.cms.

    Assad will be removed by force they pledge.

    Headchoppers of the world unite.

    Interesting article John. I wonder if the Turks will now move to “stabilise” the border and attack the Kurds in Syria with Saudi assistance. This will almost inevitably lead to conflict with the SAA and the Russians. It will be interesting to see what the US/Brits do in those circumstances.

  14. Very interesting assessment of the state of the war from Aron Lund from about three weeks ago:

    http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=62576

    and from the same guy two really informative descriptions of the politics and capabilities of the opposition from December

    http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=62263

    and
    http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=62239

    Lund is informative as he acknowledges that there are three strands to the opposition, i) those aligned with the Islamists, ii) those broadly aligned with the Kurds, and iii) those who are opposed to Ba’athism but still want Assad to win the war.

    Each held a conference in December, the most problematic of which was the Riyadh one.

  15. Regarding the strikes at the hospital, I’d wait a a day or two before jumping to conclusions. Azaz is being attacked by the Kurds, not SAA. And even though all the stories about this start off by condemning the Russian air campaign, when they atually begin giving reports of what has actually taken place, they talk about ‘missiles’ striking the hospital, not bombs being dropped on it or fighter jets and helicopters passing overhead. This may turn out to be errant rocket artillery suppression fire by the YPG or the Turkish military.

  16. So going by the comments on this thread the Socialist Unity approach to civilian targets being hit by military forces is “shit happens” and it’s not a problem if an army hits its intended targets only 10% of the time.

    Just one point of clarification. Do these same standards apply to all armies or just those SU approve of?

    I ask because I’m pretty sure that when the IDF was bombing Gaza in retaliation against rocket strikes on Israel they got quite a lot of criticism on here and were regularly accused of war crimes.

  17. John Grimshaw on said:

    masoud: This may turn out to be errant rocket artillery suppression fire by the YPG or the Turkish military.

    I think the problem is Masoud that the whole situation in Northern Syria is now so chaotic and dangerous that its diificult to know exactly who’s attacking who.

  18. John Grimshaw on said:

    Noah: Oh really, and why on earth would they deliberately target civilians rather than the extremist jihadis?

    Well the Americans and the Brits have on many occasions hit civilians deliberately or otherwise. Are you suggesting that the Russians are in some way fundamentally much more decent?

  19. Andy Wilson: it’s nice to see John Wright accepting that Putin is committing crimes in Syria

    I certainly do. The reluctance to commit ground troops up to now has been a ‘criminal’ oversight. Hopefully Putin commits them sooner rather than later.

  20. Andy Wilson: and hopefully a good few of them will get lynched

    Yep, ISIS and al-Qaeda certainly enjoy growing support among what passes for the left in a small corner of the polticial firmament. It reminds me of the shite and crud you find when you finally get round to pulling out the fridge to clean behind.

  21. Andy Wilson: I don’t care who kills the fuckers to be honest

    Coming from an ex-member of the SWP this is no surprise. The warped mind of the disaffected middle class is one of the last frontiers in the study of psychology.

  22. Andy Wilson on said:

    John: arsehole

    i am not even remotely disaffected. I simply enjoy the sight of dead imperialist troops. It cheers me up in the morning. And you don’t need to be rude. Show some civility. What’s the world coming to when an ordinary, tax-paying, hard-working citizen such as myself can’t shoot the breeze with a red fascist cheerleader for the bombing of Syrian schools and hospitals such as you?

  23. Andy Wilson: I simply enjoy the sight of dead imperialist troops. It cheers me up in the morning

    I think this is a suitable place to end this exchange. My apologies for labelling you ‘disaffected’.

  24. Andy Newman on said:

    Andy Wilson,

    For the sake of clarity, does your callous enjoyment of troops being killed extend to the possible deaths of former members of HM’s forces?

    TBH I know you signed that silly liberal letter alongside Peter Tatchell and your mate John Game (whose political grasp and lack of any compass of human decency can be judged by the fact he posted on here that the brutal violation of Qadadi with a bayonet caused him pleasure), but I still thought better of you than what is effectively a comment cheerleading ISIL.

  25. Andy Wilson on said:

    Andy Newman: or the sake of clarity, does your callous enjoyment of troops being killed extend to the possible deaths of former members of HM’s forces?

    As a former Royal Navy sailor myself (1975-1982), and as the founder and former chair of Reservists Against War, I am ambivalent at best.

  26. Andy Wilson on said:

    Andy Newman: a comment cheerleading ISIL.

    I take the view that if you bomb the bejeezus out of the FSA and Syrian population in support of Assad, then the most likely result is that ISIS will be seen as defenders of the Syrian minority, and so your support for the Russian imperialist intervention is pretty much guaranteed to bolster ISIS. Which I consider a worse political crime than cheerleading.

  27. Andy Wilson: I take the view that if you bomb the bejeezus out of the FSA and Syrian population in support of Assad, then the most likely result is that ISIS will be seen as defenders of the Syrian minority

    That wouldn”t seem to be a well informed view based upon developments in Syria, where the growth of ISIL has been into area where the other rebel groups are struggling to provide governance and any alternative to warlordism and a war economy.

  28. Andy Wilson: if only I’d realised then that a much less stressful way to fight imperialism was to cheer on Russian soldiers killing Arab children, I’d have had less hassle.

    Don’t be so silly, no one here indulges in the puerile posturing of *fighting imperialism*

    Personally I am not opposed to Western military support for the Iraqi government against ISIL, where they have requested it.

    It is necessary for ISIL to be defeated militarily. It is necessary for them to be replaced on the ground with troops, and for the vaccum to be filled with a polity that can restore the rule of law and develop a substantive economy. Outside Kurdistan, the only polity that can achieve that in Syria is the Syrian government, whatever else you r I may think about them.

  29. Andy Wilson on said:

    Andy Newman: Thatnis why I asked, and why you should know better than to cheer on the lynching of soldiers

    No, seriously, I’ve met a lot of military types. A rum lot.

  30. John Grimshaw: the Americans and the Brits have on many occasions hit civilians deliberately or otherwise. Are you suggesting that the Russians are in some way fundamentally much more decent?

    But the accusation is that Russia is deliberately (not otherwise) targetting civilians.

    My question was a serious one. What would be the Russian motive for deliberately choosing to bomb civilians rather than the armed jihadi extremists?

    McCain at least comes up with an explanation for his allegation, albeit a ridiculous one.

  31. Noah: What would be the Russian motive for deliberately choosing to bomb civilians rather than the armed jihadi extremists?

    This is a good point. Unless they had received flawed intelligence that the hospitals were being used for other purposes, but even then it would not be in the wider interests of the conflict to take the risk involved.

    I am not convinced that the Russians were responsible for these attacks, but nor could I say that they were not with any conviction. What we do know is that multiple countries are flying sorties against targets in Syria right now and so unless it can be proved beyond doubt that the Russians were responsible I think people need to be more careful in attributing blame.

    The fog of war has never been a more accurate term when it comes to the Syrian conflict. Propaganda is playing a huge role, given the geopolitics involved, and with such a morass of differing fronts, factions, and countries taking part. either directly or indirectly – and each with a stake in the outcome – the facts on the ground are impossible to discern with any accuracy.

    Ending the conflict has never been more paramount, but before that can happen the eradication of the sectarian and extremist forces must be achieved. The sad truth is it would never have reached the stage but for Washington’s failure to properly understand the nature of it when it first emerged in late 2013-early 2014 when ISIS captured Fallujah and first raised its black flat.

    Obama was interviewed not long after by David Remnick for the New Yorker, who asked him about this latest manifestation of al-Qaeda. Obama’s response was to label this new group as the equivalent to a jayvee team – i.e. Jumior Varsity – and nothing to be overly concerned about.

    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/01/27/going-the-distance-david-remnick

    This reponse, which Obama later attempted to assert was taken out of context, will surely haunt his legacy in years to come.

  32. It’s remarkable that there has been no US or UK media coverage of this, despite the source being the ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’:

    http://www.albawaba.com/news/least-15-killed-us-coalition-airstrike-syria-806746

    “At least 15 civilians were killed and 20 injured in an airstrike by the US-led coalition against Daesh in eastern Syria, a monitoring group said on Wednesday, as Kurdish forces were set to advance against the extremist militia in the area.

    The airstrike reportedly hit a bakery in the Shaddadi area, in southern al-Hassakeh province.”

    Yet nobody is jumping up and down accusing the USA of deliberately targeting civilians in Syria.

    Even if we disregard the media bias and the unreliability (or lack) of information from areas in Syria controlled by different forces, the fact is that Russia is carrying out hugely more airstrikes in Syria than the Americans are (well over 100 times more in a recent 1 week period). So, more civilians in total reported killed in Russian attacks than in US attacks may be no evidence at all that Russian air force are any worse at avoiding civilian casualties than the attacks of the USAF,

  33. The glaring difference between US and Russian airstrikes ignored by all these cultish dead enders is that Russian airstrikes are being coordinated with and called in by the SAA, which is an organisation which at both its lowest and highest levels is comprised of soldiers representing the same national, linguistic, ethnic and confessional groupings as the civilians in and around the areas where ISIS has dug itslef in. On the other hand western airsrtrikes are carried out on the basis of signals intelligence and ‘target signature’ profiling. Only the most deranged retards could draw an equivalence between the two.

  34. john Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Wilson: i am not even remotely disaffected. I simply enjoy the sight of dead imperialist troops. It cheers me up in the morning. And you don’t need to be rude. Show some civility. What’s the world coming to when an ordinary, tax-paying, hard-working citizen such as myself can’t shoot the breeze with a red fascist cheerleader for the bombing of Syrian schools and hospitals such as you?

    If you were disaffected how would you know?

  35. masoud: The glaring difference between US and Russian airstrikes ignored by all these cultish dead enders is that Russian airstrikes are being coordinated with and called in by the SAA, which is an organisation which at both its lowest and highest levels is comprised of soldiers representing the same national, linguistic, ethnic and confessional groupings as the civilians in and around the areas where ISIS has dug itslef in.

    Well that may be true. However, conventional wisdom among military analysts is that the CIA has a good operation in running agents that give on the ground targetting information, and that some of this information is being passed on to the Russians through a side channel (military to military sharing of Intel between the American and Israeli or German military in the (if necessary deniable )knowledge this will be passed on to Moscow.)

    John: Unless they had received flawed intelligence that the hospitals were being used for other purposes, but even then it would not be in the wider interests of the conflict to take the risk involved.

    This is highly likely, recall the relatively recent bombing of a hospital run by MSF (the French charity not the defunct British trade union) in Afghanistan. The investigation revealed that the strike had been called in by Afghan forces for their own reasons.

    Assuming that the Russians operate to a similar military logic to the Americans in AfPak, then hitting a civilian target can either indicate faulty intelligence, operational error (targetting error) or the calculated decision that there is highly reliable intel that a sufficiently high value target is present to justify the collateral.

    The law is by the way clear that hospitals may not be the specific object of attack, but where hospitals are closely situated near legitimate military targets, then the obligation on all combatants is only to respect and to take precautions to ensure that hospitals suffer as little as possible. It is therefore not unlawful to bomb a hospital per se.

    Paradoxically, the legal protection of military hospitals is stronger than that for civilian hospitals. But it is easier to ensure that military hospitals are located away from tactical or strategic targets.

  36. Andy Wilson on said:

    I get it – if you look suitably glum while saying “all war is a crime” in order to whitewash the real war crimes committed by Russian troops you are standing up for principled politics, but if you wish that the Syrians might successfully fight back once or twice against Russian troops despite their overwhelming advantage against largely unarmed civilians you have descended into barbarism. It’s a funny old world.

  37. John: The reluctance to commit ground troops up to now has been a ‘criminal’ oversight. Hopefully Putin commits them sooner rather than later.

    I know this was a flippant comment under provocation, but committing Russian combat troops in the current circumstances would be a mistake, politically and militarily. If we have learned one thing from the tragedy of Afghanistan it is that in the context of large areas and populations falling out of control of a national state, then there is no military solution without a political solution and process of restoring governance and a civil economy.

    The Syrian Army are capable of doing what is strategically necessary , with their Iranian and Hezbollah allies on the ground, and Russian air force and naval support. That is to recapture and hold “usable Syria”. The task then will be to develop a political solution that will necessarily involve reconciliation with some of the rebel groups, while driving the Jihadis to fight among themselves in the desert.

  38. Andy Wilson: if you wish that the Syrians might successfully fight back once or twice against Russian troops

    The issue is Andy that I want the war to end, that the end of the war will not be a victory for the Jihadis, and that the outcome will be a chance for restoring a civil economy and a stable state.

    You seem indifferent to outcomes, and also rather loose in your talk of “Syrians”. Firstly, it is a civil war, and the government has mass support from many Syrians, even some of the rebel groups represented at the Riyadh conference in December support the Russian bombing, and the Kurdish guerrillas are cooperating with the Russians. Secondly, a large proportion of ISIL are not actually “Syrians”, and others are economically conscripted into the ISIL through the collapse of the civilian economy.

    You just seem to be supporting nihilism.

  39. Andy Wilson: to whitewash the real war crimes committed by Russian troops

    You have mentioned the Free Syrian Army (comment 37 above). It is worth mentioning that the FSA are certainly responsible for two unambiguous war crimes, the cannibalistic desecration of the bodies of enemy combatants,and the shooting of an enemy parachutist in the air (an act that is extraordinarily well established as a a crime). These are your “moderates” beloved of liberals and ultra-lefts.

    Meanwhile, other Syrians who you applaud for killing government forces are those who execute a 14 year old boy for mentioning Allah’s name disrespectfully, and who traffic women into slavery.

  40. brianthedog on said:

    Another excellent article in today’s Independent by Robert Fisk exposing NATO member Turkey role in supporting and arming Al Qaeda in Syria. Even building highways to transport jihadists from Turkmenistan and Uigurs from China to fight. No David Cameron’s ghost ‘moderate’ armies here.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-civil-war-isis-syrian-army-russia-turkey-al-rabiaa-assad-a6882281.html

    Have to laugh when I read the AWL who are one of main ‘left’ supporters of western intervention and aggression call Russian support at the invite of the Syrian Government as being ‘imperialist’.

  41. john Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Wilson:
    I get it – if you look suitably glum while saying “all war is a crime” in order to whitewash the real war crimes committed by Russian troops you are standing up for principled politics, but if you wish that the Syrians might successfully fight back once or twice against Russian troops despite their overwhelming advantage against largely unarmed civilians you have descended into barbarism. It’s a funny old world.

    I think this is a poor argument Andy. By non means do I agree with all the comrades who contribute here, but then it would be a strange world if I did. I do however often find the debate here useful and provoking something that I often don,t get from some other organisations of the left I can think of. On this issue I think we have to be careful and nuanced. War is always hell and this one is a bad one. What therefore is more important? That it be brought to and end as speedily as possible or that the left supports “Syrian” soldiers who wish to have a pop at Russians/Assad forces. This is a more than two way civil war where upto now no one side has been strong enough to win. Even with Russian support Assad may still find this impossible. There are many unknowns. Will the Turks get directly involved? Will they or the Russians go to war with each other? What will the response of the British/USA be if they do? Will the disastrous inability of the Erdogan regime to honour its agreement with the Kurds lead to further spread of war? what are we to make of the Saudis intervention in Turkey? Under these circumstances in my view a cease fire should be the primary objective. Since it is unlikely that ISIL will agree to such a thing or even care then the best chance must be in the more populous west of Syria.

    For what it’s worth unlike some I do not see the Russian intervention as necessarily helpful or as providing a bulwark against western imperialism. Rather as a way for Putin et al to shore up his own influence. But we are where we are. By the way a lot of your “Syrian” soldiers are not.

  42. Andy Wilson on said:

    john Grimshaw: I think this is a poor argument Andy.

    To be fair, it is less an argument than a response to the dreadful hypocrisy involved in some of the arguments here; not necessarily yours, John.

  43. StevieB on said:

    “The New Danger to Europe Isn’t ISIS. It’s Assad’s Thugs”. Another guise for ‘regime change needed in Syria’.

  44. John G I’d never heard of this publication before. When I saw the name initially I thought that it was a highbrow, sometimes progressive semi-official roman catholic publication of the same name that my late brother subscribed to.

    I get the impression from a brief scan of the one that article was in that it’s a trendy zionist online magazine of some sort. But I’m sure Andy W can enlighten us further.

    It certainly doesn’t appear to be the sort of publication that people on here would normally be quoting from (as could probably be said about its RC namesake for that matter).

  45. John Grimshaw on said:

    Vanya: semi-official roman catholic publication of the same name that my late brother subscribed to.

    Sorry to hear that Vanya. Yes I’m familiar with that publication and as far as I can see it is a mouth piece for the Church. I’ve never heard of a Jewish or Zionist one. That’s why I asked for some clarification. Of course its perfectly possible that Shabiha members have come to Europe as undoubtedly have some people who support Daesh etc. I am unable to say who poses a greater threat to life and limb but I find the article a bit suspect.

  46. George Hallam on said:

    Andy Wilson,

    The article starts of by saying:

    “the regime pursued a dual strategy to militarise and sectarianise the conflict.”

    Everything that follows suggests that this has worked well and the ‘moderates’ have been completely marginalised.

  47. Andy Wilson on said:

    What a coincidence:

    “The Assad regime has won the support of fascists and far-right nationalist parties and organizations across Europe. These include the National Front (France), Forza Nuova and CasaPound (Italy), Golden Dawn and Black Lilly (Greece), the British National Party (UK) and the National Rebirth of Poland, Falanga and All Polish Youth (Poland). This support can be attributed to: anti-imperialist/anti-globalism sentiment with a strong focus on national states (they believe the Assad regime protects the Syrian state against US imperialism), Islamophobia (they believe the Assad regime fights Islamic extremists), anti-semitism (they believe Assad’s regime acts as resistance to Israel).”

    Who are Assad’s Fascist Supporters?

  48. Vanya on said:

    #71 Let’s assume for the sake of argument that this stuff you quote is accurate.

    The main policy promoted in the BNP’s euro-election campaign in the North West of England in 2010 (don’t know about the rest of the country) was for British troops out of Afghanistan.

    Did that make me stop and wonder whether the invasion was right after all?

    No.

    Just as the fact that all those groups referred to will almost certainly be anti- EU will not make that particular institution any more attractive to me.

    Nor for that matter did my support for CND diminish when I found out that in the early 80s the NF (under Griffin) were calling for US bases out of Britain.

    I could go on.

  49. Andy Wilson,

    Well assuming that Aron Lund is more well informed than even that wise sage Andy Wilson, let us look at his argument about who the opposition are, in relation to the ceasefire:

    http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=62916.

    Note that the extremist Jihadi group the Islam Army, are actually a member of the Free Syrian Army, and that networks of military alliances co-exist on the ground between al Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and FSA. Ahrar al-Sham is of course promoted by Turkey. This blows out the water the idea that there is a third force that is substantively independent of the head-choppers.

    Of course it is possible to point to supporters of Assad on the far right, the reasons for which should be no surprise to anyone. But more pertinently, those who broadly feel that the least worst option is a military victory for the Damascus government is becomming a mainstream position across the political spectrum, including for example Tulsi Gabbard (Dem), who represents Hawaii Congressional District 2, and who recently resigned as vice chair of the Democrat National Committee to endorse Bernie Sanders.

  50. Vanya on said:

    #72 I will go on.

    I recall a union meeting about 25 years ago where an officer who was also a Salford councillor argued that if we passed a motion to support any member who was jailed for non payment of the poll tax that we could end up defending NF members! Maybe I should have taken notice and demanded that all ny friends, neighbours and family paid it?

    There’s a podcast on YouTube where Nick Griffin rails againat the bedroom tax. Obviously I should explain to the people in my block who are affected by it that they are clearly crypto fascists if they complain about having to pay it.

    No?

  51. john Grimshaw on said:

    Vanya,

    I would’ve thought we would seek to defend an NF member who was jailed for taking a political stand on not paying the Poll Tax. We should do so whilst being critical of that hypothetical persons other politics. Who knows they may see the light and realise that solidarity is the way forwards rather than reactionary dead end racism?

    That being said I’m not sure that the reactionary regime of Assad is entirely analogous. The Assad regime is the former/still ? ruling elite of a carved out ex-imperialist country which has nothing t do with the working class movement.

  52. Vanya on said:

    john Grimshaw: I would’ve thought we would seek to defend an NF member who was jailed for taking a political stand on not paying the Poll Tax.

    I don’t have a problem with giving practical support to individual fascists who are the victims of anti-working class laws or actions. For example, as has been pointed out on several occasions, in the 1930s in the East End it was not unknown for the Communist led NUWM to help organise solidarity with people facing eviction even if they were members or sympathisers of the Blackshirts.

    On reflection this issue may not be a particularly good analogy with Syria as you suggest.

    But my general point stands. Basing a political position on taking the opposite view to fascists is not a useful method.

  53. Andy Wilson on said:

    My point was not merely that the far right support Assad in much the same way as much of the left, but rather, crucially, that they do so *for the same reasons* (integrity of the state, fear / ‘distrust’ of muslims, for secularism over religion,

    “This support can be attributed to: anti-imperialist/anti-globalism sentiment with a strong focus on national states (they believe the Assad regime protects the Syrian state against US imperialism), Islamophobia (they believe the Assad regime fights Islamic extremists), anti-semitism (they believe Assad’s regime acts as resistance to Israel). All of these beliefs rest on fallacy and an uncritical perpetuation of regime narratives.[1] They are also positions shared (although without the racist element) by sections of the left.”

    Before you jump, I am not accusing anyone here of antisemitism – just in believing that Assad is part of an anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist bloc.

  54. StevieB on said:

    Andy Wilson: just in believing that Assad is part of an anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist bloc.

    Quote text Reply

    Since 2011 governments of France/Israel/UK/US act to bring down Assad. What sort of bloc might this be?

  55. Andy Wilson: Islamophobia (they believe the Assad regime fights Islamic extremists)

    I am confused by this, do you consider it Islamophobic to think that ISIL are Islamic extremists, or do you consider it Islamophobic to beleive that it is right to fight ISIL?

    Andy Wilson: Before you jump, I am not accusing anyone here of antisemitism – just in believing that Assad is part of an anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist bloc.

    Why do you think is is a necessary precondition for supporting the Damascus government’s military campaign against ISIL to also beleive that Assad is “part of an anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist bloc”

  56. john Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman,

    I presume Andy Wilson’s quote is from Wikipedia (?). I understand it in the sense that the Assad regime has received some moral support from the Western European far right for the reasons stated in the quote. I believe Nick Griffin may have made a visit there at some stage in the recent past. Presumably the crucial word here is “believe”. That is that the far right believes these things to be true irrespective of whether they are. Whether of course the Assad regime believe that this moral support is of any use to them is moot point. The point about Isamaphobia is confusing but then everything about the far right is confusing (or rather they are). The far right can be anti-globalism but then equally it can be the opposite. Famously Hitler was pro small German business until he came to power and then he wasn’t.

  57. john Grimshaw on said:

    The issue with fighting ISIL is complicated. The Assad regime is fighting against ISIL but then it is also fighting everyone else but itself (citation needed). Clearly it is not Islamophobic to fight ISIL necessarily or to believe they are extremists because they are. It’s just that there’s lots of murky stuff going on that we don’t know about. Did, to use a bad analogy, Churchills government fight Nazi Germany because he was a serious anti fascist or because he saw a threat to the Empire and British power? I suspect on a much lesser level that’s where Assad is coming from.

  58. Andy Newman on said:

    john Grimshaw,

    Well actually Assad’s forces are not fighting *everyone* as there is practical military cooperation with the YPG on the ground (and from the air) and a certain political affinity between Damascus and the Kurdish parties.

    It is also looking likely that a deal will be brokered with the Jordanian government that will isolate rebels on.the Southern front.

  59. Andy Newman on said:

    Incidently, the cooperation between the Kurds and Damascus has led to some extreme comdemmation of the Kurds by the left cheerleaders in the West of the so called “Syrian revolution “

  60. john Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman,

    Okay not everyone at the moment. Although I think you have to accept that was true til recently. The BaAthist regime has a turbulent relationship with the Kurds as I am sure you know. Ha fez went through a period of support of Kurdish nationalist aims and then another period of opposition. In the opposition period many Kurdish activists were rounded up and oppression became the order of the day. By the same token Assad is happy to temporarily align with Kurdish aims in order to defeat his greater enemies. And I suppose that’s my point. How trustworthy is Assad? Will the regime should it “win” be willing to concede territory or autonomous control?

  61. john Grimshaw: Okay not everyone at the moment. Although I think you have to accept that was true til recently. The BaAthist regime has a turbulent relationship with the Kurds as I am sure you know.

    Every regime where the Kurds are located has had a turbulent relationship with them. Their plight is a product of Sykes Picot and hopefully in the Syrian context, out of this conflict, where there has been a level of cooperation, and certainly shared aims, the result will be better relations between the Syrian government and its Kurdish minority in future.

    The improvement in the position of the Kurds will, I’m sure, be of particular interest to both the Russians and Americans going forward, considering that both countries have been flying sorties in support of their efforts on the ground and that the Kurds are now working with other Syrian forces under the auspices of the SDF.

    However, it would be a serious mistake to romanticise the Kurds or underestimate their ability to be just as ruthless and treacherous as others in the region. This passage from one of Robert Fisk’s recent pieces in The Independent leaves no doubt of the challenges that lie ahead:

    ‘But what of the Kurds, whose advance southwards has also endangered those rebel supply routes to Aleppo? The Syrians are grateful for any Kurdish help they can get. But few in the military have forgotten the chilling events of 2013, when retreating Syrians sought refuge with Kurdish forces after the battle for the Mineq airbase. The Kurds demanded a vast tranche of weapons from the Syrian army in return for their men – soldiers for ammunition – in which millions of rounds of AK-47 and machine-gun ammunition and thousands of rounds of rocket-propelled grenades were sought in return for the release of the soldiers.

    But the Kurds wanted to persuade Nusra to return Kurdish prisoners, and offered the senior Syrian officers from Mineq to Nusra in return for the captives. Nusra agreed, but once the Kurds handed over the Syrian officers, the Islamist rebels – who had lost around 300 of their own men in the Mineq battle – at once killed all the Syrian officers the Kurds had given them, shooting them in the head.

    Among them was the acting Syrian commander at Mineq, Colonel Naji Abu Shaar of the Syrian army’s 17th Division. Events like these will not endear the Kurds to the Syrian army in future years.’

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-civil-war-state-of-the-art-technology-gives-president-assad-s-army-the-edge-a6898741.html

  62. john Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman,

    I have have searched for news of this Jordanian/Assad agreement but can find know evidence of it Andy. Can you link me?

  63. Vanya on said:

    The Brussels terror attacks: between rage and resilience
    Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB)
    March 23, 2016

    On Tuesday, March 22, the blind terror of Islamic State sent shock waves through Brussels, and far beyond. Terrorist bomb attacks, one in Brussels Airport and another one in the Maalbeek metro station, near the EU buildings, caused at least 31 deaths and 250 injured, many of them seriously. Baggage handlers at the airport, train personnel at the metro, travellers and commuters, common people from all walks of life, individuals and families from different nationalities, convictions and origins are among the victims.

    “Their lives have been taken away by barbaric fanatics”, said Peter Mertens, Chairman of the PTB (Workers’ Party of Belgium) in a first reaction. “There are no excuses whatsoever for these cowardly acts of terror, aimed at destroying our living together. The IS terrorists want to impose their world view of mutual hatred, increasing division, more militarisation and new wars. But they won’t succeed. Because solidarity and resilience stand in their way. As in the touching case of Alphonse Youla, the black baggage handler who helped six or seven people escape the nightmare at Brussels Airport. As in the thousands of messages on social media with the hashtag #Iwanttohelp: people offering a ride out of Brussels, a place to spend the night or donating blood. The very day of the attacks, hundreds of people spontaneously gathered at Brussels’ central Bourse Place, where Iraqi oud player Hossein sang a song of hope.”

    Dirk De Block, PTB Brussels Chairman, and Youssef Handichi, member of the Brussels Parliament for the PTB and himself a former bus driver and trade-unionist, immediately tweeted: “We won’t let those cowards destroy what we have built together”, thus expressing a widely held sentiment among the Brussels population. In Brussels and in many other cities throughout Belgium, these days several solidarity vigils, marches and assemblies are being held, in which the PTB takes an active part.

    But today we also have to ask many questions, and many answers will need to be provided. Since the Paris attacks last November, people in Brussels have had to cope with heavily armed military in the streets. They now come to the conclusion that these have certainly not helped to avoid terror attacks. The authorities have been blaming entire communities as hotbeds of terrorism that needed a thorough “cleaning up”, thus putting their inhabitants’ democratic rights at stake, instead of using specific and selective measures aimed at precise terrorists and their network. Other issues come to the fore with even more force than before the Brussels attacks. How to tackle racism and exclusion, discrimination and inequality, while stimulating and enhancing the people’s unity and resistance against the government’s anti-austerity measures? How to promote a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and particularly in Syria, through dialogue and negotiations with all local and regional actors involved, instead of taking the military option and adding more bombs and destruction?‬ How to efficiently combat IS and its ultra-reactionary ideology, if not by taking on the financial and logistical support it continues to get via Saudi-Arabia, the Gulf States and Turkey – all NATO allies? For in the medium term, it is only by tackling the root causes that we will be able to effectively counter terror and war, hate and division, racism and exclusion.

  64. john Grimshaw on said:

    Dannat has been on the radio this morning essentially agreeing that the Assad regime is the way forwards.

  65. George Hallam on said:

    It now seems certain that Syrian government forces have taken the town of Al-Qaryatayn from ISIS.

    Al-Qaryatayn is south of the Homs-Palmyra road. The term ‘strategic’ tends to overused, but in this case it is appropriate. The SSA are now in a much stronger position and ISIS is corresponding weaker.