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12 June 2015


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So the key recommendation is to bomb ISIS command and control in Syria?


"It is exactly the same problem in Iraq today. We are only targeting the frontline".

The main issue, according to Gen. Mercier, is that IS' command structures are not necessarily in Iraq, but mostly in Syria now. "

So, are we headed for that "no fly zone" after all?

I have no reason to doubt doubt that Mercier's take is probably accurate. Still, it raises to me so many questions, off the top of my head:

* Will there be escalation of the anti-SISI campaign into Syria, with colaition forces targeting ISIS targets?

* Will the US, should they participate, be able to restrain its inner urges to go after Assad, too, while at it, in order to placate Obama's domestic regime change enthusiasts (equal opportunity bombing?)?

* If that happened, the Iranians won't like this. What about the US-Iran deal then?

* The Turks and the Saudis will hardly accept the US and whoever else going after their investment in (so far) anti-Assad Jihadis, and to a lesser extent, ISIS.

* Are we seeing in the re-branding of jihadi headchopper groups as 'Moderate Islamists', as if there was such a thing, a preparation to split the opposition to Assad into bombable and non-bombable parts (as in 'Khorasan group')?

* Is there any confidence that this time, whoever does the bombing will be better able to shape the outcomes than the last couple times? Blowing up shit is the easy part, building states is the hard part and building states from the air is impossible.

* The alternative to do nothing will lead to a Hobbesian nightmare worse than the status quo.

* So, who's going to do the hard parts? Who's to provide the necessary occupation army to fill any emerging power vacuum? Does anybody have the numbers needed?

* The Turks? Does anybody want them? Do they want this?

* Who else? Those re-branded 'Moderate Islamists'?

* What will that mean for Christians, Shia, Druze and Alawites? It isn't as if they are any less idolaters, heathen or apostates to a 'Moderate Islamist' than to an ISIS goon or your run of the mill Tafkiri.

William R. Cumming

Thanks PB for this post. So the USAF rusty in fighting sub-state actors?

Patrick Bahzad

bth, you're free to infer from with whatever you think is right :-)

 Ishmael Zechariah


What will happen in Turkey is somewhat uncertain. Any adventure in Syria is not supported by those who have to fight.


Does Gen. Mercier think what happened in Libya was a success?

Ishmael Zechariah

ex-PFC Chuck

I don't see how this situation can end well unless and until the underlying cognitive dissonance of the strategy in Syria is resolved. If the Assad regime falls, what will be the effect on the heretofore most effective ground force in opposition to IS, the Syrian army? From what I read, here and elsewhere, isn't it likely that its troops will fade back into their respective ethnic/religious communities to look out for their own? And might not much of the plurality Sunni community (IIRC Syrian demographics correctly) see their best option as joining rather than fighting them? General Mercier doesn't address this as far as I can tell. But perhaps it would cost him his job if he told the king he was nude.

Bill H

There are problems with saying you are doing one thing and doing a different thing.

Of attacking command and control centers, he says that, "it was by attacking these centres that we managed to topple Kadhafi." No doubt true, except that we were saying that our effort was specifically not regime change but was merely "R2P" for the people in Benghazi. The truth does have a way of coming out.

Dave Schuler

The original article appears to be here.


Patrick, the "L'Orient le jour" online version is an bbreviated version, or is that all there is?


"Does Gen. Mercier think what happened in Libya was a success?"

The NATO bombing, which went well beyond the 'humanitarian no-fly zone' DID have the effect of destroying the government in Libya so the rebels could take over. But that's all.

My take is that, rather, he tells that what would work, and what doesn't, based on his operational experience i.e. he doesn't endorse.

FB Ali

Gen Mercier's statement shows why it is always dangerous to let military men set policy. All they are focussed on is military success; what happens afterwards is not their concern!

That is why it is essential for the political policymakers to set a worthwhile and achievable (based on military advice) goal for the action being undertaken (using both military and other means).

Unfortunately, in Iraq and Syria there does not appear to be such a policy. That is why various generals (Mercier yesterday, Dempsey the day before, etc) are floating their own solutions.

No good can come of such a vacuum, as was demonstrated in Libya.

Ted B

.... Israel seems to be itchy/able. Just a thought.


General Mercier is quoted in the article as saying: "Afterwards the ball is somewhat in their court... the problem is you need a ground offensive by these Iraqi forces which is complicated by the overlapping of different communities," At least he understand the realistic limitations of air power. He also points out the need of good intelligence sources and analysis.
The political limitation, in addition to the complete incapability of the Iraqi Armed forces, is that Syria is still a sovereign nation that would have to approve of any such campaign in their air space. Given our active support of groups trying to overthrow the government of the Syrian Arab Republic why would the SAR trust any US led force? Second the SAR has allies both in Iran and the Russian Federation. The later sits on the UN Security Council. Does anyone truly think the Russian Federation would vote for another resolution like the one that led to the campaign that destroyed Gaddafi's government?


FB Ali,
"No good can come of such a vacuum, as was demonstrated in Libya"

Absolutely, and in Syria the carnage and repercussions would be far worse.

Patrick Bahzad


I hear what you're saying. I'm not going to comment on this post, for reasons you'll easily understand. I just wanted to give a summary of the piece published by the Lebanese.

Just as a side note, the idea is to take these comments one step further and wonder, if airstrikes are to be called for, what the right strategy and the right targets are. And then ask how those targets are going to be found out and identified! Which brings us back to some issues we've been discussing quite a lot recently.

Basically, I think everybody with some level of knowledge about the region will accept the notion that there is no strictly military solution to this mess, but if a political settlement is the goal, you want to get to the bargaining table with a few aces up your sleeve.


Ted B,
hmm, they have chosen to let the Arabs kill each other and relish the thought. No ground troops in Syria, IMO.

They're however more than happy to help from the air here and then.

They may go after Hezbollah in Lebanon though. That would probably be the most harmful thing they could do and their trigger finger is itchy.

Patrick Bahzad


Those are good questions ! Especially about the need for good Intel.
Regarding international law, I don't think the legal issues would stand in the way, as the coalition is already hitting targets in Syria. The only difference or question is about which targets to hit.
But any consequence on the balance of power between bashar al Assad and the insurgents would obviously be analyzed very carefully by Russia and Iran.

Patrick Bahzad

Worse than what ?

Patrick Bahzad


As FB Ali mentioned, you can look at Libya from a purely military point of view and think it is a success, while politically it is a disaster area. The reason for that mess however could be found as much in the lack of involvement and support to the political transition as in the military campaign itself.
Blaming only the military for a botched political operation is a bit one sided I think, even though criticism in that regard has its merits. Doesn't mean however that you can't use the lessons of one campaign and see how they can be applied to another. The political process is a different issue.


Than Libya.

Babak Makkinejad

There cannot be an ISIS strategy without Syria strategy and none without an Iran strategy.

Has the Iran strategy changed in France?

Does Iran remain the #1 enemy of France now that Russia has been demoted to the #2 position?



Regarding Intel your prior post "Food for Thought" was perfect in highlighting language fluency and cultural awareness requirements in collection and analysis of intel. I have to disagree about the legal issues, at least regarding the US domestically. While it is true that the coalition is hitting targets in Syria there will need to be Congressional approval for a major (along the lines of Libya) air campaign. Obama lacks the Constitutional authority to order such action on his own. It would be a major constitutional problem for us if he were to do so.

Patrick Bahzad


I meant legal issues in relation to international law, as I pointed out in my reply. US constitutional law is a different matter, but I doubt Obama would ask authorization from Congress for any course action under the 3 month constitutional limit. But I'm no legal expert, just my gut feeling.



The basic problem in the Levant is that the push for war has ended any search for peace. The Sunni fighters being bombed in the front lines of Iraq are the same as those fighting the Syrian government. They move back and forth. The USA is selective bombing because it still wants the Sunnis to take down the Assad Regime. Greed, hubris and ignorance are leading the charge to a regional holy war. The Washington Post reports that the Saudis are seeking nuclear weapons. I have no doubt that the oil sheiks want their own Sampson Option. Their heads are on the line. Chaos mixed with nuclear fallout is the only end game in play.


Yes, yes; let's let the NSA/Mossad pull all the phone records of ISIS leaders and surgically strike them. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Although the generals may have the best intentions, bombing ISIS w/o bombing Syrian forces is like balancing a dog biscuit on a neocon Doberman's nose. It's too tempting/delicious to pass up. The fall of Assad would bring an anarchistic state on Israel's doorstep, but looking past one move ahead has never been the strength of the neocons. The psychic pressure to "do something", combined with vindictive animal attack instincts, will result in the tasty bombings going ahead anyway (no matter what the cover story), and subsequent FUBAR anarchy. IMHO.

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