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05 April 2016

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Barish

Thanks for the overview, and also for picking up on today's episode of Nusra and friends downing a warplane. I do note that it isn't even hushed up that Nusra took credit there, for both the shoot-down as well as the capture of the pilot (Gods help the poor man), and the noises made by this "Division 13" (how'd they come up with that numbering for those unicorn outfits, drawing lots?):

http://bigstory.ap.org/urn:publicid:ap.org:7d2db4bd879d49dea7048d7d9f0d0094

"A spokesman for a U.S.-backed division of the Free Syrian Army accused the government of scrapping the cease-fire and undermining the Geneva talks. The group said one of its fighters was killed in the offensive against government forces in the south Aleppo countryside.

"The truce is considered over," Zakariya Qaytaz of the Division 13 brigade told AP through Twitter. "This battle is a notice to the regime."

The United States and Russia had hoped a halt in fighting would cause opposition factions to distance themselves from extremist groups such as the Nusra Front. Instead, rebel militia seem to have united in their opposition to the government.

The nationalist Division 13 brigade is now fighting alongside Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, a powerful jihadist militia that is internally divided over its association with the al-Qaida affiliate.

Qaytaz said his faction remained wary of the Nusra Front after the latter stole their weapons and expelled them from the town of Maarat al-Nouman in March.

The Nusra Front posted videos on social media showing mortars and tanks firing on what it said were government positions in the Aleppo countryside Saturday. An opposition media outlet later posted a report from inside a village said to be Tel al-Ais, with artillery sounding in the distance. Syria's state news agency acknowledged fierce clashes in the area Friday."

At least this lot isn't pretending who's throwing the ceasefire by the wayside. On the other hand, as you observed: this "Division 13" makes itself look just as bad as its jihadi brothers-in-arms with that type of action and diction. Beyond regaining Tal al-Eis from unicorn control, what could be potential goals for SAA and allies in this area?

Further, there's a couple things I wonder about in the following:

"The Islamic State’s expansion into Syria is as much the result of some cynical moves made by the Syrian regime (namely the release of some Islamist detainees early in 2011), as it is the end-product of sectarian politics in Iraq (where Sunnis still feel pretty much second-class citizens), US failure to properly deal with the issue when they still had the chance and Western blindness as to what was at stake in the region in general."

Wasn't it the case that as early as 2011, the "international community" demanded the government release "political prisoners", of whom various Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, who are very open to al-Qaida, were a significant part? A detail that said "community" would have been aware of had they cared to look into it back then. And then there is the fact that irregardless of whether they were released by the Syrian authorities, they were still fully supported by various interested parties - case in point being Zahran Alloush, the late leader of Jaish al-Islam whose group enjoys full support by al-Saud, and whose relative - a cousin? - is heading the Saudi-sponsored "High Negotiation Committee" in Geneva.

Finally, beyond Deir-Ezzor, should that be the next stop after Palmyra, how feasible would it be for SAA and allies to try and shore up Syria's border with Iraq?

Bob

Patrick:
Excellent analysis. Agree with all on Syria. I think you are correct about the tactical/operational relevance versus information operations value of Palmyra/Tadmur, although I expected you to note that it ceased to be strategically important after it was destroyed by the Romans in 273 AD, and generally lost any operational importance of its own after the Mongols destroyed it in 1400. I have been surprised that the Russians have been able to keep operations against the Southern Front and the flow of refugees towards Jordan at a minimum. I think people need to manage their expectations of what is possible with the YPG/SDF axis.
With respect to Iraq, I am even more pessimistic than you about possibilities for ISF operations in the near term, as it still doesn't seem to be in the interest of the current Dawa Party government or the Shia militias that make up the ISF and PMF to do so . You are being mischievious (but technically correct) in your use of the term "ethnic cleansing" in reference to the 2007 Surge operations in the Baghdad Security Belts, but will confuse those who don't know their history. However, the term is useful, as the PMF is only likely to decide to continue operations against ISIL in Anbar and Ninewah if it senses it can conduct more ethnic cleansing, and that's what the Iranians and anti-ISIL Coalition will be asked to provide fire support for.

Babak Makkinejad

I think that Russia also has been able to successfully maintain political discipline on Iran and Syria.

Brunswick

Picking a nit:

" The Islamic State’s expansion into Syria is as much the result of some cynical moves made by the Syrian regime (namely the release of some Islamist detainees early in 2011), "

After several months of protests in 2011, many prisoners managed to escape. Zahran Alloush, Abu Shadi Aboud (brother of Hassan Aboud[2]) and Ahmed Abu Issa were some of the more prominent prisoners released from the prison. They proceeded to form their own Islamist groups and take up arms against the regime upon their release. Many of them became leaders of Islamist groups in the Islamic Front such as Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar ash-Sham and Suqour al-Sham Brigade.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sednaya_Prison

While the Syrian Observatory (later claimed 1500 prisoners were released), claims at the time said 240 prisoners were released, and at the time the prisoners release was "hailed" as a "victory" for the Protestors and was a "concession" by the Syrian Regime.

The meme that the Assad Prisoner Release "created" or "strengthened" ISIS in Syria, is persistent.

The reality is that while some of the released prisoners, ( 3) went on to found Jihadi groups, ( not ISIS), the Prisoner Release in no way aided ISIS in Syria.

The series of escapes from beseiged Syrian prisons, and the capture of Syria prisons by jihadi groups, had a far greater impact, but of course, is counter to the Borg approved propaganda.

Patrick Bahzad

Bob,

you're right about the "ethnic cleansing" part being a bit confusing for those who are not familiar with Baghdad during that period. I slightly edited the text accordingly, although I have to say, it must have been clear from the outset that there would be a price to pay in return for the strategy chosen for securing Baghdad, i.e. cordoning off the city from its Sunni hinterland with an extra 20 000 US troops and basically letting local "assets" mop up the countless AQI and Baathist cells.

Regarding Palmyra, the historic perspective you're giving is very interesting as I am convinced, as I wrote a while ago, that ISIS (as an organisation) will end up just like the "Assassins", who got destroyed by a large Mongol army in the 14th century. Unlike the "Assassins" though, large parts of ISIS are likely to survive and merge into something new, possibly with AQ, which is something one should be ready and plan for. This will be a very long war I'm afraid.

bth

Bob you say Palmyra/Tadmur isn't strategically important but isn't there a critical natural gas pipelines running from Palmyra/Tadmur westward that is necessary for western Syrian electric power plants? And isn't Palmyra/Tadmur a critical stop on any SAA movement further east especially toward the small oil fields within Syria that IS occupies and Assad must have for cash?

Patrick Bahzad

B,

Thx for the Wikipedia link, I'm familiar enough with Sednaya and about who was released in 2011. You're right of course on a factual basis, but I didn't say Assad created ISIS.
However, this prisoner release contributed to making things worse and pushing the country over the edge, even if the regime never anticipated things to turn this bad.

gemini33

Off topic: Col. Lang, any insight on why there's a huge meeting of military brass at the White House? Is this just a regular thing? Obama made some statements about defeating ISIL. There's a reorg of the joint chiefs going on. I wondered if it was anything to take special notice of.

VietnamVet

PB

Thanks again for your updates. They are invaluable. Today’s news is truly a conundrum.

If the moderate rebels broke the cease fire by seizing territory south of Aleppo plus the introduction of MANPADS into the conflict indicated by shooting down the Syrian fighter; the Syrian civil war has re-ignited and escalated.

America’s actions appear incomprehensible. The evacuation of dependents from the NATO ally, Turkey, indicates that the war is expected to expand north. Yet, the American airstrike against a gathering of Jihadi leaders in northwestern Syria appears to been in support of the cease fire and has to be contrary to the wishes of John McCain and Lindsay Graham, the rebels’ ardent supporters.

Whoever introduced MANPADS into the Sunni Shiite Jihad does not hold shares of Emirates, Gulf Air, or Qatar Airways. With proliferation of the anti-aircraft missiles, every airport in the region will have to have exclusionary zones around them and combat landings and takeoffs. An A380 is a huge target.

Patrick Bahzad

VV,

Im not sure that plane today was downed by MANPAD. conflicting reports about what happened. Wait and see.

turcopolier

Bob

"the tactical/operational relevance versus information operations value of Palmyra/Tadmur" So, to you the diplomatic side of the war is
"Information Operations?" pl

KHarbaugh

You talk about "US failure to properly deal with the issue when they still had the chance".
I am truly clueless on this issue.
Just how should the US have dealt with this issue?
Probably there is no one answer to that question, as any approach would have its plusses and minuses, winners and losers.
A "staff study" (remember those?) on the pros and cons of the various alternatives by would be of interest to me, and maybe to others :-)
If one already exists in some form that you agree with, how about a reference or link?
Thanks.

Barish

"If the moderate rebels broke the cease fire by seizing territory south of Aleppo plus the introduction of MANPADS into the conflict indicated by shooting down the Syrian fighter; the Syrian civil war has re-ignited and escalated."

MANPADS have been around in the Syrian insurgents' hands for a long while, as it happens:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/28/syria-middleeast

Plus, if such was used, what they hit was an old SU-22 on low altitude reconnaissance flight.

different clue

VietnamVet,

About our government evacuating dependents from NATO Turkey, my first assumption had been we were getting them out before they might be attacked or kidnapped by indigenous-to-Turkey bad actors . . . perhaps by clumsily disguised and implausibly deniable false flag crimes by some Erdogist-connected people.

Would that be a wrong first assumption?

Thirdeye

Right on cue, the State Department accuses government forces of breaching the ceasefire. No acknowledgement of the JAN/FSA assaults in southern Aleppo.

https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/assads-fate-determined-syrian-people-u-s-state-department/

Stupid, stupid, stupid! With that obvious display of bad faith, the US has removed any political incentive for R+6 not to prosecute the war against JAN/FSA in any manner they see as advantageous, "ceasefire" or no.

Patrick Bahzad

I think there is a lot of posturing in the State Dpt at the moment: on the one hand, they can't look like they're letting down the same rebel forces they've been talking up for years. On the other, the Pentagon has made it clear that they're going after AQ and affiliates anywhere in Syria, which supposes some sort of green light from the R+6 when Us jets or drones are striking in areas covered by Russian/Syrian air defence.
The aim is clear: they don't want to let JaN highjack or sabotage the negotiation process, but they're refraining from openly criticizing remaining FSA units which participate in JaN operations.
It's probable, some help is being provided as we speak in order to put some order into the totally chaotic "FSA" scene, just as a precaution in case things get really out of hand with JaN (or in case of a failure of the negotiation process, which I consider rather unlikely though at this point).

William R. Cumming

Assad family mentioned in newly released Panama Papers! Implications?

Patrick Bahzad

KHarbaugh,
Of course there is an answer to your question. Fundamentally though, I think you should seriously wonder about the plusses of the current situation both for the US and for Syria. If you see any, please share with the rest of us !
Regarding US failure to deal with the issue, maybe you're not looking back far enough: the current conflict has deep roots and as far as the US is concerned, interference/meddling has begun even before the invasion of Iraq.
That would be a first missed opportunity: engaging Assad in 2001-2002 when he was newly in power and Syria reached out to the US after 9/11, both out of fear of being targeted in coming military operations and as an attempt to mend fences with the US. Syria engaged in a very fruitful INTEL cooperation with the US in those years and it is the ideological bias of the Neo-Cons that put an end to this. The following years were quite different on the other hand and relations worsened substantially.
But after Obama was elected, there was another missed window of opportunity again when the talks about the Golan heights seemed to be going somewhere. They didn't in the end, and therefore the US missed out on a second chance to patch things up with Syria and promote change without encouraging armed rebellion.
The third missed opportunity not to do "stupid shit" was after the Arab spring had reached Syria and the US, despite warnings by its IC, went down the path of tacit then active support for armed opposition groups which turned out to be influenced and guided by Islamist groups of various colour. There are enough Intel reports in Virginia about this to fill up a whole library. You can always start by reading the declassified DIA report of 2012 which is quite eloquent in its assessment of what was going on.
Finally, if you add Iraq (and ISIS) into the equation, there is plenty more that could have been done differently or avoided, were it not for the geopolitical blindness and open ideological agenda of at least part of the Bush and Obama administrations.

Patrick Bahzad

WRC,

Not sure there will be any. First of all, it was an open secret, the Makhlouf clan is not new in the Syrian business world. Second, it's up to the Syrian IRS to deal with tax evasion. Third, its Assad's family not Assad himself, so the main downfall will be in terms of image, but again, nothing there the Syrians didn't already know.
Along the same rationale, you could ask that question about David Cameron whose dad is also mentioned in the PanamaPapers. Implications for Cameron the UK ? that's up to the UK authorities ...

pantaraxia

Picked this up from comments section of MOA.

Syrian government refutes U.S. claims of killing top Nusra commander
https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/syrian-government-refutes-u-s-claims-killing-top-nusra-commander/

“The Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Miqdad released a statement on Tuesday denying the Pentagon’s claim that the U.S. Air Force killed the prominent Jabhat Al-Nusra (Syrian Al-Qaeda group) commander “Abu Firas Al-Souri” in rural Idlib.

Miqdad added that the Syrian Arab Air Force (SAAF) carried out the series of airstrikes that killed the Nusra commander and 25 of his associates inside the village of Kafr Jalis.

The Pentagon took responsibility for the airstrike that killed Abu Firas Al-Souri, despite the scarcity of their airstrikes against the Al-Qaeda factions in Syria.”


Besides the obvious propaganda value of claiming the ‘kill’, why would Syria contradict U.S. claim in this specific instance when it has not done so in the past (in respect to bombing runs). Could it possibly be true?

Patrick Bahzad

I don't think the Pentagon would claim anything that wasn't rightfully theirs. I wouldn't say as much for the Syrian government ...
Don't forget that the Syrian government also has an interest in not making this "joint effort" look too obvious, both to some of their allies (Hezbollah and Iran in particular) and their foes or partners in the ongoing negotiations.
Finally, the Syrian government has a base of its own that is not necessarily thrilled at the idea of US jets overflying government controlled areas ...

Mick

One of the most smart way "moderate rebels" use to resupply ISIS is to organize some fake fighting where ISIS take control of some bases of rebels where has been stored planty of supply. They shell a little bit by artillery and fire a couple of gunshot just to lead journalist to report the fighitng between rebels and ISIS but it's just a "movie" enginered to resupply ISIS.

Matthew

PB: And then there is this world-class cynicism: https://twitter.com/margbrennan/status/717463235025379329

Compare this to the President's comments to Tom Friedman.

Now he cares....

LeaNder

"are being mischievious (but technically correct) in your use of the term "ethnic cleansing" in reference to the 2007 Surge operations in the Baghdad Security Belts, but will confuse those who don't know their history."

Bob, I only read this today, thus I cannot really judge the passage as you criticized it.

Anyway, didn't the problem start with how Iraq was managed post "Mission accomplished"? In other words, if we leave out the Machiavellian schemes behind the necessities for Operation Iraqi Freedom, would someone that 'knows his history' tell me, that I am misguided, if I assume that maybe as bad as the war itself was the handling after? Put another way, somewhat in a nutshell: That it somewhat resulted in one ethnic(?) elite being supplanted by another?

Saddam's Iraq military? That cannot have been purely ethnic. At least if I am not a really bad or selective reader.

Bob

bth:
Yes, you are right that there is oil/gas infrastructure in the vicinity of Palmyra/Tadmur which is important in the Economic lines of operation against ISIL. However, I was just trying to agree with Patrick's excellent analytical overview, and assess that the imact of the fall of Palmyra/Tadmur was mainly upon the Information environment, not upon the Military, Diplomatic or Economic. I think that COL Lang's most excellent point is to remind me there is an interrelationship between the Informational and Diplomatic, and possibly for Russia and other parties the impact may be greater in the Diplomatic environment.
Thanks,
Bob

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