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05 April 2016


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As real, unbiased journalists are rather scarce in most of the territories of the Syrian conflict, wouldn't it be far easier to just make those "fights" up by posting random stuff on Twitter et al? It's not like anyone who isn't embedded with or part of the various insurgent crews gets much of a chance to get anywhere near those hand-overs, so why pretend in "real" space when pretending in "virtual" space is far easier and will still be gobbled up?


considering "Western" political positions in the larger ME context only surfaced post 9/11 for many of us; in other words prominently in Ledeen's faster please fervor: "faster please, let's first take Syria and then Iran"... Let's democratize the region. Which sure is nothing bad in itself. Apart maybe, that democratizing another region triggers questions about our own democracies.

Considering also the larger comparative context of the Arab Spring. Including the high chance of Islamist takeover ...

How relevant is the prisoner release versus the extend to which the more isolated (2011: Russia at the time, Iran?) Assad and his services were at that point in time (maybe) hunted as much as hunters?

Putting matters in context. Is their repressive 'slate' worse then other states in the region?

One of the beauties of argument, mine, yours, or everyone else's for that matter is that we can pick arbitrary points or evidence. It sure get's worse in times of war.

More randomly: During the Arab spring news surfaced that Israelis had been actively involved in Egypt. Or at least there were reports they were considered with suspicion. Maybe I did pay less attention to suspicion concerning the "big Satan"?https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_reactions_to_the_Syrian_Civil_War

The Gulf State's suppressed dissent no doubt more effectively then Assad. How comes?

And yes there is Caesar:




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

I realize I babbled. But good you pick it up, since someone around here irritated me by suggesting it was a more recent meme.

Not that I am not a bad reader occasionally myself. ...;)


Yep. See the recent spat between the U.S. supported Division 13 and Nusra. Some bit of protesting and a bit of fighting. Nusra takes ammunition depot of Division 13 including TOWs. Laud laments by Division 13 leaders. A week later both together attack the Syrian army in Tel al-Eis.

The "raid" on the ammo depot was obviously a fake to explain to Div 13 supporters how those weapons reached Nusra.


Thanks, Patrick, this nitwit on matters appreciates the depth of experience and knowledge both your articles and comments here suggest.


Since you mention "Quadrillage" (with resect to Gen Bigeard), or its equivalent of "Clear and Hold" (with respect to Sir Robert Thompson; now Shape, Clear, Hold and Build; with Transfer added by the optimists :)); what is your quick assessment of the availability of forces in each theater who are willing to perform some of those tasks, and under what conditions, if any...and what 2nd/3rd order impacts?


That's the sense one gets when one reads of a 'battle' where no casualties are reported and Dementia 13 abandons its weapons to Nusra Front.



Syrian government also have an interest in letting the World know that they are fighting Al-Qaeda in Northern Syria. By claiming it the day after the US they get this fact twice in the newspaper.


An easier way would be to trade ammunition for oil which is what ISIS regularly did for nearly two years.


LeaNder: Sorry to be slow...WRT Iraq I was taught by Kuwaitis in 1990 that everything is sectarian/ethnic related and that the place was full of violent people...

For the Baghdad Security Belts, the short version is that Saddam established his regime protection force, the Republican Guard (RG) in garrison locations around Baghdad. In what had been Shia areas to the north, east and south of Baghdad they established housing areas for their Sunni families to live in, and later established armament, chemical and other defense-related factories for their families and former soldiers to work in. Saddam also did similar resettling/ethnic cleansing in multiple other areas around Iraq. Since the US and UK established Shia majority rule in Iraq for the first time in 2003 both the Shia and Kurds have been focused on getting their piece of the pie and reversing what they perceived as a previous version of ethnic cleansing. However, Iraq is a relatively new post WWI invention and these locations on the periphery have seen many tribes, and many of these tribes have mixed religious histories over the centuries. However, with the exception of the Shia elites tied to Persia since Qajar or Safavid rule in Persia; Baghdad, Mosul and Basra were under the control of Sunni elites since the Muslim conquest, so the current change and the desire of Shia militias under Iranian control to continue the work, and prior to liberating Mosul from ISIL is not surprising.

There never was any possibility that Iraq would not be a mess following regime change from Sunni authoritarian minority rule, so in 2003 it was delusional for anyone to argue and silly for those who believed that it wouldn't be messy. Anyone who knew anything about Iraq knew this to be so, so I have little patience for the "wishful thinking" of those handling Iraq from both of the last two administrations, or those in the military who are afraid to give them the bad news of the truth.



The present US doctrine with regard to COIN appears to me to be fun for the feeble minded. To say that you should Hold-Clear, etc. is to say nothing. Such a statement is merely a pious hope. Doctrine should be a whole lot more specific that that. I refer you to my long ago post on this subject. http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2009/12/counterinsurgency-a-much-failed-strategy.html



Barish and different clue,

Stinger missiles supplied to the Mujahedeen are reported to be the turning point that led to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan:
More recently in the Donbass, MANPADS denied air superiority to the Ukraine Air Force which allowed the rebels to halt, encircle and then destroy the Ukrainian Armored spearheads. No Russian Federation aircraft have been shot down in by ground to air missiles in Syria. Barrel bombs dropped from helicopters have been reported in Darayya, Ghouta, Homs, Aleppo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Syrian_Civil_War_barrel_bomb_attacks
This would indicate that the number of MANPADS supplied to the moderate rebels was insufficient to effect the Syrian civil war unlike the TOW anti-tank missiles supplied by Saudi Arabia which forced Russia to intervene. Also, this could indicate that Russian antiaircraft missiles and air defenses are generations ahead of West. I believe if the Islamists got all the MANPADS that they wanted this would huge escalation of the war.

American dependents may well have removed from Turkey due to fears of the internal turmoil and the ongoing war against the Kurds inside and out. But, there has to be more going on than this. Americans are fighting and dying in Belgium but there is no talk of withdrawing them from Brussels. Europe and NATO are not treating Greece or Turkey as allies but rather like vassals.


Many thanks for your informative and, IMO, wise response to my question.
I hope it will prove helpful to others.
As to "the plusses of the current situation both for the US and for Syria",
I also can see none.
But perhaps others can see some.
Are you aware of the following email in the Hillary Clinton archive (links to both state.gov and wikileaks):
Its lead sentence and its conclusion (emphasis added):
"The best way to help Israel deal with Iran's growing nuclear capability
is to help the people of Syria overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad."

With the veil of fear lifted from the Syrian people,
they seem determine to fight for their freedom.
America can and should help them —
and by doing so help Israel and help reduce the risk of a wider war.

I wonder who wrote this document.

Babak Makkinejad


Ambassador Khalilzad on what to do in the Middle East



Follow-up question:
"You can always start by reading the declassified DIA report of 2012"
Are you referring to the following (which Google led me to)?
If not, could you provide a specific link or description that would enable one to find what you are referring to?
Thanks again, Keith


Patrick Bahzad

Any concerns about the Mosul dam as grip gets tighter & tighter?

Patrick Bahzad


The Syrian government has been fightinq Al Qaeda's franchise in Syria for years.

Patrick Bahzad

Bob, PL,

I haven't had a lot of time to think this over, maybe a good idea for a future post about available options to fight ISIS in an economy of force posture (with not many boots on the ground).

I have some issues with "Shape, Clear, Hold (+Build/Transfer)" as I don't believe in our ability to "build/transfer" and the term "clear/hold" is too vague and may refer to a type of action that is too loose to achieve the intended end-result. However, regarding number of forces necessary, and again I want to emphasize that I don't see such a force as part of a (futile) COIN campaign, but as complementary to cinetic action that is going to get (physically) rid of enemy forces and leadership, I would take into account both quantitative/qualitative aspects related to the forces required and topographic/ethnographic aspects linked to population/territory. That means, unfortunately for logisticians and military planners, that there is no "one size fits all".

Another thing, often overlooked, when planning for "quadrillage" operations, is that you need to take a "team red" attitude and assess the situation from the enemy's point of view: some areas obviously hold more importance to him than others. It's often misguided to use primarily enemy activity maps and charts to determine priority areas. Enemy LOCs, waterpoints and river valleys may not always be hotspots of enemy attacks but their control is vital to squeeze the life of the enemy's fighting forces (logistics war). The second thing to keep in mind, is that there is a huge difference between urban centres with large groups of enemy sympathizers and cells, or rural areas where detection through technological and human intelligence is easier (as well as use of natural/artificial barriers). So there really is no easy answer to your question. In a nutshell however, to make it simple, if you can't apply a ratio of at least 1 combattant per 75 locals, you better step away from the enterprise of "clear & hold". Better to be in full control in 50 % of an area, than be part-time owner of 100%.

Applied to ME, this means there is a much higher chance for Syria to get rid of ISIS and other Jihadi groups than there is for Iraq. Once the Turkish LOC is cut off (through taking over Jarabulus borderpost), the next step will be to gradually isolate Euphrates river valley and finally take over Raqqa. Once ISIS is out of its Syrian sanctuary, the Syrians will have a much easier task as they just need to take back control of their borders, which will greatly facilitate the interdiction of their territory to ISIS. In the Eastern Syrian desert areas, local tribes (like the Shaytat) will be more than willing to monitor developments and provide Humint on which to act in case of ISIS attempts to return.

This in turn leaves Iraq (and the US lead coalition) with the bulk of the problem, a result the Russians have probably been planning for since the beginning, i.e. push ISIS back into Iraq and let the Iraqis and Americans deal with it. The outlook here is quite bleak I have to say. What may be working best, rather than letting loose the PMF in Sunni heartland may be again to isolate IS centres from each other, preventing their state apparatus from functioning and prioritize cinetic action and raids on the periphery of IS territory over the large scale conventional engagements ISIS is preparing for.

Turn the tables on them: they say they are a State, so do in their State what they've been doing in Iraq for the past years (I'm talking tactical MO of course, not suicide bombs, killing civilians or spreading fear of course). Such a tactic relies on a an economy of force posture, with a few "high speed" units doing the work and it needs to include a sizable portion of local troops, who will gain experience and know how that way. Might come in handy at a later point. Act like Pirates in Pirate country ... nor quarters given nor asked for. There will be casualties, but the damage done to the enemy will be far greater. However, it has to be underlined that opting for such an MO might force the US to rethink its "force protection" concept, as it could not be applied with such a COA.

In that regard, I hope you won't mind me mentioning the example of French Sergeant-Major Roger Vandenberghe (1927-1952), aka the "Black Tiger", who did more damage with a few other French COs and NCOs embedded with local Vietnamese Montagnards of Vietminh deserters than half the French Expeditionary Corps in Indochina. Find yourself a few hundred Vandenberghe from Special Forces in particular, use IS manoeuver and tactics and you're gonna do such damage the Caliph will run in circles before you know it.

Just for the record, Vandengerghe was wounded 12 times in combat, and was eventually assassinated by a Vietminh double-agent who had infiltrated his "Black Tigers" commando. He was 24 years old but already the most highly decorated NCO in the French army at that point. There's always a price to pay. Question is, how many men you got who are willing to risk paying it in such conditions.


Chris Chuba

I tend to agree with you Brunswick on the principle of 'if you are arresting a lot of Jihadis in the first place then you are bound to end up releasing a lot of Jihadis'. Picking up on what Babak said earlier, I wonder if there are people thinking that the U.S. 'intentionally' released ISIS prisoners from Camp Bucca or Gitmo for some nefarious purpose. I don't think so. We interned thousands and after years released some people who were inevitably bound to become members.

What were we and Assad supposed to do, execute every single person that we have ever arrested?
As I was thinking about this I recall that even the Czar of Russia released Lenin and Stalin, he obviously didn't do this on purpose.

This is what happens, if you aggressively arrest a class of people you are targeting then you are bound to make mistakes on who you release. I would take this as evidence that Assad was aggressively pursuing Sunni Jihadist including ISIS.

Patrick Bahzad


I would recommend anybody wishing to comment on internment/release of Islamist detainees at Sednaya to first get up to speed on the issue, before making ill-advised observations.
Does anybody in his right mind believe Assad had no other choice but to release potentially dangerous people at a time as sensitive as the beginning of the "Arab Spring" in Syria ?
If you believe that, you are as clueless as the crowd at State.


PB, Bob. TTG et al

Found this on the internet with Google search:

Roger Vandenberghe

"I do not have the bio that Editions Indo published (Le Commando des Tigres Noirs), so I'll have to order it. Vandenberghe was an orphan, born in Paris in October 1927. That would have made him sixteen when he joined the joined the Corps Franc Pommiès in early to mid-1944. This FFI resistance unit, named after its commander, was organized in the southwest of France, which is where it operated (Tarbes, Pau, Gers). When de Lattre de Tassigny's 1st French Army landed, the CFP was incorporated into it, and fought in the Vosges, Alsace, and the Rhine campaigns, earning enough of a reputation to earn its participation in the victory parade in Berlin. It was thereafter reorganized into the 49th Infantry Regiment (Bayonne), a component of the Metropolitan Army. Given his age, it is unlikely that Vandenberghe was at Nam Dinh in early 1947 with the 6th RIC, but he appears to have joined the colonial infantry some time after that, and by 1950 the Nam Dinh sector of the southern Red River delta was his area of operations. One source merely alludes to his "meteoric rise" in three years, which would have given placed him on his second tour by 1 June 1952, when he was assassinated by a VM lieutenant he had recruited from among prisoners of the 88th Regiment, 2LT Nguyen Tinh Khoi, who had been infiltrated into Commando 24 for that purpose. About two thirds of Commando 24's 100 men were former Viet Minh, and they operated dressed as Viet Minh. More than likely, the three years merely refers to his career with the 11th CLSM Company/Commando 24 (redesignated on 15 July 1951), but widely known even before that as Commando Vandenberghe. My suspicion, pending arrival of the book, is that Vandenberghe was on his third tour and had spent a year or more in a Colonial Infantry Regiment prior to organizing his commando. The question is: which one? RICM, 6th or 21st RIC? Vandenberghe was one of the four pioneers of Commando warfare in North Vietnam, the others being Rusconi and Romary, who operated in adjacent sectors of the southern Red river delta, and Delayen, who operated out of Haiphong. Delayen was the only one to survive the war in any condition to continue service, and after founding what became the ARVN Marines , moved on to Algeria and Chad, to retire as a general before marrying an American woman and settling in the United States. Like Henry-Jean Loustau, Delayen only did one "sejour", from 1945 to 1956. Vandenberghe's was also likely a "single" tour well beyond the normal 2 years, given his rise to Adjutant-chef with 9 years of service(!), and his 15 awards for Valor (Legion of Honor, Military Medal, WWII Croix de Guerre, Overseas Theater Croix de Guerre, of which 6 were Army citations level). Wounded 12 times. This "single tour" equalled at least two, possibly 3 tours. (French "sejours" were 24 months in length, with up to 3 months tagged on to allow for transport in and out)."

I guess he and his men were outside the world of the GCMA who did much the same thing for SDECE?

In the Second Indochina War there were a number of similar experiments in using turned PWs as well as tribal Montagnards. Quite a few line US Army infantry brigades and divisions created such units on an ad hoc basis with varying levels of success. On a more formal basis the whole USSF/LLDB system of border and other forts as patrol bases employed irregulars, who were variously Montagnard/Chinese/Cambodian tribesmen as volunteers in the Civilian Irregular Defense Groups (CIDG). These patrol base forts were subordinated to the 5th SFGA with headquarters at Nhatrang on the coast. The 5th SFGA had a company in each ARVN corps AOR. Each of these companies had a mobile force that could be employed across the CTZ to reinforce/relieve a heavily engaged fort/base. 5th Group itself had such a mobile force (the original Delta project) that was deployable across the whole country. All of these units were manned by various kinds of native troops of various ethnicities. Continuing my list, USMACVSOG (usually just called SOG) existed to do the same thing for the whole theater of war. Most SOG native troops were Montagnards, but we also operated units of Turned NVA officers and men who fought in their own uniforms in Laos and NVN. We also had a unit of turned Khmer Rouge. So, we did a lot of the things that the GCMA and the "Black Tigers" did only bigger. SOG alone had 10,000 men at the peak of its strength. I wrote the last annual report to the JCS on SOG operations. To do that I had to read all the earlier ones so I guess I know. BTW none of the activities I have listed above employed the turned enemy prisoners who served with US line units as what were called "Kit Carson Scouts." they wore US uniforms and served as supplemental personnel in US line units somewhat like KATUSAs in Korea. pl


While the decisive fact still is that this bunch, released or not, were the GCC's darlings anyway with armaments, political and financial backing freely given, here's another read that, while it talks of the "shrewd regime", provides another angle to the move beyond what it says:


"MESOP BACKGROUND: The Last Friends of Sednaya Prison

Jan 4th, 2016 by George Kadar for Ultra Sawt (independent website) – In May 2011, following Syria’s popular uprising, around 1,500 detainees were released from the country’s most notorious prisons under presidential decree. Four of these detainees would later go on to form some of Syria’s most radical Islamist factions, and fundamentally change the course of the revolution – The Last Friends of Sednaya Prison:

About 1,500 detainees from Sednaya Prison were released under the first presidential amnesty decree of May 31, 2011, two months after the war in Syria erupted. Most of those released adhered to radical Islamist ideology. Among those released were three prisoners known as the ‘companions’ of Sednaya’s prison: Hassan Aboud (Abou Abd Allah Al-Hamawy) who later formed the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement and was appointed as its commander; the late Zahran Alloush, founder of Liwa al-Islam, and who was later appointed as leader of the Army of Islam; and Ahmad Abou Issa, who after his release established the Suqour al-Sham Brigade. Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, commander of Nusra Front, was also detained with many others like Mustafa al-Sit Maryam, famously known as Abou Mus’ab as-Suri, one of the theorists of the Salafist jihadist movement and author of the book “Global Jihad”, which is considered one of the most important references to the history of Islamic extremism. Most ex-jihadists raised the banner of jihad in Syria and were involved, in the beginning of the war, in the formation of the Free Syrian Army by the dissident officers from the Syrian official army. Later on, the Free Syrian Army absorbed a great number of jihadists who formed their own militias that started attracting thousands of jihadists from all over the world. Those militias absorbed the Free Syrian Army, and in turn, they were absorbed by the Nusra Front, which was later absorbed by the Islamic State (ISIS).


On September 9, 2014, Hassan Abboud was assassinated together with a number of his entourage. It was said then that the incident was planned by the regime through its agents inside Ahrar al-Sham. A year later, on December 25, 2015, Zahran Alloush, founder and commander of the Army of Islam was killed together with a number of his aides by a Russian air strike. It seems that these friends’ role in Syria has come to an end. Unfortunately, the shrewd regime orchestrated their amnesty as shown by the events in Syria and the regime’s war: “It is Assad or we burn the country”. Perhaps these rebel leaders did not know what the regime planned for them after they were released, out of naivety, exaggerated faith in goodness, or because their desire for vengeance blinded their reading of the future. It is certain, though, that the regime began a campaign a year ago to rid Syria of them through clear and targeted political murders that would have never been possible without the infiltration of the government’s agents within these terrorist organizations."

Things among the uprising did turn increasingly ugly even before the decree was published at the very end of May that year.

In other words: Syrian intelligence knew this bunch and, through their gaining prominence in the uprising - which says more than enough about the character of it - could position their informants within the armed insurgents well enough to know what the uprising in general is up to and take advantage of potential internal strife. The piece tries in so many words to show the likes of Z. Alloush as poor, poor men that played into the "shrewd regime's" hands - one could also observe that they were dupes enough, and apparently their foreign handlers along with them, to not realize they were compromised until it was too late.


Yes but there is some controlled zones of ISIS completely cut off from theyr supply lines but bordering with some rebels zones not cutted off so the rebels need to engeener some ways to supply ISIS without to alarm public opinion

Patrick Bahzad

PL, Bob, TTG et al,

Regarding Vandenberghe's resume, here's what I know. In Dec. 1946 (aged 19) he volunteered to join the "2nd Bataillon de Marche" (an ad hoc unit established on voluntary basis) and transferred to Indochina in January 1947, together with his older brother who was KIA in 1948. The same year (Jan. 1948), Vandenberghe then tansferred to the '6th Rgt d'Infanterie Coloniale" as platoon leader of local auxiliaries. He was considered an outstanding leader and combatant from the outset, winning his first "Army citation award" within a few days of his arrival in Indochina (February 1947). "Meteoric rise" as the source says might be a bit overstated, but "natural selection" due to rotations and KIAs, combined with his exceptional qualities probably helped.

The reason I mentioned him rather than the GCMA is that his commando was one of the pioneers in this type of fighting. Also, more than anything else, his example is more apt at describing the possibilities (and limitations) of such units against ISIS given the legal circumstances in which they operated: there was no official State of North Vietnam at the time, which means Vandenberghe could operate with a lot more tactical autonomy than SFG groups during the Vietnam war, which were constrained in some ways he wasn't by the North Vietnamese border. SFGs & SOGs were at the forefront of the anti-guerilla fighting in the RVN, Cambodia and Laos, but not in the same way on North-Vietnamese territory itself.

In the case of the "Islamic State" there would be no need for such a limitation. It's not a recognized State anyway … Therefore, adapting and adjusting the model of "commando 24" or similar GCMA/SOGs/SFGs might be worth a thought, and I'm not just talking about "Special Expeditionary Targeting Force" or "Task Force 145" type of work.

Regarding size, there is one big downside to having such units operate and exist on a large scale: the more numbers you have, especially if you recruit locals, the higher the risk of infiltration by enemy agents. Therefore, what may be an efficient tool on a smaller scale, may prove difficult to reciprocate if you just bring up the numbers.

Also, success in this type of enterprise is pretty much a case of success of the "human factor": groups of fighters like these don't work the same way conventional units do. The idea of rotations and tours is counter-productive to their efficiency if applied too rigorously. Charismatic leader figures do more for their success than top notch gear and a captain or company commander who changes very 6-12 months.

Question is, can we adjust our (administrative) rules to fighting such a war and do we have personnel willing and able to engage in such kind of warfare ? The ISF are in over their head with organisational and operational issues. The human "raw material" is there though … How much manpower would it take to bring mayhem and chaos to some of their regional command structures ? I'd rather we fight them on our terms for a change, at a time and place of our choosing, rather than simply build up our forces for an operation against Mosul, where they've been preparing a warm reception for months already.

But do we still have people willing to make the kind of commitment this implies ? Living far from home and family for months and years, embedded with locals from a different culture, sometimes the only Westerner within a platoon size group ? It takes a particular breed to do that.


Thanks, Bob, appreciated. Pleased to see we have someone else knows his regional history a lot better then me : the nitwit. One of the reasons I am here is that Pat Lang is Arabist. Thus some arguments sound familiar.

If Patrick Bahzad allows me, to stir this thread even more off-topic:

Nutshell context: "However, with the exception of the Shia elites tied to Persia since Qajar or Safavid rule in Persia; Baghdad, Mosul and Basra were under the control of Sunni elites since the Muslim conquest, so the current change and the desire of Shia militias under Iranian control to continue the work, and prior to liberating Mosul from ISIL is not surprising. "

Can you explain to me, how to fit puzzle Ahmed Chalabi and the INC into this larger religio-sectarian perspective?

Supposedly they were skeptical about him, on the other hand the CIA sponsored the INC? Did it contain both Sunni and Shia elites in the early times of sponsorship?

In any case, your passage about Shia elites with relations to Iran trigger this associatively.

But yes the mixed religious communities drew my attention to, in the early days.

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