Saturday, 1 July 2017

Annihilation for anyone who doesn't surrender

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 Abdulkafi Alhamdo:
 'This is Assad's message for people in Aleppo western countryside today. "Annihilation for anyone who doesn't surrender."

 It is not a joke. Believe me, you read now, see tomorrow, and then you cry because you will see a lot of dead bodies.'

The situation in Syria

What Happened In Arsal Camp And Who Killed The Syrian Refugees

What Happened In Arsal Camp And Who Killed The Syrian Refugees

 'Many activists shared horrible pictures of Lebanese soldiers humiliating Syrian refugees in Arsal camp.

 The photos show dozens of Syrian refugees lying
 almost naked on the ground under the scorching sun.

 After the Lebanese Army rushed into the camp, many people were killed by the Lebanese soldiers, according to activists.

 The Lebanese story was different where the Lebanese media said that some people committed suicide bomb attacks against the Lebanese soldiers when they rushed into the camp

 On the other hand, Some activists reported that all the alleged suicide attacks were fake and these people were killed by the Lebanese guns and then were showed as killed by suicide attacks, as happened with an old man who was killed by the Lebanese soldiers and then dragged out of the tents dead.

 Noteworthy that the Lebanese army is accused of being controlled by the Lebanese Hezbollah militia.'

Syrian Regime Targets Damascus With Chlorine Gas

Syrian Regime Targets Damascus With Chlorine Gas

 'Thirty-five people suffered from suffocation on Saturday evening when the Syrian regime shelled the village of Ain Tirma in the eastern countryside of Damascus.

 The pro-opposition Failaq Al-Rahman Faction announced that 30 of its fighters were affected after the regime forces threw grenades containing chlorine gas at their points, and this comes as a result of the failure of the regime forces to advance to the town for 13 days in a row.
 Meanwhile local sources confirmed that the injured were transferred to field hospitals.

 Noteworthy that the regime forces have suffered recently significant human and material losses in the vicinity of the town of Ein Tarma where a group of regime forces, including a captain, were killed and others were injured on Friday after clashes with the opposition groups.'

Bashar Al Assad: A Global Failure with Inveterate Consequences

 Syrian Lense:

 'We cannot let the world be governed, or rather be undermined, by an absence of legal and moral principles bound by resolute action. Yet through the last six years of the Syrian Civil War, which has evolved into a multi-regional proxy war on several levels, we have done exactly that. The international community, through its inaction in Syria, has sent several resounding messages which will permeate for decades to come: there are no adamantine ethical principles or legal boundaries, and legitimacy is dictated by the results of farce elections or the line of succession.

 Bashar Al Assad is not simply a murderous despot who lives in the present, but rather a mold which will be replicated in the years to come. He was able to complacently starve and siege entire populations, bomb entire cities to rubble, operate several detention centers of torture and murder, gas women and children with nerve agents, and commit atrocity after atrocity with little more than empty words of admonition by world leaders. These hallow words rendered the ideas of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” into notions of commonality and insignificance.

 Of course Syria is not the incipience of said inaction, of the deterioration of the international framework and its accompanying repercussions, but rather a trend of the last several decades. Nonetheless, in Syria the international community had a pristine opportunity to demonstrate its values and to assert its relentless devotion to preserving human rights as a non-negotiable facet of life. In Syria, the international community could have sent a poignant message to all despots and future despots, that mass-killings in the name of preserving power will not be tolerated — that ethical boundaries are not some sort of abstract and remote utopian ideal, but rather a palpable, global system. Yet the message sent, and no doubt received, was different: we will tolerate you as long as you serve our geopolitical interests, while uttering a few words of “concern”.

 The Syrian people have been left to themselves to assemble the shambles of a devastating war aimed at wiping out any dissent or ideas of freedom and equality. The Syrian people will have to continue bearing the pain of oppression and death while the world watches their sufferings afar from their computer screens and televisions.'

Friday, 30 June 2017

How Iran Recruited Afghan Refugees to Fight Assad’s War

  'War and poverty have scattered Afghans across the globe like pieces of shrapnel. Millions of Afghans came of age in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran or as workers in the Persian Gulf nations. The migration continues. The past few years have added a new lethal geography to the Afghan tragedy: the battlefields of President Bashar al-Assad’s Syria.

 Two years ago, Abdol Amin, 19, left his home in the Foladi Valley in Bamyan, one of Afghanistan’s poorest provinces, to find work in Iran. Two million undocumented Afghans and a million Afghans with refugeestatus already lived in Iran. His sister and brother-in-law lived in Isfahan. He hoped to improve on his life of subsistence farming in impoverished Bamyan.

 Two-thirds of the population in Bamyan Province lives on less than $25 a month. The intense poverty and the absence of opportunity forces thousands of young Afghans from Bamyan to travel illegally to Iran in search of work. Many, like Mr. Amin, end up fighting other’s people’s wars.

 Mr. Amin managed to earn a meager wage, about $200 a month, working as a bricklayer in Isfahan. Last year, he used his modest savings and went to Iraq with a group of fellow Afghan refugees for a pilgrimage to Karbala, the city where Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was killed in the year A.D. 680.

 Elated after his pilgrimage, Mr. Amin returned to Iran but couldn’t find any work for three months. As often happens with Afghan refugees in Iran, Mr. Amin was humiliated and discriminated against. He lived with the constant fear of being deported. “Iran isn’t our country. It belongs to strangers,” Mr. Amin said. “Either you suffer and try to make some money or you die.”

 Last winter Iranian authorities presented Mr. Amin with an interesting proposition. He could gain legal status in Iran and be free of the fear of deportation. The Iranians offered him a 10-year residency permit and a monthly salary of $800 if he would go to Syria to “fight to protect” the shrine of Sayyida Zainab, a granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad.

 Around 2013, when Mr. Assad’s military was losing ground to the rebels, Iran poured billions of dollars into Syria, brought in Hezbollah fighters and began raising Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other places with significant Shiite populations. Iran does want to protect the major Shiite shrines in Damascus, Aleppo and Raqqa, but the use of foreign Shia militias in the Syria war was simply another fork in the larger battle for control and influence in the Middle East run by Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ elite Quds Force.

 The relationship between Iran and Syria goes back to the Syrian support for Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, their shared enmity toward Israel, and Syria’s being the essential axis of transit between Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Most of the weapons in the Hezbollah inventory are sent by Iran through Syria. Mr. Assad’s control over Syria allows Tehran to resupply Hezbollah and work toward building a connection to the Mediterranean Sea.

 A few months after Iran asked Hezbollah to join the fighting in Syria alongside Mr. Assad’s forces, it began raising other Shiite militias. Fatemiyoun Division (formerly Brigade), a militia of Shia Afghan refugees, was formed around early 2014 and trained by both the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah veterans. Its strength has been estimated to be between 8,000 and 14,000 men. The Iranian authorities maintain the fighters are volunteers.

 The recruits to the Fatemiyoun Division were initially from among the Shia Hazara Afghans, who settled in Iran after the Soviet occupation, after the civil war in the early 1990s and the subsequent Taliban rule. Their recruitment had echoes of how Pakistan — the other major host of the Afghan refugee population — recruited the Pashtun Sunni Afghan refugees and their children to form the Taliban in the mid-1990s.

 In the past few years, Iranians have expanded the recruitment to undocumented Afghans, like Mr. Amin, recently arrived from Afghanistan in search of economic opportunity. Apart from the refugees’ economic anxiety and precarious legal status, the Iranians exploit the Shia faith of Afghan refugees to recruit them to fight for the Assad regime in Syria.

 Iranian propaganda framed the Syrian war to these refugees as a Shia struggle for the defense and protection of the faith and its holy sites. “The fighters have little or no knowledge of the political-security context into which they are marching,” said Ahmad Shuja, a former researcher with Human Rights Watch. “They do not speak Arabic, most of them have never been beyond Afghanistan or Iran, many are barely literate, most are devout Shiites.”

 Mr. Amin believed that the Syrian war dated back to a dispute between Jabhat al-Nusra (which was officially founded in 2012) and Mr. Assad. He had been made to believe that the war broke out after the leader of Nusra (who, he said, was related to Mr. Assad) wanted to build a store over a mosque. Mr. Assad, an Alawite, rushed to defend the mosque and protect all religious sites, especially the Shia shrines, in the country. In turn, in Mr. Amin’s telling, Nusra called for Mr. Assad’s downfall and the destruction of the country’s shrines.

 Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah fighters trained Mr. Amin and various Afghan recruits of the Fatemiyoun Division in using weapons and tactical movement for a month. Some were trained as snipers; some were trained in tank warfare. After the training they were flown to Syria and sent to the front lines in Damascus and Aleppo.

 Iranians and Mr. Assad’s forces used the Afghan recruits as the first-wave shock troops. “We would be the first in any operation,” Mr. Amin recalled. Several short memoirs by current and former Afghan fighters in Syria published on the Telegram app, which Mr. Shuja studied, recount the Afghans’ being sent to fight the most difficult battles and speak about heavy casualties among Afghan fighters and the eventual victory after multiple assaults.

 Afghan fighters have fought in Damascus, Hama, Lattakia, Deir al-Zor, Homs, Palmyra and Aleppo. In November and December, Mr. Amin was stationed in Aleppo, where the Fatemiyoun Division was tasked with helping the Syrian Army retake the eastern part of the city from rebel groups. He and hundreds of other young Afghans fought under the orders of the Revolutionary Guard.

 The foreign Shiite militias, which included fighters like Mr. Amin, played a crucial role in supporting Mr. Assad’s regime and provided the key ground forces in the decisive battle of Aleppo. The victory in Aleppo turned the tide for Mr. Assad and for Iran, bringing it closer to, as the Syria scholar Joshua Landis put it, “the consolidation of this Iranian security arc, stretching from Lebanon to Iran.”

 Several hundred Afghans have died fighting Mr. Assad’s and Iran’s war in Syria. The bodies of slain Afghan fighters were paraded around the streets of Tehran and in Qom, in northern Iran, in elaborate ceremonies before their burials. Both Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and General Suleimani have visited the families of Afghan militiamen killed in Syria and expressed gratitude for the sacrifices their sons made for defending the holy shrines and Islam.

 In January, I met Murtaza, a 21-year-old Afghan at the Elliniko Airport refugee camp in Athens. He had lived in Qom. “They never make a show of the Iranian fighters who die in Syria, only the Afghans,” said Murtaza, who claimed to have seen graves of hundreds of Afghans killed in Syria in Qom. “It is their way of trying to convince the Iranian people that only Afghans, and not Iranians, are dying in Syria.”

 In June 2016, Haitham Maleh, a Syrian opposition leader, addressed a letter to President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan requesting an end to the influx of Afghan fighters. Afghan deaths in Mr. Assad’s war have forced several Afghan clerics to speak out against the Iranian strategy. Even Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the warlord who recently made a peace deal with the Afghan government, spoke about it on his return to Kabul. Some estimates put the number of Afghans killed in Syria around 600. Mr. Amin said 15 of his friends were killed in Syria.

 After being wounded in Aleppo, Mr. Amin returned to Bamyan two months ago with a 10-year Iranian residency in hand and promise of a home in Iran, or in postwar Syria, if he would like to live there. A majority of the Afghans who fought with him in Syria have stayed in Iran. He keeps in touch with them on the Telegram app.

 Bamyan remains peaceful and poor; the roads leading to the province are still dangerous. Mr. Amin has returned to his old life as a subsistence farmer. “I came back because I wanted to see what would work out better,” Mr. Amin told me. “If things are good here, I will stay. If they get worse, then I will go back to Iran, but now I don’t have to worry about deportation.” '

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Tales of Horror and Heroism from the Syrian Civil War

 'Excerpt from "We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled," a new book of oral histories by Wendy Pearlman.

 Abdel-Samed, business owner (rural Daraa):
 "The regime brought in forces to destroy Daraa completely. All of the neighboring villages held demonstrations that Friday, which we called 'the Friday of Breaking the Siege.' The regime arrested everyone there. Buses were filled with detainees. Only those who could run away managed to escape arrest.
 Later, they returned the body of Hamza al-Khatib.* He's a cousin of mine and looks just like my son. He'd been tortured. They didn't leave any spot on his body without cigarette burns. His body was full of stab marks and his neck was broken. They'd cut off his genitals.
 His mutilated corpse arrived and people saw what the regime had done to him. And that's when they realized that the regime was finished. There was no more trust. A delegation had gone to meet with the president, and he had promised that he would address their concerns. Instead he sent them this present. It was a way of telling them, 'Either you be quiet, or we will do this to you.'

 Before this, people had some hope that the regime might listen to their demands and try to make reforms. After Hamza, people realized that the regime is on one side and the people are on another. That's it. The only thing our leaders know how to do is kill, kill, kill, kill, and kill. And after that, kill again. Kill anyone. It doesn't matter if he's a civilian or a child.

 The regime went even further in terrorizing us. It said, 'We won't just kill you. We'll kill your entire family, too.' I've heard that in some countries the government only arrests the wanted person himself, not his brother or mother or sister. In Syria, the entire family and the entire neighborhood is accused and targeted."
 Beshr, student (Damascus)
 "We formed our neighborhood coordination committee. They cut the internet at that time, and we started to get satellite internet. I was asked to hide the satellite phone for our neighborhood. That was so dangerous that I couldn't take that decision alone, so I asked every member of my family if they agreed to have the phone in our house. Everyone agreed.

 Twice, activists sent me satellite phones to deliver to other activists. I didn't know the real names of the person who was giving me the phone or the person to whom I delivered the phone. They didn't know my real name, either. The guy who gave me phones was supposed to email me anytime before he called me. Once he called me without prior notification and told me to meet him in ten minutes. I wasn't sure what to do. I phoned an activist friend, but she didn't answer. I decided to go and was just stepping out when she called back. She said, 'Be careful, this man was detained a week ago—they might be using his phone to trap you.' I asked another friend to go check on the meeting place. He went and found six security guards waiting.

 My mom had always been really rigid about our studies. Once I overheard her talking to my grandma. Grandma said, 'Your son isn't focusing. He's a senior in high school now, and exams are coming up.' Mom said, 'I understand, but I can't let him down. I keep remembering how his father went to prison. We need to continue the struggle.' I felt so supported. I was like, 'Wow! I love you, Mom!'

 Some time after that, the security forces came looking for me. I hid in a back room. My mom opened the door a crack and said, 'I can't let you in because I'm alone and not wearing a headscarf.' I panicked, trying to think about how I could climb out a window or something. But my mom just coolly told them that I was studying at a friend's house and that she could not allow them inside. The officers said that I should call them, and then went away. Mom was so calm the whole time. I have no idea how.
 Ghayth, former student (Aleppo)

 During the peak of demonstrations at the University of Aleppo, women played a huge role. Women who wore headscarves would hide papers and signs in their long coats, because they wouldn't get searched. The male dorms had so many demonstrations that the authorities closed them down. Only female dorms remained open, so women took charge of organizing, and then would pass information on to the guys. If the security forces attacked male demonstrators, women would stand in their way; at that time, security of officers saw touching women as a red line. A lot of women really came to the rescue.
 Ayham, web developer (Damascus)
 "Damascus was extremely controlled. You could see secret police everywhere. It was like that guy on Game of Thrones who has those birds, as he calls them. But the beautiful thing for us, the mesmerizing thing, was that at some point we stopped giving a shit. We were afraid, but we were just too excited. You've been suppressed for so long and suddenly the lid comes off. The idea of being able to speak was captivating.

 Everybody said that the regime would collapse during the month of Ramadan, because instead of gathering at the mosque for prayer only on Fridays, people gathered every night. The atmosphere was pumped with energy.

 The 27th of Ramadan is a holy day, and people stay up all night praying and reading the Quran. Every year over 5,000 people gathered at the mosque near our house. Volunteers from the neighborhood helped prepare a meal for people to eat before sunrise. I don't pray, but I always participated in preparing the meal, because I thought it was a beautiful social event.

 People started arriving. There were a lot of old people, but also guys with body piercings and strange haircuts. You could see that they had no idea what to do. Some guys were wearing shorts, which you aren't supposed to do in a mosque. Out of respect, they were trying to pull their shorts down toward their ankles. But that exposed their backsides. It was a beautiful scene of the complex social fabric that we had in Damascus.

 Thousands of security of officers surrounded the mosque. It looked like a scene from King Arthur. They were just standing there with sticks and shields and angry faces. We were arranging the food and had a long argument about whether to bring meals to the officers outside. A lot of people said, 'No, they don't deserve it.' Others said it was a gesture to show we meant no harm. They were young soldiers. People like us, basically, doing their military service.

 Three or four brave guys took boxes filled with meals to the commanding officer. They said, 'We come in peace. This is for you because you're standing here all night.' The officer responded, 'Take this back inside or I'll kill you.'

 The prayers started and the imam said, 'God protect us from those who harm us.' People started shouting, 'Amen! Amen!' It's a religious word and the majority of people there knew nothing about religion. But you could see them crying and shivering. I don't believe in prayer, but I believe in the emotional charge that prayer carries. You know what it's like, when you believe in a cause and you're standing with people who also believe in it? And you're surrounded by threat and you can feel the fear?

 Prayer ended. Silence. Then one person shouted, 'Freedom!' Others stood up and started shouting their lungs out. Old people grabbed their shoes and fled.

 And then: chaos. Everything turned into a battle. The soldiers started throwing rocks. And that's when we realized our big mistake: Someone had donated juice for the meal, and it was in glass bottles. People started throwing bottles at the officers. You could hear glass shattering.

 The regime had snipers all around and one guy in the courtyard got shot in the head. People rushed back inside and police ran in behind them. Some people were on the second-floor balcony. If they got caught they were going to get arrested or killed. So they started jumping down or hanging on to the curtains. Everything got destroyed.

 Inside, we got word that Damascus's big imams were negotiating with the chief of police. The sun came up and eventually they said it was safe to leave. We opened the door and saw policemen chanting, 'Assad! Assad!' They told us that the area in front of the mosque was secure. But the moment we crossed the street, the officers started chasing us. I ran like I'd never run before."
  Abu Firas, fighter (rural Idlib)
 "My brother was kidnapped by the shabeeha. After 18 days, they sent him back to us, killed under torture.

 You can't imagine how he died. His toenails were ripped out. His bones had been pierced with a drill. There were marks from being beaten and burned. His nose was beaten so severely that it was flat.

 We buried him. And about three months later, some guys who were released from prison contacted us and told us that my brother was actually still alive. They'd been with him in prison. The body we'd buried belonged to a different person; he was so disfigured that we couldn't tell he was someone else."

 Abed, defected officer (Palmyra)

 "We were four officers in the Syrian army, with the credentials to prove to it. We had freedom of movement in all of Syria and used it to help the demonstrators. We distributed humanitarian aid and food and medical supplies to areas that needed it.

 Our car did not get searched. When I'd arrive at a military site or checkpoint, I'd get out my ID. The soldier would salute. 'My respects, sir, please proceed!' As an officer in the Syrian army, you're above everyone. Stand in line? Forget it! That's how the regime worked in Syria. We understood this.

 The revolution started in March. Civilians and rebels started using arms in August. I told them from the beginning that this regime would not go except with force of arms. Like it or not, you have to use weapons. Every day there were peaceful demonstrations and five or six or ten people would die… We weren't going to get anywhere. And if you wanted to wait for world public opinion to support us, forget it. We needed to forget that myth.

 By the end of 2011, things started tightening around us. It was as if the other officers suspected us. The regime's maneuvers kept failing, so they had the feeling that people were helping the insurgents from the inside.

 At that time, my assignment was away from the base. One day the commanding officers sent a young lieutenant to tell me to report back to their offices. I was surprised. I asked him why they didn't communicate with me directly. He said he didn't know.

 I didn't like the situation. I asked the lieutenant if I could use his mobile, saying that the minutes on mine had expired. This was just a pretext; I wanted to use his phone to call the commander and see what he would say. As soon as I put my hand on the phone a text message arrived. It was from the same commander who had sent for me. I opened it and read, "Keep your eyes on Abed, we're coming to get him."

 I replied, "Received," and then erased the message. I returned the phone and thanked him. Then I took my bag and got out of there as fast as I could. The next month, I left the country."
 Maher, teacher (rural Hama)

 "I was able to defer military service as long as I was enrolled as a student. But then I couldn't afford to pay for my master's program anymore and had to drop out. I no longer had an excuse to keep avoiding the army. I was given a grace period of one month, and so I began to plan my journey from Syria. My friends and I got online and searched for smuggling opportunities from Morocco, Algeria, Sudan... We found lists of phone numbers for smugglers, communicated with a few people, and decided to go through Sudan. That was the only country in the world where Syrians were free to visit with only a passport.

 The man who drove me to the Damascus airport told me that everyone there was an intelligence officer, even the cleaning people. He warned me that if someone tried to chat with me, I shouldn't talk.

 I waited until they called my flight. The agent looked through my passport and found a piece of paper. On one side it said, 'Be careful.' On the other side it said, 'I love you.' It was a note from my wife—I didn't know it was there.

 He looked at it suspiciously. I said nervously, 'My wife. You know how women think.'

 He answered, 'I assure you, if it wasn't for the sentence "I love you," you'd be in a lot of trouble.' Then he let me proceed.

 I arrived in Sudan and I swear it was the first day in five years that I felt safe. I was no longer concerned about checkpoints or police raiding my house.

 The smuggler refused to move until we paid him. It was $3,500 to get to the shore and another $500 to cross the Mediterranean. We took Jeeps across the Sudanese desert and then to the Egyptian desert, and then the Libyan desert. Sometimes the car would get stuck in the sand and we'd get out and push. Nobody shot at us, but the Egyptian army shot at cars that left after us, and two people died.

 Our boat had about 180 people aboard. The lower deck was all people from Africa and the top deck all Syrians. They told us that we should head toward a star in the sky. The Libyan smuggler left and a young Tunisian took charge of the boat. Then the Tunisian left, too. He told us, 'You guys need to take care of yourselves.' "

Where is the Syria strategy?

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 Trudy Rubin:

 'When the White House announced Monday that Syria might be preparing another poison gas attack - and warned of dire consequences - critics were wary.

 Some saw the warning as a "wag the dog" feint to distract from the Senate failure to move on repealing Obamacare. After all, President Trump didn't seem to take the gas threat seriously, ignoring it in his tweets in favor of more denunciations of the Russia probe.

 Others saw the warning as a pure pretext for sending thousands of U.S. ground troops to Syria in the near future.

 That skepticism was misplaced. It was necessary to warn the Assad regime off any further use of chemical weapons in order to avoid a massive U.S. military retaliation.

 But there is room for skepticism about the administration's wider Syria policy, or lack thereof, beyond aiding in the destruction of ISIS headquarters in Raqqa. Without a clear plan for what comes after the fall of Raqqa, the United States could get drawn deeper into the Syrian civil war.

 First to the gas threat. The White House warning was triggered by suspicious activity observed at the Shayrat air base from which the Assad regime launched a sarin attack in April. The Trump administration launched missiles at the base on April 7, as punishment for this violation of the international ban on use of chemical weapons.

 The Trump team sought to draw a sharp contrast with the Obama White House, which had backed off a pledge to strike Syria in response to a much larger gas attack in 2013. President Barack Obama chose instead to make a deal with the Russians to guarantee the destruction of Syria's store of chemical weapons. Clearly, the Syrian regime has kept some of its nerve gas stocks, which the Russians must be aware of.

 Had Syrian president Bashar al Assad flaunted the international ban on poison gas once more, proving he retains WMD, the administration would have been in an extremely difficult position. Having taken action once, the pressure would have been intense to carry out more severe air strikes.

 But the Russians deny that their Syrian ally still has poison gas, just as they continue to deny (despite clear evidence) that Assad carried out the 2013 sarin attack that killed 1,000 civilians. A major strike could have led to a clash with Moscow, which is giving Assad heavy air support at a time when U.S. aircraft are also flying over parts of Syria.

 Yet not to respond, would have given Assad the green light to keep on using nerve agents, while denying to the world he had any. Since the Syrian leader is short of troops, gas is the perfect weapon to send terrorized civilians fleeing from the rebel-held province of Idlib into Turkey, which could in turn set off another refugee flood to Europe.

 Far better to issue a public warning now, to let Moscow know it had better restrain its client or else the White House would have no choice but to retaliate.

 However, contrary to White House claims, the April missile barrage on Shayrat (which I believe was necessary) did not prove to Assad, or his Russian and Iranian backers, that Trump was a tough guy. It was a tactical move that changed little.

 Russian planes and Iranian-led militias have been busy helping Assad wipe out any opposition, while leaving the dirty work of fighting ISIS in the Raqqa region to Kurdish forces backed by U.S. pilots and special forces. As the battle for Raqqa ramps up, there appears to be no wider U.S. strategy for what to do after this caliphate capital falls.

 But that leaves many critical political questions unanswered. One big one: Does the United States care if the territory south and southeast of Raqqa, up to the Iraqi border, is controlled by Tehran? Iran wants to solidify a land bridge that runs through Iraq and Syria, and ultimately reaches Lebanon, so Tehran can easily funnel heavy weapons and men to its anti-Israel ally Hezbollah.

 Some Trump advisers reportedly want to insert thousands of U.S. troops into Syria to block Iran's intentions. But the U.S. military and Secretary of Defense James Mattis vehemently oppose the idea. "We just refuse to get drawn into the Syrian civil war," Mattis said this week. "We try to end that through diplomatic means."

 Smart man. But right now the U.S. military strategy in Syria is like a headless horseman, plunging ahead without any broader political framework.

 Trump will meet Russian president Vladimir Putin at a G-20 summit in Hamburg in early July, and Syria is a subject they should be discussing. But those talks can't bear fruit unless Trump understands that Russia's interests in Syria differ profoundly from ours.

 America needs a stable Syria so that a new jihadi menace doesn't take root. But Putin's main concern is keeping Assad in power with Iran's help, even if that means continued repression that will fuel a future jihad.'

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On the Situation of Detainees in Hama Central Prison

 'The Syrian Coalition reaffirms that it stands in full solidarity with the detainees in Hama Central Prison and their demands, including most importantly their immediate release as well as the release of all detainees in all the Assad regime public and secret prisons and detention centers. The Coalition also supports the detainees’ demands for the abolition of the so-called Court of Terrorism and the Field Court as well repealing all verdicts issued by these courts.

 The Coalition stresses the need for the UN Security Council to adopt a binding resolution in support of the implementation of these demands in accordance with UNSC resolution 2254 (2015), to give international observers unrestricted, immediate access to detention centers and to take every possible action to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of detainees languishing in terrible conditions in the dungeons and detention centers of the Assad regime.

 In this context, the Coalition recalls the damning report Amnesty International released last February, which shed light on some of the regime's terrible crimes against detainees in Sednaya Prison. The report spoke of mass executions and systematic extermination of detainees inside the prison, crimes that are often invoked when considering the case of detainees in the prisons of the Assad regime.

 The Coalition reiterates that the issue of detainees and missing persons will remain a top priority and will not be subject for negotiations under any circumstances.

 May our wounded recover, our detainees be free, and our fallen heroes rest in peace.

 Long live Syria and the Syrian people, free and with honor.'

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Avoiding Obama’s Mistakes in Syria


 'With all of Washington consumed by the effort to craft and pass health-care legislation, the Trump White House appeared to catch the country’s political establishment off guard when it announced that the crisis in Syria was again reaching a crescendo.

 In a prepared statement, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer revealed that the Bashar al-Assad regime was engaged in “potential preparations” to execute “another chemical attack” on civilians. “[If] Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price,” the statement read.

 Hours later, the Pentagon expounded upon the nature of the threat. “We have seen activity at Shayrat Airfield,” said Captain Jeff Davis, “associated with chemical weapons.” The Shayrat Air Base outside the city of Homs is the same airfield that was targeted in April with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

 For all the frustration over the Trump administration’s failure to craft a coherent strategy to guide American engagement in the Syrian theater, the White House has communicated to the Assad regime a set of clear parameters in which it is expected to operate. That is a marked improvement over the approach taken by Barack Obama’s administration.

 When American forces in Syria or those under the American defense umbrella are threatened by the Assad regime or its proxies, American forces will take action. On several occasions, U.S. forces have made kinetic defensive strikes on pro-government militias, and that policy recently expanded to include Syrian regular forces. On June 18, a Syrian Su-22 fighter-bomber was destroyed when it struck American-backed fighters laying siege to the ISIS-held city of Raqqa.

 The Trump administration has also telegraphed to Damascus the limited conditions that would lead to offensive operations against regime targets. At the risk of contradicting his campaign-trail promise to scale back American commitments abroad, President Trump was convinced at the urging of his closest advisors and family members following the April 4 chemical attacks to execute strikes on the Assad regime. His administration was quick to communicate that this was a one-time punitive measure, not a campaign. There would be no follow-on action.

 That directive may no longer be operative. With the release of this latest statement warning Damascus against renewed chemical strikes on rebel targets, the triggers that led to strikes on regime targets in April are hardening into a doctrine. The United States will act aggressively to maintain a global prohibition on the use of weapons of mass destruction. There is enough consistency and clarity to Trump’s approach that it might amount to deterrence. Even if the Assad regime is not deterred, onlookers may yet be.

 This is a doctrine that Barack Obama flirted with, but declined only at the last minute to adopt. “As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them,” Obama explained to the nation in a primetime address on September 10, 2013. “Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. And it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilians.”

 This was and remains a prophetic warning. ISIS militants have already deployed chemical munitions against Iraqi troops and their American and Australian advisors. An inauspicious future typified by despots unafraid to unleash indiscriminate and unconventional weapons on the battlefield would surely have come to fruition had the West not eventually made good on Obama’s threats.

 Obama framed his about-face as an odd species of consistency. He deferred to Congress in a way he hadn’t before and wouldn’t after while simultaneously empowering Moscow to mediate the conflict. This laid the groundwork for Russian armed intervention in Syria just two years later. In contrast, Donald Trump eschewed the rote dance of coalition-building and public diplomacy. Instead, he ordered the unilateral, punitive strike on a rogue for behaving roguishly. And he’s willing to do it again if need be.

 That approach will prove refreshing to America’s Sunni allies who, by the end of the last administration, were entirely disillusioned with the Obama presidency. Obama’s waltz back from his red line undermined the Gulf States and shattered hopes in Syria that the West was prepared to enforce the proscription on mass civilian slaughter. In the week of war drums leading up to the anti-climax of September 10, 2013, a wave of defections from the Syrian Army suggested that a post-Assad future was possible. Today, few think such a prospect is conceivable. And because the insurgency against Assad’s regime will not end with Assad in power, an equal number cannot foresee a stop to the Syrian civil war anytime soon.

 These circumstances have led some to criticize the Trump administration. Perhaps the behaviors they’ve resolved to punish are too narrowly defined. Maybe the White House should rethink regime change? It is, after all, not so much a civil war anymore but a great power conflict. American troops—to say nothing of Russian, Turkish, British, French, and a host of others—are already on the ground in Syria in numbers and at cross purposes. Still others contend that even this level of engagement in the Levant is irresponsible. They argue the Syrian quagmire is to be avoided at all costs.

 These are all legitimate criticisms, but only now can there be a rational debate over a concrete Syria policy.

 For more than three years, Barack Obama tried to have his cake and eat it, too. He presented himself as sagaciously unmoved by the political pressuring of Washington’s pro-war establishment, which salivates over the prospect of lucrative strikes on an alien nation. At the same time, the Obama White House cast itself as a reluctant defender of civilization in the Middle East and elsewhere—perhaps even too quick to deploy men and ordnance. This was only nonsense retrofitted onto Barack Obama’s pursuit of a face-saving way to retreat from his self-set “red line.”

 The Trump administration’s policy in Syria is an improvement over Obama’s if only because it deserves to be called a policy. Love it or don’t, at least Americans are no longer being gaslighted into debating the merits of phantasms invented by political strategists in Washington talk shops.'

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

They are the puppet masters behind Bashar al-Assad

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 Talk of a post-Assad Syria, of Russia having to make a choice about whether to keep a murderous dictator in power, cut across the idea that all establishment politicians are as determined to keep Assad in power as those who complain that there is a rĂ©gime-change war to get rid of him. And other correctives are there, nobody is sleepwalking into world war three (I give elsewhere* plenty of reasons why nobody is going to start WW3 to keep Assad in power, essentially he's not worth it), and nobody in the US wants to fight a war in Syria. There still seems no strategy other than a diplomatic push to convince Russia to abandon Assad, but it is wrong to take from that implied support for his continued misrule. I am aware that the signs from Macron on accepting Assad are not good, and as Channel 4 reported this evening, Assad used chlorine in an attack on Jobar in the Damascus suburbs last week, and babies were being pulled out of the rubble from one of his airforce's attacks today.

 It is also interesting that Assad needs to use chemical weapons again. He has no other way to expand his control over Syria than to force people to flee in terror.

 Katty Kay: "Do you think there is a more comprehensive strategy, beyond taking action against one airforce base?"

 Mark Kimmitt: "Well, frankly, I don't think there has been an overall strategy for Syria that has come from either of the two main parties..."

 Katty Kay: "For six years."

 Mark Kimmitt: "That's right, from either the United States, or its coalition partners, such as the United Kingdom. That has to be part of any solution. But the solution can't simply be military, it has to be diplomatic, and I'm glad to see that the French have started pushing very hard to put this back on the table.

 Christian Fraser: "General Kimmitt, President Trump obviously wants to look like he is the strong man on the world stage, and I suppose the upside from this is that you perhaps can head it off; the flipside though, is that if they were to use these weapons, you have to follow through."

 Mark Kimmitt: "Well, we've already demonstrated that we'll follow through, and I think the most encouraging news today is that President Assad denied that he was preparing for a chemical attack. That demonstrates to me that President Trump's words have had a deterrent effect, not only for Bashar al-Assad, but for his supporters in Russia and Iran."

 Christian Fraser: "The problem is of course, that if there were a second attack, the Russians might not be as tolerant as they were last time."

 Mark Kimmitt: "Well, that's a choice the Russians have to make. Clearly, they are the puppet masters behind Bashar al-Assad, as are the Iranians; the only reason Bashar al-Assad is in power today is because of the support he's had from those two countries. So they've got to make a decision, keep a corrupt murderer in power, or move towards a diplomatic solution.

 Katty Kay: "The military situation has been getting more tense, we've seen Russian and American jets flying very close to each other. The Americans have downed a Syrian plane. The Russians didn't like that. What are the risks at the moment of some kind of miscalculation in Syria?"

 Mark Kimmitt: "Well, that's my greatest worry as well, because the Russians have turned off the deconfliction channel. We've had a strong communications channel between ourselves - the coalition nations - and the Russians, to make sure there wasn't any kind of accidental shootdown, any accidental problem in [Syrian airspace]. That can only be done if this deconfliction channel remains open, so it up to the Russians, in my mind, to re-open this deconfliction channel so we don't have that miscalculation that you're suggesting."

 Katty Kay: "There isn't a political strategy, here in the United States anyway, nor is there amongst the coalition, for what happens post-Assad, if there is going to be a post-Assad. We seem to be in some kind of a holding pattern, to some extent that reflects American public opinion, and an incredible reluctance; I was speaking to a top Democrat just this morning who was saying there is no appetite in the United States, either among Republicans, or amongst Democrats, even amongst president Trump's most ardent supporters, for the United States to get more militarily involved in Syria, and the President, while issuing this threat on the chemical weapons issue, is very well aware of that lack of support for more engagement."


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