Friday, October 23, 2015

Today's Links

1---Putin reaffirms his support for Assad

Today Moscow still calls on President Assad to negotiate with his opponents - something he has always said he is prepared to do - but the criticism of him in Moscow has stopped. Today Moscow speaks of him instead as the “heroic leader” of his country, defending Syria from terrorism.
What this demonstrates is the extent to which due to their uncompromising - even fanatical - insistence that Assad must go before any negotiations can begin, the US and the Syrian opposition have simply ended up simply firming up Russian support for him.
The result is that where in 2012 the Russians would have supported a negotiated and managed transition to a post-Assad government, they are now straightforwardly backing Assad. Moreover they are doing so with bombs and aircraft.

With the Iranians also backing Assad, it is now very difficult to see how he can be overthrown. The very fact that he was prepared to leave Damascus to go to Moscow is a sign of how secure he has now become.....
There continues to be much confusion about what Russia’s objectives in Syria are.
This is strange because Putin has spelled them out quite clearly.  They are the destruction of the Islamic State and the uprooting of violent jihadism from Syria

2--Russia FM stresses Iran role in efforts to resolve Syria crisis
(Lavrov:  No deal without Iran)
Lavrov’s comments come as Tehran has drawn up a four-point peace plan on the Syrian crisis, which calls for a national unity government, a ceasefire, fighting terrorism and constitutional reforms in the violence-torn Arab nation, according to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The Russian diplomat also noted that “in the current conditions, it is fundamentally important to include Egypt, Qatar, the UAE and Jordan” in the aforesaid circle of support.
Lavrov further suggested that the above-mentioned countries “could be represented by their ministers in [the Austrian capital city of] Vienna tomorrow, but at parallel meetings

3--Russia, US, S Arabia, Turkey top diplomats meet on Syria crisis

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry,  Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu met in the Austrian capital Vienna on Friday.
Russia expects the meeting to result in "an honest and objective exchange of views about the situation which will give an opportunity to map out a clear path for activating efforts to achieve a comprehensive political resolution," said Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry.  
4---How Turkey is planning for Assad-led transition in Syria

According to what our "selected" colleagues who were invited to the "off-record" briefing were told, Turkey has approved an Assad-led transition under two conditions:
  • The process must end with Assad's absolute departure from his post.
  • None of the important state bodies, above all the army and intelligence services, must be under Assad’s control. That is, Assad must "lead" the transition only as a strictly symbolic president.
One of the journalists compared the “symbolic president for a specified period’ with the German president's limited role in that country's parliamentary government. Another defined it as “ineffective and unauthorized honorary president.”
This is how the condition for Assad’s destiny was worded: “The transition should prepare the country for a post-Assad period and must determine whether Assad will be tried for war crimes or not, or whether he will be exiled.”

Journalists at the briefing were told that the nine countries named had agreed on transition conditions before US President Barack Obama met Putin on Sept. 28 in New York. Obama informed Putin of the agreement. Russia at that time did not respond. These journalists were told that Russia was then asked, "Why don’t you take Assad?” to which Russia replied, “It could be problematic in our relations with the West. We might be asked to hand him over as a war criminal

5---The groups Turkey sees leading the transition are retreating every day under Russia’s air attacks and ground operations of the Syrian Army, Hezbollah, National Defense Force militias of the regime, Baath brigades and the Nceba movement made up of Iraqi militias. In other words, by breaking apart the elements lauded as alternatives, Russia is making the cards held by Turkey and its allies invalid.


Sergey Lavrov tells some interesting stories from the time before the Russian Air Force presence was established in the area. Russian observers actually saw the ISIS column on white Toyota Jeeps with black banners moving across the desert towards Palmyra, but they and their Syrian allies received the US request to let them pass unhindered. Moreover, the US warned Bashar Assad: they will hit him if he just tries to use the US sorties against the ISIS to gain ground...

7--"Aleppo" is Arabic for "Little Big Horn" PJ Media

Map of Aleppo

The Institute for the Study of War now believe that while “the renewed ground operations aim at a minimum to relieve the long-standing sieges of pro-regime enclaves in Aleppo Province” the real Russian/Iranian/Syria goal is more sinister: to fix the rebels in the south while the Russians pinch off the rebel corridor of retreat to the north.  Once the line of escape is closed the FSA will be in a Kesselschlacht.  Once the Russians have them in the pot, then its curtains for those trapped.
The maneuver south of Aleppo City likely aims to set conditions for an upcoming offensive to isolate rebel forces in Aleppo City. Regime and Iranian forces began conducting probing attacks along rebel frontlines throughout northwestern Syria after the Russian air campaign began on September 30. These localized offensives likely constitute components of a larger campaign designed to confuse and overextend rebel forces in advance of a decisive operation to penetrate into core rebel-held terrain. The decisive blow will likely target rebel positions north of Aleppo City. The attacks south of Aleppo City may thus constitute an attempt draw rebel reinforcements away from Aleppo City and fix them far from the northern Aleppo countryside. Any successful operation to seize or otherwise neutralize Aleppo City would deal a powerful symbolic and material blow to the Syrian opposition. Tightening control over Syria’s largest city would also place the Syrian regime and its allies in a position of strength before any negotiations regarding a political transition, an initial proposal for which the U.S. and eight other countries floated over the past few weeks....

The Guardian cites FSA sources who allege that Putin is out to get them.
Usama Abuzaid, a senior adviser to the Free Syrian Army, said: “In the last couple of days the attacks increased everywhere in the countryside, even in the areas where Isis is trying to advance.
“Aleppo is very important for everyone. For us, it is our supply line to Turkey for food and weapons. Also, it has a revolutionary value for us. It holds our main FSA headquarters, and that’s the reason the Russians are advancing.
“The regime and Isis tried to take Aleppo last year and they couldn’t, and now they are trying again with the Russians. The Russians are doing Isis a huge favour. They are giving them air cover while they are attacking us from the ground.” 

8--Aleppo encirclement continues

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance and Iraq’s shia militias have been continuing military operations in Aleppo province, specially in its Southwest, concurrent with the army’s new operations in Hama and Lattakia provinces....

The SAA, Hezbollah and Iraq’s shia militias have also been making continued gains in the Eastern countryside of Aleppo since Sunday midnight and managed to seize Tal Naqmous hilltops and Tal Sab’een village as well as the town of al-Moflesa. The Syrian forces are currently fortifying their positions in the newly-purged areas. ...

Another goal of the operation is Kuweires airbase. Arab sources report that the Syrian forces supported by the Russian warplanes, are pushing back ISIS terrorists from areas adjacent to the military airport. Separately, the Syrian army’s helicopters supply foodstuff and other needs to the Syrian troops defending the airport. Nonetheless, it’s too early to say that the siege will be lifted in the nearest hours

9--Aleppo Syria Direct

The Syrian regime and its allies are attempting to encircle contested Aleppo city via a land campaign beginning in the province's southern countryside “to send the world a message...that it can advance under Russian air support,” a high-level rebel commander in the field told Syria Direct Monday.
On Friday, the regime unleashed ground troops out of its base in Safira and the neighboring Defense Factories roughly 20km southeast of Aleppo city. From these points, the two-pronged assault is moving both northeast and west into the south Aleppo countryside. The goal, three rebel commanders tell Syria Direct, is to form an uninterrupted cordon around the city that will strangle the rebels, and ultimately civilians within.
“The regime is trying, through these battles, to establish a large security cordon around Aleppo city,” Major Ahmed Abu Ismael, a Feilaq a-Sham officer with the Fatah Halab operations room, told Syria Direct Monday. The Fatah Halab, or Aleppo Victory, operations room was established this past April to decide the battle for Aleppo city. The alliance includes al-Jabha a-Shamiya, Ahrar a-Sham, Feilaq a-Sham and various FSA-affiliated rebel groups.

Putin makes accusation
On Thursday, Putin accused the United States of playing a "double game" in Syria that involves fighting "terrorists" while trying to use some of them to advance its own interests in the region.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said Russian airstrikes are interfering in Syria and making the Islamic State group stronger. She said she hoped the meeting between Kerry and Lavrov "will result in Russia re-committing in words and in action to a political solution for Syria."

11---Putin at Valdai

Speaking today at the International Valdai Discussion Club's 12th annual meeting in Sochi, Putin delivered a sweeping critique of military strategy and foreign policy touching on everything from the erroneous labeling of some extremists as “moderates” to the futility of nuclear war.
“Why play with words dividing terrorists into moderate and not moderate. What's the difference?,” Putin asked, adding that “success in fighting terrorists cannot be reached if using some of them as a battering ram to overthrow disliked regimes [because] it's just an illusion that they can be dealt with [later], removed from power and somehow negotiated with.” 

"I'd like to stress once again that [Russia's operation in Syria] is completely legitimate, and its only aim is to aid in establishing peace," Putin said of Moscow’s Mid-East strategy. And while he’s probably telling the truth there, it’s only by default. That is, peace in Syria likely means the restoration of Assad (it's difficult to imagine how else the country can be stabilized in the short-term), and because that aligns with Russia’s interests, The Kremlin is seeking to promote peace - it’s more a tautology than it is a comment on Putin’s desire for goodwill towards men.

And then there’s Iran and its nascent nuclear program. Putin accused the US of illegitimately seeking to play nuclear police officer, a point on which he is unquestionably correct: The "hypothetical nuclear threat from Iran is a myth. The US was just trying to destroy the strategical balance, [and] not to just dominate, but be able to dictate its will to everyone – not only geopolitical opponents, but also allies."

12--Total victory?
While short term developments (T + 7 days) are difficult to assess, it is already apparent that the Syrian regime and its allies are intend not just on some minor border corrections but on achieving a large scale military victory in NW Syria.

Patrick Bahzad said in reply to Bill Herschel...
I think caution is always a good thing. Anybody who thought this would be a walk in the park should get their head examined. I can't comment more as I have no idea who saker is and whose interests he defends.
It should also have been clear from the outset that this Russian force is not able to repel ISIS. It was never about totally defeating ISIS anyway but statements by Russian officials created a narrative that is not in line with operational reality....

So although one cannot assume that 'the Saker' is telling the truth, he may well be.
(For his account, see .)
I am more sceptical about the notion that he is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about his current location and contacts. He dwells on Florida a little too much, and in the light of his account of his intellectual evolution, it would not surprise me at all if he had good contacts in sections of the Russian intelligence apparatus.
But that does not mean that one should discount what he says as disinformation. And if anything, his analytical weakness seems to me a marked propensity to romanticism.

Lisa said...
In Syria they are in the grinding phase. This is always hard to report on because it just seems like endless battles and nothing seems to happen.
In the end it depends on the moral, manpower and resources of each side. If the Syrian Army (etc) can keep up the pressure and has sufficient reserves of troops and supplies plus the moral to continue it will win.
But it will take time for AN(etc) to run out of men and ammo(etc). At this stage, being the attackers, the SA will suffer larger losses and use up ammo faster.
This where air support, properly done, can make a huge difference with CAS and interdiction. AN(etc) may have large ammo dumps hidden away but if it cannot get to them or ship stuff from them to the front they are effectively useless.
Careful coordination of the attacks, where, when, what with are key elements. Finding the weak spots, stretching the enemy and so on are also critical. Managing logistics and reserves are also critical for the Syrian side, pointless having superior forces (etc) if you cannot get them to the right places on time.
These sorts of things tend to go on until either the defenders totally crack or the attackers give up.
On the strategic, tactical levels and the men and material side the SA has the advantages, but what about the moral side? Equally what about the moral side of the defenders who haven't, to date, been through this sort of coordinated meat grinder thing? Both those are unknowns.
The defenders have the disadvantage of being a 'hard crust', wth little (as far as I can see) defence in depth. Therefore if they crack, it will happen very quickly at some point, switching from a grinding to a chase. But this grinding could continue for weeks.
For examples of this sort of thing the Al Alamein and Normandy battles (not the US accounts of Normandy by the way they are all piffe) are useful guides.
A lot of, particularly western, people struggle to understand this sort of war. After years and years of COIN type stuff with lots of small, sharp, short engagements, this 'real war' stuff is not in their mindset.

13--WSJ--Mr. Kerry and other U.S. officials have expressed hopes the Russians will agree to a political transition that will eventually see Mr. Assad exit Syria’s political scene, even if he’s allowed to remain in office in that time.
“The fate of the Syrian president must be decided by the Syrian people,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Vienna on Friday after announcing the agreement with Jordan.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey are major backers of insurgent groups that have been fighting against the Syrian regime

thermobaric weapons turcopolier said...
J Vilain
IMO the R+5 effort will not be interested in hearts and minds until they have won the military struggle. This is not COIN and IMO there will be a decisive military outcome
From the article...
"[Putin] said the west was guilty of shortsightedness, focusing on the figure of Assad while ignoring the much greater threat of Isis.
“The so-called Islamic State [Isis] has taken control of a huge territory. How was that possible? Think about it: if Damascus or Baghdad are seized by the terrorist groups, they will be almost the official authorities, and will have a launchpad for global expansion. Is anyone thinking about this or not?”
He added: “Fifty years ago, the streets of Leningrad taught me that if a fight is inevitable, you have to hit first.”

14---Putin made it clear in the past that he does not feel any personal bond with Assad and that he is primarily interested in preserving the central state in Syria. He does not want to see a repeat scenario of Libya and Yemen. Secondly, he has a clear interest in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as he has many citizens from the unruly North Caucasus republics joining ISIL. Thirdly, he wants to re-establish Moscow as a major player in the region. Lastly, he appears to be actively involved in finding a face-saving diplomatic solution that would facilitate a transition -- perhaps with Assad -- but that would eventually achieve the preservation of the central state and leadership transition simultaneously.


The third is defusing preconditions requiring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down at the start of the political transition, in favor of accepting Assad's gradual exit in parallel with said transition.
The fourth concession is agreeing to shore up regime institutions as part of the solution, compared to previous positions that insisted on fully replacing the regime with the opposition's framework.
If Vladimir Putin has decided to build on these concessions, then he must have no doubt discussed with Assad - who was summoned to Moscow this week - a roadmap for his departure. This would likely follow a timetable imposed by the transitional process, which in all likelihood will span months, not weeks. This would enable Assad to step down after defeating "terrorism", as he always states, after bolstering the Syrian state, as these two elements would constitute an "honorable exit" for Assad, compared to defeat and prosecution for his role in precipitating and perpetrating the atrocities in Syria.

16--It is always difficult to play a double sided game: to fight with some terrorists and to use others “as a battering ram to overthrow regimes they find undesirable”.

On the “moderate” terrorists:

There is no need to play on words and divide terrorists into “moderate” and “immoderate”. What separates them? I would like to understand the difference. Perhaps, according to some experts, moderate bandits decapitate people in a moderate and gentle way. In fact, we now see a real tangle of terrorist organizations. Yes, sometimes they are rebels of the “Islamic State”, “Al-Nusra Dzhabhat”, all sorts of other heirs and factions of “Al-Qaeda”, they even fight each other. But then, they fight for money, for their share of the money, for the sources of the income flow, for the territory of the income flow - that's what they fight for, not for ideological reasons. But the essence and methods they have are the same – they terrorize, murder, transform the people into a downtrodden, intimidated, docile mass....

On Russia’s operations in Syria:
After the request of Syrian authorities on giving them support, we decided to launch a military operation in that country. Once again: it is completely legitimate. Its sole purpose is to promote peace....

Syrians must decide their fate for themselves, at their own accord, with the respectful assistance of the international community and not under external pressure through ultimatums, blackmail and threats

17--US no longer sets the agenda in Syria talks
One item on the agenda, Kerry said, was which nations should be included political transition discussions. Russia is keen to bring Iran into the talks, but Saudi Arabia is opposed. The Obama administration has said repeatedly that all the countries with an interest in Syria, including Iran and Russia, need to agree on what the transition should bring: a unified, secular and pluralistic Syria governed with the consent of its people.....
A military victory over the militants "will not solve all problems, but it will create conditions for the main thing: a beginning of a political process to encompass all healthy, patriotic forces of the Syrian society," Putin said. His words echoed those of Syrian government officials who have expressed readiness to negotiate with the "patriotic" opposition — a term generally used to describe unarmed, mostly Damascus-based government critics who are tolerated by Assad

18--Rebuffing Peace Chances in Syria
Who’s to Blame?
Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari later blamed the United States, Britain and France for derailing a huge opportunity for peace. Norwegian General Robert Mood, who led a military observer mission into Syria that spring to monitor an abortive cease-fire, said after the breakdown of Geneva I, “it would have been possible to lead Syria through a transition supported by a united Security Council with Assad as part of the transition. . . . The insistence on the removal of President Assad as a start of the process led them into a corner where the strategic picture gave them no way out whatsoever.”
Contrary to the caricature presented in many Western media, the Russians did not then or later insist that Assad remain in power.
Rather, as President Vladimir Putin emphasized in late 2012, Russia’s “position is not for the retention of Assad and his regime in power at any cost but that the people in the beginning would come to an agreement on how they would live in the future, how their safety and participation in ruling the state would be provided for, and then start changing the current state of affairs in accordance with these agreements, and not vice versa.”

Or as two former members of the State Department’s policy planning staff put it, “For Russia, the Geneva process is about achieving a political settlement in Syria, not about great powers negotiating the end of the Assad regime. . . . Russia’s primary objective in Syria is not to provide support for Assad but rather to avoid another Western-backed effort at coercive regime change, and all of Russia’s actions are consistent with that objective. . . .
“Better US-Russian cooperation on Syria depends on demonstrating to Moscow that Assad and his cronies — rather than the opposition, US policy, or other states in the region — are the main obstacle to a settlement and to stability in Syria, as the US has long argued. That requires pushing ahead with a good-faith effort at a political settlement...

 some 75 military factions operating under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army this month reached an unprecedented political consensus: They rejected plans for a peaceful transition of power put forth by UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura. Their political stance confirms that the FSA has become an ally, if not a wholly owned tool, of the Nusra Front.

US a full partner in war crimes in Yemen
" “These are JSOC and CIA-led missions for the most part,” Gettinger told me recently, conjecturing that the hush-hush operations are likely focused on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities and counterterrorism strikes in Somalia and Yemen, as well as aiding the Saudi-led air campaign in the latter country."

turcopolier said...
"This is a war of attrition" No. There will be a clear victory and the ass---e sheikhs in the Gulf have no real power other than money and that can be taken from them. Erdogan is not going to reverse Ataturk's creation of modern Turkey and Russia will not be de-stabilized. pl

turcopolier said...
I think there is a better than 50% chance that the jihadi/unicorn/Borgist forces in Syria will be routed and de facto partition will not take place. pl


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