Mark Collins – Syria: Endless Blood?

That’s what it sadly looks like unless President Putin and the Iranians really step up their games in support of the Assad government–from the start and end of a piece at the London Review of Books:

Too Weak, Too Strong
Patrick Cockburn on the state of the Syrian war


The military balance of power in Syria and Iraq is changing. The Russian air strikes that have been taking place since the end of September are strengthening and raising the morale of the Syrian army, which earlier in the year looked fought out and was on the retreat. With the support of Russian airpower, the army is now on the offensive in and around Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, and is seeking to regain lost territory in Idlib province. Syrian commanders on the ground are reportedly relaying the co-ordinates of between 400 and 800 targets to the Russian air force every day, though only a small proportion of them come under immediate attack. The chances of Bashar al-Assad’s government falling – though always more remote than many suggested – are disappearing. Not that this means he is going to win.

The drama of Russian military action, while provoking a wave of Cold War rhetoric from Western leaders and the media, has taken attention away from an equally significant development in the war in Syria and Iraq. This has been the failure over the last year of the US air campaign – which began in Iraq in August 2014 before being extended to Syria – to weaken Islamic State and other al-Qaida-type groups. By October the US-led coalition had carried out 7323 air strikes, the great majority of them by the US air force, which made 3231 strikes in Iraq and 2487 in Syria. But the campaign has demonstrably failed to contain IS, which in May captured Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria. There have been far fewer attacks against the Syrian branch of al-Qaida, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the extreme Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham, which between them dominate the insurgency in northern Syria. The US failure is political as much as military: it needs partners on the ground who are fighting IS, but its choice is limited because those actually engaged in combat with the Sunni jihadis are largely Shia – Iran itself, the Syrian army, Hizbullah, the Shia militias in Iraq – and the US can’t offer them full military co-operation because that would alienate the Sunni states, the bedrock of America’s power in the region. As a result the US can only use its air force in support of the Kurds [since that was written POTUS has said the US will support the Syrian Kurds with “fewer than 50” special operations boots on the ground–but they’re also putting 30 troops into Niger, go figure relative importance; by further comparison Canada has 69 special operators doing mainly training in Iraqi Kurdistan–and maybe more from the new government to placate President Obama?)…

The Russian intervention in Syria, the greater involvement of Iran and the Shia powers, and the rise of the Syrian Kurds has not yet changed the status quo in Iraq and Syria, though it has the potential to do so. The Russian presence makes Turkish military intervention against the Kurds and the government in Damascus less likely. But the Russians, the Syrian army and their allies need to win a serious victory – such as capturing the rebel-held half of Aleppo – if they are to transform the civil war. Assad won’t want his experienced combat units to be caught up in the sort of street-by-street fighting described by the wounded soldiers in the hospitals. On the other hand, the Russian air campaign has an advantage over that of the Americans in that it has been launched in support of an effective regular army. The US never dared to attack IS when it was fighting the Syrian army because Washington didn’t want to be accused of keeping Assad in power. The US approach has left it without real allies on the ground, aside from the Kurds, whose effectiveness is limited outside Kurdish majority areas. The crippling weakness of US strategy in both Iraq and Syria has been to pretend that a ‘moderate Sunni opposition’ either exists or can be created. For all America’s fierce denunciations of Russian intervention, some in Washington can see the advantage of Russia doing what the US can’t do itself. Meanwhile, Britain is wrestling with the prospect of joining the US-led air campaign, without noticing that it has already failed in its main purpose.

What a super-botched American effort (via the Canadian Forces College’s invaluable Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs, at “International Commentary”).  Thanks, POTUS.  Il y a un manque de sérieux chez la Maison-Blanche.  And look who’s now attacking elsewhere:

As U.S. Escalates Air War on ISIS, [Arab] Allies Slip Away

As the United States prepares to intensify airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, the Arab allies who with great fanfare sent warplanes on the initial missions there a year ago have largely vanished from the campaign.

The Obama administration heralded the Arab air forces flying side by side with American fighter jets in the campaign’s early days as an important show of solidarity against the Islamic State…

Administration officials had sought to avoid the appearance of another American-dominated war, even as most leaders in the Persian Gulf seem more preoccupied with supporting rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Now, some of those officials note with resignation, the Arab partners have quietly left the United States to run the bulk of the air war in Syria…

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have shifted most of their aircraft to their fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Jordan, reacting to the grisly execution of one of its pilots by the Islamic State, and in a show of solidarity with the Saudis, has also diverted combat flights to Yemen…

The United Arab Emirates last carried out strikes in Syria in March; Jordan in August; and Saudi Arabia in September, according to information provided by allied officials last week [the Canadian bombing pull-out promised by the new government is mentioned just a bit later]…

Earlier based on Mr Cockburn:

Syria, ISIS and Kurds: Bloody Awful

Of course the US (along with the West generally) is simply unwilling to take the necessary military and subsequent actions to defeat ISIS and depose President Assad (especially with Russia’s now having his military back); I wrote the following in February:


Poor bloody locals. If the West is truly willing to sort things out right now, are we then willing to rule-one way or another-for some decades or so to try to ensure things work out wellish? Triple double HAH! Given no willingness for, or today in the West intellectual acceptance of, such a prospect, then let us just face things honestly…

See also: 

How to Counter the Caliphate in Iraq: Give Up Destroy, Just Contain? Part 2

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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