By Patrick BAHZAD

Capture - Copy



"Just when I Thought I was out,
They pull me back in!»
The Godfather – Part III (1990)



You have got to wonder if that is what Bashar al-Assad is thinking somehow at the moment. Considering the string of victories he's pulling together in the fight against ISIS, while Jabhat al-Nusra and friends are trying to "backstabb" his army in Idlib country, he may certainly get the impression some of his foes will never let go. Such a view would be misguided though, as the days of the "moderate" Islamist rebels are numbered. 

To those, on the other hand, who might resent the implications of quoting a movie mobster as comparison for the head of the Syrian Arab Republic, make no mistake, Assad and his clan are gangsters, just as any Middle-Eastern government recognized by the West. So let us not get into the morality debate of whether or not he deserves to be where he is.

I will gladly leave that discussion to the neo-Con, neo-Wilsonian and R2P crew! The question, for now, is not what should have been done differently four or five years ago, but what should be done today and what is likely to happen, so we do not end up with a mess even bigger than the one we helped create in the last few years.

The Game Changer

Looking back at the developments that took place after the Russian decided to put boots on the ground (and planes in the air), it must be obvious even to the most determined anti-Assad proponents that there is way around him anymore. In the six months of their campaign, the Russians managed to turn the tables on the opposition, for the regime would have been on its way out, were it not for the massive boost the SAA and its allies received thanks to Russian airstrikes, weapons' deliveries and military training. And while the analysts of the "percentage war" might still be busy doing the math about how much (or, in their eyes, how little) territory Assad and Co have regained with Putin’s help, the whole dynamics  and momentum of the war definitely changed after October 1st 2015.


Once a deal was reached with the Jordanians, so as to keep a lid on large parts of the Southern Front, the R+6 proceeded to irredeemably degrade the so-called moderate rebels in North-Western Syria. Although they had the means and the tactical opportunity to strike a devastating blow early in 2016, in a kind WWII "Kesselschlacht", the Russians finally decided against it, out of diplomatic and political considerations. If you want Assad to be able to reach out and look a reasonable enough statesman figure, you have got to leave some opposition on the ground in order to claim at least some credibility in upcoming elections.

Besides, the different factions in the Idlib to Aleppo area are so fragmented, with Jabhat al-Nusra – i.e. Al Qaeda – firmly in the driving seat, that this might still prove a very smart move, to leave opponents slug it out among themselves. Basically, another variation of the old "divide and rule". The surviving FSA groups, in particular the same Division 13 that was robbed of all its gear a week earlier, might still side with JaN when they decide it's time for yet another hopeless offensive against regime positions in South-West Aleppo, but to the civilian population as a whole, the gap is probably widening between groups wishing to come to a negotiated settlement with the Assad loyalists (not a surrender) and those "die hards" of Jihad who want to fight onto the last Syrian.

Resumption of Hostilities by JaN and Div 13

From that point of view, the resumption of hostilities both by JaN and Division 13 is likely to induce further internal strife among an opposition that is already divided, if you set aside the Saudi backed proxy groups under the influence of Jaysh al-Islam. The downing of a SyAF jet earlier today will only contribute to making the local opposition look less reliable to the international community, as well as deeply influenced by Jihadi splinter groups or affiliates of Al Qaeda central.

Maybe it’s no coincidence Al Qaeda old timer Abu Firas was taken out – with a number of fellow “Jabhat al-Nusra” and “Jund al-Aqsa” leaders – by a US airstrike, days only after the failed rebel counter-attack. There is no evidence for this of course, but the Pentagon Spokesman made it clear yesterday during his press briefing that the US considered Al Qaeda and its affiliates to be “fair game” and that Jabhat al-Nusra was in that regard pretty much “one and the same” with their head-office.

The jury is still out on the implications of such a statement, but the truth is that never before, especially not since the Russian intervention, has there been a US airstrike that far up in North-Western Syria, against a gathering of Jihadi leaders of very serious stature. Of course, there have been strikes before, targeting Al Qaeda’s controversial “Khorasan Group” on several occasions, both in 2014 and in 2015, or “Ahrar al-Sham” in 2014. But the closest strike the US have launched is near Aleppo and that was in July 2015, i.e. before the Russians upgraded and integrated the Syrian air defence system.

In other words, this strike must at least have been coordinated with the R+6, using the agreed on protocols. In my opinion, the message this sends to rebel groups in the North-West is clear: playtime is over! There’s a sheriff in town, actually two of them, and it looks like they intend to enforce the rules. Come to think of it, you might even suspect that it could have been a deliberate move to target Abu Firas and his crew through a US airstrike, so as not to give the rebels any more ground for further cease-fire breach, in case the RuAf or SyAF stepped in and started pounding Idlib countryside again. What will come out of this is uncertain, but it is more than likely that none of it will strengthen the Islamists’ case against Assad.

Assad Fighting ISIS

Another aspect which is not going to help the rebels' PR-campaign is the regime's highly successful offensive against the Islamic State. For months, even years, we have been spoon-fed the story according to which Assad and ISIS were two sides to the same coin. Worse, Assad had created ISIS and only if he left was there a chance of fixing the ISIS issue. I have always wondered how anybody in his right mind could come up with that twisted a logic and still get such a warm reception in so many parts of the world.

The Islamic State, in its present form, has been around since 2006 at least. It was born in Iraq, which still is its centre of gravity, and a large number of its most senior executives are Iraqis. The Islamic State’s expansion into Syria is as much the result of some cynical moves made by the Syrian regime (in particular the release of Islamist detainees early in 2011), as it is the end-product of sectarian politics in Iraq (where Sunnis still feel pretty much second-class citizens), US failure to properly deal with the issue when they still had the chance and Western blindness as to what was at stake in the region in general. Add to this the Saudi war by proxy against Iran, as well as neo-Ottoman thoughts of “grandeur”, and you get a highly volatile environment.

But now, that narrative of "Assad must go", combined with "Assad is not fighting ISIS" has lost a lot of traction. Probably even more so among ordinary people in Western Europe and the United States than among elites and an establishment that has been busy selling us the pipedream of a democratic and peaceful future for Syria. Sadly, there was never any chance the toppling of Assad by the opposition would end in anything else than large-scale bloodshed, death and chaos. Libya by contrast would look like a walk in the park compared to what Syria would have turned into, if the regime change crowd had had it their way. 

Victory at Palmyra

Be that as it may, nobody can deny the fact that the SAA is now the only Arab army inflicting one defeat after the other to the Caliphate's armies: the first of those, probably more symbolic than anything else at that point, was lifting the three-year siege of Kweires airbase, back in November 2015. This victory, largely underestimated by our very own armchair strategists, gave a huge boost to the morale of the SAA, and its foreign allies (Hezbollah, IRGC and Iraqi or Afghan Shia militias).

Fast-forward to March 2016 and what you see unfold is the result of the multipronged strategy implemented under Russian guidance: an international negotiation mechanism has been agreed to, with all its flaws, but it has enabled the regime to move forces from the North-West into the Centre-East of the country, putting ISIS under so much pressure that it finally crumbled first in Palmyra, and now in Qaryatayn.

Pushing the Jihadis out of Palmyra was undoubtedly the biggest of Assad’s victories so far, also from a PR point of view. There has been some debate about whether it made more sense for the SAA to go for Palmyra first, instead of Tabqa, which would have opened the road to Raqqa, the Caliphate’s capital in Syria. Overall however, the choice of an offensive towards Palmyra made much more sense: Assad managed to claim back a piece of world heritage from "the barbarians", which gave him extra press and media cover at a time he needed to boost his image during the latest round of Geneva negotiations.

Tabqa in comparison might only have gotten him 1/10 of coverage in the international media, even though it is much more important militarily, and gives quicker access to IS LOCs to and from Raqqa. So it was basically down to choosing between what made most sense militarily and what could be used best in Geneva and as PR. Also, the chances of quick military victory at Palmyra stood much better than a thrust into 40 miles of desert road that could lead to the same kind of skirmishes and ISIS raids than the Khanasser road into Aleppo.

The Way Ahead

Developments in North-Western Syria, where JaN and Div 13 of the FSA decided to go "all in" will not alter the equation fundamentally. At this point, they have become a sideshow that will not be tolerated, not by the Russians and Syrians, and not by the US either, which may come more as a surprize to JaN's backers in the region. At best they can achieve minor frontline corrections, but nothing of the scale necessary to modify the balance of power.

Obviously, their intent was to trick the R+6 into overreaction, possibly even force them to divert resources necessary in the fight against ISIS. The response they got through the strike on Abu Firas, symbolic as it may be, will send a powerful signal to anybody wishing to interfere with the current negotiation logic. Therefore, even if hostilities flare up around Idlib, the most likely COA is that they will not interefere with the main offensive against the "Islamic State".

With Qaryatayn now also firmly in the hands of the SAA, this will open the way to an offensive towards Sukhna, ISIS’ first defensive line now on the way to Deir-ez-Zor, possibly in combination with YPG and SDF coming from the North, through Shahadi (only 25 miles North of Deir-ez-Zor). The logistics involved in such a ground operation are complex however, and a step-by-step approach is the most likely scenario in this case. Getting to Deir-ez-Zor might be worth it though, as this would not only achieve another highly symbolic victory (lifting yet another epic siege), but would seriously disrupt one of the core areas of ISIS, namely the Euphrates valley, thereby cutting off their entire logistics trail.

The other tactical options for the R+6 are mainly twofold: either clear the East of Homs province, which is still pretty much in ISIS hands, as a way to securing the “Khanasser road” into Aleppo, or pushing from Ithriyah (North-East of Salamiyah, on that exact same Khanasser road) right into Tabqa through the oilfields that ISIS needs so direly now. Both actions could also be combined, depending on progress made on either axis of advance.

A Mirror Image of the 2007 Surge

Strategically, the idea at work here is at the exact opposite of what the US Surge had to achieve in 2007. Back then, one of the main objectives was to get AQI (or the ISI) out of its strongholds in Baghdad and the cities it controlled in Anbar. That was the rationale of the battle for the Baghdad belts, which turned out to be more of an ethnic cleansing operation subcontracted to local "Special Police Commandos" and various Shia militias, and the systematic (physical) suppression of Jihadi groups in a number of towns and cities in Anbar province. As a sidenote, it should be remembered that the most successful aspects of this Surge were cinetic military action performed by groups such as "Task Force 145", and not the COIN campaign based on winning over "hearts and minds" that was sold to the American public.

This is a lesson that needs to be taken into consideration in today's fight. Of course, the overall situation and circumstances are quite different, and so are their contingencies. In the absence of massive US manpower, taking back IS controlled cities takes a lot more effort and coordination. The already announced offensive on Mosul, probably some kind of counter-PR to the actual SAA offensive on Palmyra, will take months before it even reaches the outskirts of the Northern Iraqi city. As for Raqqa, it will probably be the first capital IS will lose, but here too, coordination between various groups from various coalitions will take some effort.

Thus, the most promising strategy for pushing back IS on the ground is to isolate its core areas by cutting off LOCs, thereby disrupting territorial continuity, and then organising some "quadrillage" in the areas controlled by the SAA (or the ISF for that matter). This MO seems to be working much more efficiently with the SAA, or the Kurdish YPG militias, than with the ISF, but the aim is identical: isolating the different power centres of ISIS from each other (Raqqa, Mosul, Deir-ez-Zor, etc.), grinding down their territory, and making the grip tighter and tighter around Raqqa and Mosul, until they're ripe for the final onslaught.

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  1. Barish says:

    Thanks for the overview, and also for picking up on today’s episode of Nusra and friends downing a warplane. I do note that it isn’t even hushed up that Nusra took credit there, for both the shoot-down as well as the capture of the pilot (Gods help the poor man), and the noises made by this “Division 13” (how’d they come up with that numbering for those unicorn outfits, drawing lots?):
    “A spokesman for a U.S.-backed division of the Free Syrian Army accused the government of scrapping the cease-fire and undermining the Geneva talks. The group said one of its fighters was killed in the offensive against government forces in the south Aleppo countryside.
    “The truce is considered over,” Zakariya Qaytaz of the Division 13 brigade told AP through Twitter. “This battle is a notice to the regime.”
    The United States and Russia had hoped a halt in fighting would cause opposition factions to distance themselves from extremist groups such as the Nusra Front. Instead, rebel militia seem to have united in their opposition to the government.
    The nationalist Division 13 brigade is now fighting alongside Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, a powerful jihadist militia that is internally divided over its association with the al-Qaida affiliate.
    Qaytaz said his faction remained wary of the Nusra Front after the latter stole their weapons and expelled them from the town of Maarat al-Nouman in March.
    The Nusra Front posted videos on social media showing mortars and tanks firing on what it said were government positions in the Aleppo countryside Saturday. An opposition media outlet later posted a report from inside a village said to be Tel al-Ais, with artillery sounding in the distance. Syria’s state news agency acknowledged fierce clashes in the area Friday.”
    At least this lot isn’t pretending who’s throwing the ceasefire by the wayside. On the other hand, as you observed: this “Division 13” makes itself look just as bad as its jihadi brothers-in-arms with that type of action and diction. Beyond regaining Tal al-Eis from unicorn control, what could be potential goals for SAA and allies in this area?
    Further, there’s a couple things I wonder about in the following:
    “The Islamic State’s expansion into Syria is as much the result of some cynical moves made by the Syrian regime (namely the release of some Islamist detainees early in 2011), as it is the end-product of sectarian politics in Iraq (where Sunnis still feel pretty much second-class citizens), US failure to properly deal with the issue when they still had the chance and Western blindness as to what was at stake in the region in general.”
    Wasn’t it the case that as early as 2011, the “international community” demanded the government release “political prisoners”, of whom various Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, who are very open to al-Qaida, were a significant part? A detail that said “community” would have been aware of had they cared to look into it back then. And then there is the fact that irregardless of whether they were released by the Syrian authorities, they were still fully supported by various interested parties – case in point being Zahran Alloush, the late leader of Jaish al-Islam whose group enjoys full support by al-Saud, and whose relative – a cousin? – is heading the Saudi-sponsored “High Negotiation Committee” in Geneva.
    Finally, beyond Deir-Ezzor, should that be the next stop after Palmyra, how feasible would it be for SAA and allies to try and shore up Syria’s border with Iraq?

  2. Bob says:

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

  3. Babak Makkinejad says:

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

  4. Brunswick says:

    Picking a nit:
    ” The Islamic State’s expansion into Syria is as much the result of some cynical moves made by the Syrian regime (namely the release of some Islamist detainees early in 2011), ”
    After several months of protests in 2011, many prisoners managed to escape. Zahran Alloush, Abu Shadi Aboud (brother of Hassan Aboud[2]) and Ahmed Abu Issa were some of the more prominent prisoners released from the prison. They proceeded to form their own Islamist groups and take up arms against the regime upon their release. Many of them became leaders of Islamist groups in the Islamic Front such as Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar ash-Sham and Suqour al-Sham Brigade.
    While the Syrian Observatory (later claimed 1500 prisoners were released), claims at the time said 240 prisoners were released, and at the time the prisoners release was “hailed” as a “victory” for the Protestors and was a “concession” by the Syrian Regime.
    The meme that the Assad Prisoner Release “created” or “strengthened” ISIS in Syria, is persistent.
    The reality is that while some of the released prisoners, ( 3) went on to found Jihadi groups, ( not ISIS), the Prisoner Release in no way aided ISIS in Syria.
    The series of escapes from beseiged Syrian prisons, and the capture of Syria prisons by jihadi groups, had a far greater impact, but of course, is counter to the Borg approved propaganda.

  5. Bob,
    you’re right about the “ethnic cleansing” part being a bit confusing for those who are not familiar with Baghdad during that period. I slightly edited the text accordingly, although I have to say, it must have been clear from the outset that there would be a price to pay in return for the strategy chosen for securing Baghdad, i.e. cordoning off the city from its Sunni hinterland with an extra 20 000 US troops and basically letting local “assets” mop up the countless AQI and Baathist cells.
    Regarding Palmyra, the historic perspective you’re giving is very interesting as I am convinced, as I wrote a while ago, that ISIS (as an organisation) will end up just like the “Assassins”, who got destroyed by a large Mongol army in the 14th century. Unlike the “Assassins” though, large parts of ISIS are likely to survive and merge into something new, possibly with AQ, which is something one should be ready and plan for. This will be a very long war I’m afraid.

  6. bth says:

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

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

  8. gemini33 says:

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

  9. VietnamVet says:

    Thanks again for your updates. They are invaluable. Today’s news is truly a conundrum.
    If the moderate rebels broke the cease fire by seizing territory south of Aleppo plus the introduction of MANPADS into the conflict indicated by shooting down the Syrian fighter; the Syrian civil war has re-ignited and escalated.
    America’s actions appear incomprehensible. The evacuation of dependents from the NATO ally, Turkey, indicates that the war is expected to expand north. Yet, the American airstrike against a gathering of Jihadi leaders in northwestern Syria appears to been in support of the cease fire and has to be contrary to the wishes of John McCain and Lindsay Graham, the rebels’ ardent supporters.
    Whoever introduced MANPADS into the Sunni Shiite Jihad does not hold shares of Emirates, Gulf Air, or Qatar Airways. With proliferation of the anti-aircraft missiles, every airport in the region will have to have exclusionary zones around them and combat landings and takeoffs. An A380 is a huge target.

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

  11. turcopolier says:

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

  12. KHarbaugh says:

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

  13. Barish says:

    “If the moderate rebels broke the cease fire by seizing territory south of Aleppo plus the introduction of MANPADS into the conflict indicated by shooting down the Syrian fighter; the Syrian civil war has re-ignited and escalated.”
    MANPADS have been around in the Syrian insurgents’ hands for a long while, as it happens:
    Plus, if such was used, what they hit was an old SU-22 on low altitude reconnaissance flight.

  14. different clue says:

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

  15. Thirdeye says:

    Right on cue, the State Department accuses government forces of breaching the ceasefire. No acknowledgement of the JAN/FSA assaults in southern Aleppo.
    Stupid, stupid, stupid! With that obvious display of bad faith, the US has removed any political incentive for R+6 not to prosecute the war against JAN/FSA in any manner they see as advantageous, “ceasefire” or no.

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

  17. Assad family mentioned in newly released Panama Papers! Implications?

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

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

  20. pantaraxia says:

    Picked this up from comments section of MOA.
    Syrian government refutes U.S. claims of killing top Nusra commander
    “The Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Miqdad released a statement on Tuesday denying the Pentagon’s claim that the U.S. Air Force killed the prominent Jabhat Al-Nusra (Syrian Al-Qaeda group) commander “Abu Firas Al-Souri” in rural Idlib.
    Miqdad added that the Syrian Arab Air Force (SAAF) carried out the series of airstrikes that killed the Nusra commander and 25 of his associates inside the village of Kafr Jalis.
    The Pentagon took responsibility for the airstrike that killed Abu Firas Al-Souri, despite the scarcity of their airstrikes against the Al-Qaeda factions in Syria.”
    Besides the obvious propaganda value of claiming the ‘kill’, why would Syria contradict U.S. claim in this specific instance when it has not done so in the past (in respect to bombing runs). Could it possibly be true?

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

  22. Mick says:

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

  23. Matthew says:

    PB: And then there is this world-class cynicism:
    Compare this to the President’s comments to Tom Friedman.
    Now he cares….

  24. LeaNder says:

    “are being mischievious (but technically correct) in your use of the term “ethnic cleansing” in reference to the 2007 Surge operations in the Baghdad Security Belts, but will confuse those who don’t know their history.”
    Bob, I only read this today, thus I cannot really judge the passage as you criticized it.
    Anyway, didn’t the problem start with how Iraq was managed post “Mission accomplished”? In other words, if we leave out the Machiavellian schemes behind the necessities for Operation Iraqi Freedom, would someone that ‘knows his history’ tell me, that I am misguided, if I assume that maybe as bad as the war itself was the handling after? Put another way, somewhat in a nutshell: That it somewhat resulted in one ethnic(?) elite being supplanted by another?
    Saddam’s Iraq military? That cannot have been purely ethnic. At least if I am not a really bad or selective reader.

  25. Bob says:

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

  26. Barish says:

    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?

  27. LeaNder says:

    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”?
    The Gulf State’s suppressed dissent no doubt more effectively then Assad. How comes?
    And yes there is Caesar:

  28. LeaNder says:

    “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. …;)

  29. b says:

    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.

  30. LeaNder says:

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

  31. Bob says:

    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?

  32. Les says:

    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.

  33. charly says:

    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.

  34. bth says:

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

  35. Bob says:

    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.

  36. turcopolier says:

    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.

  37. VietnamVet says:

    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:
    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.

  38. KHarbaugh says:

    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 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.

  39. KHarbaugh says:

    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

  40. elaine says:

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

  41. Charly,
    The Syrian government has been fightinq Al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria for years.

  42. 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.

  43. Chris Chuba says:

    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.

  44. All,
    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.

  45. turcopolier says:

    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

  46. Barish says:

    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.

  47. Mick says:

    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

  48. 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.

  49. LeaNder says:

    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.

  50. pl,
    Amazing coincidence that you would write this today. With yesterday’s announcement of the death of Merle Haggard, I was flooded with memories of my old mentor, MSG Albert H. Rivers. At one of the RPI ROTC military balls, he commented “That damned band ain’t any good. They can’t do any Merle Haggard.” At various times he was with 46th SF Company in Thailand and a RT leader in CCC. RT Nebraska, I believe. He only left VN because the US Army left. He brought his Thai wife with him to become father goose to us ROTC cadets at RPI. I learned more from that man than from all the military schools I ever attended.

  51. Barish,
    You’re free to believe what you like. Just don’t insult my intelligence pretending to lecture me about Sednaya or Syria in general. I’m also far better acquainted with the mechanics of the Syrian security apparatus and its work than you imagine.

  52. LeaNder says:

    Hmm, OK, one angle.

  53. YT says:

    RE: M. Vandenberghe

  54. Bob says:

    1. As you are aware I concur with your post from 2009 on the subject of COIN and Afghanistan, and believe that it also applies to Iraq, and now Syria. Concur with Patrick’s excellent suggestion that this deserves to be a separate topic.
    2. Despite my experience, knowledge of Iraq and the Middle East, and good looks; I was not selected by GEN Petraeus to join his “Council of Colonels” who wrote Joint Publication 3-24 Counterinsurgency, even though I had just finished working for/with him in Iraq when he commanded MNSTC-I. I don’t necessarily disagree with the concepts expressed in it, but I’ve always been unable to understand how we could apply it in Iraq. In Iraq COIN never made any sense to me because there were never enough resources to apply it, and from Petraeus on down our military commanders were either in denial or just ignorant about the conditions of the environment in Iraq. From 2003, many of the same geniuses who wrote the COIN doctrine were too dumb to adequately resource, or worse, refused to force the resourcing of the key mission of training the ISF (building partnership capacity), and unable to understand or accept the realities of Iraqi history, culture, politics and what was really possible in Iraq. When we tried to help them understand we were rebuffed, like when you came to Kuwait in early 2003 and gave talks to three different groups of cheering planners, intel analysts and senior staff officers; and offered to be the CFLCC Cdr’s PolMil Advisor in early 2003; or my own relationship with Petraeus during the surge in 2007-8 when he refused to accept the sectarian realities of the Maliki regime.

  55. LeaNder,
    Not sure what you’re trying to say, just don’t be a smartass. Got anything of substance to add, feel free to do so.

  56. Barish says:

    No offense intended, and I do take note that pressure to make concessions was only one part of the pile of fragments that led things to where they went, and still are.

  57. turcopolier says:

    Bob et al
    I feel compelled to state that in spite of all the good things we did with the indigenous tribals and “rallied” assets in SEA we still lost the war on the home front when public opinion support collapsed behind us. That is perhaps, the greatest lesson to be learned regarding COIN as a concept. As Fall said, to my seminar in 1964 at Bragg, “you can win the counterinsurgency and still lose the war.” BTW, you are right about resources. We were properly resourced for the nation building mission in COIN and fully engaged in COIN from 1967 at all levels of VN governance but still lost. the level of resources available in Iraq and Afghanistan was pathetic by comparison to the CORDS effort. COIN is not a useful doctrine unless the local government can handle it without much assistance. pl

  58. Bob says:

    Returning to Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan, I only see very limited possible ways ahead, not much different from what we have been doing, precisely because of the realities of the “local government”, realities that “wishful thinking” can’t change.
    In Iraq, there is no future in training the ISF or establishing fire bases in a trail for the ISF/PMF to notionally follow to Mosul. “Build it and they will come” doesn’t often work in FID.
    Our assistance to the KRG and to arming Iraqi Sunni tribes to kill ISIL should be outside of Shia GOI control.
    In Syria, I think we can coordinate on a limited basis with R+6, provide T&E to the SDF(AKA YPG), continue to try to build some consensus with the GCC and AL, provide humanitarian relief to refugees/IDPs, and whack Jihadi targets when available.
    In Afghanistan, the conditions don’t exist to reduce troops levels IAW the plan, so we need to keep them there.
    In all three places (and elsewhere across the Islamic world from Mali to Bali…) we attempt to build consensus with our allies, even those who are difficult and tied to the Jihadis, like the Turks and and Saudis…

  59. turcopolier says:

    Why do we persist in treating both the Russians and the Syrian government as adversaries? Why is it only on a “limited” basis that we can coordinate with them? pl

  60. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I thought there was no formal treaty of military alliance between any state in the Muslim world and the United States except Turkey through NATO.
    Am I wrong?

  61. Bob says:

    OK, you’re right that R+6 is not a useful term here, but I was trying to be more realistic as opposed to idealistic here.
    Increased CT coordination with Russia is certainly in our interest, even as we have other issues with Putin.
    Extensive coordination with the Asad regime will be necessary in the course of any diplomatic solution, and to avoid fratricide while whacking Jihadis. However, even when we were eating chow together with Ali Habib and SY 9AD in the KKMC chow hall in 90-91, or along the SY-IZ border since 2003, working with the Syrians has been difficult, regardless of the Anti-Syrian lobby in DC.
    Any coordination with Iran and LH and Iraqi Shia militias might be useful in reducing overall tensions, but is probably unlikely in the near term.
    In the big picture, I am pleased that we’ve been able to start working with the Russians and Syrian govt to the degree that we have so far, despite the nut cases in high places calling for us to attack both of them.

  62. turcopolier says:

    “even as we have other issues with Putin.” What “other issues?” pl

  63. Bob says:

    1. You are of course correct there are no formal treaties of collective defense between the U.S. and any state in the Muslim world except Turkey via NATO. However, the U.S. has had Defense Cooperation Agreements (DCAs) and other similar bilateral agreements with most of the Islamic World since the beginning of the Cold War.
    2. It is OK for a retired US military officer who spent a career working with Arab Muslims to refer to them as “Allies”.

  64. turcopolier says:

    To me the notion of “alliance” implies a willing reciprocity. I do not see that in the Saudis. pl

  65. Bob says:

    You have a good point with Saudi Arabia, although there are US interests that have certainly benifited from the relationship.
    We might consider Afghanistan a useful test of “willful reciprocity”, and look at who has contributed, and how they contributed.

  66. turcopolier says:

    “WILLING reciprocity,” not “WILLFUL reciprocity.” Afghanistan? I was opposed to the adoption of a COIN strategy in Afghanistan in 2009 and said so every chance I got. I thought then that a smallish (20,000 roughly) long term commitment to CT ops and field intelligence would have been wise just to keep the jihadis screwed up, but to imagine that you could make the geographical expression called Afghanistan into a more or less modern country was just silly. It had been tried before, most recently in the ’40s and ’50s with large scale commitment of development resources by donor countries. You remember that we built all that now abandoned agricultural infrastructure in Helmand. Hell, there were American USAID residential camps as big as small towns down there. And, it was all for naught. Why? I tried for several years to generate business opportunities in Afghanistan for the industrial group for which I worked. What I and other people in the group learned was that there was no there there. There was no legal, or physical infrastructure to support creation of a business as we understood it. There was no labor force worthy of the name. There were no markets for anything that was not bought by foreign NGOs or AID missions. The standard conversation with Afghans always led to their insistence that you should risk your capital by taking a blind leap into the dark. the idea that they should build some basic infrastructure did not interest them because what they really wanted was their “cut” of your capital investment or a similar “cut” of some USAID contract that the you might get. COIN was never going to work in Afghanistan. You had to be an ambition driven fantasist to think it would. Now we are basically back to the CT based strategy that I hoped for in 2009. pl

  67. LeaNder says:

    Sorry, Patrick.
    These type of memorytrails that for whatever reason remain on my mind no doubt must be a bit irritating. Not least the “tread host”. I am working on it …
    More to the point of “one angle”. Releasing salafists, no doubt would have made sense considering the larger — from Assad’s perspective — US/”Western” foreign policy double standards.
    I have and had a larger task over here. Meaning my presence on Pat’s blog at this moment somewhat serves distraction. Admittedly not the best of all motives. 😉
    Besides, more personally: Apart from the fact that my more general praise of your contributions on this tread may feel a little standard, I do mean it.
    Note taken. Take care

  68. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you for your comments.
    You may have seen some of my earlier comments elsewhere on this forum regarding the “Rectification of Names”; we need to be clear about the meaning of words lest we be misled.

  69. Babak Makkinejad says:

    And that dam that USAID built in Afghanistan which, I assume, is unused now, on the Hirmand River, harmed the farmers of Sistan by cutting of their water.
    Turned the breadbasket of Iran into a desert.

  70. turcopolier says:

    Are you from that part of Iran? I agree. The Seljuk domain and other such places in the world should make their own way. BTW, do you think we could negotiate another deal to stop Iranian ICBM development? pl

  71. Babak Makkinejad says:

    No I am not from Sistan.
    But the destruction of the farming in Sistan is common knowledge in Iran; every one knows.
    As far as I know Iran does not have ICBMs, only IRBMs.
    And I also have read public statements by Iranian leader that they do not plan on deploying missiles with range exceeding 2000 KM.
    Since US has accepted the Iranian nuclear activities within NPT, the major obstacle for strategic negogiations between US and Iran are removed; in my opinion.
    US: We hate jihadists, you hate jihadists.
    Iran: That is a true statement.
    US: We want Afghanistan not to be used against US or anyone else.
    Iran: We are on the same page.
    US: We want a stable Iraq that does not threaten those despised Gulfies.
    Iran: We despise them too and we do not want Iraq to be again a threat to anyone else in the neighborhood.
    US: Azerbaijan is irrelevant to our security.
    Iran: We have no designs on Azerbaijan.
    US: We do not want Kurds to suffer in Iraq but we do not want to become independent – we are mindful of our official NATO ally – Turkey.
    Iran: We have been on good terms with KRG and do not expect that to change, provided they do not go for independence.
    US: We want SAR to continue to be a viable state and we won’t try to change the orientation of that state from the “Resistance Axis” in the future.
    Iran: That is to be expected but how about Palestine and the “Occupying Regime of Quds”?
    US: I am willing to discuss Palestine but do not expect to get anything for free.

  72. turcopolier says:

    I will take your word for it on the ICBMs. But, if Iran were to breach the nuclear weapons deal and this understanding on ICBMs that IMO would require a response. The US missed the opportunity for that with China but I doubt if we will with North Korea. Just my opinion. pl

  73. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Colonel, if I might provide a quote from Michael Hayden’s memoir Playing to the Edge, page 263,
    that I think bears on at least the Syrian part of your question.
    He was DCIA (he reserves DCI for the pre-DNI period) in 2007.
    Discussing the top-level U.S. response to the discovery that
    the Syrians were building a nuclear reactor at al-Kibar,
    he writes (but the numbering of the issues is added by me):
    “[I]n the president’s mind the real issue was Assad and overall Syrian policy, not just the reactor.
    Handled well, the coming crisis could give us unexpected leverage on a host of issues:
    1) Syrian support to Hamas and Hezbollah;
    2) the foreign fighter pipeline into Iraq;
    3) Damascus’s continued meddling in Lebanon;
    4) Syria’s alignment with Iran.
    “Syria had been a regular theme in White House policy discussions,
    largely along the lines of peeling the Syrians off from their Iranian sponsors
    or, as Steve Hadley often put it, ‘flipping Assad.’ ”
    I would add the thought that if were not for Israel,
    the U.S. could care less about those issues
    (with regard to Iraq, that is based on my personal assumption that if it were not for Israel,
    the U.S. would never have invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein).

  74. turcopolier says:

    “your question.” What question? pl

  75. Keith Harbaugh says:

    “Why do we persist in treating both the Russians and the Syrian government as adversaries?”

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