The Mess He Hath Wrought
Arming Enemies; Betraying Allies
United States Of Disgraceful
"Healthily Hard-Ass" Foreign Policy?
February 23, 2016
Forever Fickle & Confused
Supposedly Syrian Kurds are now attacking U.S.-supported rebels, but U.S. officials disagree about whether the Kurds have switched sides and whether the US should continue increasing its arms support for them, as opposed to focusing support on Sunni Arab rebels (see first article below).
Once again, the US has gotten itself into a hodgepodge of conflicting interests and is having great difficulty distinguishing between friend and foe.
"Given the recent fighting, the U.S. is backing both sides of a Kurdish-Turkish proxy war in Syria," said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Washington just doesn't want to get militarily involved so they think it's the best they can do. It's a low bar."
Supporting both sides is the best the US can do? Supporting the Kurds, who've proven themselves to be stalwart allies of the US, while supporting "moderate" Syrian opposition groups, which the US is clueless about? Sorta like what the US is doing with ally, Israel, as well as with Israel's enemies because of some perceived US interest.
"The US has disgraced itself with how it has handled the crisis in Syria. One of the consequences is that nearly six years into the bloody civil war, different US-backed groups are now fighting over the same territory," writes Julie Lenarz, Executive Director of the Human Security Centre (see second article below).
"In other words, the US-led coalition is at war with itself," writes Lenarz. "How can the US-led coalition implement a coherent strategy in Syria when it is torn apart from inside?"
It can't and it won't, but lots of innocent lives are going to be lost as the US and its coalition try.
And so American foreign policy remains forever fickle and confused.
Bloomberg View | February 23, 2016
Obama Administration Argues Over Support for Syrian Kurds
By Josh Rogin & Eli Lake
Syrian Kurds are now attacking U.S.-supported rebels, but U.S. officials disagree about whether the Kurds have switched sides -- and about whether the U.S. should continue increasing its arms support for them, as opposed to focusing support on Sunni Arab rebels.
Kurdish fighters have taken advantage of the Russian-backed Syrian regime offensives in the north of the country, seizing territory from U.S.-backed rebels who are on the defensive. But factions within the Obama administration disagree about whether the Kurds are simply being opportunistic, or have coordinated their attacks with Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime.
Some administration officials told us that U.S. intelligence has documented meetings between the Kurds’ armed group and officials in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, which has fought alongside the Assad regime against the opposition since 2011. This faction also says the Kurdish group, the YPG, is closely working with the PKK, a Kurdish terrorist organization at war with Turkey.
One senior administration official said the CIA has found that the Kurds directly coordinated with Russian forces recently during an attack on the headquarters of the CIA-backed Syrian opposition in the town of Marea. The official said the U.S. intelligence is that Kurdish troops laid down tracer fire on the building just before Russian bombers destroyed it. Another U.S. official disputed this account.
Other U.S. officials expressed doubt that the Kurds would coordinate so explicitly with Assad, Russia and Iran. Mutlu Civiroglu, an analyst on Kurdish affairs who has contacts among the YPG, told us the group "denies any coordination with the Russians, but they acknowledge they benefit from Russian airstrikes." Russian and Syrian officials have said that they are directly aiding the YPG and that the YPG is aligned with the regime in Damascus, but Civiroglu dismissed that as propaganda.
One U.S. official who works on the campaign against the Islamic State acknowledged that the YPG does not trust some of the rebel groups. Although the YPG and those rebels both fight the Islamic State, the YPG has avoided large-scale battles with the Assad regime. The rebels, who are focused on the fight against Assad, have maintained close ties with Turkey, which has shelled YPG positions.
“Given the recent fighting, the U.S. is backing both sides of a Kurdish-Turkish proxy war in Syria,” said Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Washington just doesn't want to get militarily involved so they think it’s the best they can do. It’s a low bar.”
Some U.S. officials argue internally that the U.S. has no choice but to heavily support the YPG. Although YPG fighters are attacking U.S.-backed rebels, these officials argue that they have proven themselves more effective against the Islamic State than others have been.
Several administration officials told us that Brett McGurk, the special envoy to the coalition to fight the Islamic State, is making that case. These officials say he has support from leaders of Joint Special Operations Command, which has at least 50 advisers inside Syria working directly with the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State. (JSOC did not respond to a request for comment.) YPG supporters inside the administration point to the Kurdish offensive in the town of Shadadi, which began just after McGurk visited Syria. McGurk declined to comment on the record for this article.
A separate group inside the Obama administration argues that unwavering support for the YPG undermines the U.S. effort to build a Sunni Arab ground force. This group contends that because the Kurds have no intention of attacking and holding Islamic State strongholds such as Raqqa, it is shortsighted to allow them to wear down the Sunni opposition to Assad. Those Sunnis are seen as the best hope to displace the Islamic State on Sunni lands. They argue for more support for Sunni Arab groups fighting in and around Aleppo and less support for the YPG.
This group is losing the internal policy battle, just as the Sunni Arab rebels continue to lose battles to the regime, the Russians, the Iranians, the Islamic State and now the YPG. U.S. arms shipments to the YPG continue to increase while support to the Sunni Arab rebel groups does not. Several administration officials told us that the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, is among those calling for more support for the Sunni Arab rebels. Power has publicly called for building a Sunni Arab ground force to take and hold land now occupied by the Islamic State.
Secretary of State John Kerry has publicly called for robust support for the Sunni opposition, although his focus recently has been on striking a deal with Russia for a broader cease-fire. The administration announced Monday that the U.S. and Russia had agreed to a provisional cease-fire to begin on Saturday, assuming that both powers can convince their proxies on the ground to go along.
As the Kurds attack some rebel groups, the U.S. finds itself supporting both sides. The CIA has spent almost $1 billion training and arming Sunni Arab rebels in Syria. The White House has not allowed the CIA to give the rebels anti-aircraft weapons such as Manpads, leaving the Sunni rebels at a distinct disadvantage against Russian air power. But several U.S. officials told us the Saudis have told the U.S. government they plan to give Syrian rebel groups anti-aircraft weapons despite U.S. objections.
The U.S. policy in Syria has always been to support the Syrian opposition in order to pressure the Assad regime to negotiate in good faith toward a transition to democracy. If the Syrian Sunni Arab rebel groups don’t get enough support to survive, the prospects for a diplomatic solution die with them. That may be irrelevant to the U.S.'s Kurdish allies, but it matters to the U.S.
Original article here.
IBTimes.co.uk | February 23, 2016
Kurds Are Not To Blame For The West's Incompetence In Syria
By Julie Lenarz
The US has disgraced itself with how it has handled the crisis in Syria. One of the consequences is that nearly six years into the bloody civil war, different US-backed groups are now fighting over the same territory.
Over the last week, Kurdish-led forces made significant gains in northern Syria, where they captured the town of Tel Riffat, advanced into Marea, and towards Azaz. Almost the entire border of Turkey is now under the control of Kurdish forces and the dream of a united Rojava (Western Kurdistan) seems to be within reach.
But in order to unite Rojava's three cantons – Jazira, Kobani and Afrin – they must first capture territory currently under the control of anti-Assad rebels, some of which are backed by the US-led coalition or by individual coalition member states, like Turkey and Qatar.
With lines blurred between allies and enemies, Kurdish-led forces stand accused of stealing majority-Arab villages from moderate Syrian opposition groups under the cover of Russian air strikes and to the advantage of the Syrian regime.
But it is not quite as simple as that.
The Kurds are doing what everyone else is doing in Syria – looking after their own interests. They are not to blame for our incompetence.
Kurds seek any willing allies
The Syrian opposition is fragmented and weak, often forced into strategic partnerships with hardline Islamist and jihadi groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jabat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate.
There is a tendency among supporters of the Syrian opposition to sanitise the nature of some of the opposition groups to make the anti-Assad coalition look more respectable and viable to partner with. But just because groups like Ahrar al-Sham are not as brutal as the Islamic State (Isis), does not make them moderates. It just makes them less extreme extremists.
Take Marea as a case in point. In December 2015, the Marea Operations Room, an umbrella organisation mainly comprised of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), fought with Jaysh al-Thuwwar (JaT) over control of the city. The Marea Operations Room eventually managed to gain the upper hand, supported by Ahrar al-Sham.
Meanwhile, JaT joined the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed umbrella organisation. By its own account, JaT's split with the Sunni Arab anti-Assad opposition was the result of increased cooperation with extremist groups.
It is difficult to see how one can accuse the Kurdish-led forces of sectarianism, when they have shown willingness to work with Assyrian Christians, Druze, Turkmen as well as Sunni Arabs, while selling rebels like Ahrar al Sham – Islamists, who live and breathe sectarianism – as respectable partners on the ground. It was Ahrar al-Sham that declared JaT "infidels" after they split with the homogenous Sunni opposition and partnered with fighters of different faiths and ethnicities.
Kurdish fighters are the best weapon against Islamic State
It would be simplistic and erroneous to dismiss the Kurdish-led forces in Syria as an instrument of Russia. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People's Defence Units (YPG), as well as the SDF, have manoeuvred themselves into a unique position – they are backed by both Washington and Moscow.
On 21 February, the town of al-Shaddadah, where Yazidi women were sold as sex slaves, was liberated by the YPG under the cover of US air strikes. The US-led coalition has relied on Kurdish groups many times in the past to re-capture territory and no other group has proven as effective a weapon in the fight against IS as they have.
The allegiance between the US and those groups has deeply offended the Turkish government and Ankara insists that the US must choose between Turkey or PKK-affiliated groups in Syria, a choice that Washington is not willing to make.
Pressure increased over recent days, after US-backed Kurdish-led forces entered into direct confrontation with opposition groups supported by Turkey and Qatar. In other words, the US-led coalition is at war with itself.
Kurds look after themselves when allies falter
The situation was bad before, but now it is a catastrophe. How can the US-led coalition implement a coherent strategy in Syria when it is torn apart from inside? The power vacuum has further emboldened President Putin and sent the worst signals possible to our allies on the ground. In the absence of leadership, the Kurds are doing what everyone else is doing in Syria – looking after their own interests. They are not to blame for our incompetence.
There is no denying that Assad is a brutal dictator responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. A butcher, who drops barrel bombs on schools and kindergartens and poisons his own people with chemical weapons; an opportunist, who draws support from terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah and the Iranian al-Quds Force. Every person with a moral conscience wants him out of power and brought to justice for the unspeakable crimes that he has committed.
But just to be anti-Assad is not good enough. Opposition to the Syrian regime cannot justify the moral myopia when it comes to the Syrian opposition.
Are all anti-Assad rebels Islamists and jihadists? Of course not. Some opposition groups have heroically withstood any pressure to join forces with extremists. But the truth is that after years of war and little and no support for the secular opposition, the revolution is primarily in the hands of reactionary forces.
The FSA is the last remaining exception among the big players, but even they have teamed-up with groups not worthy of our assistance. The opposition is riddled with groups no better than IS, which represent the same poisonous ideology that threatens the stability of the entire region and beyond.
Under such dire circumstances, it would be fatal to withdraw support for the Kurdish-led forces, which have demonstrated their willingness and ability to cooperate with people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Every inch of land not controlled by religious reactionaries or the Syrian regime is a victory for us all.
Julie Lenarz is the Executive Director of the Human Security Centre.
Original article here.
"Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended. ... All options are on the table. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level we believe requires action, that option is on the table."
~ Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, at a news conference in Seoul on Friday with his South Korean counterpart, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se (more here).
March 2, 2017
February 27, 2017
February 21, 2017
February 14, 2017