Syria is in significant difficulties at present with pressure on all sides from the U.S.
All the news today is about Turkey attacking Afrin, a Kurdish governed city in northern Syria and threatening another Kurdish run city named Manbj. This is a very dangerous situation and another devastating assault on the Syrian people who have already suffered so much from a war that that was started by foreign manipulation and fed by foreign fighters, foreign weapons and foreign cash. The war should have ended by now and be winding down, but Syria’s enemies are persistent and cunning. We should not forget, however, that the foremost enemy of Syria, the strongest, most powerful country, the managing force in this war to destroy Syria is the United States […A Brief Analysis] Article first published 20 January 2018 at https://unac.papillonweb.net/2018/01/20/increasing-us-aggression-in-syria-leads-to-chaos/
Syrian Internal Security Forces are sworn in during their graduation ceremony, at Ain Issa desert base, in Raqqa province, northeast Syria, Thursday, July 20, 2017. Some 250 residents of Syria’s Raqqa province are the latest batch to graduate from a brief U.S-training course that is preparing an internal security force to hold and secure areas as they are captured from Islamic State militants. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) MintPress, 10/17
US Occupation Forces
The United States has announced that the US is preparing a ‘border force’ of 30,000 fighters to “keep the peace in Syria”. The plan is for these forces to have the US backed, Kurdish led forces of the SDF (Syrian Defense Forces) at their core, and will occupy nearly a third of sovereign Syrian territory. This region is not the traditional Kurdish homeland in Syria, but rather the area east of the Euphrates that the SDF was able to occupy with US assistance while the Syrian Arab Army and their allies were busy liberating the rest of Syrian including the more densely populated regions in the west, reintegrating neighborhoods, towns and villages one by one, demining and removing dangerous remnants of the war while providing whatever services and resources they could to local civilians.
According to a report in Bloomberg, US Secretary of State Tillerson said that the US is not into ‘nation building’ but they will assist with rebuilding Syria AFTER Assad is gone. In any case, Syrians will wait a long time for any constructive US aid. So far, the US has done little or nothing to assist with recovering Mosul or Raqqa, not even demining, and certainly nothing that would encourage the return of the civilian population.
The Kurdish forces, originally allied with the Syrian Government, were independent enough to operate on their own with government provision of arms and other resources when they were adopted and offered an independent state by the United States. The YPG fighting forces emerged from a small sliver of land on the Turkish border inhabited by several ancient Christian sects, Arabs and Turkomen, indigenous Kurds and Kurdish immigrants who have been arriving in waves throughout the 20th century, escaping pogroms targeting Kurds in Turkey. The recent immigrants from the 1980s, affiliated with the PKK, a Kurdish resistance organization in Turkey, form the nucleus of the YPG. Since the Syrian war began they have been increasingly dominating the other residents of their region, and they now they have spread well beyond it to occupy Raqqa and other cities in a largely Arab region.
US Proxies on the Move
Today the US backed SDF centers around the Kurdish YPG, but also includes local tribal leaders who want to keep control of their own territories and ISIS members rescued from previous war zones by the US for future use. According to an article on the World Socialist Organization website, the US has about 2,000 forces in Syria though I have heard estimates as high as 5,000. They currently claim to have 230 men in training. US actions in Syria are spreading chaos and risking a wider regional war – or worse. According to the WSW:
[Turkish President] Erdogan condemned US support for the YPG, declaring on the weekend: “The US sent 4,900 trucks of weapons in Syria. We know this. This is not what allies do.” At a rally yesterday he reiterated his determination to “vanquish” the Kurdish militia. “We have finished our preparations,” he said. “The operation can start any time.” Erdogan accused the US of “creating a terror army on our border,” adding: “What we have to do is nip this terror army in the bud.”
The Syrian government denounced the planned pro-US border force as a “blatant assault” on the country’s sovereignty. The state-run news agency, SANA, cited a foreign ministry spokesperson as insisting that the army was determined to thwart the US “conspiracy, end the presence of the US, its agents and tools in Syria, establish full control over the entire Syria territory and preserve the country’s sovereignty.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday accused the US of seeking to split up Syria, saying it “does not want to keep Syria as a state in its current borders.” Washington was helping “the Syrian Democratic Forces to set up some border security zones.”
An investigation by a couple of Russian journalists has been published on Sputnik reports that the US has a training camp for jihadists near al Tanf, a primary border crossing between Syria and Iraq. They claim that there are as many as 1,500 fighters there including SDF, New Syrian Army (perhaps represented by the Free Syria Army leaders in Washington last week) and over 200 ISIS fighters. These men are on the payroll. Another 5,000 potential fighters reside in nearby Rukban refugee camp which is cut off from all outside access including the United Nations and other NGOS. Syrian and Russian forces are bombed if they approach the area. Civilians in Rukban and the US controlled territories are in a desperate situation. They are lacking the basic necessities while members of criminal gangs control the wells and sell water at inflated prices. Restless fighters rob local homes and attack trucks passing on the highway.
It must be noted that the United States has invested not a penny in rebuilding any part of Syria. Secretary of State Tillerson has said that we will assist rebuilding AFTER Assad has left. Since this is unlikely to occur, this responsibility will not fall on them in the foreseeable future. The Arab population of Raqqa has been driven from the city to local refugee camps, and some into the government controlled areas of Syria. Meanwhile, Syrians living in territories under the control of US forces and US proxies remain in the rubble of the war just as Palestinians in Gaza live in the rubble of the communities that Israel has destroyed.
Fox News has reported that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) members have been in Washington this week meeting with US officials. These are the same ‘moderates’ who have consistently fought side by side with ISIS and al Qaeda from the beginning of the war, and who could not be separated from those organizations to create functioning deconfliction zones. The article says these FSA leaders claim to have 60,000 fighters. This is absurd given that they didn’t have that many fighters before they lost the war, and according the investigative report below, they had only a couple of checkpoints in the remaining center of Syrian Opposition, which is controlled by al Qaeda (under various names) and an extremist group called Ahrar al Sham.
One of these FSA leaders in Washington is quoted as saying “Iran and Assad contributed to the creation of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups,” another absurdity since we know that the United States created Al Qaeda in the 80s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, while Turkey, Qatar, Saudia Arabia and their US backers are responsible for transporting these foreign fighters into Syria as well as training the FSA forces. Today, Syria is terrorized by fighters from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, and Iraq, Uighers from China, Chechens from Russia, rebellious youth from France, Germany, UK, USA and other western countries, and around the globe. In fact, it’s big news when somebody takes out one of our own.
Syria for Syrians
The Syrian Government, after recovering Deir Ezzor, long under siege by ISIS, and clearing the Baghdad Damascus road across the border with Iraq, has turned it’s attention to Idlib province. A strategy of restoring control to urban areas, towns and villages through reconciliation programs has been effective in freeing up the army to move from one area to another, and it has saved many lives. Although the western media has focused on the use of siege to induce surrender in reconciliation areas, the program is more robust than that.
Areas under the control of Al Qaeda or criminal gangs affiliated with one militant organization or another are not well provisioned even in the best cases because the fighters keep the majority of supplies for themselves and govern through force. The reconciliation programs attempt to create back channels to deliver resources to the civilian population. By empowering the civilian population they can convince them to stand against the occupying forces. The final resolution is negotiated for an end where as many civilians as possible will be protected; where Syrian citizens fighting against the government are given an opportunity to restore their citizenship. Concessions are made. In some areas, sharia courts continue under the governance of local fundamentalists. Those who might otherwise fight to the death are given an opportunity to leave.
Those who chose to leave are allowed a personal firearm and bused with the families to Idlib province on the Turkish border. Today, as the Syrian state moves to liberate Idlib, the situation there is dire. The province is completely under the control of al Qaeda forces (under various names) and flooded with foreign fighters. The following is a video produced about a year ago by Jenan Mousa, a roving reporter for Al Aan TV, a pan Arab TV station in out of Dubai.
The reconciliation program will work in Idlib, and has been ongoing for some time. It is clear the civilians there have many unmet needs. The recent change of face implemented by al Nusra/Hayit Tahir al Sham seems superficial and clearly an initiative to influence western backers and not for the benefit of the locals. The one difference from other reconciliation plans is that there will be no buses to an Al Qaeda haven. Instead, extremists and mercenaries with families and those who do not want to die in Syria will be driven back across the Turkish border to their training camps and refuges where President Erdogan and the Turkish people will have to deal with the consequences of his folly just as the people of Pakistan continue to deal with the consequences of Zia al Haq’s collaboration with US plans to build an army of fanatics to fight the soviets in Afghanistan.
At the moment, Turkish President Erdogan is far more concerned about the Kurdish forces being trained by the US to occupy land in Syria that he once coveted for Turkish occupation. He is quite beside himself over the US empowerment of Kurdish militias affiliated with the Turkish PKK in Syria. The Turkish army has begun an attack on the largely Kurdish city of Afrin in northern Syria, and Erdogan has stated that once he has ‘liberated’ Afrin (from the US backed Kurdish forces) he will move on to occupy Manbj, another city in the original Kurdish region of Syria. The YPG Kurds of the US backed SDF are followers of a Abdullah Ocalan, a Turkish dissident currently residing in a high security Turkish prison. The Turkish state has been persecuting the Kurdish people and fighting Kurdish rebellions within its borders since it’s inception. At that time, an angry and disappointed Kurdish population found themselves denied a promised state in an area (Turkey) where they represented nearly a third of the population, unlike Syria, where Kurds, including recent immigrants, represent less that a tenth of the population.
Increasingly at odds with the US government, and engaged through Russian diplomacy in a tenuous detente with his erstwhile victims in Syria, Turkish President Erdogan is an easy target. Turkey is the largest military power in the region, with a history of western alliances, and as the war has wound down he has been increasingly isolated and under threat. They lost and he is holding the bag. This is not to say that his own bad choices didn’t bring him to this place, but it certainly makes him a dangerous force in the Syrian conflict. Denied the fruits of his support for the international attack on Syria, he is also faced with the reinforcement of an archetypal enemy of the Turkish state. His reaction to the latter problem may well give him at least some of the rewards that providing services for the anti-Syrian forces did not.
US officials should have seen this coming. Well, of course, they did see it coming. What we are seeing here is politically a Turkish civil war being played out on Syrian territory at the expense of the Syrian people. Two Turkish forces are fighting for control of northern Syria, one enabled by US backing. If you look at US objectives, this situation is surely advantageous. Even as the Syrian forces and their allies move in to clear out the last holdout of Al Qaeda and the other Turkish proxies, Turkey is moving in to occupy Syrian towns and villages along the border in areas where the US can’t hold them.
How convenient is that for US objectives, which include the breakup and destruction of the Syrian state. In his rage and frustration, Erdogan continues or support the needs of US military strategists who do not really have the forces to hold the large swathe of Syria they have announced their intention to occupy. Yesterday, Tillerson again softened his line. But he well knows that at this point, it doesn’t matter what he says. He is blowing wind, talking to the press and the people of the United States. There has been no significant diplomatic engagement with Turkey since Trump came in to office. Meanwhile, the diplomatic initiative of the Russians has been disrupted and a loose cannon is pivoting out of control on the northern border of Syria.
US Policy in Syria
The US policy of destruction and devastation is clear in Syria as in Libya and Iraq, Afghanistan and even Yugoslavia. They really only need enough land to put their regional military bases. Destruction jand chaos are the goal. Destruction by ISIS, by Al Qaeda/Al Nusra/…/Hayat Tahir, by Turkey, by the Kurds, by the French and British, by our own forces, it really doesn’t matter. It’s all the same to US strategists. Blaming Russia, blaming Muslims, blaming the Turks blaming Iran, blaming Assad – its a ll a pretext for the destruction of an ancient land and culture, of a society that is at the root of our own culture. This policy has not changed one iota since the beginning of the war fueled by Libyan fighters with US weapons in the south and Turkish trained proxies armed and funded by the Saudi Arabia and Qatar in in the north.
We need to stand up and set aside our confusion NOW. The US role and that of the Kurdish militias in Syria has no upside. It is a bold initiative to create chaos and destruction in Syria and to continue the war that was started by the United States and its allies to crush the independent sovereign Republic of Syria.
Hands Off Syria! Hands off the Middle East!
Stand up today against the vicious policy of destruction adopted by the US government!
Propaganda is how they got people to go along with the so called 'revolution' in the first place.
What if armed men came to town and the cable TV news stations broadcast that there is a revolution and if you want a place in the new society you have to join now? What if you were poor and living in the ghetto when the announcement arrived and they told you that this was your chance to participate in the government and to become empowered in society? Then, armed checkpoints were set up everywhere, some operated by local people who might be armed and trigger happy, but at least they recognize you; others by strangers who are part of the national army, and they aren't in a good mood. Both sides believe that some of their members have been killed by the other for no good reason and they are angry. You weren't at the protests so you don't really know what happened. You've seen some very polarized 'news' on TV. and a call to battle. What do you do now?
[In North America]I have been introduced to a refugee family from Daraa. They are a young couple with three children between four and eight years old. They are having a hard time here for a number of reasons. They weren't really ready to be in a context with no family support. Mohammed, the husband, is deaf and, so far as I can tell, none of their relatives were killed. Wishan said that religious extremists are haram. She likes to listen to recordings of a man chanting the Quran, but she doesn't wear a hijab. She said that is a small thing in the eyes of Allah. I am pretty sure they were not directly involved in the war or the events that lead to the outbreak in 2011. She complained that her brother had been hassled at checkpoints, but he is alive and well in Europe somewhere at present. Most of the family is still in Daraa.
Wishan showed me photos of her destroyed home in a block of bombed out houses. But she also showed me a photo of the bruised and bloated corpse of an adolescent boy with what looked to be a 22 caliber bullet wound in the area of his heart. Her English isn't good but I think she was trying to tell me that was one of the boys who wrote anti-Assad graffiti and were abused by the government at the beginning of the war. The first thing I thought when I saw the picture is that I'm sure lots of boys have died in this war but there is no evidence in a naked corpse of who shot him, when, where, or why. I also thought that there is a whole world of Internet propaganda out there targeting Syrian civilians in the Arabic language news from the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia.
Its funny how stories spiral out in different directions. The government fired the governor responsible and sent a delegation to chill things out. According to our sources, they didn't come up with any hard information, which makes sense because if people had already got their kids back they might not want to risk any more attention to them. A year ago, Al Jazeera ran an article that focuses on one of the boys supposedly abducted and tortured by the government in Daraa. It was called "The boy who started the Syrian revolution". The article didn't specify the fate of any other boys involved though they noted that several were originally arrested, like maybe three or four. It seems to imply that they were released. This boy, however, is identified as currently a member of the Free Syrian Army and shown sitting at a low table before a laptop computer. An image tailored to liberal western tastes.
But this civilian refugee from the area is still carrying around a horrific photo of a boy she believes to be one of the boys who were tortured and killed by the Syrian government at the beginning of the war. This event has reduced her life to chaos. The eight year old said that he wants to go to Syria and fight against Assad when he grows up. When I told him the war is pretty much over, he was incredulous. I suggested he can go and help rebuild.
It's all very sad. Every war leaves the seeds of another war. And the propaganda is more toxic to those directly affected by the war in every way.
I am still working with Wishan and her family. Mohammed is a carpenter from a relatively well off family. They have gone from being respected members of a community to being beggars here. I am going to give some carpenter work to Mohammed and see if he can get a start building and selling furniture here. I'm thinking that over time we can become friends. Right now they are frightened and rather desperate but hopefully they can become more self sufficient.
I asked about Daraa today and Wishan said that things are calm there but very expensive to live. It is one of the cities where a reconciliation program has been negotiated by the government. There are local people controlling some basic services and running a Sharia court while the government controls the outside parameters and provides power, clean water, salaries for government employees and whatever aid they can. Of course there is little money for rebuilding at this point and Daraa was kind of a working class city to begin with.
The family of a child with appendicitis is in Daraa where they had to pay $500 for his surgery. Apparently medical services there are scarce and costly. He received his surgery in time to survive but he is now partly paralyzed. I don't know if it is from the toxins that must have been released into his abdomen when his appendix ruptured or something went wrong in the surgery. Perhaps the paralysis will improve with time. We can only hope.
This week, congress failed to renew the CHIPS program that has for provided health care for 2 generations of children in families living below the poverty level. They were busy passing a monstrous military budget and a tax bill that provides 'relief' for corporate behemoths already on the government dole. Meanwhile Wishan and Mohammed's children remain at risk due to lack of medical care here in the land of plenty. I think they kind of understand this but they are too desperate to consider it. There is no turning back for them.
War is terrible thing regardless of which side you are on. The physical war kills people and destroys resources while the propaganda war is waged to divide people against their neighbors and fuel hatreds. Refugees come to the United States, or Europe, or to Turkey, all countries who have fed the war with weapons and propaganda, countries that have profited, or at least hoped to profit, from the war that has beggared a relatively stable nation and disrupted an ancient culture built on religious and ethnic diversity. Unfortunately, refugees who come to the US from US engineered war zones face continued poverty, isolation and confusion.
About Judith Bello: Judith is a member of Administrative Committee at United National Antiwar Coalition, the Middle East Task Force at Fellowship of Reconciliation and Webmaster at Upstate Coaltion to Ground the Drones and End the Wars. She lives in New York and has visited Syria on anti-war projects.
Here is a brief update on the activities of the US Peace Council delegation in Syria. We went to Ma'alula today [29 July 2016] and tomorrow most of us will fly home. I could spend many words and hours debunking every lie you have been told about Syria and Syrians in the last 5 years, a Sisyphean task in today’s environment. Instead I will share some of my perceptions of recent events based on my experiences in Damascus this week.
Yesterday [28 July] was quite an interesting day. We met with President Assad in the morning and talked at some length. We began by exchanging introductions and then we asked him some very serious questions. We were not allowed to record the session but many of us took at least some notes. He told us that his strongest focus is on representing the Syrian people and holding the state together on their behalf. He described numerous programs the Syrian state has enacted to protect the people during this very difficult time. The government has converted schools and other buildings into refugee centers. They continue to provide, to the best of their ability, free education and medical care to everyone in the government held areas; they supply power, clean water and food even to areas that are occupied by militants where it is possible.
And he proudly told us that the Syrian Arab Army, an army of the people which is defending the country against a brutal attack, have finally closed the road from Aleppo to Turkey. This is very important because the militants in East Aleppo, and especially Al Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda, have been receiving money and weapons from Turkey. He then told us that he had just issued the order to implement the humanitarian corridors and amnesty for Syrian nationals. He said that there are two ways to deplete the violence. The first is to fight to the bitter end. The other is to provide an incentive for people to stop fighting and give them a safe passage back to the lives they have left.
These are the first steps in the reconciliation plan which the Reconciliation Minister had talked about extensively, and which was cited by many others we spoke to as the best thinking to restore peace to Syria. We had already had two extended meetings with the Minister of Reconciliation, one in his office and the other over dinner at our hotel where he explained the methodology for reconciliation which they have been developing for some time. Amnesty and humanitarian aid are just the beginning. Evacuating as many civilians as possible is a temporary step to secure their welfare while negotiations are ongoing.
They used this process quite successfully in Homs last winter when they evacuated thousands of fighters and their families from neighborhoods they have long held hostage. Many were bused to Idlib where they may well resume fighting, but a densely populated areas of Homs is now secure and the civilians are able to live their lives in peace. The tens of thousands of citizens who remained were provided humanitarian relief and basic needs with reconstruction assistance on the horizon. You can see the video I posted on my blog at the time when they joyously welcomed the Syrian Arab Army. Minister Haidar admitted that Reconciliation plans are a work in progress and problems do occur. He also explained a complex process involving contact with and empowerment of the local people in the occupied areas that I can explain at some other time.
Each case is unique. East Aleppo has been very closely tied to a stream of foreign fighters who came in through Turkey. They are unlikely to walk away. Al Nusra/Al Qaeda is the primary organization there. And there may be a larger civilian population than in some of the other areas where the plan has succeeded. While the world is watching, it must be stated that the deep plan of working with local fighters and civilian councils will not unfold immediately. Ali Haidar, the Minister of Reconciliation and the long time leader of a dissident party prior to the current crisis in Syria (the war), is on his way to Aleppo to assess conditions and work on making the contacts necessary to begin the real process of reconciliation.
Of course, the first steps of this plan for reconciliation have been all over the news with varying judgements. The New York Times refers to reconciliation and restoration of the fighters’ citizenship as ‘surrender’, but that is not the way those vested in ‘reconciliation’ see it. People we spoke to told us that Syrians are tired of the war. Many initially joined the fight because they were being paid. They say that others joined out of confusion during the initial attacks on their villages and neighborhoods and that many men in occupied areas are given the choice to fight for the militants or be killed immediately. The president told us that he would prefer to heal the country rather than unleash a sea of rage and revenge. The only context in which this does not make sense is one where the sovereign Syrian State is not acknowledged.
Starvation might be less an issue in Aleppo than the fact that the fighters and their families will no longer have income. Last week it was reported, even by Western sources that the current situation was imminent and so an effort was made by the militants in East Aleppo to bring in several months worth of food and other necessities. In the last 24 hours, the Russians have air dropped more food and supplies into East Aleppo. And there are resources at the humanitarian corridors. The NY Times is reporting that people don’t want to leave East Aleppo. However, RT, however, is reporting that militants are firing on civilians who try to leave the area. Clearly there are problems that need to be addressed.
However, there are significant differences between the perspective presented by the Western press and that of the Syrians we met with this week. There is one I would like to point out, that was made very clear by everyone I met with during my stay here in Damascus. Syria is a sovereign country. It has a government which is doing its best to provide the services that governments provide including the provision of necessary resources and services to civilians including personal security which includes ethnic and religious tolerance and equality under the law. None of the forces at war with the government of Syria have demonstrated the capacity, or more importantly, the desire to provide these basic human and civil rights to the people of Syria.
President Bashar Assad, who was elected two years ago by the majority of Syrian citizens with a clear majority of votes, comes across as a well educated, progressive individual who is taking responsibility for providing for the people of his country who elected him by a significant majority, and leading a government which is attempting to respond to the issues that have caused civil unrest and discontent within that society while at the same time facing a vicious attack, funded, armed and manned by wealthy countries that have no civil rights and provide few social resources to their population. Not only is the government of Syria with their President doing their best to support the people of that country, but were he to leave, there would be no leadership in the fight against forces that oppose the values of the vast majority of Syrian people and are determined to tear the state apart.
Syrian is home to several ethnic groups and numerous sects of Christianity and Islam. They have lived together in peace for centuries if not longer. This week, the Grand Muftii and the Bishop of the Orthodox Church told us they are ‘cousins’. People tell me it is shameful to ask another person their religion or ethnic background as it is socially irrelevant. There is an awareness of the economic issues that are a source of suffering but the war has taken precedence. There is no doubt that the Syrian government has made mistakes and no one in Syria denies it. However, the US demand that Assad abandon his office and his responsibilities is unrealistic and out of sync with American values as well as with Syrian values. The US insistence on continuing to fuel this vicious war with money and weapons, through proxies and direct strikes, through propaganda and political manipulation, until he abdicates is criminal. It is a violation of international law, us law, and common morality.