The US has no role to play in bringing peace to Syria, because Washington has been the main architect of the war in Syria, a political commentator has told Press TV.
“The US has seemingly backed the so-called moderate rebels to attack the Syrian government forces since 2011 but the fact is that the American weapons have gone into the hands of terrorist groups,” Joe Iosbaker said on Saturday.
The so-called Free Syrian Army, he said, have mostly joined forces with al-Qaeda and Daesh after losing their war against the Syrian government, while the US continues supplying them with weapons.
“The United States is just trying to go ahead with its objective in Syria, which is the removal of a government in Damascus that is independent of US designs,” he stated.
According to commander of the so-called Free Syrian Army Fares al-Bayoush, foreign states have supplied Syrian militants with surface-to-surface Grad rockets in response to the Russian-backed offensive in Aleppo.
Iosbaker said the US has made American people afraid for many years that anti-aircraft missiles could fall into the hands of al-Qaeda, but “it seems that the US might provide the anti-aircraft missiles to al-Qaeda.”
“The dominant force in Aleppo is al-Qaeda. So, when the US suggests that there might be US anti-aircraft missiles provided to the rebels, they’re dangling it in front of al-Qaeda,” he said.
On Friday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov warned that arming militants in Syria by the United States would eventually create a catastrophe similar to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
“The Russians are predicting a future, which is very very likely” to happen against the West and especially the United States, Iosbaker warned.
A ceasefire, brokered by the US and Russia in Syria, expired on September 19 after being in place for only a week.
Russia has criticized the US for not doing enough to rein in militants in Syria to protect the truce, saying continued violations of the ceasefire by militants made it “senseless” for the Syrian government to stick to the agreement.
In view of the total failure of the US policy to regime-change Syria and overthrow Assad, the time has now come for the United States to make a fundamental choice: to negotiate or double down. Apparently, Kerry and others initially tried to negotiate, but the Pentagon decided otherwise, treacherously broke the terms of the agreement and (illegally) bombed the Syrian forces. At which point, Kerry, Power and the rest of them felt like they had no choice but to “join” the Pentagon and double down. Now the US “warns” Russia that if the Aleppo offensive continues, the US will not resume negotiations. This is a rather bizarre threat considering that the US is clearly unable to stick to any agreement and that the Russians have already concluded that the US is “not-agreement-capable”. The Russia reaction was predictable: Lavrov’s admitted that he could not even take his American colleagues seriously.
Okay, so both sides are fed-up with each other. What comes next?
The US will send more weapons to Daesh, including MANPAD s, TOW s and Javelins. The effect of that will be marginal. Russian fixed-wing aircraft fly at over 5,000m where they are out of reach from MANPADs. They are currently the main provider of firepower support for the Syrians. Russian combat helicopters, while probably not immune to MANPADs, are still very resistant to such attacks due to three factors—survivability, weapons range and tactics: Mi-28s and Ka-52 have missiles with a maximum range of 10km and the way they are typically engaged is in a kind of ‘rotation’ where one helicopters flies to acquire the target, fires, immediately turns back and is replaced by the next one. In this matter they all protect each other while presenting a very difficult target to hit. Russian transport helicopters would, however, be at a much higher risk of being shot down by a US MANPAD. So, yes, if the US floods the Syrian theater with MANPADS, Syrian aircraft and Russian transport helicopters will be put at risk, but that will not be enough to significantly affect Russian or Syrian operations.
Russian escalatory options are far more diverse: Russia can send more T-90 tanks (which TOWs, apparently, cannot defeat), more artillery (especially modern multiple rocket launchers and heavy flamethrower systems like the TOS-1). The Russian Aerospace forces could also decide to engage in much heavier airstrikes including the use of cluster and thermobaric munitions. Finally, Russia could send in actual ground forces ranging in size from a few battalions to, in theory, a full-size brigade. The problem with that option is that this would mark a major increase in the commitment of Russian forces to this war, something which a lot of Russians would oppose. Still, since the Iranians and, especially, Hezbollah have been used like a “fire brigade” to “plug” the holes in the front created by various defeats of Syrian army units, it is not impossible that the Russians might commit a combined-arms battalion tactical group to a crucial segment of the front and then withdraw it as soon as possible. The purpose of this strategy would be double: to support the struggling Syrians with as much firepower as possible while, at the same time, slowly but surely bleeding the Daesh forces until they reach a breaking point. Basically, the same strategy as before the ceasefire.
So why did the Russians agree to that ceasefire in the first place?
Because of the long held belief that a bad ceasefire is better than a good war, because Russia is trying hard not to escalate the confrontation with the US and because Russia believes that time is on her side. I am pretty sure that the Russian military would have preferred to do without that ceasefire, but I am equally sure that they were also okay with trying it out and seeing. This is the old contradiction: westerners also want results *now*, while the Russians always take their time and move very slowly. That is why to a western audience the Kremlin under Putin is always “late” or “hesitant” or otherwise frustrating in what appears to be almost a lack of purpose and determination. Where this typically Russian attitude becomes a problem is when it signals to the leaders of the US deep state that Russia is not only hesitant, but possibly frightened. In a perverse way, the lack of “show of force” by Russia risks giving the Americans the impression that “the Russkies have blinked”. I am always quite amazed when I see western reactions to the soft, diplomatic language used by Russian diplomats. Where the Americans openly compare Putin to Hitler and demand the imposition of a (completely illegal) no-fly zone over Syria, the Russians respond with “my friend John” and “our partners” and “negotiations must proceed”. More often than not, when Americans hear the diplomatic language of the Russians, they mistake it for weakness and they feel further emboldened and they make even more threats. It is in partly for this reason that Russia and the United States are, yet again, on a collision course.
Once the US comes to realize that its policy sending MANPADs to Syria did not work, it will have only one last card to play: attempting to impose a no-fly zone over Syria.
The good news is that judging by this exchange, US generals understand that any such US move would mean war with Russia. The bad news is that the Neocons seem to be dead-set on exactly that. Since such an event has now become possible, we need to look at what exactly this would entail.
The way the US doctrine mandates imposing a no-fly zone is pretty straightforward: it begins with an intensive series of USAF and USN cruise missile strikes and bombing raids whose aim is to disable the enemy air defenses and command and control capabilities. At this stage heavy jamming and anti-radiation missile strikes play a key role. This is also when the Americans, if they have any hope of achieving a tactical surprise, will also typically strikes at enemy airbases, with a special emphasis on destroying landed aircraft, runways and fuel storage facilities. This first phase can last anything between 48 hours to 10 days, depending on the complexity/survivability of the enemy air defense network. The second phase typically includes the deployment of air-to-air fighters into combat air patrols which are typically controlled by airborne AWACS aircraft. Finally, once the air defense network has been destroyed and air supremacy has been established, strike fighters and bombers are sent in to bomb whatever can be bombed until the enemy surrenders or is crushed.
In Syria, this ideal scenario would run into several problems.
First, while there are only a few S-400/S-300 systems in Syria, the US has never had to operate against them, especially not against the Russian version of these formidable systems. Worse, Russia also has very long range radars which will make it impossible for the USA to achieve a tactical surprise. Last but not least, Russia also has deployed powerful electronic warfare systems which are likely to create total chaos in key US command, control, communications and intelligence systems.
Second, these S-400/S-300 systems are mostly located on what is legally “Russian territory”: the Khmeimim airbase and the Slava-class or Kuznetsov-class cruisers off the Syrian coast. The same goes for the key nodes of the Russian communications network. If the Americans were crazy enough to try to hit a Russian Navy ship that would open up the entire USN to Russian attacks.
Third, while Russia has deployed relatively few aircraft in Syria, and while even fewer of them are air-to-air interceptors, those which Russia has deployed (SU-30SM and SU-35) are substantially superior to any aircraft in the US inventory with the possible exception of the F-22A. While the US will be able to overwhelm the Russians with numbers, it will be at a steep cost.
Fourth, the use of USAF AWACS could be complicated by the possibility that the Russians would decide to deploy their anti-AWACS very-long range missiles (both ground launched and air launched). It is also likely that Russia would deploy her own AWACS in Iranian airspace and protect them with MiG-31BMs making them a very difficult target.
Fifth, even if the USA was somehow able to establish something like an general air superiority over Syria, the Russians would still have three formidable options to continue to strike Daesh deep inside Syria:
1) cruise missiles (launched from naval platforms of Tu-95MS bombers)
2) SU-34/SU-35 strike groups launched from Russia or Iranian
3) supersonic long range bombers (Tu-22M3 and Tu-160)
It would be exceedingly difficult for the US to try to stop such Russian attacks as the USAF and USN have not trained for such missions since the late 1980s.
Sixth, even a successful imposition of a no-fly zone would do little to stop the Russians from using their artillery and attack helicopters (a difficult target for fixed-wing aircraft to begin with). Hunting them down at lower altitudes would further expose the USAF/USN to even more Russia air defenses.
Seven, last but not least, today is not 1995 and Syria is not Bosnia: nowadays the Europeans don’t have the stomach to fight the Syrians, nevermind Russia. So while some European leaders will definitely send at least some aircraft to show their loyalty to Uncle Sam (Poland, Germany, Holland and maybe one 2nd hand F-16 from a Baltic state), the regimes that matter (France, UK, Italy, etc.) are unlikely to be interested in a dangerous and completely illegal military intervention. This is not a military problem for the USA, but would present yet another political difficulty.
To sum all this up I would simply say that if the Americans and their allies have a huge advantage in numbers, in terms of quality they are outgunned by the Russians pretty much at all levels. At the very least, this qualitative edge for the Russians makes the imposition of a (completely illegal!) no-fly zone over Syria an extremely risky proposition. Could they do it? Yes, probably, but only at a very substantial cost and at the very real risk of a full-scale war with Russia. As I have said it many times, Syria is smack in the middle of the CENTCOM/NATO area of “responsibility” end at the outer edge of the Russian power projection capability. Where Russia has tens of aircraft, the Americans can bring in many hundreds. So the real question is not whether the Americans could do it, but rather whether they are willing to pay the price such an operation would entail.
At a political level it is important to repeat the following here:
1) The US presence in Syria – all of it – is completely illegal and has no UNSC mandate
2) Any and all US military operations in Syria are also completely illegal
3) The imposition of a US enforced no-fly zone would also be completely illegal
While this has not stopped the Empire so far, this might offer the Europeans a perfect excuse not to participate in any such operation. Of course, the Americans don’t need any European air force to try to impose a no-fly zone on Syria, but politically this would definitely hurt them.
Finally, there is one more problem for the US to deal with: the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria is a very large operation which would require hundreds of aircraft. Where would the US operate from? I might be naïve here, but I don’t think that Erdogan would let the US use Incirlik for that purpose. Iraq would most likely at least try close its airspace to any aircraft participating in such operation, especially if Syrian or Russian forces are hit. This leaves Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and US aircraft carriers to launch from. None of them are very suited for that: Jordan does not have the infrastructure and is too close, Israel would not help the US against Russia and neither would Egypt. And while the Saudis have excellent facilities, they are far away. As for aircraft carriers, they are the best option, but they are far from ideal for a sustained air campaign (which the imposition of such a no-fly zone would be).
Again, none of that is a show-stopper, but it very substantially complicates the work of US planners.
The risk of a US attempt to impose a no-fly zone over Syria will remain very real for the foreseeable future unless, of course, Trump beats Hillary to the White House. If Hillary wins – then that risk will sharply escalate. As for Obama, he probably does not want to stick a big stick in such a hornet’s nest right before leaving the White House (at least I hope so). Finally, regardless of who actually sits in the White House, the idea of imposing a no-fly zone over Syria would have to be measured against the so-called “Powell doctrine” of military interventions. So let’s see how this plan would measure up to the series of questions of the Powell doctrine:
Q: Is a vital national security interest threatened?
Q: Do we have a clear attainable objective?
Q: Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
A: Yes, and they are potentially extremely high
Q: Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
Q: Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
Q: Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
A: Yes, and the biggest risk is WWIII against Russia
Q: Is the action supported by the American people?
Q: Do we have genuine broad international support?
As we can easily see, this plan fails to meet the minimal criteria of the Powell Doctrine on most points. So as long as somebody mentally sane is in the White House all this talk should remain what it has been so far – empty threats. Of course, if Hillary makes it into the White House and then nominates a maniac like Michèle Flournoy as Secretary of Defense along with a national security team composed of rabid warmongers then all bets are off.
Please consider that before you go to vote.
BEIRUT (AP) — Russia warned the United States Saturday against carrying out any attacks on Syrian government forces, saying it would have repercussions across the Middle East as government forces captured a hill on the edge of the northern city of Aleppo under the cover of airstrikes.
Russian news agencies quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying that a U.S. intervention against the Syrian army “will lead to terrible, tectonic consequences not only on the territory of this country but also in the region on the whole.”
She said regime change in Syria would create a vacuum that would be “quickly filled” by “terrorists of all stripes.”
U.S.-Russian tensions over Syria have escalated since the breakdown of a cease-fire last month, with each side blaming the other for its failure. Syrian government forces backed by Russian warplanes have launched a major onslaught on rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo.
Syrian troops pushed ahead in their offensive in Aleppo on Saturday capturing the strategic Um al-Shuqeef hill near the Palestinian refugee camp of Handarat that government forces captured from rebels earlier this week, according to state TV. The hill is on the northern edge of the Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and former commercial center.
The powerful ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham militant group said rebels regained control Saturday of several positions they lost in Aleppo in the Bustan al-Basha neighborhood.
Airstrikes on Aleppo struck a clinic in the eastern rebel-held neighborhood of Sakhour putting it out of service, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees. They said one person was killed in the airstrike.
Opposition activists have blamed the President Bashar Assad’s forces and Russia for airstrikes that hit Civil Defense units and clinics in the city where eastern rebel-held neighborhoods are besieged by government forces and pro-government militiamen.
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom criticized attacks on civilian targets writing on her Twitter account: “Unacceptable to bomb civilians, children and hospitals in #Aleppo. No humanity. Assad & Russia moving further away from peace.”
In the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, warplanes of the U.S.-led coalition destroyed several bridges on the Euphrates river, according to Syrian state news agency SANA and Deir el-Zour 24, an activist media collective. The province is a stronghold of the Islamic State group.
SANA said that among the bridges destroyed was the Tarif Bridge that links the eastern city of Deir el-Zour with the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the extremists’ de-facto capital.
Associated Press writers Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.
As part of the investment under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor China will provide a whopping $5.5 billion to Pakistan for the expansion and renovation of its main rail link connecting Peshawar and Karachi as part of the investment under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), media reports said on Friday.
Out of the total cost of $eight billion for the ML-I (Peshawar-Karachi) railway project connecting the country’s north and south, China will provide $5.5 billion in a concessionary loan at an interest rate of less than two per cent, said Minister for Planning, Development and Reform Ahsan Iqbal here after returning from China.
Total costs cross $50 billion
With this loan, the total cost of the CPEC projects, which runs through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, will increase to more than $51.5 billion, Express Tribune reported on Friday.
About 75 per cent of the country’s cargo and passenger traffic passes through the 1,687 km-long Peshawar-Karachi rail line.
Earlier, China had agreed to provide $3.7 billion out of the $46-billion CPEC programme for the ML-I project and “now it has decided to increase its contribution to $5.5 billion,” Mr. Iqbal said.
ADB will give $2.5 million
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) would provide $2.5 billion to cover the remaining cost of the project, he said.
The Peshawar-Lahore section of the ML-I will be built with the ADB loan.
The rail project would be completed in five to six years after which the rail speed would double to 180 kilometres per hour.
More than 48 hours since India’s Special Forces moved across the LoC, neutralised some terror facilities and killed over 50 operatives in four sectors of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir and then owned up the covert operation, Islamabad and Rawalpindi have sent confusing signals. Mostly, though, Pakistan army and administration have remained in stout and fierce denial.
This has understandably caused bafflement and even mirth in India.
Apart from a small section of the media which still appears to be skeptical about the Wednesday night surgical strikes, the overwhelming feeling is that Pakistan’s denial is an extension of its self-delusion. Pakistan’s critics have pointed out that nothing more could be expected of a revisionist nation which still deludes itself into believing that it won in 1965 and denied the presence of terror masterminds Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar inside its territory till the US came and took them down.
Maybe. But I would argue here that in this case, Pakistan’s denial isn’t an example of its illusion, rather a laudable step in a difficult situation. So long as the Pakistan Army does not carry out any retaliatory misadventures and stays within the confines of rhetoric and even ridicule, India would do well to give Pakistan the legroom it needs and even indulge in some of its false bravados. A bit of banter never harmed anyone. Nobody, absolutely nobody wants a full-scale war between two nuclear-armed nations.
For the doubters in India who think that the entire operation is a figment of Narendra Modi and Indian Army’s imagination, well, nothing can be said because to this date some people still choose to believe that Nasa faked the moon landing. Besides, even if for argument’s sake we consider that India faked it, the purpose has been solved. So doubters have the permission to doubt in peace and perpetuity.
Shock and alarm in Pakistan
For a more realistic understanding of Pakistan’s response, consider the series of steps that Islamabad and Rawalpindi have undertaken since the strikes “which never happened”. After vociferously claiming that India had carried out nothing more than cross-border artillery shelling which was an “existential phenomenon” Pakistan moved unusually quickly on the political, diplomatic and military fronts.
Reports have emerged out of Pakistan recalling its battalions employed for Operation Zarb-e-Azb (counter-terrorism operations), cancelling all leaves and putting the army in an emergency alert. India Today, quoting sources, reports that Islamabad has begun mobilising troops, reserves and mechanised infantry along the Indian borders. Intelligence agencies have confirmed enlistment of Pakistani troops, says the report.
On the political front, Suhasini Haidar reveals in The Hindu that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has convened a series of urgent high-level meetings to discuss the situation at LoC. The government has also “convened a special joint session of the Pakistani Parliament on Wednesday, which will follow the National Security Committee meeting, where Nawaz Sharif has extended a special invitation to all the chief ministers to speak about the LoC situation”.
On the diplomatic front, Pakistan’s permanent UN ambassador Maleeha Lodhi met New Zealand’s UN envoy Gerard van Bohemen, who is president of the 15-member Security Council for September, and “brought to his attention the dangerous situation that is building up in our region as a result of Indian provocation”, according to a Reuters report.
Taken together, these represent a rather unusual response for “regular artillery shelling across the border” from India.
Livemint notes that Nawaz has called “Indian aggression” a threat to the entire region and even “warned that Pakistan is also capable of executing surgical strikes and will not allow anyone to cast an evil eye on it.
And finally, a senior Pakistani journalist has told Dawn that “It would be more accurate to say that there was an incursion, which means Indian troops may have crossed the Line of Control (LoC), but it cannot be called a “surgical strike”.
Why the denial
Now let’s come to the question at the centre of it all. Why is Pakistan denying the operation and taking reactionary steps at the same time? The answer is multi-layered and incumbent on various factors. The first among these is a conundrum. If Pakistan were to admit that the strike indeed has taken place, it would be forced to concede two crucial points.
One, that well-laid out terror infrastructure exists in Pok, a position that it has flatly and consistently denied in the past. That would be a telling blow to its Kashmir narrative because the fulcrum of its complaint is that the “Kashmir rebellion is home-grown” and all Indian accusation of cross-border incitement is false. Pakistan Army cannot afford to confirm its own lies.
Two, any admission of Indian surgical strikes would be a humiliating kick in the face of its supposedly “invincible” army led by the larger-than-life macho General Raheel Sharif. That would be a bigger existential crisis, more critical than point No.1.
Consider the improbability of an admission. India says that it carried out a cross-LoC incursion and brought “significant damage” to Pakistan’s terror factories. And all of this supposedly happened when Pakistan Army was at an advanced stage of battle-readiness with regular reports of “thundering F-16s landing on civilian airstrips”.
India’s action, therefore, would be especially galling for General Raheel Sharif who is so close to retirement and angling for an extension. Only a few days back, the general had bragged that Pakistan Army “has now become invincible”, and “knows all covert and overt intrigues and intentions of the enemies” while addressing a gathering in connection with Defence Day at GHQ, Rawalpindi, according to a report in The Indian Express.
“I want to make it clear to all enemies of Pakistan that Pakistan has always been strong and today it is invincible,” The Express Tribune quoted Sharif as saying, elaborates the report. The egg on his face would be difficult to wash off.
But there is a third reason why Pakistan is denying the strike. And this is by far the most important motivation. If it admits to the surgical strike, Rawalpindi has absolutely no option other than to retaliate against India. And it cannot be a proxy intervention. The army, the only institution that enjoys a modicum of respect in a failed state, cannot afford to be publicly humiliated by its greatest enemy and keep quiet. That would rob Rawalpindi of its halo and forever cripple its hold over Islamabad. While that would be a good thing, in the long run, it is certainly not part of ‘Pindi khakis’ plan.
And if a military intervention does take place, India will have no option but to retaliate and it could soon escalate into a full-blown war between nuclear-armed rivals with potentially devastating consequences. Which is why Pakistan’s denial is actually a laudable attempt to defuse the tension. It is telling its awaam that “nothing happened”, so they are under no obligation to take revenge.
And that is exactly why Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been mysteriously silent about one of the most professional surgical operations carried out by the Indian Army.
Explaining Modi’s radio silence
Consider the very controlled and restrained statement released by the Indian Army, which was careful to stress that this was “merely a counter-terrorism operation” aimed at “preventing terror modules from infiltrating into Indian border” and that “operation has ended and no such action will take place.” DGMO Lt Gen Ranbir Singh said, among other things, that: “The operations aimed at neutralizing terrorists have since ceased. We do not have any plans for further continuation. However, the Indian Armed Forces are fully prepared for any contingency that may arise… I have been in touch with Pakistan Army DGMO and have informed him of our actions. It is India’s intention to maintain peace and tranquillity in the region… We expect the Pakistani army to cooperate with us to erase the menace of terrorism from the region.”
This is Indian Army telling Pakistan Army that ‘look, we have no intention of intruding your airspace or violating your sovereignty, and we merely did what we did because we were acting in self-defence.”
This was accompanied by complete silence from Modi who reportedly personally monitored the operation. There was not even one laudatory message for the army from the PM. His silence can be interpreted as total reluctance to aggravate the situation with rhetorical bombast. He clearly does not wish to heap more humiliation on Pakistan. The surgical strike itself would have conveyed what needed to be conveyed.
The final piece in the Pakistan’s denial jigsaw falls in place when we consider that post the surgical strike, all major global powers have either backed Indian stand asking Pakistan to remove terror infrastructure from within the area it controls (US and Russia), gave sermons on the need for exercising restraint (China), or complete silence about the strike despite Pakistan’s outrage. This means a resounding diplomatic defeat for Pakistan. But more than that, it also means that the world is telling Pakistan to take the strike on its chin and move on. And nobody minds giving Pakistan some space to carry on with its bluster provided there is no escalation. Denial is the least we should allow.