Friday, July 21, 2017

Post-Mortem on U.S. Covert War Against Syria

As the lamentations stream in following the public announcement that Trump has pulled the plug on the U.S. covert effort to topple the Syrian government, there is this surprisingly balanced post-mortem from Joshua Landis, "Terminating CIA Support for Syrian Rebels Sounds Death Knell for Western Attempt to Roll Back Iran and Russia in Syria," which appeared yesterday on his Syria Comment blog:
The end of Western support for Syria’s militant opposition has been clear since radicals began setting off bombs in European capitals.
Trump’s decision to stop support for Syrian rebels will be the final nail in the coffin of those factions which draw salaries from the CIA. They will be forced to pursue other careers.
More radical groups, such as those historically connected to al-Qaida and Ahrar al-Sham will also suffer from this decision. The radical militias prey on the weaker ones. They extort arms and money from the CIA-supported factions. The porous Syrian border with Turkey can now also be shut more tightly. The need to push resources to the CIA-vetted militias, kept border crossings open to all rebels, including al-Qaida. Factions merge and regroup with such regularity, that border guards could not know who was fighting for what end.
This is the last gasp for America’s policy of regime-change which has so compromised its efforts to promote democracy and human rights in a part of the world that needs both.
Landis, in language that portrays the CIA as a victim rather than as a perpetrator, acknowledges what could never be acknowledged in the mainstream media -- that the two principal Salafist, non-ISIS combatants were funded and armed by the U.S. government. As mea culpas go I guess it's better than nothing.

In the meantime, Trump shouldn't be lauded as a peace champion yet. The Pentagon is claiming territory in Syria's northeast in support of the Kurds. In the near term this is going to be more of a problem for Turkey than it is for Syria. Kurdish sovereignty is where the bouncing ball will fall next.

When I read the news yesterday I wondered "Whither Anne Barnard?" The New York Times Beirut bureau chief was such a stalwart advocate for the CIA Salafis, Skyping, texting, telephoning every heartbreaking jihadi thought and heroic deed, yet she hasn't been heard from in over a month, about the same time Trump's rollback of the CIA's covert war went into effect.


  1. There are so many places in the world, but the Kurds might be the next place. Now that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has had the effect of linking Iran, Iraq and Syria together, and the House of Saud seems to be pushing Qatar closer to Iran, the Kurds who have minorities in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran and want to make a Kurdistan out of them, it might just be the right time to throw a hand grenade into that room.

    However, the US has a long history of using the Kurds when useful then abandoning them. What did Kissinger say about the Kurds? "Covert action should not be confused with missionary work."

  2. But the U.S., it can be argued, has had a continuous presence in Iraqi Kurdistan since the first Gulf War, granting it a form of de facto independence. The September plebiscite is widely interpreted as a power grab by Masoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party. The vote is apparently going to include disputed areas like Kirkuk.

    As for Rojava, I don't see the U.S. abandoning its six bases there anytime soon.

  3. A Robert Fisk article in The Independent illustrates the coordination between Russia, SAA & YPG:

    "After a sweeping Syrian military advance to the edge of the besieged Isis “capital” of Raqqa, the Russians, the Syrian army and Kurds of the YPG militia – theoretically allied to the US – have set up a secret “coordination” centre in the desert of eastern Syria to prevent “mistakes” between the Russian-backed and American-supported forces now facing each other across the Euphrates river.

    "The proof could be found this week in a desert village of mud-walled huts and stifling heat – it was 48 degrees – where I sat on the floor of an ill-painted villa with a Russian air force colonel in camouflage uniform, a young officer of the Kurdish militia – with a YPG (Kurdish People’s Militia) patch on his sleeve – and a group of Syrian officers and local Syrian tribal militiamen.

    "Their presence showed clearly that despite belligerent Western – especially American – claims that Syrian forces are interfering with the “Allied” campaign against Isis, both sides are in reality going to enormous lengths to avoid confrontation. Russian Colonel Yevgeni, thin and close-shaven with a dark moustache, smiled politely but refused to talk to me – The Independent being the first western news media to visit the tiny village near Resafeh – but his young Kurdish opposite number, who asked me not to disclose his name, insisted that “all of us are fighting in one campaign against Daesh [Isis], and that is why we have this centre – and to avoid mistakes”. Colonel Yevgeni nodded approvingly at this description but maintained his silence – a wise man, I thought – for he must be the easternmost Russian officer in Syria, only a few miles from the Euphrates river."

    So maybe the U.S. bases in Rojava provide a buffer zone that Syria finds preferable to Turkish foul play.