Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Iraq / Syria Regional War Updates ( August 30 , 2014 ) -- US has no strategy for ISIS yet is bombing away in Iraq , UK playing a " Chicken Little Game " crying terror threats , UN being dragged into the Syria campaign by al Nusra .......
A key West-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander was assassinated late Thursday in a small village in south-western Dera'a. Captain Qais al-Qatanah, the leader of the al-Omari Brigade, was shot twice in the head and once in the leg by a self-styled media activist named Kaesar Zezoon after an altercation, according to sources close to the commander.
Al-Qatanah was rushed to the border and then on to Jordan’s Ramtha Government Hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival. He was buried Friday in the village of Baj in Mafraq, Jordan.
A message posted on the al-Omari Brigade’s Facebook page says Zezoon approached al-Qatanah, saying he wanted a word with the man. According to the message, al-Qatanah told Zezoon to come by the group’s headquarters to talk, saying “My office is open to you and to others, 24 hours a day.”
The message alleges that Zezoon rejected this offer and opened fire. Zezoon was then shot by al-Qatanah’s security detail and taken to a Dera’a field hospital where an insider said he is under guard with non-life-threatening injuries. On Friday, he posted a hospital bed confession to YouTube.
For those watching southern Syria, the last FSA stronghold and a place where tensions between rebel groups are high and rising, there is so much déjà vu.
“Qatanah's death comes amid several months of reports and rumours in the south that Jabhat al-Nusra has initiated a covert campaign aimed at undermining these largely Western-backed moderate groups,” said Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center.
“There have been several similar incidents of commander deaths in Dera'a and also in Amman in recent months and many group leaders are said to have either moved permanently to Jordan or to have adopted tight security procedures for their own safety.”
Al-Qatanah was one of those leaders. Sources close to him said he slept in a different place every night and had done so for at least the past year. He began each day by checking the underside of his car for sticky-bombs.
As al-Qatanah’s influence grew to the point that he commanded 2,000 men from the border to the southern fringes of Damascus, so did his fears that he might be assassinated. Close friends say he worried constantly about his own safety.
Yet he continued to operate in Syria, despite the risks. Southern Syria was al-Qatanah’s home turf and the place where his influence was strongest. As a Bedouin, he was able to reach out to that tribal network and muster critical support.
Abu Waleed, a press officer with the al-Omari Brigade, said al-Qatanah’s death will leave a “huge vacuum” in the region.
“In regards to fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in particular, he was a safety valve across most of the region and was able to consolidate good relations with Horanis and with our neighbours, the Druze community in Suwaydah," Abu Waleed said.
He also brought a sense of military legitimacy to rebel ranks: al-Qatanah was one of the first Syrian officers who defected from the Syrian Arab Army at the start of the conflict, and the brigade he formed was one of the first armed opposition groups in Dera’a.
The al-Omari Brigade is an armed opposition group with secular leadership and a secular, democratic vision for Syria. The group is not associated with al-Qaeda, like Jahbat al-Nusra, nor with the Islamic State. Although the al-Omari Brigade and other FSA chapters have fought alongside al-Nusra in the past, their methodology in the field is markedly different. Under this vein of FSA leadership, there is an adherence to sharia law but there are no public executions, declarations of religious war, state-mandated religious adherence or orders for women to remain indoors.
Today the bridgade is one of the lastsuchrebel groups with any real power in the south, and as such, a crucial touchpoint for Western interests along Syria’s southern front. Over the past year or more, the brigade benefited from American arms - including TOW missiles - and military expertise. Scores of al-Omari fighters are reported to have attended the covert American-run training camp in Jordan, some as recently as in May of this year.
But with the rise of the Islamic State, tensions between those who welcome Western support and those who want to eliminate it completely have climbed higher than ever. This assassination, Lister believes, is likely to be part of the “existing hostile dynamics between senior leaderships in the south, particularly between Western-backed moderates and jihadists.”
The element that has yet to emerge fully in the showdown that looks more and more likely to happen in Dera’a is the IS. Sources across Dera’a speak of sleeper cells slowly reaching out to the more worn-down fighting factions, offering money and support to fall in with Da’esh as the Islamic State is called in Arabic.
“There are growing rumours that some elements within Nusra bear some loyalty to the Islamic State and may be preparing the conditions for the group's emergence in the south,” said Lister.
As the conflict between rebel groups in Syria's south becomes ever bloodier, it begins to look possible that al-Qatanah's assasination may be one of those conditions.
Yet the lack of a strategy isn’t some oversight, like the Pentagon simply forgot to come up with a plan for victory in this huge new war. Rather, it reflects the reality of the situation, that no such strategy for victory even exists.
President Obama’s reticence to escalate the war to the outrageous extent that some want shows at least a modicum of prudence on his part. It would’ve been nice, however, if he’d given such careful thought before launching an unwinnable war in the first place.
Obama’s admission suggests the administration has finally figured out how problematic the war against ISIS is, and is treading water instead of making matters worse.
Unfortunately, if there’s one thing a politician is even less apt to do than tell the truth, it’s to own up to a mistake publicly, and that means the logical next step of extricating himself from the ISIS war is probably not being considered as an option. Instead, President Obama is likely to continue to fight the war, escalating here and there for political effect, and hoping that somewhere along the line some sort of strategy will fall into his lap.
Even more problematic is President Obama’s promise to try to assemble a coalition for the ISIS war, which seems to be doubling down on starting a bad war by dragging a bunch of other nations into it.
Again, this seems to be a sign of desperation related to the lack of any strategy for victory, with the administration hoping, unreasonably, that some other ally brought into the conflict might find the magic formula to transform this from another losing war into a victory.
The British government has raised its terror threat from “substantial” to “severe” today, saying it was a response to “what we’re facing in Iraq now.” Officials said there was no specific threat.
The British government was quick to insinuate itself into the new US war in Iraq, saying their campaign is going to “last weeks and months.” As with the US involvement, Britain’s involvement is greatly increasing their profile as a potential retaliatory target for ISIS.
The US insists there is no plan to change their own terror threat level since their own attacks on ISIS began, but the White House did say that Britain’s situation is “not dissimilar” to the United States.
Before the US involvement began, officials were classifying ISIS as a primarily “regional” threat, interested mostly in fighting over Syria and Iraq territory, as opposed to launching strikes abroad. The new international intervention has bothraised ISIS’ profile for recruitment and given them a specific reason to target Western sites, instead of focusing on the regional war.
Concurrent with the move, Prime Minister David Cameron announced the new power to revoke the passports of anyone believed to have fought alongside ISIS in the past. Implementing the move may be difficult, for while Britain is known to have a substantial number of ISIS fighters, their identities are by and large unknown.
UNDOF, the observer force for the border between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, is quickly finding itself dragged into the civil war in the region, as al-Qaeda’s rebel faction Jabhat al-Nusra targets them.
44 UN troops from Fiji were captured by Nusra fighters, and the whereabouts of them is presently unknown. 75 other soldiers, from the Philippines, are the next target, and are holding out in a pair of bases under siege.
Nusra is demanding the troops hand over their weapons, though they have refused, believing that they too would be taken hostage by the rebels if they were disarmed.
The monitoring force is more heavily armed than you’d figure, and are planning to resist any attempt to take over their bases. The Nusra fighters seized the border crossing earlier in the week, and seems to be moving on the UN to consolidate their holdings in the area.