Syria Diplomacy & $$$$

13 August 2012

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is opening talks with Syrian rebel leaders and pooling Intelligence and military assessments.  This is the first stage of US and her allies dumping United Nations methods of getting at least a cease-fire in Syria.

And the first sign of the new US initiative is the news that Arab League heads have cancelled their scheduled Sunday summit meeting in Saudi Arabia.

Top of the agenda was a replacement for the UN-Arab League peace envoy to Syria Kofi Annan.  Mr Annan resigned from the job earlier this month after what was an ill-disguised failure of his six point peace plan.

The man most likely to replace Annan is the Algerian Lakhdar Brahimi, but no date has been set for his appointment.  Exactly why the quite excellent Mr Brahimi would be expected to succeed where the equally excellent Mr Annan miserably failed is unclear. The peace envoy’s role is either a huge hoax to show that diplomacy is intact  or someone believes that the civil war has reached a stage where both sides want a truce at the very least.  That is as much wishful thinking as anything diplomacy has come up with thus far.

Sunday’s meeting should also have discussed another fast approaching deadline: the mandate for the 150 or so UN Observer Mission in Syria.  It expires in a week’s time.  Ironically, the Observer Mission is worth mandate renewal. It’s function is not to act as military peace maker.  It’s role is to give Military Intelligence summaries known as INTSUMS to the Secretary General and Security Council.

Those INTSUMS will give updates on mainly army deployments where known, weaponry used and in reserve, states of readiness, names of army commanders down to quite small deployments, signs of held-back weaponry such as Chemical Warfare systems and the deployment and state of the rebel forces.

That is quite a large military brief from so few people with very limited access.  However, it is fed into the overall Intelligence picture from special forces on the ground, near earth satellites and electronic  monitoring of everything from mobile phones to military command and control plus of course, diplomatic traffic.

This is why the public leader-voice of those seeking an outside solution to the Syrian civil war, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, insists that the Observer Mission mandate should be renewed and discussed when the Security Council meets Thursday (16 August). Ban Ki-moon may not get support from the Americans on this. He think the Russians may say Yes to renewal.

The Americans, without publicly dismissing the frailty of the UN route are setting up a multi-national working group to what practical roles the military, the Intelligence agencies and supply groups can achieve particularly by bringing in the mostly-exiled rebel groupings.

Two unknowns will add to the overload on these discussions: the CW capabilities of the Syrian army and the increasingly difficult to assess jihadist groups now operating in Syria.

At the start of this conflict Syria was a no-go area for jihadists. Today the Jabhat at-Nusra Li-Ahl al-Sham is fighting and killing Syrian government forces. Al-Nusra rightly claims affiliation to al-Qaeda. It matters not how close is that affiliation and the extent of its support because there is no doubt that al-Nusra is running as a guerilla army and, relatively successfully so especially in the urban areas – for examples, Damascus, Derra (the starting point of the rebellion) and Aleppo.

The unmistakable irony of jihadist intervention is that they do not do so in support of the rebellion. The jihardists want control of Syria and so the Free Syrian Army commanders are as much concerned at the operations of perhaps six distinct groups (with funding coming from private sources in Saudi Arabia) as are the US and of course, the Assad command.

Where does all this leave the diplomatic effort?

There is every sign that the American-Turkish initiative to bring together in military and humanitarian terms  a coalition of the willing to supply weaponry in all its definitions as well as economic aid to the rebellion is a distinct expression of its frustration with the UN-led efforts thus far to stop the war.

The decision has been taken to attempt a pull-together of the opposition groups and leaders.  Washington want’s one man at the top with whom they and others may negotiate and then work. When they did something similar in Libya last year, the war began to turn in the favour of that revolution.  More than 200 US drone attacks helped, so do not be surprised if the same happens in Syria and that the so-called legitimate targets will be Chemical Weapons (CW) units.

Thus this week, we are seeing a step turn in the willingness of the Americans and British at the least to attempt to end the war by outwitting the Assads with low intensity military means as well as the direction of a newly structured opposition council of war against the Syrian regime.

That’s the message coming out of Hilary Clinton’s tour of the region this past few days.  The Syrian leadership will heed what is being said, but is virtually powerless now other than to fight on to what may be for them a fight to the death.

Ms Clinton et al should also take care on a single aspect of her current thinking: they may be trying to put into power a disparate group that will be display a horrendous appetite for blood revenge.  Certainly they will not be able to satisfy the expectation of those who supported the uprising and have paid such a high price in that support.  Debatable? Look at Iraq.  Look at Libya.  Also, listen into Thursday’s Security Council debate and take note of the pro and anti Clinton speakers. Don’t dismiss the Russian and Chinese speeches. They have more support than is generally reported.  That of course has been the problem for the UN since this conflict began.

10th August 2012

The UK is to hand out $8 million to Syrian rebels and claims that this is not to help opposition to kill more Syrian soldiers and civilians.

According to the British Foreign Secretary William Hague this is “the right thing to do and will help save lives”.

This is either a naive Foreign Secretary talking or it is the British being economical with the truth. The deal is simple: the British handout is to be donated to the so-called civilian elements of the opposition. According to Hague the money will be picked up by “unarmed opposition groups, human rights activists and civilians.”

The foreign office people have been in contact with what they call the political arm of the rebel military, the Free Syrian Army, the FSA  – not the shooters you understand, just the political guys.

The fact that the political front offices in London, Turkey, Paris etc have been fund-raising, deal-doing and urging the FSA gun-totters to even great deeds among the rubble and carnage of the Syrian civil war appears to have slipped by the Foreign Office.

What does Hague say to that sort of thing? He says the Syrian people needed “urgent help.”  Which Syrian people? Well actually, not all the Syrian people.

Hague means the FSA need help just as when he talked about the Libyan people needing urgent help, he meant the anti Gadaffi forces. And just as after US and Royal Air Force drone pilots sighted Gadaffi’s convoy and got a direct hit and then looked the other way when Gadaffi was hauled out of a drain and assassinated in October last year, so the British and the US are looking the other way as they hand out dollars by the bucket load.

The `British, along with many in the UN – but not all – want regime change. A few $million without any accountancy attached (fiscally or morally) is small beer even to a stumbling economy like the UK’s.

There’s more.  Hague then, straight-faced, says Syrian people “cannot wait indefinitely” for a peaceful solution to the conflict.  Hague is not asked, and does not volunteer how he came to describe what’s going on as the way forward to a “peaceful solution”.  Twenty thousand dead thus far Mr Hague.

Of course, the British foreign secretary believes that the UN Security Council meeting in New York in a couple of weeks has a duty “to stop the bloodshed.”  In its present mood, the Security Council couldn’t stop a cab on E 42nd St.

Setting aside a little cynicism, what is going to happen to this handout?

The money is to pay for medical kits including wound trauma packs and front-line medicines. There will also be an allocation for mobile phones, ground controlled radar sets and anti-jamming devices. There will be body-armour but not for fighters of course; this stuff will be for protection.  Mr Hague insists that Britain will not send arms. Jamming kit, wound trauma packs and body armour may hang on an ambiguous definition of arms, but if they also hang on the belts of front line fighters, the definitions are esoteric.

If this isn’t a neat package for any front-line commander, what is?  He can get the fresh supply of small arms, ammunition and RPGLs (rocket propelled grenade launchers) elsewhere.

In whatever manner Mr Hague glosses over this latest announcement, there is one major step-change in British policy: Britain is now publicly getting involved at ground level in this civil war. What next? Military liaison officers aka special forces? If we think this would never happen, then we have dangerously short memories. Just remind ourselves how the stages of Libyan war involvement went and comparisons will ot be so far-fetched after all.

Next stage? Selective targeting by drone control from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. We’re not short-memory suckers Mr Hague.

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