Posts Tagged ‘Assad’

War & Peace – Civil Wars Leave The longest Memories

March 14, 2016


Christopher Lee

Memphis 14 March 2016

Driving through the Mississippi Delta and it’s shining like a National guitar. Gracelands playing in the dashboard because the car’s old enough for that. Long John Morgan reckons this is the bleeding heart of the Civil War.

Not the Syrian, the Iraqi, the Libyan or any other ‘Goddammit fig eating civil war boy’.  Long John taps the bakelite steering wheel in time to Paul Simon. The war.  I understand.  So I have for the 20, maybe 30 years he and I have driven this trail. We’re talking four years – 1861-65. `The American Civil War.  The scar on all American lives even today.

In 1861 there were 34 states in an America not then a hundred years old.  That year seven southern states refused to give up slavery and pulled out of the Union and formed the Confederate States. The continent went to war. States went to war. Regions went to war. Families went to war. Brothers went to war. About three quarters of a million die – more Americans than died in two world wars and Viet Nam.

Long John Morgan  – he stands six seven in his cotton socks and butt-kicking boots  and comes in at 275 lbs – knows the name of every one of the Morgans (and the Delleys) who died in that thing. He knows the name of every skirmish and gut spilling moment in that four years.  Forte Munro, Pickens, Taylor and especially Sumter.  The lands were angry he says.  The ones who were not cut down were made prisoners of that war. 56,000 of them, 56,000 Americans died in those prisons. That’s somewhere near the same number of GIs who died in Vietnam.

We’re on Route 61 the Blues Highway. Greenville, Leland, Cleveland. South of Memphis.  No monuments but still in the American psyche. The black people rode this highway in search of a future. The hopelessness of it all in the music Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, John Lee Hooker and B. B. King. Not in the uptown of Paul Simon. Simon and I were born on the same day. The directions weren’t so different.  They all, he said, led to Gracelands. Monuments. The symbolism of a ghost of America’s past.

Bad Joe is big on symbolism.  He did nine years in Parchman Farm, the state pen. So did Elvis’s old man, Vernon Presley. So did Stokely Carmichael. Remember Stokely? Long John rhythms the wheel.  “Hell no-We won’t go!”  That was him.  “He sang that against the draft. Against Nam”. The civil rights activists the 300 Freedom Riders were jailed in a 6×8 cell in Parchman. Jailed, stripped, chain-ganged.  “You remember that” says Long John. “You remember Deputy Tyson. A tobacco mouth that would have backed the devil hisself into the darkest corner. Peace marchers? He knew everyone. They still quote him.  ‘Y’all all a time wanna march someplace? Well y’all gon’ march right now, right t’yo cells. An’ ahm gon’ lead ya. Follow me. Ah’m Martin Luther King.'”

We pull into the dustiest gas station ever seen.  A truck with the shiest cleanest highest pointing exhaust alongside.  America is full of contradictions. Long John Morgan rests his belly into the counter and orders two coffees and chocolate cake. “Now they’re telling us we have to burn the flag.” The symbol of the Confederates. He calls it stamping out the past but not the soul. These seem nothing things.  But they are big.  You want to talk about the tragedies on Syria? Of Libya?

To Long John Morgan and the truck driver, the bar tender, the help out back with the bucket and swab, the highway patrol officer with the cop-show blank look of a leather face US lawman Syria, Libya, Iraq are sad places for “those folk over in that place”. It is not that they do not care.  It is that they do not know. The American Civil War all that time ago they do know about, even when the facts are only folklore. They know it because it has not left them.

That’s the point the big man makes. A nation doesn’t forget even if it is not sure what it is it’s not forgetting. He repeats repeats repeats.  The Civil War has left a scar. Understand that you will begin to understand even modern America. Those folk over there, he says,will not forget.  Three four generations on from what we have let happen will still remember.  Suits in Geneva may one day call a truce. But just as 1865 was about identity so Syrians, Iraqis and all will only call truce on their memories.

What they are negotiating in Geneva this week has a hundred years to go.




British Bake-Off beats Putin’s Missiles for top Headlines

October 9, 2015

Christopher Lee - photo (1)

9 October 2015


The Royal Navy has fired submarine launched cruise missiles in Middle East for some years. The US Navy has maintained an even bigger missile firing operation in the region.  Both the Royal Navy and the US Navy have had sea launched missiles go astray.

So why all the fuss about 18 per cent of Russian cruise missiles fired from the Caspian Sea landing in Iran and not on target?

Obviously it is part of the anxiety to portray President Putin personally as a bandit causing strategic and moral havoc in the Syria conflict.  That is an Okay thing to do.  It has been that way in European warfare ever since October 1415 when Henry V flew his long red banner at Agincourt signifying that no prisoners would be taken – chivalry-speak for guys caught in the middle would be massacred.

That is the case today – without the red banner.

The Russian missile launch was tactically effective, especially those that fell on the IS headquarters at Raqqa. Its triumph was that Putin’s commanders were showing that there is more in their locker than 34 ground attack aircraft that have limited effect.  Moreover, Putin’s decision to put the arm on Belarus to allow Russia to rebuild an airbase in that state facing NATO was a reminder that the military eye-balling that Putin understands more than anything else is still very much on the morning briefing diary of every Western commander, politically as well as military.

At the end of a week that has seen an escalation in the ISPs of the Syria conflict what is new and what is important?

Russia hit IS targets as well anti Assad rebel points including destroying an important CIA communications point in Syria. Syria announced an offensive beefed up with Russian close air support against rebel positions. A low key operational command from Moscow checked out the readiness status of a mechanised infantry brigade in Chechnya should it be needed in Syria as a protection force for Russian bases.

NATO member state Turkey warned that Russian jets were intruding Turkish air space. President Obama said this was bad news and made matters worse. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said it was bad news and made matters worse. No one remembers what Prime Minister Cameron said. NATO members promised to increase its rapid reaction capability to 40,000 although no one knew by when, what sort of troops and who would decide both.  Britain said it was sending 100 army trainers to the Eastern Front. Saudi Arabia said it would give more weapons to the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army, Jaysh al-Fatah and Southern Front.

A big news day.  The world’s premier news broadcaster BBC led on the winner of a national baking competition. Maybe that is about right. Most Brits anyway care more about fairy cakes. Most Syrians do not bake. A twitchy Turkish pilot and a wayward Russian one could change that view.

East v West – The Battleground Is Syria

October 1, 2015


I October 2015


Russia is now at war with America. Let there be no diplomatic illusion. Putin has sent his bombers against American and British supported rebels. That is not even a proxy war. That action is a straight forward confrontation.

Putin is saying there are once more two, not one, superpowers. The Russian’s measure might in sheer military terms. There is more to come.

Talks in New York last night to make sure there is no miscalculation between USAF jets and Russian Air Force operations in Syria is nothing to do with good military practice.  Russia and America are on different sides.

The New York talks were in reality Russia telling America to stay out of Putin’s way and his determination to destroy US-UK backed rebels and for the moment, to keep Assad in power.

Whitehall is already asking what next does it do?

What happens for example when an RAF Intelligence gathering drone is brought down?

In Washington they are asking what military response does the President authorise when the anti-Assad rebels demand that the US stops Russian attacks on their forces now heading for the Assad held territory of Western Syria.

There is no way that Obama can authorise a combat air patrol over over the rebels. The next stage to that, by miscalculation or commission, is a shooting war over Syria. You don’t have to blink to imagine what that will lead to.

The military sandbox scenario is simple: Russia bombs rebels. Russia tells America and anyone else on the anti-Assadl side including Australia, France and the UK to stay out of the area because Putin is operating an emergency war to keep Assad in power.

If the USAF does not obey Putin what are the possibilities of a mistake or a retaliation?  The answer is High.

Or for students of Machiavelli is there an even darker story here?

Could this be the dangerous game in Syria: the US has decided that the rebels should be abandoned? Why would they do that? Answer: it is the only way in which they could end the war.

The Whitehall and Washington have concluded rebels in power will mean another Libya and the USA will be seen as the power that brought that about.  Worse still, the US and allies will have to maintain what could so easily become a blood-letting regime on the Syrian throne.

So let Russia successfully defend Assad, then let the Syria leader stay in power until a new leadership is established – not from the rebels but from people already in Assad’s palace. The next stage would be to go for IS.

The whole thinking in Washington and London is flawed.  It takes no account of Putin’s own plan. Like all Russian leaders from Tsarist times, through the history of the USSR to this century, Putin does not trust the idea of alliance. This is his war and as far as he thinks he is winning.

President Putin asks this question of his analysts: Does America abandon the rebels? Does America just want a deal in a war it cannot win because it cannot guarantee the outcome?  They tell him what he already thinks: America wants out.

What does he do next? Bomb more rebels.  Keep them out of Assad’s backyard. Lead a coalition against IS positions. Do a better job of occupation than his Soviet predecessors did in Egypt before they were kicked out in the early 1970s. Accept the idea of a partitioned Syria.

There is another plus: tell the US to stand back and Iran will like that. The rest of the world will nod wisely. Another Washington foul-up.

So Putin believes he’s on a roll.  The Military Mo is with him. He could be right.

This is all high military and political drama but let us not forget it all means more misery for the 7 million or so displaced Syrians.  The war ain’t over for generations to come.

Has Obama, Cameron & Co Underestimated Putin Again?

September 27, 2015


27 September 2015

New York

Putin is a dangerous ex-KGB bodybuilder who plans to knock over as many democracies as possible and if not rule the world then say how it should be ruled.

That is the mix of mocking and alarm bell ringing image put about by Washington and London and their client states such President Poroshenko’s Ukraine. Whereas London, Washington and the coffee morning gathering that runs the Western Alliance, NATO have the true masterplan to peace, prosperity and the eventual downfall of the leader of modern Russia.

The slight problem of it all is that when Putin ordered the taking of Crimea the West posted bare back and chested pictures of horse riding Putin and told him him to get out of Crimea and East Ukraine. The West’s Make My Day Punk plan did not work.  Putin put on his shirt and doubled the deployment.  The West did nothing about that.  Putin has already assessed that they would not. Obama, Cameron et al did not mention the subject again.

Then President Putin started loading its port facility in Syria and took over the main airbase south of Latikia.  Now at the UN General Assembly Putin (during his first visit in ten years – he does not need the UN) said the deal is that we all back Assad, bin and deals with the rebels and then go for IS in Syria.

The Western punditry, echoed by London and Washington leaders said Putin should wind in his military neck, get out of Syria and forget any deals with Assad.  Now there is an idea that Putin is right but no one can say so.

Today the plan is looking something like this:

The West has long realised that it should never have backed the Syrian Free Army etc but cannot say so.

The West should never have rushed in to the anti-Assad camp without thinking through the strategic end game. Putin did think it through.

Putin’s Russia has long been an ally of Assad and knows from decades of fighting rebel forces, especially in Chechnya, that backing Assad’s enemies was a mug’s game.

Now we have squeaky briefings in Whitehall and here at the United Nations that Assad can stay for a while but should agree to go eventually and that zapping IS should be the main effort.  The French have started.  The Australians are in on it.  The British have done so and will do more and the Americans are leading the way.

No one of course will put boots on the ground. No one that is other than the Russians. Russia is now running the show and the West is playing a dangerous catch-up.

There are three reasons for this change of tune and tactic by the Western coalition:

1  Bad Intelligence four years back made them back the wrong horse and they are only just realising that.

2  Secondly (and reluctantly) they are privately saying that Putin’s game could be the surest bet

3  Thirdly (and most significantly) there is every evidence that IS is beatable thanks to a combination of better Intelligence gathering, drone reconnaissance and attack and the fortitude and bravery of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters

What does this tell us today at the UN?

Firstly, Western Intelligence analysis four years back of what was going on in Syrian and the likely outcome was a failure.  (They should have listened to Sitrep on BFBS Radio – that programme has consistently got it right!)

Secondly, Putin may not have been right but his crude opportunism was based on what was possible and now he is looking right and although they will not say so Western governments know this

Thirdly, Syria is not a single example of Western failure to get Intelligence analysis right. Western assessment of what was happening in Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Syria? All wrong.

When the critics of what goes down here at the UN blame the United Nations then they should think again.  It is not the UN that is consistently wrong.  The misjudgements are to be laid at the doors of foreign policy analysts who are either failures or who cannot overcome the preconceptions of political leaders too busy to think through the jumble of reality and possibility.

The shorthand for that is that Western leadership (the French and Germans are honourable exceptions) for all their assets are not up to the task of the management – never mind the crisis management – of today’s world.

Putin may be loaded with all the terrible characteristics our leaderships say he is but so far he has out thought them by sticking with the basics of Intelligence and Opportunity Assessment: it is easy to assess capability it is then the hard job of assessing intentions of an enemy and opportunities to exploit the current situation. So far at least, Putin is ahead of the game.

Christopher Lee

September 9, 2013


Obama’s Syrian Problem – What Should He Bomb?

9th September

The frightening aspect of the Do We Bomb Syria debate is simply put: even if President Obama got the go-ahead to strike he does not know what to bomb?

What do his cruise missile commanders aim for?  Chemical stocks? Command HQs of Syria’s 4th Division? President Assad’s palace? His brother’s command post? Think about it.

The order to the Syrian army to take Moudhamiy, the suburban rebel stronghold had not shown any result.  The local commander had failed to get his troops in to the district and eject the rebels.  The division responsible for retaking the area was the so-called elite 4th Division. 4 Div is commanded by General Maher al-Assad who is the unquestionably ruthless and crippled by his wounds from another occasion, brother of the Syrian President.

The spearhead brigade in the Syrian assault was 155 brigade in which there is an element on the two Syrian chemical warfare battalions.

The brigade attack was not producing results. Maher al-Assad does not tolerate failure.  When a local commander is failing, he may return to last resort weapons release.  In NATO procedure that would be low kiloton tactical or theatre nuclear warhead release.  CW is the poor man’s kiloton warhead. The procedure would be to fire binary chemical warheads into the area and follow on with an artillery attack. All of this happened on 21st August.

It is possible that President Assad was not in the loop that took the decision to use CW. It is even possible that this was a local and tactical decision. All this is discussed elsewhere.

Given these circumstances, President Obama said that the red line had been crossed. Secretary of State John Kerry in London this morning gave voice to the circumstances, the thinking of the President, the moral as well as the military case for attacking Syria.

Later today (9 September) he will do so to Congress. Kerry knows the Congress and what it has to hear and understand.  After all, he was a celebrated Senator as well as a one time prosecutor.  Kerry understand s evidence and jury.  Congress is the jury today.

Every procedure aside from a UN supporting resolution is in place for Obama to take the decision to attack, even if Congress says No.  The President does have that option.

What is not clear, is the target list. The purpose of bombing is to show Assad and any other  CW holder anywhere in the world- and there are plenty of them – that America will tolerate CW use. The next purpose is to disable the Assad option to use them again – if again he did. The third purpose is to bomb a Syrian leadership (not necessarily Assad’s) to the conference table.

Obama et al say the plan is not regime change.  This is clearly nonsense.  Perhaps the plan is not to bomb Assad in his palace bunker. But if the logical targets are given a GTG (Green To Go) then the conclusion has to be that Washington believes that the Syrian regime will be so vulnerable as result of lost assets, that it will fall or, as Washington would hope, those close to Assad will remove him from power and that they will then agree to meet in a Geneva Two-type peace negotiation.

If any of this could be true, then here are the targets:

  • Command and Control of Syrian air force units plus the avgas, repair and logistics capability. His air force could perhaps disperse to Iran and fight on from there. So some effort has to be put into taking out aircraft and aircrews – not at all easy.  Some have already gone to Iran.
  • Air defence radar and communications
  • 4 Division HQ and its back-up command systems.
  • Military fuel supply dumps
  • Remaining brigade HQs

Many of these targets could patched and regrouped. But battle damage assessments from US satellite and overfly, plus signals intelligence, would quickly put together a second attack list.

The people (apart from the Assads) who will be watching the Congressional vote and the GTG moment are not in Damascus, nor Aleppo. They are in the southern Turkish garrison at Antakya which is now the headquarters of the Free Syrian Army along with its, US, UK, Saudi and Qatari advisers and sponsors. If you believe that the rebels fired the CW, that would be the place they planned. Very unlikely of course, but so is the whole Syrian affair.





Christopher Lee

July 12, 2013


Murdering Rebels – Gettit? Mr Hague? We Suspect Not

12th July 2013

Pretty good reports coming out of Syria tell us that Islamist rebels have assassinated Kamal Hamami of  the Free Syria Army’s Supreme Military Council. 

Mr Hamami was in Latakia meeting the Islamic rebel group, the Islamic State “to discuss battle plans”. The Islamist plan is now to kill all of the Supreme Military Council.  As President Assad would say, why should anyone be surprised when dog eats dog?.

These are the guys who want the so-called West to give them more weapons for their 40,000 or so fighters. The most vociferous pusher of weapons to these people is the British Foreign Secretary, a personable and likeable man but seemingly one who is one of the new breed of UK-US neo-cons and whose judgement seems to be zero-based.

Mr Hague seems to believe (or says he believes) that arming the rebels selectively is possible. Cannot he and his advisers see that in the immediate unlikelyhood of rebels getting rid of Assad, they will then have their own war.  The differring rebel groups have a blood-lust that will not be satisfied with the going of the Syrian president – under the present circumstances something that’s not going to happen any time soon anyway.

If rebels took over they would then set about killing each other in an attempt to take over power.  The bets are that the rebels Mr Hague supports would lose that war. Then what? The clue is what happened back in April when Al-Qaeda in Iraq merged with the Syrian Islamist Nusra Front. The new group is Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. The just assassinated Mr Hague’s boy.

The Osama Bin Laden replacement, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is throwing all support behind the Syrian Islamists to set up an Islamic state of Syria. We know Mr Hague and his neo-con chums in Washington don’t want that, hence the loud demands to start arming the Syrian rebels next month and insisting that the UK and US have a method to stop arms getting into the wrong hands.

Truth is Mr Hague, the Islamists don’t have too much trouble getting arms anyway. What the British Foreign Office and to a lesser extent the US State Department has thus failed to grip is that unless they send in their air forces to create a no-fly zone against Assad’s squadrons, then Assad is on a role and the Hague-mate rebels are on the back foot.

This week’s assassination and threats to wipe out the non Islamist rebels by the Islamist group should tell Hague et al that they got it wrong in the first place.  

Think Northern Ireland.  When a rebel group, the Provisional IRA foought the British government for control of the province, the British reinforced its standing garrison. Why not? It was defending the state.

Assad was doing the same thing.

Why did not Hague and the others understand that Assad was the guy in charge and had every right to preserve the status quo? In other words Britain backed the wrong guys – yet again. The real experts in the region, the oil men knew that.  Why did not the Foreign Office and State Department.

Now the British are having to go along with the Saudi policy on this.  The Saudis see an Islamist Syria as a regional threat and an encouragement to radicals in Saudi Arabia.  If the Brits don’t back the Saudis idea of arming the rebels then the UK can start getting nervous about arms deals in the Gulf, that the Saudis either control or influence.

Yes it’s a mess. Yes Mr Hague and his friends are digging deeper into it. What’s one more assassination in the civil war/ A warning to Hague that there’s an even bloodier one coming and the UK has already signed up to what looks like being the losing side.