Archive for the ‘Syria’ Category


Al Qaeda’s cross-border geopolitics in Iraq and Syria

March 12, 2014

Konstantinos Zarras has published an analysis (link opens pdf file) of the efforts of al Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate to expand its operations into Syria and create a de facto Islamic State along the middle regions of the Euphrates River valley.  Calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), they declared statehood in January of this year and are at once the most active insurgent group against the government of Bashir al Assad and the greatest cause of disunity among the would-be coalition of anti-government forces.  ISIS is in open warfare with the official al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and is even suspected of assassinating the personal envoy of global al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawihiri.

Success by ISIS in creating their Caliphate on the Euphrates would not be an altogether bad thing for the US, at least not in the near term.  Our failure in Iraq has created a weak state there which does not aid in containing Iran.  ISIS, however, would be a Sunni dominated state opposed to Shi’a Iran.  Combined with the emerging Greater Kurdistan to the north and the coalition of rich Gulf Arab states to the south, this would effectively do the work of the “Sunni Wall” that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq represented.

In the longer term, of course, a Salafist state would be a constant and ongoing threat to initiate state-supported terror operations against Western targets, but in the moment, Iran looms as the larger threat in the region.

The area in red represents the territory currently under control of ISIS

The area in red represents the territory currently under control of ISIS


Weekend links post: #China, #Syria, #Turkey, #Kurdistan

January 24, 2014

While reporting often makes the rise of China to global dominance seem inevitable, the Chinese elite might not be quite so confident themselves, as thousands of the richest and most powerful in that nation are busily expatriating their wealth to safe havens offshore.

In Syria, Assad has managed to cling to power by importing a mercenary force of foreign fighters, most of whom serve interests with their own designs on Syria.  This Washington Institute analysis indicates that Assad may have mortgaged his ability to lead his nation in the future by using these forces to maintain power in the present.

In Turkey, we see the results of Erdogan ‘s paranoid style.  He purged the military over fears of a coup; now, he is attempting to purge his former Islamist allies against the military, thinking they are more likely to stage a coup.  Turkey is more threatened by the Wars of the Kurdish Unification which are being waged on its very doorstep; this kind of internal division could open the door for another Kurdish front within Turkey itself.




Russia expands its naval force in support of Syria

September 13, 2013

Russia’s top admiral has stated that he will expand his Eastern Mediterranean fleet to 10 warships, continuing a buildup that began last December.  Chief among the new additions is the missile cruiser Moskva, dubbed a “carrier killer” due to its advanced weaponry.    The Moskva entered the Western Med on Tuesday and is expected to be on station by the beginning of next week.

Russia’s goal under Putin’s new “Foreign Policy Concept” is to displace American leadership whenever and wherever it can.  He is succeeding in the case of Syria, and seeks to expand that success to the rest of the Southwest Asia/Eastern Mediterranean region.  The Moskva and her sister ships are the vanguard of that effort.



The Pentagon’s Road to Damascus

September 12, 2013

via Breaking Defense:

It’s not often that people close to the military come out and critique current policy, especially as it is taking shape. When it happens, it is often newsworthy either because of what they say or because of who they are. Today, we offer an in-depth critique of US strategy and our evolving policies toward Syria from a professor at the Army War College, Nathan Freier which meets both criteria. He warns that the “fundamental imperfection of precision American military power” will make it very difficult to change how other governments or non-state opponents behave. “Our new dogma and its rules are at odds with those governing the real world in troubled regions like the Middle East,” he says. Read on:


What will be the final toll for Russian salvation of the Syrian crisis?

September 10, 2013

Putin is working the Administration like a fish on a line.   This morning, Secretary Kerry tried to get in front of the story by claiming that the US had been involved in the Russian proposal (for Syria to surrender her chemical arsenal) from the start.  Next, like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, the Russians have backed away from the proposal, at least in some important particulars.  That Russian proposal could be a lifeline for an administration that has thoroughly misplayed the situation, and Putin is not going to fully extend it until he gets what he is really after.  This all raises the question “What does Vladimir really want?”

The Wall Street Journal reports that last year the Obama Administration considered several offers to the Russians in exchange for their support on Syria policy – end of NATO expansion, cessation of missile defense plans for Europe – before rejected them as too dear a price to pay.  Today, I am sure they both will be on Putin’s list, as well as a complete US exit from Central Asia and the Caucasus (i.e. abandoning allies Georgia and Azerbaijan) and US pressure on the European Union to abandon their trade deal with Ukraine (firmly returning Ukraine to the Russian sphere of influence is a major foreign policy goal).  I would not be surprised if Putin tries to get Obama to issue onerous federal regulations on fracking, which would boost the value of Gazprom and the effectiveness of Russia’s gas energy weapon in cajoling her European neighbors.

That takes us to the real question – not what Putin wants, but what is Obama willing to surrender in order to save face?

Hook. line and sinker


The other side of the Syria debate: Budgeting

September 9, 2013

Secretary of State Kerry let slip an unfortunate truth when he said the planned strike on Syria would be “unbelievably small.”  The truth is that the Navy cannot afford an effort on the level of 1998’s four day Desert Fox bombardment of Iraq.  That operation saw over air and sea launched cruise missiles fired, along with over 600 sorties by both Navy and Air Force aviators.  The total cost at the time was estimated at over $500 million.  Just a rough inflation-adjusted calculation puts the current cost of such an operation at over $700 million, but costs to the Navy today are higher than general inflation due to sequester.   In 1998, the Navy routinely kept two aircraft carriers on patrol in the region; today, due to sequester, that number has been cut to one.  The Nimitz was due to rotate home, but is staying on station due to the crisis, and naval sources say every day that the Nimitz delays return costs an extra $25 million.   The Chief of Naval Operations estimates that he will need Congress to pass a supplemental funding bill of at least $2 billion to pay for the action; the only alternative would be to authorize the Navy cannibalize next years accounts.   At the end of the day, a serious operation might end up degrading US military as much as it does that of Syria.

So, if this is going to come to pass, the Obama Administration is going to have to win, not one but two Congressional votes.  The first would be a general authorization, the second would be a supplemental funding bill that would necessarily define the scope of the operation.


The Wars of the Kurdish Unification

September 6, 2013

The more I think about it, the more I believe that future generations will come to call the early 21st century wars in Southwest Asia the Wars of the Kurdish Unification.

The US led Iraq War was the First War of Kurdish Unification, creating a de facto autonomous Kurdish state within the dysfunctional Iraq.

There is a very good chance that the  Syrian Civil War will result in a partial dissolution of that nation, with the Allawite and Kurdish regions forming their own mini-states.  This will be known as the Second War of Kurdish Unification.

The Third and Fourth Wars will involve Turkey and Iran (one or both of these will also spill over into Armenia and Azerbaijan).   Turkey is in the most difficult spot, with an active Kurdish opposition combined with a demographic time bomb – regions of majority Turkic ethnicity have declining birthrates while regions of mainly Kurdish ethnicity have growing birthrates.

That leaves Iran, which has a heavy Kurdish minority of its own, primarily in its eastern provinces.

The first two of these wars have already encompassed a full decade of sporadic warfare; the final two will take even longer, but it is very likely that a child born anywhere in Greater Kurdistan today could celebrate its 25th birthday as a citizen of the new State of Kurdistan.

Greater Kurdistan and the (former) nations of its constituent parts