Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
April 17, 2013

Syria: U.S. Deploys Headquarter Elements

According to CNN the U.S. is sending headquarter elements of the 1st Armored Division to Jordan. These could become the first elements of a full taskforce.

For now those are only 200 soldiers. But unlike the Special Forces the U.S. already deployed to Jordon to train Syrian insurgents these are not for immediate operations. A headquarter element of a division is for planing the eventual deployment of bigger parts of that division. The 1st Armored has four fighting plus one aviation brigade. Altogether more than 15,000 soldiers.

For now I believe this to be a precautionary measure as well as a part of psychological warfare. I do not expect further troops to deploy. The situation on the ground is extremely complex and should the U.S. venture into Syria it surely would be in for another Iraq like quagmire.

Obama is unlikely to want to have such a quagmire as his legacy.

Posted by b on April 17, 2013 at 17:19 UTC | Permalink


To further speculate, maybe they hope to execute command and control of U.S. trained insurgents in hopes of the only coherent effective non jihadist effective fighting force? Or managing the chemical weapons removal amid general looting and chaos?

Posted by: Crest | Apr 17 2013 17:36 utc | 1

This is starting to look like the summer of 1914 all over again. The USA is really cruising for another bruising here. They will only find more death and quagmire in Syria. Ay Odummy, your so stupid.

Posted by: Fernando | Apr 17 2013 17:54 utc | 2

Another sign of the futile failure of U.S. policy, coming immediately after the jihadists have declared an Islamic state in Syria, where they do control some territory. The US reliance upon military force instead of diplomacy has been thoroughly discredited many times but it is still the U.S. default position even as the situation in Syria worsens.

some bits of trivia -- The commander of the 1st Armored Division MajGen Dana Pittard will visit Saudi Arabia soon for a week. He currently has 30 troops participating in an exercise there called Earnest Leader. Pittard has a son named Jordan.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 17 2013 18:00 utc | 3

@1 Reasonable speculation. By now the 'U.S. trained insurgents' have probably been thoroughly infiltrated by all involved parties.

Posted by: dh | Apr 17 2013 18:28 utc | 4

Command and control of insurgents is the work of special forces not an armored division headquarters element.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 17 2013 18:35 utc | 5

I'm not so sure that this move indicates plans to militarily engage in Syria.

While being small, Jordan is strategically important because it has frontiers with Syria, Iraq, saudi arabia and israel.

I tend to assume that this move is rather to do with worries about Iraq, i.e. usa-sponsored terrorists swapping into Iraq and creating problems there.

Whatever, it's more or less meaningless because the usa can hardly do more than creating - also for themselves! - trouble in the region and further their demise.

What I find funny though is that the usa, while having an open situation with the potential for a major war in Korea, the usa is stupid enough to stir the other pot full of dangers for them, the near/mid-east.

Posted by: Mr. Pragma | Apr 17 2013 18:37 utc | 6

It is the playbook however from Afghanistan to Mali, first step, Al Queida public relations exercise, second step convince the Western public that something has to be done. I just wonder whose playbook.

According to the Austrian press Turkey has started for the first time to arrest Jihadis.

Posted by: somebody | Apr 17 2013 19:08 utc | 7

I think this deployment is more to protect the little Jordan king than actually invade Syria..The US is in no position to tango in Syria..Not now, not ever..If they could, they wouldn't have sub-contracted it to Qatar, Turkey etc etc..

If anyone's been following recent development, Jordan's become a major hub for arms transfer and training for the "secular opposition" - whatever that mean.. Al-Qaeda is now solidly rooted in Jordan as a by-product of Jordan's involvement in the Syrian mess..In this regard, the US cannot afford to loose another faithful puppet in Jordan like they did in Egypt.. Turkey's also starting to round up jihadi recruiters..

The funny thing is, the US has single handedly, revive and emboldened the very Al-Qaeda they've been "fighting" for years.

In any case, all it'll take is just one missile(something Syrian has in abundance) to wipe out them 200 military men..The US army barracks bombing in Beirut in the 80s will look like picnic..

Posted by: Zico | Apr 17 2013 19:37 utc | 8

No, i dont think the fanatical US Zionist regime is THAT stupid.Not now. I mean we (Europeans) didn´t put our brightest, or even our next best brightest people over there in the first place, not even the third, but we did it for a purpose and you have been spawning inbreed retards in wars for israel and the tribe ever since.

Posted by: magma | Apr 17 2013 20:51 utc | 9

@ somebody #7

As to your link.Turkey jails Jihadis

I thought the same thing. Apparently these guys shat where they ate and tried to convert the locals to join the jihad meatgrinder in Syria. Apparently Turkey facilitates these guys to send Jihadis to their deaths through Turkey but doesn't want its citizens to join. That is the true Ottoman spirit I expected from Turkey. The lesser people may join but not "our children". These guys will probably be released with a slap on their hands and a stern warning.

Posted by: Gehenna | Apr 17 2013 22:11 utc | 10

Gehenna (9)

Interesting that you bring this up.

There is more: I read that Lavrov and davotoglu just jointly announced their intention to respect Syrias right to resolve their problems themselves and diplomatically.
In the same session they also declared that they will work towards a souvereign palestinian state with the 1967 borders.

It was quite evident sind quite some time that turkey has a major role, not only as staging ground for the usa sponsored terrorists but also geostrategically.
If ever a war between Russia and the usa came to pass it would be extremely important for the Russians to have turkey at least neutral. To summarize it (somewhat brutally) shortly, turkey actually never was more than a conventient backyard, dump and buffer both for nato and the eu. On the other hand turkey can play a major role in a changing near/mid-east and, concerning Russia, turkey gain either gain very handsomely or get brutally maimed (and torn in between usa and Russia).
I have noticed signs since a while now as it seems that Russia finally made it perfectly clear to turkey where their place is and where their loyalty should definitely not be.

Posted by: Mr. Pragma | Apr 17 2013 22:48 utc | 11

LA Times, Apr 17

In his testimony Wednesday, Hagel acknowledged that the administration's policy of seeking a negotiated settlement in Syria while building up so-called moderate rebel factions capable of taking power after Assad leaves has not worked.

"It hasn't achieved the objective, obviously," Hagel said. "That's why we continue to look for other options and other ways to do this."

The policy has been to arm and otherwise support the terrorist rebels so that Assad would "change his calculation."

Feb 13, 2013
MS. NULAND: Well, he – what he did talk about was the need to change Assad’s calculation with regard to his staying power.

Mar 8, 2013
MS. NULAND: . . . We also very much hope that Russia will reconsider its continuing arm sales and support for the Assad regime. That would make a manifest difference in Assad’s calculation, and we will continue to work with the Russians and urge them to move in that direction.

Mar 15, 2013
MS. NULAND:. . .And in fact, we are doing more on our own side, and as he said during that trip, we believe that the totality of increased effort by the international community ought to begin to make a difference to Assad’s calculation.//

"It hasn't achieved the objective, obviously," Hagel said. "We continue to look for other options."

The US policy of changing Assad's calculation hasn't worked. So here's Hagel's idea for another option: Send 300 U.S. troops to Jordan. Yeah, that might work. not. Even Panetta didn't do that.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 18 2013 1:48 utc | 12

AP, Apr 17

The decision to dispatch the 1st Armored Division troops of planners and specialists in intelligence, logistics and operations comes as several lawmakers pressed the Obama administration for even more aggressive steps to end the two-year civil war.

Hagel said the fresh troops will replace a similar number of U.S. forces that have been in Jordan for some months. They also will provide leadership personnel that could command additional forces if it's determined they are needed in the future.

The unit is based at Fort Bliss, Texas, and will start deploying in mid- to late May.

They will be replacing the special forces troops that have been training insurgents, and will plan something bigger. They brought up the chemical weapons threat again, so perhaps they have a plan along those lines.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 18 2013 2:48 utc | 13

I'm not going to put links up because it invariably delays the posting of my ramblings until b spots them in the moderation queue.

Anyway, let's see the outcome of the Friends of Syria meeting this weekend. I've been reading reports that it may yield an agreement to negotiate without the precondition of Assad's removal (though these meetings typically initiate greater conflict). The US has made a number of concessions towards Russia recently, most notably the decision not to complete the missile defence systems in Eastern Europe - perhaps a good will gesture regarding the Russian/American agreement for Assad's negotiated departure. It has long been speculated that Putin has used Syria as a means of drawing such concessions from the US regarding missile defence.

A recent Russian delegation to Syria observed that Assad no longer had the will to carry on as President, but felt a sense of duty to protect his country from the threat of jihadists. He apparently sees no place for himself in the Syria that emerges from the current conflict. This was actually a point raised by the Russian deputy FM last year - that Assad was prepared to stand aside - although his comments were rejected by other Russian officials; perhaps so as to prevent undermining their position at the negotiating table.

Whatever happens, the US is going to have to eventually enter Syria to clear up the Islamist insurgents once they have served their purpose (the purpose either being to bring down the Syrian State entirely or to have put sufficient pressure on the Government "to make a difference to Assad’s calculation"). Who else is going to do it? These groups will not be allowed to fester on the edge of Europe.

Russia fears that a power vacuum in Syria will lead to the decent into total chaos. Someone is going to have to keep order in Syria to support and safeguard any new transitional Government.

Perhaps the deployment of headquarter elements has something to do with this. It would also serve the purpose of undertaking the necessary operations to confiscate chemical stockpiles, which otherwise may one day rain down on Israel.

Posted by: Pat Bateman | Apr 18 2013 9:25 utc | 14

"Russia fears that a power vacuum in Syria will lead to the decent into total chaos. Someone is going to have to keep order in Syria to support and safeguard any new transitional Government."

Not only that, the US (israeli) intention is, if they manage to finish off Syria that is, to redirect their Al-Qaeda retards to Iran and the somewhat volatile southern Russia where USA and israel has been supporting Beslan-terrorists since the 80´s.

Posted by: magma | Apr 18 2013 12:12 utc | 15

May I also point to one link that somebody posted on another thread. At a conference for Syrian opposition factions this week, a joint statement made by the Union of Syrian Muslim Scholars, Union of Damascus Scholars, Union of Syrian Revolutionary Ulema and Inviters, and Syrian Islamic Forum stated:

"Our people will consider it a conspiracy against itself if an intervention takes place targeting the groups fighting in Syria [referring to Al-Nusra] or if the Syrian people were placed under a blockade with an excuse of 'struggling against terrorists'. There is no bigger terror than that applied by the Syrian regime. We reject the intervention of all forms of organizations to determine the future of the Syrian state as well as any imposition from the international community to us to sit down with the Syrian regime at the table."

Who has suggested intervening to target Al-Nusrah? I haven't heard anything. To announce their rejection of any intervention that would target Al-Nusra suggests to me that whispers of such plans have been overheard - coupled with forcing the opposition to sit at the negotiating table with the Syrian Government. Seems a strange thing otherwise to have said.

Posted by: Pat Bateman | Apr 18 2013 12:40 utc | 16

Some progress around Damascus: Battle for Damascus: Regime Fights on Four Fronts

The non-existing exile government of Syria introduces sharia law for the "freed" Syrian areas where it has no say at all: Syrian opposition to establish moderate form of Sharia law

Posted by: b | Apr 18 2013 12:56 utc | 17

16) The fun fact is that the "official" Syrian opposition represented by Al Khatib has been calling for international intervention against the Syrian regime. So intervention is good if it is against Assad but bad if it is against Al Nusra. Al Khatib managed to combine all this whilst at the same calling for 'moderate tolerant Islam'

To try to sell international intervention to different Arab and non-Arab global constituencies seems to be a very contradictory act.

Posted by: somebody | Apr 18 2013 13:46 utc | 18

16) there is a BBC interview with Netanyahu

Mr Netanyahu, in an exclusive interview with the BBC's Lyse Doucet, said Israel's concern was "which rebels and which weapons?"

"The main arms of concern to us are the arms that are already in Syria - these are anti-aircraft weapons, these are chemical weapons and other very, very dangerous weapons that could be game changers," he said.

"They will change the conditions, the balance of power in the Middle East. They could present a terrorist threat on a worldwide scale. It is definitely our interest to defend ourselves, but we also think it is in the interest of other countries."

Posted by: somebody | Apr 18 2013 14:33 utc | 19

The U.S. military clearly has cold feet

Dempsey testified several months ago that he agreed with senior national security officials who recommended arming the rebel military force. When asked by McCain whether he would still make that recommendation, Dempsey said the situation was “more complicated now.”

“My military judgment is that now that we’ve seen the emergence of al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, and seen photos of weapons in the hands of those groups, I’m more concerned than I was before,” he said, referring to leading rebel factions that espouse extreme Islamist goals and have been linked to al-Qaeda by the U.S. government.

“If we could clearly identify the right people, I would support it,” Dempsey said.

But both Dempsey and Hagel said cohesion within the Syrian opposition has decreased in recent months, making military support more risky.

State Deprtment: We want to overthrow Assad by military force.
Defense Department: No, we don't want to do that.

Posted by: b | Apr 18 2013 14:37 utc | 20

This post is about the security situation in Al-Raqqa city in Syria.

A little over a month ago, starting 4 Mar 2013, armed rebels in Syria took over the center of Al-Raqqa city. It was widely reported it as a news event at the time. I'm knowledgeable enough about the Western media's general behaviour to guess confidently that they haven't reported on the situation in Al-Raqqa since about 11 Mar 2013, although essentially I haven't and won't read the Western news media on Syria. Al-Raqqa News is a pro-government Facebook blog in Arabic language which has breaking news every day, often several times a day, from Al-Raqqa about the security situation there. . The situation today continues to be as it has been for the last month, namely the government's security forces are by far the stronger side and are in general in control, but the rebels are still present and shooting in Al-Raqqa, causing parts of the city to be in a state of terror, like how things were in Aleppo City six months ago, Homs City a year ago. The army in Al-Raqqa is having difficulties exterminating the rebels and restoring normalcy despite the army's superiority in manpower, in weaponry, in coordination systems, and in support from the local population. On the matter of the political sentiments of the local population, (1) during 2011 on Fridays the size of the anti-government street protests in Al-Raqqa were tiny in relation to the city's overall size and were greatly outsized by several huge pro-government rallies Al-Raqqa in 2011, and (2) during 2012 Al-Raqqa was tranquil and normal. The rebels in Al-Raqqa today are small in number (like 120 or suchlike). Some unknown but necessarily large percentage of them are non-locals (I'm not saying non-Syrians). Once again, as in other places in Syria, I cannot understand the reality that the Syrian security forces have not been able to restore normalcy yet.

Posted by: Parviziyi | Apr 18 2013 15:12 utc | 21

Funny how easily things of even the recent past get forgotten. In fact, the usa underlined and repeatedly intonated that the hold of the european missile program was *not* in any way related to Russia.

The option to enter Syria with the american military or to otherwise openly engage there is a non-existing one. If the usa could be trusted, which is definitely not the case, it might possibly be remotely imanginable to allow them to clean up their own terrorist problem in Syria. As things are, however, the usa will not be allowed any such move and so they will do what they anyway like and can best: Noise.

The usa have other problems, anyway, which also explain their somewhat less bellicose position: Those terrorists the usa sponsored, trained, payed, and weaponized won't go home and work as bakers and clerks. They will turn up somewhere else, quite probably in Iraq.
After having lost the war there - and their face - masses of well equipped and trained terrorists are about the last thing the usa needs in Iraq.

It's simple. Iran understood it earlier than others and played it tougher but meanwhile pretty everyone in the region has got it: The usa and israel aren't frightening anymore. They are big-mouths and show-men.
Meanwhile the real intention of usrael is to somehow not have a storm coming up against them.

"Funny" also - again and again and again - how not only usa-centric but almost brainwashed many (even here) view and think. They do, for instance, assume that Putin ticks like an american politician, dealing, playing a show, etc.

Let me tell you about a small recent event in Russia:

Putin was in a southern province and having a meeting with the local government. Now, the first shock for you: Accredited journalists in "evil, despotic" Russia are commonly allowed to be present during such meetings (In the western "democracies" these meetings are behind locked doors).
When the meeting came to a more private part the journalists were not closed out but merely asked to turn off their equipment, i.e. they could stay and listen but not record. One "smart" TV station did, however, not turn off their equipment and actually (secretly) recorded and later sent it to show how undemocratic and brutal dictator Putin acted (Putin had told some government guys that if they continued to fail he'd sack them).
The boss of the station who with a loud mouth (and a jewish name) defended and praised themselves for their heroism ticked the western way, the "smart calculation" and show way.

And they failed. Because they didn't see what the Russian people saw: The matter. They just saw the form, that could be made to have Putin look dictatorial.
But the people saw the matter, what it was all about.

Well, what was it all about?

It was about those local government guys having gotten funds to increase housing for the poor, to increase medical services and other social things like that. And they failed (and quite probably also stole some of the money).
Putin told them in no uncertain terms that, if they didn't move their a**ses quickly and professionally and did their damn job for the people, he'd sack them.

Of course he vast majority of the Russian didn't see (as expected by the media whores) a dictator but rather a "good father" kind of President who was acting *for* them, in the interest of the people. And they assumed that the off-camera part was not off-camera for dictatorial reasons but for politeness and good reason.

Posted by: Mr. Pragma | Apr 18 2013 15:16 utc | 22

Well, it seems Al Nusrah is the only viable political opposition force on the ground

A Western sociologist who just returned from the countryside around Aleppo and Idlib said that Jabhat al-Nusra, along with other Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated fighting brigades, has succeeded in building a need-based relationship with the peasant inhabitants of Idlib and Aleppo as a result of the penurious conditions, the unrelenting war and the destruction of the inhabitants’ main sources of livelihoods. Jabhat al-Nusra thus went into competition with other fighting groups, taking advantage of its abundant and constant funding by Gulf Arab states, as well as its fighting power, which is greater than that of other groups.

Although the loyalties of fighters in the Idlib countryside change and vacillate, Jabhat al-Nusra has succeeded in maintaining an important reserve of full-time combatants. Other fighting groups do not possess exclusive rights to particular areas, towns or cities in the Idlib countryside, and their members are able to leave and join other groups as they wish, which is an indication of the lack of ideological conviction among those fighters and the predominance of mercenary and locally driven motivations. As a result, enlistment in Jabhat al-Nusra’s ranks has risen, which opponents have attributed to the conservative nature of Idlib and the religiosity of the people as opposed to their desire to join a global movement for jihad. Syria’s al-Qaeda understands this well and has accepted this shunning of its elitist isolation as a precondition for the group remaining on the battlefield. Whole brigades have thus undergone reallocation to other factions. Such is the case for the Ahrar al-Sham faction (the Free Men of Greater Syria), which has recently seen complete fighting brigades choosing to leave it and join Jabhat al-Nusra’s ranks.

Military control of land areas is nonexistent, and combatants lacking fixed encampments or barracks are mostly compelled to take refuge in their own villages in the countryside around Idlib and Aleppo, where they are welcomed and helped by a largely sympathetic populace. Clashes between different fighting brigades have subsided, as has the level of competition and fighting over captured loot, particularly when compared to the quarrels that erupted between some brigades of the Free Syrian Army and local fighting forces in other regions of the country.

It would seem that Jabhat al-Nusra and various other Salafist factions have achieved much in the area of coexisting and accepting the influence of local elders, chieftains and forces that rose to prominence when the area was abandoned by the state’s security forces and Baath party. Radicalism, in its present incarnation, is thus forced to live with these people and groups, while it awaits a new change in the balance of power. Furthermore, the temptation that compels Jabhat al-Nusra’s leaders, or some of them, to try to impose a comprehensive Salafist agenda on the Aleppo and Idlib countryside is thwarted by an inherent inability to instill radical Islam in an already conservative society endowed with an effective local religious body that strongly resists such changes.

Jabhat al-Nusra does not want to enter into a confrontation with the local communities and try to impose Shariah law, following the lessons that were learned in Iraq, where the Americans exploited al-Qaeda’s excessive zealotry and organized a clan-led coup spearheaded by the Sahwa (Awakening) army against the organization. The fighting brigades thus managed to create mechanisms by which disagreements would be kept in check in the areas under their control, when their military gave civilians complete control over the Shariah councils.

Through these Shariah councils, Jabhat al-Nusra has infiltrated Idlib and Aleppo’s societies in order to normalize its relationship with Syrian society at large. As a result, any future authority will find it difficult to wrest power from these Shariah councils that the fighting brigades established, for they have become the nucleus of a real government. The nine councils overseeing Idlib’s countryside have expanded the scope of their authority beyond the judiciary, to include the police force, supervision of security-related issues and the administration of prisons.

Idlib’s councils are also leaning toward uniting into a supreme Shariah council that would supervise the work of all other branches. These courts, however, are predominantly composed of clerics and not civilians; each of them is presided over by two imams, in addition to a judge specializing in civil affairs. These Shariah councils are governed by the Arab Unified Penal Code, which the Arab League penned, and which includes articles that were inspired by Shariah law, though Shariah punishment is not imposed.

Jabhat al-Nusra’s ascension is limited by the continued control exercised by a conservative religious body, divided between members of the pro-regime Association of Islamic Scholars of Syria, most of whom apprenticed with the late Sheikh Mohamed Said Ramadan Al-Bouti, and followers of Saria and Osama al-Rifai, as well as the Association of Syrian Scholars, which includes clerics with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Aleppo constitutes a huge arena for competition between the Muslim Brotherhood and Jabhat al-Nusra, whereby the Brotherhood administers the western neighborhoods of the opposition-controlled areas under the supervision of a Shariah council led by a group aligned with the Syrian National Coalition, while Jabhat al-Nusra and its own Shariah council administers the eastern part, in alliance with the Tawhid Brigade, Ahrar al-Sham and the Ahfad al-Rasul (Descendants of the Prophet) Brigade.

These brigades have also entered the relief arena, for Jabhat al-Nusra has succeeded in organizing aid-distribution operations in the areas under its control. In this context, the aforementioned sociologist said that Jabhat al-Nusra now has among its ranks dozens of relief workers who have daily contact with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants who primarily live on the aid given to them by Jabhat al-Nusra and other such groups.

Jabhat al-Nusra’s pledge of allegiance only garnered one single line of objection, when Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib wrote on his Facebook page: “Al-Qaeda’s ideology does not suit us, and the revolutionaries must now take a stand.” The Coalition, on the other hand, had nothing to say about al-Qaeda’s official entrance into the Levant, busying itself with preparations for the formation of an interim government that would rule the whole of Syria. However, Hitto should prepare himself to share that land with the Islamic state that Joulani strives to establish. [It was reported this week that the Islamic State in Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra had joined together to form the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.]

For its part, Syrian opposition abroad is afraid of being marginalized if it were to fully espouse the West’s views and proclaim its animosity toward Joulani. For the overwhelmed head of the interim Syrian government cannot afford to antagonize Jabhat al-Nusra and be caught between a rock and a hard place afforded him by the Free Syrian Army, which refused to even nominate him, and still refuses to accept the post of defense minister, which it was offered. Hitto needs both of these factions to gain the legitimacy he requires to return to Syria and spread his administration’s authority.

In all probability, the problem of coexisting with al-Qaeda is only raised inside small circles of people belonging to internal opposition factions such as the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, the Building the Syrian State Movement and some other secular movements. It is also raised, on another level, by Western powers that do not fear the transformation of Syria into an Islamic state as much as they fear chaos reigning over the country and its conversion into a rear base for global jihad that would threaten Syria’s neighborhood, as well as Israel, European interests, and nearby dependent economies.

Posted by: somebody | Apr 18 2013 16:12 utc | 23


I am not disputing your account of the current state of affairs in Raqqa. Have you seen the analysis and timeline at Syria Comment about the coordination between various rebel groups in their assault on Raqqa (which groups actually seem to have done most of the leadership, which were used as local frontmen, and how the groups post video of their own activities that qualify as warcrimes)?

Posted by: Rusty Pipes | Apr 18 2013 16:34 utc | 24

A Western sociologist ....

He should have been arrested, interrogated, beaten and then incarcerated in Gitmo!

Assad you are too nice!

Posted by: hans | Apr 18 2013 17:14 utc | 25

The following Youtube link is a 5-minute news report broadcast on Syrian State TV within the past few days concerning the fight against the rebels in the northern part of Al-Raqqa province. Government soliders are interviewed. Several soldiers say the rebels are not locals of the Al-Raqqa area. One soldier says: "We are not facing terrorists who are from Al-Raqqa. The locals are asking us to rescue them from these [non-local] terrorists." Anti-government people will suspect that such a statement on Syrian State TV is propaganda whose truth or falsehood cannot be determined. Those anti-government people are blinkered by bad presuppositions. There are a handful of ways to confirm it's the truth, with the different ways taken as affirming one another. I mentioned one of the ways at #21 above. Another is the following logic: whatever the truth is, the locals in Al-Raqqa province know the truth, and so does the army and so does the Syrian State TV crew in Al-Raqqa, and if the soldier's statement were false it would undermine the trustworthiness and integrity of State TV in the eyes of the Al-Raqqa local citizens (who must know the truth), to the absolute detriment of State TV and Syrian government; i.e. the report must be the truth because if it were a falsehood it would be counterproductive for State TV to report it as the truth.

Syrian State TV with English
subtitles, with thanks to 3arabiSouri for the subtitles:

Posted by: Parviziyi | Apr 18 2013 17:20 utc | 26

24) yikes - judging reality on the ground by web 3.0 -

A Note on Syria Video

The bulk of video content uploaded from Syria originates from opposition-aligned parties. The representation of video material acquired by Syria Video reflects this reality. Upon encountering this abundance of rebel-filmed footage, some initial visitors to the new (and still developing) service suggested that Syria Video is deficient as a tool for critically approaching the conflict. Let me emphasize: the element of criticism must be introduced by the user. Syria Video does not provide analysis; the user performs it.

I think US taxpayers should ask their money back

Posted by: somebody | Apr 18 2013 18:28 utc | 27

Zivo @ 8 wrote: "The funny thing is, the US has single handedly, revive and emboldened the very Al-Qaeda they've been "fighting" for years."

I've been thinking that's one of the big effects of Obama's excellent Syrian adventure: reviving the brand name of Al Qaeda and giving it some pretty high level publicity.


Posted by: jawbone | Apr 18 2013 19:27 utc | 28

When visiting the desert areas in Syria along the Jordan border very recently, the journalist Hussein Mortada of Al-Alam TV says: "National Defense Forces and Popular Committees sometimes address terrorist groups infiltrating from Jordan in these areas." (Ref). His phrase "National Defense Forces" in that context does not mean the Syrian army or police; it means pro-government irregular militias. You can find similar usage of the same phrase at Al-Akhbar photoblog, in particular see the third-last photo where an irregular (civilian) militiaman is armed with a Kalashnikov-type gun, wears a bulletproof vest over a fleecey grey-blue jacket, and has printed on the bulletproof vest the government's Syrian flag with the text الدفاع الوطني = "national defense".

It reminds me of the following item in the interview of Bashar Assad by the UK Sunday Times on 3 Mar 2013: Question: "Are you aware of Hezbollah fighters in Syria and what are they doing?" Bashar Assad's reply: "Hezbollah’s role is to defend Lebanon not Syria. We are a country of 23 million people with a strong National Army and Police Force. We are in no need of foreign fighters to defend our country." (Ref.). To which I add that the Syrian National Army and Police Force ought to be strong enough that there'd be in no need for irregular militias to defend the country either. The emergence of these pro-government armed militias is a very recent development, and is not on a large scale. I take them to be a symptom of the ongoing inability of the would-be "strong National Army and Police Force" to extinguish the rebellion. As I've said before on this board a dozen times, it is incomprehensible to me why I am seeing this ongoing inability.

I agree with 'b' when he said on this board on 3 Apr 2013 that his best guestimate for the number of rebels is 25,000 rebels. KerKeraje replied to 'b' on 4 Apr 2013: "It does not make sense to claim that the rebels are only 30,000 men. It is not conceivable that a mere 30,000... should be able to fight on several major fronts, put a number of cities and towns more or less under siege, take major military bases and airfields, capture many border crossings, block supply routes, encircle international airports etc. while the regular army that is supposed to be at least 250,000 men has had to abandon many places...." I reply to KerKeraje that it is in fact happening, with fewer than 30,000 rebels, and the right question to ask is why isn't the army able to stop it.

@ Rusty Pipes #24: I took a quick scan of what's at that link and I came away thinking it's fundamentally a piece of shite because it's blind to the big fact that when the several rebel factions are taken all together they're all on a small scale in Al-Raqqa. They're thin-on-the-ground guerillas. If they were to become dense they'd be blown away by the firepower of the Syrian army.

Posted by: Parviziyi | Apr 18 2013 20:04 utc | 29

Interesting about the local militias, which are also more powerful in Afghanistan than the national forces.
(Also "local militias" reminds of the gun debate in the U.S. and the Constitutional "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.")
Back to Syria, why are the local militias more capable? They know the terrain and the people. They can "blend" and fight like insurgents themselves, without a lot of kit as the British say. Snipering. Warfare at its most basic, man against man.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 18 2013 20:29 utc | 30

The government forces are still powerful and effective, but on a local level it's often largely a war of - and between - militias, it seems.

Ras al-Ayn is ruled by militias. In its western part, two Islamist groups and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the rebel group that originally took up arms against the government, have control. In the eastern areas, the Kurdish Popular Protection Units, or the YPG, are in control.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 18 2013 20:38 utc | 31

@ Don Bacon: The pro-government local militias are NOT more capable. But they've been formed in some places in reaction to the inability of the regular security forces to create security. In addition to being LESS capable man-for-man, the local militias Syria are small in number. And only of recent formation. You are crazy to compare the pro-government local militias of Syria with those of Afghanistan.

Posted by: Parviziyi | Apr 18 2013 20:38 utc | 32

I think it's anyway more complicated than x thousand Syrian army against y thousand "freedom fighters".

For a starter the Syrian army and their soldiers are bound to certain rules of engagement, an important one of which is to keep collateral damage minimal. Add to this that "collateral" for them actually is their citizens, their neighbours, their relatives.

The terrorists on the other hand are not bound to such rules. Furthermore to them Syrians are hardly valuable; they have no relations with them. Actually, as many massacres show, killing innocent Syrian people is considered usefull by them (instilling fear, creating chaos, etc.)

Another important point is that the Syrian army is trained to fight other military forces. The terrorists, however, are very much different in many respects, starting with simple things like often not even being recognizeable as enemies (no uniforms) or their main tactics of sniper attacks and other ambushes. Even worse, while the Syrian army desperately strives to keep civilians out of harms way, those civilians are basically just hostages for the terrorists.

Btw: One of the reasons, if not even the major one, why americans could cope somewhat easier with a similar situation in Iraq is that they had no qualms with accepting extremely high collateral damage; after all, the people there were not their citizens. Actually one can say that the usa armies attitude was way closer to that of the terrorists in Syria than to that of an army with rules and honour.

Unpleasant as all that is for the Syrian army, there is a good side to it, too. One point is that Hezbollah fighter who have a long and profound experience with asymmetric warfare are extremely helpful. Another one is that Syria is an ideal training ground for covert Iranian forces. What they exercise in Syria today might quite soon be very valuable in Iran.

All in all, the fact that Syrian forces so far withstand the massive terrorist attacks quite well and even succeeded many times to kill groups of terrorists shows that it's by no means a toy-army, although I assume that they got some discrete help from experienced Russian commandos.

The only major failure I see so far is that Syria was way too lenient toward defectors to the terrorists. This is "just" psychology but actually extremely important for te troups morale. Assad should have established special commandos early on to mercilessly hunt down and kill such defectors/traitors.

Posted by: Mr. Pragma | Apr 18 2013 20:50 utc | 33

@ Don Bacon #31, speaking of Ras al-Ain, I've said to you before that Kurds and Kurdish issues are small potatoes in each and all of their aspects in Syria, and you are in factual error when you think otherwise. FYI, Bashar Assad did an interview with Turkish TV station Ulusal Kanal on 7 Apr 2013. He was asked about the potential for seccession by Kurds in northern Syria. He replied: "Separation needs a certain environment, be it widespread public support or external factors, which is very different from the circumstances prevailing in Syria at the moment. I’m not concerned about this issue at the moment." . That's the view of all the pro-government Syrians. It goes beyond the seccession issue to cover all Kurdish issues within Syria: minor. If you are continuing to maintain a contrary view, then your position is that you can see the reality about the Syrian Kurds more clearly than the Syrians in Syria can. Before you can maintain such a view with integrity and self-confidence, you'd need to have a lot of information that others don't have, and know that you have it, or have else one big item of information that others don't have, and know that you have it.

Posted by: Parviziyi | Apr 18 2013 21:03 utc | 34

@ Parviziyi #32 The pro-government local militias are NOT more capable.
You are the one who indicated that they are.
To which I add that the Syrian National Army and Police Force ought to be strong enough that there'd be in no need for irregular militias to defend the country either.

And as for your crazy 'crazy' allegation, explain why it isn't the case. Specifically I suggest that many of the local militia are 'shabiha' and are essential to the Syria government cause, just as the US-formed Afghan Local Police are in Afghanistan. As I explained above, they are effective because they're local.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 18 2013 21:25 utc | 35

@Parviziyi #34 . . .Kurds and Kurdish issues are small potatoes. . .

Welcome to Syrian Kurdistan, home of large potatoes.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 18 2013 21:30 utc | 36

The inability if the SAR to stamp out the insurgents is probably because of bad leadership. Bad communications, lack of independent thinking, initiative???? The Syrian soldiers can't of that bad quality. Right?

Posted by: Fernando | Apr 18 2013 21:57 utc | 37

@36 - I wouldn't bother.

Posted by: Pat Bateman | Apr 18 2013 22:14 utc | 38

@37 Fernando

Don't be too hard on the Syria army. Conventional armies were fit for organized battles on recognized battlefields but the rules have changed. Organized militaries haven't been faring too well against motivated partisans. The 'world's finest military' surged in Afghanistan three years ago, and victory is nowhere in sight. The Russians, French and British haven't done much better. --"Hamid Karzai says security in Helmand better before British troops arrived."

The US Marines went into Helmand also. Dec 2012:
Nearly five years after Marines first kicked in the door in Helmand province, the area remains one Afghanistan’s most violent, according to a new Defense Department report released Monday. In fact, Helmand is home to Afghanistan’s most violent district — Nahr-e Saraj — and eight of the 10 most violent districts overall.

Overall in Afghanistan -- Apr 18, 2013:
Red Cross: Security deteriorating in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The International Committee of the Red Cross warned on Thursday that security was deteriorating across Afghanistan as militants flood the battlefield and conduct attacks in what could be the most defining spring fighting season of the nearly 12-year-old war.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 18 2013 22:42 utc | 39

@Don Bacon
The Syrian regime appears to be trying to create distance from the former role of "shabiha," partly because they have been accused of thuggery in the past, and also because the insurgents have often pinned their crimes on "shabiha" (think Houla). The roles of Popular Committees and National Defense Forces appear to be replacing these. The role of National Defense Force seems vague to me, perhaps because this organization's purpose is evolving: I've seen it described as being just for Ba'ath party members, as made up of women as well as men, and as being for former Army members, and as coordinating with the Army, though not part of its structure. My best guess is that its role is like that of the National Guard or the Army Reserves.

The Popular Committees, however, appear to have arisen from civilian neighborhoods and villages as a preventative and defensive measure. From what I've gleaned through Franklin Lamb and Al Akhbar reports, for the most part, Popular Committees appear to function as armed neighborhood watches, with volunteers staffing checkpoints at entrances to the neighborhood or nightwatches at lookout points for villages. Popular Committees exist to prevent insurgents from gaining a toehold in their neighborhoods and villages by identifying strangers and movements of rebels. Here's an urban Popular Committee:

They are everywhere. Some are out of sight and conceal their weapons, because their main task is to protect the people of their neighborhoods, while others brandish them crudely in front of the curious faces of bystanders. They are the members of the People's Committees deployed in the majority of the peaceful neighborhoods in Syria.

The car stops for some time at the Syrian army checkpoint in Mazzeh 86, a region where it is rare to find a resident who is originally from Damascus. Many threats have been made by people from the rebel areas against Mazzeh 86 and its residents who support the regime, most of whom are from the Syrian coastal regions.

Faced with these threats, the youths of Mazzeh and other pro-regime regions did not sit idly by. Now they stay up at night in specific points, taking shifts to guard their neighborhoods, not having faith in the army checkpoints which often stop passers-by and search them.

The reputation of these committees is not necessarily a good one. With the beginning of the unrest in Latakia, for example, there were many complaints regarding the mayhem caused by the ordinary citizens in these committees abusing the functions of security services and the army, particularly when they often stop people, ask them for identification papers and inquire about their destinations.

The Popular Committees consisting of local residents in neighborhoods are volunteers seeking to protect their neighborhoods, worried that they may turn into battlegrounds and safe havens for the militants fighting the army.

Here's a rural Popular Committee:

On Thursday, a group of FSA fighters attempted to seize control of another village, Saghmaniyeh. According to Abu-Jihad al-Daiqa, spokesperson for the Popular Committees in the Assi Valley villages, the attackers were surprised by the level of preparedness of the villagers, who clashed with them and forced them to retreat.

Daiqa, who is intimately familiar with the locality, told Al-Akhbar that the pattern of recent attacks in the area indicates that Syrian rebels are trying to open up a supply corridor to Lebanon.

They want a route for logistical and military supplies after the closure of the routes around Ersal, where it has become difficult to move.“By bringing men and equipment from Joubar and attacking the village of Hammam, the armed groups are only trying to get closer to the village of Zayta, with the aim of occupying it and opening a route to Wadi Khaled in North Lebanon to link it to Qusayr in Syria,” he explained. “They want a route for logistical and military supplies after the closure of the routes around Ersal, where it has become difficult to move.”

Daiqa said the Popular Committees in these Lebanese-inhabited Syrian villages – who he insisted should not be labelled “Shia” as their populations are diverse – were ready to repel further attacks.

Posted by: Rusty Pipes | Apr 18 2013 23:17 utc | 40

Hand out AK-47s, you'll get some protection and also some thuggery. It happens in Afghanistan just that way, too, with the Afghan Local Police started by Petraeus. (I know more about Afghanistan, little about Syria. But people are people.)

As the 2014 deadline for ending the US combat mission in Afghanistan approaches, US forces have been working with the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) to build their capacity to fight the Taliban and other insurgent elements on their own. Yet even as the ANA and ANP cost US taxpayers billions of dollars a year, there are still swaths of the country that the national army and police cannot control.

Faced with an impending withdrawal deadline and tightening budgets, US planners created another security entity, the Afghan Local Police (ALP), which they have pitched as an affordable short-term fix to fill this security vacuum. However, the name is a misnomer, since members do not have police powers and are essentially village militias armed with AK-47s. Highlighting its prominence as a key feature of the US exit strategy, General David Petraeus described the ALP program in 2011 as "arguably the most critical element in our effort to help Afghanistan develop the capacity to secure itself."

Despite some success in achieving security gains, the ALP program has been plagued by such problems as Taliban infiltration and insider attacks. But most controversially, ALP units have been accused of committing serious human rights abuses against local populations with apparent impunity.


Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 19 2013 0:13 utc | 41

Back to Syria. --news excerpts:

Mahmoud is one of a group of Alawite fighters that make up a "Popular Committee," a new term for pro-Assad militia which Syrians calls as “Shabiha”.

These “popular committees” or shabiha operate as local neighborhood watch, said a young member known as Basil, who patrols Damascus’ Mezze 86, a military housing area of the capital. “All loyalist youth want to protect their neighborhood from those strangers who come and protest against President Assad. We got a green light and clear orders from senior security officials to create this group,” said Basil

Also today, the [US] Treasury Department sanctioned two armed militia groups that operate under the control of the Syrian government, Jaysh al-Sha'bi and Shabiha, as well as two Shabiha commanders, pursuant to E.O. 13582, which blocks the property of the Syrian government.
Name: Jaysh al-Sha'bi, AKA: Jaysh al-Shaab, AKA: Jish Shaabi, AKA: Sha'bi, AKA: Al-Sha'bi Committees, AKA: Sha'bi Committees, AKA: Sha'bi Force, AKA: The Popular Army, AKA: Popular Forces, AKA: Popular Committees

Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 19 2013 0:14 utc | 42


The Treasury Department issued more economic sanctions against Syrians? Color me shocked. Under pressure from the Israel Lobby, congress enacted an office in Treasury specifically to monitor Iran and others Israel defines as enemies. In addition, since congress overwhelmingly passed the Syria Accountability Act during the Bush Administration, Treasury has been tightening the economic screws on Syria, one turn at a time. The last one I heard of was on the bank accounts of Asma's distant relatives.

Yesterday, after Defense wasn't as enthusiastic about tightening the screws on Syria as State has been, Levin and McCain sent a message to Obama demanding that all of his advisors speak with one voice (which kind of undermines their effectiveness as advisors).

The insurgents will continue to label as shabiha anyone who objects to their taking over the neighborhood, enforcing sharia law and hiding behind civilians when the army sends bombs. A police state which is concerned about the escalating level of random violence and losing control is less likely just to be flooding AK-47s to random villagers.

Posted by: Rusty Pipes | Apr 19 2013 1:48 utc | 43


Your link from Latakia in July 2012 is not exactly reflective of the current state of Popular Committees in Syria, especially their role in protecting neighborhoods and villages from infiltration and takeover by insurgent forces. This has nothing to do with objecting to "protesters." Your source says:

The army is also suffering a recruitment crisis. Many conscripts reportedly fail to turn up for duty. Already mistrustful of Sunni soldiers, the Allawite-dominated security establishment is relying ever more on militias, paid and armed, and comprising not just Allawites, but Sunnis, Christians and Druze.

These “popular committees” or shabiha operate as local neighborhood watch, said a young member known as Basil, who patrols Damascus’ Mezze 86, a military housing area of the capital.

“All loyalist youth want to protect their neighborhood from those strangers who come and protest against President Assad. We got a green light and clear orders from senior security officials to create this group,” said Basil.

Armed in the early weeks of the uprising only with wooden sticks to beat protesters, members of Basil’s group have now been issued AK47s, official cards, pistols and a truck, he said.

“I will be frank and say some members did big mistakes, Allawite members of the group killing Sunni youth, which pushed many people to be against us,” Basil said.

The regime’s “spawning of militias” as one analyst put it, has also driven a wedge between Assad and members of his army, with increasing numbers of officers not only defecting but speaking out against the shabiha, the regime’s loyalist militias.

“There is clear, mutual hatred between the soldiers and shabiha,” an army officer told Reuters in a recent interview. “All those things you see in the media have nothing to do with us – the random killings, stealing … Inside their neighborhoods, the shabiha are in charge.”

Posted by: Rusty Pipes | Apr 19 2013 3:01 utc | 44

@22 - The only major failure I see so far is that Syria was way too lenient toward defectors to the terrorists. This is "just" psychology but actually extremely important for te troups morale. Assad should have established special commandos early on to mercilessly hunt down and kill such defectors/traitors.

Wasn't there something about Assad lowering prison sentences for "rebels" by 3/4 recently? Seems like he is really pushing for some reconciliation. Which is probably good In mu opinion - it keeps the lines clearly drawn between Syrians and foreigners, and shows perhaps that he will do what is necessary to reconcile and the country together - ie, show the Syrian Sunnis that when they end the rebellion (and kick out the foreign jihadis), they won't be relegated to second class citizenry forever.

Seems like wise policy.

Posted by: guest | Apr 19 2013 3:02 utc | 45

45) Agree, Syria needs reconciliation. 3/4 won't do it though. And it will take at least three generations. I suppose in real life - not youtube life - most of what happens are people trying to protect themselves. And protecting themselves means getting supplies including food and whoever can procure safety and supplies, can govern.

The amount of severely traumatized people - and traumatized kids - must be horrendous. Make that four generations to recover. Real change in Syria would mean democratic control of its secret services. I do not see that happening. US citizens do not really have that. Germany is trying and is confronted with miracuously disappearing files. Lebanon next door to Syria has sectarian competing secret services.

I agree that Kurds are not the issue in Syria as long as Turkey is successfully preventing any real secession. However Saudi Arabia is - in a big way., all that is lacking is the main stream reporting and the flood of youtube videos.

Posted by: somebody | Apr 19 2013 6:35 utc | 46

Is this guy a comedy genius or what?

Posted by: yah . . . But | Apr 19 2013 6:52 utc | 47

Real change in Syria would mean democratic control of its secret services. I do not see that happening.

a classic

Posted by: yah . . . But | Apr 19 2013 6:53 utc | 48

The 2 shooters lit an unwieldy bomb and threw it at police in the middle of gunfight

just like Syria

Posted by: brian | Apr 19 2013 7:02 utc | 49

Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 18, 2013 8:14:25 PM | 42

please lets NOT call them 'shabiha': that is to pander to the FSA propaganda

Posted by: brian | Apr 19 2013 7:03 utc | 50

rusty pipes 40'The Syrian regime appears to be trying to create distance from the former role of "shabiha," partly because they have been accused of thuggery in the past, and also because the insurgents have often pinned their crimes on "shabiha" (think Houla).'

there is no such thing as 'shabiha'...its a loose term for 'thug'

2 syria has a government not a 'regime'

but yes the insurgents do pin their crimes on the 'shabiha' thats why they were invented

Posted by: brian | Apr 19 2013 7:06 utc | 51

'Bashar Assad did an interview with Turkish TV station Ulusal Kanal on 7 Apr 2013. He was asked about the potential for seccession by Kurds in northern Syria.'

a more interesting question and one on any turks mind is seccesion by kurds from turkey!

Posted by: brian | Apr 19 2013 7:07 utc | 52

This is the state of agreement on Syria internationally

Several factors combined to pull off the Qatari coup and impose a “sovereign temporary government” instead of an “administrative executive body.” Many NCR members changed positions. In the end, 33 of 66 NCR members voted for Hitto. Muslim Brotherhood leaders had opposed forming a temporary government but changed their minds after the US and Russia reached an understanding over the Geneva Accord. The Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful force within the NCR. The Brotherhood also controls a large part of the Syrian National Council, with 26 seats, and has an ally in NCR Secretary-General Mustafa al-Sabbagh, whose bloc comprises 15 representatives from the revolutionary movement and the “local councils.”

The US-Russian understanding troubled the Brotherhood because it revived the Geneva Accord. That accord requires the opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to share the transitional government with representatives of the Syrian regime, under a US-Russian umbrella. Statements by US Secretary of State John Kerry that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would stay on during the transition process in return for the Russians accepting a transitional government with absolute powers indicated that the political option was now being favored over the military option, at least in theory.

An NCR source said Sabbagh persuaded the Qataris to replace Mustafa with Hitto. The latter’s closeness with the Brotherhood and his US connections, especially in the State Department, helped his selection.

An NCR source said the Saudis were shocked by Qatar’s maneuver. The Saudis had sacrificed their favorite candidate, Riad Hjab, during their consultations with the Qataris in favor of the consensus candidate, Mustafa. Moreover, the Qataris rejected a Saudi request to postpone the election.

Now, does Saudi Arabi wish for a Muslim Brotherhood government on its borders? What do you think?

Let's assume sectarian divisions are artificial and the real fight is about a share in the wealth of resources and modern development, what would Saudi Arabia prefer - an autocratic regime or democracy? And who is interested in Jihadis being the ennemy in Syria opposed to 'moderate islam'? And why is the 'official Western approved' Syrian opposition so incapable of distancing themselves from the aims and methods of Jihadis? And is the US really interested in stretching its army in the Middle East and the Pacific?

Posted by: somebody | Apr 19 2013 7:19 utc | 53

Posted by: somebody | Apr 19, 2013 3:19:41 AM | 53

'internationally': picture a band of party politicians around a big table making decisions which you and i have no part in

Posted by: brian | Apr 19 2013 7:41 utc | 54

@ 53 Whoes on first!

Posted by: yah . . . But | Apr 19 2013 7:45 utc | 55

on the Syrian Kurdish issue - interview with PYD leader in Berlin

"The Kurdish provinces are rich provinces; everyone is trying to get these areas under their control. Maybe not just Assad's forces, maybe also others in future," Muslim said.

In February a ceasefire was signed between Syrian rebels and a Kurdish militia, the Popular Protection Units (YPG), who had been clashing for months in a town near the Turkish border.

Muslim said YPG forces were training in the Kurdish-controlled areas of Derik, Kobani and Afrin. They had more than 10,000 fighters, he said, and could call on most of the Kurdish population for support. Kurds had started fighting back against government forces after being attacked, he added.

Asked if the Kurds could yet join forces with the Sunni Arab-led Free Syrian Army, Muslim said this could happen only if the FSA committed to a democratic, secular Syria. But, he said, the FSA includes radical Islamic Salafists and jihadists and only a fraction of it is native Syrian.

Syria's conflict started with mainly peaceful demonstrations but descended into a civil war in which the United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed. Islamist militants have emerged as the most potent of the anti-Assad insurgents.

Asked about PYD aims, Muslim said Syrian Kurds hoped to achieve democratic self determination. "It is not like classical autonomy, we don't want to draw any borders, also because we have half a million Kurds living in (the capital) Damascus."

An end to the violence could be achieved with a political resolution, he said, but he feared the Arab League had chosen the route of prolonged armed conflict in Syria.

Posted by: somebody | Apr 19 2013 9:28 utc | 56

"Obama is unlikely to want to have such a quagmire as his legacy"


Why do people think this to be true? Why does anyone think Obama cares?
Obama's legacy will be what ever is written into some text books based on media reports and official accounts.
Fact. Reality. Will have nothing to do with Obama's legacy.

It is interesting that you stated that, when just prior to that this was said

"should the U.S. venture into Syria it surely would be in for another Iraq like quagmire"

So, we have the Iraq quagmire, the Afghan quagmire, the Libyan quagmire...what difference one more quagmire?

When we have so many quagmires ongoing, can it be a coincidence?
Or can it be the exact outcome desired?

Posted by: Penny | Apr 19 2013 10:52 utc | 57


Thanks for the "shabiha" clarification, as I do not speak Arabic. I recall early in the conflict, especially the Houla massacre, when pro-government shabiha were accused of several of the crimes. They were identified as such, not by who was killed or what they said, but because they were said to be wearing the shabiha "uniform" -- as though camoflage pants and white sneakers are a rare commodity.

Posted by: Rusty Pipes | Apr 19 2013 17:06 utc | 58

@Parvizyi 29

You brought no clear argument forward why you think the rebels numbers is less than 30.000 men.
I repeat that I am quite sure they are no less than 60.000-100.000 men.
How else should day compensate average daily losses of 60-80 men? Thats around 2000 men/month.
Not only non-syrian Jihadists are entering Syria en masse but we have by now already seen the first foreigner casualties: Many dead Libyans and Tunisians, but also Turks, Chechens, Belgians, UK and France nationals...

Posted by: KerKaraje | Apr 19 2013 20:06 utc | 59

"Obama is unlikely to want to have such a quagmire as his legacy."

I can't see why that should be. Obama seems more than willing to end up holding the bag for the Bush quagmires, why shouldn't he want one of his own?

Posted by: Mooser | Apr 19 2013 21:06 utc | 60

Shabiha is an accepted term for armed civilians (i.e. militia) who support Syria. Live with it.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 19 2013 22:08 utc | 61

"Fact. Reality. Will have nothing to do with Obama's legacy."

I'm with you, Penny! It is a time-honored and much-respected tradition in American business or administration: The first minority or women supervisor or manager catches the blame for all their predecessor's mistakes, negligence, or violations.
The fact that Obama did not know this concerns and alarms me.
I don't get it. What did they tell Obama? That he was the guy who was smart enough to make the Bush policies work? That he was such a Constitutional Scholar he could make the Bush crimes legal? He's a chump. Only the worst kind of chump would take over somebody else's illegal elective war. Well, I guess we'll see what it gets him. But this morning, I read somebody is trying to invoke a Reagen-era anti-torture statute against Obama Talk about your MDR of irony!

Posted by: Mooser | Apr 19 2013 23:54 utc | 62

@ KerKeraje #59 : I acknowledge I've not brought forward a clear argument why I think the rebel numbers are less than 30,000 men (closer to 20,000). A good clear argument would require a long presentation of details, details, and details, which I'm not going to do. I thought 'b' did a pretty good job of briefly summarizing two main points of the argument: What 'b' said was (1) there isn't much rebel manpower needed to do the types of rebel actions that we've seen, and (2) we haven't seen actual rebel manpower in non-small numbers anywhere (including, particularly, no large formations on view at youtube).

Let me remind you that the anti-government news media including the Western news media play up rebel incursions and rebel successes, no matter how fleeting and tenuous those may be, and play down the successes of the government's army and, especially, they play down normalcy. Most of Syria is in a state of normalcy. Most of Homs City is in a state of normalcy. Aleppo City too. The great majority of Syrians nationwide are going to work, paying their taxes, and so on.

The rebels are not holding any ground anywhere except for a few localities where the army has decided to leave them alone temporarily. When the army decides to move against any of those localities, it can always take them back, and without meeting heavy resistance in doing so. The army's problem is that a small number of mobile armed guerillas can create a lot of insecurity in a locality without really holding the ground in that locality.

Here's a reiteration of a point 'b' already made. Suppose 300 rebels get together to attack a certain facility. The army can fight them off if the army is there beforehand in sufficient numbers. But the army can't be everywhere at all times. The 300 rebels can capture a facility that is defended by 50 security guards. After they've captured it, they have to disperse, because otherwise the army will go there in large numbers and kill them. That's what we've been seeing. And we've also been seeing the rebels take over a small town, or a neighborhood in a city. The rebels can hold onto the position there for longer because it's harder for the army to root them out of the warrens of buildings. But there isn't much rebel manpower involved in those urban guerilla operations. The army won't reduce a whole neighborhood to rubble just to kill a dozen rebels. So the rebels are able to stay there for longer. Dense concentrations of rebels can be blown to smithereens with large-bore cannon, and it has happened on a few occasions, but not often because the rebels are not so foolhardy as to form themselves into a non-sparse formations for a non-brief period.

I believe the rebels' average daily casualties are half of what you think they are. But once again, to decently support that belief I'd need a lot of time to go into details, but even then the details probably wouldn't be comprehensive enough to change the mind of you who holds the contrary view. Likewise for your impression that non-Syrian Jihadists are entering Syria "en masse" -- it's not my impression. We are both taking impressions and overall conclusions from a load of concrete cases, reaching different conclusions. I know from earlier posts by you that you have taken the time to go into details on the ground, and you have formed your view by yourself from the details you've seen, and you didn't form it by credulously believing someone else. That's what I've done as well. I respectfully disagree with your impressions.

Posted by: Parviziyi | Apr 20 2013 0:07 utc | 63

Foreign fighters have been part of the insurgency since the beginning -- they aren't just flooding in now, and they didn't just start coming a year or so ago. Even if Assad's claims that all of the opposition have been foreign terrorists is inaccurate, it's an exaggeration rather than a lie (politicians are known to spin). Some of the insurgents are homegrown Muslim Brotherhood, just as early in the conflict some of the activists were secular Syrians --once the violence escalated, although some took up arms, many of the secular activists went home. (Even so, the Western Media meme that Syrian nonviolent activists only took up arms after the Syrian government fired on peaceful demonstrations is spin. According to Lebanese arms dealers, members of the Syrian opposition were buying arms in Lebanon as early as the Egyptian demonstrations in January 2011. The insurgent ambush of nine army members happened only a few weeks after the first mass protest.)

Just last week, AQI not only announced its unity with Al Nusrah Front, but claimed that AQI has provided people, weapons and logistics to Syria from the beginning of the Arab Spring. So some of the initial Syrian, Iraqi and international insurgents were in Syria through AQI connections. As the conflict progressed, waves of international mujahadeen responded to calls to wage jihad in Syria. And that's just the ideological fighters. Foreign mercenaries have also played a role in Syria. The Syrian Army has been killing insurgents throughout the conflict; but since some of the insurgent groups burn their dead or bury them quickly, it has not been easy to identify their names, much less their nationalities.

I would be interested to learn more about the methods used by writers here to estimate the current number of insurgents in Syria.

Posted by: Rusty Pipes | Apr 20 2013 1:55 utc | 64

@62 Mooser

You might be referring to this--
President Reagan
Executive Order 12333, December 4, 1981
No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Apr 20 2013 2:39 utc | 65

@47 "Is this guy a comedy genius or what?"

wtf is the point of this bullshit? It's not even clearly directed at anyone.

There are some incredibly detailed back and forths going on on this site. Then there is this shit.

Posted by: guest | Apr 20 2013 2:53 utc | 66

A few days ago, 17 Apr 2013, Bashar Assad did an interview on Al-Ikhbariya Souria TV, a pro-government Syrian TV station. There was a question and answer that's pertinent to what was talked about earlier in this thread:

Question: "Mr. President, frankly, we hear a lot in media and from foreign sources that there are ’liberated areas’, which means areas out of the State’s control, and we see the situation in Aleppo, Raqqa, Homs. Are there really areas out of the State’s control in Syria?"

President Assad: "Let's begin with a contrast with the traditional military case where an external enemy militarily comes to occupy a piece of our land. The national forces attack this enemy, defend the nation and expel the enemy. In that traditional case, it's unimportant if the expelled enemy has been eliminated or not; maybe the enemy departs intact, without being eliminated; what’s important is that we have retaken our land. But in today's case [of internal insurrection] we are dealing with a totally different war, needing a different frame of mind. We are dealing with armed groups who enter our cities. Some of these are not Syrian and some are Syrian. They enter cities and neighborhoods and sabotage. In our military operations, initially, our armed forces would expel the terrorists from a place. Sometimes it would take only a few hours. However, we see those terrorists leaving the place, either fleeing or maneuvering, and going into another place. Which means you’re spending all the time liberating territory endlessly. To be precise about this point, we are now not liberating territory: we are eliminating terrorists. There is a big difference between the first and the second. If we do not eliminate the terrorists, there’s no meaning to liberating localities in Syria from terrorists. If we understand this point, we understand what’s going on the ground."

Footnote: Bashar Assad, in continuance of his answer to the same question, continued: "There’s another side when the Armed Forces, or the State, makes military plans based on a number of criteria like the political and media importance of the area, humanitarian side, citizen’s suffering, the military side, military logistic details. The priority for us always, in the Armed Forces, is the humanitarian side, protecting the lives of the citizens, and lift the suffering in places where terrorists enter. Media and political side is not a high priority -- maybe the terrorists get a benefit from that. It doesn’t matter. What matters is reality [not perception]. Sometimes our deprioritizing of the media aspect lets the enemy go drumming and tooting victories as propaganda. This doesn’t concern us. A matter of greater concern is that in the nature of the battle at times there is a mismatch or discord between the military and the humanitarian criteria, temporarily and partially in some areas. These are matters imposed by the battle. But for us, the main priority is the humanitarian side."

Complete interview with English subtitles: . An English transcript with no punctuation:

Posted by: Parviziyi | Apr 20 2013 17:46 utc | 67

@Parviziyi - Thanks for the links to the speech

Posted by: b | Apr 21 2013 15:06 utc | 68

The comments to this entry are closed.