Monday, September 15, 2014

Aleppo Falling

The Turks need to act like they matter in the region.

Despite Assad's effort to leverage ISIL's power in Syria into an alliance with the West that would save Assad's regime, Assad is working with ISIL to capture Aleppo:

According to a report published by the International Crisis Group on September 8, the regime of Syrian president Bashar al Assad and the jihadist group ISIS are squeezing the rebels out of Aleppo, the strategic and symbolic center of the country's three-year-old revolution.

The report warns that if the rebels' hold on the city is broken, Syria's conflict could slip into an even more dangerous and anarchic phase — and the U.S. and its allies would lose their most valuable partners on the battlefield, a fighting force with local credibility and years of experience fighting both ISIS and Assad.

Why is Turkey standing by doing nothing?

When casualties were but a tiny fraction of today's 200,000+, Turkey issued an ultimatum to Assad to stop killing his people.

Talk of Turkey intervening was common, focusing mostly on establishing a liberated zone with Turkish troops inside Syria.

Unless Turkey wants a jihadi win in Syria or the equally bad outcome of an Assad victory, the Turks need to step up their game.

And if that rebel-crippling Kerry-Lavrov chemical weapons deal is to be salvaged, the Turks need to take advantage of Syria's so-called chemical weapons disarmament. I doubt Syria has no weapons, but they have fewer and would face problems using them against the Turks given Syria's new pledge (broken in regard to civilians) not to use chemical weapons, Turkey's military power, and Turkey's membership in NATO.

The Turks need to seriously examine whether that security belt inside Syria is necessary to prevent rebel losses around Aleppo and a new flood of refugees into Turkey and/or a major ISIL sanctuary close to Turkey.

At best, our effort can't really affect Syria until after we destroy the Iraqi ISIL hold on Iraqi territory and build up non-jihadi rebels. If the Turks can't hold the line around Aleppo, we'll be limited to the southern front out of Jordan.

Let me note that if we do this right with enough US troops to support the Iraqis and Kurds, I don't think we need combat brigades on the ground to spearhead the effort to defeat ISIL.

If we can regain the cooperation of enough Sunni Arabs in ISIL-controlled territory and form core ground forces based on Kurds, Iraqi special forces-type units, and the three divisions we will embed advisors in at division and brigade headquarters, I think we can defeat the ISIL gunmen.

This will require US special forces or other assets to call in our ground support aircraft and US forces based near Iraq for search and rescue if a plane goes down, but I do not think we need US combat brigades committed to the fight.

Remember Afghanistan and Mali. We can break ISIL's hold with local ground forces and our air power.

My biggest worry is whether we will stick around after these operations are over to help Iraqis dig out scattered ISIL terrorists who try to go insurgent. Does President Obama value leaving as his legacy the "ending" of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan before he leaves office regardless of facts on the ground?

President Obama made the mistake once of prematurely leaving Iraq yet I have little confidence that he is capable of learning this lesson even when he's had his failure clearly exposed.

UPDATE: Well, what do you know?

Turkey's military is drawing up plans for a possible "buffer zone" on the country's southern border, where it faces a threat from Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, Turkish media quoted President Tayyip Erdogan as saying on Monday.

As long as we're going this way, have I mentioned that it would be a good idea for Summer Glau to have dinner with me?

UPDATE: Huh. This is quite the coincidence. Turkey's hostages captured by ISIL in Mosul are free:

"Early in the morning our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back into our country. At 5:00 am (0200 GMT) they entered the country," Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, adding all were in good health.

In Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement that the Turkish authorities had carried out a "pre-planned, detailed and secret operation".

Who carried out that operation? Is that wording meant to hide that Turkey didn't rescue their people or is it just a quote out of context that explains Turkey did it? Probably not the latter since the article says the circumstances of their release are "unclear."

I wouldn't be shocked if we did it to clear the decks for Turkish intervention.

Our special forces have been active in Syria. And if in Syria I assume they are active in Iraq notwithstanding our president's pledge of no boots on the ground.

Of course, I guess I wouldn't be surprised if the Turks traded for the hostages by promising not to join our anti-ISIL war.

UPDATE: This article says that the Turkish intelligence service rescued the hostages without foreign help and without paying ransom, answering (apparently) all my questions about the release.

Now the question is will Turkey justify the Obama administration's faith in elevating Turkey's status in our foreign policy by doing more than Turkey was willing to do in 2003?