Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It's Never Too Late to Try to Win

Assad isn't (apparently) teetering on the edge of defeat despite massive casualties among his troops and despite losing so much of Syria, but the rebels are far from defeating Assad it seems. While the outcome remains in doubt, it is never too late to help the least-bad side win.

During the Obama administration there were many efforts to arm rebels that faded away, seemingly aimed more at seeming to do something than doing something that might anger the new Obama administration partner Iran.

I'm guessing this effort is serious:

The Defense Department's fiscal 2018 budget request continues the program of training and equipping vetted Syrian partners in the fight against ISIS, and the proposal includes funds for U.S. AT-4 anti-tank rockets or Russian SPG-9 recoilless rifles, and several thousand RPG-7s, a move likely to irk U.S. NATO ally Turkey. ...

“The equipment includes small arms, ammunition, heavy machine guns and weapons capable of defeating specific threats that forces are expected to encounter as they take the fight to the enemy, such as heavily armored vehicle-borne IEDs,” said Eric Pahon, a spokesperson for the Pentagon.

The needs have long been fairly clear to me:

Light and heavy machine guns, 23mm anti-aircraft cannons, light mortars, light rockets, anti-tank rockets, and anti-tank mines would be of great help.

I'd hold off on anti-aircraft missiles unless we have ways to limit them in some way to keep them from being diverted to terror uses. For moral and practical reasons we don't want any to shoot down a civilian plane--even one deliberately placed in the line of fire. ...

But the best way to help the rebels deal with Syrian air power is to help the rebels put the airfields under threat. Small numbers of truck-mounted (or towed) 120mm mortars would help with that in addition to the lighter rockets and mortars. ...

Oh, and in the heavy weapons category, I'd throw in recoilless rifles as a combination anti-tank and light infantry support weapon. Surely we can scrounge up older 90mm or 106mm models that we used to build.

Finally, we are starting to arm acceptable rebels. We failed to do this before the rise of ISIL made them the most effective resistance, but with our direct help to take down ISIL, the basic logic of making acceptable rebels more effective holds true:

Since the appeal of the more Islamist (and jihadi) groups has been their effectiveness in battle (which has meant they attract foreign arms or seize them more often from the government), arming the secular and nationalist groups can be expected to reverse the appeal of the Islamists. So this 25% of the rebels could grow with new recruits and at the expense of the groups we aren't arming.

Then look for some of the groups with Islamic character to move away from that outlook in exchange for arms, training, and assistance. If they are losing people to the secular and nationalist groups we help, they will have incentive to move away from an Islamic character.

And once the non-Islamists and non-jihadis are more effective, it will be easier to pressure our Arab allies into reducing support for these Islamist elements.

It isn't too shocking that the Islamists are the most important element right now. They fight the hardest and so get more results and attract recruits and arms. In World War II, the most effective resistance fighters against the Nazis were communists. Is it any wonder that communists were so strong in post-World War II Western Europe?

So don't let fear of arms leaking to jihadis stop us from arming rebels. I wouldn't send anti-aircraft missiles just to be safe (and because I don't think the weak Syrian air power justifies that risk), but anti-tank weapons, light mortars and rockets, recoilless rifles, mines, communications gear, and medical supplies are all things that have great battlefield utility without being much of a weapon for terrorist operations--at least in the sense that they can be gotten anywhere and so we wouldn't add to the terrorist shopping opportunities.

I had wanted to focus on defeating Assad and then defeating the still-managable jihadi problem in Syria. I figured that the world would still stay in the fight to defeat jihadis after Assad.

I can live with reversing the order of operations. But will the world stick with the fight after ISIL is defeated or will it in its weariness view defeating Assad as insufficiently vital to continue?

UPDATE: This is interesting:

Russian officials revealed the United States told them recently that they were in Syria mainly to remove the Assads from power and destroying ISIL was a means to that end not the main reason they were there.

It is interesting if the Russians are telling the truth. Of course, I think we have interests in defeating both Assad and ISIL rather than framing the defeat of Assad in a damning manner as the Russians did. That framing serves Russian interests.

If the Russians are close to accurate on the objective if not the ISIL angle, Trump is finally going to carry out the Obama policy that said Assad had to step down.

The post has a lot of information in a tour of Russian activities.