Friday, February 17, 2017

Building a Better Class of Rebels

Strategypage looks at Syria where pro-Assad forces have the edge.

This is interesting. Iran is paying for Hezbollah fighters to join Syrian army units, as platoons under their own command:

The use of Lebanese and other non-Syrians (like Russians) in Syrian uniforms also accounts for the sudden improvement in the performance of many Syrian units.

The odd alliance of Russia, Iran, and Turkey thinks this is just part of their path to victory:

The “unnaturals” see ISIL being defeated (losing control of any territory and reduced to another Islamic terrorist group without a permanent base area) by late 2017. 

ISIL does look like it is going down as a caliphate. As I've long argued, defeat and death on the battlefield is discouraging those jihadis on the ground and those thinking of joining ISIL in Iraq or Syria. That demoralization did not require undermining their ideology first, which always seemed like a cart-before-the-horse thing.

But this is more problematic for me:

Since ISIL represented more than half the “combat power” of the rebels and the pro-Assad coalition (Iranian mercenaries and weapons, Russian air support and tech assistance) is now strong enough to defeat the rebellion. Some rebel factions like the FSA (Free Syrian Army) and Syrian Kurds) understand that and are willing to make a deal to get what they can. Success for the unnaturals isn’t guaranteed, but at this point is seems likely.

I don't think that the loss of more than half of anti-Assad combat power spells the defeat of the rebellion.

One, that ISIL combat power often was directed at other non-jihadi rebels.

And two, since a lot of local recruits went to ISIL because ISIL (and other jihadis) were seen as the most effective anti-Assad fighting forces and not because the recruits were necessarily jihadi themselves, why wouldn't the defeat of ISIL simply allow young Syrian men the opportunity to join non-jihadi rebels?

Has living under ISIL rule made Syrians in the east suddenly fond of Assad? Won't the ending of ISIL rule in parts of Syria simply allow Syrians who hate ISIL and Assad to freely join the rebellion?

We've done exactly that in the offensive on the ISIL capital Raqqa, for example:

In the east SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) rebels drove ISIL forces out of a key town 11 kilometers east of Raqqa. The SDF pointed out that 70 percent of their forces advancing on Raqqa are Arab, the rest are from various Kurd factions.

For political and practical reasons, we can't rely on Syrian Kurds to defeat ISIL outside of the traditional Kurdish regions. So we recruit, train, and supply Arab Syrians to fight ISIL in regions that the Kurds have liberated from ISIL.

If ISIL's caliphate collapses in larger swathes of Syria this year, why couldn't we do the same?

As long as such rebels believe we will support them until victory and not use them as a bargaining chip, Assad's forces already reliant on outside support and even stiffeners and replacements for the frontline troops could yet collapse as the light at the end of the tunnel is again yanked away from them.

Rebels in the south have stirred themselves to action after a long silence:

Monitors, activists and an aid group said fighting between opposition and pro-government forces raged for a fourth day Wednesday in the southern city of Daraa, pushing the number of dead and wounded past 60.

Assad still has a bad hand. It is only because his allies Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah understand that you support allies; while the Obama administration was oddly ignorant of that basic rule of foreign relations.

Where does Trump stand on this?

And do read all of the Strategypage post, which touches on Mosul as well.

UPDATE: Pro-Assad forces are pushing toward ISI-held Palmyra:

Syrian troops have begun an offensive front in the country's central desert region in a bid to recapture the city of Tadmur, home of the Palmyra ruins, from the Islamic State.

I'm not sure they are really "Syrian" given the decline of the Syrian army's infantry.

UPDATE: A recent map from Der Spiegel:

Note that despite the victory at Aleppo, the pro-Assad forces control little of the country. Even after all this time, rebels hold ground near Damascus and Homs.

When ISIL is defeated, will Assad's forces or rebels take over the regions now held by ISIL?

Note too that the vast areas of light blue are sparsely populated where control colors would be pointless.