Will the Syria Opposition Unify? Does it Need to?

The New York Times is reporting that the C.I.A. is Steering Arms to members of the Syrian Opposition. The CIA has a major challenge in trying to unify the Syrian militias, teach them to fight, get them advanced weapons, and supply them with enough intelligence so that they will know how to avoid the Syrian army where it is strong and attack it where it is weak. But even if the Syrian militias, which Jeffrey White of WINEP estimates to be around 100 (I read a 200 estimate yesterday but have forgotten where), cannot unify or develop a command and control structure, they are still likely to bring down the regime eventually. The sponsors of the Syria regime will not supply it with an endless aid and arms. For 12% of the population to police a large country that is in widespread revolt is too costly, especially when much of the world is mobilized for regime-change. Perhaps the CIA’s biggest challenge will be to make sure the arms get to pro-American militias. It cannot afford a repeat of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Many believe that in time, Syria will produce one leader and its political factions will unify around a national agenda. This may not be the case, however. Like Lebanon or Iraq, its factions may never overcome their differing visions of what Syria should be. In Iraq, the US army held down that country’s militias until it could stand up a new Iraqi army controlled by Prime Minister Maliki. Of course the Kurds got their own state, but Iraq’s Arabs are unified today because the US army was their to force unity upon them. Following the destruction of Saddam’s one-party state, would Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites have come together by themselves?

It could be argued that Lebanon is unified today only because of Syrian intervention. Of course, Syria’s intervention in 1976 prevented Lebanon’s Muslim militias from defeating the Christian forces decisively, which might have unified the country under a new form of government. In all likelihood, however, Lebanon’s Sunnis would have had little more success uniting the country’s religious factions than had the Christians. Syria helped Hizbullah to the per-eminent position it holds today. When the Syrian government becomes dominated by Sunnis again, it may well try to push Lebanon’s Sunnis to the fore there as well.

Britain and America may propose a new diplomatic initiative that focuses on one point from international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan — the Syrian-led political process based on the Yemen model in which former president Ali Saleh was offered immunity. But Assad is unlikely to quit Syria for amnesty anytime soon.

Syria: The search for plan B

With both sides locked in a conflict they think they can win, it truly seems like Mission impossible for an unarmed 300-strong UN observer mission in Syria. However there is go further… once Russia and the West find common ground.

Haytham MANNA. Head of the Executive Bureau, National Coordination Body for Democratic Change;
Joshua LANDIS. Director, Centre for Middle East Studies – University of Oklahoma; Blog Syriacomment.com – from Oklahoma City;
Walid PHARES. Special advisor to the US Congress on Terrorism; National Security Advisor to Mitt Romney – from Washigton;
Ole SOLVANG. Human Rights Watch;
Paul VALLET. Professor of Political Science, Sciences Po, Paris.

Produced by François Picard, Anelise Borges, Mary Colombel, Christopher Davis.

Watch the second part here.

Video footage of Homs devastation – posted on Atlantic by Max Fisher

C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition
By ERIC SCHMITT, June 21, 2012, NYTimes

WASHINGTON — A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including

The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said. The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.

The clandestine intelligence-gathering effort is the most detailed known instance of the limited American support for the military campaign against the Syrian government. It is also part of Washington’s attempt to increase the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has recently escalated his government’s deadly crackdown on civilians and the militias battling his rule. With Russia blocking more aggressive steps against the Assad government, the United States and its allies have instead turned to diplomacy and aiding allied efforts to arm the rebels to force Mr. Assad from power.

By helping to vet rebel groups, American intelligence operatives in Turkey hope to learn more about a growing, changing opposition network inside of Syria and to establish new ties. “C.I.A. officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people,” said one Arab intelligence official who is briefed regularly by American counterparts.

American officials and retired C.I.A. officials said the administration was also weighing additional assistance to rebels, like providing satellite imagery and other detailed intelligence on Syrian troop locations and movements. The administration is also considering whether to help the opposition set up a rudimentary intelligence service. But no decisions have been made on those measures or even more aggressive steps, like sending C.I.A. officers into Syria itself, they said.

The struggle inside Syria has the potential to intensify significantly in coming months as powerful new weapons are flowing to both the Syrian government and opposition fighters. President Obama and his top aides are seeking to pressure Russia to curb arms shipments like attack helicopters to Syria, its main ally in the Middle East.

“We’d like to see arms sales to the Assad regime come to an end, because we believe they’ve demonstrated that they will only use their military against their own civilian population,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said after Mr. Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, met in Mexico on Monday.

Spokesmen for the White House, State Department and C.I.A. would not comment on any intelligence operations supporting the Syrian rebels, some details of which were reported last week by The Wall Street Journal.

Until now, the public face of the administration’s Syria policy has largely been diplomacy and humanitarian aid.

The State Department said Wednesday that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would meet with her Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, on the sidelines of a meeting of Asia-Pacific foreign ministers in St. Petersburg, Russia, next Thursday. The private talks are likely to focus, at least in part, on the crisis in Syria.

The State Department has authorized $15 million in nonlethal aid, like medical supplies and communications equipment, to civilian opposition groups in Syria.

The Pentagon continues to fine-tune a range of military options, after a request from Mr. Obama in early March for such contingency planning. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators at that time that the options under review included humanitarian airlifts, aerial surveillance of the Syrian military, and the establishment of a no-fly zone.

The military has also drawn up plans for how coalition troops would secure Syria’s sizable stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons if an all-out civil war threatened their security.

But senior administration officials have underscored in recent days that they are not actively considering military options. “Anything at this point vis-à-vis Syria would be hypothetical in the extreme,” General Dempsey told reporters this month.

What has changed since March is an influx of weapons and ammunition to the rebels. The increasingly fierce air and artillery assaults by the government are intended to counter improved coordination, tactics and weaponry among the opposition forces, according to members of the Syrian National Council and other activists.

Last month, these activists said, Turkish Army vehicles delivered antitank weaponry to the border, where it was then smuggled into Syria. Turkey has repeatedly denied it was extending anything other than humanitarian aid to the opposition, mostly via refugee camps near the border. The United States, these activists said, was consulted about these weapons transfers.

American military analysts offered mixed opinions on whether these arms have offset the advantages held by the militarily superior Syrian Army. “The rebels are starting to crack the code on how to take out tanks,” said Joseph Holliday, a former United States Army intelligence officer in Afghanistan who is now a researcher tracking the Free Syrian Army for the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.

But a senior American officer who receives classified intelligence reports from the region, compared the rebels’ arms to “peashooters” against the government’s heavy weaponry and attack helicopters.

The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, has recently begun trying to organize the scattered, localized units that all fight under the name of the Free Syrian Army into a more cohesive force.

About 10 military coordinating councils in provinces across the country are now sharing tactics and other information. The city of Homs is the notable exception. It lacks such a council because the three main military groups in the city do not get along, national council officials said.

Jeffrey White, a defense analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who tracks videos and announcements from self-described rebel battalions, said there were now about 100 rebel formations, up from roughly 70 two months ago, ranging in size from a handful of fighters to a couple of hundred combatants.

“When the regime wants to go someplace and puts the right package of forces together, it can do it,” Mr. White said. “But the opposition is raising the cost of those kinds of operations.”

Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon. Souad Mekhennet also contributed reporting.

Are Syria’s Rebels Getting Foreign Support? – Stratfor

Syrian Air Force Pilot Defects to Jordan: Officials, Reuters

A Syrian air force pilot defected to Jordan on Thursday, landing his MiG-21 jet fighter at a military airbase and asking for political asylum, Jordanian officials said.

Rebels fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad have launched an offensive to recapture the Baba Amr neighborhood in the city of Homs, an area they lost to government forces in February after a 26-day siege that trapped civilians, left hundreds dead and destroyed scores of buildings.

Syrie : une contagion au Liban qui arrangerait le régime comme l’opposition ?
21 juin, Par Wassim Nasr

Syria activists using U.S. tech to beat curbs
By Mohammed Abbas
LONDON | Thu Jun 21, 2012

(Reuters) – U.S. technologies that may include a mobile phone “panic button” and an “internet suitcase” are being used by activists in Syria and other authoritarian countries to override government communications controls, a U.S. official said on Thursday.

Alec Ross, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s senior adviser for innovation, said the United States was working on between 10 and 20 classified technologies that could be used by protesters and others facing communications curbs.

He also described how Facebook and other social networks could be used to challenge propaganda spread online by what he called the “Syrian Electronic Army”…..

The so-called “panic button” is a pin code that when entered into a mobile phone will immediately wipe its address book and messages.

Another is the “internet suitcase”, which he said could be used to set up a communications network even when the state-controlled telecommunications provider has shut off connectivity or is using it to monitor and punish dissent.

Ross said there was “clear evidence” that Syria’s main mobile phone operator Syriatel, which is currently under U.S. sanctions, was being used to identify and punish dissent….

Syrian scholar and theologian Shaykh Sayyid Muhammad al-Yaqoubi discusses the situation in Syria and the prospects for democracy there. Shaykh al-Yaqoubi is a member of the Syrian National Council

Pentagon plans to base 40,000 U.S. troops in Middle East
Posted: 21 Jun 2012, The Christian Science Monitor

Even as the Pentagon draws down US troops in Afghanistan, it plans to base a sizable contingent of forces in nearby Kuwait – with the clear purpose of sending a signal to Iran. The signal – that the United States plan to maintain a credible force in the region – [...]

Violence among tribes in western Libya has left 105 dead and 500 wounded.

After Kuwait’s latest election was deemed illegal, the country’s constitutional court has declared a decision by Emir Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah to dissolve the previous parliament unconstitutional.

The generals, not the dictator, hold the keys to the regime’ (Michael Young, The National)

…Syria may have a somewhat better opportunity to revamp its army once President Bashar Al Assad leaves office than Egypt has had. While there is more carnage to come, Mr Al Assad’s armed forces and security organs, after all the blood that they have shed, cannot conceivably anchor themselves in the system by managing, and hijacking, a political changeover. Rather, the core of any new military institution will be the disparate elements of the Free Syrian Army.

There are definite dangers in such a reality. As the Libyan experience has shown, when a conflict abruptly ends with the fall of a dictator, it can become very difficult for the civilian authorities to reimpose their will over the military actors. The armed opposition to Mr Al Assad is fragmented, and if that persists the centrifugal forces in Syrian society may come to define the post-war order. On the more positive side, we are bound to see a cleaner break with the past than in Egypt.

Even as western countries continue to sterilely debate what should be done about Syria, they don’t seem to appreciate enough that a political transition, to be democratic and tolerant, must begin today. If Syria is to enjoy a pluralistic post-Assad era, respect for representative civilian rule, and reform of the army and intelligence services, then any delay in initiating that process may be ruinous.

The splits within the Syrian National Council have not helped. But this need not hinder outside programmes that could ameliorate coexistence in Syria and give hope to the refugees. Some have suggested creating a police force in exile, to take over security once the refugees return. Much could be done to facilitate social reconciliation and contain the understandable impulse that many will feel to resort to revenge once the Assads are overthrown.

Comments (64)


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51. Halabi said:

Some of Assad’s propagandists always ask where are the peaceful protests. They never stopped. In Aleppo, which is under complete control of Assad’s soldiers and shabiha, protests repeatedly come under fire and don’t have the weapons or an FSA wing to protect them.

Peaceful protest
http://youtu.be/gt9F29INAXg

Unarmed protester shot in the head
http://youtu.be/rla_B3eqijs

Aleppo looks like the early days of Daraa, Hama and Homs. It will eventually morph into a more violent confrontation as the death toll rises and people fight back.

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June 22nd, 2012, 10:46 am

 

52. zoo said:

Annan wants Iran in Syria solution
Reuters – 15 mins ago
http://news.yahoo.com/annan-wants-iran-syria-solution-145048690.html

GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran should be part of the solution to the Syria crisis, international mediator Kofi Annan said on Friday, a week before a planned crisis meeting that is in doubt because of Western objections to the Islamic Republic’s participation.

Annan told a news conference that he wanted states with influence on both sides of the conflict to be involved in the peace process and said some countries had taken national initiatives that risked unleashing “destructive competition.”

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June 22nd, 2012, 11:06 am

 

53. zoo said:

Was the Turkish military plane violating Syria airspace?
If true, it’s an embarrassing situation for Turkey as diplomatic relation are cut.

Turkish jet downed by Syrian air defences – Al-Manar TV
http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/06/22/uk-syria-crisis-turkey-plane-idUKBRE85L0VH20120622

BEIRUT | Fri Jun 22, 2012 3:59pm BST

(Reuters) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar television station said on Friday that Syrian air defences shot down a Turkish military aircraft, quoting Syrian security sources.

“Syrian security sources confirmed to a Manar correspondent in Damascus that Syrian defence forces shot down the Turkish fighter jet,” a news flash on the Beirut-based station said.

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June 22nd, 2012, 11:13 am

 

54. Alan said:

Usually after the storm appear the sun!
Mu`ayin Yahiya al-Assad caputred:
High-level Syrian military officers prepare to defect (as summarized by Foreign Policy)
The articles listed above appear as part of psychological warfare!
Commits the Western world, led by the United States a serious mistake for breeding terrorism in different parts of the world! How the United States will fall victim to its own sooner or later
History will teach the donkey even if Iraq was not a lesson!
——————-
Can a Moderate Kurd Unite the Syrian Revolution?
This website is offline

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June 22nd, 2012, 12:06 pm

 

55. Alan said:

Syrian government ready to withdraw together with opposition – Lavrov
http://www.rt.com/news/lavrov-syrian-government-forces-withdrawal-494/

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June 22nd, 2012, 12:18 pm

 

56. ann said:

Ottoman Air Force Gets A Taste Of The Syrian Hammer :)

Syria shoots down a Turkish fighter jet – June 22, 2012

Turkey says one of its fighter jets was shot down by Syrian air defenses over the Mediterranean today, a potentially alarming development as Syria’s civil war is deepening and signs are emerging that Turkey is assisting the arming of that country’s rebels.

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Backchannels/2012/0622/Syria-shoots-down-a-Turkish-fighter-jet

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June 22nd, 2012, 1:41 pm

 

57. ann said:

Once A Paper Tiger, Always A Paper Tiger :)

Turkish PM Erdogan says the two pilots on the plane are alive and currently in Syria; Syrian vessels currently assisting Turkish vessels in finding the plane.

http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/report-syria-apologizes-over-shooting-down-turkish-fighter-jet-1.440495

[...]

Syria shot down a Turkish Air Force F4 fighter plane carrying two pilots, which crossed into Syrian territory, because the aircraft was unidentified, on Friday, according to a report by the news agency.

Syrian ships were assisting Turkish vessels search for the remains of the plane. Erdogan told the news agency that the pilots were alive, and the two pilots are reportedly currently in Syria.

The plane took off from a military airfield at Malatya in the south-east at 10:30 am (0730 GMT) and lost radar and radio contact with its base when it was over the Mediterranean Sea west of the Syrian coast.

Earlier, Anatolian referred to the plane as being “on duty,” but gave no details of the operation it was undertaking at the time of its disappearance.

[...]

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June 22nd, 2012, 1:50 pm

 

58. ann said:

UN’s Annan: Iran should be part of Syria solution – Jun. 21, 2012

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/06/21/4048950/russia-slams-britain-over-syria.html#storylink=cpy

GENEVA — U.N. envoy Kofi Annan says he believes Iran should be involved in efforts to end the violence in Syria.

Annan says he is working to convene a so-called ‘contact group’ meeting on Syria in Geneva on June 30.

[...]

The former U.N. secretary-general told reporters in Geneva on Friday that “I have made it quite clear that I believe Iran should be part of the solution.”
.

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June 22nd, 2012, 2:18 pm

 

59. ann said:

Where’s Saudi Arabia and Qatar To Help You Prop Up Your Lira Now :D

Turkish Lira plunges on report Syria shot down Turkish warplane – Fri Jun 22, 2012

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/22/us-markets-turkey-idUSBRE85L0XP20120622

The Turkish lira fell sharply on Friday after a news report said a Turkish warplane had been shot down by Syrian air defenses, and analysts said it would be vulnerable to further losses as more details of the incident emerged.

Turkey’s stock and bond markets had closed before news of the jet downing came out.

[...]

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June 22nd, 2012, 2:31 pm

 

60. ann said:

Ottoman Airline At Half Price ($525) Since They Stopped Flying To Syria :)

http://www.turkishairlines.com/en-us/istanbul/special-offers/newyork-istanbul-flights-tickets/JFKBAEADFIST

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June 22nd, 2012, 2:46 pm

 

61. Syrialover said:

Amir, you asked Alan if was Russian.

I think at one stage he said he lived in Australia, though he speaks Arabic.

But the ferocious promotion of Russia against the world is interesting.

Alan,care to comment?

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June 22nd, 2012, 3:25 pm

 

62. Syrialover said:

The story linked below shows how mindblowingly stupid Assad has been.

He’s had many opportunities over many months to stop things getting to this stage, but now he faces the Saudis generously funding and Turks facilitating paychecks to the Syrian army if they want to defect.

This looks like real endgame territory. A bit like Gaddafi’s NATO moment.

Will he be able to get Russia to finance paychecks for the Syrian army which he’s now rumored to be unable to pay?

See “Saudi Arabia plans to fund Syria rebel army”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/22/saudi-arabia-syria-rebel-army

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June 22nd, 2012, 4:26 pm

 

63. Syrialover said:

60. ann said: “Ottoman Airline At Half Price ($525) Since They Stopped Flying To Syria”

Quite the opposite! It’s amazing that you don’t realise Turkey has enjoyed a huge tourism roll, and promotions like this are part of catching the wave.

Good luck to anyone trying to book a hotel room in Turkey. They’ve picked up Syria’s tourist trade plus a generous diversion flow from Egypt and Tunisia, and now Greece.

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June 22nd, 2012, 4:41 pm

 

64. Alan said:

61. SYRIALOVER
I didn’t write that I live in Australia! Sandro lives there :) ! I know 4 languages! and Russian including!

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June 22nd, 2012, 4:53 pm

 

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