Archive for the ‘Arms Trafficking’ Category

June 15th, 2013

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.(Reuters / Yuri Gripas)U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.(Reuters / Yuri Gripas)

 

The use of chemical weapons by Damascus and Hezbollah involvement in Syria risks derailing a political settlement to the conflict, John Kerry warned. His comments follow reports the CIA is preparing to funnel arms to rebel forces via Jordan and Turkey.

The US State Department issued a statement on Saturday condemning the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad for its lack of commitment to a negotiated settlement after Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with his Iraqi counterpart the previous day.

“The secretary reaffirmed that the United States continues to work aggressively for a political solution with the goal of a second Geneva meeting, but that the use of chemical weapons and increasing involvement of Hezbollah demonstrates the regime’s lack of commitment to negotiations and threatens to put a political settlement out of reach,” the department said.

The statement further noted it’s appreciation for Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who issued a June 11 statement “discouraging Iraqis from joining the fight in Syria.”

Kerry, who expressed concern over the “increasingly sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict on both sides,”asked Zebari to take “every possible measure to help end the military resupply of the Assad regime and thereby increase the pressure that will be necessary to advance a political solution.”

On Thursday, the Obama Administration said it would reverse US policy of not providing lethal aid to rebel fighters after claiming the Syrian government had crossed a red line by allegedly deploying chemical weapons against opposition forces on four separate occasions.

Syrian rebels take position in a house during clashes with regime froces in the old city of Aleppo.(AFP Photo / Ricardo Garcia Vilanova)Syrian rebels take position in a house during clashes with regime froces in the old city of Aleppo.(AFP Photo / Ricardo Garcia Vilanova)

Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov characterized the evidence provided by the United States regarding the use of chemical weapons by Damascus as “unconvincing.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also warned the US against sending rebel factions in Syria the“wrong signals” with promises of increased military aid, a move which would shift their focus on“escalating the fight instead of starting a dialogue.”

However, the US said the arms shipments would begin within a matter of weeks, with the CIA acting as the middleman between Washington and the opposition’s Supreme Military Council.

CIA to arm rebels via Jordan, Turkey?

On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that clandestine bases in Jordan and Turkey would serve as conduits for arms being delivered to the rebel fighters amidst fears American armaments would fall into the hands of Syria’s many Islamist factions.

Despite concerns expressed by US intelligence officials last year, Benjamin Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said on Friday the US is capable of delivering arms “not only into the country,”Rhodes said, but “into the right hands.”

“The Syrian puzzle has come into sharper focus in the past year, especially the makeup of various anti-regime groups,” one US official familiar with CIA assessments of the conflict told the Post on condition of anonymity. “And while the opposition remains far from monolithic, its military structures and coordination processes have improved.”

Such reassurances have had little impact on the Obama administrations reticence towards providing antitank or antiaircraft weapons to rebel groups, as the initial deliveries will include light arms and other munitions.

Syrian rebels of the Suqur Ali bin Aba Talib brigade prepare to launch a rocket from the roof of a building during ongoing clashes with regime forces.(AFP Photo / Zac Baillie) Syrian rebels of the Suqur Ali bin Aba Talib brigade prepare to launch a rocket from the roof of a building during ongoing clashes with regime forces.(AFP Photo / Zac Baillie)

US military leaders have previously stated that tracking heavy weaponry delivered to rebel groups such as MANPADs — man-portable air-defense systems – remained unreliable.

Obama’s decision to approve CIA weapons shipments could also signal green light to regional allies like Qatar and Saudi Arabia to provide such heavy weaponry despite concerns such armaments could be used against civilian aviation targets by terrorist groups.

US diplomats have also intonated that Washington might impose a no-fly zone “to help Assad’s opponents.”

No-fly zone looming?

The Pentagon on Saturday confirmed suspicions that F-16 fighter jets and Patriot anti-missile systems which were deployed to Jordan as part of the joint 12-day Eager Lion exercise would remain in the country once the annual training event concluded.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “has approved a request from the Kingdom of Jordan for a detachment of F-16s and Patriot Missiles to remain in Jordan following the conclusion of the Eager Lion Exercise next week,” Reuters cites Pentagon spokesman George Little as saying in a statement.

“All other US personnel assigned to Jordan for Eager Lion will depart at the conclusion of the exercise,”
 the statement continued.

Two patriot missile batteries.(AFP Photo / Jack Guez) Two patriot missile batteries.(AFP Photo / Jack Guez)

Lavrov said that any attempt to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria using the F-16s and missile batteries would be in clear violation of international law.

“There have been leaks from Western media regarding the serious consideration to create a no-fly zone over Syria through the deployment of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and F-16 jets in Jordan,”
 Lavrov said.

“You don’t have to be a great expert to understand that this will violate international law,” Russia’s top diplomat continued.

Washington’s willingness for more direct engagement in the Syrian conflict comes ahead of the
Geneva II peace conference set for July.

From December 4th, 2012

The war on drugs has claimed the lives of thousands on both sides of the US/Mexico border. Although many critics blame America’s policies for fueling the fire, they aren’t too far off. Of the arms seized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, over 70 percent of of them have originated from the US. Matthew Feeney, associate editor for Reason.com, gives his take on the war south of the border on how the US can help end the violence.

May 22nd, 2013

 “We have failed over and over again in our attempts to pull the strings of Middle Eastern politics.”

In an extremely disappointing vote, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Tuesday voted 15-3 to authorize the president to—among other things—arm and train the rebels in Syria who are fighting the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

This bill is terrible, and should be rejected by the Senate.

Yet, even amid this committee vote, there were a few bright spots in the form of Sens. Chris Murphy, Tom Udall, and Rand Paul, who were the three who voted no. Their vote wasn’t just correct, but their assessment of the situation should be heeded by the Obama administration and the full Senate as both consider what should be done, if anything, in Syria.

Once we introduce weapons, we have zero control over them. Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, was correct when he said the United States “could turn over the weapons we’re talking about and next day they end up in the hands of al-Qaida.”

Yes, the legislation mandates that any groups who receive weapons are thoroughly investigated and vetted. But as long as groups are fighting together, they will exchange arms. And as long as groups need funding, they’ll be open to sell arms. Where those arms end up, no one really knows.

But as Udall noted, some of these groups are reportedly affiliated with al-Qaida. “It’s impossible to know who our friends are,” said Paul, adding that any of the rebels could turn their arms over to terrorist-affiliated groups.

Our next concern should focus on Syria’s neighbor to the East. We could end up killing the very Iraqi Army our troops died building and reignite the Iraqi Civil War.

Some of the so-called Syrian rebels are reportedly tied to Sunni insurgents from Iraq. Those same Sunni insurgents used terror attacks to try to kill Americans and destabilize the Iraqi government that was permitting us to operate there.

I helped train the Iraqi Army during my second tour in Iraq and still have contacts there. So, when I read a couple of months ago that violence had spilled over into the Iraqi border, and that nine Iraqi troops lost their lives, I called a colonel in the Iraqi Army to hear more about it.

When I asked about the Free Syrian Army, he replied: “What Army? You mean the terrorists?” That said it all in a nutshell. The Iraqi Army doesn’t consider them rebels or freedom fighters or anything of the sort. Their concern is that many of the anti-Assad forces are the same terrorists they’ve fought before and who still are targeting the Iraqi Army. Days after the attacks in Iraq by Syrian rebels, al-Qaida claimed responsibility.

It is astounding to me that Sen. John McCain of Arizona voiced strong support for arming the rebels. This is the same John McCain who said it was worth billions of dollars and thousands of American lives to get the Iraqi government and Army on its feet. Now, he’s for arming those who would seek to destroy it.

Moreover, there is no winning scenario when we get involved in other nations’ civil wars and proxy wars.

On this point, Sen. Murphy said it best: “We have failed over and over again in our attempts to pull the strings of Middle Eastern politics.”

It would be nice if this was a clean, simple conflict. But it isn’t. Sometimes the enemy of your enemy can also be your enemy.  Not only are there a wide array of groups involved, but the introduction of Iranian and Hezbollah forces combined with support from Russia, provide a strong center of gravity for Assad regime support, eliminating the possibility of UN action. The insurgents aren’t organized, and even with weapons, would have a difficult time conducting decisive combat operations in what looks like a stalemate.

If our view is that by arming rebels, the new Syrian government would be friendly to the US, then I would say that would happen anyway. A new Syrian government would need to reach out to the nations of the world for support—including the United States. Look no further than Egypt for proof. We didn’t arm anti-government forces there, and yet, Mohammed Morsi immediately assured us that Egypt’s treaties would remain in place and relations with the United States would remain normalized.

The Senate bill that passed committee is misguided and dangerous.  Thankfully, three brave Senators bucked the group-think and laid out a strong case for the bill’s defeat. In an era where nearly every single piece of legislation dies in the Senate, this one is worthy of that fate.

The rise of SOCOM – to train proxy forces in all the places where US projects its power – is alarming.

The recent news of a possible shift in the operation of drones from the CIA to the Department of Defense was by and large received with a shrug. Given that the programme would likely be operated by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and under conditions of strictest secrecy, and probably launched from inaccessible “floating bases” on especially configured naval vessels, the shift is not an indicator of a change in the US’ assassination policy. And to the putative victims of the drone strikes, it is largely an irrelevant organisational change.

The reason, however, that the shift is of relevance more broadly is that it signals the irresistible rise of the special operations community in the post-counterinsurgency era.  More than a year ago, in January 2012, President Obama inaugurated the US Defense Strategic Guidance. The document was strategically significant because it announced the “pivot to Asia” alongside continued commitments to the oil sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf.

Militarily, it clearly signalled the end of large-scale invasion and occupation of troublesome or intransigent countries in favour of the kind of operations in which the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and its counterterrorism component, the JSOC, excel. This ascendancy is confirmed by the planned expansion of the SOCOM by around 7.5 percent by 2015, from 66,100 civilian and military personnel in 2011 to 71,100 by 2015.

This expansion of the force, at a time when most US government departments – including the Pentagon itself – are contemplating possible sequestrations, speaks to the increasing importance of a force which can act in the shadows, leaving a “light footprint”.

A recent report by the Center for a New American Security describes the light footprints as a “minimalist” and “non-intrusive” approach to asymmetric warfare combining “air power, special operators, intelligence agents, indigenous armed groups and contractors, often leveraging relationships with allies and enabling partner militaries to take more active roles”. US Special Operations Command is perfectly suited for such tasks and is increasingly consolidating its hold over the broad spectrum of military tactics it entails.

‘Minimalist and non-intrusive’ approach

Established in 1980 and 1987 respectively, JSOC and SOCOM both have their origins in the US military’s failed hostage rescue mission in Iran in 1980.

The most prominent operations in which the SOCOM has participated or had leading roles have included the invasion of Grenada (1983), rescue operations during the Achille Lauro hijacking (1985), the invasion of Panama and the kidnapping of Manuel Noriega (1989), the Mideast during the Gulf War (1991), the operation to arrest Mohamed Farrah Aidid in Somalia (1993), re-installation of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti (1994), classified missions in Bosnia and Kosovo (1996-2002), and of course Afghanistan (2001-present) and Iraq (2003-present).

The USSOCOM draws from the special operators of the various branches of the US military, including the US Navy SEALs, the Army’s Green Berets and the 75th Ranger Regiment, the Marine Corps’ Special Operations Regiment, and the Air Force’s special operators.

The JSOC, the wholly classified sub-unit of the SOCOM, includes even smaller and more elite groups of the Delta Force and the US Navy’s Special Warfare Development Group (or DEVGRU) which was responsible for the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. But while such operations capture the attention of mainstream media and Hollywood producers, other functions of the SOCOM are less commented upon but just as important.

In both the aforementioned CNAS report and the 2011 Congressional testimony of Admiral William McRaven, the SOCOM chief, such visible direct operations are said best complemented by indirect approaches.

The direct special operations approach usually includes the drone-led assassination programme, and secret special operations forays into a variety of official, unofficial and unannounced battlegrounds in countries around the world. At last count, these countries numbered 71, up from around 60 during the Bush administration.

Although these operations get the press, and certainly seem to have a kind of pop culture glamour – with Hollywood clamouring to make films about special operators – the CNAS report helpfully tells us that:

“Drones and commando raids are the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Surgical strikes [sic] are only the most visible (and extreme) part of a deeper, longer-term strategy that takes many years to develop, cannot be grown after a crisis and relies heavily on human intelligence networks, the training of indigenous forces and close collaboration with civilian diplomats and development workers.”

The latter few items of the series above count as the kind of indirect operations that both McRaven and CNAS consider crucially important. The indirect tasks primarily include training and advising foreign security forces in a broad range of countries and operating alongside them. Altogether, by March 2012, according to Admiral McRaven, the US Special Operations Forces were present in some 100 countries.

In all accounts extolling the use of the “foreign internal defence” programmes, the special operators and their supporters like to use the training of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and participation in Plan Colombia as their exemplary cases.

In the Philippines, the special operators continue a long tradition of intervention in the country which began with the effective colonisation of the Philippines Islands between 1898 and 1946 and continued with counterinsurgency activities in the 1950s. Through this long period, the US forces have fought the Moros of southern Philippines in a variety of guises, both directly and indirectly.

The most recent incarnation of the fight has entailed the SOCOM training of the Philippines Special Operations Forces, and fighting alongside them against the Abu Sayyaf Islamists in southern Philippines.

The training began with the initial insertion of 1,200 Special Operations Forces into the country for advising, training and eventually engaging in military operations. Although the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines is still active in the Philippines, they now maintain a much lower profile.

Indirect approach and training programmes

Plan Colombia brought together the US State Department, USAID and more importantly, the US special operators, the DEA, the CIA and military contractors to train the Colombian military and the police to both fight the FARC guerrillas and assist the US in the interdiction of cocaine in Colombia (although the extent to which the intelligence agencies have been involved in interdicting drugs has been laid open to question when a plane previously used for rendition – presumably by the CIA – crashed in Mexico carrying Colombia cocaine).

The connections built in Colombia are particularly close and the US special operations activities there are so crucial that CNAS fellow and influential pundit Robert Kaplan has claimed that:

“The future of military conflict [is] better gauged in Colombia than in Iraq… In Colombia I was introduced to the tactics that the US would employ to manage an unruly world.”

Other regions of the world will follow the model established in Colombia and the Philippines in the first decade of the 21st century.

The US Special Operations Forces are now operating in Uganda, Libya, Mali, Yemen, and out of the US bases in and near hotspots throughout the world. Where they engage in training or special operations, their fields of activity become useful laboratories for development of special operations tactics and honing of special skills.

But the indirect approach and training programmes also establish long-term connections between military officers of various countries and their counterparts in the USSOCOM.  The CNAS report on “light footprints” hopefully offers, “as American advisers maintain relationships with their foreign counterparts over the years, lieutenants become captains, then colonels, then generals, and they begin to influence the partner nation’s military from within”.

Another cheerleader for the use of indirect approach by special operators, journalist Linda Robinson, tell us that:

“Colombian special operators act as valuable force multipliers since they speak the language and understand the culture of these places in ways that US forces might not. These Colombians are part of an expanding network of US-trained Special Operators that also includes forces from Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries and whose members are now participating in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere alongside traditional US partners from Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.”

In the same article, she recognises that the local forces trained and supported by the US can be corrupt, “incompetent or abusive”, but she argues that the use of these proxy forces is the “only realistic course for US security policy” short of expensive and unpopular large-scale military intervention.

The rise of US Special Operations Forces engaging in kinetic operations and direct action or in using their extensive military, psychological operations and war-fighting skills to train proxy forces in all the places where the US projects its power is alarming.

The ascendance of an elite clique of ultra-warriors protected by the cloak of secrecy and pushing off responsibility for acts of violence to their proxies and allies, means that the tip of the imperial spear can tear through the social fabric of many a country without associated costs in blood and treasure and hidden from the view of the press and the public.

And because such special operations do not require the sacrifices of an expansive force, the special operators can largely act without public outrage or demand for accountability.  The old/new military philosophy of a light footprint is useful precisely because it allows for the war in the shadows to continue unabated and with impunity.
 

March 1, 2013

The long-term US funding of anti-government programs in Syria has raised questions about the types of groups being supported, and the benefits and arms supplied to militant groups; establishing political stability requires considered dialogue.

It appears that the US State Department under John Kerry will soon shift its focus to helping the rebels establish a full-fledged alternative government on Syrian territory and recognize it as the legal government of Syria. Such a move would legitimize the transfer of heavy weaponry and would allow the US to directly employ air strikes or Patriot anti-missile batteries against Assad’s forces.

Some would argue that these moves could help to marginalize the notable al-Qaeda presence among rebel forces. Pumping more arms and heavier weapons into Syria is unconscionable at this point, and continuing to do so will inevitably bolster the muscle and reach of jihadi and Salafist fighters. The argument that the US and its allies have only armed the “moderate” rebels is a deeply flawed one; weapons are in high demand by all rebel factions and there is little means to effectively prevent arms from gravitating toward hardcore Al-Qaeda fighters.

In his famous 1962 description of irregular warfare operations, US President John F. Kennedy alluded to “another type of warfare,” one that is “new in its intensity, ancient in its origin—war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins; war by ambush instead of by combat, by infiltration instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. It preys on unrest.”

After two harrowing years of division, senseless killing and civil war, the scared Syrian nation and its people are well acquainted with these unconventional methods of warfare denounced over 50 years ago.

Yet Western and Gulf states have proven their double standards by enabling radicals elsewhere – lest we forget the presence of Libyan military commander Abdulhakim Belhadj, former leader of the militant Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (officially designated as a terrorist organization by the US State Department), who was sent to Syria to aid the Free Syrian Army on orders of the entity formerly known as the Libyan National Transition Council (NTC). The track record of allied Western and Gulf states shows that they are more interested in enabling terrorism for their own purposes rather than preventing it.

Since the eruption of violence in March 2011, Syria has endured targeted assassination campaigns, ceaseless suicide bombings and shelling, and massacres where infants have had their throats slit to the spine – the time has come for the opposition to engage the Assad government in dialogue and finally bring about a ceasefire and the total cessation of violence and insurgency.

From the reports of third-party sniper-fire targeting both protesters and security personnel in the southern city of Daraa at the very onset of the conflict, to the horrendous attacks on the students of Aleppo University in January 2013 – those who have critically monitored the situation from the beginning are under no illusions – the influx of armament and mercenary elements from abroad into Syria has brought the situation to where it is today. Western capitals have provided logistics, coordination, political support, and non-lethal aid, Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have openly provided weapons and monthly salaries for rebel fighters, and Turkey has allowed rebel fighters to receive training and arms from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the southeastern part of the country, allowing militants to pass into Syria freely.

There are those who say that Syria is the subject of an internal revolution that is brutally repressed by a malicious dictator, and those who say instead that Syria is being attacked by foreign powers who have deployed mercenaries and extremist fighters from abroad to engage in the destruction of infrastructure and conduct targeted assassinations to bring about an end to the Assad regime.  Despite Washington’s concerns of heavy weapons falling into the hands of Al-Qaeda-linked militants, the US-backed campaign to coax regime change in Damascus has from the very onset enabled militants who justify their acts of terror in the name of a perverted interpretation of Islam. Reports in the Washington Post indicate that US support for anti-government groups in Syria began in 2005, transcending two presidential administrations:

“The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad. Syrian authorities ‘would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,’ read an April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time. ‘A reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-[government] factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive,’ the cable said. The cables report persistent fears among U.S. diplomats that Syrian state security agents had uncovered the money trail from Washington.”

The article describes how Washington funnelled about $12 million to anti-government programs in Syria between 2005 and 2010 to recipients affiliated with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Israel, which is now illegally conducting exploratory drilling in the occupied Golan Heights, and the US view the toppling of Damascus as a means of extinguishing the critical conduit between Iran and Hezbollah, the political and militant Shi’a organization centered in Southern Lebanon, in addition to helping isolate the Palestinian resistance.

The non-violent route: Laying aside differences

Both the incumbent Syrian authorities and the opposition must find strength to come to a mutually acceptable compromise. These parties have no other option than to search for a solution, lay down an agreeable constitutional basis for elections, and face each other in international monitored polls once the situation stabilizes. The Syrian people must not have democracy imposed on them, and the victor of this war should not be decided on the battlefield, but by the ballot box.

To gain the confidence of the electorate, election observers from the US, Qatar, Russia, and Iran could be sent to monitor the transition process – if the people of Syria want Assad to remain in power, then the rule of majority must be honored. Militant groups comprised of mostly hard line foreign fighters such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham cannot be expected to participate in a ceasefire, so the true test of a short-term alliance between Assad and the SNC would be in its ability to cooperate in quelling radical militants and restoring stability – such is a perquisite for any kind of transition.

Former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton once threatened Russia and China that they would “pay a price” for their position on the Syrian issue. It should be noted that these powers maintained a balanced approach throughout and advocated dialogue from the start, in addition to stringently adhering to former UN Envoy Kofi Annan’s six point peace plan. Iran should also be given due credit for hosting an International Consultative Conference in August 2012, which brought together representatives of thirty nations to call for ending the flow of foreign arms into terrorist hands inside Syria, proposals to broker a meaningful ceasefire, the coordination of humanitarian aid, and support for Syrian people’s right to reform without foreign interference.

Accommodating diversity in Syrian society

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted in the Washington Post stating, “Syrian society is a beautiful mosaic of ethnicities, faiths and cultures, and it will be smashed to pieces should President Bashar Assad abruptly fall. The idea that, in that event, there would be an orderly transition of power is an illusion. Abrupt political change without a roadmap for managed political transition will lead only to a precarious situation that would destabilize one of the world’s most sensitive regions.” It is clear that the Assad government is more stable than many Western states anticipated, and it continues to enjoy popular support.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah recently warned against sectarian infighting in Lebanon related to the Syrian civil war, arguing that outsiders are pushing Lebanon “toward civil and religious strife, and specifically Sunni-Shia strife.” Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki also warned that a victory for rebels would “create a new extremist haven and destabilize the wider Middle East.” The Syrian regime will not imminently collapse but if it is brought down by military intervention, the consequences could lead to a highly unpredictable situation where match and tinder can meet at any moment with debilitating consequences for the region. It is time for both parties to convene. It is time to end this war.

Selective support

Reports published in 2007 in the New Yorker by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh detail how the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia supported a regional network of extremist fighters and terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda with the aim of stomping out Hezbollah and Syria’s Assad in a bid to isolate Iran, who is viewed as an existential threat to the US and its allies in the region. A principal component of this policy shift was the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups, hence the ever-deepening sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict:

“To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.”

While the CIA has purportedly claimed to distribute arms only to “secular” and “moderate” rebel forces, Washington insiders from various academic and think-tank circles have openly endorsed bizarre positions in favor of integrating terrorists into Syria’s rebel forces. “Al-Qaeda’s Specter in Syria,” penned by Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Ed Husain, argues in favor of Al-Qaeda terrorists and their inclusion in the Free Syrian Army, stating, “The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervour, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.” Foreign Policy’s, “Two Cheers for Syrian Islamists,” penned by Gary Gambill of the heavily neo-conservative Middle East Forum, argues in favor of Al-Qaeda, “Islamists — many of them hardened by years of fighting U.S. forces in Iraq — are simply more effective fighters than their secular counterparts. Assad has had extraordinary difficulty countering tactics perfected by his former jihadist allies, particularly suicide bombings and roadside bombs.”

While many Western media outlets once likened Syria’s rebels to pro-democracy freedom fighters, it has become more challenging to view them as anything other than Salafist radicals – the former’s existence was amplified specifically to provide cover and legitimacy for the violence and subversion of the latter. As a result of a foreign-backed insurgency, the Assad regime resorted to tactics of shelling and conducing air strikes on rebel strongholds, which were mostly in densely populated urban areas. It should not be denied that these heavy-handed tactics have also led to a substantial and regrettable loss of life.

The Friends of Syria group recently convened in Rome, where the US State Department has pledged $60 million to help the opposition maintain “the institutions of the state” in areas under their control, such as establishing terms of governance, the rule of law, and police forces. Reports have also claimed that the US is also deliberating more open engagement in Syria under newly appointed US Secretary of State John Kerry, however Washington has stopped short of openly providing arms and military training. American and western officials have told the New York Times that Saudi Arabia has recently financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and funnelled them to Syrian rebel groups. Although the United States is not credited with providing arms to rebel forces, the New York Times has reported the presence of CIA operatives in southern Turkey since June 2012, who are distributing weapons with the Obama administration’s blessing. US spokesperson Jay Carney was quoted as saying, “We will continue to provide assistance to the Syrian people, to the Syrian opposition, we will continue to increase our assistance in the effort to bring about a post-Assad Syria.”

In early March 2013, the Syrian National Council (SNC) will meet in Istanbul to form a provisional government that would oversee rebel-held areas of the country. This wouldn’t be the first time the SNC has attempted to form a government; previous attempts in January 2013 fell apart, with many factions refusing to consider a prime ministerial nominee. SNC President Moaz al-Khatib has angered several factions for proposing his readiness to negotiate with the Assad government, a position that many in the opposition refuse to accept.

The Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari has urged the Friends of Syria states to convince the Syrian opposition to sit down for an unconditional national dialogue, which al-Khatib has expressed his willingness to take part in. One could surmise that al-Khatib’s shift toward dialogue indicates that the SNC is feeling less secure and more wary of a possible military defeat or rivalry with radical factions. Such a dialogue would undoubtedly represent a step in the right direction. Despite political differences and two years of deep conflict, these two parties must establish a genuine ceasefire and partnership to restore a climate of normality throughout the country. In this context, both parties must be able to agree on coordinating aid distribution to all parts of the country.

International recognition of a provisional SNC government would only create further divisions at a time when national unity is most needed. Although rebel-held areas are badly isolated and in need of humanitarian supplies, the delivery of aid must be facilitated through direct talks and partnership between Moaz al-Khatib’s Syrian National Council and Bashar Al-Assad’s government.

A Bahraini Shiite protester is detained by riot police during a demonstration in September 2012. The U.S. has long sold military equipment to the small Mideast nation’s government. (Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/GettyImages)

Jan. 15, 2013

Despite Bahrain’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, the U.S. has continued to provide weapons and maintenance to the small Mideast nation.

Defense Department documents released to ProPublica give the fullest picture yet of the arms sales: The list includes ammunition, combat vehicle parts, communications equipment, Blackhawk helicopters, and an unidentified missile system. (Read the documents.)

The documents, which were provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and cover a yearlong period ending in February 2012, still leave many questions unanswered. It’s not clear whether in each case the arms listed have been delivered. And some entries that only cite the names of weapons may in fact refer to maintenance or spare parts.

Defense Department spokesman Paul Ebner declined to offer any more detail. “We won’t get into specifics in any of these because of the security of Bahrain,” said Ebner.

While the U.S. has maintained it is selling Bahrain arms only for external defense, human rights advocates say the documents raise questions about items that could be used against civilian protesters.

“The U.S. government should not be providing additional military equipment that could make matters worse,” said Sunjeev Bery, Middle East advocacy director for Amnesty International USA.

There have been reports that Bahrain used American-made helicopters to fire on protesters in the most intense period of the crackdown. Time magazine reported in mid-March 2011 that Cobra helicopters had conducted “live ammunition air strikes” on protesters.

The new Defense Department list of arms sales has two entries related to “AH-1F Cobra Helicopters” in March and April 2011. Neither the exact equipment or services being sold nor the delivery timetable are specified.

The U.S. is also playing a training role: In April 2012, for example, the Army News Service reported that an American team specializing in training foreign militaries to use equipment purchased from the U.S. was in Bahrain to help with Blackhawk helicopters.

Bahrain’s ambassador to the U.S., Houda Nonoo, said the country’s military has not targeted protestors. Bahrain’s military “exists to combat external threats,” Nonoo told ProPublica. “[T]he potential for U.S. foreign arms sales to be used against protestors in the future is remote.”

The Obama administration has stood by Bahrain’s ruling family, who are Sunni, during nearly two years of protests by the country’s majority Shia population. Bahrain is a longtime ally and the home to a large American naval base, which is considered particularly important amid the current tensions with nearby Iran.

The itemized arms sales list does not include dollar values but a separate document says military equipment worth $51 million was delivered to Bahrain in the year starting in October 2010. (That period includes several months before the protests began.)

The U.S. has long sold weapons to Bahrain, totaling $1.4 billion since 2000, according to the State Department. The sales didn’t come under scrutiny until security forces killed at least 19 people in the early months of the crackdown in 2011. (Dozens have died since then.)

The administration put a hold on one proposed sale of Humvees and missiles in Fall 2011 following congressional criticism. But Foreign Policy reported that other unspecified equipment was still being sold without any public notification.

The new documents offer more details on what was sold during that period — including entries related to a “Blackhawk helicopter armament” in November 2011 and a missile system in January 2012.

In May 2012, the administration announced it was releasing some unspecified items to Bahrain’s military that “are not used for crowd control” while maintaining a hold on the Humvees and TOW missiles.

State Department spokesman Noel Clay told ProPublica, “We continue to withhold the export of lethal and crowd-control items intended predominately for internal security purposes, and have resumed on a case-by-case basis items related exclusively to external defense, counter-terrorism, and the protection of U.S. forces.”

The U.S. has also sold Bahrain a helicopter fit for the royal family.

In September, Missouri-based aviation services firm Sabreliner reported that, as part of an official government arms sale, it delivered to Bahrain a fully customized UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter for “a variety of missions including transporting heads of state.” The aircraft was outfitted with a “clam shell door” for ease of entry, a “new VIP interior,” and a “custom Royal Bahraini” paintjob.

In other recent developments in Bahrain, the country’s highest court this month upheldlengthy prison sentences for 13 high-profile activists accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

In a rare occurrence in November, a series of homemade bombs were set off in the capital of Manama, killing two and leading some observers to argue that the opposition is growing more militant. Also in November, an Amnesty International report found that despite government promises, “the reform process has been shelved and repression unleashed.”

25 January 2012

The current news coverage concerning Iran is depicting a series of incidents, but when placed in the context of the events of the past few years – as I have done in my book The Next War – The attack on Iran – A preview as well as in this DeepJournal series – it is clear that all the pieces are being put into place for a war against Iran. It is a long-term project demanding many years worth of preparation, and the ultimate goal is getting closer all the time. One component of this preparation is the covert arming of Syrian rebels.

Syrische rebellen [jpg]A weakening of Syria is a weakening of Iran. ‘President Barack Obama’s National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, speaking a day after the United States announced new measures against Iran over its nuclear program, said that “end of the Assad regime would constitute Iran’s greatest setback in the region yet—a strategic blow that will further shift the balance of power in the region against Iran.”‘ Speaking last November on the unstable situation in Syria, Obama’s Secretary of State said: ‘I think there could be a civil war with a very determined and well-armed and eventually well-financed opposition […] something that we hate to see because we are in favor of a peaceful protest and a nonviolent opposition’. The first part of Hillary Clinton’s remark seemed more an expression of hope than the warning it tried to be, as made clear by the fact that NATO and the U.S. are currently supplying the Syrian rebels with Libyan weapons.

Covert Western weapons shipments to Syrian rebels
Opponents of the regime of Syrian President Assad are being secretly armed by the West. Unmarked airplanes belonging to NATO countries are landing at Turkish military bases close to the Syrian border. These flights deliver weapons originating from the arsenals of the late Muammar Gaddafi. The airplanes also contain volunteer fighters from the Libyan transitional council, ‘experienced in pitting local volunteers against trained soldiers, a skill they acquired confronting Gaddafi’s army’. Also the next step has been taken. ‘French and British special forces trainers are on the ground, assisting the Syrian rebels while the CIA and U.S. Spec Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause, enabling the fighters to avoid concentrations of Syrian soldiers’, writes the well-informed former CIA officer Phil Giraldi.

The road to Tehran runs through Damascus
The strategy of reaching Tehran through Damascus also seems to have been embraced by Saudi Arabia: ‘The King knows that other than the collapse of the Islamic Republic itself, nothing would weaken Iran more than losing Syria’, said a Saudi source speaking to Foreign Policy magazine in August of last year. Since that time there has been no let-up in developments. The Syrian situation is being eyed with suspicion by the Russians, who don’t see it quite as sentimentally as the Western public does: ‘The West is putting pressure on Syria because the country refuses to break off its alliance with Iran and not for repressing the opposition, said [Nikolai] Patrushev, who served with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the Soviet-era KGB. “This time, it won’t be France, the U.K.Iran Assad Ahmadinejad [jpg]and Italy that will provide the main strike forces, but perhaps neighboring Turkey, which was until recently on good terms with Syria and is a rival of Iran with immense ambitions,” Patrushev said.’

Syrian power vacuum filled by Islamic interests
Russia is worried about the future: ‘Russia, which has a naval base in Syria and sells weapons to the Middle Eastern country, is more concerned that Islamic radicals may come to power, said Irina Zvyagelskaya, a Middle East analyst at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow. “Our fear is that Syria could collapse and extremist Islamic forces will seize control that no one will be pleased about,” Zvyagelskaya said in a phone interview today. “This could destabilize the entire region.”’ Phil Giraldi would agree with this analysis. He writes: ‘In the United States, many friends of Israel are on the Assad regime-change bandwagon, believing that a weakened Syria, divided by civil war, will present no threat to Tel Aviv. But they should think again, as these developments have a way of turning on their head. The best organized and funded opposition political movement in Syria is the Muslim Brotherhood.’ Hillary Clinton: ‘Look, Assad’s going to be gone; it’s just a question of time.’

Intelligence professionals warn Obama
Phil Giraldi has been warning of the coming war against Iran for years now, which in his opinion could lead to WWIII. ‘As professionals with collectively hundreds of years of experience in intelligence, foreign policy, and counterterrorism, we are Syrië Damascus kaartje [jpg]concerned about the gross misrepresentation of facts being bruited about to persuade you to start another war.’ This is the first sentence from a letter sent to President Obama from Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, signers of which include Giraldi. The group of intelligence specialists warns him not to launch a war against Iran. ‘We are seeing a replay of the “Iraq WMD threat.”’ It’s a sound argument, and one that I expand on in my book The Next War. This group of experts concludes the letter with this sentence: ‘We are currently winding down what you labeled a “dumb war;” we should not undertake another dumb war against a country almost three times larger than Iraq, that would set off a major regional war and create generations of jihadis. Such a war, contrary to what some argue, would not make Israel or the U.S. safer.’