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Westlake Legal Group > Bashar al-Assad

Turkey and Russia are declaring peace in Syria

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It’s all over but the shouting, and there really doesn’t even seem to be much of that. Yesterday was supposed to be the end of the ceasefire in northeastern Syria, at which point we expected the Turks to begin “cleansing” the twenty-mile wide border region of any remaining Kurdish fighters. But dawn broke and the fighting still seems to be on hold. The reason was announced earlier this morning and it seems that the Russians have stepped in and put all the combatants back in their respective corners. (Associated Press)

Turkey’s Defense Ministry is signaling it won’t resume its offensive in northeast Syria, following agreements reached with the U.S. and Russia.

The ministry said early on Wednesday the U.S. had announced Syrian Kurdish fighters completed their pullout from areas Turkey invaded this month as a five-day cease-fire allowing for the withdrawal expired.

This came after the leaders of Russia and Turkey announced a separate deal for their forces to jointly patrol almost the entire northeastern Syrian border after the Kurdish withdrawal.

I suppose we can look at this as one of those “good news, bad news” deals if you’re the optimistic sort. While they’ve lost their territory in the north, the Syrian Kurds have relocated to the south and are no longer being slaughtered. The border region is at least theoretically open for displaced Syrians to return and resettle the area. (There will be a lot of infrastructure work required before that can happen at any large scale, though.)

But what sort of peace has been achieved? The only reason nobody is fighting right now is that Russia is effectively in control of the entire northern border of Syria. To the east, they are jointly patrolling with the Turks (who apparently now own that territory). To the west, they are patrolling in coordination with Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian military. So the Russians now control not only the naval port at Tartus but essentially the entire northern section of the country.

At the same time, Russia’s relationship with Turkey seems to be a permanent fixture, splintering Erdogan’s nation further away from their supposed allies in NATO. With Iraq saying that our troops need to clear out of that country and Iran’s influence there on the rise, we basically no longer have a foothold anywhere in that region closer than Israel. (Well, these days I suppose we could count Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but that’s iffy in its own way.)

A lack of shelling and people being “cleansed” along the border is still a good thing, and if our remaining troops are coming home that’s a plus also. But it’s impossible to deny at least the perception that we wound up being totally played in that part of the word. And if there’s a real winner here out of all the various interests competing in that region, it certainly looks like it’s the Russians.

Was this the ending we were shooting for after all these years of involvement? It doesn’t sound like it, but if we stop losing our soldiers over there perhaps it’s the best we could hope for now.

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Turkey’s hat trick: US troops leaving Syria as Kurds head south

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The situation in northeastern Syria remains in flux on an hour by hour basis. There’s still a semi-official “ceasefire” in place, largely being enforced by the Russians, but that’s only scheduled to hold for another couple of days at most. Just since I went to bed last night, two more big (and disturbing) developments took place. The first was an announcement from the Defense Department that all – or at least most – of the United States troops in Syria would be withdrawing to Western Iraq. If there was any question as to whether or not we’d be backing up the Kurds, it appears that ship has sailed. (Associated Press)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper says that under the current plan all U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq, and that the military will continue to conduct operations against the Islamic State group to prevent a resurgence in that country.

Speaking to reporters traveling with him to the Middle East, Esper did not rule out the idea that U.S. forces would conduct counterterrorism missions from Iraq into Syria. But he said those details will be worked out over time.

We’re supposedly reserving the option to run counterterrorism operations back into Syria from Iraq, which I suppose is plausible. And we’re probably going to need that option now that hundreds if not thousands of ISIS prisoners have reportedly hit the road. But if we’re not directly supervising the terrorist cleanup operations and the Kurds aren’t around to do it (more on that in a moment), who’s going to take care of that responsibility? The Turks? The Russians? I’m not exactly brimming with confidence over either possibility.

Getting back to the question of the Kurds, after initially announcing that they’d struck a deal to work with Bashar al Assad’s forces, they are now reportedly evacuating the border region and heading south.

A senior Syrian Kurdish official says his forces will pull back from a border area in accordance with a U.S.-brokered deal after Turkey allows the evacuation of its remaining fighters and civilians from a besieged town there.

Redur Khalil, a senior Syrian Democratic Forces official, said Saturday the plan for evacuation from the town of Ras al-Ayn is set for the following day, if there are no delays.

He says only after that will his force pull back from a 120-kilometer (75-mile) area between the towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal-Aybad. It will withdraw and move back from the border 30 kilometers (19 miles).

This is quite a reversal of policy. Up until now, the Kurds had only been evacuating civilians, claiming that they would stick around the meet the Turks on the field of battle. But with Russian and Syrian forces tossed into the mix, the writing may have been on the wall.

Keep in mind that this isn’t just a reshuffling of military assets. The Kurds have been living in that region for generations and were well established there. Assuming Turkey allows them to withdraw safely, they will have basically committed ethnic cleansing of an entire region in a matter of weeks. But there’s also no assurance that the Kurdish forces will even be allowed to leave peacefully. As of this morning, the AP is reporting that several towns, including Ras al-Ayn, are completely surrounded without an escape corridor to the south.

So at this point, Turkey has indeed pulled off a hat trick of sorts, flushing out the Americans, putting the Syrian forces in a subservient position and preparing to either drive out the Kurds or wipe them out when the ceasefire ends. They’ve also solidified their military alliance with the Russians at the same time. (Erdogan is meeting with Putin in Sochi on Tuesday.) How this could have ended more badly for U.S. and western interests is difficult to imagine.

The post Turkey’s hat trick: US troops leaving Syria as Kurds head south appeared first on Hot Air.

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Syria joins war in… Syria

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There’s yet another twist in the ongoing invasion of Syria by Turkey. The Syrian army, backed by Russian forces and advisers, is reportedly joining the battle. It might not sound all that surprising for the military of a nation being invaded to come to their own defense, but Bashar al-Assad hasn’t controlled the northeastern portion of his country for years. And in an even stranger twist, the Syrian Kurds are welcoming his help.

Syria’s state news agency says government forces have entered the northern town of Tal Tamr that is close to Turkey’s border.

SANA said Monday morning that the Syrian army moved into the area to “confront the Turkish aggression,” without giving further details.

The report says residents of Tal Tamr that is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Turkish border welcomed the troops.

It did not say from which area the Syrian army marched toward the town.

This represents something of a shift in the dynamics of this conflict. For years now, the battles in the eastern region of Syria have been something of a proxy war between other international interests. The Americans were there helping the Kurds, who really weren’t fighting “for or against” Syria. In addition to beating down ISIS, they’ve been defending their own interests as part of an ongoing struggle to eventually establish their own formally recognized independent state. The Russians generally support Assad, but seem mostly interested in maintaining the warm water port they’ve established at Tartus. And ISIS was just being ISIS until they were effectively dispersed.

But now, if Syrian troops are actively fighting Turkish troops on their own soil, this may be turning into an actual war between Syria and Turkey. I doubt the Kurds can expect much in the way of actual support from Assad and they will likely come to regret siding with him, but they’re pretty much out of other options at this point. But that may not matter, because if Turkey really wants to get serious about this they could probably crush Syria. They have the largest army in the region by a fair margin and are bristling with both American and Russian military technology.

And what of the Americans? Well, as of this morning, there are reports indicating that President Trump may indeed be pulling us out of the country entirely.

The United States appears to be heading toward a full military withdrawal from Syria amid growing chaos , cries of betrayal and signs that Turkey’s invasion could fuel a broader war.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that President Donald Trump had directed U.S. troops in northern Syria to begin pulling out “as safely and quickly as possible.” He did not say Trump ordered troops to leave Syria, but that seemed like the next step in a combat zone growing more unstable by the hour.

If this does turn into a full-blown war between Turkey and Syria, who does the United States root for? We clearly don’t support Assad, but Turkey is quickly turning into a Russian satellite state. With ISIS fighters escaping confinement and Iranian backed militias on the prowl, this is rapidly devolving into a toxic stew where there is no good outcome on the horizon. The Kurds should probably consider packing up and heading to northern Iraq. After that, perhaps the idea of just letting the remaining forces in Syria fight it out and kill each other off isn’t so crazy after all.

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Alicia Kearns: Ten actions we can and should take to help the Kurds

Alicia Kearns is an expert in counter-terrorism, and formerly worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She was the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Mitcham and Morden in 2017.

Amidst the anger about the Erdogan-Assad offensive in North East Syria, there has been very little discussion about what the UK can and should do to support the Kurds.

Sixty thousand Kurdish people took up arms to fight Daesh, and at least 11,000 of them paid for our safety with their lives. We would not have secured victory without them. They liberated tens of thousands of square miles from Manbij to Raqqa and Baghouz, freeing millions of people from Daesh occupation. They fought street by street to save Christians, Yazidis and Arabs and give them refuge.

The offensive is not a response to a threat faced by Turkey. It is an attempt to eradicate the Kurdish people, who are trapped by the ambitions of two countries that are ruthless in their desire to gain territory, and will crush anyone who opposes them. This action will benefit Daesh and undermine efforts to stabilise Iraq and Syria.

Decision-making is in the hands of those on the ground, and the UK’s role is limited, as we will not and cannot put our own people into this theatre, but we must do what we can. Here are a few steps we could take.

  • Call for an immediate ceasefire

While it is unlikely that Turkey and Syria will respect such a call, we must exert all possible pressure. A no-fly zone is unlikely to work, as it would need to be policed by Coalition forces, of which Turkey is a member. The next question is whether Russian airplanes would be deployed. A ceasefire is the most practical option, although one is unlikely to be agreed in the immediate future.

  • Minimise civilian casualties

The UK and our partners urgently need to secure agreements from Turkey to protect civilian life. Displacement has begun, with communities fleeing their villages and reports of civilian deaths caused by indiscriminate bombing. This area is home to two to three million people who have already suffered enough. Turkey has simultaneously launched this offensive and tightened its borders to prevent refugees from fleeing to what has been their only safe destination. Civilians are trapped with no escape, which is why, if we cannot secure a ceasefire, the parameters of Turkey’s offensive must be agreed quickly, and humanitarian access provided

  • Limit the offensive’s parameters

Turkey must commit to strike only internationally agreed and intelligence-based ‘military’ targets. Erdogan uses the terms ‘militants’, ‘terror corridor’ and ‘militia’ – vague words which give him maximum freedom to operate. Whilst the Partiya Karkeren Kurdistani (PKK) is proscribed by the UK and the US, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) must also be declared a non-targets. Beyond this, we should push Turkey to declare a time-bound offensive.

  • Join International Punitive Actions against Turkey

If Turkey will not agree to recognise the SDF as friendly forces, and targets them, we should support sanctions and other activities against it that could help save our allies, the SDF, and civilians across north east Syria.

  • Flex our diplomatic muscle

The UK should provide a voice for the Kurdish people at NATO, the UN, and in diplomatic discussions. I welcome the news that the UK and France have called for a Security Council meeting but, over the last few years, the UN has shown itself to be ineffective in addressing conflict, particularly in the Middle East. We should deploy our diplomatic network to advocate for the Kurds. I hope, since that this incursion was long-anticipated, that the Foreign Office has already developed plans to support the Kurdish people.

  • Review our posture on Turkey

There was no imminent threat to Turkey from Kurds in north eastern Syria. We want it to be a productive partner, to improve relations with it and to keep it turned westwards. But this cannot be done at any cost, and certainly not by overlooking offensives like this. Turkey has a right to protect itself, but this action was not precipitated by any threat. Erdogan has long had ambitions to extend his territory into Syria. Turkey must respect international rules. This is not what we are seeing in Syria, nor in other actions by Turkey, such as threatening Greece. We must now consider how we can help create an exit strategy for Turkey before it has even more tragic consequences.

We must also recognise that Russia is an important player, and that its continued support for the Assad regime and overtures to Turkey have emboldened Erdogan. Russia’s stated strategic objectives include creating division amongst NATO partners: we must not assist them with this aim.

  • Take a position on the Kurdish people

For too long, we have avoided having a meaningful foreign policy about the Kurdish people. We should commit to a supportive position and be open about it. We have long been friends to them. If you go to Kurdistan in Iraq you will hear many Kurds speaking perfect English with South London accents, from their time living in the UK as refugees from the longstanding persecution they have faced and the Anfal genocide.

  • Prevent the forcible return of refugees to north east Syria

Turkey has been generous in hosting refugees. Now we must prevent Turkey from forcibly returning three million Syrian refugees to North East Syria during or after this offensive. It is not safe for refugees to return to Syria, as they will face persecution from the Assad regime. Nor is it right to forcibly move refugees to an area from which they do not emanate or to forcibly change the ethnic make-up of an area.

  • Focus on the threat

Daesh has been defeated, but it still exists as an ideology that can and will recruit followers. It still operates as an insurgent force on the borders between Iraq and Syria. The SDF are holding around 2,000 foreign terrorist fighters, 9,000 Syrian and Iraqi Daesh fighters, and tens of thousands of Daesh family members in camps and prisons. The prisons are under great pressure. There have been violent attacks within them, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Daesh’s Caliph) has called for supporters to organise prison breaks.

Turkey took advantage of US withdrawal, and now Daesh will exploit the compromised position of the Kurds. How do we expect the Kurds to maintain the security of prisons while under air attack from Turkey? The UK should use its significant influence in the Coalition to lead discussions amongst its 80 plus members on how to stop this offensive, which is undermining its work to defeat violent extremists in the region over the last few years.

  • Criticise Withdrawal

A friendship is strong when one can disagree respectfully with an ally’s decision. This offensive began just days after Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of troops. This decision gave the green light to Erdogan and Assad to begin their action.

Whilst we all understand the reasons for moving troops out, a lesson from history in the Middle East is that withdrawal at the wrong time can be catastrophic. This decision throws into jeopardy the likelihood of any future forces trusting the US and, potentially, others. Turkey grasped its opportunity, and our allies, whom we committed to protect, will pay the price.

– – –

The vulnerability of the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Kurdish people is not new. We must stand by our allies and friends: words are not enough. As Conservatives we believe in self-determination, fairness, loyalty, and decency. If we desert the Kurds now, we cease to be that of which we are so proud.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Garvan Walshe: Erdogan’s Kurdish invasion will be a disaster

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.

When a civil war in a neighbouring country allows terrorists and guerrillas to flee next door, establish territorial control, use it as a base from which to train, supply and provide medical assistance to their forces, and even use it as a base from which to launch attacks, the temptation to use your regular army to crush them is hard to resist. Territory gained is territory from which attacks cannot be launched. More strategically it is a foothold form which to press your national interests in any negotiations that might bring the war to an end.

We don’t have to go back to Gustavus Adolphus’s invasion of Brandenburg in 1630 to understand how intractable such interventions, even when geographically contiguous, can get. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, early military and even political success (the then president Amine Gemayel even signed an agreement to normalise relations with Israel in 1983), led to 20 years of guerrilla war, international opprobrium and the rise of Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, of course, would later be as instrumental in preventing Bashar Assad losing power in Syria as Assad’s father was in derailing Israeli plans in Lebanon. And it’s Syria where a neighbouring power is as much in danger of committing a terrible mistake as Israel was in the 1980s.

The neighbouring power is Turkey, and the operation is a buffer zone Ankara has been seeking to carve out on its southern border. From Turkey’s perspective, the case for intervention is strong. The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, which control the area in question, are inextricably linked with the Kurdish terrorist organisation, the PKK, which has waged a bloody terrorist campaign for independence for decades (though secular, and traditionally Marxist, they practice suicide bombing).

The SDF however are also inextricably linked with the United States and the international coalition against Daesh (ISIL). The US and France have troops on the ground advising them, and planes in the air protecting them. Turkey has for some time sought to push Donald Trump to withdraw American troops, and almost managed to do so last December, leading to the resignation not only of Brett McGurk, the American official in charge of anti-ISIS operations, but even James Mattis, the US Defence Secretary.

Forty-eight hours ago, Erdogan tried again. Trump tweeted his announcement of a withdrawal (catching the SDF, France, and even Mattis’s replacement at the Pentagon by surprise), and Turkey announced it would start military operations.

This has further heightened America’s political crisis, with numerous Republicans, most of whom had been merely silent following Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukraine into inventing corruption allegations against one of his 2020 opponents, to condemn him. Lindsay Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, threatened sanctions and even Mitch McConnell, a study in circumspection when it comes to asserting legislative authority against the executive, thought to rebuke the President. Trump responded to the pressure with another bizarre threat to obliterate the Turkish economy (something he claims he’d already done before).

Meanwhile, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, preened his feline whiskers, called for calm and offered to mediate. The Security Council, which meets today, at Paris’s request can be expected to deadlock. The situation on the ground however, is becoming increasingly urgent.

Though there cannot be said to be anything as coherent as Western policy in Syria, the SDF are strategically aligned with Western interests there. Their impeccable propaganda: female soldiers driving Daesh from Raqqa’s Margaret Atwood-inspired dystopia; Western volunteers training side by side with local troops, and the adoption of a post-Marxist secular environmentalist creed to replace their traditional Leninist ideology, should not disguise their military effectiveness. They provided the ground troops that defeated ISIS, and currently guard some 15,000–20,000 prisoners, mainly from Western countries.

Now they insist that under pressure from the Turkish threat they have no manpower to spare for the task and are threatening the US with allowing a jailbreak. Trump, whose only understanding of negotiations is to screw his partner, hasn’t realised they can screw him back. The American Army is furious at being told to abandon their allies without whom the so-called Islamic State would still be in existence. They know, too, that “we’ve been told to abandon you, and can you please help us extricate our men from here” isn’t a winning offer.

The greatest strategic difficulty however is Turkish. Ankara officially has two aims for the campaign: first, to use Israeli terminology again, to eradicate the “terrorist infrastructure” that the SDF provide to the PKK. Second, to find somewhere to settle a portion of the millions of Syrian refugees currently in Turkey. They aim to do this by establishing a buffer zone, some 30 kilometres into Syria.

Entirely coincidentally, this zone contains every major Kurdish population centre. Behind them is only desert. Settling the refugees in these towns (which isn’t, incidentally, where they are from) will, it thinks, prompt a building boom, as it has in areas inside Turkey where a Kurdish insurgency was crushed in the past 18 months. Let’s just say this: the organised settling of a new population in an area occupied by hostile locals can on occasion be successful, but it is not something that has ever produced peace.

In tactical terms, Turkey asserts, as everyone does these days, that it only aims at the terrorists, and not the civilian population. It also asserts that its superior air force and artillery will make short work of any opposition. This is nonsense. In reality they are hoping that the SDF will flee, as they fled from Afrin, to the west, in an earlier round of confrontation. When they fled from Afrin, they could at least go to Kurdish-held North West Syria, but now Turkey proposes to take precisely that territory away from them.

That is the first mistake. If they’ve nowhere to go, they’ll have no alternative but to fight. There are two ways to defeat an enemy entrenched in urban centres: hard street-by-street fighting in which thousands of your own men will be killed; or what might be called the Russian school of counterinsurgency, as practiced on Aleppo, in which tens of thousands of their civilians are murdered.

Neither is an appetising choice. The fact that this decision has been taken and the arguments advanced for it suggest more that decision-making within the Turkish state has broken down; that since the coup, the military have been unable to block Erdogan’s ill-thought through impulses, and Turkey is about to commit a historic mistake whose consequences for Syria, the region and Turkey itself will be calamitous.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

It begins. Turkish troops crossing into Syria

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We can’t say they didn’t warn us. On Sunday, Donald Trump had a phone call with the Tyrant of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which Erdogan threatened to move his army into northern Syria and go after our Kurdish allies. The President responded by announcing that he would move our forces in the region “out of the way.” And now, only three days later, the Turks have crossed the border with an expeditionary force ahead of what’s expected to be a much larger invasion. (Bloomberg)

The first Turkish troops have crossed into northeastern Syria in preparation for a full-scale offensive to force back Kurdish militants controlling the border area, a Turkish official said, days after President Donald Trump said the U.S. wouldn’t stand in the way.

A small forward group of Turkish forces entered Syria early Wednesday at two points along the frontier, close to the Syrian towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Turkish lira weakened after the news, trading 0.3% lower at 5.8445 per dollar at 12 p.m. in Istanbul.

If anyone was expecting the Kurds to simply back down they’re in for a disappointment. In response to this news, they went “on high alert and called on fighters to head for the frontier to defend the region against the Turkish offensive…”

It’s hard to imagine this ending well. The Kurdish YPG militia is a tough bunch and they have some military hardware thanks to us, including shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. But the Turks are coming with what appears to be tens of thousands of troops, tanks, aircraft, and heavy weaponry. The YPG did a great job against ISIS, but they were mostly deploying foot soldiers with rifles. This is an actual army. I don’t hold out high hopes for them.

Also of grave concern is what will happen to the tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners that the Kurds are currently detaining in multiple towns along the border region. How will they turn them over to the Turks if they’re in the midst of a battle with them? Will the Turks even take them? The only other alternative would seem to be a literal army of ISIS fighters suddenly getting loose in the fog of war and returning to the battlefield to fight us yet again. A vast amount of progress in the war on terror could be lost here.

And all for what? This is happening because our supposed “ally” in Turkey has an ax to grind against the Kurds and the door has been swung open for him. It’s also a stark demonstration of how little control Bashar al-Assad has of his own borders outside of the capital and the southern and western reaches of the country. There are military units from multiple countries (including the United States) roaming his territory and he has no ability to cast them out.

Syria has been a mess for a long time. Sadly, it’s about to get a lot messier.

The post It begins. Turkish troops crossing into Syria appeared first on Hot Air.

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Bob Seely: In the Gulf, we are paying the price for starving defence of funding for so long

Bob Seely is Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight.

As if the Brexit crisis wasn’t enough for Boris Johnson’s first week as Prime Minister, he now has an international crisis in the Gulf too; one that, if handled badly, may lead to conflict. As Harold MacMillan said, when asked what throws a Government off course: events, dear boy, events.

On Friday, a UK-registered tanker, the Stena Impero, was seized by Iran, one of a series on incidents in the past three months between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK. Iran, under pressure from US sanctions, is readying to cause chaos in the Gulf.

Here are some immediate thoughts:

The UK is caught between rock and a hard place. The Iran crisis is stretching the already strained alliance between the US and Europe – and we are feeling it more than most.  On the Iranian Nuclear Deal – which is at the heart of this crisis – we are diplomatically aligned with the EU in supporting the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), whilst we remain deeply embedded in the US military alliance which, regardless of who is president, retains remarkable importance for us.

Second, we are paying the price for not paying for defence. Our emaciated presence in the Gulf is due to two decades of under-funding of the Navy and the Armed Forces more generally. We reaped the peace dividend at the end of the Cold War but refused to reinvest in the mid-2000s when the world became a more dangerous place. The Conservative-Liberal Coalition was a particularly shameful low-point in absolute cuts made to defence.

In the 1980s, the Royal Navy’s Armilla patrol in the Gulf had up to four destroyers or frigates (small destroyers). Then, the Navy had over 40 frigates or destroyers. We have 19 now. Whilst technology has made these vessels more powerful, we no longer have mass. At the same time potential adversaries, be in Iran or Russia, have invested in many varieties of power, including hard power, whilst some military technology, such as drones, have become much cheaper and more widespread. Despite this changing balance, our strategic responsibilities have stayed the same. We are trying to do the same with less as our rivals have more. Our only legally binding expenditure is on aid, which has gone up to £13 billion. Politically, in the last decade we have prioritised virtue signalling over protecting our national interests. This needs to change.

Third, warfare and conflict has changed and will continue to evolve. Two decades ago we entered the era of full spectrum warfare, sometimes known as hybrid or asymmetric warfare. This is where nations and non-state actors (think ISIS, Hezbollah, etc.) chose to use non-traditional methods to achieve their aims, either because they cannot match US technology, or because non-conventional methods of conflict are more effective in the era we live in. Iran, alone with China and Russia, are the major proponents of full-spectrum warfare. The seizure of the Stena Impero was an example of this.

Iran’s full spectrum tools also include influence or control over religious, political or paramilitary groups across the Middle East: the Houthi in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the Alawite regime in Syria, proxies in Iraq and religious groups in the Gulf states. In case of further conflict, Iran will very likely initially seek to damage UK, US, Saudi Arabian or UAE targets in the Middle East, through its proxies, overtly or covertly. Lobbing a UK missile at a no-doubt empty target in Iran will achieve nothing except threaten British lives and interests across the Middle East.

Fourth, Iran wants to internationalise this crisis. It is suffering under new US sanctions since they were imposed when President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018. US sanctions have been surprisingly successful. However, as a result moderates in Iran have been weakened, and anti-Western and illiberal elements strengthened. The thinking from those who know Iran is that, if Iran is going to suffer, it will make the rest of the Middle East suffer too. That could mean a mix of destabilising attacks on shipping, paramilitary attacks or assassinations in the Middle East.

So what’s the answer?

In the short term in the Gulf, the UK needs to renew international and regional alliances and find convoy partners. We should additionally put in place what deterrence forces we can in local bases in Bahrain and elsewhere; another destroyer or two if we can muster it, swift boats, helicopters and drones.

In the longer term, we need to work with the US, the EU and Iran to find a way out from the ongoing crisis. In practice, that means finding a realistic set of proposals acceptable to the US and Iran that gets the JCPOA back on track. Mike Pompeo has outlined 12 demands. These are seen to be unrealistic, but there is some chance for a more modest set of US proposals being put forward that Iran could sign up to, or at least use as the basis for negotiation.

Finally, and more broadly, we need to plan for the decades ahead. We are not doing so.

In February I launched a Global Britain study with the Henry Jackson Society. In that report, I outlined some key aims: reinvest in hard power whilst ensuring that we are capable of understanding and countering full spectrum warfare; integrate overseas policy and possibly even departments; redefine aid to allow DfID funds to fund peacekeeping options; and provide for a significant uplift to the BBC World Service Radio and TV. Most importantly, the UK should develop a global strategy for the next decade and two, driven by a UK Strategy Council.

The UK has benefitted from the international order constructed after the Second World War. We need to invest to defend it. That doesn’t mean, as the predictable line of questioning on the BBC in the last couple of days put it, wanting to be the world’s policeman or boss others about, but it does mean delivering an overseas policy which allows the UK to remain a leading player in the global order, and by so doing, defend our just interests.

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NBC: Trump admin retreating on Syria withdrawal?

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Somewhere, Lindsey Graham draws a sigh of relief. John Bolton has set out on a trip to explain Donald Trump’s plans on Syria to our allies, who were caught flat-footed by his announcement of withdrawing completely from the ISIS battleground. A source within the administration tells NBC News that Bolton will outline a plan with a much longer timetable for withdrawal — and perhaps an indefinite timetable for part of Syria:

Some U.S. troops could remain in southern Syria for an undetermined amount of time even as American forces withdraw in coming months from the northern part of the country, a senior administration official said Friday.

President Donald Trump announced last month that he was withdrawing all U.S. troops from Syria immediately but has since softened the timing to say the drawdown will happen more slowly.

The U.S. has no timeline for Trump’s order of a complete troop withdrawal but believes the remaining pockets of ISIS in Syria can be eliminated in a matter of weeks, said the senior administration official, who was traveling with national security adviser John Bolton on a trip aimed at clarifying the new policy for America’s allies.

That’s a bit different than last night’s reporting on Bolton’s trip. The Washington Post focused more on the effort to get out of Turkey’s way and the coordination necessary to give Ankara the lead on anti-ISIS fighting. The purpose of meeting with other Arab leaders was to undo the impression that we’re bailing on the Middle East, according to Karen DeYoung:

Turkey wants the United States to disarm Syrian Kurdish forces it has trained and supplied for the fight against the Islamic State, and to provide air and logistical support for Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition forces who plan to pick up the anti-militant battle after a U.S. withdrawal.

The list of Turkey’s “concerns and expectations” will be conveyed next week to White House national security adviser John Bolton when he visits Ankara to explain the still-unspecified U.S. plan for a withdrawal from Syria, according to Turkish officials.

Bolton’s trip comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also heading to the region to try to persuade Arab partners and allies that “the United States is not leaving the Middle East. Despite reports to the contrary and false narratives surrounding the Syria decision, we are not going anywhere,” a senior administration official said Friday in a briefing for reporters.

What “false narratives” were “surrounding the Syria decision”? Trump made his policy crystal clear. Not only did he declare a complete withdrawal from Syria — a decision that led to James Mattis’ resignation — Trump repeatedly defended a complete withdrawal on Twitter. Trump even made a point of taking a victory lap on complete withdrawal when meeting with troops in Iraq less than two weeks ago. Pompeo might want to rewrite history in order to give Trump some room for rethinking this move, but there was precious little room for a “false narrative” of complete and immediate withdrawal.

These remarks and Bolton’s trip suggest that Trump may well be rethinking the decision. He might be able to afford to let Turkey take on ISIS, albeit on a much longer timetable than Trump first posed, but leaving southern Syria in the hands of Iran is asking for a regional war. Israel has already conducted airstrikes in Syria to signal that it won’t let Bashar al-Assad off the hook for giving the mullahs in Tehran a back door to attack them. If the US leaves a vacuum in southern Syria, Iran will try to fill it — and Israel will unleash waves of attacks to prevent that from happening. That could very well cause an extremely large boom in the region, one which will eventually entangle the US and Russia and maybe even China.

That’s one good reason to stick around for a while and have an active hand in shaping the post-ISIS outcome in Syria. Besides, the US will have to have some presence in and about Syria if Bolton’s serious about this threat:

“There is absolutely no change in the U.S. position against the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and absolutely no change in our position that any use of chemical weapons would be met by a very strong response, as we’ve done twice before,” Bolton told reporters on his plane shortly before landing in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“So the regime, the Assad regime, should be under no illusions on that question,” said Bolton, who is on a four-day trip to Israel and Turkey. …

If chemical weapons were to be used, “a lot of options would be on the table … if they don’t heed the lessons of those two strikes the next one will be more telling,” Bolton said.

Thus far the Trump administration has shown it’s not bluffing on reprisals for violations of chemical-weapons bans, but Assad might be forgiven for any confusion on that point. Bolton’s warning sounds a lot different than Trump’s tweet two weeks ago while defending a total withdrawal:

It seems that Bolton thinks we’ll keep that role as “policeman of the Middle East” after all. And perhaps we won’t be exiting Syria as fast or as completely as Trump first declared, either.

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As predicted, Erdogan is “determined” to drive the Kurds out of Syria

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Earlier this week we heard rumors that the President’s decision to pull out of Syria abruptly was reached during a phone call to Turkish tyrant Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At the time, I wrote, “The real danger to the Kurds comes from Turkey, where Erdogan has been hell-bent on exterminating them for quite some time. I’m somewhat less concerned with allowing ISIS in Syria and Iraq to slip the noose than abandoning the Kurds to a massacre.”

Well, that didn’t take long. I generally enjoy a good “I told you so” moment as much as the next guy, but I can take no pleasure in this. It sounds like Erdogan isn’t wasting any time in preparing his next move. Whether he can (or even truly wants to) eradicate ISIS in Syria and Iraq, his first objective clearly seems to be clearing our allies the Kurds out of the entire region. (Associated Press)

Turkey said Tuesday it is working with the United States to coordinate the withdrawal of American forces but remains “determined” to clear U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters from northeastern Syria.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters that “if Turkey says it will enter, it will,” in comments carried by private DHA news agency.

For weeks, Turkey has been threatening to launch a new offensive against the Kurdish fighters, who partnered with the U.S. to drive the Islamic State group out of much of northern and eastern Syria. Ankara views the Kurdish forces as terrorists because of their links to an insurgent group inside Turkey.

We should probably be clear about one thing here. When Erdogan says “drive them out” he most likely means “wipe them out.” If the Kurds decided to leave the region of their own volition and retreat to their traditional stronghold in northern Iraq, he might be satisfied with that. But if push comes to shove Erdogan would no doubt be even more satisfied with his military exterminating them.

The Kurds are on thin ice and have been for a long time. Both Turkey and Iran are perpetually on the verge of war with them. The government of Iraq seems to only tolerate them because of their alliance with the United States and they are viewed as a potential breakaway province in that nation. How long that situation will hold with the United States mostly out of the region has always remained an open question.

The Kurds have been loyal allies to America and fearless fighters. They appear to neither have nor desire the option of some sort of mass diaspora to escape their enemies. They have their own lands to protect in Kurdistan, as they have for more than a thousand years. We’re sending a very poor message in terms of any present and future alliances if we sit back and let Turkey’s military wade into the YPG.

Just to add a bit more ugliness to this mess, during the same announcement, Erdogan said that he was heading to Moscow next week to discuss this situation with Vladimir Putin. Russia and Iran are on the same side when it comes to supporting Bashar al-Assad and opposing the American-backed Syrian opposition groups. Everyone has their eyes on eastern Syria because of its rich oil fields. With every turn of the news cycle, the news out of this region looks worse and worse.

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