US Secretary of State John Kerry has finally realised “the necessity for sending troops on the ground in Syria” in order to counter and eliminate Daesh. Perhaps Kerry made this realisation a bit too late, but it appears as though he has examined the possibility of involvement in Syria anew. Although Kerry emphasised the need for intervention in Syria, he failed to give a precise road map or any clarification as to when this intervention would actually take place.
Although Kerry alluded to the fact that the UN General Assembly is due to discuss this issue at the end of the month, he also confirmed that American troops would not be among those on the ground itself. Kerry’s statements both coincide with and contradict an article published by the Washington Post on 2 September, which claimed that the US military was in the midst of devising a plan with the CIA as to how to “surgically” carry out a military operation in Syria that would target and eliminate top leaders within Daesh. These operations would be conducted independently from the current operations that are being carried out by the international American-led coalition against Daesh, which has been in progress for over a year.
According to officials themselves, some of the operations in question have already been implemented while others are being prepared. Within this context, the comments made by David Petraeus, former director of the CIA, urged the US government and current administration to lure in members of the Al-Nusra Front to fight against Daesh. Petraeus’s comments ignited a serious debate, and while Washington denied this outcome as a remote possibility one must remember that simply denying something does not negate its validity. Moreover, the US administration remains as confused as ever when it comes to deciding how to combat Daesh.
Then, of course, comes Washington’s insistence that it needs to train a so-called “moderate” opposition fighters; however, it seems as though this plan has failed as many expected it to. This plan, which cost approximately $500 million, predicted that 6,000 fighters would be trained by the end of this year. And yet, by the end of last month a mere six units were able to enter Syrian territory and many of their leaders as well as dozens of troops were captured and held hostage by Islamist groups.
It has been more than a year since the international coalition was announced to combat Daesh forces in Syria and Iraq, and for more than a year the majority of us have wished for nothing but the success of this coalition. We hoped that it would bring an end to Daesh and we believed that the goal of this coalition was to trap the group and draw out certain red lines that would become impossible to cross.
A few months ago, I asked how we could ensure the elimination of Daesh and the answer was that there are dozens of approaches dedicated to eliminating this group. It must be emphasised that military intervention is only one way to fight Daesh. For more insight on other ways to fight against the group, we can only hope that the Americans will learn from history.
For over a year, the United States has provided us with several scenarios as to how we can fight Daesh. Some of these scenarios are stillborn, such as the idea of training up a moderate opposition, while others are born challenged but are implemented anyway, like the creation of an international coalition to bomb the group’s headquarters. Military science has long shown us that air strikes alone are not enough to eliminate a threat without the presence of a strong organic alliance on the ground, one that brings about the support of all classes of people.
This type of approach failed in Iraq because it failed to meet certain preconditions. For example, the city of Ramadi fell after the coalition was formed. Soon after Daesh forces entered the city of Beiji, where they have remained since. The same approach failed in Syria, and the historical site of Palmyra fell into the hands of the terrorists for similar reasons.
Today, people are still talking about the possibility of Arab military intervention in Syria – but what Arab country is willing to send its troops to fight in Syria, and in support of what agreement and under what leadership? If this were to truly happen would it occur in spite of the Syrian regime or through coordination with it? These are the types of questions that many are asking, and yet we cannot find an answer to them to this day. For that reason, all of the possibilities mentioned above are merely hot air that cannot be implemented without certain preconditions. Merely a few days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed the troubling fact that Russia has been and will continue to support the Syrian regime by arming it with weapons. He confirmed that Russia would continue to provide training until further notice. What Putin failed to mention was that this will remain the status quo because the Syrian city of Tartus is Russia’s only foothold in the region and its last remaining warm water port.
Putin’s remarks came after two months of meetings with kings, presidents and leaders, both Arab and non-Arab, all of whom stand in opposition to the regime.
There is also the Turkish role, which no one can deny has played a pivotal role in the Syrian arena. The factors at hand here are American and Turkish disagreements regarding the buffer zone at the Turkish-Syrian border and the US’s belief that the PKK should be armed in order to fight Daesh while Turkey unquestionably views the Kurdish group as a terrorist organisation.
Turkey announced, albeit too late, that it too would be engaged in the fight against Daesh. Though the country is on the threshold of new elections, it will undoubtedly be part of the equation from this point forward.
The discussion on finding a political solution in Syria has centred on the possibility of forming a transitional government in which the opposition possesses the legislative powers while Assad remains a figurehead president until the end of his current term. These suggestions will remain nothing but speculation as long as the outcome is not accepted by Damascus. Russia has gone so far as to suggest parliamentary elections in Syria, but what elections are we talking about while the fighting rages on day after day in more than one battlefield?
In short, many objective observers believe that if an agreement is reached to end the war in Syria that it will happen in stages and under the sponsorship of four countries: the US, Russia, Iran and Turkey. If these four countries are capable of sitting around a negotiating table then they will be able to take the first step, and that is a ceasefire in Syria once all of these parties speak with their allies.
Would this even be possible? The answer is yes, if there is a will to do so; however, this cannot be done before the US and Iran officially reach their final nuclear energy agreement, which will not happen before the end of this year in any case. The next question naturally becomes; is this even possible? It all depends on whether or not the Syrian regime makes its decision based on the desires of its Russian and Iranian allies – but even then, will the others follow suit? All of the parties in question, the Islamist factions, the Free Syrian Army and even the Al-Nusra front, receive their funding from various donors. We all know that he who pays gives the commands.
Achieving this first step is essential before one can implement a transitional government or hold parliamentary or presidential elections. The transitional government must be all-encompassing and wide reaching in its ability to represent all people. It needs to reshape the structure of the military and security forces rather than abolish them, as was the case in Iraq in 2003. The decision to maintain the state’s foundation was agreed upon by both Moscow and Washington over a year ago. After all, there is no harm in gathering at a table to discuss the lies of demons, as they say.
On the other hand, the enormous pressure that is being faced by Europe today due to the influx of displaced Syrian refugees not only serves as a major security threat but also gives the EU further incentive to engage in the conversation on how to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
Returning to the question of Arab intervention, Arab intervention can only occur once a transitional government is established in Syria after which all forces can work together to eliminate Daesh, the group that has been classified as a terrorist organisation and has grown against international will.
Finally, if none of the outcomes I mention above materialise in the near future, and this side or that continues its biased military aide of one group over another, the violence will continue to take place and the influx of displaced people will continue to grow larger and larger and no resolution will be reached by any party.
In cased you missed this bit of information, the Syrian regime currently maintains control of Damascus and parts of the Syrian coast while the rest of Syria has been converted into a proxy war between Daesh and numerous other factions. The “Somalisation of Syria” has begun and knows no limits.
Let us not lose faith until we see what might come of the UN General Assembly’s meeting at the end of this month. It would not be too much for us to raise our expectations a little bit, if only to hold on to any semblance of hope.
Translated from Al-Jazeera on 18 September, 2015.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.