Thursday, October 8, 2015

Foul! You're Bombing our Jihadis!

The hypocrisy of the US and NATO criticism of Russian bombing in Syria is stunning. 

"They are not bombing ISIL.  They are recklessly killing civilians!"  

As if NATO bombing were somehow insulated from inflicting death and destruction on non-combatants.  
And as if the targets of the Russian attacks were not Islamic jihadis, intent on destroying anyone and anything who disagree with their Wahabbi inspired brand of Islam. 

The Nusra Front, which so far seems to be the main target of the Russian bombs, started life as the Syrian branch of ISIS (ISIL, Daesh). After internal disagreements (probably power struggles for control) they broke away and adopted the name al-Nusra.  Fighting with Nusra are fighters who still call themselves al-Qaeda, still nominally commanded by bin Laden's colleague, Ayman al-Zawahiri.  These groups are fighting to overthrow the Assad regime, and replace it with some kind of fundamentalist mediaeval Islamic state.

But because they are fighting Assad, they somehow became acceptable to the US, whose priority in Syria is to remove Assad. There are Wikileaks documents showing US plans for such a regime change going back to 2007.  So on the principle that 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' somehow the non-ISIS jihadi opposition became "moderate" jihadis, ones who we could support.   

Russia has no such illusions, and is clear that it wants to support the Assad regime.  So it is fighting all of Assad's enemies.  So far they seem not to have done much against ISIS, but no doubt that will happen when they have inflicted sufficient damage on the Nusra crowd, for the Syrian army to recapture territory lost to them.  

And when they do turn their bombs on ISIS I am sure that they will be far more effective than NATO has ever been.  We have had over a year of NATO bombing and during that time ISIS has got stronger capturing new territory, including Palmyra and its World Heritage Roman ruins.  The most technologically advanced military in the world couldn't even hit a convoy of unprotected ISIS white Toyotas crossing the desert on their way to take Ramadi.

Is this because the NATO airforces are incompetent?  Or because they have inadequate intelligence?  Or because somehow ISIS is too canny to be caught?  

Of course it is not.  It is because NATO doesn't want to destroy ISIS all the time that Assad is in power. I am confident that the thinking in Washington is that they will deal with ISIS after Assad has gone.  

The removal of the Assad regime has always been the US number one priority.  But they could not sell another regime-change war to the American public.  So they provided weapons, financing and expertise to an assorted bunch of groups fighting Assad, including a lot of extreme jihadis.  The few non-extremist opponents of Assad have for the most part been destroyed or taken over by one or other of the jihadi groups.  Many of the weapons and foot soldiers ended up with ISIS.  But after ISIS's barbaric public executions of foreigners including Americans, something had to be done, so a bombing campaign was initiated.   But it has always been a half-hearted affair.  Enough to convince the public back home that they were fighting the evils of extremist terrorism ('we fight it over there so we don't have to fight it over here'), but not enough to inflict real damage on ISIS.

But that is about to change.  I am prepared to wager that Russia, allied with Syrian Army and Kurdish troops, will do more damage to ISIS in a few weeks than the US with its various allies has done in nearly two years.

What happens then is another question.  Hopefully the US will give up on its regime-change obsession and peace talks can begin.  The Syrian people have suffered too much and much of the suffering can be put at the doors of outside agents.  I suspect a lasting peace, maintaining Syria's territorial integrity, can only be reached if there is an agreement between the outside actors to support a strong central government.  Unfortunately that still seems a long way off. 

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