Friday, November 20, 2015

What have US and Allies been doing in Syria?

It seems that Russia has accomplished more in a few weeks in combatting Daesh (IS, ISIS, ISIL) than the US and its allies (UK, France, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Gulf States etc.) have accomplished in a year or more.  One wonders why this is so.  Are Daesh so clever strategically that they can outwit the combined intelligence and firepower of this formidable array of powers?  On might have been forgiven thinking this from the lack of progress toward that end.  

And then Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, comes along and once more embarrasses his counterparts in the West by revealing something of what is really going on.  He talked about intelligence on Daesh receiving funding from individuals in forty countries - no doubt some of those countries are in the list of US allies above - but more than that he revealed something I imagine Washington did not want ever made public.  In Putin's words:

I’ve shown our colleagues photos taken from space and from aircraft which clearly demonstrate the scale of the illegal trade in oil and petroleum products,” 
“The motorcade of refueling vehicles stretched for dozens of kilometers, so that from a height of 4,000 to 5,000 meters they stretch beyond the horizon,” 
Iraqi intelligence has estimated that Daesh earns $50 million a month from the sale of oil produced in fields in Syria and Iraq under its control.  It is sold on the black market in Turkey.  If one were serious in "degrading and destroying" Daesh one would have thought that an obvious target was its funding, in particular its oil exports.  So why has the US and its allies not bombed these oil convoys?  Remember the "Turkey Shoot" on Saddam's army as it retreated from Kuwait after the first Gulf War.  A convoy of hundreds of oil tankers making its way northward across the desert should have made an even easier target.  But they didn't do it.  The excuse of incompetence just won't wash.  No military (or military intelligence) could be that incompetent.
So clearly the US did not want to cut off Daesh funding in this way.  Why not?  I think one answer is that the US sees ousting Bashar Al Assad's regime as a higher priority than destroying Daesh.  Its actions have pointed in this direction for a long time.  For example it did nothing to stop a long convoy of Daesh forces advancing on Palmyra to attack the city held by the (Assad's) Syrian Arab Army.  But it similarly allowed Daesh convoys to cross the desert to successfully attack and capture Ramadi in Anbar province of Iraq, and at that time held by the Iraqi army.  This one remains a mystery because the fall of Ramadi didn't apparently negatively affect Assad's forces at all.
But coming back to the oil convoys, there is another possible reason for letting them continue unmolested which I came across today.  In a piece by Pepe Escobar entitled "In the Fight Against ISIS, Russia Ain’t Taking No Prisoners" there is the claim that 
"Turkish Socialist party member Gursel Tekin has established that Daesh’s smuggled oil is exported to Turkey by BMZ, a shipping company controlled by none other than Bilal Erdogan, son of “Sultan”Erdogan".
If this is indeed true, then one could see one possible reason why the Coalition has refrained from bombing the convoys. The US has believed it needs Turkey's support in its Syria operations.  Just this year Turkey has permitted the US to use its Incirlik air base, which is much closer to the Daesh heartland than the airfields in the Gulf that it was previously using.  It seemed at the time that the quid pro quo for this was to permit Turkey to attack Kurdish forces (which have been fighting Daesh and been supported by the US).  But perhaps Turkey (or at least the odious unprincipled Erdogan) wanted to keep the oil flowing so that his family could continue to profit from it and at the same time so that Daesh could continue fighting his sworn enemy Al Assad.  
There is so much we don't know about this whole sordid war.  One thing is clear many people are dying and being driven out of their homes and a country is being destroyed.  Now that some blowback is being felt in Europe with the refugee crisis and the murderous Paris attacks, perhaps we can hope (but not expect?) that some of the parties involved will start acting with some honesty and integrity.  


  1. Maybe the US too does just want to disrupt abundant supplies of oil at very low prices.

    Are the US and its allies stupid? Are Putin's attacks as effective as you assume. I read the recent French bombings achieved little.

  2. No I think devious rather than stupid. They haven't wanted to defeat a major opponent of Assad. But after Paris, I think that western countries should realize that Daesh is a much more serious enemy than Assad. He hasn't declared jihad on the west, bombed civilian airliners nor claimed terror attacks in European capitals. I think the west should do what Russia is doing - make destroying Daesh its number one priority. It is up to Syrians to decide what government they want.