Bombing people to save them? Western states line up to intervene in Syria

(Deutsche Welle) France, Australia and the UK are considering joining a US-led coalition flying air strikes in Syria. They cite the refugee crisis as justification for military intervention, but can bombing put an end to the conflict?

For British Prime Minister David Cameron, it’s not enough to act as a “moral humanitarian nation taking people, spending money on aid and helping in refugee camps.”

“Assad has to go, ISIL has to go. Some of that will require not just spending money, not just aid, not just diplomacy but it will on occasion require hard military force,” Cameron said, using an alternative acronym for “Islamic State.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has already announced plans for his country to join the US-led air campaign in Syria and he has not even ruled out the possibility of sending ground troops. France is already flying reconnaissance missions over Syria to gather information for potential air strike targets as President Francois Hollande announced his intention to join the US-led campaign in Syria on Monday.

‘Bombing people to save them’

But air strikes aimed at protecting civilians are rarely effective, according to Taylor Seybolt. Air strikes have a chance of success only at the start of a conflict – before the warring sides are entrenched – or at the end when they are exhausted. The strikes also have to defend a focused area for a limited amount of time, Seybolt told DW. None of these conditions are currently present in Syria.

“Bombing people to save them isn’t really a good practice,” said Seybolt, the author of “Humanitarian Military Intervention: The Conditions for Success or Failure.”

“The talk about humanitarian bombing is not focused on a particular safe area or population,” Seybolt said. “It’s just sort of a broad statement that we’re going to try to help people so that they stay were they are rather than come across to Europe.”

Continue reading

America’s Syria dilemma: Enemy of the enemy now a friend?

(By Deutsche Welle) US efforts to recruit moderate rebels are not going well. With “Islamic State” now enemy number one, the White House has tacitly forged an alliance with its old adversary: Bashar al-Assad. Spencer Kimball reports.

America’s rebel army in Syria has instructions not to attack the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The main enemy is the “Islamic State” (IS). Not that the pro-Western militia poses a threat to either. So far, Washington has only trained 60 fighters.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter acknowledged as much this week, telling Congress that the number falls far below the Pentagon’s original expectations. The secretary’s admission triggered consternation among President Barack Obama’s opponents and damage control by his supporters.

“Our means and our current level of effort are not aligned with our ends,” Senator John McCain said during a committee hearing. “That suggests we are not winning, and when you are not winning in war, you are losing.”

Why has the US trained so few rebels? There’s a strict vetting process, which according to Carter ensures that recruits are committed to fighting IS as their first priority and will obey the laws of armed conflict.

According to Syria expert David Lesch, the Obama administration has been cautious because it fears US arms could fall into the hands of Islamist radicals: “which has happened on a consistent basis, including US aligned rebel groups’ weapons depots being overrun by Islamist groups.”

Continue reading

President Obama’s unauthorized, incomplete Iraq war strategy

(By Deutsche Welle) More than nine months, 2,000 airstrikes and 3,000 military advisers later, Congress still has not authorized the US war against the “Islamic State.” The White House now wants to deploy 450 advisers closer to the front.

The American bombs falling on Iraq and Syria barely make headlines anymore. Over the past four days alone, the US and its allies have launched at least 70 airstrikes against “Islamic State” (IS) targets.

The public and Congress have largely backed Washington’s third Iraq war. According to the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of Americans support the US military campaign against IS.

Forty-seven percent of the country would even support sending ground troops back to the Middle East. That’s an eight-point increase over last year, according to Pew.

Though the president has ruled out sending combat troops back to the Middle East, he has deployed a growing number of advisers. On Wednesday, the White House announced plans to send 450 additional US troops to train Iraqi forces, bringing the total number to more than 3,500.

The advisers will be stationed at Taqaddum airbase in Anbar province near the city of Habbaniyah, which is just 33 kilometers (20 miles) from two cities controlled by IS.

“Habbaniyah is sandwiched between Ramadi and Fallujah, now both Islamic State strongholds,” Wayne White, a former senior Iraq analyst at the State Department, told DW. “The Islamic State has made several efforts to move against Habbaniyah.”

“The personnel in Habbaniyah will be in greater danger,” White said.

Continue reading

Calls for ‘IS’ media blackout after reported execution of US journalist

(By Deutsche Welle) US freelance journalist James Foley has reportedly been executed by “Islamist State” (IS) militants. In response, a Twitter campaign has been started to stop the spread of violent postings by the IS.

In a video originally posted on YouTube called “A Message to America,” militants claiming to represent the “Islamic State” (IS) appeared to execute a man identified as James Foley, supposedly in retaliation for Washington launching a campaign of airstrikes against the radical group in northern Iraq.

They then threaten to take the life of a man identified in the video as Steven Joe Sotloff, an American who has freelanced for Time Magazine, if US President Barack Obama doesn’t end the airstrikes in Iraq. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating the authenticity of the video, which was removed from social media sites on Tuesday.

Shortly after the video went online, a social media campaign called #ISISMediaBlackout was started on Twitter, aiming to stop the footage and other violent videos from being shared. ISIS refers to the radical Sunni group’s previous name, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

So far, the Twitter campaign has been shared more than 7,000 times since Tuesday. Twitter user @LibyaLiberty kicked off the campaign.

Continue reading

‘IS’ is ‘the greatest threat to journalists’

(By Deutsche Welle) Syria is the most dangerous country for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Middle East program coordinator Sherif Mansour estimates about 20 foreign reporters are being held hostage.

DW: How much do we know about the journalists who have been abducted in Syria?

Sherif Mansour: We have reported on many of those cases. We actually believe that as many as 80 and more were kidnapped since the civil war started. That includes 65 who were kidnapped last year alone – that’s more than one journalist every week. And we at the time said this is an unprecedented number.

We are trying to keep track, but it’s very difficult, because some of these cases go unreported, and in other cases it’s the family or the media organization that employs the journalist who ask that there will be a blackout on the case. That’s why we couldn’t reveal a lot of information.

We also know that a lot of foreign journalists have been kidnapped. We estimate that currently 20 foreign journalists are [being held].

Who is targeting these journalists?

At the beginning, the [Syrian] regime was doing all these violations against journalists. It wasn’t until 2012 that we saw the opposition then, or IS [the “Islamic State”] – which was ISIS back then – starting those violations. By the end of 2012, ISIS became the greatest threat to journalists – they’ve killed journalists, they’ve kidnapped more journalists than anyone else. And they were very brutal about it. They’ve also targeted foreign journalists to serve as leverage in negotiations with other parties, including foreign governments.

Continue reading

Evolution of the ‘Islamic State’

(By Deutsche Welle) The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now simply the “Islamic State,” continues to advance in northern Iraq, prompting US airstrikes against the Sunni extremist group. DW looks at the group’s origins and goals.

The “Islamic State” is a militant Sunni Muslim extremist group that emerged out of the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

In 2003, the United States overthrew Iraq’s secular dictator Saddam Hussein, outlawed his Arab nationalist Baath party and dissolved the country’s military. Feeling marginalized as Iraq’s majority Shiites rose to power, Hussein’s Sunni co-confessionalists launched a bloody insurgency against the US-led coalition beginning in summer of that year.

Although initially made up predominantly of ex-soldiers and Hussein loyalists, the insurgency grew increasingly radical as Islamist militants led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi infiltrated its ranks. Originally a petty criminal, Zarqawi was radicalized in a Jordanian prison and fought in Afghanistan against the communist government in Kabul – which was abandoned by the Soviet Union – from 1989 to 1992.

Zarqawi was arrested again by the Jordanians in 1994 for plotting against the country’s monarchy, but was subsequently released in 1999 as part of a general amnesty granted after King Hussein’s death.

Zarqawi returned to Afghanistan, but was forced to flee for northern Iraq after the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban in 2001. Once in Iraq, Zarqawi reportedly led the Arab faction within the Kurdish militant group Ansar al-Islam. He subsequently founded al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

Continue reading

US-Russian tensions over Ukraine threaten cooperation on Syria, Iran

(By Deutsche Welle) US-Russian relations have reached one of their lowest points since the end of the Cold War. The question is, as Moscow and Washington face off over Ukraine, can they continue to cooperate on Syria and Iran?

Barack Obama was going to be the president who salvaged Washington’s deteriorating relationship with Russia. Ties between the two countries had frayed during the Bush administration over Moscow’s intervention in Georgia and US plans to deploy a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe.

In 2009, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a red “reset” button. The gesture symbolized the Obama White House’s desire to clear the slate and build a more cooperative relationship with the Kremlin.

Fast forward five years and Washington is now threatening Moscow with economic sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine. It’s the most serious confrontation between the two powers in the past two decades, according to Jeffrey Mankoff, an expert on Russian foreign policy with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C.

“There’s not going to be a walking back from the confrontation that’s been unleashed by this crisis, at least as long as Russia is what it is, which is to say an increasingly authoritarian and revisionist power,” Mankoff told DW.

But from the Syrian civil war to Iran’s nuclear program, the US needs Russian cooperation to resolve a host of international problems. In Washington, the Republican opposition believes that President Obama’s unwillingness to adopt a more aggressive posture has only emboldened Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran.

“We are almost rudderless as far as our foreign policy is concerned,” Senator John McCain told DW at the Munich Security Conference in February.

Continue reading