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.”

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US-Saudi alliance stays strong after Iran nuclear deal

Will the Iran nuclear deal strain ties between Saudi Arabia and the US? Hardly. The alliance between the world’s largest absolute monarchy and its oldest constitutional republic remains strong, Spencer Kimball reports.

One is an officially Islamic nation ruled by the same family for 83 years, where religion dictates who drives (men) and what women may wear (abayas, or full-body cloaks); the other is a mostly, but not officially, Christian country where voters pick their leaders and often even enact local laws.

Enemies and interests may be the only two things Saudi Arabia and the United States do have in common, and these have proved the basis for a long and largely loyal strategic partnership.

“It has survived every possible provocation that might have brought it down, including [US President] Truman’s recognition of Israel in 1948,” Thomas Lippman, a former Middle East bureau chief for the Washington Post, told DW.

Lippman believes that the relationship will also survive its latest test: the deal world powers signed in July to ease sanctions on Iran in exchange for international monitoring of the country’s nuclear program.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry left for Qatar, part of his first trip to the Middle East since he and fellow negotiators reached the historic agreement with Saudi Arabia’s main rival for regional influence.

Before and after the deal, Kerry repeatedly reaffirmed the US’s commitment to the security of its Gulf partners. Just last week, the State Department approved the sale of 600 Patriot missiles, worth $5.4 billion (4.9 billion euros), to Riyadh.

The Patriots will help counter Iran’s missile program, Lippman said, though he doesn’t believe that the sale is necessarily related to the nuclear deal.

“I have no doubt that the Saudis despise Shiites and are nervous about the Iranians and are unhappy about Iran’s activity around the region – that’s no secret,” Lippman said.

“They also understand perfectly which side their bread is buttered on, and that’s the US side,” he continued. “Nobody else is going to sell them 600 patriot missiles.”

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US caught between Turkey, Kurd rivalry in war against ‘IS’

They’re both key to US goals in the Middle East, but they’re bitterly opposed to one another. Turkey has bombed Kurdish positions in Iraq. The airstrikes could hamper Washington’s war against ‘IS.’

According to the Turkish government, there’s no difference between “Islamic State” and the Kurdish militant group PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). They’re both terrorist organizations.

“Whichever terrorist organization poses a threat to the borders of the Turkish Republic, measures will be taken without hesitation,” said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu after Turkey launched operations against both groups. “No-one should have any doubt.”

But the secular PKK has proven one of the most effective adversaries of the “Islamic State” group, according to Michael Gunter, who’s written several books on the Kurds. So effective, that there have been calls in the US to remove the PKK from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

“The US should do it,” Gunter, a professor at Tennessee Tech University, told DW. “The US has been in effect supporting the PKK by supporting the affiliate of the PKK, the PYD [Kurdish Democratic Union Party], in Syria.”

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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.”

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US allows families to pay hostage ransoms

(By Deutsche Welle) Under pressure from relatives of slain Americans, the US has permitted families to pay hostage ransoms. But experts say that as long as European governments pay large ransoms, the kidnapping epidemic will continue.

Could James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Warren Weinstein, Abdul-Rahman Kassig and Kayla Mueller have been saved?

The United States has long maintained a policy of not negotiating with terrorists. Sort of. In the case of Weinstein, the FBI advised his family on how to make a ransom payment of $250,000 to his al Qaeda-affiliated captors, according to The New York Times.

“Helping with a ransom…is not tantamount to paying a ransom,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at the time.

The American contractor was ultimately killed by a US airstrike targeting militants on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. An Italian aid worker was also inadvertently killed.

The Foley family, on the other hand, claims they were threatened with prosecution by the State Department if they tried to pay a ransom for their son’s release.

Though the United States staged a military operation to rescue Foley, the 40-year-old freelance journalist wasn’t at the location of the raid. Weeks later, he was beheaded by the Islamic State in a gruesome video, the first of many.

“The families don’t feel supported; they don’t feel like they’re given the information they need, and that’s clearly become a political issue for the Obama administration,” Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told DW.

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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.

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US and Iran: ‘More cooperation than meets the eye’

(By Deutsche Welle) Bitter adversaries for a generation, the US and Iran now face a common enemy: the “Islamic State.” But Dr. Roham Alvandi tells DW that politics prevent Tehran and Washington from cooperating publicly.

DW: What are the US and Iran’s respective interests in fighting the “Islamic State”? Are they opposed to IS for the same reasons?

Roham Alvandi: They’re not quite the same reasons. They each have their own interests in Iraq, and they each have an interest in containing and eventually defeating the Islamic State. From the US point of view, what they’re trying to do is defeat the IS threat but also create some sort of inclusive government in Iraq where you have some sort of balance between the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds.

Whereas from the Iranian perspective, that’s much less their priority. They’re very much backing their allies in Iraq. But on the whole, there’s probably more cooperation going on than meets the eye. I suspect that there was a great deal of cooperation behind the scenes that has to do with the creation of the new government in Iraq, and I suspect that there’s also some cooperation in terms of the military operations that are going on. But neither side has an interest in acknowledging that openly, so they’re going to keep that very quiet.

Ayatollah Khamenei said that he rejected an offer from the US to cooperate against the Islamic State. Why would Iran oppose cooperating with Washington against a common enemy?

Iran assisted the United States in Afghanistan back in 2001. They helped defeat the Taliban; they helped create the Bonn process [to rebuild Afghanistan’s political institutions]; they helped create the Karzai government. And what they got in exchange for that was “axis of evil” and more sanctions. Nothing came out of it and that was quite a gamble for President Khatami who had convinced the leadership that this was the right thing to do. So you can’t really blame them for being skeptical as to whether the US will really come through on any sort of quid pro quo as far as Iraq is concerned.

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