On Monday, one day after six Red Cross workers were kidnapped in northwestern Syria, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that three of the six Red Cross Members, along with a Syrian Red Crescent volunteer were “released safe and sound” in Syria. While it is known that the four aid workers were released in Idlib province, near the Turkish border, the circumstances under which they were released have not been made public. The humanitarian organization added that it was waiting on information relating to the three remaining workers. While Syrian state television blamed, what it called, armed terrorists, which is a term that has been frequently used to describe anti-government rebels, It remains unclear who is responsible for the kidnappings however hardline Islamist rebels are known to operate in the area and may be responsible for this latest incident.
The news of the release of the four hostages comes at a time when Syrian rebels have been urged to agree to a local ceasefire in order to allow access to international inspectors, who are working to locate and destroy the government’s chemical weapons arsenal.
On Sunday, gunmen abducted six Red Cross workers along with a local volunteer of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent near Saraqeb, in Idlib province, in northwestern Syria. The team had been on their way back to Damascus after delivering medical supplies in Sarmin and Idlib. The news of the kidnapping was confirmed by officials at the ICRC. ICRC spokesman Ewan Watson stated that “we are calling for the immediate and unconditional release of this team which was delivering humanitarian assistance to those in need – and we do that on both sides of the front lines.” The humanitarian agency also indicated that it had no contact with the unidentified gunmen but it was appealing for the seven to be freed immediately. The nationalities and gender of the ICRC staff has not been revealed however it is believed that the group includes both local and international staff in which most are thought to be medical specialists.
Syrian state media had reported the kidnapping earlier that day, stating that gunmen had kidnapped the Red Cross workers after they opened fire on their vehicles. Quoting an unnamed official, state news agency SANA indicated that the workers were travelling in the Idlib area when gunmen blocked their path, shot at the convoy, seized them and took them to an undisclosed location. Although the ICRC spokesman was not able to confirm whether or not shots had been fired during the kidnapping, the ICRC has indicated that the team’s vehicles were missing.
Kidnappings, especially of aid workers and journalists, have become increasingly common in northern Syria. In August of this year, the ICRC indicated that the number of Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers who had lost their lives since the start of the conflict had risen to twenty-two. Although the rebels have captured a number of regions in the north, government forces continue to have some degree of control over the many urban centers that are located in the region. This has resulted in fighting which typically occurs on a daily basis. The conflict, which has been ongoing for two-and-a-half years, has claimed more than 100,000 lives and has driven more than 2.1 million citizens out of the country.
Amidst ongoing debates in the United States pertaining to possible military action against Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned America and its allies against taking one-sided action in Syria. Ahead of the G20 Summit, which is set to begin in Saint Petersburg on Thursday, the Russian President also indicated that he would not exclude Russia from agreeing to a possible US-led military strike on Syria, as long as it was proven that Syria’s regime had carried out the August 21 attack. While the G20 summit is suppose to concentrate on the global economy, it is highly likely that the Syrian crisis will dominate the discussions amongst global leaders.
Speaking during a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press and Russia’s state Channel 1 television, Putin’s remarks come just one day after members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed on a draft resolution backing the use of US military force. According to the draft resolution, the operation would be restricted to a “limited and tailored use of the United States Armed Forces against Syria,” and ban the use of any ground forces. The measure, which will be voted on next week, sets a time limit of sixty days on any operation.
While US President Barack Obama has called for punitive action in response to an alleged chemical attack that was carried out on the outskirts of Damascus on 21 August, President Putin stated on Wednesday that any military strikes without the approval of the United Nations would be a form of “an agreession.” The Russian President further noted that while his country had not ruled out supporting a UN Security Council resolution that would authorize the use of force, it would have to be proved “beyond doubt” that the Syrian goverment used chemical weapons before such a mission would be launched. In relation to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, Putin noted that it was “ludicrous” that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Russia, would use chemical weapons at a time when it was gaining ground against the rebels. However the Russian President did specify that “if there is evidence that chemical weapons were used, and by the regular army…then this evidence must be presented to the UN Security Council. And it must be convincing,” adding that Russia would “be ready to act in the most decisive and serious way” if there was clear proof of what weapons were used and who used them but that at the moment, it is “too early” to discuss what Russia would do if America took action without a UN resolution. During the interview, Putin also confirmed that Russia has currently suspended delivering further components of S-300 air defence missile systems to Syria, adding that “if we see steps are taken that violate the existing international norms, we shall think how we should act in the future, in particular regarding supplies of such sensitive weapons to certain regions of the world.
Ahead of next week’s vote in Congress, on whether to back President Obama’s push for military strikes in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in order to promote the Obama administration’s case. During his discussions, Kerry indicated that there was evidence “beyond any reasonable doubt” that the forces of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime prepared for a chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. He further indicated to senators that while the President was not requesting that America go to war, “he is asking only for the power to make clear, to make certain, that the United States means what we say.” US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and top US military officers Gen. Martin Dempsey also appeared before the Senate panel. While a number of high profile officials, including Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger support Obama’s call for military action in Syria, the latest opinion polls in the US indicate that public opposition with respect to US involvement in the conflict is growing, with six out of ten Americans opposed to missile strikes.
Internationally, France, which is due to debate the issue on Wednesday in Parliament, has also strongly back the US plan for military action. On Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande stated that “when a chemical massacre takes place, when the world is informed of it, when the evidence is delivered, when the guilty parties are known, then there must be an answer.” While Hollande is under no obligation to obtain parliamentary approval for action, with public opinion deeply sceptical of military strikes, many lawmakers have called for a vote on the matter. While UK Prime Minister David Cameron had also backed the military action, the British parliament had voted against a resolution on military action. With the UK against the military action, the US is seeking other allies.
While the world debates possible military action in Syria, the conflict, which began in March 2011, has resulted in more than 100,000 people thought to have died since the uprising aginast President Assad. On Tuesday, the UN refugee agency indicated that more than two million Syrians were now registered as refugees, indicating that a further 4.25 million have been displaced within the country.
Russia – US Relations
After returning to the Kremlin for a third term as president last year, relations between Russia and the US have dramatically deteriorated as the two nations have disagreed over a number of issues which have included the Syrian crisis and human rights. Tensions peaked this summer after Moscow gave asylum to US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, which prompted President Obama to cancel his planned bilateral visit to Moscow ahead of the G20 summit. While Putin did admit that he was disappointed by Obama’s decision, he did note that the move was not a “catastrophe” and that he understood that some of Moscow’s decisions did not sit well within the US administration.
Although no official bilateral meeting is planned to take place between Obama and Putin at the G20 Summit, a White House official indicated on Wednesday that the two presidents are expected “to have an opportunity to speak on the margins of the various meetings of the G20.”
In a stunning defeat for British Prime Minister David Cameron, British lawmakers voted late on Thursday against military action in Syria. Despite the surprise vote outcome, US President Barack Obama and French President Francois Holland announced that the UK vote did not change their resolve for firm action against the Syrian Government, which has been accused of using chemical weapons on its own people. Despite reports earlier in the week suggesting that a Western strike on Syria was imminent, questions have been raised about the quality of the intelligence linking Assad to the attack.
Despite Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) releasing evidence on Thursday stating that chemical weapons had undoubtedly been used on August 21, adding that it was “highly likely” that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack, late Thursday night the UK government was defeated in its bid for a “strong humanitarian response” to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. The UK government was defeated by just thirteen votes in a 285-272 result in the House of Commons. Minutes laters, Prime Minister Cameron told lawmakers that “it is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action…I get that, and the government will act accordingly.” Shortly after the surprise result, British Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond confirmed that Britain would not be involved in any military action, further noting that he expected “that the US and other countries will continue to look at responses to the chemical attack.”
According to reports, seven hours of debates in the House of Commons had revealed deep divisions on whether military strikes against Assad’s regime would deter the further use of chemical weapons or simply worsen the conflict. Sources also indicate that the specter of the Iraq war also came up a number of times during the debate. Although the Prime Minister had made the case for targeted strikes, insisting that Britain could not stand idle in the face of “one of the most abhorrent uses of chemical weapons in a century,” he was faced with strong resistance from the opposition Labour party and by many within his own Conservative party, who expressed fear that Britain was rushing to war without conclusive evidence that Assad had gassed his own people. Russia, which has close ties with the Assad government, has welcomed the UK’s decision to reject a military strike.
US and France May Act Together
Cameron’s defeat significantly raises the possibility that the United States may act alone against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which it states is responsible for horrific gas attacks that are believed to have killed at least 355 people in the Ghoua area, which is located on the outskirts of the capital of Damascus. However even before the surprise British vote, the White House had already signaled that it was ready to act regardless of UN or allied support.
In response to yesterday’s UK vote, US National Security Council spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden stated that “we have seen the result of the Parliament vote in the UK tonight,” adding that “as we’ve said, President Obama’s decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States…he believes that there are core interests at stake for the United States and that countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable.” The White House did indicate however that despite the UK vote, officials in the US would “continue to consult” with the UK over Syria, describing London as “one of our closest allies and friends.”
While no further comments in regards to a decision on military action against Syria were made by the Obama administration, a defense official confirmed on Thursday that the United States Navy had deployed a fifth destroyer to the eastern Mediterranean. According to the official, the USS Stout, a guided missile destroyer, is “in the Mediterranean, heading and moving east” to relieve the Mahan. Although he did specify that both ships may remain in the region for the time being, he did not indicate how long the Mahan would stay in the area before returning to its home port of Norfolk, Virginia, which it left in December 2012. The other destroyers in the region, which include the Ramage, the Barry and the Gravely, are currently criss-crossing the region and may launch their Tomahawk missiles towards Syria if directed so by the US President. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is currently on a week-long trip to Southeast Asia, has stated that US forces are in place and “ready to go” if Obama hives the order, however he stipulated that no such decision has yet been made.
Meanwhile on Friday, French President Francois Hollande announced that a military strike on Syria could come by Wednesday, and that Britain’s surprise rejection of armed intervention would not affect his government’s stand on the issue. In an interview to Le Monde daily on Friday, Hollalde stated that “France wants firm and proportionate action against the Damascus regime.” The French Parliament is due to meet on Wednesday for an emergency Syria session. The President’s remarks signal that his government may seek military action alongside the US.
Bashar al-Assad Responds
With Western states and the United Nations debating possible military action against Syria, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced on Thursday that his country will defend itself against what he called Western “aggression.” According to Syria’s Sana news agency, Assad told a group of Yemeni MP’s that his country would defend itself against any aggression, noting that “Syria, with its steadfast people and brave army, will continue eliminating terrorists, which are utilized by Israel and Western countries to serve their interests in fragmenting the region.”
Meanwhile the situation in Damascus remains tense. Reports have indicated that senior military commanders are reportedly staying away from buildings thought likely to be targeted if a Western intervention is launched. Furthermore, many of Damascus’ residents have begun to flee the city in fear of an impending attack. Although witnesses have reported long lines of cars loaded with suitcases that have been waiting at the main Masnaa border that crosses into Lebanon, Syria’s state television is portraying citizens as going about their normal lives, seemingly unperturbed by the prospect of military strikes. More than 100,000 people are estimated to have died since the conflict erupted in March 2011, which has also produced at least 1.7 million refugees.
UN at a Deadlock
The United Nations continued to be deadlocked in regards to the case in Syria, with diplomats indicating that the views of the five permanent members remain “far apart.” On Thursday, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council held new talks on the Syria chemical weapons crisis, however no apparent progress on UN action was achieved. According to officials, the 45-minute meeting is the second to occur since Britain proposed a draft Security Council Resolution that would allow “all necessary measures” to protect Syrian civilians. After concluding the meeting, none of the envoys from Britain, China, France, Russia or the US made any comments as they left. However diplomats have noted that there had been “no meeting of minds,” during the session as Russia and China are on one side while the US, UK and France remain on the other.
Meanwhile UN Inspectors headed out on Friday for their last day of investigations. Security officials have indicated that they were going to a military hospital in an eastern district of the Syrian capital. Samples taken during their site visits will be tested in various European laboratories in order to examine whether an attack took place and what form it took, however the inspectors‘ mandate does not involve apportioning blame for the attacks. Preliminary findings are expected to be delivered to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over the weekend.
Shadow of Iraq
With the US mounting its power in the region, a number of critics have sparked a debate about whether or not the conflict in Syria could turn into another Iraq if a decision to launch military action is agreed upon.
As the US and France now look to find a diplomatic consensus on the issue without the UK, a number of critics have identified elements that echo those that occurred in the run-up to the 2003 war in Iraq. With a number of components being present in both cases, specifically the work of weapons inspectors; the intelligence gathered to make the case; and denials from the regime at the centre of the issue; Iraq is very much on the minds of those international officials who have expressed level-headed caution over Syria.
With UN inspectors still in Syria conducting an investigation, Britain’s case for military intervention in Syria is based on a “limited but growing body of intelligence,” which suggests that it is “highly likely” that the Syrian regime was responsible for last week’s devastating chemical weapons attack. An intelligence dossier that was released by the Prime Minister, which was used by Cameron to form the basis for the case to attack Syria, depicts the JIC indicating that the chemical attack was “probably” delegated by Assad to one of his commanders, however the JIC was unable to establish the motive behind last week’s attack. In a letter written by JIC chairman Jon Day to the Prime Minister, the chairman concluded that there are “no plausible alternative scenarios” other than the attack being an attack of the Syrian regime. The two-page letter was accompanied by a short summary of the intelligence case, which runs to just 313 words. The summary is also dated as the “JIC’s assessment of August 27 on reported chemical weapons use in Damascus,” however it is not known why later intelligence, if it exists, was not included in the document.
With the JIC’s findings being debated in yesterday’s House of Commons’ session, remarks made by David Davis, a former shadow home secretary, depict that British MP’s are hesitant to base their decision for military action in Syria solely on the intelligence that is available. During yesterday’s debates, Davis stated that “we must consider, being where we’ve been before in this House, that our intelligence as it stands might be wrong because it was before and we have got to be very, very hard in testing it.” Echoing the weeks of debates in the lead up to the 2003 war in Iraq, it is clear the officials in the UK and elsewhere are willing to wait for more intelligence and the UN inspectors findings before making any other decisions.
Meanwhile officials in the US have also admitted that they have “no smoking gun” proving that President Assad personally ordered his forces to use chemical weapons. While US intelligence sources indicated yesterday that its agencies had intercepted communications discussing the chemical attack between officials in Syria’s central command and in the field, it is understood that these remarks do not clearly implicate Assad or his entourage in ordering the use of chemicals.
Arab League to Pass Resolution on Syrian Chemical Weapons
Arab League ministers will meet in Cairo next week (September 2-3), and are expected to pass a resolution which blames Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the wide-scale chemical weapons attack near Damascus last week. A representative of the League said, “The Arab foreign ministers will affirm the full responsibility of the Syrian regime for the chemical weapons’ attack that took place in Eastern Ghouta.” The representative also indicated that the League will ask for those responsible for the attack to be taken to the International Criminal Court. The Arab League is expected to call for the UN to adopt tougher sanctions on Syria, and to urge Russia and China not to block resolutions which propose action against Assad.
Permanent representatives within the Arab League have already placed responsibility for the attack on the Assad regime. The announcements provided regional political cover in the event of a U.S.-led military strike on Syria.
Supporters of the resolution are expected to include Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which both back anti-Assad rebels in Syria’s civil war. Iraq, Lebanon, and Algeria are likely to oppose or abstain from any vote which condemns Syria. Syria has been suspended from the Arab League since November 2011.
Three Algerian troops killed in bombing
Three members of the Algerian army were killed and four injured following a bomb explosion in the Beni Milleuk Mountains in Tipaza Province. This marks the second attack in six weeks; in mid-July, four soldiers were killed after two bombs detonated in western Tipaza.
The Algerian military has been searching the region connecting Ain Defla and Tipaza provinces after receiving reports of terrorist activities in the area. Sources indicated that a terrorist group had planted a mine on a road that the army vehicles were using.
Egyptian Authorities Detain Families of Muslim Brotherhood Leaders
Within 24 hours, Egyptian authorities detained over 60 people who were associated with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), including relatives of the group’s leaders. Police have arrested the son of MB deputy Khairat el-Shater. The elder el-Shater was arrested on charges related to the killings of protesters outside the group’s headquarters in June. According to officials, el-Shater’s son, Saad, was reportedly arrested for threatening to release documents allegedly showing ties between his father and U.S. President Barack Obama. In addition, the brother-in-law of fugitive Brotherhood figurehead Mohammed el-Beltagy also was arrested. He was charged with violent protests aimed at toppling the interim government.
The crackdown on the Brotherhood intensified following the clearing of pro-Morsi protesters at Raba’a mosque in Cairo. In the ensuing unrest, over 1,000 people, including more than 100 officers were killed within a few days. As protesters turned violent, they were in turn met by neighbourhood watch groups. Authorities and local media have called the actions of the Brotherhood and their supporters “acts of terrorism.” Many among the arrested have been charged with inciting violence. While many of the MBs senior and mid-level leaders have been arrested, still others remain in hiding while encouraging protestors to ignore the protests and continue to rally against the removal of former president Morsi.
Many Egyptians suspect that the Muslim Brotherhood and its political allies could be barred from politics, forced underground once again as under the Mubarak regime. However, Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has said dissolving the group is not a solution, and urged against making dramatic decisions during turbulent times. Beblawi instead opts to monitor political parties rather than forcing them to operate covertly.
Meanwhile, interim president Adly Mansour issued a decree changing the nation’s military oath, removing a line that makes soldiers pledge allegiance to the presidency. Soldiers are now only required to pledge loyalty to their leadership and the country.
The security clampdown appears to have weakened the Brotherhood-led protests, which have been much smaller across the country this past week. There are planned protests Friday and calls for civil disobedience.
Coordinated bombings kill 65
A wave of bombings in the predominantly Shiite Muslim areas in and around Baghdad has killed at least 65 people and wounded many more. The blasts came in quick succession and targeted residents who were out shopping or on their way to work.
Unknown attackers deployed explosives-laden cars, suicide bombers and other bombs. They assailants struck parking lots, outdoor markets, and restaurants. In Kazimiyah, two bombs detonated in a parking lot, followed by a suicide car bomber who struck onlookers who had gathered at the scene. Ten people were killed and 27 wounded in that attack.
Car bombs went off in outdoor markets across the region. In Sadr City a car bomb was detonated, killing 5 and wounding 20. In Shula, a car bomb killed three and wounded nine; in Jisr Diyala a bomb killed eight and wounded 22; and one in New Baghdad area, killing three and wounding 12. Blasts in Bayaa, Jamila, Hurriyah and Saydiyah, resulted in 12 deaths. In Mahmoudiyah a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a restaurant, killing four and wounding 13. Finally, in Madain, a roadside bomb struck a passing military patrol, killing four soldiers and wounding six others.
In addition, seven Shiite family members killed when gunmen raided their home and shot them as they slept. Three children, ages eight to twelve, were killed along with their parents and two uncles in that attack.
It is suspected that the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda is responsible. Over 500 people have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of August.
Gadhafi Son and Chief Spy Charged
Moammar Gadhafi’s, son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and former Gadhafi-regime Intelligence Chief Abdullah al-Senoussi have been charged with murder in relation to the country’s 2011 civil war. The trial will start on September 19 and will also include 28 former regime members who will face charges ranging from murder, forming armed groups in violation of the law, inciting rape and kidnappings.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) charged Seif al-Islam Gadhafi with murder and persecution of civilians. If convicted in that court, Seif al-Islam could face life imprisonment. This summer, ICC judges had ruled that Libya cannot give Seif al-Islam a fair trial. However he remains held in captivity by a militia group that has refused to turn him over to the Hague. Seif al-Islam was as he attempted to flee to Niger.
In Libya, he will be tried on charges of harming state security, attempting to escape prison and insulting Libya’s new flag. Seif al-Islam wants to be tried for alleged war crimes in the Netherlands, as the ICC does not issue a death sentence. He claims that a Libyan trial would be tantamount to murder. The remaining Gadhafi family, including his mother, sister, two brothers and others, were granted asylum in Oman in 2012.
AQ Offshoot Threatens Revenge Over Chemical Weapons Attack
An al-Qaeda affiliate, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has announced plans to coordinate with other Syrian rebel groups to take revenge for the chemical weapons attack last week outside of Damascus.
The ISIL released a statement on Twitter that was signed by seven other militant groups. The signatories all have operations in Eastern Ghouta, where the attacks occurred. The statement indicates that the organizations have agreed to conduct joint operations after a meeting called for by the ISIL “for all the jihadi factions in Eastern Ghouta.”
The operation, dubbed “Volcano of Revenge,” will target “the main joints of the regime in imprisoned Damascus, including security branches, support and supply points, training centres, and infrastructure.”
The groups that signed the statement include:
- Ahrar al Sham Islamic Movement (Independent group)
- Ahrar Dimashq Battalion, or Muhajireen Army (AQ linked)
- Abu Dhar al Ghafari Brigade, (ISIL unit)
- Al Habib Al Mustafa Brigades (FSA unit)
- Al Furqan Brigade (FSA unit)
- Umm al Qura Battalion (presumed independent)
- Deraa al-‘Asima Brigade (Lebanon Capital Shield Brigade)
The statement was released as US officials deliberate plans to conduct strikes against the Syrian government, ironically putting them on the same side as the ISIL.
Yemen police foil potential terrorist attack
Police in Yemen have stopped an attempt to smuggle explosive materials through Sana’a airport, confiscating a package of explosives disguised as juice and soft drink. More details on the date of confiscation or the sender’s identity were not available.
Khalid Al Shaif, deputy director of the airport, has told reporters that airport police have previously aborted many bids to smuggle weapons, chemicals, and explosive materials, using tactics which include honey bottles or dismantling weapons and wrapping them with tin.
The United Kingdom announced this week that it will put forth a resolution to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday “authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians” in Syria. The move comes after intelligence reports indicated that chemical weapons were likely used by the Assad regime against civilians in Syria. During an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the UK’s Prime Minister stated that the “world should not stand by” after the “unacceptable use” of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. The Syrian government has denied any involvement in the suspected chemical attack which was carried out in Damascus on 21 August. Instead, the regime blames the attack, which resulted in hundreds of people dying, on the opposition.
According to UK Prime Minister David Cameroon, the draft resolution, which will condemn the “chemical weapons attack by Assad,” will be put forward during a meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council which will be held in New York later on Wednesday. The Prime Minister also indicated that “we’ve always said we want the UN Security to live up to its responsibilities on Syria. Today they have an opportunity to do that.” If such an intervention is passed through a UN resolution, it is likely that the United States, France and the UK, along with other regional and international states, will be involved. Furthermore, the UK, the US and France already have the necessary forces and military equipment stationed in the region which could be diverted to focus on the intervention in Syria.
The announcement of a possible intervention comes as a team of UN weapons inspectors resumed their work on Wednesday, investigating a suspected chemical weapons attack that occurred in Damascus on 21 August. It currently remains unclear which districts the inspectors were scheduled to visit. Their work had previously been called because of security concerns after they were shot at by unidentified snipers on Monday. According to UN officials, one of their cars came under fire from unidentified gunmen as it crossed the buffer zone between the government and rebel-controlled areas. With their work resuming, and with pressure for an international intervention mounting, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appealed for the team to be given “time to do its job,” citing that the UN inspectors would require another four days in order to complete their probe and that more time would be needed in order analyze their findings. He also called on the Council’s permanent members, China France, Russia, the UK and the US, to act together, stating that “the body interested with maintaining international peace and security cannot be ‘missing in action’…the council must at least find the unity to act. It must use its authority for peace.” Meanwhile joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has stated that “it does seem clear that some kind of substance was used…that killed a lot of people” on 21 August. However the envoy emphasized that any military action in Syria would require the UN Security Council’s authorization.
Possible Models for an Intervention in Syria
Although limited information pertaining to the draft resolution is currently available, signals from Washington and London over the past few days suggest that military action against Syria is a strong possibility. If the resolution is passed, over the following weeks, contingency plans will be drawn and potential target lists will be reviewed. However a number of models for the possible intervention in Syria already exist, and will likely aid officials in narrowing down their options.
Codenamed Operation Desert Storm, also known as the Gulf War, the 1991 US-led global military coalition in Iraq was tasked with removing Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Today, the mission is considered as a perfect case study in international intervention as it had clear and limited objectives, was fully anchored in international law and had an explicit mandate from the UN Security Council. The Balkans during the 1990’s in which US supplied arms to the anti-Serb resistance in Croatia and Bosnia in defiance of a UN-mandated embargo. A US-led air campaign against Serb paramilitaries was later carried out.
In December 1992, in response to a humanitarian disaster which was followed by the complete failure of the Somali state, the UN Security Council authorized the creation of an international force with the aim of facilitating humanitarian supplies. Although initially the US was not involved, Americans gradually began to contribute to the operation in Somalia.
However the US military’s involvement without a clear objective culminated in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, also known as Black Hawk Down, in which eighteen US servicemen died on 3 – 4 October. The tragedy had an immediate impact on American public opinion and resulted in US troops withdrawing from Somalia despite the civil war continuing. While elements of this model were not used in any future interventions, the mission coupled with the lack of a clear objective has become a classic example of how not to conduct an international operation.
In 2011, France and the UK sought UN Security Council authorization for a humanitarian operation to save the residents of the rebel city of Benghazi from being massacred by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Russia and China abstained by did not veto the resolution. An air offensive continued until the fall of Gaddafi.
Western Military Options
Western leaders will be faced with a number of military options that range from a short, sharp punitive strike against targets in Syria to a full-scale intervention to end the country’s civil war. This option would involve both on-the-ground troops and air forces. With long-lasting military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with the recent French-led military intervention in Mali, Western leaders will likely be inclined to focus on a short but deadly strike in Syria, fearing that a full-scale operation may result in Western forces being drawn into an open-ended military commitment.
An unclassified assessment of the military options as seen by the Pentagon was released in mid-July in a detailed letter to Senator Carl Levin that was written by Gen Martin Dempsey. In the letter, Gen Dempsey lists a number of options that may be used if an intervention in Syria becomes possible.
The first option involves punitive strikes which would aim to get President Assad’s attention in a bid to persuade him not to resort to the use of chemical weapons in the future. The attraction of this option is that it could be mounted quickly and would result in limited risk to the forces that are involved. Possible targets in such a mission could include military sites that are linked closely to the region, including headquarters, barracks or elite units. Although missile production facilities may be targeted, increased caution would have to be exercised if striking chemical weapons production facilities as any leakage of toxic chemicals could lead to significant damages in the area. In turn, air defense sites and command centers may be hit as a demonstration of the West’s capabilities.
The second option would be to increase support for the Syrian opposition through training and advice. This option would involve the use of non-lethal force and would effectively be an extension of some of the effort that has already been underway. At its current scale, this option has already failed as the opposition has seen a growing number of divisions. It is therefore unlikely that an increase in aid would have any effect. A third option would be to establish a “no-fly zone,” that would effectively prevent the Syrian regime from using its air forces to strike rebels on the ground. This option however would involve an increased risk to the US and allied aircraft and it would require the assembling of a significant force, one that would have to be maintained over time.
The fourth option is to focus on preventing the use of chemical weapons, which could be done by destroying portions of Syria’s stockpiles coupled with obstructing the movement of such weapons and seizing key installations. This option however would result in an increased international involvement, including troops stationed on the ground. This would also result in forces being stationed in Syria for an indefinite period.
While these are currently just options, and combinations of these varying options may be employed in Syria, what does remain clear is that if a resolution is passed by the UN Security Council, swift action is likely to occur. Furthermore, the United States, France and the UK already have forces available in the area that can easily be prepared for a strike on Syria.
The US has four destroyers – USS Gravely, USS Ramage, USS Barry and USS Mahan – stationed in the eastern Mediterranean which are equipped with cruise missiles. It also has two aircraft carriers, the USS Nimitz and the USS Harry S. Truman. Cruise missiles could also be launched from submarines in the region. If more firepower is needed, US airbases in Incirlik and Izmir, Turkey could also be used in order to carry out strikes. The US Navy is reportedly re-positioning several vessels, including its four cruise missile-carrying destroyers and possibly a missile-firing submarine.
The UK’s Royal Navy’s response force task group, which includes helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and frigates HMS Montrose and HMS Westminster, is also in the region on a previously-scheduled deployment. An airbase in Cyprus may also be used while cruise missiles could be launched from a British Trafalgar class submarine.
France’s aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, is currently stationed in Toulon however Raffale and Mirage aircraft can operate from the Al-Dhahra airbase in the UAE.