CHESTER HAS MOVED!: How soon to Syria?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

How soon to Syria?

What is afoot in Syria? [An attempt at aggressive pattern-spotting.] Belmont Club had an interesting post yesterday, examining the status of the counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq. Wretchard used several mainstream sources to raise the following (paraphrased) possibilities: 1. A senior State Dept official, who was present in Algeria for their violence-ridden elections in the mid-1990s, which were successful, says the security situation in Iraq is comparable or better. 2. Insurgent attacks against the US have halved since six weeks ago, though the size and ferocity in some cases has increased. 3. A major terror network has been rolled up in Mosul (previously reported by Chester here.) 4. Diplomacy is focusing on Syria as the new center of gravity of the insurgency. 5. Signs indicate a possible shift in US tactics, to include incursions into Syria. Last night, we responded to all of this here, noting especially the advantage of a small force, like a “hit squad,” in gaining strategic surprise (or operational surprise, depending on how it is viewed – note: the US seems to always achieve tactical surprise). Today, the plot thickens: DEBKAfile reports explicitly what Wretchard implied: US action in Syria in imminent. Normally, we take anything from Debka with an entire shaker of salt. But in this case, their coverage seems to be mirroring news reports trickling out of the mainstream press. Debka reports that the recent diplomatic trips to Syria by US officials have given the following demands to the House of Assad:
1. Start repealing Syria’s 40-years old emergency laws. 2. Free all political prisoners from jail. 3. Abolish media censorship. 4. Initiate democratic reform. 5. Speed up economic development 6. Cut down relations with Iran. 7. Announce publicly that the disputed Shebaa Farms at the base of Mt. Hermon are former Syrian territory. This would cut the ground from under the Lebanese terrorist Hizballah’s claim that the land is Lebanese and must be “liberated” from Israeli “occupation.” DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources report that the Iran-sponsored Hizballah’s attack on an Israeli convoy patrolling the disputed Shebaa Farms sector, killing an Israeli officer, on Palestinian election-day, Sunday, January 9, was addressed as much to President George W. Bush as to the new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as a foretaste of what it has in store. 8. Hand over to US or Iraqi authorities 55 top officials and military officers of the former Saddam regime, who are confirmed by intelligence to be established in Syria and running the guerrilla war in Iraq out of their homes and offices. (An address, telephone number and cell phone number were listed beside each name). But the punchline was in the last demand. 9. Syria had better make sure that none of the Kornet AT-14 anti-tank missiles which it recently purchased in large quantities from East Europe turn up in Iraq. [Chester says: VERY INTERESTING: read this.] US intelligence has recorded their serial numbers to identify their source. DEBKAfile’s military sources add: Because he cannot afford to buy advanced fighter planes and tanks, Assad purchased massive quantities of the “third generation” Kornet AT-14 anti-tank weapons. Just in case any are found in Iraq, General Casey, commander of US forces in Iraq has already received orders from the commander-in-chief in the White House to pursue military action inside Syria according to his best military judgment. Number 9 therefore incorporates a tangible threat. The American general has the authority to launch military action against Syria as he sees fit and without delay if Damascus continues to meddle in Iraq’s affairs.
The first thing to note here is that these demands constitute much more than an attempt to gain some cooperation in stopping the Iraqi insurgency. Just the second and third demands alone seem to indicate that the US is seeking major change in Syria – one might even say – gasp! – regime change! But let's not get hasty. More from Debka:
The Syrian ruler protested to Armitage that he is doing everything he can to hold back the flow of guerrilla fighters and weapons into Iraq. As proof, he ordered Syria’s chief of staff General Ali Habib to establish a forward command center on the Syrian-Iraq border to oversee efforts to control border traffic on the spot. The fact is that General Habib is one of the few Syrian officers which the Americans have trusted. He commanded the Syrian units dispatched to Saudi Arabia in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq and made friends with the US commanders and officials conducting the war, including vice president Dick Cheney and the then head of joint chiefs of staff, Colin Powell. However, even Habib’s old American buddies do not rule out the possibility that he was posted to the border not to restrain the traffic but to take command of Syrian units posted there and prepare them for the contingency of an American military offensive. Assad and General Habib are both aware, according to our sources, of the near carte blanche handed down to General Casey to pursue military action against Syria as and when indicated by US military requirements in Iraq.
A wise, but transparent move by Assad isn't it? Sure, let old Dick Cheney think kindly Assad is dispatching Cheney's old Gulf War tea-drinking buddy, Habib, out to the border area to "control border traffic." The fact is that Habib's expertise in the way Americans think and fight would serve Assad well. If any of this is true, Habib's role is at best ambiguous. He could be attempting to control the border as stated, or he could be positioning himself to control the border from US-Iraqi incursions, or he could be setting up a new defense of the border. He could even be readying to assume command of the insurgency if its leadership is neutralized. Fortunately, if this is obvious to us, dear readers, surely it is to the Pentagon. Debka’s analysis, with Chester’s thoughts:
1. It will not take place before President Bush is sworn in for his second term on January 20 or Iraq’s general election ten days later.
We’re not sure we agree that the trigger for Syrian incursions is the inauguration. If Gen Casey has been given free reign, then he will not take the US inauguration into consideration. And if the incursions are to be relatively small and low-key, what is their relation to the inauguration anyway? The inauguration is not a decision point of any kind. It is merely a media event. As to the second part of this point, why would the military wait until after the Iraqi election to act in Syria? Does acting in Syria dissuade Iraqis from voting? Most Iraqis have probably decided at this point whether they will vote or not. Seems as though taking the fight to the command and control or logistics nodes of the insurgency might dismantle some pre-election, or election day attacks to boot . . .
2. The Americans will not start out with a large-scale, orderly military offensive, but rather short in-and-out forays; small US and Iraqi special forces units will cross the border and raid bases housing Iraqi guerrillas or buses carrying them to the border. If these brief raids are ineffective, the Americans will upscale the action.
What Debka is trying to say is that seizure or control of key terrain will not be an objective of the raids. Instead, destruction of enemy forces will be paramount. Aside from US and Iraqi special forces, what other units might partake? Certainly some close air support would be helpful – and a large team of task-organized intelligence specialists could be set up safely within Iraq to exploit any captured documents or personnel – possibly near the border town of Q’aim, the largest city along the Iraqi-Syrian border, and a major thoroughfare, as it sits astride both a highway and the Euphrates. If planes or helicopters are too overt, artillery could be fired from within Iraq into Syrian positions – given specific targeting information. There will be more to this than a small ground contingent. Combined arms will play a part.
3. The Allawi government will formally request the United States to consign joint Iraqi-US forces for action against Syrian targets, so placing the US operation under the Baghdad government’s aegis. In other words, Iraq will be at war with Syria without issuing a formal declaration.
Who’s to say that Iraq even considers a formal declaration against Syria? Or Iran for that matter? Those two certainly have their own meddlesome schemes in Iraq and were not kind enough to forewarn with a declaration of war. Besides, a declaration of war, must by necessity be preceded by a great deal of uneventful diplomacy – completely ineffective in this case – Iraq has little to threaten Syria with, except the good graces of the US.
4. It is fully appreciated in Washington, Baghdad and Jerusalem that intense American military warfare against Syria could provoke a Hizballah backlash against Israel. Damascus may well activate the Lebanese Shiite group to open a second front on Israel’s northern border. The Syrian ruler is expected will tolerate a certain level of American low-intensity, low-profile action. But, because of his reluctance to strike back directly at American or Iraqi targets, he will field the Hizballah – and not just for cross-border attacks but to galvanize the terrorist cells it controls and funds in the West Bank and Gaza Strip into a stepped-up offensive against Israeli targets. These Palestinian cells have proliferated over the years, particularly in the Fatah and its branches, encouraged by Yasser Arafat’s cooperative pact with the Hizballah which remains in force after his death.
Just one question: If this is correct, who’s to say that the Israelis will wait for Hizbollah to start things off? One would think they know one way or another what the US is up to and how it will affect them. If you were Assad, and knew that the US, with minimal force, could completely wallop your own country – think punitive strike or expedition, not even anything akin to what we're attempting in Iraq – how would you react to the 9 demands above if you knew there were American forces operating with impunity within your borders? Perhaps US incursions into Syria are aimed toward the dual goals of defeating the insurgency leadership, and intimidating the Syrian government. Perhaps a kind of "soft" regime change is being sought here . . . While all of this is turning in your mind, consider that according to the World Tribune, Allawi is supposedly asking for a postponement of the elections.
Iraq's interim government has met U.S. officials and Iraqi politicians regarding a postponement of the Jan. 30 elections. Iraqi officials said Prime Minister Iyad Alawi and Defense Minister Hazem Shalaan have determined that insurgents would torpedo Sunni participation in the elections, a move that could split the country. "Alawi sees no point in the elections, but doesn't want to do anything without a consensus that would include the United States," an Iraqi official said. "He has been talking to everybody to ensure that any delay would be limited and agreed by all." *** So far, Alawi has proposed a postponement of the elections for about one month. Officials said coalition and Iraqi forces have made a dent in the violence and over the next few weeks could be utilized for an intensive effort against Saddam loyalists and the Tawhid and Jihad group headed by Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi. One option, they said, was the formation of a joint U.S.-Iraqi squad to hunt down and kill insurgency leaders. Officials said Shi'ite politicians have also been considering a delay in the elections, a proposal urged by European Union and Arab states. They said the United States does not oppose a delay as long as Shi'ite leaders, particularly Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Kurdish politicians, announce their consent and Sunni leaders pledge to participate in rescheduled elections.
Several thoughts here: Maybe Allawi thinks he will lose the election, and knows that US/Iraqi counterinsurgency action in Syria is imminent. Maybe he knows that security conditions will improve after that action and thinks that if the election is held afterwards, he'll have a better chance of winning. Read this article about the growth of Iraq's security forces. It doesn't give the numbers of men per battalion, so it is difficult to gauge. but this line is interesting: "By late February, nine additional military battalions were scheduled to become operational, officials said." That certainly makes for a much more secure election . . . nevertheless, The Adventures of Chester continues to predict that elections will be held on schedule. Another thought: if in fact, the elections are postponed, the US will have surrendered the initiative to the terrorists. A Syrian incursion to regain it and put offensive pressure on them might counteract this . . . Final thought about Syria: a long time ago, when The Adventures of Chester was a wee toddler in the blogosphere, and only about a week old, we thought that the 1000 Arabic-speaking Green Berets that supposedly were deployed in mid-October from the 10th Special Forces Group in Fort Carson, CO, (as reported in the Observer) were not going to be heavily involved in the Battle of Fallujah. From all reports, we were right – only a handful of SOF teams – mainly integrated with Iraqi forces, were in the fight. Does anyone know where the rest of the thousand went? Was this just a routine rotation? We don't know, but suspect not. [Here's the original quote from the Observer:
The 10th Special Forces Group has for years been catapulted into action from its base in the Colorado mountains. Now, according to US reports, more than 1,000 of them are heading for the Middle East, amid official reluctance to discuss where they are going or what they will be doing. Speculation has been mounting, however, that such a large movement of the Green Berets, with their specialist snipers, linguists, civil affairs specialists and military intelligence officers, could only be headed for two places - for Afghanistan and an attempt to capture Osama bin Laden or, more likely, to spearhead the fighting inside Falluja, acting as forward air controllers on the ground for US bombers and strike helicopters, and leading the hunt for al-Zarqawi.]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Syria wants to play hardball we could bomb their army to rubble. A pure counterforce nation wide bombing effort could take away Syria's air force, missile plants (in the northeast), and armor, leaving Syria totally de-fanged with Israel right next door. And Syria has no resources to replace that equipment. That would then be their (and Israel's) new strategic reality for the forseeable future.

January 11, 2005 at 5:50 PM  
Blogger Peyton said...

As for combined arms involvement of action around the Syrian border, how about Hellfire-armed Predators? Announce that the Iraqi-Syrian border is closed, then blast busloads of bad guys who don't believe it.

Unleashing Hezbollah would be very foolish for the Syrians. Remember the kid's game Mousetrap? Hezbollah is sponsored heavily by Iran. For Hezbollah to significantly increase their operational tempo would require more support, and further exposure. Sanctions and cruise missiles would come Iran's way, and American airpower in the Med would turn its attention to Hezbollah basecamps in Syria and Lebanon. As Chester pointed out, no occupation necessary, just destruction of enemy forces. Hezbollah would lose, Iran would lose, and the 10th SF Group would go on a tour of the Bekaa Valley. What interesting Iraqi crates are hidden in those caves, anyway?

About dog-gone time, I say.

January 11, 2005 at 5:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to get too conspiratorial, but what are the chances that this represents a set of public threats to Syria based on intel that a CW attack will occur either in the US or in Iraq? Casey now has the explicit ability to operate independently, in case of command failure. I think they call this Commander's intent.

January 11, 2005 at 6:34 PM  
Blogger Peyton said...

No, it's called "delegation."

Commander's Intent is the overall "what does the man want to happen?" At the end of the operation, we will have: Destroyed the 128th regiment of the Republican Guards; fixed enemy forces for follow-on attack by Imperial Land Walkers; put a Happy Meal into the hands of every kid in Iraq. What does the commander want the overall result to be? The Commander's Intent also implies conditions for success.

If it's true that General Casey has been delegated the authority to initiate operations in a sovereign country, you can count on specific conditions being specified. If #9 has actually been communicated to the Syrian government, it will be with the clear definition that failure to keep a lid on each and every one of the AT-14s will be considered a hostile act, with attendant and immediate consequences. If Casey has such authority, it's with the clear understanding that he do whatever is necessary, on the spot, at the moment, to achieve..... what? The "what" is the Commander's Intent. It can be a range of desired outcomes, it can be setting conditions for _____ operations. It will not be "play pattie-cake." If the anticipation is a fluid, rapidly evolving situation that doesn't allow time for back and forth with Washington in the middle of the night, then the Commander's Intent will be something dramatic.

January 11, 2005 at 7:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The US gave correct and current addresses, landline numbers and mobile numbers for all the 55 people they supposedly demanded from the Syrians? I wouldn't want to underestimate the capabilities of American signals intelligence, but how plausible is it that none of these guys have the wit to avoid using their room phones or change their SIM cards frequently? Granted, the alternatives to unguarded telephone use have risks and inconveniences too. Maybe they reckon they're safe in downtown Damascus, maybe they're the messenger-boys for better-concealed people, maybe they're just the dumb ones. Still, it sounds implausibly neat to my untrained ears.

And if the US did have such information, would it tell the Syrians? Granted, it might make for a demonstration of strength (so to speak), and it would shoot down any claims of ignorance from Assad, whether genuine or feigned. But surely the US wouldn't show so much of its hand to Assad and hence probably the insurgents, at least without being pretty certain of major gains as a result? For one thing, in the run-up to military action I wouldn't lightly do anything to discourage any of these 55 guys from using their homing signals, sorry, mobile phones.

In sum, I could well be wrong but this detail of the report sounds more like thrilling storytelling than fact to me. That makes the report as a whole less trustworthy. In any case, aside from being generally unreliable, DEBKA has been predicting/pushing for imminent US action against Syria before now: see here and especially here (with a bit of a swerve here).

January 11, 2005 at 10:07 PM  
Blogger Chester said...

Excellent comment about the past stories of Debka. Like I said, an entire shaker of salt is needed. They have an agenda.


January 11, 2005 at 10:56 PM  
Blogger MachiasPrivateer said...

Here's my idea for additional pressure from naval forces (Go Navy!)

January 12, 2005 at 2:14 AM  
Blogger Dymphna said...

Where did all those Green Berets go? Maybe here...

Iraqi and U.S. officials said that over the last six months the Iraq Army has grown in size and capability. They said that from a nascent force in July 2004, the army now operates nine divisions throughout Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.

Over the next few weeks, officials said, a range of new units would be launched in both the army and air force. So far, the Iraq Army and Intervention Force consist of 18 battalions, a major increase from one battalion in July 2004.

By late February, nine additional military battalions were scheduled to become operational, officials said. They said several of the battalions would be ready in time for national elections, scheduled for Jan. 30
--from the World Tribune

That's a whole lotta Army to train in a very short time. While we went fishing in Fallujah, at the same time we were also teaching the Iraqis how to tie flies and cast out their lines.


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