Media Workshop Recommends the Establishment of an Independent Media Body

At the end of the three-day meeting held by media experts to revamp the national media outlets, recommendations were made to establish an independent body for the national media outlets that includes television and radio channels, a newspaper, and a periodical in order to reach out to the Syrian citizens and the Arab and world public opinions. The media experts also put forward visions and procedures to address the reality of the Syrian media outlets through identifying the problems facing them and suggested solutions to these problems. Khalid Saleh, head of the Media Office, said that “there is a pressing need to put the suggestions and tips made during the meeting into effect without any delay. Fayez Sara, member of the Syrian Coalition, describes the meeting of media experts aimed at drawing the outlines for the national media outlets as “a necessary step at this stage of the revolution and must have been taken a long time ago. This project aims puts the media outlets of the revolution on the right track in keeping with academic and professional standards. The role of the Syrian Coalition will be limited to providing the necessary tools and means needed to carry out this project. We are also seeking to partner with the Syrian media experts to methodically and efficiently set the guidelines for the revolution’s media outlets.” Hadi al-Bahra, president of the Syrian Coalition, said during the opening of the meeting that “the media battle today is as important nowadays as the military battles waged by the FSA against the Assad regime. The targeted audience will not be limited to the rebels and dissidents, but will also include the few regime supporters as because Syria is for all Syrians without any distinction based on race, sect or belief.” Bahra calls on the media experts “to develop a comprehensive strategy to produce informative, balanced and inclusive speech capable of steering the homeland after the fall of Assad regime. The role of the Syrian Coalition in dealing with the media projects will be limited to supporting media activities and directing them without interfering with the vision and the content of the new media outlets.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 19.10.2014)

Syrian Coalition Stresses the Importance of Revamping the National Media Outlets

Fayez Sara, member of the Syrian Coalition, describes the meeting of media experts aimed at drawing the outlines for the national media outlets as “a necessary step at this stage of the revolution and must have been taken a long time ago. This project aims puts the media outlets of the revolution on the right track in keeping with academic and professional standards. The role of the Syrian Coalition will be limited to providing the necessary tools and means needed to carry out this project. We are also seeking to partner with the Syrian media experts to methodically and efficiently set the guidelines for the revolution’s media outlets.” Hadi al-Bahra, president of the Syrian Coalition, said during the opening of the meeting that “the media battle today is as important nowadays as the military battles waged by the FSA against the Assad regime. The targeted audience will not be limited to the rebels and dissidents, but will also include the few regime supporters as because Syria is for all Syrians without any distinction based on race, sect or belief.” Bahra calls on the media experts “to develop a comprehensive strategy to produce informative, balanced and inclusive speech capable of steering the homeland after the fall of Assad regime. The role of the Syrian Coalition in dealing with the media projects will be limited to supporting media activities and directing them without interfering with the vision and the content of the new media outlets.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 19.10.2014)

KOBANE UPDATE 6: DESPITE KURDS WINNING BACK GROUND, HEAVY FIGHTING IN CITY AS ISLAMIC STATE MAINTAIN THEIR ATTACKS

By Peter Clifford                ©               (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-iraq-news-4/)

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

Despite escalated help from US-led Coalition airstrikes and brave resistance from the Kurdish YPG and YPJ (Women’s Protection Force), the fight to clear the Islamic State from Kobane goes on, with no sign that the Jihadists are going to give up their assault.

In the last 2 days, the Islamic State have shelled and re-shelled an area to the north of Kobane city near the border crossing to Turkey and an area around the Al-Haj Rashad Mosque, 16 plus shells falling.

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

Brave Fighters of the YPJ in Kobane

Heavy fighting still continues around the central “security zone” in the city and on the eastern and southern sides of Kobane.

Last night, Thursday through Friday, Islamic State fighters attacked areas regained by the YPG Kurdish militia 2 days ago and this was followed by 6 Coalition airstrikes on the district of Kani Erban on the eastern side of city.

The Jihadists are also attacking houses controlled by YPG fighters in the street that extends along the western area of the security zone and which was in the hands of the YPG yesterday.

The Islamic State have additionally mounted another attack on Al-Hurreyyi Square.

Latest reports from Kobane on Friday evening say that a new convoy of Islamic State fighters has arrived from the IS town of Manbej in Aleppo province and there is fierce fighting around the border gate area to the north-east of the city.

While spirits among the Kurdish defenders are high after their gains over the last few days, amid reports of hundreds of bodies of dead Jihadists lying in the streets, they are still out-gunned and out-numbered with the Islamic State sending wave after wave of fighters into the battle-zone.

Kobane is clearly far from safe yet.

On Wednesday, Mr. Nassan, deputy head of Kobane’s foreign relations committee, said “Maybe in the few past days [Islamic State] was controlling about 40% of the city of Kobane, but now… less than 20% of the city is under their control”.

Many outside observers would rate that as unduly optimistic, still estimating that between 40 – 50% of the city remains in IS hands, though the situation is much more fluid than before.

West of Kobane, the Jihadists have been pushed back several kilometres from the city limits, though they are using their heavy weaponry to continue to bombard vacated areas. South-west of Kobane the Kurds have also regained territory and a YPG patrol engaged the Islamic State (IS) on the road to Aleppo, killing 8 of them at a loss of 3 of their own.

US Central Command (Centcom), now naming the Coalition operation in Syria and Iraq “Inherent Resolve” (EDITOR: I wonder who thought of that gem of a mouthful? I bet it translates into Arabic “really well”!), bombed IS positions 14 times on Wednesday and Thursday and attacks are ongoing on Friday.

The Coalition tally for the 2 days is given as 19 x IS buildings, 2 x IS command posts, 3 x IS fighting positions, 3 x IS sniper positions, 1 x IS staging location, and 1 x IS heavy machine gun. Centcom adds, “Indications are that airstrikes have continued to slow IS advances, but that the security situation on the ground in Kobane remains tenuous”.

The Coalition have carried out over 100 airstrikes around Kobane since September 27th, while in Iraq Coalition activity has subsided, mainly due to heavy sandstorms affecting flight operations.

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

Happy Young Kurdish Supporters of the YPG

Following the first direct talks between the US and the PYD (the Kurdish movement’s Syrian political wing) at the US embassy in Paris, it has been confirmed that the YPG on the ground are directly co-ordinating with the Coalition to direct in-coming jets to target specific buildings housing Jihadist units.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is now putting the recorded death toll for Kobane since the 16th September at 662, 374 Jihadists and 268 YPG/YPJ plus 20 civilians, though these figure do not include Islamic State fighters killed in airstrikes – therefore the final toll will be much higher.

Latest reports from Kobane on Friday morning suggest there is an ongoing combined Free Syrian Army (FSA) and YPG operation to retake the radio tower hill knows as Mishtenour, just south of the city.

The BBC Syria news service has a video report from Kobane recorded on Thursday.

There is additionally this morning an unconfirmed report that the senior IS commander known as Hisem Bin Ebdallah has been killed in combat.

If true, then this will be no great loss to the world – Ebdallah has appeared on the Internet physically beheading his victims with a knife.

However, the Kurds are still in dire need of weapons, ammunition and food, though supplies are trickling in despite Turkish intransigence, and the Islamic State has destroyed almost all of their medical facilities.

There was a terrible report from the Turkish border that a Kurdish ambulance was prevented from crossing and YPG fighters could do nothing to help 3 wounded colleagues who slowly died without help or treatment over a 3 hour period who could have, they believe, been otherwise saved. Many Turkish authorities see all Kurdish fighters as “terrorists”.

There have been persistent reports that civilians crossing from Kobane into Turkey in recent days, after the earlier mass exodus, have been detained in secure centres and searched by Turkish troops looking for mobile phone images of YPG fighters.

After returning 72 people to Kobane this week (scroll down – see earlier report below), it is now said that the Turks are planning to return another 170 detained Kurds to the war zone, many of whom have been on hunger strike in protest against the conditions in which they have been held. You can read more about this, HERE:

This and other ambivalent reactions by the Turks to the crisis in Kobane, may be why Turkey yesterday failed to gain one of the revolving seats on the UN Security Council.

Until recently, Turkey was thought to have letters of support from 160 countries in the ballot for the seat, needing only a minimum of 130, but support has clearly faded away in the last few days and in the end Turkey received only 60 votes, the seat going to Spain.

This is a tremendous blow to Turkish pride and prestige. New Zealand, Venezuela, Angola, Malaysia also got elected to non-permanent regional seats, which become active on January 1st 2015. You can read more in Newsweek Syria news.

ISLAMIC STATE JETS SEEN FLYING FROM CAPTURED FORMER ASSAD REGIME AIRBASE:

In a worrying development, there is an unconfirmed report from Opposition activist sources that MIG-21 and/or MIG-23 jets have been seen flying from Al-Jarrah military airbase in Islamic State territory east of Aleppo city.

To avoid detection by radar they are flying at low altitude and not straying far from the airfield perimeter. It is said that the Jihadist pilots are being trained by former members of Saddam Hussein’s air force.

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

Islamic State Taking to the Skies with Captured Jets?

The Ba’ath Party to whom these airman belong, is currently in alliance with the Islamic State in Iraq and fighting alongside them trying to regain some of the Sunni dominating power it once had under the former dictator.

Witnesses claim that they have seen 3 jets in flight so far, though it is not clear whether they are armed with missiles or not.

The Islamic State also control 2 other airfields in Syria, Al-Bukamal near the border with Iraq and Tabqa in Raqqah province.

Al-Jarrah is just 70 kilometres from the Turkish border and so far US Central Command, asked for a comment, says it has not seen any Islamic State jets in flight.

No doubt, should these reports be confirmed the Coalition, or indeed Assad’s Air Force or missile defence systems will destroy these aircraft as soon as possible.

If they manage to get through to any target with a suicide payload of bombs, the consequences could be catastrophic.

There are also reports that the Islamic State have also executed 2 of the own fighters at Al-Bukamel, one for“banditry and robbing Muslims’ money” and the 2nd for allegedly dealing with the Assad regime” and “putting down electronic chips” so their units could be tracked.

Elsewhere in Syria, the Opposition have launched a new campaign to remove Assad’s checkpoints on the Damascus to Jordan main highway.

The operation began with a fierce attack on the checkpoint at Umm al-Mayadin this morning, Friday, HERE: andHERE:

The Opposition also brought up their heavy fire-power, HERE:

The checkpoints, about 4 kilometres from the frontier, protect the Naseeb border crossing to Jordan, a now remote outpost of the Assad regime. Jordan have now closed their side of the crossing while fighting persists.

In Hama province, heavy fighting continues around Mork, the former Assad tank battalion base changing hands again twice in the last 24 hours, believed currently held by the Opposition.

In Idlib province, the Opposition are attacking Ma’ar Hattat on the highway to Aleppo, HERE: and the good citizens of Kafranbel are determined that the world does not forget that the battle is still against Assad, HERE:

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

Medical Supplies Reach Yarmouk After A 12 Month Wait

In Deir Ez-Zour city there has been fierce fighting between the Islamic State and the Assad regime in the Hawija district, 9 IS fighters reported killed but a Syrian Army vehicle destroyed and troop losses as the Jihadists advanced.

In Hasakah province 3 civilians, including a child, were reported killed after Coalition planes targeted a oil refining facility at the village of Kabiba in the Al-Shadai area.

In Damascus, for the first time in 12 months, the International Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent were allowed to distribute medical supplies in the Yarmouk Refugee camp in the southern part of the capital.

IRAQ NEWS: LATEST ISLAMIC STATE BOMBINGS IN BAGHDAD KILL 50, 162 DEAD SINCE SUNDAY:

In another wave of bomb attacks in Baghdad, mainly in Shiite areas, yesterday, Thursday, at least 50 were killed and dozens injured.

This brings the total killed since last Sunday in Baghdad alone to more than 162. The map below shows the horror of all the car bomb explosions in Baghdad since the Americans arrived in 2003.

IS have claimed responsibility for yesterday’s deadliest attack in the northern Dolaie commercial area of the city. 2 parked cars exploded simultaneously killing 14 and wounding 34.

Local residents, angry at the failure of the security services to protect them, pelted the police cars that arrived to deal with the blast with stones, forcing them to withdraw.

IRAQ and SYRIA NEWS

 

Map of Every Car Bomb Explosion in Baghdad Since 2003

In the eastern Baghdad district of Talibiyah, a suicide bomber rammed his exploding car into a police checkpoint, killing 7 policemen and 5 civilians. 4 other bombs also went off in Baghdad yesterday or nearby with similar destructive power and results.

In northern Iraq west of Mosul, the Islamic state are reported to have launched another series of suicide car bomb attacks against the Iraqi special forces defending the Baiji oil refinery.

Since the sandstorms over subsided in the last 24 hours over Iraq, the Coalition have made 5 airstrikes on Islamic State targets, mainly in Anbar province where a night-time curfew has been imposed in Ramadi to prevent IS movements in and out of the city.

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi, has met with a delegation from Anbar province, which is currently in great danger of being totally overrun by the Islamic State, and attempted to persuade local Sunni tribes to work with the Iraqi security forces to push IS back.

Italy has announced it is joining the Coalition against IS by sending 200 advisers and 3 reconnaissance planes to operate out of Erbil in Kurdish Iraq.

Lastly, like many of us you may be having trouble keeping up with and working out all the complications of the situation in Iraq and Syria.

Despite all the horror, something of an “explanation” to cheer you up over the weekend from Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AawCeJREHWw

Syrian Coalition Launches a Project Aimed at Revamping Media Outlets in Syria

The Syrian Coalition has launched a national media industry project in cooperation with senior media figures who will oversee the setting of guidelines for national media outlets. Hadi al-Bahra, president of the Syrian Coalition, said during the opening of the meeting that “the media battle today is as important nowadays as the military battles waged by the FSA against the Assad regime. The targeted audience will not be limited to the rebels and dissidents, but will also include the few regime supporters as because Syria is for all Syrians without any distinction based on race, sect or belief.” Bahra calls on the media experts “to develop a comprehensive strategy to produce informative, balanced and inclusive speech capable of steering the homeland after the fall of Assad regime. The role of the Syrian Coalition in dealing with the media projects will be limited to supporting media activities and directing them without interfering with the vision and the content of the new media outlets.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 18.10.2014)

Has Kobane become vortex of death for ISIS?

As U.S. jets obliterate fanatics from the air and Kurds suck them into street ‘meat grinder’, experts believe jihadists have finally made strategic miscalculation

  • Islamic State militants may live to regret encouraging street battles with outgunned Kurdish forces inside Kobane
  • Barbaric terror group’s tried and tested ‘pincer movement’ has previously forced enemies to retreat or even defect
  • Previously used to seize vast swathes of territory in north Syria and west Iraq, where security forces melted away
  • But Kobane is surrounded by desert, with Turkish border only 200 yards to the north, so Kurdish troops cannot flee 
  • Now Kurdish troops are engaging terrorists in street-to-street battles – a tactic that doesn’t play to ISIS’ strenghs

Islamic State militants have made fatal strategic mistakes in Kobane, allowing American and Arab warplanes to obliterate them from the air and Kurdish forces to suck them into unfamiliar ‘meat grinder’ street battles, an expert has claimed.

During the four-week battle for Kobane, ISIS has used the same tried and tested ‘pincer movement’ it deployed during the rapid seizure of vast swathes of northern Syria and western Iraq earlier this year.

In the majority of those lightning advances, ISIS was able to capture towns and cities with little to no resistance – as the group’s reputation for torture and brutal murder ensured local security forces either defected or abandoned their posts, rather than face certain slaughter at the hands of the fanatics.

But as Kobane is located less than 200 yards south of the Turkish border fences and is surrounded largely by desert, the massively outgunned Kurdish fighters there have had nowhere to flee, encouraging them to gather in the centre of town and defend the city in furious street-to-street battles.

This is a tactic that does not play to ISIS’ considerable armament strengths and leaves the militants out in the open for lengthy periods, where American and Arab warplanes can easily pick the fighters off.

Blast: A US-led airstrike on a Syrian gas facility in Kobane killed at least eight people this afternoon. It had been held by militants from the Islamic State terror group, who expert Justin Bronk believes has made fatal errors in its attempt to capture the city

Blast: A US-led airstrike on a Syrian gas facility in Kobane killed at least eight people this afternoon. It had been held by militants from the Islamic State terror group, who expert Justin Bronk believes has made fatal errors in its attempt to capture the city

 Flames of war: An American airstrike destroys an Islamic State target inside Kobane, sending a massive column of fire into the air

Flames of war: An American airstrike destroys an Islamic State target inside Kobane, sending a massive column of fire into the air

The claim that ISIS may have made serious tactical errors in Kobane came from Justin Bronk, a research analyst in the military sciences program at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Kobane is a ‘very unusual operation’ for ISIS as the pitched battles they forced by giving the Kurdish troops nowhere to run have left them particularly vulnerable to airstrikes, he wrote in an opinion article for CNN.

(Source / 18.10.2014)

15 dead in regime air raids near Damascus: monitor

At least 15 civilians, including three minors, were killed in Syrian regime air raids on a rebel-held town near the capital

At least 15 civilians, including three minors, were killed in Syrian regime air raids on a rebel-held town near the capital on Friday, a monitoring group said.

“At least 15 civilians, including three aged under 18, were killed in eight raids by Syrian military planes on several districts of the town of Douma,” 13 kilometres (eight miles) northeast of Damascus, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

On Thursday, regime air strikes killed 20 people, including two children and two women, in Jisrin to the east of Damascus, and two others in nearby Saqba, according to the Observatory.

Closing in on Douma, a town of 200,000 residents, the army has seized control of Mleiha and Adra and has set its sights on Jobar and Ain Tarma, all towns to the east of the capital.

(Source / 17.10.2014)

Regime’s Siege of Al Waer and East Ghouta is Tantamount to Genocide

Nora al-Ameer, vice president of the Syrian Coalition, said that the suffocating siege regime forces have been laying on East and West Ghouta, Al Waer district and Al Houla in Homs province is tantamount to a genocide and is not less atrocious than the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs against civilians. The silence of the international community towards Assad’s crimes is seen by Syrians as a direct involvement in these crimes and would undermine what remained of the Syrians’ confidence in the international community. Moreover, this dubious silence towards the unethical political blackmail practiced by the Assad regime which uses starvation as a weapon of warfare to bring the Syrian people to their knees is a crime against humanity. We therefore call for the international community to assume its responsibility and pressurize the Assad regime to comply with the UN Security Council resolution No. 2139 and allow unfettered access of aid convoys to all besieged areas. According to the UN resolution, the delivery of relief aid to besieged areas does not require the consent of the Assad regime, an outright recognition of Assad’s deliberate hindering of the delivery of relief aid to the trapped people in the besieged areas. Unfortunately these UN resolutions have so far amounted to nothing more than ink on paper as they were not supplemented by a UN resolution to punish the sides that violate or hinder the implementation of the previous international resolutions.” Al Ameer cited the children’s death during the vaccination campaign as not the result of human error, but also of the consequences of the crippling siege imposed by regime forces on the rebellious populations.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 16.10.2014)

Foreign fighters flow to Syria

An estimated 15,000 militants from at least 80 nations are believed to have entered Syria to help overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad according the CIA and studies by ISCR and The Soufan Group. Many of these fighters are believed to have joined units that are now part of the Islamic State. Western officals are concerned about what these individuals may do upon returning to their native countries.

Map: Flow of foreign fighters to Syria
International Center for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ISCR), The Soufan Group, CIA. Gene Thorp, Julie Tate and Swati Sharma. Published on October 11, 2014, 6:44 p.m.
(Source / 15.10.2014)

Dutch biker gang cleared to help Kurds fight Islamic State

Mourners flash the victory sign as they sing a nationalistic Kurdish song at a cemetery in Suruc, Turkey, during the funeral of two Syrian Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) ** FILE **

Mourners flash the victory sign as they sing a nationalistic Kurdish song at a cemetery in Suruc, Turkey, during the funeral of two Syrian Kurdish fighters

The Dutch public prosecutor on Tuesday declared it legal for bikers from the No Surrender gang to continue fighting alongside Kurds in northern Iraq against the Islamic State group.

“Joining a foreign armed force was previously punishable; now it’s no longer forbidden,” public prosecutor spokesman Wim de Bruin told the Agence France-Presse. “You just can’t join a fight against the Netherlands.”

His comments come after reports that Dutch bikers had joined the Kurds in fighting Sunni militants that have gained a stronghold in Iraq and Syria.

Dutch citizens could not, however, join the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), because it is labeled a terrorist organization by much of the international community, AFP reported.

Dutch citizens fighting on the Kurdish side will still be subject to prosecution if they committed a crime abroad, Mr. De Bruin said.

“But this is also happening a long way away, and so it’ll be very difficult to prove,” he added.

The Netherlands has been cracking down on citizens trying to join Islamic State fighters, confiscating would-be jihadists’ passports before traveling and threatening prosecution should they return, AFP reported.

(Source / 14.10.2014)

The Plan To Defeat ISIS And Topple Bashar Assad

John Kerry, Philip Hammond

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond, left, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shake hands

BOSTON — As the Obama administation steps up its war against militants from the Islamic State (also known as ISIL), theUnited Kingdom once again joins the US as a key ally. In late September, the British committed to conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State, and will also join a US-led effort to build up the moderate Free Syrian Army, in its fight to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

After completing talks with Secretary of State John Kerry last week in Washington, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond answered questions for journalists from GlobalPost and the Christian Science Monitor. Below is the transcript of the interview.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity by GlobalPost.

 

How do you foresee the defeat of ISIL?

It comes about by a multi-strand approach. Of course there’s a military component. ISIL has to be defeated militarily. But we will defeat them militarily by cutting off the flow of resources they receive —that’s external financing, foreign fighters, logistic materiel, it’s their ability to access the oil markets with oil they control.

We will defeat them by challenging and undermining their ideology, because you can’t bomb an ideology out of existence, you have to challenge it and argue it out of existence. And we will defeat it in Iraq by good governance, by showing that the Abadi government will introduce generally inclusive government that recognizes the claim of Iraq’s minorities, the Sunni and the Kurds, not to mention others, the Christians and Yazidis to share in the country’s wealth and a degree of autonomy in their areas —all things that the government has committed to, but it now has to deliver on.

And in the military domain, the airstrikes are important and will continue, and have degraded ISIL’s capabilities, destroyed military infrastructure, destroyed their ability to access oil revenues to a significant extent, but have also, perhaps more importantly forced them to change tactics. And that’s what continuous air attack does. It doesn’t necessarily destroy your military capability, but it forces you to move away from a formed units conventional military approach to something more like the structure of a terrorist organization, and that is important because one of the defining characteristics of ISIL’s pitch is that it’s not a terrorist organization it’s a state, it’s taking and holding territory, it’s running civil government, it’s organizing public services. Attack from the air degrades its ability to do all of those things.

But in the end it will need ground forces to beat it back and destroy it. They will have to come, in the case of Iraq from the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi security forces, which will require a degree of retraining, reorganization and new doctrine and tactics following the years of attrition under [former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki]. And in the case of Syria [it] will have to come from the Free Syrian Army, the moderate opposition forces, which will be built on the back of the $500 million Congress has appropriated for the training, paying and equipping Syrian fighters. That middle word is crucially important: getting these fighting groups away from being ad-hoc groups of enthusiasts or idealists to a regular paid service where people do their training, put on a uniform, accept a discipline, and get a paycheck at the end of the month is a crucially important step forward. But it’s not going to happen overnight. As Secretary Kerry has said it’s going to take months and years, not days and weeks.

 

On Syria, you’ve said the UK has not ruled out getting involved in the air campaign. Is that correct?

Yes, that’s correct. We haven’t ruled that out. We’ve sought the endorsement of Parliament to our decision to become involved in Iraq, and we’ve had a very strong parliamentary endorsement. We told Parliament that if we judged at any time that we needed to become involved in Syria, that there was a military logic to Britain becoming involvement in Syria, that we would go back to Parliament and seek parliamentary endorsement of that decision.

 

What would be the legal basis for the UK’s intervention in Syria?

Collective self defense. Same as the US’s legal basis. Collective self defense in support of Iraq. Iraq has written to us and told us collectively that it is threatened by an external threat coming from the territory of Syria, which it believes the Syrian government is unable or unwilling to control, that is under article 51 of the UN Charter.

 

So you would not be declaring war on Syria, you’d just be bombing within their country?

Absolutely not. That’s exactly right. We’re not doing anything at the moment, but if we were it would be suppressing the threat to the state of Iraq emanating from the territory of Syria, that the Syrian regime is unable or unwilling to control.

 

You would be taking out one of Assad’s enemies, while you’re on record as saying that Assad must go. There’s a contradiction here. Perhaps you could speak to that?

I could do that in a phrase that I’m afraid I use rather laboriously now, but in this part of the world it is not the case that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. My enemy’s enemy is somebody I’m going to get later, after I’ve got my enemy. That’s where we are. We cannot treat Assad as a friend simply because he’s an enemy of ISIL. We have to deal with ISIL because ISIL is the enemy. But in time we also have to deal with Assad because Assad is the enemy.

 

How will you do that?

By training a Free Syrian Army so that the balance on the ground in Syria tips to the point where the sensible elements in the regime sue for a political solution, to avoid what happened in Iraq, where the institutions of government were dismantled. I don’t think anyone wants to go there in Syria.

What needs to happen is that Assad needs to go. The moderate opposition and the regime minus Assad need to sit down and discuss a political solution that leads to free and fair elections in Syria.

The moderate opposition, the Syrian National Coalition have made clear that they are not seeking to dismantle the state or the institutions of the state, they are not seeking to exclude from participation in the new Syria the Alawite leadership or the Alawite or the Alawite element of the population. It has to be a genuinely inclusive solution, it is prepared to put behind it the horrific experience of the last three years.

 

An article in the New York Times today alleges that airstrikes on the Islamic State is enabling the Assad regime to take a stronger approach against other rebel groups. can you respond, please?

I understand the challenge, and of course it’s something that we’ve got to watch very carefully. But I don’t think that it’s a major concern at the moment. The Assad forces are not as strong or as closely under the control of the regime as perhaps it seems from the outside. The Assad regime is now heavily dependent on militias that act semi-autonomously. I think it’s overly simplistic to think of a regime in Damascus making a strategic military judgment, pulling a lever and diverting forces from one thing to another. I think the situation on the ground is a lot more fragmented, a lot more chaotic than that. And actually the number of formal Syrian army forces that the regime is able to deploy as opposed to Syrian army units that the regime won’t deploy because it has fears around their loyalty —I think it’s a relatively limited number.

So it’s not an issue for the moment, but I readily accept that it’s something we’re going to have to keep an eye on.

The solution is to step up the pace of training and equipping of Free Syrian Army fighters, to keep the pressure on the regime.  The US announcement [of $500 million in support] is a major morale boost to the Free Syrian army, and will in time tip the balance. We’re going to play a major role alongside the US in doing that training, we’re scoping with the US now how can best plug into the US led effort there.

 

You mentioned earlier that ground troops are essential to the effort. In the past decade the US spent about $25 billion trying to build up the iraqi military, and yet in the face of the Islamic State it melted away. What is the hope that we can make these ground forces into something effective — on the fly as we conduct air strikes against ISIL?

The Iraqi army is basically a well-equipped, reasonably strong in numbers force, but it has been undermined by the blatant divineness, sectarianism of the Maliki regime. Imposing officers that were appointed for political affiliation rather than military capability, a blatantly sectarian approach in the use of the army, a total alienation of the Sunni population from the Iraqi security forces. And that has to be reversed. So you are right in the sense that we’re going to have to do this on the fly.

The only forces on the ground outside the northern areas where the Peshmerga are present are the Iraqi security forces. So they are going to have to be kept in line and supported to deliver military capability, even while we take units out, retrain them, restructure them and plug them back in again. That’s an urgent requirement, and [General] John Allen I know is focused —if there’s a man I know who knows how to do this, and do it in the Iraqi context, he’s the man. He’s now very much focused on how we’re going to deliver on this challenge of using the current Iraqi army both to hold the line and provide the nucleus of a retrained, restructured force.

The Iraqi government is committed to raising a national guard, which is locally based and therefore de facto single-community based. There are pros and cons to that, but the reality is getting a Sunni force raised quickly is quite an important part of building the new Iraq, and we’ve already got the Peshmerga, the Kurdish force.

 

How much difference have you seen with Abadi over the Malaki government?

A huge difference. Malaki was an outrageous, in your face, blatant sectarian, with no pretense of running a single nation for the benefit of all its people.

Abadi gets it. He talks the right game, but 80 percent of the ministers in his government were in the Maliki government. The skeptics have reason to be skeptical. Let’s be constructive, but certainly let’s not be naive about the degree of commitment that necessarily be shown. I think Abadi’s heart is in the right place. Whether all of his colleagues in government will be as enthusiastic, we’ll need to wait and see.

But they’re the only game in town, so we have to back them.

 

What levers can you pull to try to push more effort in terms of sending the message, we are inclusive the kind of thing that will, in theory, give the Iraqi army reason to fight for the country?

I think having ISIL 30 miles away from your capital city is a pretty big wakeup call, and there is no doubt that the US airstrikes have prevented what could have been a disastrous meltdown for the Iraqis. It’s not for me to say how the Pentagon, John Allen and the White House play this, but I wouldn’t let them forget that they are only there sitting in their palace, or whatever they sit in, on sufferance. That they have to deliver now on this program, because it will be impossible for the US, for the UK, France, any democratic government to maintain the kind of support that’s now been committed if the government on ground isn’t working toward a sustainable solution.

President Obama was very clear before the Abadi government was formed that he wouldn’t intervene more generally —I think the initial intervention was to protect the Kurds —that he wouldn’t intervene more generally until there was a credible government to intervene in support of. And they have to keep being reminded of that. They’ll need lots of support from the international community —technical support, training support, military advice and equipment, and possibly financial support if they can’t get enough of their oil out, although at the moment they’re doing okay. I think the government of Abadi absolutely understands that if Iraq is on its own, it can get into a very bad place very quickly.

 

Theres been a lot of criticism in the United States of the Turkish positon, and of course they have a complicated game to play with their Kurdish population. But as a NATO ally, what can you reasonably expect Turkey to do going forward?

Well the Turks have put forward a plan —first of all they have been constrained by their own hostage situation which is now resolved, so there was a strong sense that Turkey was standing on the sideline waiting to join the game. They have now made very clear in words that they are ready to join the game, they want to join the game and they expect to join the game. They have put forward a plan which is not new, they have been talking about it for several months, involving the creation of a no-fly zone buffer, safe areas, and General Allen is in Ankara [Thursday Oct. 9] and he’s visiting one or two other capitals in the region before coming back here.

So this is very much a plan in evolution, as Secretary Kerry said [Thursday morning] as we did the doorstep at the wind turbine center. This coalition was only put together a couple weeks ago. We are still finding our feet, working out who’s going to do what, who’s going to take action where. The Turks were behind the curve anyway because they didn’t get involved until a bit later because of the hostage situation. So working out exactly how Turkey is going to make its contribution, recognizing all the sensitivities around Kurdish areas on both sides of the border, is not going to be done overnight. There’s a lot of people out there saying, why don’t the Turks just go and defend Kobani —my understanding is that the PKK and the PYD who are in Kobani have said that they don’t want the Turks in there. It’s my enemy’s enemy thing again. To nice tidy Western minds who think of things in black and white —there’s them and there’s us —the situation is much more complex on the ground, and working out different roles that different parties can play so that it can all be harmonious is going to be complex.

 

Turkey has military bases where the US would normally fly out of, to carry out exactly these types of airstrikes, but they haven’t gotten permission to do so. I don’t know whether the UK would use those airbases or not. I imagine you’d use Cyprus?

Well we have used Cyprus. To use Cyprus is an unsinkable air craft carrier.

 

So Turkey is not so important for the UK?

I can’t make the military judgment of whether you were offered a base further forward, but with all the disadvantages of using an expeditionary base rather than operating from what is effectively a home base. I can’t ask for the Americans either, you’d have ask [Defense Secretary] Chuck Hagel why their operating from the Gulf rather than from Incirlik.

 

But in your initial scenario of how ISIL is defeated, Turkey didn’t figure in. Is it not a critical link?

We think this has got to be done by Iraqi forces in Iraq and Syrian forces in Syria.

Western boots on the ground —even local, regional boots on the ground in any significant numbers in a combat role, because of the complexities and tensions is always going to be difficult, is always going to lead to potentially as many problems as it solves.

 

Turkey being western in this sense?

Well, Turkey not exactly being Western, but Turkey has all sorts of historic complexities in its relations with countries and groups in the region.

This is far better resolved internally, and the program we have in place assumes that that is how it will be done, with Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga and newly raised Iraqi National Guard units in Iraq, and with a regenerated Free Syrian Army in Syria, based on the very substantial US program.

 

Do you see a role for Iran? What sort of role do you think might be helpful or appropriate in fighting ISIL?

Well, it’s certainly helpful to have Iran’s tacit approval of the action that is going on. I don’t think we would welcome direct Iranian involvement, it would be yet another complicating factor to the extent that the important thing in Iraq is to emphasize Iraq as a nation, not a series of religious factions. Having Shia Iran waving in makes it rather less likely to envisage the Sunni population would feel that that government is something they could rally around.

 

Going back to training the Free Syrian Army, there’s been this discussion of, how do you know who youre really working with? What measures can be taken to make sure youre targeting the right people and not working with people who might head down a different path from the US and the UK?

Well there will have to be a screening process, and there will be a proper training process, and there will be a paid regime. So these people will be employees. We’re not talking about training a bunch of freelancers who go off on their pickup trucks and then we never see them again. They’re going to be working in formed and organized Free Syrian Army units. They’ll be getting a paycheck at the end of the month.

 

Whose employees will they be?

The Free Syrian Army’s, or a sub-unit of it. There will be a number of groups under the Free Syrian Army umbrella.

 

So there’s enough structure there?

It needs reinforcing, but there’s enough structure there. But of course the reality of the world: as soon as you start paying people regularly you have a structure.

In terms of there being a flow of recruits, again, payment of regular wages is going to be crucially important in recruiting the kind of people we want. These will not necessarily be people who are fanatically committed, they will be people who are prepared to fight, train, learn the trade, who believe in the cause of a democratic Syria, but also people who want to earn a wage and feed their families, which is a perfectly respectable  ambition for people to have.

 

Is this likely to work better than it has, say, in Afghanistan? And can you comment on the size and strength of the free syrian army? [Globalpost] detects from our correspondents that a lot of former Free Syrian Army soldiers have fled abroad at this point.

The size of the Free Syrian Army, I think we currently estimate 25,000? [Aide: I think there’s quite a wide range.] Yes, around 20,000 to 25,000.

 

So more or less the same troop strength as ISIL?

Well, we slightly differ with our US colleagues on estimates of ISIL strength. The UK estimates are closer to 10,000. US estimates are above 20,000 or 25,000, up even towards 30,000. But with a big range of error. A lot of it depends on definition.

 

How will this [training] work?

They will be taken out of country for training, given training…

 

To Iraq presumably?

I think there are a number of options in the region, but to countries in the region,  where they can be trained and returned to a fighting role in Syria.

It’s not going to happen overnight. We’re probably talking about three or four months to get the first batch through the system and back in, and that might be two, three, four thousand, that sort of number. But I think the target is to be able to train about 15,000 a year, which is not vast numbers but it’s enough to make a significant difference.

And most importantly, by training them, disciplining them and paying them, you would expect to find that, you put 15,000 in you’ve still got the better part of 15,000 there a year later, rather people just melting away.

By the way, I have to pick up on your Afghanistan reference: Do I hope it will work better than it did in Afghanistan?

No I don’t expect it to work better than it did in Afghanistan, I think that Afghanistan is a good example of how you can train up an army from scratch. Different circumstances, but you’ve got [total security forces] of 352,000 in Afghanistan, which does a pretty good job, can plan and execute its own operations, runs its own logistics, very rarely needs any help from ISAF partners. If we could get to anything remotely like that in Syria we wouldn’t have a problem, frankly.

We’re not talking about anything on the scale of the Afghan national security forces, we’re talking about, maybe after three years building up a force that might be 50,000 strong.

And remember, in the Syrian National Convention’s own words, it is not seeking to defeat the regime, it is seeking to bring the regime to a political compromise, that’s their objective. They’re not trying to storm Damascus and kill everybody.

 

It sounds a bit more like arming the Mujahideen in the Afghan civil war than building up the afghan national army.

You mentioned that once people start getting paid it creates a structure. funding this army is a long term investment. How dedicated can we be to the free Syrian army, which presumably does not have a future as an arm of the Syrian government, assuming things succeed.

I would expect it to be integrated into the Syrian national army, as part of a future democratic Syria, and there are plenty of examples around the world of organized liberation armies, post transition of power, being integrated into the traditional national security forces structure. That would be the preferred route.

 

How long are Britain and the US committed to seeing out the ongoing funding [of the Free Syrian Army] until they have a new paymaster?

We’ll there’s $500 million committed so far, that will do quite a lot. You will have read the stories saying —and I cannot validate —that ISIL fighters get paid somewhere between $300 and $600 a month. I have no reason to believe that economic conditions in Syria will be much different. So, at that sort of level the wage bill for a force building up to 50,000 is not going to break the bank.

 

The risk is that you’re prolonging a civil war for years to come. The Assad regime and the Alawites see the Sunni opposition now you’ll say there are moderates and islamists they see things in a very black and white sense: If they take over, we’re doomed, we will all be slaughtered in the streets.

There’s no reason to draw that assumption. The SNC is messaging very hard that that’s not its purpose. Its purpose is to sit down with members of the current governing class, governing regime, whatever you want to call them, and cut a deal to create a transitional government and move Syria to open elections in which the Alawite community will continue to play a role, it won’t have the dominant role that it has now, but it will have to be under a constitution that assures them that they will not be victims of a retribution that they would never sign up for, that would cause them to fight to the death.

What happened in Iraq, with the de-Baathification strategy is a pretty powerful to anyone who wants to look at it to think hard about the relative merits of retribution versus constructive approach to the future.

The president of the Syrian National Coalition, [Hadi Al-Bahra] is a pretty impressive guy, not impressive in the sense that he’s a great orator or that sort of thing, but he’s a technocrat, an engineer or something —some kind of professional person who has committed himself to this role, and he is very clear about what the Syrian National Coalition’s role is, and it will not fight the election, that’s in its constitution. It will seek to get Syria to the point of an election, but it will not fight it. It contains within it many groups that will contest an election, but it will not contest the election itself.

(Source / 14.10.2014)