Thursday, October 22, 2015
Russia vs the West – A Real Shooting War Advances
Russia always supports incumbent powers claim its leaders. It refuses to challenge leadership even in countries where such leaders are brutal repressors with extermination of their domestic “enemies” as a priority. They are all about supporting incumbent dictator Bashir Assad in Syria as complete proof of their philosophy. Just ask them. Oh, did I mention the exceptions when Russia just wants a different result? Like taking the Crimea despite a treaty they signed to the contrary? Or the rather blatant support (including high-end munitions and actual Russian troops) for Ukrainian rebels against the incumbent regime?
“The missile that downed Malaysia Airlines flight 17 exploded less than a meter from the cockpit, killing the crew inside instantly and breaking off the front of the plane, the Dutch Safety Board said [October 13th] as it presented the results of an official probe into the crash in eastern Ukraine… Safety Board chairman Tjibbe Joustra said the 15-month investigation found the warhead was that used on a Buk surface-to-air missile system… Missile fragments found in the cockpit crew's bodies, as well as paint traces, enabled investigators to identify the Buk, Joustra said.” AOL.com, October 13th.
That Buk was a sophisticated Russian-supplied missile. Russia says it was an older version of the weapon that probably was in the Ukrainian arsenal. Experts say otherwise. The missile was clearly launched from rebel territory (Russian claims to the contrary), and except for Russia, virtually every nation on earth believes the Russian-backed rebels were the perps. While the above investigation was focused solely on what caused the demise of that civilian airliner, an on-going additional inquiry will address the “who” exactly and assign criminal liability. The result will probably not please Russia.
And as the United States has finally admitted failure in their misguided attempt to find (yeah, a problem) and train “moderate” anti-Assad rebels to fight both against the murderous Assad regime and the even-more-dangerous ISIS monster, they have joined other Western nations in air-dropping munitions into rebel-held territory. Since Russians lump anti-Assad forces into an overall epithet of “terrorist” (a habit they may have learned from the label-happy West), they have managed to turn their “offensive against ISIS” into a powerful military thrust against Assad’s rebels. Russia is even more committed to supplying weapons to Assad, with a Russian base in Syria now serving as a launching platform for Russian-piloted jets now pounding Syrian rebels with a greater ferocity than its attacks on ISIS targets. But the U.S. is now committed to escalating its supply of weapons to anti-Assad, anti-ISIS rebel ground forces.
“On [October 12th], the YPG [Kurdish militia] announced a new alliance with small groups of Arab fighters, which could help deflect criticism that it fights only on behalf of Kurds. Washington has indicated it could direct funding and weapons to Arab commanders on the ground who cooperate with the YPG.
“Syrian Arab rebels said they had been told by Washington that new weapons were on their way to help them launch a joint offensive with their Kurdish allies on the city of Raqqa, the de facto Islamic State capital… The U.S. military confirmed dropping supplies to opposition fighters vetted by the United States but would say no more about the groups that received the supplies or the type of equipment in the airdrop.” AOL.com, October 13th.
American weapons have been flowing to rebels for some time. “Insurgent commanders say that since Russia began air attacks in support of the Syrian government, they are receiving for the first time bountiful supplies of powerful American-made antitank missiles.
“With the enhanced insurgent firepower and with Russia steadily raising the number of airstrikes against the government’s opponents, the Syrian conflict is edging closer to an all-out proxy war between the United States and Russia… The increased levels of support have raised morale on both sides of the conflict, broadening war aims and hardening political positions, making a diplomatic settlement all the more unlikely.
“The American-made TOW antitank missiles began arriving in the region in 2013, through a covert program run by the United States, Saudi Arabia and other allies to help certain C.I.A.-vetted insurgent groups battle the Syrian government… The weapons are delivered to the field by American allies, but the United States approves their destination. That suggests that the newly steady battlefield supply has at least tacit American approval, now that Russian air power is backing President Bashar al-Assad.” New York Times, October 12th.
But is this a surrogate war between Russia and the West or something more? After all, Russian pilots are purportedly flying some of the missions themselves, from jets to attack helicopters (unclear how involved the Russians are in piloting helicopters): “Russian attack helicopters swoop low over fields, seemingly close enough to touch, then veer upward to unleash barrages of rockets, flares and heavy machine-gun fire. Explosions pepper distant villages, with smoke rising over clusters of houses as narrators declare progress against ‘terrorists.’
“They appear to be using techniques honed in Afghanistan, where the occupying Soviet Army fought insurgents who were eventually supplied with antiaircraft missiles by the United States. Some of those insurgents later began Al Qaeda.” NY Times. The United States is wary. The notion of blowback, where after the earlier Afghan War anti-Soviet Mujahedeen used CIA-supplied arms against U.S. (and their allies) targets, still haunts American policy-makers. But while ISIS does not field an air force (yet), Syrian military planes have been pounding civilian and rebel targets indiscriminately for years. Now Russian jets have joined that fight.
With anti-Assad Syrian forces including the al-Qaeda affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front, in the mix, there is justifiable fear that our supplying anti-aircraft missiles to the Free Syrian Army somehow will wind up in the hands of those most likely to confront us later under that “blowback” theory. But without anti-aircraft support, the rebels have little chance against the airpower of the newly combined Russian and Syrian military air forces. We can expect a shift in U.S. policy to address the need to supply new anti-air weapons, making the Russian presence in what should be a no-fly zone that much more difficult.
Russia points to American failures in unseating unpopular dictators in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – generating even more destructive killing-chaos to fill the void – as a far worse alternative than accepting Assad (perhaps with a negotiated departure in the near term) and using his military in a coordinated attack against ISIS. But the Obama administration, backed by its European and regional allies, stands fast in its opposition to a regime that has used chemical gas and barrel bombs against its own people.
Whatever else is said or done, we are most certainly going to see American (and allied) weapons increasingly used against Russian military targets in Syria. We’ve been here before, but that country was called the Soviet Union. ISIS is watching Russians bomb local Syrian rebel enemies, making their ability to move in and take over more territory that much easier. Whatever the short term discomfort, the world is simply going to have to grapple with a malevolent force, hell-bent on global conquest, that is religiously incapable of compromise and is growing every day… sooner or later. And it going to take a whole lot more than airpower to dislodge them from their holdings.
’m Peter Dekom, and as global forces battle each other, ISIS is slowly moving its demonic plans slowly forward.