Syria: Game Changers, Rebel Rivalry, and UN War Crimes
Before I dive into all the breaking news on our miserable Syrian foreign policy, let’s look at what Russian FM Lavrov had to say today…
…Lavrov told Bloomberg that Russia wants to understand if their partners in America and the United Nations are really consistent with the idea of the Geneva 2 conference on Syria as their actions keep sending the wrong message to the country’s opposition…
“The message the opposition is getting: ‘Guys, don’t go to Geneva. Don’t say that you are going to negotiate with the regime. Soon things will change in your favor.’ So, that’s what we want to clarify. It’s either the conference or the instigation of the opposition not to be flexible. I don’t think it’s possible to do both at the same time”
The Foreign Minister reminded that Russia has been pushing for the peace solution “irrespective of the situation on the ground,” while the West started speaking of a conference only after Assad’s forces began advancing on the rebels.
“They weren’t ready to discuss it when many people believed that the opposition would take Damascus in recent weeks. If now they’ll be moving in the direction of what some opposition leaders are saying – namely, let’s first restore military balance on the ground and then we’ll go the conference. This’ll be a disaster for all diplomatic efforts because this would never end.”
The first problem is the representation of the rebels at the talks as “not each and every important opposition group wants to go under the umbrella of the [Syrian National] Coalition because” because it’s “taking quite radical positions” and doesn’t have any vision for the country’s future.
The FM also said that “the most effective military group fighting the regime in Syria”, the Jabhat al-Nusra, isn’t going to be invited to the talks at all.
“It’s not for them to decide whether they’ll come to the conference or not. They can’t be even considered. They are terrorists and they must be treated as terrorists.”
The second problem with the invitees’ list is the participation of foreign states in the Geneva 2 conference.
“We’re absolutely convinced that all Arab neighbors of Syria must be invited. And Iran must be there that’s something, which I believe is absolutely unavoidable if we want the process, which is inclusive, and if we want all important outside players to be there to push the Syrians to an agreement. And so far there are doubts on the part of the US regarding the invitation of Iran and, I believe, this is delaying.”
The Russian FM once again warned the US against arming the rebels, but said that weapons are “anyway” coming to Syria…
Well, lah-di-da… From the LA Times…
White House officials refused to comment Friday on a Los Angeles Times report that CIA operatives and U.S. special operations troops have been secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons since late last year, saying only that the U.S. had increased its assistance to the rebellion.
The covert U.S. training at bases in Jordan and Turkey began months before President Obama approved plans to begin directly arming the opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to U.S. officials and rebel commanders.
“We have stepped up our assistance, but I cannot inventory for you all the elements of that assistance,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “We have provided and will continue to provide substantial assistance to the Syrian opposition, as well as the Supreme Military Council.”
The Supreme Military Council is the military arm of an umbrella group that represents more moderate rebel factions, including the Free Syrian Army.
The training and Obama’s decision this month to supply arms and ammunition to the rebels have raised hope among the beleaguered opposition that Washington ultimately will provide heavier weapons as well. So far, the rebels say they lack the weapons they need to regain the offensive in Syria’s bitter civil war…
Do you want an inventory, Jay…? Anyways…Rebels claim ‘game-changing’ weapons…
…The “Friends of Syria” group of countries that support the rebels was expected to announce in Doha on Saturday that it would arm the opposition, FSA media and political co-ordinator spokesman Louay Muqdad said.
“We’ve received quantities of new types of weapons, including some that we asked for and that we believe will change the course of the battle on the ground.
“We have begun distributing them on the front lines, they will be in the hands of professional officers and FSA fighters,” he said.
He did not specify what weapons had been received or when they had arrived, but added that a new shipment was expected in the coming days and recalled that the rebels had asked for “deterrent weapons.”
“That means anti-aircraft weapons, anti-tank weapons, as well as ammunition,” he said.
Senior opposition figure Burhan Ghalioun confirmed that the FSA had recently received “sophisticated weapons” including “an anti-aircraft defence system.”
Another opposition source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the system was “Russian-made” but declined to say which country had supplied it.
The apparent influx of arms comes after the United States said it would provide rebel forces with “military support,” although it has declined to outline what that might entail.
“The weapons will be used for one objective, which is to fight the regime of (President) Bashar Al Assad,” Muqdad insisted.
“They will be collected after the fall of the regime, we have made this committment to the friends and brotherly countries” that supplied the arms,” he said…
*snort* Are you kidding…? When they can’t even dole out the ‘humanitarian aid‘ in a timely fashion…
The Syrian opposition’s record so far in handling tens of millions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian and other nonlethal assistance paints a bewildering picture of logistical challenges ahead of any delivery of American weapons and ammunition.
No aid shipments appear to be heading to terrorists or corrupt hoarders, according to U.S. officials, but packages of food, medicine and other lifesaving supplies regularly face long delays because of political rivalries among various rebel factions.
An American shipment of humanitarian goods was held up for two weeks amid a dispute between opposition groups over whose label should be attached to the boxes, a senior administration official recounted this week. Aid-filled planes have landed in neighboring countries with no trucks at the landing sites for transporting the items into Syria. In Cairo, funds the U.S. was prepared to provide an opposition political office were flat-out rejected, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
Although the Syrian opposition’s described dysfunction is nothing new, its problems are getting increased scrutiny since the Obama administration’s decision last week to authorize for the first time lethal military support to units fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s regime…
More on the Rebel Rivalry… Rivalries complicate arms pipeline to Syria rebels…
But those same shipments have sparked feuding and squabbling among rebel factions, illustrating the complications the United States will face as it starts directly arming the rebels, a major policy shift by the Obama administration.
Every shipment enters a tangle of complex rebel politics, with dozens of brigades and battalions operating on the ground, riven by jealousies, rivalries and competition, with radical Islamist fighters dominant. Moderate brigades complain Islamists are being favored. Islamists say they are being unfairly blamed. On the ground, rebels are making efforts to organize themselves to better funnel weapons and more effectively fight, but they often stumble over the same splits.
The new shipment earlier this month- said to be only the second sent by Gulf countries since November, and the first ever known to include some anti-aircraft missiles – caused a stir among rebels who say it went to one of the extreme Islamist groups, Ahrar al-Sham. The group is the strongest member of the Syrian Islamist Front, made up of 11 Islamist factions, which appears to be increasingly posing as a parallel to the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, a loose umbrella group of rebel fighters.
“The distribution was not fair,” said Zeineddine al-Shami, a spokesman for the First Brigade of the Free Syrian Army in the Damascus area. “It was random, based on the people they know.”…
Over the past six months, Idris’ council has worked to create regional command centers, integrate disparate groups and establish coordination with the more Islamist groups.
But efforts to integrate rebels also run into issues of vanity and territorial disputes, said al-Shami, the Damascus rebel spokesman….
“There are also a lot of differences, in the way of thinking and method of working. There was also selfishness.”Some groups recognize Idris as chief of staff. But others mock the FSA as a virtual myth or perceive FSA rebels as disunited, hungry for plunder and – in the eyes of Islamists – not of moral caliber…
What a clusterf*ck…! But, have no fear SoS Kerry is on the job…
…Kerry flew out of Washington on the start of a 12-day trip that will also include meetings in emerging US partner India, an Asia regional conference in Brunei and his latest attempt to revive the Middle East peace process.
The top US diplomat was to meet on Saturday fellow foreign ministers of the so-called London 11 “Friends of Syria” group in Qatar, an oil-rich monarchy at the forefront of helping rebels battling President Bashar Al Assad.
The United States has vowed to boost support for the rebels after declaring that Assad defied warnings not to use chemical weapons, but President Barack Obama is cautious about becoming embroiled in an increasingly sectarian conflict that has claimed nearly 100,000 lives.
“The goal of the meeting is to be very concrete about the importance of every kind of assistance that’s coming from the London 11 countries…being fully co-ordinated and going through only the Syrian opposition coalition,” a US official said.
The official said that the Qatar meeting was critical as the Syrian National Coalition was looking at its leadership, amid concerns in Washington that fighters against Assad lack cohesion and direction.
“This is all in support of energising, re-energising, the Syrian opposition coalition leadership to work to select its leadership,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Don’t ya feel all better now…?
Now, let’s get real… U.N. expert: More arms for Syria mean more war crimes…
Increasing the flow of weapons to Syria’s government and rebel forces will most likely cause an increase in war crimes in a two-year-old civil war that has killed more than 90,000 people, a U.N. human rights investigator warned on Friday.
“States who provide arms have responsibilities in terms of the eventual use of those arms to commit … war crimes or crimes against humanity,” said Paulo Pinheiro, who chairs a U.N. commission of inquiry on rights violations in Syria.
“Those arms will contribute to the escalation of war crimes,” he told reporters. “We are very much worried that more arms will signify an increasing presence of those violations.”
Earlier this month Pinheiro said in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva that his team had reasonable grounds to believe that limited amounts of chemical weapons had been used in Syria and warned that the country was in “free-fall.”
His team’s report said it had received allegations that Syrian government forces as well as rebels had used the banned weapons, but most testimony related to their use by state forces.
Pinheiro reiterated those findings in New York on Friday when he spoke to reporters after addressing an informal U.N. Security Council session on the report.
Assad’s government denies using chemical weapons in the conflict but has accused the opposition forces of using them.
Syria and Russia, one of Assad’s main arms suppliers along with Iran, have accused Gulf Arab states Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as Britain and France, of arming the rebels.
The European Union last month lifted its arms embargo on Syria. Britain and France have spoken in favour of potentially arming the rebels but say they have taken no decisions to do so…
God help the Syrians…! *gah*