Thursday, October 03, 2013

Syria's conflict: some realities

Al-Qaeda presence in Syria worries US Good Guys and Bad Guys ...

An article by Charles Lister, Syria's insurgency beyond Good Guys and Bad Guys, is a "must read", as Josh Landis says.
The most "extreme" portion of the insurgency is represented by the two al Qaeda-affiliated groups: Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Combined, these groups command an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 fighters [..]
While much attention has been given in recent weeks to newly delivered weapons supplied to "moderate" groups under the command of Idriss -- such as Chinese HJ-8 anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) -- these appear not to have been delivered to some of the largest groups purportedly under SMC command but rather to smaller units perhaps more tightly under SMC control. These seemingly avoided larger groups are all members of the SILF: Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Islam, and Kataib al-Farouq [..]. [These three additional groups have] a combined estimated force of between 24,000 and 26,000 fighters.  
While all three groups are certainly less hardline than Suqor al-Sham, HASI or SIF, ISIS, and Jabhat al-Nusra, they have all on separate occasions rejected democracy in the Western-accepted sense as a concept and expressed a desire for the establishment of an Islamic state in Syria. [..] Liwa al-Islam is a critical player in the battle for Damascus and Liwa al-Tawhid is an essential source of authority in Aleppo. Whether a decision has been made not to direct (as much or any) overtly valuable resources to these three groups is impossible to confirm  adding them to the potential "bad guys" list would result in the total reaching between 56,000 and 68,000 fighters, or 68 to 80 percent of the insurgency. However, there is a noteworthy chance that such groups could in the future be co-opted more closely under SMC command, should certain carrots be waved their way.
Lister concludes: 
This might all appear as an attempt to present Syria's insurgency as a melting pot of extremists -- but it is most certainly not intended as such. [..] I have spoken with members of all groups mentioned in this article and as shocking as it may sound to some, the large majority of them seem, outwardly, to have what they perceive to be Syria's best interests at the forefront of their minds, at least for now. However, the tactics and rhetoric employed by many are clearly unpalatable by most Western standards.
While it is incontrovertibly the case that jihadists (or "extremists") represent a minority of the total insurgent force, true genuine "moderates" -- by Western standards of supporting the establishment of a non-religious, liberal state preferably founded on democratic principals -- also do not represent a majority. The largest portion of insurgent fighters in Syria is in fact represented by "Islamists," some less socially and politically conservative than others. Crucially, this does not preclude them from being potentially valuable leaders of a future Syria or even as future friends of the West, but it is important that this crucial element of the opposition is included within the minds of today's policymakers.
Charles Lister, in his , with Aron Lund, 22/9, said that even supposedly moderate elements of the FSA/SMC are using increasingly more sectarian rhetoric; that they would continue to cooperate with the jihadists, due to the necessities of the battlefield, not only because they are well-organised and well-funded, but because of the effectiveness of the tactic of the suicide bomber, in making an initial breach of defences. External support could strengthen "moderate" elements, he also says, but it could also lead to increased in-fighting (via ).

Updated: 4 Oct. 00:15

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