Thursday, March 19, 2015

Mark Hambley on Isis

Ambassador Hambley argues that the American led coalition has no real strategy with regard to dealing with the Isis insurgency. While some view ISIS as a medieval organisation, its ability to entice foreign thrill-seeking fighters through the employment of New Media strategies propels them into the 21st century:

To watch this broadcast click here

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Backing Syrian Rebels

The policies of the US and the coalition in the Syrian civil war have been met with disdain by Syrian opposition leader, Khaled Khoja. In a speech in France last week, he described US plans to arm Syrian rebels over the next three years as a “joke” and claimed that coalition support for Syrian rebels is flimsy in comparison to the backing that President Assad has from his Russian and Iranian allies.

Khoja does have a point; the West has repeatedly voiced its support for moderate Syrian rebels but has also repeatedly failed to live up to its promise to make any serious impact. The coalitions’ contribution pales in comparison to the financial strength ISIS enjoy, reportedly generating US$2million in revenue per day, according to the International Business Times. Whilst Khoja claims Assad’s forces are being significantly aided with men and aircraft from Iran. As the coalition’s involvement focuses on the destruction of ISIS, Assad is also effectively being indirectly aided in the conflict.

US Secretary of State, John Kerry stated that “we will have to negotiate in the end”, enforcing the view that Assad’s position has strengthened. The issue is: now that his position has strengthened and he no longer appears close to defeat, the negotiation and the solution is likely to have to involve him. This puts negotiators in a difficult position of trying to re-build a new government that involves Assad. ISIS has indirectly sealed the fate of Assad and Syria. Despite this, the opposition are unwilling to budge on their stance and are not keen on negotiating with Assad.

Clearly the defeat of ISIS has become the focus of coalition forces but more pressure needs to be exerted on Assad and Russia if any solution between other forces is ever to be reached. The rise of ISIS in Syria was a symptom of the civil war, and a power vacuum in some areas has allowed them to creep in and commandeer power and control. If there is any hope of a resolution, the roots of the conflict need to be addressed. His response, on Syrian television, to comments made by Kerry was telling: “Any talk on the future of the Syrian President is for the Syrian people and all the declarations from the outside do not concern us”. He is in a strong enough position at this point to dismiss the vague olive branch that Kerry has extended.

Despite Khoja’s best efforts at raising support, there is little left of the Free Syrian Army who seemed to have faded into obscurity. The money and success of more extreme groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS has led to thousands leaving the Free Syrian Army to join them. The lack of notable coalition backing can be blamed for this however it is still not too late to act.

Without the financial and military backing needed for success, the lure of ISIS becomes greater. Likewise, success of Assad’s forces makes joining any moderate rebel groups less appealing. There is no end in sight to the conflict as it stands but with over 200,000 dead and millions left homeless, we cannot simply assume that there can be no solution.  Stefan de Mistura who obsessively pursued the Aleppo ceasefire has suffered a huge setback after the rebels rejected the UN brokered plan. Backing for rebels must be increased. Pressure on Assad is an important part of the battle against ISIS in Syria; if his position is weakened, he is more likely to enter into some form of negotiation - although the chances of that will be slim - thus allowing for a more focused effort against ISIS. A significant show of strength from any rebel faction could exert this pressure.

Friday, February 20, 2015

See how they run - for cover

Well talk about the leopard changing his spots. Interesting I guess. What do you make of this complete about face by the former US Ambassador? Is he a moral coward or a realist?

Robert Ford

Once a top booster, ex-U.S. envoy no longer backs arming Syrian rebels

In recent weeks, Ford, the former U.S. ambassador to Syria who made news when he left government service a year ago with an angry critique of Obama administration policy, has dropped his call to provide weapons to the rebels. Instead, he’s become increasingly critical of them as disjointed and untrustworthy because they collaborate with jihadists. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Syrian Refugee Crisis – Challenges to Humanitarianism

The following report is from Ms Eva M. Doerr, Junior Research Fellow at the Next Century Foundation:

I have recently returned from a journey to the Syrian border in an effort to assess the humanitarian situation and requirements of Syrian refugees in Turkey as well as arrange and manage cross-border distribution of aid into Syria.

The Syrian civil war is entering its fifth year, the humanitarian situation is atrocious and it seems there is little hope for the imminent resolution of this conflict – which has seen levels of truly extraordinary violence. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) over ten million people are in need of assistance with 7.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Syria and at least 3.2 million who have already fled the country. These figures are inevitably arbitrary. The NCF believes the number of IDPs to be higher and refugee numbers, particularly in Lebanon, are possibly severely underestimated by the UN. According to the latest UN figures for registered refugees Turkey hosts 1.6 million Syrian refugees, Lebanon 1.1 million, Jordan 600,000, Iraq 200,000. We reiterate, these are registered refugees only. The pressure placed on these host countries’ economies has left them at breaking point. The civilian population bears the brunt of the burden.

Humanitarian actors, whose efforts should at least be guided by the four principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, face an array of challenges when attempting to alleviate the suffering of civilians in the midst of ongoing conflict and violence. Along the Syrian-Turkish border, there are 100 IDP camps housing 160,000 people and since the beginning of the conflict both international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and local organisations have been involved in managing the provision of aid through cross-border operations from Turkey.

Those affected by the conflict in Syria face the burden of border closures by some of Syria’s neighbour countries, who are struggling to absorb the immense flow of people into their often already fragile economic, social and political systems as well as restrictions of people’s movement in besieged areas of Syria. It is estimated that currently around 220,000 people are affected by restriction of movement policies, and there is growing evidence that these have become a military tactic of belligerents in the conflict and militia groups who use the social pressure of the growing humanitarian crisis for personal gain.

For humanitarian organisations operating in and around Syria, one of the most pervasive challenges is lack of access. Strict visa regulations and the high-risk of travel in Syria make it extremely difficult for INGOs to operate, demonstrated by extensive media coverage of the active targeting and kidnapping of humanitarian workers. According to UN OCHA, 298 security incidents involving aid workers were recorded between January 2013 and August 2014 across the wider MENA region. However and perhaps contrary to the perception fostered by media sources, it is local staff that face the highest risk. Given the security threat, INGOs are required to work through local implementing partners, which pose obstacles to both needs assessments prior to, as well as monitoring activities during and after, the provision of aid.

A further and perhaps more striking constraint to humanitarian efforts are the advances of ISIS and the group’s control of huge swaths of land in both Syria and Iraq as large governmental and non-governmental donors impose undue restrictions on these areas. In accordance with the global anti-terror campaign, no aid flows into governorates controlled by the group amid the looming suspicion of funding ‘anti-Western’ militias. Despite growing donor reluctance and fatigue, ISIS expansion has brought humanitarian actors into direct conflict with armed opposition groups as in Deir-ez-Zor. Not only has fighting blocked access to the governorate, but it has prompted both sides to block humanitarian access (ISIS halts humanitarian access to opposition-controlled regions, whilst these opposition groups block humanitarian assistance to those in areas governed by ISIS).
The Turkish government is another actor that places further restrictions on aid flows from its territory into areas in Syria that are controlled by the Syrian Government – Assad is a longstanding political rival of Erdoğan – and the Kurds. Turkish-Kurdish relations have remained tense because the Kurdish party, the PKK, continues to struggle to build a Kurdish nation, partly on Turkish soil.
Given these numerous political obstacles, the number of governorates in which humanitarian agencies can operate and distribute equipment has now shrunk considerably. It is remarkable that part of the area considered accessible and ‘easy’ to operate in is currently under the jurisdiction of al-Nusra Front, which remains on top of the US list of terror organisations. Doing business with al-Nusra would have been a lot less acceptable before ISIS came to prominence and seemingly altered the scale of ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

The Syrian conflict is a prime example that demonstrates the changing nature of conflict from interstate to intrastate war, which has led to increased challenges for humanitarian actors not to act in breach of humanitarian protection principles. In the case of Syria, non-governmental organisations face multiple restrictions both through donor countries and other territories that function as operations bases. In the context of nation states and national sovereignty, the capacity of humanitarianism is often reduced to a minimum and the space in which INGOs can operate whilst sticking by their principles is marginal. As lines between civilians and combatants increasingly blur, it becomes difficult to legitimise aid allocations and guarantee that equipment and currency does not merely end up in the pockets of militants, but aids those in need of protection.