“The sense of common danger, threatening all alike, will prove the most persuasive factor in swerving us from the perilous route which we are now following.” – Francesco Nitti, Prime Minister of Italy (1919-20), who saw WWII coming on very early
We have been waiting on pins and needles to see if the somewhat surprising US-Russian Syrian truce agreement would be stillborn like the last Geneva meeting. But the angels may have finally showed up on the battlefront as major parties announced their support today.
The biggest boost came from the video conference with Obama, Britain, France and Germany — the core of NATO weighing in to confirm they were onboard, and sending a strong message to Turkey who seemed to be listening. Deputy PM Numan Kurtulmus said that Turkey welcomed the ceasefire plans, and then switched tones to say that the Turks were very pessimistic about any political settlement.
That came as a surprise as no political discussions will really get started without a generally accepted ceasefire, and much of that will depend on Turkey. As a member of the US coalition, confirmed by its Parliament in August of 2015, Turkey is technically bound by the US partnership with Russia, which I suspect produced their quick positive response.
But it is not what one says that produces results, but what they do. As all parties have to officially give thumbs up or down by noon on Friday if they are in or out, we have a showdown at the OK Corral scenario in play here. Those that say no, or don’t reply, could find themselves outside their coalition.
Others like Turkey who then continue to shell Syrian areas and infiltrate combatants and supplies would be in violation of the truce. Would Turkey feel it can still maintain a buffer zone by force inside Syria with its troops there, but still remain a US coalition member? Would Saudi Arabia follow through with its crazy statement to arm its terror proxies with MANPADS? Will they still demand that Assad must go? What would the US do in such a situation with a key ally breaking the truce?
Damascus was quick to jump aboard with the caveat that the fight would continue against all terrorist groups. And Assad has been adamant that no military supplies can be flowing into areas under truce, a tall order in itself, but a critically practical one. Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia had clarified last week that their sending ground forces into Syria would only be done under the US coalition banner — Special Ops troops at first, and for the purpose of fighting ISIL.
Since Syria, Russia and the US have waived the green flag on continuing the ISIL fight, would that allow the Turks and Saudis to bring in outside troops to do it? Would Syrian have no say so? And who would police their compliance to make sure they were not rearming their proxies?
A ceasefire monitoring group was built into the initial process which must start with a careful mapping out of where all the factional groups are located to establish what will not only be one big jigsaw puzzle, but one where some of the pieces will try to move around. Will the various groups in those areas be required to submit rosters as to whom the members of their group are? Will some kind of official IDs have to be created so al-Nusra fighters don’t miraculously become members of non-terrorist groups before Friday, or after?
It seems that all ceasefire violations and actions taken on them will require the joint decision of both Russia and the US, but Syria’s roll is still hazy at this point because there were still ongoing disputes between the two coalitions on the designation of who is a terrorist group. The UN did step up to the plate to announce war crimes investigations would begin with the ceasefire. We hope this was not blustering as that will be a very big job for Syria, and a dangerous one.
The division of responsibilities has the Russians handling the coordination center to monitor violations at its Khmeimin airbase near Latakia. It has not only the necessary facilities but the command staff there knows where all the various conflict lines are. The US gets to manage the hot line, the easy job, but then has a much more fractured coalition, and one that has been supporting the terrorists it claims to oppose.
The services of the coordination center will be available to ceasefire members only, to request air strikes on the named terrorist positions or to request humanitarian aid. This is critical work, because it can stem the outflow of refugees, which will take pressure off the EU. That was all due to Merkel’s throwing open the doors of Europe, and then NATO doing nothing to police the water routes to stem the orchestrated flow of refugees that Erdogan unleashed upon it longtime adversary Greece as a ploy to get Turkey’s EU membership fast-tracked.
Expect the outlawed terrorist groups to unleash their revenge on the peace process. That has already started with major bombings in Damascus and Homs. On my first trip to Syria in June of 2014 as one of the ten American election monitors, the shelling on the outskirts of the city could easily be heard through the open ventilation windows of the Dama Rose hotel. Two nights later, I almost jumped out of my skin when, on election night with my second floor sliding door open, a few shots were fired and then followed by heavy automatic weapons fire. I immediately thought it was a major attack to take the large number of foreign guests hostage to mar the elections.
Fortunately it turned out to be the soldiers in the army barracks across the street celebrating the official news of Assad’s reelection with their traditional gunfire. I grabbed my video camera and ran down to the street to get some of my most memorable footage of that trip. They were not just celebrating Assad’s winning, but the country not having been beaten by the Western terrorist backers.
I had the pleasure of having met the Governor of Homs Province earlier that morning, as the city of Homs was my monitoring assignment. Two car loads of our election-monitoring group went up with our twelve security guards, and we began the day there with a briefing and Q&A with Mr.Tala al-Barazi where he gave us a review of the battle for Homs and the current tactical situation.
This week I was saddened to learn that the crowds at the recent bombings in Homs chased him away when he came to pay his respects; they were angry citizens who wanted to hold anyone they could responsible for their torment, as they had no jihadis to strangle.
During the day, we whipped around the city to five polling stations to watch the voting process and talk to a wide array of people. I was surprised to see how happy people were amongst all the destruction. Fortunately, the whole city had not been destroyed, but where the main battle lines had been it was utter devastation.
As with the soldiers I would walk the streets with later that evening, the citizens of Homs who had suffered so much were celebrating their survival. And I knew what I was watching was the army and Assad being viewed as the saviors of Syria. The attempt of the Western propagandists to smear the election failed miserably.
I must say it is one hell of an irony to see the US and Russia together playing the lion tamers to the wild forces still loose in Syria. I never saw that coming. But when VT was in Damascus in early October, the Syrians did share the ISIL order of battle with us. It showed the Syrians still had an extensive ground network operating throughout the country. They had mapped out who and where all the commanders were, and their daily routines. We knew something was about to happen, but could never have imagined how successful it would be.
We hope that the beginning of the end of the Syrian people’s suffering is upon them. They have earned it with blood, bullets and tears, and we should help them all we can.