Monday, September 16, 2013

16-Sep-13: In Syria, is the smoke starting to clear? Or is that just hot air?

Today's Syrian reality: complex and messy as carnage
tends to be [Image Source]
It's striking to us to see how the inherent complexities of the Middle East keep confounding people who would be so much happier if only things were a bit simpler. In the ongoing Syrian carnage, for instance, which side are the good guys? Does such a concept even make sense when so much barbarism is going on? A report in yesterday's UK Telegraph discloses some startling data about the Syrian "rebels":
Opposition forces battling Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria now number around 100,000 fighters, but after more than two years of fighting they are fragmented into as many as 1,000 bands. The new study by IHS Jane's, a defence consultancy, estimates there are around 10,000 jihadists - who would include foreign fighters - fighting for powerful factions linked to al-Qaeda. Another 30,000 to 35,000 are hardline Islamists who share much of the outlook of the jihadists, but are focused purely on the Syrian war rather than a wider international struggle. There are also at least a further 30,000 moderates belonging to groups that have an Islamic character, meaning only a small minority of the rebels are linked to secular or purely nationalist groups. The stark assessment, to be published later this week, accords with the view of Western diplomats estimate that less than one third of the opposition forces are "palatable" to Britain, while American envoys put the figure even lower.
This updated Jane's analysis is worth keeping in mind as we think back to what US Secretary of State John Kerry was reported just ten days ago [Reuters, September 5, 2013] to be saying:
Kerry cited an article by Elizabeth O'Bagy, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War think tank... that Islamic extremist factions are not "spearheading the fight against the Syrian government," but rather that the struggle is being led by "moderate opposition forces... I just don't agree that a majority are al Qaeda and the bad guys. " [Reuters]
Yesterday, the Secretary of State bolstered his position by means of further clarification:
"We cannot have hollow words in the conduct of international affairs", emphasizing (according to the BBC) that merely removing the chemical weapons is "not all that the government seeks to do".
No sirree, hollow words - definitely out for the US government.  

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