More evidence that the U.S. ultimately sees the overthrow of Assad as the end game in Syria.

From an interview General John Allen, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, recently did with CNN:

QUESTION: But in the short term, it doesn’t sound as if getting rid of President Assad is either (a) the priority or (b) wise if you’re going to take a while. As you said, it could take years. In the short term, it seems as if President Assad is the least bad option.

GENERAL ALLEN: No, President Assad is not an option for us. Our policy is very clear in that there should be, in the end in Syria –

QUESTION: In the end?

GENERAL ALLEN: — a political outcome, a political outcome. And I can’t foresee that date on the calendar today when the end will be. But a political outcome will occur, and President Assad won’t be part of it, frankly. But getting there – an important waypoint in getting there is to prepare the Free Syrian or moderate Syrian opposition elements to be both credible politically and credible militarily so that they are a shaping force in the political outcome overall.

QUESTION: But it seems as if Syria does have a role here, and a couple years ago, they were talking about a concern about Syrian air defenses. Yet last week, U.S. planes, coalition planes were in the skies of Syria – not a shot fired. It seems as if there’s more coordination with the Syrians than the U.S. is letting on.

GENERAL ALLEN: No, we’re not coordinating with the Syrians.

QUESTION: So they just decided to –

GENERAL ALLEN: It’s a pretty wise act on their part not to come up and challenge the air capabilities of the United States and our allies.

QUESTION: The Pentagon admitted you’re not coordinating with the Free Syrian Army either, so wouldn’t that be kind of prudent at this point?

GENERAL ALLEN: I think we’ll see that that will change over time.

And then, when he is directly asked what the ‘end game’ is:

QUESTION: What is that endgame?

GENERAL ALLEN:  . . .  in Syria, we’re seeking to create the capacity within the Syrian – the Free Syrian elements and the Syrian opposition so that, first of all, they can defend themselves from the Assad regime and from the other al-Qaida-oriented organizations in the battlespace. So they can defend themselves, they can build out their capabilities, they can become politically unified, and ultimately become that voice that is so important to the political outcome – a political outcome that is one that is a political outcome for the Syrian people, an outcome that does not envisage the presence of Assad.

He couldn’t be much clearer, could he?

The U.S. don’t see Assad as having any future in Syria – ‘not an option for us . . . President Assad won’t be part of it, frankly . . . an outcome that does not envisage the presence of Assad’ –  and ‘moderate’ military and political forces are being groomed as we speak, with the intent of them becoming a ‘shaping force’ when Assad goes.

He also clearly implies that, ‘over time’, the U.S. will start to coordinate with the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (if they aren’t already).

Whether this strategy will work or not is anyones guess, but that regime change *is* the end game of the strategy seems fairly obvious.

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Airstrikes in Syria: could the Assad regime ultimately be the target?

The air strikes in Syria to date have largely targeted ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. My hunch is that they will ultimately be targeted at the Assad regime, although some dispute this.

Guardian columnist Richard Seymour, for example, in an interview with New Left Project about why the anti-war response in the U.K. hasn’t been stronger, states that:

this isn’t a big war. It’s a limited mission, and the humanitarian consequences are therefore unlikely to be grave, relatively speaking. Some civilians will be killed, and it could escalate and go wrong in all sorts of ways, but this is looking like a limited intervention.

It’s early days yet, but there are already credible reports of the U.S. having committed war crimes, and of their air strikes compounding humanitarian distress (an entirely predictable and predicted outcome). And the U.S. are being open about the fact that the bombing could go on for ‘years’, which i’m not sure is commensurate with describing it as ‘limited’.

I guess Seymour doesn’t believe these things to be ‘grave . . . relatively speaking’. And relative to – say – the Holocaust, they aren’t that grave. But then neither are an awful lot of crimes and atrocities, and I don’t think it helps the anti-war movement for activists to be so seemingly blase about these crimes, or to downplay their extent.

But anyway, in an exchange I had with him on Twitter, he suggested that he doesn’t think the current round of air strikes will expand into a regime change operation against Assad, saying:

Given that Richard Seymour is nobody’s fool, and has spent years reading about, writing about and opposing imperialist interventions, I don’t think anyone should dismiss his take on the situation lightly.

That said, he is by no means infallible, and i’m glad it wasn’t me who, in July 2011, published an article in The Guardian arguing that ‘Gadaffi is stronger than ever’, just three weeks before he was overthrown by NATO and the rebel groups they were backing.

I just want to outline here why my suspicion – and that’s all it is at the moment, rather than something i’m sure of – is that the U.S. et al will ultimately go after Assad.

1. U.S. officials spent nearly three years saying Assad had lost legitimacy and calling for him to leave office

Here are some examples of that:

Barack Obama in August 2011:

The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way . . . For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.

Hilary Clinton in April 2012:

We think Assad must go . . . The sooner the better for everyone concerned.

John Kerry in January 2014:

I believe as we begin to … get into this process, that it will become clear there is no political solution whatsoever if Assad is not discussing a transition and if he thinks he is going to be part of that future. It is not going to happen.

The way I looked at this was that, if the U.S. didn’t ultimately want Assad to go – and weren’t ultimately going to try and force him out – then they wouldn’t keep persistently saying it in public. Noam Chomsky regularly raises the issue of the U.S.’s ‘credibility’ on these matters. If Assad was seen to be successfully defying them, it could lead to other recalcitrant global leaders simply dismissing their threats further down the line.

Notwithstanding that there obviously will have been divisions within the Obama administration over how best to achieve this, and whether it was even desirable from the point of view of U.S. strategic interests, this was the very definite message they were presenting to the public for a long time: Assad Must Go.

To back this reading up, there were reports in the New York Times in July 2012 that:

The Obama administration has for now abandoned efforts for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict in Syria, and instead it is increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say.

So they were saying publicly that they wanted Assad to go, and were briefing the New York Times that they were supporting rebel groups within Syria to this end.

While it’s true that press reports are now saying the U.S. are tacitly working with the Assad regime, and in effect strengthening it, this doesn’t mean that it will always be the case.

2. Even now, Barack Obama is hinting that for the conflict in Syria to be resolved, Assad will have to go

Obama was quoted as saying on Sunday 28th September that:

We are not going to stabilize Syria under the rule of Assad

So if the U.S. are saying they don’t believe they’ll be able to ‘stabilize’ Syria with Assad still in power, surely the logical thing for them to do would be to try and force him out?

(This is putting aside questions of whether the U.S. even want stability in Syria, of course, which people have dealt with elsewhere)

3. That this is just the first phase of a long operation, and what will follow is a stepped up campaign to arm and train ‘moderate’ rebels, with the U.S. acting as their air wing when they go after Assad (i.e. Libya on steroids)

Here’s Martin Dempsey, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, talking in a recent press conference about the U.S. plan to train up to 15’000 ‘moderate’ rebels:

Five thousand’s never been the end state. It’s . . .  we’ve had estimates anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 is what we believe they would need to recapture lost territory in eastern Syria.

And I am confident that we can establish their training if we do it right. We — we have to do it right, not fast. They have to have military leaders that bind them together. They have to be — have a political structure into which they can hook, and therefore be responsive to. And that’s gonna take some time.

So Dempsey is clearly saying that ‘we’ are going to train up to 15’000 ‘moderate’ rebels, but that this is going to take time.

And in the same press conference, here’s Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel on what will happen if the Assad regime tries to attack those rebels:

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said earlier this week that the U.S. would defend militarily the Free Syrian Army. What does that mean? I mean, are you talking about possibly engaging Syrian forces military?

HAGEL: I think the question was asked was that those that we — we begin training…


HAGEL: … if they were attacked would we help them, and I said yes.

Given that it’s highly unlikely that regime forces *won’t* attack these ‘moderate’ rebel groups, it surely follows that the U.S. will indeed have to ‘help’ them – if they are to remain true to their word. And I find it hard to believe that the U.S. aren’t aware of this scenario, and actively planning for it.

If the U.S. are indeed planning on ‘helping’ certain rebel factions down the line, then it wouldn’t make a great deal of sense to not then ‘help’ them achieve their main goal, which is the overthrow of the Assad regime. Otherwise, what exactly would be the point of it?


What we are perhaps seeing now is the first phase of a long term plan for a forcible regime change in Syria. This phase involves weakening ISIS via incessant air strikes on them and the infrastructure that supports them (such as terrorist wheat silos and militant farm workers).

The next phase will involve –  perhaps with ‘regional partners’ – the training of up to 15’000  ‘moderate’ rebels that will, with the help of U.S. air cover, take over and occupy the areas from which ISIS currently operate.

The final phase will involve those said same ‘moderate’ rebels, again with U.S. air cover, ultimately trying to bring down the Assad regime. And with ISIS duly weakened, the ‘moderates’ will be best placed to capitalize should the Assad regime fall.

I would agree that, from the U.S. perspective, this would seem like a massively risky venture that could go badly wrong for them. And a reasonable question might be ‘So why would they even take that risk?’.

But Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were also massively risky ventures that had the potential to go badly wrong – and indeed did go badly wrong –  but it didn’t stop them from doing it.

(Again, this is putting aside questions of whether chaos and state collapse wasn’t actually the aim in those countries, which some people believe to be the case)

And just as they did with Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, the U.S. are probably using some grim risk-reward calculus that’s made them decide it’s at least worth a try.

Of course the biggest risk in all this is for the Syrian people themselves, who now have one of the world’s most persistently murderous states, a perenial purveyor and backer of tyranny and repression and abuse, firmly ensconced within their territory. And once they’re in, there’s no telling what they’ll try to do. Whatever it is, their track record suggests it won’t be pretty, even if it is something short of an outright attempt at regime change.

And it just doesn’t seem at all adequate for anti-war activists to be describing what is happening in Syria right now, and what might happen down the line, as ‘a limited mission’, whose ‘humanitarian consequences are therefore unlikely to be grave’.

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‘Protecting civilians’ in Syria.

Human Rights Watch on a U.S. cruise missile attack in Kafr Deryan, which is said to have killed at least 7 civilians, including women and children:

Witness accounts suggest that the attack on the village harmed civilians but did not strike a military target, violating the laws of war by failing to discriminate between combatants and civilians, or that it unlawfully caused civilian loss disproportionate to the expected military advantage.


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International Committee of the Red Cross: U.S. airstrikes making a bad humanitarian situation worse.

In August 2013, when the U.S. et al looked set to start bombing Syria in response to what they claimed was a chemical weapon attack by the Assad regime in Ghouta, The International Committee of the Red Cross went on record to say that any escalation of the conflict  would:

likely trigger more displacement and add to humanitarian needs which are already immense.

And it’s clear from the context that by ‘escalation’, they meant U.S. led bombing.

Just over a year later, and that bombing has finally commenced.

The International Committee of the Red Cross have now had this to say about it. From Reuters:

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Friday that U.S.-led air strikes on Islamist insurgents in Iraq and Syria had worsened a dire humanitarian crisis on the ground.

All warring parties in the widening conflicts in the two countries should spare civilians and allow delivery of aid, the Geneva-based ICRC said in a statement.

“Years of fighting in Syria and Iraq, the proliferation of armed groups and the recent international air strikes in Iraq and Syria have compounded the humanitarian consequences of the conflicts in both countries,” it said. “The humanitarian situation continues to worsen.”

As they’d previously predicted, then, the U.S. led ‘humanitarian’ bombing of Syria has already lead to a worsening of the humanitarian situation, and we are only a few days in.

And if anything, it’s only going to get more brutal from here on in, rather than less so, as all sides start to dig in for what they could see as a fight to the finish. Or to put it more bluntly, a fight to the death.

The very idea that a coalition featuring the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – some of the world’s most persistently abusive, repressive and criminal states – was going to start bombing Syria to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis there always seemed absurd on the face it. Regardless of what Samantha Power says, or what The Guardian says, or any of those other ‘liberal humanitarians’ who are busily spinning illusions in the beneficent power of U.S. led military violence.

Now the world’s foremost aid and relief organisation is openly saying that a bad humanitarian situation is being ‘compounded’ by the bombing. But expect them to be virtually ignored by these said same ‘humanitarians’, on account of their statements simply not being commensurate with the dominant state-corporate media narrative.

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The U.S. and allies begin bombing Syria.

This has of course been on the cards for weeks, if not for two years. The Guardian reported in August 2012, for example, that the U.S. was ‘considering imposing no-fly zones and other steps on Syria to help rebel forces’.

Covert – although I use that word lightly, given it was an open and widely reported ‘secret’ – military support for certain rebel groups within Syria has also been ongoing since at least early Spring 2012. This support has taken the form of  the provision of weapons and training.

In the coming weeks and months, and to compliment the airstrikes, it is due to be stepped up, and will take on a more ‘official’ feel.

Those pundits and analysts who’ve spent 3 years arguing that the U.S. has been sitting on the sidelines, fiddling while Syria burns, were therefore always mistaken (if they weren’t being deliberately dishonest).

Indeed, the provision of arms to elements within the opposition over the last few years has helped exacerbate the conflict in Syria, and made a negotiated settlement far less likely than it might have been.

In May 2013, for example, Oxfam reported that:

providing more weapons will mean prolonged fighting and more civilian deaths, more long-term damage to infrastructure and the economy, and greater poverty in Syria.

In June 2012, Navi Pillay, who was the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights at the time, said that:

The provision of arms to the Syrian government and to its opponents is fueling the violence . . . Any further militarisation of the conflict must be avoided at all costs.

In June 2012, Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. Observer Mission at the time, said that:

We are pretty sure, through our dialogues, that there are supplies of both money and weapons and also presence of other parties on [the] ground. They have not come from the villages in Syria. We believe we have seen parties from outside Syria contribute to the spiral of violence in a very non-constructive way.

And in April 2013, Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. Secretary General, was quoted as saying that:

  More arms would only mean more deaths and destruction.

There is even a rather well evidenced theory that the U.S. et al have been providing the Syrian opposition with just enough weapons to allow them to avoid defeat, but not enough to allow them to win, which would constitute a *deliberate* policy (rather than the incidental effect of policy) of prolonging the civil war.

These voices warning against the provision of arms were roundly ignored in the rush by much of the punditocracy, including sections of the left-liberal punditocracy, to Out Hawk each other on Syria. ‘Give the rebels weapons! No, give them more and heavier weapons! And then bomb Assad regime troops on their behalf! It’s the only way to save lives!’.

Well, how has that one turned out for you?

To be clear, i’m absolutely not saying that the provision of weapons to rebel groups by the U.S. and their GCC allies is the sole factor driving the conflict in Syria. It likely isn’t even the main factor, and the regime and its international backers, such as Russia and Iran, also have to take much of the blame. But it certainly hasn’t helped, to put it mildly.

Now that the overt military intervention phase has begun, it might be worth pointing out that similar warnings have been voiced, many of them from people who you would hardly call anti-war activists or anti-Imperialists, about the potential deleterious effects of it.

In March 2012, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon had concluded that any:

 . . . military intervention would be a daunting and protracted operation, requiring at least weeks of exclusively American airstrikes, with the potential for killing vast numbers of civilians

Already, there are reports of civilians, including children, having been killed in U.S. airstrikes, and the assault is not yet even 24 hours old.

In June 2013, Javier Solana and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, two former Secretary Generals of NATO, authored an article for The New York Times, in which they warned that:

Western military engagement in Syria is likely to provoke further escalation on all sides, deepening the civil war and strengthening the forces of extremism, sectarianism and criminality gaining strength across the country. The idea that the West can empower and remotely control moderate forces is optimistic at best. Escalation begets escalation and mission creep is a predictable outcome if the West sets out on a military path .

In August 2013, Christian Aid warned that, in the event of airstrikes being launched:

 . . . the number of people fleeing Syria will increase dramatically, with catastrophic effects on the already desperate humanitarian situation in neighbouring countries. An escalation in military engagement within Syria will worsen an already precarious humanitarian situation

While the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that:

Further escalation will likely trigger more displacement and add to humanitarian needs which are already immense.

So there’s a very good chance that these airstrikes will end up escalating the conflict further, deepening the already grave humanitarian crisis, and killing large numbers of civilians.

For those who would dismiss these warnings as ‘alarmist’, it’s perhaps worth remembering that the ‘alarmists’ – or what you might call people who simply have no faith in a serially criminal, abusive and self-serving U.S. government to sort out the world’s problems – were generally proven right in regards to the military interventions in Iraq and Libya, where ‘worst case’ type scenarios have actually prevailed.

One might hope that they don’t prevail in Syria, but given the horrific historical and recent track records of the protagonists, that hope could turn out to be quite badly misplaced.

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The U.S.’s ‘successful’ counter-terror campaigns in Somalia and Yemen.

On Wednesday 10th September, Barack Obama made a major foreign policy speech, in which he set out how the U.S. and anyone who cares to tag along plan to ‘degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy’.

As was widely expected, Obama announced that as part of this ‘strategy’, the U.S. will not ‘hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq’. And by ‘action’ he means, of course, bombing.

He compared the newly announced ‘strategy’ for destroying ISIS in Iraq and Syria to the strategy that has been pursued by the U.S. in recent years in Somalia and Yemen, saying that:

This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.

But I just want to take a quick look at how ‘successful’ that strategy has actually been.

In Yemen

According to data collated by the New America Foundation, the first U.S. airstrike in Yemen was carried out in 2002.

However, there were no further strikes in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. It is fair to say, then, that the air war over Yemen properly started in 2009, which was of course Obama’s first full year in office.

Here’s a graphical representation of those strikes from the New America Foundation:

Given that Obama has pointed to Yemen as an example of how air strikes and drone strikes can work to successfully combat ‘terrorism’, you might reasonably expect to see the number of terror attacks being carried out in Yemen steadily decreasing, year on year, between 2009 and 2014.

Well, that’s not quite what’s happened.

Here’s another graph, from the Global Terrorism Database, showing the number of ‘terror’ attacks being committed in Yemen year on year:

As you can see, from 2009 onwards – the year in which Obama escalated air strikes and drone strikes in Yemen – there has actually been a major increase in the number of ‘terrorist’ attacks being carried out within Yemen.

And while correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation, it simply is not tenable to say the ‘strategy’ being pursued by Obama in Yemen has been ‘successful’. If anything, it seems to have been hugely counter-productive.

The air strikes and drone strikes themselves have also, of course, taken a grim toll on Yemeni civilians, and might justifiably be regarded as ‘terrorism’ in their own right.

In Somalia

According to data collated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there were 14-20 drone or air strikes carried out by the U.S. in Somalia between 2001-2014.

Here’s a table representing those strikes, and the toll they have taken:

Given that Obama has also pointed to Somalia as an example of how air strikes and drone strikes can work to successfully combat ‘terrorism’, you might reasonably expect to see the number of terror attacks being carried out steadily decreasing, year on year, between 2001 and 2014.

But once again, that’s not quite what’s happened.

Here’s another graph, again from the Global Terrorism Database, showing the number of ‘terror’ attacks being committed in Somalia year on year:

So as in Yemen, there has also been a massive increase in the number of ‘terrorist’ attacks being carried out inside Somalia since the onset of the U.S. air strikes and drone strikes. It’s another country in which you would be hard pressed to say that the ‘strategy’ being pursued by the U.S. is anything like ‘successful’.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by what you might call the ‘NatSec’ community, even from individuals operating within the mainstream of it. A few tweets to demonstrate:


If the campaign in Iraq and Syria does develop along the same lines as the campaigns in Yemen and Somalia, then expect to see:

  • A major increase in the number of ‘terrorist’ attacks being carried out within Iraq and Syria, with all that entails for the people of those countries.
  • Civilians being killed, injured, displaced and immiserated directly by U.S. drone and air strikes.

I mean, it’s almost as if the bombing of Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Syria has nothing to do with combating ‘terrorism’ at all, and that this is just the pretext being used to drum up support among the American and wider global publics for the same old grubby resource Imperialism. Almost.

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Report: 11 civilians killed and dozens wounded by U.S. bombing in Afghanistan.

AFP have published an article claiming that:

‘A US air strike in eastern Afghanistan killed 11 civilians, local officials said Wednesday, sparking strong condemnation from President Hamid Karzai who has often criticised the conduct of the NATO forces now leaving the country’.

This is horrific enough in and of itself, but a survivor of the bombing has also given an account which suggests that a so-called ‘double-tap’ strike may have been carried out.

A ‘double-tap’ is a strike where those who come to the aid of the people who were initially bombed are themselves bombed in turn. These strikes have been one of the signatures of the Obama regime, and they are almost certainly criminal, as well as being regarded as terroristic by the U.S. government itself when Official Bad Guys carry them out.

The survivor is quoted as saying that:

‘Four of our villagers were on their way back home from work when airplanes bombed them.

When people went to the area to collect their bodies or take the wounded people to hospital, we were bombed again. Dozens of people, including women and children were killed, or wounded’.

Nor are these kinds of attacks one-offs or isolated incidents.

Amnesty International recently released a report – entitled ‘Left in the Dark’ –  documenting how:

‘Thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed since 2001 by international forces, and thousands more have been injured’, adding that ‘even where the available evidence suggests that killings were unlawful, family members of the victims have no means whatsoever of accessing justice’ –  (p.8)

Or to put it more bluntly, the U.S. are persistently committing war crimes with impunity in Afghanistan, of which this one is just the latest.

But anyway, even as the Obama regime continue to slaughter civilians and commit war crimes with impunity in Afghanistan, at least we can all get behind them as they bid to save civilians and prevent war crimes being committed  in Iraq and Syria.

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