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Wednesday, March 30

Are Islamic State and other Salafist forces about to collapse in Syria?

Col. Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis thinks this is the case. In his military sitrep/analysis yesterday regarding the current fighting in Syria he wrote in summary:
All of this is rapidly weakening IS and the other rebel forces and a general collapse is coming, even in Iraq.
He makes an important point in the SST comment section in answer to a reader:
Armies lose heart when defeated repeatedly. IMO there are many [IS] who wish to leave, get a transfer to Libya, or whatever. OTOH what I call the R+6 [Syrian Army coalition including Russia] now has the habit of victory.
But one has to be careful about making assumptions regarding the rapid collapse of al Qaeda-affiliated factions and even Islamic State in Syria because Salafist organizations that can function with some independence from state sponsors are not the same zebra as mercenary armies. Recall Tony Cartalucci's warning from earlier this month:
 ... terrorist proxies are changing from a war-footing -- having lost the war -- to a last-ditch posture of claiming legitimate opposition in hopes of salvaging what's left of the political networks and terrorist fronts that collaborated with the West ...
Long War Journal also warned in Tom Joscelyn's March 20 report about Al Qaeda’s strategy five years into the Syrian revolution, which is basically the Maoist strategy of guerrillas operating in a society like a fish in water. However, from Joscelyn's report, I think AQ is exaggerating its influence in Syria; some support for this view comes from Joscelyn, who noted:
The available evidence suggests [Qaeda front] Al Nusrah is widely respected on the ground [in Syria] five years into the rebellion. There are pockets of resistance, but the West has no real strategy for harnessing this discontent and diminishing al Qaeda’s influence in the rebellion. Perhaps that is not even currently possible.
Still, the events of the past two weeks highlight a liability al Qaeda has long sought to minimize in Syria. Protesters took to the streets in some areas to denounce Al Nusrah. It does not appear that the protests were widespread, but they were noteworthy.
Just yesterday AMN reported:
... the Syrian Al-Qaeda group “Jabhat Al-Nusra” reportedly assassinated a prominent field commander of Jaysh Al-Islam (Army of Islam) inside the town of Zamalka. The field commander was identified by rebel social media activists as Sheikh Abu Suleiman Taffur – no reason was provided for his assassination by Jabhat Al-Nusra.
I'd say the reason is that al Qaeda has long evinced a pattern of knocking out competition that won't play by its rules. 

Against this is the very energetic secret police in Syria and the fact that many if not most Syrians who endured the war years are sick of the alphabet soup of Salafist jihadi organizations. Islamic State found Raqqa easy pickings because many residents wanted to live under an Islamist government; they considered it to be a big step up from Assad's administration. Having now lived under Islamic State they've changed their minds.

There are Sunni Muslims in Syria who're still looking for the unicorn -- a 'nice' Sunni Islamist government -- but I think Syrian soldiers, none of whom will be fans of Islamist government when they become veterans, will be calling the political shots once the fighting dies down. This is provided Assad can scare up enough civilian jobs and ram through the constitutional reforms he's been trying for years to get past the Baath Party.

And provided foreign governments instigating in Syria cease and desist. That's a big "if."

CIA-armed militias are shooting at Pentagon-armed ones in Syria; Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2015
Syrian militias armed by different parts of the U.S. war machine have begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of Aleppo and the Turkish border, highlighting how little control U.S. intelligence officers and military planners have over the groups they have financed and trained in the bitter 5-year-old civil war.
The fighting has intensified over the past two months, as CIA-armed units and Pentagon-armed ones have repeatedly shot at each other as they have maneuvered through contested territory on the northern outskirts of Aleppo, U.S. officials and rebel leaders have confirmed.
President Barack Obama recently authorized a new Pentagon plan to train and arm Syrian rebel fighters, relaunching a program that was suspended in the fall after a string of embarrassing setbacks, which included recruits being ambushed and handing over much of their U.S.-issued ammunition and trucks to an al-Qaida affiliate.
In other words, Obama has learned absolutely nothing from the catastrophic mistakes of the earlier program; that's because vanquishing Islamic State has not been his actual goal in Syria:
The CIA, meanwhile, has its own operations center inside Turkey from which it has been directing aid to rebel groups in Syria, providing them with TOW antitank missiles from Saudi Arabian weapons stockpiles.
While the Pentagon's actions are part of an overt effort by the U.S. and its allies against the Islamic State, the CIA's backing of militias is part of a separate covert U.S. effort aimed at keeping pressure on the Assad government in hopes of prodding the Syrian leader to the negotiating table.
As for the American Congress, it's studiously viewing the situation in Syria from the vantage point of the moon:
"It is an enormous challenge," said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who described the clashes between U.S.-supported groups as "a fairly new phenomenon."
"It is part of the three-dimensional chess that is the Syrian battlefield," he said.
No, Mr Schiff, it's part of the three-dimensional chess game in your head. The horror is that the mind game has been inflicted on millions of innocents. And the "fairly new phenomenon" has been going on ever since fiends began dumping mountains of weapons into Syria. 

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