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The new tactical-strategic configuration of the US Forces in Syria

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The operations carried out by Inherent Resolve, the complex US-led coalition in Syria, had been announced as early as April 1, 2016 by the Head of PYD Kurdish Joint Forces, Salih Muslim. Currently Salih Muslim is the co-President of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has long been managing power in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Rojava, in Northern Syria.

Salih Muslim is also the vice-coordinator of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, a coalition of 13 center-left and left-wing parties, with some other Kurdish activists defined as “independent.”

It is a structure, however, which has always cooperated actively with Bashar al-Assad’s government, even though the “National Committee” had recognized the Free Syrian Army as early as September 2012.

The Free Syrian Army was established – also with the support of some countries among the over 60 ones which later adhered to Inherent Resolve – by eight officers of Assad’s Armed Forces, who aimed at overthrowing the Alawite regime.

Meanwhile, in Iraq – which is the gateway and the real base of ISIS – the situation is getting more complex and radicalized.

The Iraqi Security Forces – the governmental ones, albeit with the recent massive introduction of Shiite militants linked to Moqtada al-Sadr – are now closely connected with the local Sunni tribes and to a share of recently-trained fighters.

These Forces have been the first to launch a major operation to reconquer Fallujah – a military action that began on May 23, 2016.

They have quickly gained ground in the North, including the Garma district, the traditional “base” of ISIS and of the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian faction of Al Qaeda.

Nevertheless, the highly unstable political situation in Iraq could even stultify some of the operations against ISIS, as the Caliphate launched suicide attacks both against Balad (on May 12) and Dujail (on May 21), not to mention the vast attack launched by ISIS against the Taji gas networks on May 15 last.

The large coalition of Inherent Resolve, the Kurds and the Shiites – certainly favoured by the agreements reached between the United States and the Russian Federation, which still effectively controls the area near the Mediterranean coast of Syria – reconquered Rutba (on May 19) and most of the highway running from Ramadi to the Jordanian border (on May 20).

Hence the encirclement of Fallujah has been completed with Forces certainly larger than the Caliphate’s, while ISIS has been wiped out of the Diyala district, which is the necessary passageway to Fallujah.

Therefore the Caliphate has lost most of its areas operating in Iraq, but it has organized other terrorist attacks from its new “Governorate”, the Wilayat Sahel, established on the northwest coast of Syria, with the capacity for launching attacks of shaheed (“martyrs”) to Tartous and Jableh (which took place on May 23).

ISIS also reconquered the gas field of Sha’er and later attacked the areas of Maher and Jazal, other fields for the extraction of natural gas.

Hence while the units of the Syrian Democratic Forces are heading for Raqqa, the capital of the Caliphate, so as to isolate it from the rest of the jihadist territory, the Kurdish Peshmerga of the PYD and the People’s Mobilization Forces, recently created with the support of the local Sunni tribes, reconquered Bashir (on April 30).

As already mentioned, the organizations present in the Iraqi Security Forces have reconquered Rutba and Garma on their own.

Hence two concentric encirclements – the one heading for Raqqa and the other, more external but essential to the conquest of the ISIS capital, for Fallujah and then the network of more distant areas, but equally useful at strategic level, such as Ramla, Garma and Rutba.

The US and Syrian-Iraqi Sunni tribes want above all: a) to stabilize the whole Iraqi region of Al Anbar; 2) to encircle Mosul by means of the Iraqi Security Forces; 3) to create a network of Sunni tribes encircling Raqqa before its final conquest; 4) to support the logistics of fighters, especially the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Free Syrian Army.

As shown by the latest data from Inherent Resolve’s official sources, so far there have been five attacks launched by the coalition on the Syrian territory against ISIS targets.

24 attacks have been launched in Iraq, which is rightly regarded by the US CENTCOM as a single front with Syria.

However the relations between the Sunni tribes, the Caliphate and the Inherent Resolve actions are more complex than it may seem.

In 2014, for example, the Albu Ajeel tribe supported Isis, although it had invaded its land.

In the same period, however, the al-Jughaifa tribe present in Anbar had harshly blocked the Caliphate before reaching the town of Haditha.

The issue, which is both theological and political – as is always the case with Islam – regards the separation between Syria and Iraq: on the Syrian territory, ISIS considers many Sunni tribes not regular from the religious viewpoint and hence fights them as “infidels”, while this happens to a lesser extent on the Iraqi territory.

If we do not reason in terms of tribes we do not even understand the jihad: it is by no mere coincidence that, at the beginning of his terrorist adventure, Bin Laden was supported by his “comrades” of the Asir Yemeni tribe.

Furthermore, the Yemeni Sunnis have always opposed the Wahhabi “normalization” of the Al-Saud family who, as usual, regards them as “infidels”.

ISIS has “won the support” of the Sunni tribes with terror and threats, with its particular Koranic welfare and with the protection of communication lines – just as criminal organizations do in Southern Italy or in Latin American countries with the drug production areas.

When there was only a single government welfare, and the Cold War ensured extra-profits for the peripheries of both Empires, Hafez el Assad “won the support” of the Sunni tribes with prominent public posts for their leaders, with subsidies, as well as with selective and favourable commercial and tax regulations.

Hence ISIS has replaced State cronysm with its territorial jihad.

Will Inherent Resolve alone be enough to solve this equation that is military, but also political and social?

It is also worth recalling that Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate punishes traitors brutally and ferociously: in 2014, when the Al-Shaitat tribe rose up against ISIS, over 1,000 tribal militants were killed during a “death march” heading for Deir Ez-Zor.

The Shiites in power in Iraq (but the Kurds are mostly Sunni, while being of Iranian ethnicity, hence Indo-Europeans) have mistreated and impoverished the Sunni tribal areas all too much, by excluding them from power.

In this case the war will be won after the cessation of hostilities, and we must be vigilant so that the agreements which will back the non-Shiite tribal areas are implemented on a permanent basis.

Hence the project of a tripartite Syria according to the ethnic-religious lines comes back: Alawistan, a de facto protectorate of the Russian Federation; the Sunni area, the real primary objective of the Turkish regime and finally a great Syrian-Iraqi Kurdistan, which would step up the separatist tensions of the Kurdish areas already present in Anatolia.

Not to mention the Turkish Alevi, a sect speaking Kurdish in religious ceremonies, that since 1970 (with a fatwa of Imam Khomeini) has been part of the Twelver Shia Islam, in power in Iran after 1979. Said sect is linked to the Bekhtashi Sufi brotherhood, largely present among the old Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire.

After the disbandment of the Janissary corps, in 1826, the Bekhtashi reestablished in Tirana, Albania.

The Sufi network in the Ottoman world was the basis for the specific “modernization” of Kemal Ataturk, a Sufi Western Mason and first protector of the Alevi and the Shia.

Currently, however, Inherent Resolve, the Kurdish forces, the Sunni tribal networks are all converging towards the communication networks leading to Raqqa.

Will it be enough to eliminate Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate? The answer to this question is both yes and no.

It will certainly reduce it to nothing or a little more than nothing at territorial level, but nothing prevents it from reestablishing as a purely non-territorial terrorist cell – a cell, somewhere not completely de-jihadized, of Iraq or, less likely, of Syria.

Hence from ISIS we will go back to the old Al Qaeda model.

And the possibility for the Caliphate to be reconverted into an informal network of jihadists operating in Europe, in the Balkans or Central Asia can hardly be considered negligible.

What about Turkey? How does it see this new US strategy in Inherent Resolve uniting Kurds, Sunni tribes, the Free Syrian Army, as well as other forces far from being Bashar al-Assad’s enemies?

Obviously it sees it negatively, but the problem is much more complex.

Both the US and Syrian (as well as Russian) aircraft have long been on alert, with the order of shooting down any Turkish and/or Saudi aircraft flying over Syrian skies.

The very recent choices made to further increase the daily oil production in Saudi Arabia suggest that the Kingdom wants to “make money” quickly to support military expenditure, which is deemed urgent.

Nor is it unlikely that, with Saudi Arabia’s implicit or explicit support, Turkey decides to invade the Syrian territory directly from the ground, with its large Second Army, so as to defend its national interests, certainly including oil ones, but above all to avoid manu militari that the Kurds – including those operating only in Syria – succeed in uniting.

For the jihadist groups supported so far by Turkey, the issue would lie in creating a sort of safe zone along the Turkish Southern border with Syria.

Obviously the NATO rules make this project very difficult, but nothing prevents Turkey from organizing a provocation, a ferocious attack typical of the false flag operations, so as to create the undisputable casus belli.

The Turkish Second Army has long been positioned along the Southern border with Syria, with its headquarters in Malatya, and counts 100,000 well-trained soldiers. It would create the safe zone for the Syrian jihad by clearly separating the Syrian-Iraqi Kurdistan north of Idlib from the one operating in Jarablus.

A Turkish limited invasion which could clash with the US network which is expanding towards Raqqa and Fallujah, but nothing still prevents Turkey from creating an additional buffer with some Sunni tribes that could prevent the operating contact between Inherent Resolve and the Turkish Second Army.

Surely, however, President Erdogan’s government will not simply stand idle watching the events.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Defense

The imperative of a military QUAD

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After dithering for a while, India has chosen to make the Malabar naval exercise a quadrilateral one by inviting Australia to join the US and Japan.  The exercise this year was held in the Bay of Bengal in the first week of November. This is the second time the four navies have come together for a naval exercise in the Indian Ocean, after 2007 when China objected to it, calling it the Asian NATO. Since then India has been careful not to antagonise China until this year when hostilities broke out along the Sino-Indian border. The exercises are not formally linked to the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue)  forum but the participation of  Australia will definitely provide a military dimension for the Quad, which was formed in 2017 aimed at establishing ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific. Though the Quad is currently only a mechanism of official ‘gathering and discussions’ concerning the security issues, it has the potential to become a security forum.

This time, China had a muted response compared with 2007, but it warned against any regional groupings in which the US, a formidable countervailing power against the Chinese military, is a member.

The latest Malabar assumes greater significance as it is conducted amidst Chinese expansionism. China has already achieved its ‘consolidation’ in the South China Sea, has taken control of few strategic locations in the Himalayas, and is upping the ante against the US. Its naval strategy has also been expanded from ‘offshore defence’ to ‘open seas protection’, expanding its wings to the larger Pacific and the Indian Ocean region. With this, the Indo-Pacific is virtually the area of operations for the PLA Navy. However, the absence of a concrete security forum to ‘discuss and act’ has left the region vulnerable to security competition and hegemonistic politics.

In every region, the responsibility to maintain order and peace rests on major powers. When they act in concert with smaller countries, by protecting smaller one’s interests, a region-wide peace and stability is ensured.  Since the US’s capacity to secure security for allies in Asia, let alone preserve the regional order,  is in question, the major powers of the region such as India, Japan and Australia must work closely to prevent China’s ambition of pre-eminence in the Indo-Pacific.

Up until now, these regional heavyweights have conspicuously taken a policy of ‘not antagonising’ China and have also resisted to endorse a US-led balancing against China. This has emboldened China in converting its ‘peaceful rise’ image into an assertive military power, and has derived the premium in changing the status quo both in the   South China Sea (SCS) as well as now in the Himalayas.

So far, China has not employed its military force in its expansionist actions in the maritime domain.  In the SCS, frequent Chinese intrusions into the disputed area have been done with maritime militias, to scare away the fishermen of other countries.  However, with using of a regular military force to change the status quo in the Galwan valley in the Himalayas, where Indian and Chinese military clashed and twenty Indian soldiers and a number of ‘unaccounted’ Chinese soldiers were died,  China has demonstrated that it is not hesitant to employ the PLA to settle scores with the opponents.

An assertive power needs to be checkmated militarily, otherwise, it will become more revisionist. So far none of the regional countries have had the wherewithal to take on China individually, or no regional mechanisms such as ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), or any other existing regional groupings, could mount pressure on China. All of them follow a ‘consensus and compromise’ approach based on ASEAN way of conflict resolution mechanism.

However, the Quad doesn’t need a formal military coalition mechanism modelled on NATO. Formal military coalition follows collective security principles that take the security of the one is security of all. Though it ensures security guarantee of smaller states, it is mostly driven by the choices and preferences of the powerful ones who set the agendas and interests. A military Quad can work without following the collective security principles but can pursue a consensus and norms based approach.

It is necessary for a consensus approach because all four member countries have varied security interests and concerns, and also different approaches and priorities in dealing with China. Compared with the US and Australia, India and Japan are neighbours of China and have territorial disputes with it, so they face direct security threat from China. Similarly, except India, the other three are mutually entangled security partners under the US, so New Delhi stands out from the alliance system, and has no intention to join in it whatsoever. In this respect, the Quad must first formulate agendas based on consensus and norms, and see how it can act upon it.

In the military Quad, the US has to be a facilitator, not a lead balancer, to promote it as an acceptable grouping across the region. For the US, the Indo-Pacific is one of many security concerns, while for other members it is their own region.  India could take up more of a leadership role in the Indian Ocean region, while Japan and Australia can do so in their own areas. Since this is not a formal military arrangement they don’t need to follow the alliance principles, but at the same time they need an institutionalised military arrangement.

Given the context of China’s frequent military provocations against potential rivals to test their resolve as to how they respond to a Chinese aggression, a military Quad is necessary. Chinese domination in the maritime domain is shaping along with its modernised navy, supported by its economic growth. Undoubtedly, China sends out a message to the regional states that if anyone seeks to challenge China then it will be prohibitively expensive for them. So only a joint mechanism would be able to counter the Chinese aggression in the ocean in future.  The Indo-Pacific region requires different layers of organisations and the Quad can be a true military organisation of powerful countries. In this respect, a military Quad is imperative and must take more responsibility individually as well as collectively.

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European security becomes a matter of the EU only

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A rift between the U.S. and the E.U. in the military sphere has become wider. On November 22 the U.S. formally withdrew from the open-sky treaty that accelerated European security.

The 1992 treaty allows the 34 member countries to conduct short notice, unarmed, reconnaissance flights over the other countries to collect data on their military forces and activities.

“Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty, so until they adhere, we will pull out,” Trump told reporters outside the White House in May. Now he has realized his threats.

America’s European allies do not support the Trump administration’s decision to exit Open Skies.

Thus, Germany regrets US withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty and remains committed to it, German FM Heiko Maas has said.

Germany considers the Open Skies Treaty, allowing military observation flights over the territories of signatory states, as an important part of arms control, he said.

Maas said that he regretted the decision made by the Trump administration. He pointed out that the Open Skies Treaty contributes to confidence building and the promotion of security in the whole northern hemisphere “from Vladivostok to Vancouver.”

Eleven member countries even issued a statement in May expressing their “regret” about the Trump administration decision.

France, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden declared that they “will continue to implement the Open Skies Treaty, which has a clear added value for our conventional arms control architecture and cooperative security. ” They reaffirmed that this treaty remains functioning and useful.

The treaty gave without sophisticated satellite capabilities a way to gather and share – all the member countries could access imagery gathered on flights.

It could be concluded that the U.S. as usual does not care. It pursues exclusively its own goals and does not intend to sacrifice its national interests and ambitions for the sake of Europe.

As soon as Europe was convinced of this the European Union decided to take measures to neutralize the emerging gaps in the system of ensuring European security.

Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, as well as other European politicians think that such significant contradictions in views of the U.S. and the EU on ensuring regional security show the urgent necessity to develop a new EU military doctrine.

Today the European Union aims to draw up a master military strategy document to define future threats, goals and ambitions in defence while focusing on six new areas of joint weapons development including tanks, officials and diplomats said.

“After four years of hostility towards NATO by U.S. President Donald Trump, the EU, led by France, wants to become a stand-alone military power in the long term, strong enough to fight on its own. We need to build a compass. This is a common way of looking at the world, of defining threats and addressing them together,” said a senior EU official.

Borrell has cited “an increased momentum to strengthen our collective capacity” since a December 2017 EU defence pact to develop more firepower independently of the United States.

Defence ministers will also review the bloc’s first annual review on joint capabilities, which is expected to set out 100 areas for governments to develop together from 2025 over six areas, including battle tanks, maritime patrol vessels, countering drones and jamming technology.

France, Germany, Italy and Spain hope that by developing national defences together, the EU will save money by putting an end to competing national industries that duplicate weapons.

It is absolutely clear that it is time for the European Union to stop flattering itself about the U.S. assistance. It’s time for Europe to learn to rely only on itself and to be independent.

The next step for Europe is to convince zealous U.S. supporters like the Baltic Sates to acknowledge this need.

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The Future of QUAD grouping

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With the ever changing dynamics of geopolitics in Eastern Hemisphere, the consolidation of QUAD countries in recent time presents a considerable window to wane the influence of China in the region. On Oct 6, the foreign ministers from four QUAD countries met in Tokyo and expressed their views to maintain the Free & Open Indo-Pacific. Amid all the chaos and disturbance in the world, where most of the meeting and submit held virtually, foreign ministers from Japan, the USA, India and Australia met in person. This was a significant step as it was the second ministerial meeting among these countries. In 2017, during the ASEAN summits, the four leaders from these countries discussed the plans to revive the Quadrilateral alliance. The continuous growing threat from Beijing is becoming a major concern for all these nations. Where one side the USA and Australia are on the receiving end of Trade war with China, On the other hand, India and Japan has their territorial disputes with Beijing.

The obvious focus of the recent meeting was China, the constant muscles flexing of the PLA Navy has been one of the major threat for the regional economic and security architecture. These four countries emphasized on the rule-based order, US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo targeted China and asked for better collaboration with in the 4 countries to safeguard everyone’s right from Chinese aggressive policies. From last 2 years, there was a pattern of collaboration among these four nations in the regions. In 2019, India and Japan jointly signed a port deal with Sri Lanka for the development of East container Terminal at the Port of Colombo. This Step was a big leap to project the QUAD countries economic collaboration. Soon in July 2019, India and Myanmar signed an MOU to increase their partnership in the military ties in the fields of training, joint surveillance, maritime security etc. The current meeting will surely enhance the better partnership among these nations.

Security Architecture In the region

India announced the participation of Australia in the Malabar exercise, and a sharp reaction came from the Chinese side. India has already inked the military logistic pact with the US, France, South Korea, Singapore, Japan& Australia. But these are not only four countries having an interest in Indo-Pacific, recently Germany has announced to send a warship to patrol in the Indian ocean. This shows the growing importance of Indo-pacific in the future. In recent time, south Asia is becoming a playground for the major nations not only militarily but also economically. The QUAD plus countries which also includes New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam. The cooperation among these nations continuously evolving day by day, These nations are already helping each other in the health sector for the better management to counter COVID. Covid situation raised a lot newer problems in front of India, with this regard Indian Government asked for the coordinated response for the new challenges in between of coronavirus and stressed upon better management of supply chains and access of vaccine.

Beyond the Military Ties

Economic ties between the QUAD members and Beijing will tell you how strong and deep Chinese investment has its roots in some of the prime sectors. Australia can be present as a key example, where Chinese investment can be seen from infrastructure projects to even national politics. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that China bore no responsibility for the sharp downturn in the economic ties between two countries. Though recently Both countries signed the RCEP agreement but the normalcy in relations will not be there any soon. QUAD countries need to understand the better collaboration should also be there in the economic sense also. The recent skirmish between Indian & Chinese security forces has changed Delhi’s perspective and made Indian policymakers to look out for other alternatives even in the technological domain. As every country has its different perspectives regarding Indo-Pacific, Japan’s strategy complements the rule-based order and promotes maintaining of regional order. With the ageing population, Japan focused more on promoting economic ties and securing its islands from any kind of threats.

The Future

Strategically the importance of the recent meeting can be seen through the addition of Australia in the Malabar exercise, Which will change the security dynamics of the region. Though the importance of the regional partners to maintain the rule based order will have a long way to go. Everyone was looking towards the USA’s election result for the future of QUAD. As President-Elect of the USA and India’s Prime Minister talked over the phone and soon Biden stated that his priority is to secure a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Though the future of QUAD will be blurred if these nations will not able to cooperate in economic terms. In the last few years, Washington is struggling to maintain its regional hegemon in the region because of the economic constraint. USA’s attempt to pass down its responsibility to regional stakeholders can be seen through the whole QUAD block formation, where one side USA wants to formalize this block in order to maintain its superiority in the region and to restrain Bejing. On the other hand, India’s & Japan’s perspectives are poles apart from the USA’s version. These countries refrain themselves to name China directly and described this grouping as to maintain the regional order. The understanding between each nation in the formal platform cannot be described as one and will take many years to form a proper economic bubble. Which will be serving as a genuine platform mechanism in order to keep free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. The deadly clashes between Indian and Chinese forces worked as a reactant for more cooperative behaviour between the four countries. China’s Continuous interference in the internal affairs of Australia made this nation to grow their defence forces budget, which shows their growing concerns over Chinese authoritarianism. Even after so many ups and downs in the QUAD proper functioning, these countries also have to face the change of government in their respective. The success of QUAD will depend on the collaboration between like minded nations which will not work on to contain any particular country but will propose some kind of opportunities and chances for every member state benefits.

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