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Defense

The current situation of US Forces in Iraq and Syria

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Despite some initial strategic and political doubts, the United States has kept on maintaining and strengthening its military presence in Syria, especially in the Eastern part of the country, as well as in Western Iraq.

 There are now over 400 US military soldiers already stationed in Syria, with approximately 200 in the North, i.e. in the Aleppo region and in the Eastern Euphrates area.

 The US forces arrived in Syria directly from the Iraqi Kurdistan, through the border crossing of Al-Waleed.

 According to the latest information, this includes 70 means of transport and other vehicles for transporting oil, as well as for armament and logistical support.

  The total number amounts to over 250 vehicles.

 The convoy is mainly heading for the base of Ayn al-Arab, north-east of Aleppo, but also for Jabaleh, north of Raqqa.

 Indeed, this continues the policy of maintenance and, sometimes, expansion of US troops in the region – a US policy that has been going on since last January.

 Other 200 soldiers have just been deployed to the Jordanian base of Al-Tanf.

 Initially that base had been created to counter Daesh-Isis, but now it runs almost on the side of the most convenient and likely line of communication between Iraq and Iran  – a line that, thanks to the current presence of US forces, is becoming the breaking point of the “Shiite crescent” that is supposed to connect, by land, Tehran and the Hezbollah positions in the Lebanon.

 Hence, if we consider an amount of US soldiers already present on the Israeli-Syrian border- not confirmed by President Trump, but very likely to be there -the American soldiers in Syria total 1,000, while other US intelligence sources talk about over 1,500 US soldiers who are expected to remain in Northern Syria.

 The bases that the United States will use are six.

  They are all located in Iraq, exactly where the Daesh-Isis jihadists are heading after their final defeat in Syria.

 Nevertheless, this is the second target.

 The Marines are present above all in a base near Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar Governorate, which is 1,110 kilometres away from Baghdad.

 The US reinforcements arrived also at K1, a North American base near Kirkuk.

  After having served as collection point for the troops operating in Syria and for all armaments and infrastructure, currently the K1 base serves to control the Northern part of the Syrian-Iraqi border, on the side of the Kurdistan sector in Iraq.

 The third US organized presence in Iraq is the air base of Ayn al-Asad, which was visited by President Trump last Christmas.

 Hence, a simple strategic deduction is already possible: the US forces in Iraq are such as to allow full land and air control throughout Iraq. Therefore the six bases are capable of ensuring continuity between the Iraqi command on the border with Syria and the rest of the US strategy in the Middle East.

There is also the aforementioned Al-Tanf base, which is now fully operational, located just 24 kilometres away from the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi triple border. Said base has been strengthened with Marines and electronic networks, in addition to new heavy artillery positions.

 Also the base of Al-Raqqa – the old “capital” of the Caliphate in Syria, is already active. Another base which is still operational is the Remelin base, north-east of Hasakeh, which has always been the political centre of the Kurds.

 Thanks to this new configuration, the control of US forces on the ground is such as to check the movements, intelligence and communications of a wide part of the Iraqi territory, between Hasakeh and Tanf, right in the middle of the border between Syria and Iraq.

 Hence what is the strategic logic underlying this new deployment and configuration of US forces in the Syrian-Iraqi region?

 There is a simple answer to this question: US pressure on the Golan Heights, which means very clear military and political support for the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

 As is well-known, the Israeli part of the Golan Heights was conquered by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) during the “Six-Day War” of 1967. Nevertheless, in 1981 the Israeli Parliament, namely the Knesset, enacted the Golan Heights Act, which extended the Israeli law, civil administration and jurisdiction throughout the territory.

 As we may recall, at the end of the “Six-Day War” of 1967Israel conquered as many as three specific territories: the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt and obviously the Golan Heights from Syria.

 Again in that phase, the UN Security Council adopted  Resolution 242 – also known as Land for Peace – which  proposed, in principle, a stable and formalized peace between Israel and the neighbouring Arab countries, in exchange for a partial or total return of the territories to the previous sovereign States.

  Before 1967, over 150,000 Syrians lived in the Golan Heights, while currently 25,000 Druze Arabs, most of them Syrian citizens, live in the area, as well as over 20,000 Jewish settlers, but all those living there are anyway liable to Israeli citizenship.

 In 1981 Israel announced the simultaneous annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights while, shortly afterwards, with Resolution 497 the UN Security Council condemned the Jewish State only for the annexation of the Golan Heights.

 There were negotiations, even secret (in 2010), between Israel and Syria on the issue of the Golan Heights’ sovereignty.

 At strategic level, the area is extremely important for both  Israel and Syria.

 In the Golan Heights, however, there is also the drainage basin of River Jordan, Lake Tiberias, the Yarmuk River and of some underground water networks reaching up to the Mediterranean coast.

Not to mention oil. Allegedly, oil reserves – worth millions of barrels – have recently been discovered under the Golan Heights territory.

 Certainly, while – on the one hand – this Trump’s announcement for support to the Israeli designs on the Golan Heights has its strategic rationality in relation to the US interests in the region, on the other, it can also be interpreted as strong support for the electoral campaign of Benjamin Netanyahu, who still seems to be the US favourite candidate.

 President Trump’s policy on the Golan Heights, however,  is new and, to some extent, contradictory.

 The United States, especially in the Middle East, has always been thinking of negotiations on the territories as a result of direct talks between the parties concerned.

 Moreover, the international law which is currently in force, however, does not recognize the Israeli sovereignty over the territories occupied during the 1967 war.

 It should also be noted that in 2010 Israel offered a sort of Land for Peace agreement to Syria.

 Nevertheless negotiations ended in March 2011, obviously due to the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

 At the time, however, the Golan Heights were for Israel without any control from Syria and were characterized by  of war between the Al-Nusra Front, also described as al- Qaeda in Syria, Isis-Daesh and some other jihadist groups.

 What was the use of dealing with Assad?

 Furthermore, still today, Syria does not ensure any  support to the population and security for the Golan Heights: currently only Israel provides water and basic services, while also taking care of the economy and, obviously, internal security of the area.

 As early as Barack Obama’s time, Netanyahu has also been asking for the US “green light” for annexation.

 Hence, at a time when President Trump wants to control the areas of the Golan Heights from the centre of Syria and Iraq, the US and Israeli goal is to disrupt the terrestrial line between Iran (and Iraq) up to Syria and Southern Lebanon and, above all, the Mediterranean – which is also the primary goal of Iran’s participation in the Syrian war.

 This was the subject of the negotiations held on March 18 last, in the secret meeting between Iraqi, Syrian and Iranian leaders.

 Moreover, for President Trump, even if the operations in “Syraq” were supported also by Putin – as currently seems to be the case – they would be designed to reach a clear goal, i.e. stopping every operation aimed at the unification between Syria and Lebanon.

 Furthermore, the idea of a “common market” between Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Lebanon is now widespread among the ruling classes of the region.

 It is an obvious strategic expedient.

 However, it will certainly not be the subject of the negotiations between the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and the Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, from whom the former wants to know one thing only, i.e. whether the Lebanon accepts to be part of the Iran-Syria-Iraq-Hezbollah axis. In this case the United States will hit- with harsh sanctions – the Lebanese banking system, which is already undergoing a severe crisis, while the other steps of the US Presidency in the Middle East – after the recognition of the Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – will be the following: a tightening of sanctions on Iran; the possible conquest of a military base in Northern Lebanon and, finally, strong military presence in both the Golan Heights and the other areas, albeit within the Israeli region.

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

Insecurity of India’s Nuclear Weapons

Ali Raza

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After 1945, it came into the knowledge that nuclear weapons are the most destructive, lethal and powerful weapon on the planet earth, which can wipe out hundreds of thousands of people in short span of time. That’s why global community, particularly the U.S. and Former Soviet Union agreed on formulation of stringent globally accepted principles to secure these destructive weapons. India is the first country that brought nuclear weapons in South Asia by detonating nuclear device back in 1974 and yet again in 1998.However, since than safety and security of these weapons under the control of violent Hindutva regime has considerably attracted much of the scholars’ attraction.

Terrorism has become an increasing concern within international society but so far there has been less focus on one particular aspect of the problem that is nuclear terrorism. Yet, within the context of South Asia this is of special significance, given the number of insurgencies and freedom struggles with transnational linkages, and the nuclearisation of this region since 1998. Of all the South Asian states, India’s nuclear facilities are perhaps the most vulnerable to nuclear terrorism, given India’s expansive nuclear programme, much of it not subject to IAEA safeguards. In addition, the vulnerability of India’s nuclear facilities is further aggravated by its thriving underworld and more than a dozen insurgencies going on within the Indian states, as well as the freedom struggle in Indian Occupied Kashmir.

India’s nuclear programme has developed at an exceptionally fast pace. However, because a few of such facilities are under international safeguards, there is little knowledge about the levels of safety of the various nuclear facilities. Of the ten operational power plants, only four are under IAEA safeguards. According to an Indian parliamentary report, 147 mishaps or safety-related unusual occurrences were reported between the years 1995-1998 in Indian atomic energy plants. Of these, 28 were of an acute nature and 9 of these 28 occurred in the nuclear power installations. Thus, the state of Indian nuclear facilities raises serious concerns as they seem to be vulnerable to a high probability of terrorist attacks, thefts and accidents. The scale of the programme aggravates the problems, as there are plans for the building of pressurized heavy water reactors, fast breeder reactors and thorium reactors on a commercial scale.

Apart from the risk of falling of nuclear weapons and related technology in the hands of terrorists, if one looks at the leadership of India and try to analyse the factor of rationality in the decision making of use of nuclear weapon it clearly suggests that the current leadership i.e. BJP is not only hawkish in its nature but equally believes in use of force for political gains, which further leads us to the assumption that the nuclear decision making is equally occupied by the Hindu hardliners.

During the recent Pulwama Crisis, it has been learnt that BJP’s irresponsible behaviour should suffice for all Indians to understand that India will remain hyphenated with Pakistan for foreseeable time. India planned to use Brahmos missile that could carry nuclear warhead. India’s behaviour clearly shows that nuclear weapons are in wrong hands. Because the yield and potential related to the nuclear weapons are absolutely detrimental and possession of such weapons in wrong, less responsible and extremist hands is a threat for the entire world.

The only purpose of nuclear weapons is to acquire deterrence in order to avoid the possibility of war. But, India is showing the attitude that it will use these weapons for the purposes of war fighting, which is unacceptable to international community.  

The track record of India in the field of nuclear weapons and related technology is much muddier. India initiated arms race in the region, and, it is leaving no stone unturned e.g. advancements in sea-based nuclear capabilities and militarisation of space. Most importantly the recent ASAT test, which is in fact a compelling factor for neighbouring states to think in the same way in order to acquire comparable technologies for equalizing the defence capabilities. These alarming acts of India can bring the entire region at the verge of instability, which in fact could prove dire for the peace of the entire globe keeping in view the economic, natural resources, political and security factors of the region.

The time has come for the international community to break its silence and stop their patronage for India and take serious note and steps regarding the possession of nuclear weapons by India in relation to its aggressive and immature behaviour and mind-set of its leadership, which can lead entire globe to the unacceptable disaster. Since, Kashmir is flash point between both nuclear armed states it is only India which is triggering it by its continuous atrocities in Kashmir. Most importantly existence of ISIS in India is also a foremost point of concern especially keeping in view the nuclear program of India, according to the recent development ISIS claimed for the first time that it has established a “province” in India, after a clash between militants and security forces in the contested Kashmir region killed a militant with alleged ties to the group. This is not only the matter, which solely related to the stability and security of South Asia. This time instability is knocking the door of entire globe in the form of India. The continuous negligence of international community with respect to Indian nuclear weapons will definitely disturb the stability as well as peace of the entire globe.

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Why the U.S. is silent about military exercises in the Baltic States

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The Baltic States are in the anticipation of the annual large scale military exercise Saber Strike.

The well-known annual international exercise held since 2010 by the United States Army Europe (USAREUR) is focused on the Baltic States. These countries consider this event as a key element of participants’ training on command and control as well as interoperability with regional partners. The Saber Strike exercise aims to facilitate cooperation amongst the U.S., Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and allied and partner nations.

Usually these maneuvers take place in June. Thus, it is logical to assume that the time of the military exercise is coming, but this year event is never mentioned.

There are two ways of situation development. The first one is – Saber Strike 2019 will not be held at all. The second one is the information about Saber Strike 2019 is classified.

The first assumption is unlikely taking into account the U.S. and NATO desire to strengthen the position in the region. This assumption is also contradicted by the increasing number and scale of international and national military exercises in the Baltic region.
So, the second assumption is most likely. But the question arises about the aim of hiding the information or its content. It is widely proclaimed that NATO and the U.S. put transparency about the exercises in the head. This principle is either one of the key priorities of all international organizations including UN and OSCE. Transparency of activity helps to build international peace and trust.

It is especially surprising after NATO expressed concern about transparency of Russian and Russia-Belarus military drills which were held near the Baltic State’s borders. Unlike allies, opponents give preliminary information about planned exercises. By the way, some facts can be find on Internet about joint exercise Union Shield 2019 that will take place in autumn in Russia.

BulgarianMilitary.com  quoted  Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu who stated in 2018 that “Union Shield 2019” exercise would be only defensive and emphasized: “First and foremost, and I would like everyone to hear that, our drills are solely of defensive nature. We do not plan any offensive actions as compared to the [NATO] military exercises. We, undoubtedly, are doing this not as a response to some drills but as a response to the threats which exist today and which, to our big regret, grow every year.”

From time to time we can read about the preparations for Russian-Belarusian exercise “Union Shield 2019”. Thus on March 12-14, the Belarusian-Russian command-staff training on working out the interaction of military authorities, formations and military units in the framework of the regional grouping of troops (RGT) was carried out jointly, as well as improving the RGT control system.

“The general staffs have embarked on the preparation of the Union Shield 2019 exercise, which will be the main event of joint training of the military command and troops in 2019 and which will further improve the system of military security of the Union State,” Belarusian Minister of Defense Andrei Ravkov noted. According to him, such events help check the quality and level of combat readiness of the regional group of troops, to see the real capabilities of weapons and the ability to carry out combat tasks.
True or not, but information is available. It is not very detailed but at least it is provided in advance. At least they name it as defensive.

As far as Saber Strike is concerned, everything is vaguely and therefore scary. What is the aim of it? Does it have defensive or offensive nature? When and who will come to the Baltic States? The approach “no comments” is not the best one in this case. The Baltics want and should know. Our opponents should be aware either. Otherwise their respond could be unexpected and even destroying. Uncertainty causes panic and rejection among local population.

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Defense

Libya Crisis: Role of Regional Players

Syeda Dhanak Hashmi

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Libya remains in a chaotic state after the fall of Muammar Gadhafi. The United Nations-backed government struggles to exercise control over territory held by rival factions, escalating geographical and political divisions between the East, West, and South. But it’s political and security crisis continues as the two authorities compete for legitimacy and territorial control and have left scores of thousands displaced inside Libya and interrupted access to basic services to the Libyans.

At present, a hazardous military conflict is ongoing in Libya between east-based forces loyal to Field Marshal Haftar and armed groups allied to the UN-backed government in Tripoli. The WHO has given higher estimates of casualties where 392 people have been killed and about 2,000 wounded in the ongoing armed clashes south of Tripoli. Recently, Khalifa Haftar’s bid to tumble the UN-recognized government has displaced 50,000 people and urged his forces to “teach the enemy a greater and bigger lesson than the previous ones” during Ramadan, saying the holy month had not been a reason to stop previous battles in the eastern cities of Benghazi and Derna.

The armed militias and terrorist groups are using the nation as a base for radicalization and organized crime, further adding fuel to the fire and posing a threat to the region and beyond. The civilians are harassed and victimized by the militias and armed groups, but nothing has been done so far as the international involvement has remained too apprehensive to avert an all-out fight for the capital. The Courts, on the other hand, are semi-functional, and various impediments obstruct access to fair trials. Hence, there is a threat of proxy war between regional powers if this full-fledged conflict will remain unchecked. The UN is required to play an integral role by encouraging the parties to return to the negotiating table and proposing a new three-track strategy addressing the core political, military and financial concerns of both sides. If external actors are serious in their calls, now is the time to act to stop this full-fledged war.

The conflict escalates further when Libyan National Army (LNA) under Haftar’s command launched an attack, named ‘Flood of Dignity’, with the specified aim of capturing the capital, despite repeated warnings by Libya’s international partners. LNA began to advance on Tripoli after Haftar returned from Riyadh, believing that the international supporters, i.e., the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France and Russia would stand by them. Although the US had warned him verbally not to move into western Libya, where the UN-backed government is based and has tried to influence Haftar to accept a political deal with Faiez Serraj, the head of the Tripoli-based government, to unify Libya’s divided institutions, including the military, making Haftar the head of the armed forces, but he disagreed arguing that the presence of militias in Tripoli would increase the security issue and frustrate the ordinary Libyans.

The military strength and external support of LNA is evident but its victory in Tripoli cannot be predicted. As for now, this conflict could spread to other parts of Libya, as Misratan forces have openly stated that they aim to cut-off LNA supply lines in central Libya which will eventually worsen the conflict. To avoid this catastrophic intensification in Tripoli involving regional powers, Libya’s partners should take serious actions. The regional powers should abstain from supporting the offensive militarily, and endorse their support for UN-led negotiations. Moreover, the UN Security Council should demand for an instant culmination of hostilities, and impose sanctions on military commanders and political leaders escalating confrontations.

Furthermore, the UN should introduce a three-pronged strategy including a political track, which should not only be restricted to a deal between Haftar and Serraj rather should also include political representatives from rival parties to ensure an equal and practical solution. Second, a military track should be presented, involving senior military commanders from both sides, along the lines of the Egypt-led military dialogue to agree on new security arrangements for the capital; and in the last place, a financial track, to bridge the gap of the financial institutions which emerged in 2014 as a result of political disturbances, by bringing together representatives from Libya’s divided Central Bank.

In conclusion, Libya has witnessed frequent setbacks and external interference over the past eight years which have facilitated the non-state actors such as ISIS to gain a foothold. Keeping in view the present scenario, the menace of terrorism could become a self-fulfilling prophecy as new jihadists are joining the conflict. What will happen in the fight for Tripoli is now largely reliant on how the UN and international players of the region will respond to it. Although the external powers, including the US, UK, France, Italy, the UAE, Egypt and Russia, have condemned the escalation, but none of them included the threat of sanctions and made any explicit mention to support the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli. Therefore, it can be assumed that the external powers are providing assistance to Haftar in his ambition to seize the capital and power.

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