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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

“Westlessness” of the West, and debates on China during Munich Security Conference

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image source: MSC/Kuhlmann

The Munich Security Conference, which traditionally brings together heads of state and government, foreign and defense ministers in February, is usually expected to bring some kind of intrigue. This time round, the role was claimed by the conference report, titled “Westlessness,” whose main message was the loss by Western countries of their global leadership and, as a consequence, the growth of nationalist sentiment in Western countries and the loss of their monopoly on resolving international conflicts.

Expectably enough, Russia and China were blamed for the world and the West itself becoming “less Western.” The organizers of the Munich Conference urged China to responsibly handle its role as the world’s new non-Western center of power, and expressed hope that China would over time “adopt liberal values and become a “responsible stakeholder” in a liberal world led by the West.”

A pretty unlikely scenario though. A separate chapter in the report’s “Actors” section is devoted to China. Describing China as the “Meddle Kingdom” (similar to the Middle Kingdom), the authors view the country’s growing economic might and political sway as a potential threat to the world order that exists today.

The authors are concerned about looming Chinese superiority in foundational emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and connectivity technology, as well as surveillance technology and “know-how” in the field of internet regulation. In the case of 5G, they write about an intense debate over how to balance close economic ties with China amid growing security concerns. And, in a truly Freudian slip, they write about “the growing concern that the future holds a technological segregation of the world into those countries operating on Western technologies and norms and those running on Chinese ones.”

The section of the report on China is chock-full of graphs, charts and diagrams reflecting European fears of Chinese technology and investments. However, when carefully examined, these charts show that despite strong opposition from Washington and Brussels, more than half of “respondents” perceive technologies and investments from China positively.

The participants in the Munich Conference also spent a lot of time trying to present the coronavirus epidemic as a “Chinese threat,” even though China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in Munich that his country would soon be able to check the spread of COVID-19.

Speaking at the conference, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized: “We are prepared to join efforts on other pressing issues of the global agenda, including epidemiological threats. We are ready to work together on other pressing issues on the world agenda, including epidemiological threats. In this regard, I would like to note China’s open and responsible approach to international cooperation in combating the spread of the coronavirus.”

The Munich conference never found a cure to the problem of “Westlessness” though. Well, maybe they should look at themselves instead of faulting China, Russia and others? At least, Russian and Chinese representatives reaffirmed their readiness to engage in a constructive and inclusive dialogue.

From our partner International Affairs

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Defense

Does NATO respond positively to the Turkish supererogation?

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Turkey is once again turning to the West, while over the past two years, it had been distancing from the West and trying to collaborate with Russia due the success of the Astana peace process on the Syrian conflict.

Damascus’s strategic patience is over because Ankara has failed to fulfill its commitments regarding retaking the areas captured by terrorists backed by Turkey. The Syrian army’s widespread advances over the last two weeks in areas occupied by terrorist forces in the northwest have led to Ankara’s reaction and increased tensions between Syria and Turkey. Along with wresting control over the strategic Damascus-Aleppo highway, the Syrian army carried out successful operations in recapturing 1500 km2 of Syrian territory and about 100 towns and villages in west and south Aleppo, especially key towns of Khan Tuman and Saraqib. Following the Syrian army’s operations, the Turkish government has sent thousands of troops and military equipment to the outskirts of Idlib to prevent the continued advance of the Syrian forces.

Turkey’s moves were due to greenlight by the U.S., NATO, and the EU, which have so far not been in Ankara’s favor; rather they have resulted in massive casualties and the loss of six military bases in Syria’s territory.

Recently, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar called on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to support the Turkish military in order to halt the Syrian army’s offensive against Idlib, the stronghold of the latest Turkish-backed terrorist elements.

Obviously, the move by Turkey has broken the commitments to the Sochi agreement and the Astana process, with the aim of holding its place in NATO. This is a wish that seems unlikely to come true, given the chaotic situation of NATO and the West’s distrust of Turkey.

Accordingly, it is certain that Idlib and its outskirts will soon be completely liberated because of the high motivation and ability of the Syrian army. The liberation will definitely thwart all hostile policies that Turkey has adopted in Syria for many years and will bring heavy defeat for Ankara.

The developments in Syria in recent days shows that Turkey is no longer trustworthy as it has explicitly violated Syria’s sovereignty as an independent state. There have been some accords on Syria, such as the Sochi agreement, regarding the establishment of a safe zone in Idlib, while Turkey has not considered the slightest value for the agreements. 

From our partner Tehran Times

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Lithuania: To serve or not to serve in the army

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source: flickr.com

It is well known that in 2015 Lithuanian authorities reintroduced compulsory military service due to the potential threat caused by the Russian Federation.

It should be said, that young Lithuanians do not appreciate the idea and try to avoid the service in every possible way. They even are not afraid of penalties and imprisonment.

In order to force them to serve Lithuanian authorities are inventing new “tools” to make the process of avoidance the conscription harder.

From the beginning of 2015 all Lithuanian men aged 19-26 had to perform compulsory military service in the Lithuanian Armed Forces for a period of 9 months if fate decided.

The matter is the way of choosing the men who will serve is more than surprising. They say that 2 percent of men are randomly selected to complete vacancies in the army within the year. The lists of military conscripts then are published on the Internet. But “randomly” could also mean “nobody knows how they are selected.”

At the beginning of this year authorities lowered the age range at which men are called up for mandatory military service to 18-23 years and banned volunteer soldiers from holding seats in the parliament and municipal councils.

Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis said that the aim of lowering the conscription age is to ensure that conscripts’ military service causes the minimum possible disruption to their civilian lives.

The matter is the way of choosing the men who will serve is more than surprising. They say that 2 percent of men are randomly selected to complete vacancies in the army within the year. The lists of military conscripts then are published on the Internet. But “randomly” could also mean “nobody knows how they are selected.”

In reality the Ministry of National Defence can’t meet its recruitment goals.

The system includes Lithuanians living abroad who are forced to leave their home and come back for the service. The government of Lithuania doesn’t care that men living overseas have their personal life, own career paths and financial responsibilities.

The military authorities are trying to take immigrants for service on purpose, not caring about their personal problems, including health issues and financial commitments.

They also discriminate homosexual men by giving them specific tests to find out how gay they are, including a talk with the psychiatrist. Because homosexuality is still a sickness in Lithuania, with existing laws against gay people.

A lot of Lithuania men who decided not to come back for the service, are often wanted by police, and in some circumstances might end up in prison for up to 3 years.

Thus, in December 2019, 24-year-old Marius H. from Kedainiai was prosecuted for not visiting the military registration and enlistment office, but did not change his position. He said later that he would not go to serve, it is not in his interests. He has a well-paid job in Belgium and is not going to change his way of life. So he paid penalty (800 euros) and left for Belgium. And he is not the only one in the country who has made such choice.

Evidently, it is impossible to solve the problem in that way, using methods of coercion and punishment. Unfortunately, reintroducing of compulsory military service was the decision of the authorities, finding the ways to avoid it is the choice of youth. If the government doesn’t respect the citizens, the citizens have a right not to obey their decisions.

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