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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

In a Dark Time: The Expected Consequences of an India-Pakistan Nuclear War

Prof. Louis René Beres

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Twenty-one years ago, in 1998, Dr. Louis René Beres, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Purdue University, published an authoritative article in the AMERICAN UNIVERSITY INTERNATIONAL LAW REVIEW (Vol. 14, No.2.).  Titled “In a Dark Time: The Expected Consequences of an India-Pakistan Nuclear War,” this piece looked closely at underlying disagreements and strategies of the two adversarial states, with special reference to plausible consequences of any eventual nuclear weapons exchange. Fortunately, though no such exchange has ever taken place, current tensions in the region  are sending prospectively fearful signals in both capitals. In addition to rising concerns over Kashmir, Pakistan not long ago codified a new nuclear war fighting strategy of deterrence. Known in formal strategic parlance as a “counterforce” strategy, it is premised on the notion that the threat (implicit or explicit) of shorter range/lower yield nuclear missiles will enhance Pakistan’s deterrent credibility. Yet, if this dramatic change from a more traditionally “countervalue” nuclear strategy should sometime be linked with certain corresponding “launch-on-warning” tactics, the likelihood of an India-Pakistan nuclear exchange could then become unacceptably high. What might be the tangible outcome of any such ominous exchange? To answer accurately, this informed 1998 assessment by Professor Beres will be well-worth reading or re-reading, as the case may be: read or download the pdf

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Kashmir: A Nuclear Flash Point

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India has challenged the whole world with nuclear war, the Defense Minister announced to review its policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. It is very serious and threatened the “Peace” of not only of this region but with serious global repercussions. India and Pakistan have a history of 4 wars in the last 7 decades. But these wars were different from today when both countries are nuclear powers and keeping enough piles of weapons to destroy each other completely. Under this scenario, Indian Defense Minister’s remarks are an irresponsible and direct threat to “Peace”.

India staged a drama of “Pulwama” in February 2019 and used this excuse to attack Pakistan. Indian Air Force entered into Pakistan and Dropped Bombs deem inside Pakistan. In spite of the fact, Pakistan possesses the capabilities to retaliate immediately, but observed restrains and patience. Because Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and a responsible state. The visionary leadership of Pakistan understands the consequences of War and smartly averted a full-fledged war. However, two days later, Pakistan demonstrated its strength cautiously and conveyed its strong message that Pakistan loves peace and does not want war, although, having the capacity to respond reciprocity.

Pakistan has been a victim of war for 4 decades in Afghanistan and knows the suffering of war. But has learned a bitter experience and become mature enough to avoid any war.

India has occupied part of Kashmir in 1948 at the time of getting independence from the British. United Nation has passed resolutions on the resolution of Kashmir issue. But India has been delaying and has not implemented any one of UN resolution on Kashmir during the past 7 decades. It is disrespect and humiliation for the UN too.

But the recent Indian move to accede Kashmir unilaterally is a very serious breach of UN and International norms. There is a reaction from almost all over the world. China has condemned Indian move, Russia has opposed, the US has not accepted Indian action, British has criticized, European Parliament has objected, OIC has condemned, various human right Organization and NGOs has rejected the Indian accession. A wide range of protests was witnessed in all major cities of the world, Washington, New York, London, Paris, Brussel, Berlin, Tehran, etc.

Some of the countries care about their economic interests with India, but even the people of these countries are voicing for people of Kashmir. Trust, all nations, and individuals, who care about humanity and value Peace, must stand up to protect the rights of Kashmiri people.

Pakistan extends its full support and stands with any International Organization or platform, any Nation, any Country, any Individual, who stands up for the just cause of Kashmir. It is a principled stand to extend full moral and diplomatic support to Kashmir.

I am scared of Indian desperate behavior, where India is has increased violation of Line-of-Control (LoC), using cluster Bombs, Using Heavy Weapons, Targeting Civilian Population inside Pakistan along the LoC. India has evacuated all foreign tourists and local visitors from Kashmir. Educational Institutions are closed, Media has been stopped from reporting the facts, telephone, mobile and Internet Service has been closed down, Kashmir has been isolated from the rest of the world. One million troops equipped with lethal weapons are controlling 15 million un-armed civilians. Killing, Torturing, Rape, Kidnapping, Arrest and all types of war-crimes are taking place. Draconian Law introduced to shoot at spot any suspect without any legal formalities. Curfew for the last 12 days has made life impossible due to the shortage of food and basic necessities of life. 15 Millions Lives are at stake and at the mercy of the International Community. Indian butchers are ruthless and as a state policy, engaged in genocide.

There are pieces of evidence that India may initiate a war with Pakistan to divert the World-Attention from the deteriorated situation of Kashmir. India may try to hide its war-crimes in Kashmir by engaging Pakistan in a full-scale war. Pakistan Foreign Ministry has issued a statement “The substance and timing of the Indian Defense Minister’s statement are highly unfortunate and reflective of India’s irresponsible and belligerent behavior. It further exposes the pretense of their No First Use policy, to which we have never accorded any credence. No First use pledge is non-verifiable and cannot be taken at face value, especially when the development of offensive capabilities and force postures belie such claims. Pakistan has always proposed measures relating to nuclear restraint in South Asia and has eschewed measures that are offensive in nature. Pakistan will continue to maintain a credible minimum deterrence posture.”

Any misadventure by India may cost a heavy loss to humanity. Its impact may not be limited to Pakistan only but may harm the whole region and the whole world. International Community, must act immediately before it is too late.

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China’s Defense Policy: Questions and answers

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The Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China has published a paper titled the White Paper “National Defense in  New Era”. The document is designed to become a response of the Chinese leadership to other countries’ fears over the growing military power of the PRC. The paper outlines the main points of China’s national defense agenda. They envisage the containment of any external aggression, the safety of the population, social stability, protection of the territorial integrity and the marine and space interests of the PRC. 

The White Paper for the first time outlines the priorities of the Chinese army in the new era on the basis of the “four strategic pillars”. According to the paper, the Chinese army, acting in accordance with the strategic requirements of national security and development, carries out the assignments set by the Party and the people and provides strategic support for strengthening party leadership and the socialist system and  for protecting the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the country. In addition, the army guarantees strategic support to protect the interests of China abroad and contributes to peace and development on the planet.

This document details defense expenditures and their structure. Over the past decades, the PRC has significantly reduced its military spending in proportion to national GDP and the state budget, but has increased its absolute value. In 1979, the country’s defense expenditures accounted for 5.43% of the GDP, while in 2017 – 1.26%. At present, China is the world’s sixth in the ratio of military budget to GDP (after the United States, Russia, India, Britain and France), while it holds  second place in the absolute volume of military expenses.

What triggered most interest is the statement under which the Chinese leadership vows to never be the first to use nuclear weapons whatever the circumstances. Beijing, the document says, has no intentions to participate in the nuclear arms race and will maintain and strengthen its nuclear potential only for ensuring national security. “China calls for a complete ban and destruction of nuclear weapons, is not going to compete with any country in an arms race, and will maintain its nuclear potential at a level appropriate to meet the needs of national security,” – the White Paper says.

This provision has caused the greatest number of questions: for one, why, in this case, China refuses to join the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty? What is often mentioned in this regard is that the US President has announced his intention to conclude a large-scale nuclear agreement with Russia and China on arms control. Perhaps, this is possible in the future.

But the important thing is that national defense policy and operational issues of arms control go separate. We remember Barack Obama’s speech on nuclear-free world, which he delivered in Prague in 2010 and for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize. But this did not mean and does not mean that the United States is ready to immediately dump nuclear weapons.

Incidentally, in the 2011 White Paper on Defense Issues, China (the only of the globally recognized nuclear powers) was the first to declare non-use of nuclear weapons. As for Beijing’s participation in disarmament negotiations, it is determined by the balance of strategic deterrence forces worldwide.

That is why, after D. Trump’s statement about the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, China, whose nuclear potential is considerably smaller than that of the US, refused to join the treaty until the two countries’ potentials became, if not equal, then at least comparable. Meanwhile, Beijing will welcome participation in the negotiations of other members of the Nuclear Five – Britain and France, as well as unofficial nuclear powers, such as India and Pakistan.

In addition, it is important to separate such issues as reduction of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery, which comprise ballistic missiles, including medium and short- range. The latter, according to the Chinese doctrine, are classified as strategic weapons.

In general, the White Paper gives you a feeling that China will be ready to join the process of control of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery when the time is right and the relevant conditions are in place. This, in Beijing’s opinion, meets the interests of national security. And the time to do so may well come in the foreseeable future. 

From our partner International Affairs

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