The Kurdish Predicament in Syria: Balancing Russia, Turkey and the United States -Jamestown Foundation

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An interesting discussion of the Syrian Kurd’s strategic environment now that Russia has began its bombing campaign.

“Despite the good Russian-Kurdish diplomatic contacts, it is more likely that the PYD will strengthen their relations with the United States in the future, since they can only advance against the Islamic State with that country’s support. Without U.S. airstrikes since September 27, 2014, the PYD’s armed militia, the People’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel—YPG), would have never been able to connect PYD-controlled administrations of Kobane and the Hasakah area by capturing Tal Abyad in June 2015. Likewise without U.S. support, Syrian Kurdish territories would be very vulnerable to Islamic State attacks. If the YPG or PYD decided to work openly with Russia, this could end U.S. air support. So while Salih Muslim met Bogdanov in October, Ilham Ahmed was in the United States seeking more support….”

“Russia cannot offer the Syrian Kurds much apart from protection against al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra and the rebel’s Military Operation Room in Aleppo, or to supply the YPG with limited weapon supplies. Since last summer, there have been several clashes between the YPG and Nusra-allied rebel groups around Efrin and the Kurdish neighborhood of Shaykh Maqsoud (Aranews, July 31).

“But, these rebel groups are growing weaker and weaker due to Russian airstrikes targeting them and Islamic State advances in Aleppo and towards Azaz. That jihadist organization is now already seven kilometers from Efrin and could capture Azaz (Welati, October 14). This will make it even more difficult for the Turks to protect its favored Syrian rebels or to create a safe zone alongside its border. Therefore, this arguably reduces the Kurds’ need for direct Russian support.”

http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=44539&no_cache=1#.VjPMErSqqko

Up to 27 Iraqi civilians may have been killed in Canadian airstrike, Pentagon document reveals -CBC

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“An internal Pentagon document obtained by CBC’s the fifth estate raises questions about the quality of the investigation conducted by coalition forces into an allegation that as many as 27 civilians were killed in Iraq by a Canadian airstrike.”

The Canadian military does not believe the allegations are valid: “The [Canadian Air Force] review identified that there were no substantive grounds to believe that civilians had been killed,” Canadian Armed Forces Public Affairs Officer Capt. Kirk Sullivan told the fifth estate in an email.”

However, the source was a member of the Kurdish Peshmerga, giving the allegation some credibility: “It wasn’t a question of some civilian or some individual off the street, for lack of a better description, saying, ‘I heard this,'” says Stuart Hendin, a Canadian lawyer who teaches international military law to governments and armed forces around the world. “When one of your allies is saying we have a report of this, it’s something that ought to be taken with much more than a grain of salt. It has to be taken a little bit seriously.”

Disturbingly, “internal Pentagon documents also reveal the Canadian military’s legal assessment about Canada’s duty to investigate the incident.
The U.S. authors of the document note “[Canadian Joint Operations Command Legal Advisor] opinion is that, under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), there are no obligations for the [Canadian Air Force] to conduct an investigation.”

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/up-to-27-iraqi-civilians-may-have-been-killed-in-canadian-airstrike-pentagon-document-reveals-1.3213917

The CBC report provides a pdf of the Pentagon report on the strike. It also makes reference to a web site, The Airwars Project, that monitors coalition bombing missions in Iraq and Syria. here is the link to that site: http://airwars.org/index.html

After a U.S. Shift, Iran Has a Seat at Talks on War in Syria -New York Times

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Iran’s participation also appeared to signal how Iran is emerging from decades of American-imposed marginalization. Only two years ago, it was disinvited from joining Syrian peace talks because of pressure from the United States. Now, with Iran’s enhanced standing in the aftermath of the nuclear agreement, Mr. Kerry appears to be testing whether a broader basis for cooperation is possible.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/29/world/middleeast/syria-talks-vienna-iran.html

Is the KRG Failing the People? -Rudaw

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A political crisis threatens to derail the dream of self-determination in South Kurdistan. As if a war with Islamic State jihadis, a refugee burden beyond comprehension and a budget freeze from Baghdad were not bad enough, political infighting and public protests are now added to the toxic mix. Although the leading Kurdish political parties are hardly responsible for the Islamic State’s war, the refugee crisis or even Baghdad’s peculiar understanding of the Iraqi Constitution, they are responsible for other problems. The political infighting and economic woes in the region both seem like the result of poor decisions and bad policies.

http://rudaw.net/english/opinion/23102015

In 1983 ‘war scare,’ Soviet leadership feared nuclear surprise attack by U.S. -Washington Post

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“In 1983, we may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger,” the review concluded.
That autumn has long been regarded as one of the most tense moments of the Cold War, coming after the Soviet Union shot down a South Korean civilian airliner in September and as the West was preparing to deploy Pershing II intermediate-range and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe in November. But there has been a long-running debate about whether the period known as the “war scare” was a moment of genuine danger or a period of bluster for propaganda purposes.”

There are a number of interesting points in this article concerning perceptions and miss-perceptions.

1. Balance of power politics, even in a “relatively simple” two power system are complex and ambiguous, especially when tensions are high.

2. One side never really knows what the other side is thinking or how it sees a situation. While the US was arguing that the USSR was one offensive, the Soviets were concerned that a “deterioration of Soviet power might tempt a US first strike,”.

3. One’s adversaries probably do not see them in the same way they see themselves: Ronald Reagan was surprised that the USSR feared an American attack. Not because of the balance of power, but because “he felt that “it must be clear to anyone” that Americans were a moral people who, since the founding of the nation, “had always used our power only as a force for good in the world.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/in-1983-war-scare-soviet-leadership-feared-nuclear-surprise-attack-by-us/2015/10/24/15a289b4-7904-11e5-a958-d889faf561dc_story.html?postshare=3341445716450466

Bashar al-Assad Finds Chilly Embrace in Moscow Trip -New York Times

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From a distance, the relationship between patron and client states seems simple. The patron, usually a super-power like the US or at least a major power like Russia or China, holds all the cards. They have the money, the military and the diplomatic clout, therefore when they say jump, the client state, usually a regional power, asks, “how high”? In reality these relationships are more complex. Patron states need their client states and their client states know it. The result is often a subtle battle of wills as both sides try to leverage the other to do what they want. This seems to be happening between Russia and Syria.

“even as Mr. Assad flew secretly to Moscow on Tuesday night for a meeting to assess the fighting in Syria, the chilly personal relationship between the two men has not changed, according to officials, diplomats and analysts.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/22/us/politics/assad-finds-chilly-embrace-in-moscow-trip.html?ribbon-ad-idx=5&rref=world/middleeast&module=Ribbon&version=context&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Middle%20East&pgtype=article

Iran’s careful balancing act -al Monitor

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“even as Iran shows determination to move forward with implementing the nuclear deal, its leadership is also showing signs of wariness about moving to expand contacts with the United States, ruling out bilateral talks with the Americans on regional issues for now, even as it reaches out to Europe on Syria and has accepted European offers to mediate and try to facilitate a dialogue between Iran and the Sunni Gulf states, as yet rebuffed by Saudi Arabia.”

The Drone Paper -The Intercept

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A very detailed overview of the US Drone program in “Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The documents, provided by a whistleblower, offer an unprecedented glimpse into Obama’s drone wars.”
“The Intercept has obtained a cache of secret slides that provides a window into the inner workings of the U.S. military’s kill/capture operations at a key time in the evolution of the drone wars — between 2011 and 2013. The documents, which also outline the internal views of special operations forces on the shortcomings and flaws of the drone program, were provided by a source within the intelligence community who worked on the types of operations and programs described in the slides.”

Be sure to read all the chapters, not just the lead article.
The Drone Papers

01. The Assassination Complex
02. A Visual Glossary
03. The Kill Chain
04. Find, Fix, Finish
05. Manhunting in the Hindu Kush
06. Firing Blind
07. The Life and Death of Objective Peckham
08. Target Africa

https://theintercept.com/drone-papers

Why the U.S. military can’t succeed in training foreign armies -Reuters

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“The reason that U.S.-trained foreign forces usually do not prevail is not because they are poorly trained and ill-equipped. In fact, they often have better equipment and far more extensive training than their opposition.

Yet they repeatedly fail largely because they are not as motivated. Military success on the battlefield is more dependent on whether men and women are willing to fight and die for a government they believe in. Rather than how well trained they are, troops have to believe their government is acting in the best interests of all its citizens.”

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/10/05/why-the-u-s-military-cant-succeed-in-training-foreign-armies/

This article does a nice job of identifying a clear historical pattern by linking the failures of US policy in Iraq and Syria to similar failures in Afghanistan and Vietnam. I am not 100% convinced by the “lack of motivation” argument, which has become the standard explanation for the problem. While it is likely part of the story, perhaps there is more of a mid-level explanation. Rather then it simply being a either a failure in US training or a question of troop motivation, in some cases I wonder if there are also issues with leadership (i.e. the officer corps rather than the troops), command/control and organization, and battlefield tactics.