Friday, June 14, 2013

What could a sustained air campaign by the US/NATO/CENTCOM supported by numerous cruise missile strikes really achieve in Syria?

For many months now I have been warning that what is happening in Syria is really what I call "Bosnia v5, Chechnia v4, Kosovo, v3 Libya v2, Syria v1" and, indeed, the basic Anglo strategy is exactly the same one: destabilize a country by using real popular grievances, trigger civil unrest, fan the violence, escalate the clashes into an insurgency, then carefully orchestrate some kind of "humanitarian" pretext to bypass the UNSC and intervene militarily.  Remember how the Iraqis were allegedly tossing Kuwaiti babies out of their incubators?  How the Serbs lobbed mortar rounds (in an physically impossible trajectory) into the Markale market in Sarajevo?  Remember the Srebrenica genocide?  The Racak massacre?  How the Serbian "Chetniks" used "rape as a weapon of ethnic cleansing" (even though their enemy was of the same ethnicity)?  Do you remember how Gaddafi gave Viagra and condoms to his soldiers?  How Saddam could launch chemical warheads at the UK in 45 minutes?  Ok, it appears that now Assad has used chemical weapons against the FSA.  Nevermind that this narrative categorically contradicts even a superficial attempt at understanding what is going on in Syria by using common sense.  Hey - if Anglo politicians say its true, then you can take it to the bank.  After all, we all know that Anglo politicians never lie, don't we?


Well, it appears that the Anglo Empire is about to engage in some type of military intervention in the war on Syria and this intervention can be articulated around three basic options:

a) sending more weapons to the Takfiris
b) imposing a no-fly zone
c) embarking upon a cruise missile and air strikes campaign

Or, of course, a combination of the above.

I have addressed the first option in a previous post and I will not repeat it all here.  I will just say this: the insurgency has plenty of money and weapons and this entire "we needs weapons" thing is a complete canard.  Even if the US floods the insurgency with the newest anti-tank weapons and MANPADS this will only marginally help them as their real problems are very different: poor training and even worse command, a poorly organized and primitive logistics and support structure, popular opposition to their ideology and a magnificent performance of the Syrian military which very skillfully adapted to a new set of tactics.

Today, I will look at the possible consequences of imposing a no-fly zone and a cruise missile and air strikes attack.  Let's begin by something rather obvious and which is often overlooked by commentators: option b) and option c) are, in reality, one and the same.  What I mean to say is that the US/NATO cannot impose a no-fly zone over Syria without first embarking on a cruise missile and airstrikes campaign.  The notion that the Anglos will somehow "patrol the skies" from high above an only prevent the Syrian Air Force from flying combat missions is absolutely ridiculous.  Even on Bosnia - and God knows the poor Bosian-Serbs never had anything but a totally symbolic air force - the Anglos had to bomb to keep their no-fly zone halfway effective.  Later, in Kosovo (which, in reality, meant in Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro) the Anglos embarked on a huge, strategic, bombing campaign.  Ditto in Libya, although the latter was a much softer target requiring a much smaller intervention.

So the real question is this: what could a sustained air campaign by the US/NATO/CENTCOM supported by numerous cruise missile strikes really achieve in Syria?

To answer this question we need to look at the official and real purposes of such a campaign.  Officially, of course, the primary goal of such a campaign would be to "protect the civilian population" and prevent the "regime" from using "weapons of mass destruction" against "innocent civilians".  In reality, of course, the goals would be different:

 1) Destroy the Syrian air defense capabilities to be able to safely impose a no-fly zone.
 2) Make the regime pay for its defiance of the Anglo Empire by destroying key government facilities.
3) Weaken the regime by substantially destroying the equipment and key installations of specific military units perceived as "elite" and "pro-regime".
4) Reduce the mobility and Syrian forces on the ground.
5) Disrupt the Syrian military's supply lines
6) Weaken as much as possible the regime's ability to command and control its forces, to communicate with them, to obtain intelligence, etc.
7) Provide close air support to Anglo special forces embedded in the insurgency
last, but not least,
8) make the population pay for its support for Assad.

The last one is, of course, never mentioned, but it is an absolutely crucial goal in the bombing campaign against Serbia, the bombing campaign of Israel against Lebanon and it will be a key objective in any future attack on Syria or Iran: make the civilians pay for their support for the "wrong" regime.

This goal-set need to be evaluated against the actual target list presented by the Syrian government, armed forces and society.

I have found some pretty decent descriptions of the Syrian military's order of battle but, as is often the case, such "static" outlines do not give the real picture.  I will therefore have to make a number of educated guesses.  I will assume that the Syrian military roughly organized along Soviet lines, that the bulk of the Syrian forces have not been put on full-mobilization, that the government has been aware of the threat of a US/NATO attack since at least a year or more, and that the local civil defense and security organizations are already in high gear.  Finally, I will assume that the Syrian military has very carefully studied the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006 and that the Syrian high command is in close contact with their Russian and Iranian counterparts.

At this point, I want to get one red herring out of the way: the issue of the Russian S-300 in Syria and their effect on US/NATO plans.  Let us assume that there are already 4 batteries of S-300 in Syria and that each battery can engage 24 targets simultaneously with a probability of kill of .8 (these are all very optimistic assumptions, the real figures are probably closer to 12 targets at .7).  In this case a saturation attack with 50 incoming missiles would be enough to defeat the S-300 (in reality such calculations do not work, the issue is much more complex, but we can use that as a tool just to think about these issues).

Now, I don't know what the cruise missiles stocks of NATO or CENTOM are, but we can be sure that there are enough such missiles to saturate these 4 batteries.  In fact, one Russian general estimated that Syria would need 10-12 S-300 batteries to protect itself.  And keep in mind that there are other options open to CENTCOM to destroy these batteries (such as special forces attacks). If needed, the USAF can bring in bomber from Diego Garcia, B-2 bombers from the USA, submarine based cruise missiles, etc.  You can think of CENTCOM as "NATO 2" because it was originally designed to stop a Soviet invasion of Iran (I know - stupid idea, but that was the fear in those days) and it only got more powerful over the past decades.  The combined might of CENTCOM plus NATO is absolutely immense and the notion that just a few Russian air-defense systems - even very good ones - could defeat it is ludicrous.  Yes, the S-300 is a superb system, yes it is better than the US Patriot, yes the Anglos do fear them, but no - it will never stop them.

I think that we should assume that NATO/CENTCOM will be able greatly degrade the Syrian air defenses and that they will also be to establish air superiority over the entire Syrian territory.  How long this will take them will depend on many factors, not least the skills and determination of the Syrian military, but the inevitable outcome will not change.  So let's assume that this phase is already over.

At this point nothing will prevent the Anglos to engage in a "shock and awe" kind of campaign similar to what they did in Baghdad in 2003.  The results would also be similar: main ministry buildings will be destroyed, as will most TV stations (which the Anglos consider a legitimate target - see the case in Belgrade), most Mukhabarat (the various security and intelligence services) headquarters will be blown up, as will communication nodes, radar installations, bridges, etc.  A number of military bases will be destroyed along with any equipment stored at that location.  This is also the time when we could expect a GPS-guided missile to hit the Russian embassy in Damascus or a cruise missile to mistakenly explode in the harbor of Tartus.

This is when objectives 1 through 4 above will be practically achieved and CNN & Co. will declare it yet another brilliant victory for the Anglo empire, Obama will go on the air to congratulate the troops for a brilliant performance, and pundits will predict that Assad's regime will shortly collapse.

At this point the key issue is how much all this will affect the balance between the Syrian military and the Takfiri insurgency.  Actually, I am inclined to think that, if anything, this type of campaign could further tilt the blance of power in favor of the Syrian government.  Why?

Well, first and foremost, these types of air campaigns have a very poor record against deployed military forces.  In Kosovo the entire air campaign had a negligible effect on the Serbian army corps deployed in Kosovo (the 2nd Army Corps if I recall correctly).  Air operations in Bosnia were only marginally more effective while Israeli air operations in Lebanon practically failed to affect Hezbollah.  In Iraq the results were more checkered, but that is primarily due to the fact that the inept Iraqi deployment presented an almost ideal target for this kind of assault.

Most combat in Syria happens on a company-battalion level meaning that mobility is not crucial (there are no deep envelopment operations or real "fronts" to breach with heavy concentrations of forces).  Furthermore, most combat in Syria also happens in an urban setting which makes close air support difficult and "blue on blue" incidences of fratricide more likely.  Even locating a target from the air can be very difficult in these circumstances and requires experienced and well trained forward air controllers.

Furthermore, the Syrian forces currently engaged in the battles against the insurgency do no require large amounts of ammunition, petroleum, oil or lubricants and their supply dumps are probably very well camouflaged.  In fact, considering that the Syrian military has probably been seriously preparing for an Israeli invasion for many years, I suspect that that such supply dumps are already pre-positioned throughout the country and that the current counter-insurgency operations have not even come close to seriously depleting them.  Also, if the Syrians have adopted Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah tactics, there are going to be a lot of fake targets scattered all over the country to complicate US planning and assessment efforts.  Finally, an Anglo bombing campaign will probably even further antagonize and infuriate the local population against the US, if only because such air campaign do cause a lot of "collateral damage" in terms of killed and maimed innocent civilians.

And here we have now come to the crucial difference between, on one hand, Bosnia, Kosovo, or Libya and, on the other hand, Syria: it leadership.

In the case of Bosnia and Kosovo it is almost never remembered that Slobodan Milosevic betrayed his Serbian brothers in both territories.  During the war in Bosnia, "Slobo" even imposed sanctions upon the Bosnian-Serbs.  In the case of Kosovo, Milosevic agreed to let NATO occupy Kosovo in exchange for a promise to leave him in power in Belgrade.  The bottom line is this: the Serbs in Bosnia and in Kosovo were betrayed.  Assad and the Alawite officer corps will not betray themselves and those Syrians who were willing to betray their country have already done so a long time ago (remember the series of defections early on in the war?).  In the case of Libya, we had a mentally deranged leader who had build a rather decentralized political system which was used by tribal minorities to overthrow him.  Again, this is not at all what we observe in Syria were the regime is a rather centralized and powerful one.  The point I am trying to make here is really crucial: the Anglo "victories" over the Serbs and Libyan were never military victories, but political victories.  What eventually gave the upper hand to the Anglos is not their military prowess, but their undeniable skills at subverting, deceiving and manipulating.  The Assad regime in Syria has already successfully overcome this stage of the typical Anglo offensive and it has come out of this phase even stronger than before.  At this point in time all the signs are that both the political regime and the Syrian armed forces are determined to fight and resist and that the popular support for the regime is only growing with each passing day.

The point of "shock and awe" is, as it's name clearly shows, to induce a state of, well, shock and awe.  It is to startle, to impress, to induce panic, a sense of futility of any resistance, if you want.  It is very, very hard to be at the receiving end of such a campaign, but Hezbollah has proven that this can be done.  Even the usually clueless Hamas did, to a certain degree, show during the Israeli attacks on Gaza that it could overcome this initial moment of panic.  And so once the "shock and awe" phase has failed to produce any signs of shock or of awe - what happens next?

Then the ugly and difficult business of warfare truly takes over and here the Anglo options are very limited:  neither the US nor NATO are actually going to put "boots on the ground" as this would only serve to truly turn this civil war into a war of national liberation.  Any such move will finish off an already completely disunited opposition.  Then,  US boots on the ground in Syria will trigger an immediate influx of Hezbollah fighters all too happy to realize their long held dream to make minced meat of as many Yankees as possible.  Furthermore, can you actually imagine US Marines and al-Nusra combatants fighting side by side?  Then, to even make things worse, an Anglo invasion of Syria might well trigger an influx of Shia volunteers from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon; that would also offer Iran the perfect opportunity to "send in volunteers" (remember that the students who took over the US embassy in Tehran were also 'volunteer civilian students' and that the revolutionary government denied having any control over them).  No matter how stupid, ill-informed or delusional US politicians are, I cannot imagine the Joint Chiefs ever agreeing to such a lunacy.

What about the option of not sending boots on the ground, but of a sustained campaign to support the Takfiri insurgency?  It might appear as a viable option until you consider the following: the fact that the US or NATO cannot send troops in hardly means that the Iranians, the Iraqis or Hezbollah could not do that.  In fact, what could the US do if, say, Moqtada al-Sadr decided to send some of his followers to fight the Takfiris in Syria?  Protest and threaten, but there is really nothing much else they could do (short of re-invading Iraq?)

This is the huge weakness in the US/NATO posture: while the US/NATO/CENTCOM capabilities to engage in a massive bombing and cruise missile strikes are truly formidable, they have nothing else to follow up with.   Everybody in the Middle-East knows that the Americans do not have what it takes to go tow-to-toe against an insurgency.  These are the folks who used B-2 stealth bombers over Afghanistan but who a full decade later failed to even control most of Kabul in daytime.  This is why Khamid Karzai, even in his best days, was not called "President of Afghanistan" by his opponents but "Major of Kabul".

The Americans and the Europeans are just like the Israelis: they are masters at remote, electronic warfare and but they simply do not have what it takes to get down into the dirty business of close contact warfare.  Their tactics work against unprincipled traitors (Milosevic), arrogant imbeciles (Saddam and Gaddafi) but not against a smart and determined resistance (Taliban, Hezbollah).  And all the signs are that the Syrians are both very smart and very determined.  That they will not break down under a "shock and awe" campaign, and that just like Hezbollan or the Taliban, they are quite willing to fight for as long as it takes to resist the foreign occupation of their country.  In other words, achieving objectives 5-7 will not be possible as long as the Syrians hold their ground.  All the signs are that they will.

Which leaves only option 8: make the Syrian people pay for their support for the "wrong" regime.  Unfortunately, this is an objective which the Anglos will be able to achieve, just as the Israelis did on Lebanon and Gaza.  Of course, this will not win the hearts and minds of this population, but it will make the Anglos feel good about themselves - "we kicked the butts of these sand niggers" and it will send a strong and clear message to the rest of the planet: submit and obey, or else "we will bomb you to the stone age" to use Secretary Baker's threat to Tarek Aziz.  The Anglos have a long and distinguished history of making the civilians pay for the "wrong" political choices: from the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima, to the crippling sanctions against Iran and Iraq, to the subversion of Cuba, Nicaragua, San Salvador and Venezuela, to the bombings of Serbia and Montenegro, to the comprehensive deconstruction of the Iraqi and Libyan polities, to the wrecking of the Afghan and Pakistani societies: the same "solution" has been used by the Anglo Empire over and over again.   The beauty of this option, at least in the eyes of the Anglos, is that it can either lead to "victory" (Serbia, Libya) or the possibility to "declare victory and leave" (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan), another old US military tradition.

So this is really what this is all about: not turning the tide of the civil war, but making the Syrians pay for their defiance of the New World Order.  Is this goal really worth the many risks involved?  I personally don't think so, but I don't get to vote.

The best we can hope for now is a totally symbolic "mini" cruise missile attack against some Syrian "chemical weapons factory".  Not against a storage area, of course, since that would risk releasing the toxic gases.  So maybe the US can strike an pharmaceutical plant, like they did in al-Shifa in Sudan and declare it a great achievement.  I am personally encouraged by the fact that the Americans are speaking about a "limited use of chemical weapons" because if the fictional chemical weapons use was "limited" then so might therefore also be the "just retaliation", no?

One more thing: the notion that the Russians could somehow protect Syria or meaningfully oppose US/NATO plans is laughable.  The Russian Navy presence in the Mediterranean is entirely symbolic and Russia has no other assets in the Middle-East which it could use to engage the Anglos.  To understand Russian policies in the Middle-East and the conflict in Syria it is absolutely crucial to always remember that Russia is acting from a position of great weakness.  It will take decades for Russia to be able to establish a more than symbolic Navy presence in the Mediterranean.  The first step towards that goal would be to rebuilt the aging Black Sea Fleet which currently is only a shadow of its former self.  Again, the Russian Navy's presence off the coast of Syria is an important factor, but only as a symbol of Russia's determination to stand up for the rule of law in international affairs and a sign of solidarity with the Syrian people.  Symbols are important, and this is an important symbol, but symbols are still only that - symbols.  Those who fantasize about the Russian Navy "scaring away" the US Navy from Syria simply do not understand naval (or any other type of) warfare.

The Saker