Al Qaeda Shifts Focus in Stalemated Syrian Conflict


Credit: VOA News/wikimedia

According to the Western-backed Syrian opposition group the Syrian National Coalition Al Qaeda-linked fighters in Syria have shifted focus from battling the Assad regime to seeking to control rebel-held territory.

The news comes shortly after fighters from the Al Qaeda-linked group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized control of Azaz, a town in northern Syria, from the rebels fighting for the Free Syrian Army. The Free Syrian Army and the ISIL have since declared a ceasefire in Azaz.

Although members of Assad's opposition are fighting each other Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil told The Guardian in a recent interview that the civil war in Syria is at a stalemate.

From The Guardian:

The Syrian conflict has reached a stalemate and President Bashar al-Assad's government will call for a ceasefire at a long-delayed conference in Geneva on the state's future, the country's deputy prime minister has said in an interview with the Guardian.

Qadri Jamil said that neither side was strong enough to win the conflict, which has lasted two years and caused the death of more than 100,000 people. Jamil, who is in charge of country's finances, also said that the Syrian economy had suffered catastrophic losses.

"Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side," he said. "This zero balance of forces will not change for a while."

The Guardian goes on to report that leaders of Assad's opposition have said that Assad's resignation is a precondition for their participation in a peace conference in Geneva. At this point in the conflict it does not look like there is any chance of Assad willingly stepping down any time soon.

Although there are tensions among elements of Assad's opposition it is worth remembering that despite the differences that exist among those fighting against Assad many of the deaths in the Syrian conflict have not been committed by Syrian forces or their allies. As Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations recently pointed out in Foreign Policy, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights the number of pro-Assad fighters killed during the conflict is more than double the number of those killed fighting against Assad:

Credit: SOHR

However, rebel forces lack the air power, tanks, and artillery that Syrian forces have at their disposal, contributing to the stalemate that Jamil mentioned to The Guardian.  

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  1. AQIM did the same sort of thing in Mali, take up ‘civil administration’ tasks in rebel held towns and force their idea of islamic law on the people. It made the rebels change sides and join with the Government to fight against them because the Tauregs hadn’t rebelled in order to live in an islamist state.

  2. So if Assad is toppled by rebel forces (or well-meaning air strikes or some combination), what fills the power vacuum?

    1. Air? Air power? Solar power?



      I don’t know…



      2. “Our supremacy on Caladan depended on sea and air power. here we must develop something I choose to call desert power. This may include air power, but it’s possible it may not.”

        1. So we need to send thumpers and maker hooks to the rebels?

          1. That, and use the Family Atomics to blast a hole in the an-Nusayriyah Mountains.

  3. …according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights the number of pro-Assad fighters killed during the conflict is more than double the number of those killed fighting against Assad

    But this is totally all Assad’s body count, even if more than half the dead are pro-Assad. He’s killed 100,000 of his own people! John McCain told me so!

    1. It wasn’t good enough for Charlie to take over South Vietnam, oh, no. They had to send McCain back in the bargain, those bastards.

  4. I still don’t know for whom I an supposed to root over there.

    Can McCain and Obama please tell me again? Because it is not at all clear to me. I’m sorry for being such a slow study, but Syria is like the Freshman Calculus of international politics.

    1. On one side, you have the tyrant who’s imposed stability for years by oppressing the people.

      On another side you have his replacement, who’d take a few years before they could impose their stability by inverting the former power structure and oppress a modified subset of the people.

      On a third side you have ‘teh terrorists’ who’d impose islamic law and oppress everybody.

      On a fourth side, you have various enthic minorities who just want to be left alone, but can’t.

      I think there’s a fifth side, but I forget who it is at the moment.

    2. It’s really not so complicated, so long as you remember to check back daily. For example, today you are supposed to be pro-rebel. But in a month or two, when they start to do bad things, you will be informed via the news media who you should root for next.

      1. We have always been at war with East Asia.

      2. Actually, it was just a matter of weeks ago that there was no difference between one rebel group and another…you couldn’t assist one group without assisting Al Qaeda, too…

        Don’t I have that right, Feeney?

        Oh, and I don’t think some of my fellow libertarians who were so against assisting the rebels were doing so any kind of hard and fast principle. They were mostly a) going after anything Obama proposes and b) hoping to avoid a slippery slope to a U.S. invasion of Syria.

        But there are principled libertarians who supported assisting the rebels and wish we would do more now. …at least that’s what I’ve been arguing since day one for a number of reasons. Anyway, now that we’re recognizing some kind of difference between different rebel groups again, maybe we can start talking about this sensibly.

        If some of the groups fighting for their freedom from Assad are identifiably not Al Qaeda, then helping them may be the alternative to a U.S. led invasion–rather than an inevitable slippery slope to a U.S. led invasion.

        I should add that if the sanctions have made Iran burn through all its foreign reserves–and driven Iran to the negotiating table in good faith, then one of the best reasons to support the rebels may no longer hold. Still, as soon as the sanctions are lifted, I’d expect Iran to get back on track with its long range missile and nuclear programs. …at which point, no longer having Assad around will still play into American security interests.

        1. You want to help them out, Ken, you pay for it.

          1. That’s not how it works. IFF arming certain rebels works to protect US citizens, then the government is obliged to do it. That’s what government is for.

          2. Well, again, my argument is that if and when the president came to Congress, within the context of what’s Constitutionally correct, I would argue that it’s in our best security interests to help them.

            Suffice it to say, I think one of the few legitimate functions of our federal government is to protect us from foreign threats; I think Iran presents a real and credible threat to Americans; and I think seeing Assad go would be a real blow to Iran and good news for American security.

            I do see sitting on our hands, doing nothing, and counting on the good will and good sense of the mullahs to use their nuclear warheads and long range missiles responsibly as having the potential to be significantly more expensive than arming the rebels, that’s for sure.

        2. I’m against sending arms but the conflation of the rebels as all AQ is totally disingenious. I expect this from conservatives not libertarians.

          1. The commentariat tends to “simplify” things when it comes to that part of the world, particularly as it relates to the Arab Spring.

            Fucking nuance… how does it work.

            1. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the commentariat oversimplifying things.

              Was it, Feeney.

              1. In that way, I think it’s particularly Syria where our Reason overlords tend to over simplify things.

                Their analysis of the AS in general was pretty good.

                FWIW, I’m against going to war in Syria, but only loosly against arming some of the rebels.

        3. “But there are principled libertarians who supported assisting the rebels and wish we would do more now”

          What “principle” would that be following, meddling in a foreign civil war?

          1. If the government has any legitimate function at all, it’s to protect our rights. We have a police force and criminal courts to protect our rights from criminals. We have a court system that protects our rights from broken contracts and the government! We have a military force that exists to protect our rights from foreign threats…

            Iran represents a foreign threat.

            How’s that for libertarian principle?

            Through their actions (particularly with their mobilization of Hezbollah), and some of their rhetoric, too, Iran has made it clear that they see the Assad regime as crucial to their own security. And why would we libertarians argue with them about that?

            If the government can meet that threat without ever having to engage the Iranians or the Syrians directly, then why wouldn’t we want to do that? Isn’t it better–more libertarian even–not to invade and occupy other countries if we can avoid it?

            Surely, there’s nothing libertarian about opposing people overthrowing a vicious dictator that’s oppressing them–becasue we’re afraid of what they might do with their freedom? I could see if you were worried about them coming after us directly, but there might be a couple good ways to try to avoid that from happening. 1) Be an ally of the rebels, and 2) Avoid assisting groups like Al Qaeda.

        4. That is crazy, Ken. After this debate regarding the war in Syria, it should be clear how crazy this mentality is.

          No one wants war in Syria, period. This is not a situation where voters will hound you out of office if you don’t proceed with action against Syria — to the contrary. The decision is not between invasion and arming the rebels; it’s between doing nothing and arming the rebels. Speaking as a proud interventionist, I say that doing nothing is by far the preferable course of action ATM.

          What does funding and arming the rebels get us? That tactic was understandable in the Cold War to some extent, but in the here and now where Syria has little of interest to American foreign policy objectives it is tossing money away.

          1. “That is crazy, Ken. After this debate regarding the war in Syria, it should be clear how crazy this mentality is.”

            You should see what a slippery slope fallacy that is.

            How many times did we assist various rebel groups and/or regimes during the Cold War–without it leading to a direct occupation on our part?

            Helping those who are fighting against our enemies is not the road to occupation–it’s a substitute for occupation! They’re fighting our enemies so we don’t have to!

            May I ask: what is your plan for dealing with Iran?

            And before you answer, ’cause I’ve gotta go to a meeting, I’d like to point out that Iran didn’t start going full blast on long range missiles and nuclear weapons until we were so bogged down in Iraq–and an Iranian backed party was in effective control of the Iraqi government.

            …which is to say, Iran isn’t doing what it’s doing on nuclear weapons because they’re afraid of us. They’re doing what they’re doing becasue they think we’re so weak right now, that we can’t do anything (but sanctions) about their nuclear program! We need viable threats to Iranian security–that don’t involve sucking US troops into a war.

            And guess what? Syria is rife with threats like that! Iran is terrified that the Arab Spring will become a Persian Summer. And all we gotta do is send some rebels some small weapons?!

          2. Get rid of that slippery slope idea in your head. It’s a fallacy. We never invaded Guatemala or Nicaragua. We never invaded Angola. We didn’t have to! There were other people who were perfectly willing to fight our battles for us. Let’s let them!

  5. Rebel rebel, youve torn your dress
    Rebel rebel, your face is a mess
    Rebel rebel, how could they know?
    Hot tramp, I love you so!

  6. So the article mentions the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian National Coalition, and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. But they’ve left out the Syrian People’s Front, the People’s Front of Syria, the Syrian Popular People’s Front, and the Syrian Popular Front over there.

    1. The Syrian People’s Front?! They are splitters!

  7. So Ken Schulz is really Cytotoxic. Or John. Or…


    FUCK but that’s a lotta nonsense you spewed above, Ken! Stop it!

    1. Actually, John thinks military protection is all or nothing, and Cytotoxic doesn’t really care what we do so long as no one blames America for it.

      I’m not sure not being involved is one of the options. If they develop long range nuclear missile capability–and point those missiles at us or our allies–we’re involved whether we like it or not.

      What I see a lot of my fellow libertarians arguing amounts to pacifism and appeasement–although I don’t think they’ve thought about that. They’re just sick of the Iraq War, sick of Afghanistan, sick of the War on Terror, and sick of the whole military industrial state.

      …but our REAL enemies don’t go away just because we’re sick of the mistakes we’ve made in the past. And, again, regardless of what happened between the US and Iran in the past, they’re our enemy now whether we want that or not. I think we should offer them a free trade agreement–I wish our relationship with Iran was like our relationship with China. But so long as they remain our enemy, we need to continue to treat them as such.

      You know one of the biggest reasons I opposed the Iraq War? Because it was a strategic mistake that strengthened the hand of Iran–ago look in the archives. My objections are all over them going back 9 years or more. Nothing has changed just because Obama and Dubya were idiots. We shouldn’t ignore the threat Iran poses just because Obama and Dubya were idiots.

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