Following John Kerry’s support for a Syrian No Fly Zone, Hamish De Bretton Gordon OBE repeats his yearlong plea to implement it – now.
“The intensified bombing campaign in eastern Aleppo by the Russians and Syrians since the Russians destroyed the UN aid convoy is nothing short of Armageddon.
It appears that every weapon is being used; from cluster munitions, incendiary devices, barrel bombs, which are illegal under international law, to bunker busting bombs and high explosives, again with a particular emphasis on the few hospitals remaining and women and children. There appears to be a scorched earth policy with absolutely no regard for human life with the aim being to raze eastern Aleppo to the ground until everybody is dead or has fled.
The story is reminiscent of Stalingrad in WW2, and the Russians would do well to consider the ‘shock’ of Stalingrad on the Russian character, as they enable the Syrian Regime to repeat this in Aleppo. The International Syria Support Group (ISSG) plans to meet in Geneva next week. It must consider the US call for a No Fly Zone.
An NFZ and an aircraft tracking system, which the UK could lead, could then at the least ‘Name and Shame’ those bombing hospitals and aid convoys. It is the only hope to stop the genocide unfolding in front of our eyes in Aleppo. The UK and US should also seriously consider air drops of medical supplies and food basics like milk powder to try and save those who are not being blown apart.
Would Russia have bombed the aid convoy if it knew that there was a mechanism in place to Name and Shame those attacking hospitals, aid convoys and innocent women and children? I am sure the self-perceived global statesman in Putin would not like to be exposed as the perpetrator of such evil? Axiomatically, this type of system would have prevented the misguided attack on the Syrian Army positions near Deir Ezzor over the weekend. The Russian observer at the ‘Tracking Centre’ would no doubt have pointed this out?
The technicalities of tracking are already in place with Coalition and Russian airspace control commands, which currently prevents jets flying into each other over Syria as they allegedly jointly attack ISIS. Unilaterally, the UK, if minded, could run such a system with AWACS (aircraft control planes) and naval based radar in the region. There is no need for any ‘boots on the ground’.
Over 400,000 civilians have died in Syria in the 5 years of fighting, the vast majority from illegal and indiscriminate barrel bombs. These are large barrels full of high explosives, chemical weapons or napalm which are casually pushed out of aircraft at around 3000ft and fall where they fall. I was at our UOSSM, main hospital in Bab Al Hawa in Oct 2014 when 5 ambulances arrived from Aleppo with 27 children. A high explosive barrel bomb landed in their school playground – they all died. There is no reason for Syrian Army helicopters to fly over civilian areas, they only do this to drop barrel bombs. A No Fly Zone for helicopters over civilian areas would stop this..dead. It is relatively easy to track slow moving helicopters and either warn them off if they approach controlled areas or destroy them in the air, or on the ground, if they subsequently drop barrel bombs.
No meaningful aid is getting to any rebel areas and there are 17 besieged towns with around 1 million starving. In Madaya, allegedly, 75 people died from malnutrition this summer, in Daraya 15 teenagers have committed suicide due to hunger and the bombings. The head Psychologist at UOSSM recently stated that 75% of children between 7-13 years old in rebel held areas suffer from PTSD, and 50% of them are incontinent because of this – what a desperate legacy we are collectively building for the children of Syria. It is evident that trucks full of aid are not the current solution and we must try aircraft full of aid instead. A C17 jet can drop 60 tonnes of aid each run, and the RAF base in Cyprus is only a 30 minute hop to Aleppo. Some of the aid may fall into the wrong hands..so what? There are still town councils on the ground in most Syrian towns and cities who are ready and willing to distribute this aid, and to the most needy first.
However, desperate and intractable things might seem at the moment, there are some lateral options, which don’t necessarily mean more killing, which the ISSG meeting in Geneva next could put in place forthwith. It looks like John Kerry is advocating to the idea of a No Fly Zone, and if Britain is want, we have the assets and expertise in the Region today to put these measures in place ourselves; I gauge, I hope, we have the steel in the new Prime Minister and the lateral mind of the new Foreign Secretary to make this happen.”
Hamish De Bretton Gordon is helping and advising civilians in Syria on chemical weapons matters on behalf of a number of NGOs and has deployed to the region several times since the conflict began.