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GuestsmHBGuest Writer Hamish De Bretton-Gordon asks if humanitarian issues are being submerged under the airstrikes:

The world’s unlikely and tenuous military coalition is pounding ISIL and others, relentlessly, and now with the added precision and vigour of the RAF. Undoubtedly ISIL are been written down but so too are civilians and moderates, accidentally or not. However, the refugee crisis and humanitarian issues are gone from the media spotlight but are a very long way from solved. Now we hear of a mother and her seven children drowned as they try and make the almost impossible winter boat trip to Europe.

4 million or so refugees shiver and hunger in wet and squalid refugee camps. The NGOs and others are doing their utmost to give them the basics to survive. A million or so are spread across Europe as the freezing winter takes hold and upwards of 7 million are displaced in Syria, trying to avoid ISIL. They scrape a sort of life from what can be scavenged off the land like some sort of medieval army in retreat.

The grand strategic plan for the defeat of ISIL and the ‘future’ Syria must cover, in detail, the political, the military and the humanitarian dimensions – but this detail currently appears in short supply. If only some elements are covered, but not all, then there could be a repeat of the mistakes of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was militarily quickly done, but the rest, especially political and humanitarian never really got going. The same could well be the fate in Syria. Militarily, the global coalition should be able to roll up ISIL in a matter of weeks, especially if NATO, including Britain, puts ‘Boots on the Ground’.

Politically, there are some very difficult alliances which needed to be forged and working in short order. Now is the time to put ‘real’ pressure on Russia to control its ally Assad, and stop his needless and murderous barrel bombing of innocent civilians. The ground forces, who are the only ones who will win this war, must be co-ordinated and directed towards the comprehensive defeat of ISIL.

These forces, most likely must include the Syrian Army, but there must be unequivocal declaration by the coalition, especially Russia, that there is no long term position for Assad in Syria.

I write from New York having just come from Geneva and it is the humanitarian side of this global plan which gives me most concern. Here the medical charities UOSSM, and Syria Relief are lobbying the UN and others to not repeat the mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan, where post conflict reconstruction and humanitarian aid appeared to be of the second order, at best.

The Vienna Talks seem to offer a workable framework, with a ceasefire in 6 months and ‘absolutely’ free and fair elections in 18 months. The many Syrians I was with in Geneva, some who travelled out of Syria for the conference, would support this approach, I gauge. The current cessation of hostilities in Homs, might offer hope for the longer term ceasefire, but we shall see. Britain is still a ‘superpower’ on the diplomatic stage and should concentrate of flexing this muscle perhaps rather than others?Syria two

This is all someway off, sadly, and as the winter takes hold in Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean the hope of the refugees in and around Syria is ebbing away. But if we can just get Assad to stop dropping barrel bombs, especially in N Syria where UOSSM runs 32 hospitals and 43 schools, a humanitarian bridgehead can be formed, and meaningful amounts of aid can start flowing into this region of 1500 Km2.

Very simply the moment the barrel bombs stop, NGOs like UOSSM & Syria Relief can redouble their efforts in this area to support millions more, prevent then turning right to ISIL or left to Europe and act as a beacon of hope for the rest of the desperate civilians in Syria; who just want peace, food and hope of a ‘reasonable’ future where their opinions and views will mean something.

Hamish De Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of NATO’s CBRN Regiment, works with charities inside Syria to help the victims of war.


5 Comments on "Syria: Bombing, Feeding, And… Planning?"

  1. What about the split between Shiites and Sunnis . This has a major barring on the various factions and parties to any peace process. I know it is extremely unlikely to happen but is not one of the fundamental causes of the chaos this split and unless the root cause of the conflict is solved this huge humanitarian crisis will never be solved ?

  2. “Britain is still a ‘superpower’ on the diplomatic stage”

    Perhaps you should tell our EU partners this Hamish, the penny doesn’t seem to have dropped with them yet. Seriously, if the UK government can’t even achieve the modest aims it has set itself regarding the EU renegotiations what chance does it have of pushing Russia and Iran down a road they don’t wish to travel. I agree with Tim’s assessment, Assad will probably be replaced in time with a less objectionable autocrat who is still favourable to Russia. In any case a move to democracy if it were to happen so soon after a ruinous civil war would I believe be disastrous for Syria and it’s people. Look at Iraq, where the Sunnis have complained of persecution, this would be nothing on what Syria’s Shia minority could expect so soon after such a conflict which is bound to leave deep scars for generations.

  3. Hamish, you say “Now is the time to put ‘real’ pressure on Russia to control its ally Assad, and stop his needless and murderous barrel bombing of innocent civilians……there must be unequivocal declaration by the coalition, especially Russia, that there is no long term position for Assad in Syria.”

    Clearly if Russia states that Assad must go then Russia will no longer be an ally of Assad so she won’t be able to put any pressure on him as an ‘ally’. Essentially Russia would be joining the western alliance which seems unlikely since Russia is seeking to gain political presence in the region, not lose it.

    On the humanitarian issue, suppose we were to have a private, honest discussion with Assad and we asked him “Why are you bombing your own civilians? What do you hope to achieve by doing so? Can you see a humane way to achieve your objectives without killing or persecuting your civilians?”

    Assuming the discussion to be truly private and Assad was being honest with himself and with us, how would he answer those questions?

  4. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon | 18th December 2015 at 5:27 pm | Reply

    I have spent much of the last 2 months in the Middle East discussing these issues at a high enough level and most still believe the UK has the diplomatic clout to make a difference and should be more demonstrative in this area.
    My experience in NW Syria especially this year leads me to the assertion that if we could get Assad to stop barrel bombing we could realistically start this humanitarian ‘bridgehead’ tomorrow rather than wait 6 months for Vienna ceasefire.
    I was at the UN yesterday discussing these issues and they don’t see progress unless the UK and the rest of the P5 can reign Assad in. As ISIL is defeated this bridgehead can expand… my opinion!

  5. Hamish, I don’t have any specialist knowledge however, I have fears. Daesh is a vile organisation but I respect it for its tactical and strategic planning and its military success so far. This is not a rabble-army; this force is led by highly-trained soldiers with experience of conventional warfare. It differs from other fanatical groups that have no territory and which are therefore forced to use ‘asymmetric’ or ‘terrorist’ warfare. Territory is the difference. Daesh has territory. Fundamental Islam has been coming up the Nile from the Sudan, branching out as it goes, since the 1980s if not before. It was inevitable that it would reach N. Africa, Arabia and Mediterranean region particularly after the fall of the Shah. You could say ‘long foretold’…..

    Since Daesh has territory it has been able to declare itself a caliphate, with a caliph. You cannot have a caliphate without territory; it is not possible by definition of the word ‘caliphate’. Suppose we do take all the territory from Daesh? Daesh would cease to be a caliphate and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would no longer be the caliph.

    Daesh has been goading the western alliance into attacking at least since June 2014 when it declared itself a caliphate. Everything they do says “Send your soldiers to attack us….if you dare”. So the present action by the western alliance must have been expected and planned for. Are we falling into some ghastly trap?

    Meanwhile, what is Russia playing at? What understanding(s) does she have with the players in the region? At present Russia is fighting against Daesh which is “A Good Thing”. However at some stage either Daesh will be defeated as a conventional army and revert to asymmetric warfare, losing the ‘caliphate’ status in the eyes of the world’s Moslems, or it will do something it planned all along. At this time, Russia is presumably talking to Assad (and/or the other parties she has an understanding with) leaving the western alliance facing off Assad with Daesh either in the ‘hills’ or having retreated to some small area such as a single town/region. Assad continues to be Assad and continues with its existing policies, unacceptable to the west. Russia backs Assad. Militarily, the western alliance is fighting a proxy war on the ground and air cover. Russia, likewise, is fighting a proxy war supporting Assad and his forces. Russia facing the western alliance albeit both by proxy, for now.

    The Koran prophesies that the final battle, the Apocalypse, is to take place in Dabiq, Syria. I seem to recall that Daesh made a video about a year ago inviting the USA to Dabiq for the battle? Goading, rather than inviting, I suppose. Daesh is totally on-message when it comes to the Koran. Yes, you can say that it’s just their interpretation but I have read the relevant verses (albeit in English) and Daesh seems to be playing it straight. Surely that is going to gain support from fundamental Sunnis around the region?

    So forgive me if I don’t (yet) whoop with joy at any prediction that Daesh is nearly finished, much as I would like to believe it. This enemy is dangerous, well-trained, well-led and reasonably well-equipped. It is also highly motivated as only a religiously fanatical army can be.

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