Guest 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?
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.