De VS en Rusland hebben afspraken gemaakt over een gedeeltelijke wapenstilstand in Syrië in combinatie met een gezamenlijk (lucht)offensief tegen onder meer IS en Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (voorheen: Jabhat al-Nusra):
The plan will begin with a “cessation of hostilities” from sunset on Monday. Syrian forces will end combat missions in specified opposition-held areas.
Russia and the US will then establish a joint centre to combat jihadist groups, including so-called Islamic State (IS). […]
The accord also provides for humanitarian access.
“The cessation of hostilities requires access to all besieged and hard-to-reach areas, including Aleppo,” Mr Kerry said.
Was ik gisteren te pessimistisch met betrekking tot mijn inschatting van de toestand in Syrië? Laten we het hopen.
Aan de andere kant: er zijn eerder wapenstilstanden geweest waar uiteindelijk weinig van terecht kwam. Daarnaast is het nog maar de vraag in hoeverre de VS en Rusland daadwerkelijk controle hebben over hun proxies; én in hoeverre die proxies überhaupt controle hebben over zichzelf. Het bewind van Assad, bijvoorbeeld, is eerder gijzelaar dan controleur van een van zijn belangrijkste militaire eenheden, de zogenaamde Tiger Forces:
Those following the Syrian Civil War closely will be familiar with two mobile formations responsible for most of the regime’s heavy lifting. They are the so-called “Tiger Forces” and the “Desert Hawks” (tracking regime militias has really become an exercise in taxonomy — mostly birds and big cats), currently operating in Aleppo and Latakia respectively. These units function as a kind of armed fire brigade: rushing across the country, putting out local conflagrations and rebel offensives, while on occasion leading their own offensives. In those cases, and much like the opposition, they assemble a curious collection of local warlords, regime remnants, and foreign support into temporary alliances and operations rooms.
As an introduction to the Tiger Forces, we can turn to Robert Fisk’s fawning account of his “audience with […] Bashar al-Assad’s favorite soldier,” Suheil Hassan, who leads the Tiger Forces. Hassan is an officer of the regime’s feared Air Force Intelligence Directorate. Besides leading what is said to be the government’s most elite fighting force, he is also thought to be one of the architects of Assad’s scorched earth and barrel-bombing campaign. Hassan enjoys almost cult-like popularity among regime supporters.
The real story of the Tiger Forces is far less glamourous, yet far more instructive to those trying to understand the regime. During the early days of the uprising against Assad, Hassan coordinated the suppression of protests in Hama, an effort that relied on a collection of ordinary thugs, air force officers, and area tribal leaders. His effectiveness was found in his ability to rally local support rather than depending on the already crumbling state institutions. In due time, this early network of enforcers would evolve into the so-called Tiger Forces. While the unit has since developed a more stable core of permanent quasi-soldiers, Tiger loyalists today still hail from a vast web of militias, criminals, and smugglers stretching across Syria’s central and arguably most strategic province of Hama. Many of his direct subordinates have become notorious throughout the country for brigandage, smuggling activity, and general lawlessness. Earlier this year, Ali Shelly, a powerful thug from the town of Tell Salhab who is directly responsible to Hassan, pushed his abuses to the point where the regime finally had him arrested and thrown in jail. However, within days, Shelly was released and returned to the frontline.
Such incidents should be seen as more than mere bureaucratic infighting over corruption. According to interviews I’ve conducted, Hassan loyalist warlords are widely known to smuggle guns, people, and oil to ISIL and opposition territory, directly undermining the regime’s war effort. But the central government has little choice but to look on helplessly. A report in my possession by the Syrian Arab Army’s provincial security council from last month details a recent instance where Shelly’s forces were caught with truckloads of smuggled weapons hidden underneath bags of wheat. They engaged in a prolonged gun-battle with state security forces. And they suffered no consequences. You might wonder why. The answer is fairly simple: There is no force loyal to Damascus today that is strong enough bring these brigands in line. A few days later, five military intelligence soldiers were killed in an ambush laid against them on the Shelly gang’s turf in the southern al-Ghab plain. A number of state institutions have been desperately trying to contain the Tiger Forces. There have been persistent rumors that at least one of the multiple assassination attempts against Hassan himself originated in the Military Intelligence headquarters.
En dan zijn er ook nog Turkije, de Koerden, Saoedi-Arabië en de Golfstaten, Iran en Hezbollah …
Het is dus niet vreemd om pessimistisch te zijn:
A Syrian general at the ministry of defence told me they were well aware that the war in Lebanon a generation ago had lasted 16 years.
This one, he said, was much more complicated so there could be at least another 10 years of bloodshed.
Dat alles neemt natuurlijk niet weg dat de ommekeer ooit zal moeten komen.