For a while now, the White House has made several remarks about giving some form of military aid to the Syrian opposition. The White House, on June 26, 2014, sent the Congress a request for $500 million “to train and equip vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition to help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control…”
It is worth noting that removing president Assad was not listed as one of the White House’ aims for training and equipping the Syrian opposition. This attempt comes short of U.S’ policy over time that Mr Assad our go.
If the White House is intent on achieving that, and particularly so within the shortest possible time, it must do much more than “training and equipping vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition to help defend the Syrian people”. This plan by itself, if it is eventually carried out, would only protract the civil war and worsen the damage. Clearly, the moderate opposition cannot match president Assad’s forces. And they also have to worry about dealing with the extremists. Even with better weapons and training, the situation might not change enough to win the war, and end the suffering in Syria.
Since the U.S has not signalled willingness change its policy statement on Mr Assad, then it has to provide its own military assets to help achieve its goal. Without these assets deployed to assist the opposition in Libya in 2011, the opposition would never have won. At most, the country would still be locked in violent stalemate. But the situation on the battlefield changed greatly when NATO assets were deployed.
Syria is even more complicated. The U.S-EU community has waited too long to implement their words and in that period of time, extremists and terrorists have sprung up, making the conflict more complicated. Now, the United States would have to do more than just providing air power and missiles to support the opposition and gain a military victory in Syria.
Yes, the United States might easily defeat Assad’s conventional forces, just as it beat Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq in 2003. But after that mission is accomplished, a new mission follows. That is, eliminating extreme elements of the armed opposition. That part of the opposition is said to consist of between 8,000 to 12,000 fighters.
How do you deal with them? I think that would have to be in the same way the Afghan and Iraqi peace building missions have been conducted- with boots on the ground. Not many American citizens would like to hear that now. But if the White House is intent on going the arms way, nothing short of a full scale campaign would decisively turn Syria back into the path of peace and restoration.
Is there no other way? I believe there is. And that starts with the White House revising its ‘Assad-must-go’ policy. The United States can ride on the cooperation president Assad gave in getting his chemical weapons arsenal destroyed as well as the success of the scheme, and try to work closer with him in restoring Syria. Will the opposition accept this? The moderates might, if Assad concedes to share power with them.
The extremists would not accept any such settlements. And they were never going to accept anything short of their own agenda being imposed on Syria. With the United States reconciled to both the moderates and president Assad, we have only one group left to deal with. American boots don’t have be on ground to deal with that. At that time, training and equipping the Syrian army would make a definite impact in eradicating that group. Or at most, the U.S might send them drones.
Whatever pathway the United States, with its European allies, is going to take, it should do so quickly and end the suffering in Syria.