…..perhaps someone should inform the CIA
By Nigel Chamberlain, NATO Watch
Britain and France failed to persuade EU Foreign Ministers at their weekend meeting in Dublin to agree to lift the arms ban and provide direct military support for the forces fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
William Hague, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, said that there is a very strong case for lifting the embargo but Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that introducing more guns would lead to more casualties. They were also concerns raised about radical Islamist groups acquiring armaments from any EU supplies.
The EU arms embargo was relaxed last month to allow the supply of non-lethal military equipment with Britain sending body armour and armoured cars right away. Baroness Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, said: "The European Union is united on the need to find a political solution to end the trouble in Syria and to support the people in the future they aspire to". The EU is now considering the best way to help the Syrian rebels through economic and political support.
Earlier last week Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, described Syria as a humanitarian crisis that is “dramatic beyond description” and a country and people so destroyed that they could take years to recover under the best of circumstances. It has been estimated that 3.6 million people have been displaced internally by Syria’s civil war and that there may be 1 million refugees each in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon by the end of 2013. It is believed that 70,000 people may have died already. Guterres said that: “UNHCR and its partners have received less than 30 percent of the funding we need to assist the current number of refugees, let alone those who are yet to come”.
In remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations, Carl Levin, Chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee said President Obama’s goal of organizing a political alternative to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the right objective. But he suggested the need for possible additional action:
I would go somewhat further than the President. I would, for instance, help Turkey, if they’re willing — and I think they are — to establish a protected zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. [I] would go after some Syrian air defences and after some of the Syrian air power.
With help from the CIA, Turkey and some Arab governments have already sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s rebels in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising according to a detailed report in the New York Times.
Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), told the Senate Armed Services Committee that a number of NATO Member States are looking at a variety of military operations to end the deadlock and assist the opposition forces, including using aircraft to impose a no-fly zone, providing military assistance to the rebels and imposing arms embargoes. And while “it has not yet come into NATO as an overall NATO-type approach … we are prepared if called upon to be engaged as we were in Libya”. Asked by the Chairman whether there is any consideration of targeting Syria’s air defenses, Stavridis simply said “yes”.
During an exchange with Senator John McCain, Stavridis said the Patriot batteries now deployed in Turkey could be positioned in such a way as to shoot down Syrian aircraft, and he indicated that doing so would be a powerful disincentive for pilots to fly in that area but such a move would require consensus among NATO’s members — “and we’re far from that”. However, Stavridis said that he felt providing military assistance to the Syrian opposition “would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the Assad regime”.
There have been unverified reports of the use of chemical weapons by President Assad’s forces. President Obama has declared the use, deployment or transfer of Syria’s stockpile of weapons to be his ‘red line’ for possible military intervention. Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said he supported the deployment of US troops to Syria to secure the stockpile of chemical weapons. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that information from opposition groups about the possible use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces was "extremely dangerous”.
Senators Bob Casey and Marco Rubio have offered a bipartisan measure that would provide non-lethal aid such as body armour and communications equipment to vetted Syrian opposition groups but left open the possibility of arming the rebels at a later date. Reflecting Russian concerns, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned against foreign interference in the affairs of other nations during a speech in Moscow on Saturday.
Mouaz al-Khatib, President of the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution since its formation in November 2012, announced his resignation on Sunday 24 March due to insufficient international support for those seeking to overthrow President Assad.