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An Enhanced Train-and-Equip Program for the Moderate Syrian Opposition

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An Enhanced Train-and-Equip Program for the Moderate Syrian Opposition

  1. 1. AN ENHANCED TRAIN-AND-EQUIP PROGRAM FOR THE MODERATE SYRIAN OPPOSITION A Key Element of U.S. Policy in Syria and Iraq Michael Eisenstadt and Jeffrey White MILITARY AND SECURITY STUDIES PROGRAM THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE
  2. 2. INTRODUCTION The Obama administration’s decision in June to ask Congress for $500 million to train and equip vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition signals a potential turning point in U.S. policy. • The declared goal of this effort is to “help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats, and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement.” The request follows a series of major U.S. policy setbacks in the Middle East, including the Bashar al-Assad regime’s success in turning the tide against the armed opposition, making the former’s survival much more likely, and the recent seizure of large swaths of eastern Syrian and northern Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which the group could use as a springboard to move against Baghdad, threaten Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and launch terrorist attacks overseas. These developments have undermined U.S. interests by:  Strengthening the perception, among friends and foes, that the United States has suffered a strategic defeat  Reviving the threat of terrorism emanating from the region, or from returning foreign fighters  Contributing to the consolidation of a pro-Iran axis in the Levant and the expansion of Iranian influence in the region  Exacerbating sectarian tensions and generating large refugee flows that are destabilizing the region  Increasing the likelihood that an overconfident Syria, Hezbollah, or Iran might engage in adventurism Until now, lethal U.S. support for the Syrian opposition has been limited to a small, covert train-and-equip effort. The administration has characterized the alternative as a ground war in Syria and has ruled out direct U.S. military intervention. In fact, between “not in” and “all in,” the United States has a range of military options (see next slide). An enhanced train-and-equip program constitutes a middle way that would avoid direct military intervention. Whatever risks it might entail likely pale in comparison to the demonstrable costs of the policy the administration has pursued until now. Such a program could enable the United States to shape the conduct, and perhaps the outcome, of the war by altering the military balance within the opposition (between moderate and extremist groups), and between the opposition and the regime. And it offers the prospect of stemming ISIS advances in Syria and Iraq, and preventing a regime victory in Syria that would strike a blow to U.S. interests. © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 2/21
  3. 3. Requires coalition effort FORCE RISK Requires support of American people Heightened potential for tensions with other key actors POLICY OBJECTIVES 1. Strengthen moderate opposition to set conditions for a diplomatic solution to Syria’s civil war 2. Put pressure on ISIS safe haven in eastern Syria, forcing it to draw down in Iraq and relieve pressure on Maliki govt. 3. Deter adventurism beyond Syria’s borders by an overconfident regime 4. Pressure Syria to eliminate residual CW capabilities and deter future use 5. Provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people SYRIA: U.S. MILITARY OPTIONS DENY ASSAD REGIME ACCESS TO FINANCIAL ASSETS ENHANCE CREDIBILITY OF THREAT OF FORCE TO INCREASE PRESSURE ON REGIME TRAIN/EQUIP MODERATE OPPOSITION DISRUPT FLOW OF FOREIGN ARMS TO REGIME DRONE STRIKES ON JIHADIST GROUPS STRIKE KEY REGIME TACTICAL MILITARY UNITS STRIKE KEY REGIME STRATEGIC MILITARY AND ECONOMIC TARGETS STRIKE/SECURE RESIDUAL CW CAPABILITIES NFZs AND HUMANITARIAN SAFE HAVENS
  4. 4. SITUATION ASSESSMENT The Syrian Regime remains committed to military victory rather than a diplomatic solution. It retains its cohesion and remains critically dependent on the support of key allies (Russia, Iran, Hezbollah). Its forces enjoy a marginal military edge over opposition forces, and it wins battles when it can concentrate forces and firepower. However, manpower shortages limit its capabilities, and perhaps its staying power. The Syrian Opposition’s political leadership remains divided and poorly connected to its military leadership. Opposition forces lack overall strategic coordination, reducing their ability to oppose regime forces—though there is tactical cooperation. However, nearly all are at odds with ISIS. Opposition forces have gained capability through increased cooperation and acquisition of heavy weapons, and they are capable of gaining and holding ground in areas the regime does not view as central to the war. The war is now primarily one of attrition and positions; there are no decisive battles of national consequence. Local and sub-provincial battle and maneuver dominate, and each side aims to inflict losses on the other and seize tactically important positions. The regime is strongest in the heavily populated western third of the country: in the Damascus region (the capital and the surrounding countryside), the coast (Latakia and Tartus), Homs, and al-Suwayda (six of fourteen provinces; see map on next slide). The opposition is strongest in the periphery—in the south (Quneitra, Deraa), the north (Idlib and Aleppo), and the east (Raqqa, Deir al- Zour) (six of fourteen provinces). In Hama province it is unclear who holds the advantage. The regime has largely, but not completely, ceded Hasaka province to the Kurds, and ISIS is increasing its presence and activity there. Moderate opposition forces appear to be strongest in Aleppo, Idlib, and Deraa provinces. The Islamic Front operates in ten provinces but appears strongest in the Damascus region and Aleppo. ISIS is strongest in Raqqa, Deir al-Zour, and Hasaka provinces. It is trying to establish a presence in the Damascus area. ISIS is attempting to exploit its success in Iraq by expanding its area of control in Syria, including through the use of captured Iraqi army equipment. © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 4/21
  5. 5. SITUATION ASSESSMENT AS OF JULY 1, 2014 © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 5/21
  6. 6. SCOPE AND NATURE OF THE CONFLICT The Syrian civil war is a nationwide conflict fought primarily at the sub-provincial and local levels. The regime effort is centrally directed, which enables it to prioritize where it will fight, and with what forces. This is a key regime advantage. The Syrian opposition is a disparate insurgency conducting a war of attrition against an entrenched regime and its Iranian, Lebanese, and Iraqi allies. But there is no overall opposition plan, strategy, or command structure. The regime’s approach:  Suppress/eliminate the opposition thru a combination of military and security operations and population control measures; depopulate opposition-controlled areas through barrel bombs and “surrender or starve” tactics  Reassert its control over the country’s urban spine in the west of the country, as a prelude toward restoring control over the entire country  Priorities: 1) control of the Damascus region and the coastal provinces and their approaches; 2) Homs; 3) Aleppo and its southern approaches, and; 4) defend its presence in key locations in all provinces, to the extent possible.  Maintain lines of communication to key cities and regions The opposition’s approach:  The opposition is fractured and lacks a coherent strategy other than the military defeat of the regime  It operates in a loosely coordinated fashion within Syria’s provinces, not as a centrally directed force  Battles, operations, and logistics are negotiated among opposition groups  The opposition has gained ground in areas the regime considers of lesser importance  Under stress, cooperation can and does break down (e.g., al-Qusayr in May-June 2013, Latakia in August 2013, June 2014)  Moderate and moderate Islamist opposition forces are fighting a two-front war against the regime and ISIS, dividing their effort and resources © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 6/21
  7. 7. CONFLICT DYNAMICS The regime relies on direct assault, bombardment, subversion, and siege (“surrender or starve”) tactics to break opposition resistance. It is capable of mounting serious, sustained operations of several weeks’ duration for strategic objectives (seizure of major urban areas, securing key regions), as in Aleppo, Rif Damascus, Homs, and Latakia provinces over the past year. Moreover, the regime has an established logistics system, and regime forces appear well supplied with arms and ammunition. Since 2013, it has come to rely especially on Hezbollah for high-quality infantry. Most opposition-initiated actions are limited, localized engagements/battles/campaigns for key positions, to inflict attrition, and to control lines of communication (LOCs). Opposition actions can involve tens of units and up to several thousand personnel with small numbers of heavy weapons (tanks, other armored vehicles, field artillery). The opposition is at a significant firepower disadvantage because of the regime’s numbers of heavy weapons, including tanks, field artillery, missiles, and aircraft. Increasing cooperation among opposition units has, however, allowed them to undertake operations of broader scope, with more important objectives. The opposition is often successful in seizing regime positions, especially when they are isolated and the regime does not support the defenders, as witnessed in Quneitra and Deraa provinces recently. The ability to sustain operations is a constraint for opposition forces as they do not have a real logistics system. This was one of the causes of their recent defeat in northern Latakia province. Both sides are suffering significant losses in men and equipment; ability to recruit and train forces is increasingly important.  Regime losing about 80 KIA per day  Opposition losing about 100 KIA per day Both sides rely on foreign fighters to mitigate effects of attrition.  Important for regime’s “way of war,” but also creates tensions within the regime’s coalition  Important for opposition, but also creates tensions and conflict in opposition ranks The opposition appeared to be headed toward military victory until the intervention in early-mid 2013 of Hezbollah forces, Iraqi militias, and Iranian advisors turned the tide of battle in favor of the regime. This enabled the regime and its supporters to regain territory through counter- offensives in al-Qusayr (April-June 2013), Qalamoun (November 2013-April 2014), northern Latakia (March-June 2014), and the siege of Homs (May 2011-May 2014). The war is a complex mosaic of opposition and regime defeats and losses, but there is a danger that the regime will wear the opposition down over time. Moreover, the role of the moderate opposition has increasingly been eclipsed since 2012 by extreme Salafi-jihadist groups due to their better financing (enabling them to pay for food, weapons, ammo, and salaries). © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 7/21
  8. 8. REGIME AND OPPOSITION STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES Regime Strengths  Central direction of effort  Large inventory of heavy weapons (tanks/AFVs, artillery, AAA guns)  Well-developed logistical system and lines of communication  Mobilization of its support base (especially Alawites) and allied minorities (Christians, Druze, Ismailis) for battle  Sectarian polarization has enhanced motivation and solidarity of its forces  Large and increasingly effective irregular forces (National Defense Forces, Popular Committees, local militias)  Committed allies (Russia, Iran, Hezbollah) Regime Weaknesses  Insufficient numbers of trained, motivated fighters due to the narrow core demographic base of the regime (Alawites and minority allies are no more than 25 percent of population)  Forces are dispersed throughout the country and are stretched thin with few reserves (except for foreign allies)  Reliance on foreign allies whose long-term commitment is uncertain  Complex nature of forces (regular/irregular, Syrian/foreign) creates C3 and cohesion issues Opposition Strengths  Broad demographic base: 75% of Syrian population  Large numbers of personnel and combat formations  Strong motivation based on hatred of the regime, due to its brutality  Combat experience gained in more than three years of fighting  Growing numbers of heavy weapons and the ability to use them  Active in 12 of 14 provinces, forcing regime to fight everywhere  External bases of support in the region and Europe, though assistance is limited in scope and nature, and is inconsistent Opposition Weaknesses  Lack of effective overarching military and political organization  Lack of national-level strategy, lack of unified command structure for field forces, lack of unity of effort  Firepower disadvantage relative to regime forces  Lack of formally trained manpower: commanders, staffs, specialist troops  Tension/conflict caused by extremist foreign fighters © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 8/21
  9. 9. WHAT IS TO BE DONE? The moderate Syrian opposition is not likely to “win,” and the U.S. is almost certainly not going to “solve,” Syria’s civil war—at least not any time soon. But those should not be the criteria by which the utility and value of an enhanced train-and-equip program are assessed. Such a program could enable the United States to secure its vital interests and mitigate some negative impacts of the Syrian civil war, without direct U.S. intervention. More specifically, it could enable the United States to:  Build up the moderate opposition as an alternative to Salafi-jihadist opposition groups and, potentially, to the Assad regime.  Offer the regime the choice between a ruinous, open-ended conflict and a diplomatic solution.  Maintain pressure on the Assad regime, Hezbollah, and Iran, to deter adventurism on their part.  Cause ISIS to draw down its forces in Iraq in order to counter the challenge to its position in Syria, thereby relieving pressure on the Nouri al-Maliki government.  Demonstrate to Iran the costs of IRGC Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani’s regional policies, and that the United States will defend its vital interests even while engaged in nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic. Even if the moderate opposition proves unable to do much more than it is currently doing, it could maintain pressure on the Assad regime and tie down the forces of its Iranian, Hezbollah, and perhaps Iraqi Shiite allies, thereby limiting their ability to engage in activities or adventurism elsewhere. If the moderate opposition proves more capable, the train-and-equip effort could be further expanded, and its goals adjusted, to pressure the Assad regime to reconsider its rejection of a diplomatic solution to the civil war. If the regime still proves unwilling to negotiate, and the moderate opposition proves capable of holding and effectively governing liberated areas, replacement of the regime might become a viable option. Finally, if the moderate opposition proves incapable of meeting any of these expectations, the effort could be scaled back or terminated— though it might prove difficult for the administration to pull the plug after having doubled down on the opposition. © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 9/21
  10. 10. SUPPORT TO DATE FOR MODERATE OPPOSITION AND SYRIAN PEOPLE Various forms of support have been provided by many states, international organizations, and NGOs, making it difficult to catalogue. U.S. support includes diplomatic, informational, military, and humanitarian assistance: Diplomatic: political support, advice and assistance, and antiregime public diplomacy  Support for establishment of “Friends of Syria Group” (February 2012) to support the Syrian opposition and pressure Assad regime  Support for implementation of Geneva Communique of June 2012 calling for negotiated halt to fighting and creation of Transitional Governing Body for Syria  Recognition of Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) as a foreign mission, enhancing its legitimacy and facilitating its overseas activities  Designation of al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra as a foreign terrorist organization (to bolster the moderate opposition)  Efforts to enhance governmental capacity-building in liberated areas of Syria Informational: support for Syrian independent media, including radio/TV stations, independent journalists, bloggers, and cyber-activists Military: nonlethal assistance and limited lethal assistance (includes both U.S. covert assistance and assistance provided by others in coordination with the United States)  Nonlethal assistance (e.g., food, medical kits, communications equipment, vehicles, civil/chemical defense items) • More than $287 million allocated by United States to the SOC • More than $70 million allocated in coordination with the Supreme Military Council (SMC) to the Free Syrian Army and moderate SMC elements  Limited lethal assistance (though some has found its way to extremist groups) • Small arms and ammo, recoilless rifles, mortars • ATGMs (Russian, Chinese, and U.S. TOW systems) • MANPADS have been supplied in limited numbers, though likely without U.S. consent  Training: individual and small-unit skills, in small numbers (likely not more than 1,000-2,000 fighters) Humanitarian: U.S. assistance to date—$1.7 billion (largest of any single donor) to individuals in Syria, and refugees and host communities in neighboring states.  Food, medicine, hygiene kits  Shelter  Winterization materials  CW antidote kits, protective gear  Educational kits for schools © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 10/21
  11. 11. ASSESSMENT OF U.S. SUPPORT TO DATE Assessment of U.S. assistance to the Syrian opposition and the Syrian people:  U.S. assistance has been significant, but not commensurate with the stakes for the United States, which can do more to shape events and perhaps outcomes.  U.S. support (and that of its friends) has been far less than that provided to the Assad regime by Iran and Russia.  U.S. policy of restraint has come at a high cost—including the emergence of an extremist ISIS state spanning eastern Syria and northern Iraq.  Measures of performance (outputs) pertaining to humanitarian assistance are abundant, but measures of effectiveness (outcomes) are hard to come by.  The Obama administration’s decision in June 2014 to ask Congress for $500 million to train and equip vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition could allow for a dramatic expansion of this effort.  The administration’s avowed goal is to “help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats, and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement.”  The administration is also asking Congress for $1 billion to promote stability in Syria’s neighbors—Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq—by strengthening internal and border security capabilities and supporting communities hosting refugees. © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 11/21
  12. 12. ENHANCED TRAIN-AND-EQUIP PROGRAM An enhanced train-and-equip program should strengthen the moderate opposition by transferring large amounts of arms and equipment, providing more advanced training, and improving command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I) and logistics capabilities via a unified assistance mechanism. Military assistance, as described above, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. An enhanced train-and-equip effort should take a comprehensive approach that also strengthens the opposition’s political and informational capabilities, while staunching and disrupting the recruitment of fighters by Salafi-jihadist groups. LETHAL ASSISTANCE. More arms of all types, especially mortars/artillery, antiarmor weapons (recoilless rifles, RPGs, antitank guided missiles), and antiaircraft artillery.  Mortars can be used in artillery raids on air bases and regime military facilities, and can help the opposition seize regime positions  Antiaircraft artillery can be effective against regime helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft used in strike operations, if operators have sufficient training  MANPADS—small numbers under vetted supervision could have a disproportionate impact on regime calculations and military effectiveness (by downing aircraft or forcing them to deliver ordnance from higher altitudes) Recipients of U.S. arms can be required to videotape their operations to evaluate their tactical performance, account for use of sensitive munitions, and monitor operations for violations of the law of armed conflict. Resupply could be made contingent on provision of such videos.  Many groups are already used to filming their operations to satisfy wealthy benefactors  Other accounting measures include returning used missile canisters Finally, the opposition’s chemical weapon defense capabilities should be bolstered, and the civilian population instructed in expedient defensives measures. TRAINING. More sophisticated instruction in the employment of weapons and small-unit tactics (e.g., complex ambushes, assaults on fortified positions, mortar/artillery raids, antiaircraft ambushes, airfield interdiction operations).  Better training in the use of antiaircraft artillery can compensate for restraint in the supply of MANPADS. © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 12/21
  13. 13. ENHANCED TRAIN-AND-EQUIP PROGRAM (CONT.) C3I. A mechanism and ability to plan and coordinate operations and campaigns on the regional and national levels (in particular, operations in northern and southern Syria, which currently are not coordinated), as well as the ability to identify and exploit regime vulnerabilities and provide adequate advance warning of regime military operations  Counterintelligence capabilities to help vet new recruits and prevent penetration of moderate groups by extremists and regime. LOGISTICS. More vehicles, a maintenance and repair capability, more war material (e.g., ammunition, food, medical supplies, and spare parts), and a unified logistics system, which would allow the opposition to prioritize support among constituent groups based on operational needs. UNIFIED ASSISTANCE MECHANISM. A fragmented train-and-equip effort—in which different donors supply arms to different groups through disparate channels—has reinforced the fragmentation of the opposition; a unified effort will at least ensure that the assistance mechanism does not exacerbate the problem. POLITICAL ORGANIZATION. Insurgency is primarily a political form of warfare, and the United States must help the moderate opposition create a credible, inclusive political organization that can work with the military opposition and ensure that it acts with unity of purpose, that can out-recruit extremist opposition groups, and that can effectively govern liberated areas.  Leadership is key: currently, there is no charismatic, national-level leader to unite the opposition  Organization is essential: liberated areas must be governed effectively  Money is ammunition: it can be used to cultivate a following, as people will follow the money—though what can be done with money, can be undone with money. Thus, recruits/returnees must be wedded to the cause by the belief that they are on the winning team. • Jabhat al-Nusra has used this tactic with success to draw away personnel from more moderate groups INFORMATION ACTIVITIES. Psychological warfare and propaganda are critical in insurgency. To this end, the United States should bolster the moderate opposition’s profile, magnify its military achievements (to help recruitment), discredit extreme opposition groups, and undermine regime morale by creating the perception of growing military momentum and inevitable victory. © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 13/21
  14. 14. ENHANCED TRAIN-AND-EQUIP PROGRAM (CONT.) DISRUPTION OF EXTREMIST RECRUITING. Efforts to build up the moderate opposition should be accompanied by efforts to reduce the flow of fighters to extremist opposition groups by countering the radicalization of Syrian communities and interdicting Sunni foreign fighters en route to Syria. The vast scope of this problem, however, poses formidable challenges, as 9 million Syrians have become internally displaced or refugees.  Hence, a targeted approach focusing on at-risk groups is required, emphasizing counterradicalization, education, and employment opportunities for those who might otherwise be tempted by the promise of a salary to join extremist opposition groups © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 14/21
  15. 15. OPPOSITION STRATEGY AND CAMPAIGN PLANNING: KEY CONSIDERATIONS Insurgency is primarily a political form of war; military victories are therefore a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. Small opposition successes should be magnified by information activities and used to recruit new members, marginalize extremist groups, and create a perception of inevitable victory. Opposition operations should exploit regime vulnerabilities and neutralize its strengths, especially:  The regime’s sensitivity to the situation around Damascus and its lack of depth in this sector (due to proximity of opposition enclaves in Deraa and the Golan)  Its forces are overstretched; simultaneous opposition offensives in multiple sectors could force it to cede ground (this would be greatly facilitated by a national military command for the opposition)  Its forces are dependent for resupply and reinforcement on vulnerable ground and air lines of communication  It is heavily reliant on foreign allies (Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite militias, and Iran) whose tolerance for casualties may be limited • The ISIS threat is forcing the redeployment of these allied foreign forces to Iraq • Attrition of regime forces could force the Syrian government to become even more reliant on these allies, at a time when they are also needed elsewhere (i.e., Iraq)  The regime’s manpower base may not be sufficient for a prolonged war of attrition; Syria’s refugee population alone can probably provide more new fighters than all of the remaining Alawites  The regime’s standoff firepower advantage can be partially countered by ATGM hunter-killer teams, counter-battery fire, raids on airfields, and antiaircraft artillery ambushes  Develop CW defense capability (protective gear, medical equipment and medicine, training) and publicize ongoing regime use of CW  Exploit tensions/gaps within regime forces: sectarian fault lines, Syrians vs. foreigners, indiscipline of irregular regime forces  Information activities should be a central element in all operations, to alter the psychological dynamic © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 15/21
  16. 16. OPPOSITION STRATEGY AND CAMPAIGN PLANNING: KEY CONSIDERATIONS (CONT.) OPERATIONAL DESIGN OPTIONS  EXPANDING INKSPOTS. Exploit dispersion of opposition forces across the provinces to create centers of effective resistance, forcing the regime to disperse its effort  Pros: Opposition forces are already dispersed—this approach would take advantage of that fact; regime forces could not concentrate forces in one place without assuming risk elsewhere  Cons: Could perpetuate divisions, foster warlordism, and enable the regime to defeat the opposition in detail  OUTSIDE-IN. Use insurgent safe havens around periphery of the country to gradually roll back regime control in the countryside, and then isolate and besiege cities  Pros: regime lacks manpower to dislodge opposition safe havens everywhere and to control the countryside  Cons: moderate opposition currently lacks manpower to effectively control and administer the countryside  INSIDE-OUT. Foment collapse of regime control of the main population centers by attacking Damascus and other major cities  Pros: urban warfare negates advantages of better-armed regime forces, opposition has major safe havens near Damascus  Cons: major cities have become depopulated and, except for Damascus, are less important than before  HYBRID APPROACHES. Combine elements of two or more of the above. THE CHALLENGES OF A TWO-FRONT WAR The moderate opposition will effectively be fighting a two-front war against the regime and its extremist opposition rivals. Which takes priority, where, and when will probably vary from place to place, depending on local conditions, and overreach is a risk. It is not clear, moreover, whether the incipient civil war in Iraq will make matters easier for the moderate opposition or harder. Much will depend on whether elements of Hezbollah, the Iraqi Shiite militias, and Iran’s Qods Force that are now in Syria are sent to Iraq to fight, and whether ISIS will eventually be strengthened, or weakened by the fighting there. © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 16/21
  17. 17. ADDITIONAL ENABLING ACTIVITIES While an enhanced train-and-equip program might well succeed as a standalone option, various enabling activities could create synergies to promote opposition success. Some of these activities would require direct U.S. military intervention and would therefore entail greater risk for the United States—albeit for greater potential payoff. These include:  Cyber operations and sanctions targeting the assets of key regime insiders in order to exacerbate tensions within the regime and between the regime and its supporters  Joint intelligence, planning, and operations cells to enhance the effectiveness of moderate opposition forces • Increased intelligence sharing and support for the moderate opposition could help identify regime vulnerabilities and targets, and generate tactical opportunities  Intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and other support to facilitate opposition attacks against regime air bases, storage areas, and lines of communication, in order to disrupt government resupply operations  Small numbers of U.S. Special Forces advisors to enhance the opposition’s military effectiveness  Unmanned or manned airstrikes on ISIS in Syria or Iraq, in order to diminish their capabilities and create opportunities for the moderate opposition • Airstrikes in Syria could be facilitated by U.S. Air Force combat controllers embedded with vetted opposition groups  Narrow or broad no-fly zones in areas where U.S. personnel are active, and where air-defense coverage is light or relatively easily suppressed  This would signal to Assad and his allies that the United States is prepared to up the ante, if need be In considering a more direct military role, Washington would need to balance potential benefits against the risk of mission creep, escalation, and inadvertantly creating a recruiting windfall for ISIS. © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 17/21
  18. 18. MITIGATING RISK An enhanced train-and-equip effort would entail various kinds of risk: 1. reputational/operational risk if U.S.-supplied arms were used in war crimes or transferred to violent extremists; 2. risks to U.S. trainers based in neighboring states who might be attacked by regime proxies; and 3. policy risks, including the possibility of blowback (e.g., that a train-and-equip program might inadvertently empower extremists) and escalation by Syria, Hezbollah, or Iran. REPUTATIONAL/OPERATIONAL RISK. The possibility that advanced arms might be transferred to extremist groups has deterred the United States from providing MANPADS to the opposition. Various technological means have reportedly been investigated to mitigate this risk, including biometric identification systems (e.g., using fingerprint scans) and GPS locks (which disables the weapon if it leaves the intended theater of operation), though technological challenges have reportedly not been resolved.  There are, however, other ways of countering the regime’s airpower advantage without risking the transfer of MANPADS, through more intense training and, in some cases, assuming greater operational risk (e.g., artillery raids against airfields). RISK TO U.S. TRAINERS. No more than a few hundred U.S. contractors, intelligence operatives, and service members would be involved in training the opposition. They would almost certainly never enter Syria, and would likely be based in neighboring countries, such as Jordan or Turkey. There, they might be targeted by members of the regime or of extremist opposition groups.  While incidents such as the suicide bombing that killed seven CIA operatives (and a Jordanian and an Afghan) at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan in December 2009 cannot be ruled out, adherence to proper security procedures would greatly reduce the likelihood of such an incident happening again. POLICY RISK—BLOWBACK. The possibility that a train-and-equip program will yield unintended consequences will be ever present, although the necessarily sustained nature of such an effort provides time to evaluate its impact. Thus, it can be modified, suspended, or halted if it does not serve U.S. interests (albeit, perhaps after some damage has been done). And it can be expanded if the opposition performs well and demonstrates that it can effectively govern liberated areas—though U.S. influence over the moderate opposition will be uncertain under the best of circumstances. © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 18/21
  19. 19. MITIGATING RISK (CONT.) POLICY RISK—RETALIATION/ESCALATION. Syria, Hezbollah, or Iran might retaliate against neighboring states that host a train-and- equip program, or against the United States; in fact they may have already done so (Turkey has been hit by artillery and car bombs from Syria, perhaps in response to its support for the opposition). Moreover, Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah could ramp up assistance to the Assad regime to offset any increase in opposition capabilities (though they also face constraints in doing so). But:  They are unlikely to open a new front at a time when all three are already committed to fighting the Syrian opposition, and when Hezbollah and Iran may be assuming new commitments to the Iraqi government in its fight against ISIS.  Because any increase in U.S. support for the moderate opposition would be incremental, it is unlikely to prompt the same kind of response that a sudden, dramatic increase in support would likely entail.  Finally, the ability of Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran to strike out at their enemies using proxies or terrorism has atrophied in recent years, while U.S. counterterror capabilities have grown significantly. In sum, while some of these risks may be exaggerated (e.g., Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran are heavily committed, and their response to expanded U.S. support for the opposition would therefore likely be restrained) and some can be managed (e.g., MANPADS can be provided incrementally, in small quantities), others cannot (e.g., U.S. leverage over the opposition would be limited even in the best of circumstances). And the law of unintended consequences will always remain in play. But the policy pursued by Washington until now has also entailed heavy costs: the sectarian polarization and destabilization of the Middle East, the growth of Iranian influence in the region, and ISIS’s recent successes in Iraq. The decision to ramp up support for the moderate opposition offers at least a first step toward halting the decline in America’s position in the Middle East and reversing a number of negative trends and developments that have undermined U.S. interests in the region and elsewhere since 2011. © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 19/21
  20. 20. CONCLUSIONS An enhanced train-and-equip program should strengthen the moderate opposition relative to regime forces and ISIS by transferring arms and equipment, providing more advanced training, and improving C3I and logistics capabilities via a unified assistance mechanism. Military assistance is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success, however. An enhanced train-and-equip effort should also strengthen the opposition’s political and informational capabilities, while staunching and disrupting the recruitment of fighters by Salafi- jihadist groups. At the very least, the moderate opposition could maintain pressure on the Assad regime and tie down the forces of its Iranian, Hezbollah, and perhaps Iraqi Shiite allies, limiting their ability to engage in activities elsewhere. If the moderate opposition proves more capable, the train-and-equip effort could be further expanded, and its goals adjusted, to pressure the Assad regime to reconsider its rejection of a diplomatic solution to the civil war. If the regime still proves unwilling to negotiate, and the moderate opposition proves capable of holding and effectively governing liberated areas, replacement of the regime might become a viable option. And if the moderate opposition proves incapable of meeting any of these expectations, the effort could be scaled back or terminated— though it might prove difficult to pull the plug after having doubled down on the opposition. While an enhanced train-and-equip effort might well succeed as a standalone option, various enabling activities (including forms of direct military support for the moderate opposition) could create synergies to promote opposition success. In considering a more direct military role, Washington would need to balance potential benefits against the risks of mission creep, escalation, and inadvertently creating a recruiting windfall for ISIS. © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 20/21
  21. 21. LESSONS OF SUCCESSFUL INSURGENCIES Contrary to popular wisdom, insurgencies are not invincible; in fact, since WWII, incumbent regimes have prevailed against insurgencies in one-half to two-thirds of all cases. The following is a list of insurgent principles and best practices that policymakers should keep in mind when formulating policy toward the Syrian opposition, to enhance the prospects of success:  For the insurgent, survival is victory. The insurgent wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.  Insurgent military operations should seek to exploit regime vulnerabilities and neutralize regime advantages.  The insurgent should develop diverse military capabilities and options, making it more difficult for the regime to predict or counter insurgent actions.  Insurgency is more than anything else a form of political struggle; winning over the population is the key to effective military operations, and creating effective parallel institutions of governance is the key to converting military victories to political achievements. All this takes time. This is one reason why insurgencies are protracted struggles that require strategic patience.  The support of the people is essential to the insurgents in the early phases of the struggle; they are the sea in which the insurgents swim (though in Syria, the sectarian nature of the struggle may limit the appeal of the largely Sunni Arab opposition).  The opposition must do a better job at governing liberated areas than the regime did when it was in charge, or it risks forfeiting the support of the people.  Insurgencies will fail when they lack a clear, unifying cause, when they are unable to discredit the regime’s narrative, and when they are unable to convert the population to their cause.  Information activities are critical; these should highlight insurgent victories, build-up the insurgents’ stature, and create a perception of inevitable insurgent victory.  Insurgents that succeed in establishing internal or external sanctuaries where they can organize and train free from fear of regime attack, and ensure that the flame of resistance cannot be extinguished, are more likely to survive, if not prevail.  The capture of arms and ammunition from regime forces may be sufficient to start an insurgency, but it rarely provides sufficient means for sustaining the struggle. External military and political support are often crucial to ensuring the survival and success of an insurgency. This last point is of particular importance, as the United States and its allies consider the scope and nature of their effort to train and equip the Syrian opposition. © 2014 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Slide 21/21

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