Syria – FSA speaks on CIA, PsyOps, and reporting

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By Scott W. Winchell – Stand Up America

Today, news was released that President Obama signed a “finding” document some two months or so ago that ostensibly gave the CIA permission to interact with the Syrian opposition forces. The signing of the “finding” may have coincided with the warning Hillary Clinton issued to Assad on April 1, 2012 to accept the Kofi Annan Plan. Clandestine and secret documents, or just the knowledge that they exist may constitute yet another leak. Why now do we see this in the news?

There is much speculation on what the parameters are in engaging the CIA with the opposition, but our sources in the fight, from more than one major faction, tell us that it’s all lip service. Senior military leadership in the FSA and SLA emphatically deny that they are receiving anything substantial from the CIA. Even they believe this recent revelation and the rhetoric is for political gain here in the USA – it is certainly not helping them on the ground.

Additionally, senior FSA leadership told SUA that reports stating that Turkey has supplied them with anti-aircraft munitions are blatantly false. What they do have they purchased from the black market arms dealers in Iraq and Turkey, all coming at a very steep price. At each time, no one from the west was instrumental in these purchases nor was the official government of Turkey.

They also deny that any opposition base of operations or nerve center exists in Turkey, and quite emphatically, not in Adana. Senior FSA leadership also told us today that reports from experts in the USA concerning the ongoing battles in Damascus and Aleppo are largely untrue. They assured us that the opposition forces in and around each major city are giving the regime forces all they can handle. In particular, in Aleppo, they report that regime forces are at a standstill and that the only offensive operations being conducted are by the FSA. They are capturing tanks and munitions, and bringing the fight to the regime forces despite the use of aircraft and artillery.

However, despite the manner in which they are succeeding, we receive daily pleadings for help, for ammunition, supplies, chemical and biological weapon protection, medicines, and logistical support from the opposition forces. Of course, SUA can only relay their messages, and inform those who wish to know in our governing structure. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are indeed helping. Perhaps this latest revelation concerning the CIA may mean the Obama administration is willing to do more than talk now.

Since General Vallely’s trip to the war zone, there has been a new found optimism among the freedom fighters, and it is evident that their determination and tenacity was bolstered by his visit, and the momentum since that time has truly shifted. The speed at which they have been operating, and their ability to withstand withering fire is testament to this fact despite the fact that they are heavily out-supplied and armed. The regime is becoming desperate, and the use of attack aircraft on civilian sites is an example of this desperation.

Despite Iran’s infusion of personnel, the application of heavy armor, the use of attack jets and helicopters, the Assad regime is failing. To further destabilize the region, Assad turned his support to the Kurds in the northeast of Syria, much to the chagrin of the Turks. This move allows the PKK, a terrorist designated organization, a base of operations on the Turkish border, and the Northern provinces in Iraq controlled by the Kurds. It is important to point out though that the Kurds and the PKK is not a monolithic bloc.

Mass regime defections are now a common daily event, and regime officers and leaders are seeing the writing on the wall. However, places like the hub of Syrian commerce and international trade in Aleppo are taking a serious beating. Refugees are many in number, hospitals are filled with civilians injured, maimed, and killed collaterally and even by direct assault on civilian neighborhoods.

Meddling by outsiders is an increasing problem though. Russian and Iranian meddling is well known, but now we also seeLibyan and Algerian fighters entering the scene. This furthers the narrative from Russia and the Assad regime that terrorist organizations have convoluted the identity and makeup of opposition forces. Accusations are emerging that the FSA has committed atrocities through its associations with these groups that include al Qaeda.

Assad’s Regime continues to move its WMD and delivery systems around the country, both to keep them hidden from external targeting, and also from capture by freedom forces. The opposition has captured tanks, aircraft, supplies, and weapons systems, so the fear is high that they will lose control over the WMD. Desperate times are ahead, and if properly aided by the USA, the gratitude of the freedom forces toward us would be immeasurable and quite a diplomatic gain.

If Obama is serious, and this latest overture is genuine, all parties for peace will gain, and Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah will suffer a defeat that is well-deserved. It is time to call Russia’s and Iran’s bluffs. The proof is in the resignation of Kofi Annan, who clearly sees the meddling and stalling, all to keep Assad in power somehow. The Shia Crescent or a western friendly Syria is in the balance.

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Syria ‘agrees’ to peace plan deadline, Annan tells UN

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BBC

Syria has agreed to a 10 April deadline to begin implementing a six-point peace plan, UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has said, according to diplomats.

The plan calls for a UN-supervised ceasefire by all parties, withdrawal of soldiers and heavy weapons from cities, and delivery of humanitarian aid.

Mr Annan was briefing the UN Security Council in closed session.

Violence in Syria continued on Monday, with activists reporting fighting in Idlib and Homs.

Annan’s six-point peace plan

1. Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people

2. UN-supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians

3. All parties to ensure provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and implement a daily two-hour humanitarian pause

4. Authorities to intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons

5. Authorities to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists

6. Authorities to respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully

Red Cross visit

Mr Annan has asked the Security Council for its backing of next Tuesday’s deadline for Syria to partially implement his peace plan, with a full ceasefire within 48 hours.

Syria said last week it accepted the peace plan. However, Mr Annan cautioned the Security Council that so far there was no sign of President Bashar al-Assad’s government keeping its promises on implementation, diplomats said.

Speaking after the briefing from Mr Annan, US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said: “We have seen… promises made and promises broken.”

Past experience “would lead us to be sceptical” that Syria would implement the Annan plan, Ms Rice said, warning that it was possible violence might escalate instead.

Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’fari, confirmed Damascus accepted the 10 April deadline but told reporters Mr Annan must get similar commitments from the opposition.

Ms Rice said Mr Annan’s deputy, Nasser al-Kidwa, had had “constructive exchanges” with the opposition to urge them to cease their operations within 48 hours of a complete cessation of government hostilities.

The BBC’s Barbara Plett, in New York, says Mr Annan told the closed session that Syria had said it was not ready to pull troops and heavy weapons out of the cities unless the armed opposition laid down their weapons too.

The deadline will make clear whether, as some of his critics have said, Mr Assad is simply stalling for time, our correspondent adds.

Funding for rebels

On Sunday, a group of 83 countries backing political change in Syria warned President Assad he had little time to comply with Mr Annan’s plan.

“The window of opportunity for the regime to implement its commitments to Joint Special Envoy Annan is not open-ended,” the “Friends of Syria” said in a statement.

“The Friends’ Group called upon the Joint Special Envoy to determine a timeline for next steps, including a return to the UN Security Council, if the killing continues,” it added.

Gulf Arab countries attending the group’s meeting in Istanbul agreed to pay the salaries and other costs of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The money, which will be distributed through the opposition Syrian National Council, is the first formal international support for the FSA.

Meanwhile, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jakob Kellenberger, is on his way to Damascus for talks about expanding aid operations and gaining access to all detainees.

During his two-day visit, Mr Kellenberger plans to visit areas affected during the fighting, the ICRC said in a statement.

Last month, after the fall of the rebel district of Baba Amr, in Homs, the Syrian government said it would allow an ICRC convoy into the area.

However, when the convoy reached Baba Amr on 2 March, it was denied permission to enter.

The Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of anti-government activists in Syria, said 65 people were killed on Monday. They included 40 dead in Homs, 14 in Idlib, six in Hama and five in Aleppo.

The figures cannot be verified independently, as journalists’ movements are severely restricted in Syria.

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Syria Won’t Pull Out of Rebel Centers, Cease-Fire Deal in Doubt

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By ANNE BARNARD The New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian forces will not pull out of towns and cities that have been centers of the yearlong uprising until “normal life” resumes there, a Syrian government spokesman told state news media, raising new questions about prospects for carrying out a United Nations-backed peace plan as Western and Arab leaders prepared for a high-level meeting in Turkey on the Syrian crisis.

As Syria’s government crackdown continued unabated on Saturday, the comments prompted signs of frustration from the United States and the six Arab countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. For the first time, those countries called for setting a specific deadline for Syria to halt the violence against the opposition and allow medical aid to reach victims, steps that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has publicly pledged to take under a peace plan proposed by Kofi Annan, the joint envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League.

The seven countries — the United States, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman — said in a joint statement that “given the urgency” of Mr. Annan’s mission, they had urged him “to determine a timeline for next steps if the killing continues.”

As many in the Syrian opposition scrambled in a last-ditch effort to persuade other countries to funnel arms to the rebels, a move the United States opposes, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, called arming the opposition “a duty.”

But the prospects for such a move appear slim, with the United States and others expressing concern that the conflict could spread, drawing in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim-led countries against Iran, Syria’s principal backer and a Shiite-majority state

The peace plan, which Mr. Assad has said he accepts, requires the government to immediately begin pulling troops and heavy weapons out of population centers, and for both Syrian forces and armed rebels to abide by a two-hour daily cease-fire to allow humanitarian assistance to reach victims.

But Mr. Jihad Maqdissi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, signaled that the government would pull out on its own timetable. “The Syrian Army is not happy to be present in residential areas,” he told Syrian state television late on Friday. “Once peace and security prevail in these areas, the army will not stay nor wait for Kofi Annan to leave. This is a Syrian matter.”

Meanwhile a man identifying himself as a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army in Syria said it was up to the government to stop shooting first.

“We cannot accept the presence of tanks and troops in armored vehicles among the people, Lt. Col. Qassim Saad al-Din told Reuters by phone from Homs. “We don’t have a problem with the cease-fire. As soon as they remove their armored vehicles, the Free Syrian Army will not fire a single shot.”

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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Assad Refuses to Cooperate with Arab League

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RIA Novosti

By Sergei Guneev, Political analyst Andrei Murtazin for RIA Novosti

The Arab League foreign ministers who met in Baghdad on March 28-29 failed to sway the Syrian authorities. A day after the opposition was defeated in Homs, Bashar Assad’s foreign minister said that Syria would not talk with the League of Arab States, which had suspended Syria’s membership.

The Syrian president does not appear frightened by the possibility of isolation from the Arab world. He still has the backing of Russia and China, while the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is acting as an intermediary in his dialogue with Arab nations and the West.

Bashar Assad Refuses to Cooperate with Arab League

Russia and China may review their stance

According to the UN, the armed confrontation between the Syrian government and the opposition, which started a year ago, has claimed over 9,000 lives. Yet Bashar Assad feels confident and does not plan to exit the political stage. The fighting in Homs, Idlib, Rastan, Daraa and other cities goes on, and the government forces clearly have control over the country.

Nothing will change as long as Assad has the support of some of the world’s leading powers. Meanwhile, Russia has moved closer to the West’s stance, expressing support for Annan’s peace plan, which stipulates a daily two-hour ceasefire for delivering humanitarian aid and evacuating the injured.

President Dmitry Medvedev highly praised the mission of Kofi Annan, who represented both the UN and the Arab League.

“I really believe that this is very likely the last chance to prevent the escalation of the civil war, which could have fatal consequences for Syria,” he said.

Annan’s plan unfeasible.

Kofi Annan’s plan consciously omits the main demand of the Syrian opposition and the West – that Bashar Assad must step down. This is why the Damascus authorities have accepted it so readily. But Assad is unlikely to accept the provisions on stopping all violence, releasing all political prisoners, and ensuring freedom of association, peaceful demonstrations and journalists’ access to the country.

Assuming that the Syrian army withdraws from rebel cities and stops fighting the opposition, the “peaceful” opposition will disarm the government security forces, take over government buildings and police stations and convince the armed forces to join them. This is why Russian diplomats insist that not only Assad but the opposition must honor all provisions of Annan’s peace plan.

“In this regard, it is extremely important that the Syrian opposition groups follow the example of the Damascus authorities and clearly announce their support for the UN-approved peace plan put forward by the UN and Arab League envoy,” reads the statement by Alexander Lukashevich, the official spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Civil war or counterterrorism operation?

This is a very difficult choice. In recent Russian history, the Chechen war was described as both a counterterrorism operation and a civil war, and either definition is applicable to Syria. The point at issue is who is fighting who, and who is stronger militarily.

The Alawi (Bashar Assad and his circle) constitute a small part of this majority Sunni country. Yet far from all Sunni Muslims want Assad to go. His main opponents are Islamic radicals and the Muslim Brotherhood movement outlawed in Syria and lavishly financed by the Gulf monarchies, in particular Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Information from Syria is scant and contradictory, but according to witnesses the split between Assad’s supporters and opponents in society is 50-50 or 60-40 – the ratio keeps changing. Some of Assad’s former opponents have joined his supporters to stop the killing, war and destruction, whereas some of his supporters have taken up arms to fight the president.

What next?

It appears that the civil war in Syria will last very long, unless the West and the Gulf monarchies launch a military or “peacekeeping” operation, disregarding the UN Security Council’s stance. Even if Bashar Assad stays in power, the war will weaken him politically and force him into a corner, as in the case of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi before him.

On the other hand, he can peacefully step down if offered an immunity deal similar to the one extended to the Yemeni president. The West and the Arab League have clearly not yet reached their limit of patience, and Assad still has a chance to make a political decision.

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Ignatius – Ousting Syria’s Assad through a ‘soft landing’

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By  - Washington Post

Maybe it’s time for Syrian revolutionaries to take “yes” for an answer from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and back a U.N.-sponsored “managed transition” of power there, rather than rolling on toward a civil war that will bring more death and destruction for the region.The Assad government announced Tuesday that it was ready to accept a peace plan proposed by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan. The Syrian announcement in Beijing followed endorsement of the plan by China and Russia. The proposal has many weaknesses, but it could open the way toward a “soft landing” in Syria that would remove Assad without shattering the stability of the country.

Yes, I recognize that moderate diplomatic solutions like these are for wimps. The gung-ho gang has been advocating supplying arms to the Syrian opposition, setting up no-fly zones and other versions of a military solution. Morally, it’s hard to dispute the justice of the opposition’s cause; the problem is that these military solutions will get a lot more innocent civilians killed and destroy the delicate balance of the Syrian state.

We should learn from recent Middle East history and seek a non-military solution in Syria — even with the inevitable fuzziness and need for compromise with unpleasant people. A Syria peace deal will also give a starring role to Russia and China, two countries that don’t deserve the good press. That’s okay with me: Vladimir Putin gets a ticker-tape parade if he can help broker a relatively peaceful departure for Assad.

The case for this cautious, managed transition can be summarized with a four-letter word: Iraq.

Looking back at the Iraq war, one of the most damaging mistakes was that after toppling Saddam Hussein, the United States went on to destroy Iraq’s state structure and its army. Without these institutions, the country had no stability, and Iraqis retreated for self-protection to the most basic loyalties of sect and tribe. In this sense, the U.S. invasion unintentionally and tragically sent Iraq hurtling backward in time. Iraq gained a measure of “democracy” but lost social cohesion.

The United States shouldn’t make the same mistake in Syria, no matter how appealing the opposition’s pleas for weapons. We’ve seen this movie before. We know that it leads to a kind of lawlessness that’s very hard to reverse. And we know, too, that for all the perversions of Assad and his Baathist goons, the Syrian state and army are national institutions that transcend the ruling family, his Alawite sect or the corrupt Baathists who hijacked the nation in the 1960s.

I credit the Obama administration for resisting the growing chorus of calls to arm the Syrian rebels — and for continuing to seek Moscow’s help even after the Russians’ foot-dragging that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (imprudently but accurately) described last month as “despicable.”

It’s a moment for realpolitik: The West needs Russia’s help in removing Assad without a civil war, and Russia needs to broker a transition to bolster its future influence in the Arab world. That’s the pragmatic logic that’s driving Annan’s peace effort.

Political change (even the cautious, managed-transition version I’m urging) won’t come to Syria without some bloodshed. Over the past year, it has been one-sided, with perhaps 10,000 opposition fighters and civilians slaughtered by Assad’s forces, and there’s bound to be some settling of scores. Friends of Syria should start thinking about ways to prevent reprisals against the Alawite and Christian communities that have been loyal to the regime, once Assad is on a plane for Doha or Moscow. I hope Annan will reach out to religious leaders of these minority communities to offer them reassurance they won’t be massacred if Assad goes.

The alternative to a diplomatic soft landing is a war that shatters the ethnic mosaic in Syria. It’s easy to imagine Sunni militias gaining control of central cities such as Homs, Hama and Idlib, while Alawites retreat to parts of Damascus and Latakia province in the north. Assad might still claim to be president in this scenario, but he would be little more than a warlord (albeit one with access to chemical weapons). It’s a grim scenario in which Western air power would have limited effect.

Patrick Seale, who probably knows Syria better than any other Western writer, captured in his biography of Assad’s father the brutal, fight-to-the-death code that led to the massacre in Hama 30 years ago: “Fear, loathing and a river of spilt blood ruled out any thought of a truce.” You can only pray that the same no-compromise logic doesn’t prevail today, on either side.

davidignatius@washpost.com

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