With the situation in Syria turning to chemical weapons, the international community are finally taking action.
Last week President Obama finally spoke out and announced what Britain and France already knew, that the Assad regime has indeed used chemical weapons on civilians. This was the red line that the international community – especially the USA – needed to take action. Understandably they were cautious, intervention is no longer the ‘in-thing’, especially in the aftermath of Iraq. So a form of intervention is now on the agenda in the packaging of aid and arms for rebel groups; this is as far as consensus goes with the “allied” forces of France, Britain and America.
Before we go any further we have to note several things: Russia is supplying arms to Assad, Britain is worried about the groups we are supplying to as being possibly al-Qaeda affiliated, France is expressing concern in all directions to stop the onslaught of civilians, and the United States wish to supply military support which does not include boots on the ground.
Western intelligence has also received reports that rebel forces have committed war crimes, such as cannibalising government forces and the possible use of chemical weapons. The one thing we can also not ignore is the death toll, which currently stands around 93,000 civilian deaths since the uprising started around 2 years ago. The rebel groups are also not as unified as we have seen in the past, such as Libya where the National transitional council ran the show from Benghazi and we saw the establishment of an international area there containing embassies from supporting nations. This is something which we don’t have in Syria, indeed it is closer to a civil war than an uprising.
While some countries have favoured a similar strategy of intervention to that of Libya, Syria still has allies in the world such as Russia and Iran. This is where the water becomes muddy, and why action has not been as forthcoming. For those who have seen Charlie Wilson’s War with Tom Hanks, or for those who know their soviet history, the balance of the war in Afghanistan in the 1980’s was tipped by the supplying of arms to the then Mujahideen, which had within its top ranks Osama Bin Laden. In Syria there are 4 major opposition groups who all contain opposing political and religious forces but do share the same goal of removing President Assad from power, beyond this is what worries the West; especially the UK. Several of these groups are either directly or indirectly linked to al-Qaeda, and once Assad is gone what will fill the void? A coalition government or the more likely solution of a power vacuum followed by a sectarian civil war. If we are to supply weapons to the opposition we may in turn be giving them the weapons to run a civil war in the country, in a region where stability is not the overall situation, these weapons may also be turned on western powers at a later date. Afghanistan sadly showed this in September 2001 at a cost of 2977 innocent lives.
There is no clear answer here this time, Charlie Wilson supported the native people in Afghanistan, but in Syria, opposition forces are all being run by Syrians even if some of the fighters are either from Lebanon or other places across the Middle East. The situation also dictates that we will struggle to support an individual opposition group, be it the Free Syrian army or Syrian National Council. The situation is so fluid that backing the wrong group and supplying arms at the wrong time could mean billions of tax payers’ pounds to just pour fuel on the fire.
In this fight there appears to be the growing idea that there are blurred lines on both sides of the battlefield. Right or wrong to support and supply is a question which is still being hotly debated by politicians and think tanks around the world this very moment, but one thing we cannot do is make another Afghanistan, in a region with an already unstable peace, if we do it, it has to be done right. As Charlie Wilson said “These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world… and then we screwed up the end game.”