Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: Kerry pushes hard to sell out U.S. operations, intelligence in Syria


Donald Trump is coming under a lot of fire for speaking with apparent admiration of Vladimir Putin.  Trump’s seeming affinity for a KGB thug with a trail of bodies in his wake is understandably troubling for many.

But there’s certainly one fellow who would have no room to criticize, if it occurred to him to do so.  That fellow is John Kerry.

Since at least early summer, Kerry has been working on a deal with the Russians in Syria that would so effectively hobble U.S. activities there that we would be of little use even to the Russians and Assad, much less to ourselves.

The specifics of the deal just announced on Friday have not been released in detail.  But based on a set of specifics published in July, when Kerry was working on the same deal (which was not fully implemented at the time, but only partially observed), we can confidently guess that the bottom line on the deal is this: there is no way to fully implement it and remain effective.

The Pentagon was opposed to the terms of the deal in July, and continues to have the same level of opposition, according to the New York Times.  That, and the general outlines of the deal, which remain the same, tell us that the specifics of it haven’t changed much, if at all.

The current plan for the deal is that if the ceasefire that officially started on Monday “holds” (scare quotes meant to scare), for seven days, then on the eighth day, the U.S. and Russia will begin to implement an agreement for joint military operations.

Under the agreement, the two forces would coordinate air strikes on the Al-Nusra Front (Al-Qaeda in Syria) and ISIS.  The U.S. and Russia would share targeting intelligence on related targets.  And coordination would be accomplished through a “joint implementation cell,” manned by both parties.  (Possibly to be located in Amman, Jordan, which was the plan in July.)

A bad deal

More on those terms in a minute.  But first, the major big-picture concerns with the deal are that the U.S. and Russia are operating at cross-purposes in Syria, making operations-level coordination virtually impossible if we both retain our national purposes; and that coordinating with Russia on air strikes would implicate the U.S. in the much higher level of collateral damage Russian forces inflict in their strikes.

AP summarizes it (special-pleading passage in bold):

U.S. officials expressed concerns that Moscow might continue to target U.S.-allied opposition forces, claiming they are working with the al-Qaida-linked group, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, previously known as the Nusra Front. Rebel forces have intermingled with the Nusra militants, at times making targeting difficult.

They also worry that many of the Russian airstrikes do not involve precision-guided weapons. Moscow has predominantly used so-called dumb bombs in Syria, largely targeting opposition forces and backing Assad’s government forces.

Two senior administration officials, however, said the U.S. will bear no responsibility for any strikes made by Russia or deaths that result. And neither country will be able to veto strikes the other wants to conduct. The process involves sharing information not airstrike approvals, they said.

So: we will willingly facilitate strikes by Russia that we have no control over, while sticking our fingers in our ears and humming at people who say that makes us complicit in them.

But there’s more.  And it’s essential to review it, to understand the awfulness of this deal.

A really bad deal

The most general point to make here is that sharing targeting intelligence would inherently mean compromising – to the Russians – not just the positions but the activities of our special forces operators on the ground in Syria.  By the same token, it would mean compromising the activities of the anti-regime forces that we support.  The Russians aren’t stupid: they’ll be able to deduce quite easily, in most cases, which “targeting intelligence” comes from “eyes on,” or forces in the immediate vicinity on the ground.

Since the Russians have already attacked our partners on the ground – in an area far from any of the active fighting in northern Syria – we can know with full certainty that they will do that whenever they want to.

But withholding such targeting intelligence won’t obscure anything for the Russians.  Rather, the reverse.  Merely selecting a set of targets to prosecute jointly, as outlined in the original proposalfrom July, will convey a world of intelligence to the Russians about our operations, our intentions, andour intelligence.

If we maintain a common battle space picture of any kind at the “joint implementation cell” – also called for in the original terms of the deal – and especially if we do provide some intelligence fromother sources, the Russians will quickly piece together not just what’s going on with our commandos and partners, but with our other intelligence sources as well.

They’ll know in any case where we are conducting our own air strikes, and won’t have trouble guessing most of what we know, and why we know it.

Read more HERE

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