Syria and insurgency

Syria and insurgency

The debate over Syria still has a place on the agenda, and it is keeping Turkey busier than any other agenda item. The Syria issue has become not only a foreign policy but also a domestic policy problem. It appears as though no outcome will be achieved by diplomatic efforts in the short run. Those opposed to the Syrian government do not have the military capacity to force al-Assad out. 

In the coming days, the military aspect of the problem will be discussed. Remarks and discussions in the wake of the Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul show that there is a general predisposition in that direction. However the problem is who would do this job, and how? Of course the first candidate to come to mind is Turkey. 

If the “fast friends” of Syria want to topple the regime by means of a conventional insurgency, that means they will have to work in a more systematic and sophisticated way. The “Free Syrian Army” must be removed from cyberspace quickly. Although giving them money and preparing to pay their salaries sounds good, at the end of the day these will not provide the necessary military, political, and psychological wherewithal. 

Also, according to “insurgency theory,” mere non-lethal healthcare supplies and communications equipment will not be enough to get rid of al-Assad. In such a plan, the most important job is to provide safe havens and basic- and advanced- level guerilla training for the insurgents. 

Who would do the job of transforming the Free Syrian Army into a guerilla force, and how? When one looks at the range, discourse, and efforts of the Turkish government, it seems as though it will have to shoulder this job sooner or later inevitably. 

However, there are a range of problems that the government would have to overcome, because the training of a rebel guerilla group belonging to a foreign country requires special military experience, legal arrangements, organization, and capacity. In the end the training of a rebel guerilla group is a different job than training the regular army units of a friendly nation. 

Even if the technical challenges can be overcome, the most important issue the government would have to deal with is how this job would be carried out as a covert operation. The public revelation of such an effort could cause very serious political and legal problems both domestic and foreign. The competitive and information-leaking culture of inter-agency and intelligence groups as seen in the recent MİT crisis and systematic “psychological operations” of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) are quite educational. I can say that it has never ever been possible in Turkey to keeping such an effort secret. 

It also would not be out of line to suggest that when considering the developments regarding the TSK – such as the imprisonment of a number of generals, including the former Chief of General Staff -- the first question to be asked by officers of Special Forces, who are trained and equipped for such tasks, should be “What is the legal basis for the tasks we are being entrusted with? Is it possible that we might run into trouble?” 

The government, wanting to avoid such a complicated issue, might provide guerilla training in two ways, by ruling out the technical dimension. First, by means of the police: similar to the way police officers, not soldiers, were stationed aboard the evacuation ships in the Libyan crisis. Or alternately, by arranging for private military contractors to provide the training, like the Brits have done in the past.

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