Tuesday, December 13, 2016

On the verge of victory, Syrian regime is accused of massacring civilians in Aleppo.

Smoke rises in Aleppo. Reuters. 

With the Syrian regime coming close to victory in Aleppo, the UN is condemning the massacre of civilians. Reuters. The UN claims that 82 people have been summarily executed in the streets or in their homes. Thousands of civilians have been abandoned by the rebels as the regime has taken control of all of Eastern Aleppo. An Iraqi group, Harakat al-Nujaba, is suspected of conducting the killings. The UN is calling for outside observers to monitor the battle and Syria's screening of civilians fleeing the area. 

My Comment:
Though I have no doubt that there are civilians being killed in Aleppo, I am also skeptical of this reporting. For one thing, I have doubts that all of the people being killed are actually civilians. I am reminded of a picture from the Vietnam War of a guy getting shot in the head. It's a bit graphic for me to post here directly, but here's a link to the Wikipedia article of the story behind the Pulitzer prize winning photo.

It turned out that what looked like a summary execution of a civilian was in fact a possibly legal killing of a terrorist that had just murdered a bunch of police officers family members. He was a VC operative and he honestly deserved to die. At the very least the true story of his crime mitigates some of the horror of his killing. But the real story didn't get out until years later after the damage was done. I am afraid that there is a possibility that the situation in Aleppo is similar. 

Now I am not saying that all of these reports are justified killings, indeed, many of them probably aren't. But in a war like Syria, I would not be surprised if at least some of what is going on there is legal under the rules of war or, at the very least, mitigated by the fact that these rebels are pretty terrible as well. Though nowhere near the scale of ISIS and al-Nusra, the rebels are guilty of plenty of atrocities of their own... 

Still, it's probable that some extrajudicial killings are going on. If it were possible, I would prefer that these killings stop. But in order to do so, we would probably have to go to war with Russia. It might be possible to put non-military pressure on Syria to reign this behavior in, but we have very little leverage. Any further action risks war, and that is simply not worth it. Even if it did save some civilians, the potential deaths and consequences caused by a international war between the Russia/Syria/Iran alliance and everyone else would be unthinkable.  

I also have to point out that it has been reported that it's an Iraqi militia that is doing the killing. Why an Iraqi militia is fighting in Aleppo is anyone's guess, I am sure it makes sense to them, but that's a critical fact that the headlines are leaving out. Instead of being orchestrated by the Syrian government it just seems that one of their allies has gone off the reservation and has started killing people. Of course the Syrians should reign this militia in and they deserve strong criticism if they won't or can't, but that bit of context is extremely important.

I think it is also important to put siege warfare in context. Throughout history the rules of siege warfare was clear. Either win the battle, surrender and be spared, or lose and die. Right now the couple dozen or so executions is nothing compared to the slaughter and chaos of the past. The fact that the vast majority of civilians left in Aleppo will likely survive is a testament how much less deadly warfare is now than it was in the past. 

Finally, I think the rebels deserve a lot of the blame for what happens in Aleppo. They had multiple chances to surrender, unconditionally, or negotiate a settlement or at least an attempt to save civilians but they did not follow through. They could have abandoned Aleppo a long time ago but they decided to fight to the end instead. Well this is what happens when an army fights to the end. Civilians get caught in the middle. Though the people carrying out these executions are obviously to blame, I also think that the rebels created this situation in the first place by not surrendering when it was clear they were going to lose. Much of the death and destruction in Aleppo could have been avoided... 

Ultimately, even if the killing continues in Aleppo, the fact that the battle is ending is the real takeaway. I have argued for years now that a quick end to the war, even if it ends in a slaughter, would be better than eternal warfare that never comes to an end. Had the war ended a year or two ago, even if the final battle was a bloodbath, there would be a lot of people alive now that are currently dead. 

I am hoping that the fall of Aleppo, when it finally happens, will be the end of the main phase of the Syrian Civil War. After the rebels are defeated their, the back of the rebels will have been broken and the only credible forces left in Syria will be the government, the Turkish militias, the Kurds and the various Jihadists. With the rebels gone I am hoping the rest of the factions, along with Russia and the Western governments can work together to destroy the Jihadists. 

The destruction of ISIS and al-Nusra should be more important then anything happening in Aleppo. The continued existence of ISIS is a global threat and not just because they are plotting terror attacks. The very existence of the terror group inspires violence and hatred worldwide and the sooner we can join together to fight them the better. The fact that Aleppo is now a lost cause will hopefully wake up the Western powers to the danger. But given everything that has happened, I doubt it will... 

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