The US plans to arm more people and drop more bombs on Syria

GlobalPost
A young Syrian boy cries as he sits on the rubble after a missile hit a residential area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on July 21, 2015.

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NEED TO KNOW:

Last month, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the US-led fight in Syria was “tactically stalemated.”  So this month, the US military is taking it up a notch.

US President Barack Obama has already — and for the first time — ordered the Pentagon to supply ammunition (and possibly weapons) to Syrian opposition forces on the ground. The president also approved a plan to intensify airstrikes in northern Syria. The plan, according to The New York Times, is to support a new force of about 3,000 Arab fighters who will join about 20,000 Kurdish fighters already there, in an attempt to take Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria.

This new strategy comes to light just after Russia entered the war in earnest, bombing mostly rebel positions in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The arrival of Russia in the overly crowded theater of the Syrian conflict came a few short months after Turkey also walked on stage. Turkey is bombing both positions belonging to the Islamic State, and those of Kurdish forces, who are key American allies. Now a Russian jet has violated Turkish airspace, and Turkey is none to happy about it, threatening to activate the "rules of engagement."

And so the Syrian conflict continues to get more and more bewildering. Assad has warned that if the Syrian government doesn’t prevail in this conflict the whole region “will be destroyed.” It makes you wonder if the Syrian president has been outside lately.

There are two concerns with Obama’s new war strategy. One, it remains difficult to determine who the moderate Syrian rebels are, and so supplied ammunition or weapons could end up in places — even years from now — we'd all rather they not. Then there is the problem of more airstrikes. The more bombs that are dropped, the more chances there are one of them could accidentally hit a hospital.

WANT TO KNOW:

Obama likes airstrikes. He likes drone strikes. They have been central to his military strategy almost from the start of his tenure. Obama was able to say he brought the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan (mostly), but he didn’t have to give up the war.

The rise of drone warfare, and the use of airstrikes instead of soldiers on the ground, will be one of many Obama legacies after he leaves office. So will be a disturbing list of mistakes, missed targets, wrong targets, thousands of civilians murdered.

This is most likely what happened when a hospital was bombed in Kunduz, Afghanistan over the weekend, where US forces were carrying out airstrikes. Doctors Without Borders, one of the world’s most valued humanitarian organizations, was working at the hospital — so the world has a more detailed account of what happened than usual. The bombings came at 15-minute intervals over the period of an hour, starting at about 2 a.m. local time. Patients burned in their beds. In the end, 22 people were killed. International staff members have now been evacuated.

The Afghan government said Taliban militants were hiding in the hospital, as if that was justification for the bombing. The US said, coldly, the hospital may have been “collateral damage.” There is a fierce battle, after all, continuing between Afghan, US and Taliban forces for control of Kunduz. The aid organization called the bombing a “war crime.”

STRANGE BUT TRUE:

With the possible exception of Afghanistan, which is closing in on 40 years of continuous conflict, wars do end. Sometimes they end because both sides see a better way forward. (Maybe? Let’s just pretend that’s true.) Sometimes they end because of some internationally brokered agreement. Sometimes they end because one side simply wins.

And sometimes they end because another war starts and everyone gets distracted. That seems to be the case in eastern Ukraine, where all has been quiet in recent weeks on the eastern front. A ceasefire has largely held, despite failing so many times before. And Russia, which was supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, has turned its attention to Syria.

But while the fighting may have died down, the conflict is far from over, writes GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk. A solution to the dispute is still needed. And it could be a while before it comes. That means violence could return at any time — and that makes for a nervous sort of life for the civilians there.