Now that the mainstream media is pretty much ignoring WikiLeaks Stratfor email releases because they just aren't as exciting as one would hope, I thought that it was time to take a look through the 700 odd that have been released thus far. I happened on one particular email release regarding a nation that has been in the news a great deal over the past few months; Syria.
The email in question was written by "firstname.lastname@example.org" and sent to "email@example.com" on December 7th, 2011 and was entitled "INSIGHT - military intervention in Syria, post withdrawal status of forces". I'm assuming that "bhalla" is Reva Bhalla, Stratfor's Director of Analysis as shown on Linkedin here.
Apparently, on December 7th, 2011, Ms. Bhalla had a meeting at the Pentagon with the United States Air Force strategic studies group. In the meeting were four officers at the Lieutenant Colonel level including one French and British representative.
Before we go any further, here’s a political map of the region for your reference:
The officers present at the meeting grilled Ms. Bhalla on the strategic picture in Syria and then she grilled them on the military picture. Ms. Bhalla claims that there is a very low level of understanding about what is actually at stake in Syria, the roles of neighbouring countries including Turkey and Iran. The officers told Ms. Bhalla (without actually saying it) that SOF (Special Operations Forces) teams, presumably from the U.S., U.K., France, Jordan and Turkey were already on the ground focused on reconnaissance missions and training opposition forces, despite the fact that a U.S. intelligence officer admitted that "...there isn't much of a Free Syrian Army to train right now, but all the operations being done now are being done out of 'prudence'.”. Ms. Bhalla was also informed that “…the level of information on Syrian OrBat (Order of Battle) was the best that it's been since 2001. The Air Force has been told to prepare to act within 2 to 3 months.".
The officers present then told Ms. Bhalla that the use of SOF teams would not be part of an air campaign (as was used in Libya) to provide cover for the Syrian rebels, rather, the idea was to "hypothetically" commit guerrilla attacks and assassination campaigns to try to collapse the ruling Alawite forces from within. Their primary concern about the use of an air campaign is the level of air defences in Syria compared to those in Libya. Syria has a very strong air defence system around Damascus and along its borders with Israel and Turkey complicating the initiation of an air offence program. An additional complication is the uncertainty surrounding the involvement of Iran in defending Syria.
Here's an interesting quote from the email:
"There still seems to be a lot of confusion over what a military intervention involving an air campaign would be designed to achieve. It isn't clear cut for them geographically like in Libya, and you can't just create an NFZ (No Fly Zone) over Homs, Hama region. This would entail a countrywide SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) campaign lasting the duration of the war. They dont believe air intervention would happen unless there was enough media attention on a massacre, like the Ghadafi move against Benghazi. They think the US would have a high tolerance for killings as long as it doesn't reach that very public stage." (my bold/my expansion of acronyms)
The last sentence in that paragraph is most fascinating. Apparently, the killing of 7500 innocent Syrian men, women and children in dribs and drabs doesn't quite cut it.
According to Ms. Bhalla, the main base for this operation would be Cyprus. The group at the meeting was split on the involvement of Turkey with the Air Force intelligence officer seemingly quite "pissed off at them". As well, with most U.S. fighter jets out of Iraq, the United States has yet to negotiate a SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) with Iraq to use their airspace for any operations against Syria.
The French representative at the meeting was of the opinion that France would be more reluctant to enter a conflict in Syria during an election year. The United Kingdom representative also emphasized the reluctance of the U.K. to participate but said that the renegotiation of the EU Treaty had undermined the United Kingdom's role in the European Union and that the U.K. may be looking for a way to reassert itself on the continent.
Who knows if we can trust the information in this email? Regardless of its "truthiness", at the very least, it does provide an interesting window into the possible thought processes among the nations that could be involved in a future conflict in Syria.