Syrian activists expected delay in West beginning military action

Exiled activists say missile strikes might have symbolic value, but would change little on the ground

Gaziantep, southern Turkey

The activists were not surprised by the vote in the British Parliament or Barack Obama’s decision to delay. It was what they had expected: the Western leaders simply had not made a good enough case for military action in Syria.

Instead of charges which may have been expected, of betrayal by their supposed backers, they were of the view that highly-publicised but limited Tomahawk strikes may have symbolic value, but will change little on the ground.

“We can understand why things went the way they did. In Britain, in America there is the history, Iraq and Afghanistan, so they were influenced by that, they voted in their own interests” said Naji Al Jarf, who runs a magazine smuggled into the country. He fled Damascus after the publication’s offices there were raided and staff taken prisoner.

“The American and British government have had two and half years to show the people the terrible things that Bashar al-Assad had been doing, they have not done a good job in doing that. But we do need constructive help from the outside, especially those who are trying to bring about a democratic Syria, a lot of the money is going to the extremists.”

However, the opposition has noticed that since the threats international action began, Western warships began arriving in the Mediterranean, the level of activity by Assad’s forces has fallen.

This is largely due to the regime ordering the evacuation of key command and control centres, putting the more valuable aircraft under the best hardened shelters they have and dispersing the fleets of Russian made helicopter-gunships between bases.

“There are other ways of keeping pressure on the regime than just air-strikes which the politicians wanted to have, I suppose it looks good on TV” said a senior British military officer whose post involves liaising with the Americans.

“We have got to think on a strategic level; at the moment we are getting the regime’s land, air and sea components pretty well boxed up. They may now think that they have a little window until the [US] Congress talks, but they have to be wary of they do anything outrageous Obama might just decide to zap them. Anyway, we haven’t noticed people hurrying back to C2’s (command and control) we suspect some of them will never go back.”

The charge of government’s failure to look at the broader picture was echoed by former Royal Navy Rear Admiral Chris Perry who said stated that he had spoken to serving colleagues who thoroughly approved of the Commons vote. “They said they were being asked to deliver military means without any idea of the strategic outcome desired.”

He was one of several senior former personnel deployed to get out the voices of serving officers who had deep reservations about ‘mini shock and awe’. General Lord Dannatt, former head of the British Army, described the outcome as a “victory for common sense….The will of the people has been expressed through the House of Commons, that we don’t want to get involved in this, and that’s the right answer at the moment.”

Across the Atlantic, General Gregory S Newbold, who was director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the run-up to the Iraq War, declared “There’s a broad naivety in the political class about America’s obligations in foreign policy issues and scary simplicity about the effects that employing American military power can achieve.”

However, keeping the threat on the table may get the Russians to persuade President Assad to the negotiating table. The projected but repeatedly delayed Geneva II talks are expected to feature prominently between Mr Obama and Mr Putin at the G20 summit in St Petersburg next week.

Even four months ago the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was an enthusiastic advocate of Geneva II. But President Assad is said to have become less biddable after a series of successes on the ground. “We don’t think he’ll feel emboldened by what has happened in the last week” said the senior British officer. “US military action may yet happen. On a different note, at the moment the West is stopping the opposition getting hold of manpads (surface-to-air missiles) if the controls are loosened on that Assad won’t have an air force left soon; remember Stingers and Afghanistan.”

Another activist, a Syrian army defector who wants to be known by his initials BA for safety reasons said “We all know at the end talks will have to be held, whether Assad is part of that is a matter for discussion. I am not so sure he’ll use chemical weapons again.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine