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9 Feb, 2016 12:57

‘West never considered civilian cost of its actions in Syria’

‘West never considered civilian cost of its actions in Syria’

There is much evidence to support the view that Syria is facing a largely foreign-fueled rebel movement that is sponsored, funded and armed by outside actors, says counter-terrorism expert Charles Shoebridge.

The Syrian army is on the offensive in the Aleppo province with the support of Russian airstrikes. But Russia's air campaign in Syria is facing growing criticism with the American media drawing some unexpected comparisons.

RT: Is it actually possible to draw parallels between the Russian strategy in Chechnya and Syria?

Charles Shoebridge: It is always going to be possible in this kind of situation to draw parallels, some more demanding of respect than others. For example, there are some parallels as there always will be in this kind of - what you might call extended counter-insurgency campaigns, counter-terrorism campaigns - where it has gone beyond simply sending in police to try and root out terrorists, insurgents, rebels - whatever you want to call them. So there are some parallels.

For example, in Grozny, Russia was faced with militant Islamist insurgents who had dug themselves in, fortified themselves into positions in urban areas where many civilians were still around. That would also be comparable to the situation that is seen, for example, in east Aleppo and other places in Syria where rebels, almost all of whom are of what might be called an ‘extremist Islamist persuasion’ despite them being labeled ‘moderate’ in many still of the West’s newspapers and government spokespersons’ words.

Nonetheless, the situation there tactically is similar. However, of course - unmentioned by CNN and other Western news outlets including the Guardian over the last few days has been mounting a similar campaign against what Russia is doing in Syria, i.e. supporting Assad and actually beating back ISIS and others, is that of course similar parallels can also be drawn with recent American campaigns.

For example, one could draw similar parallels if one had a different political view with what America did in Fallujah, in its Iraq campaign, or even perhaps some could say, if the media were paying more attention to it, what the Iraq government, of course, an ally of the West, is doing in its campaigns to rid its country of ISIS under the associated rebel groups. Similar counter insurgency campaigns have been carried out by the US elsewhere: Afghanistan is a similar one where, again, many civilian casualties have resulted. And of course no mention has been made by CNN as we would expect, of course, of the ongoing… very high civilian death toll from what Saudi Arabia and the other members of the Gulf cooperation council who are bombing Yemen at the moment are inflicting.

So, yes, of course, it is always possible to draw these parallels and indeed, in the next few months it may well be that a Grozny-type situation from the last Chechen war actually does evolve. But remember that at that time we had much greater Russian involvement, and now Russia is effectively providing close air support to Assad and to the Syrian army. And at the moment that is the limit of their involvement. Certainly we haven’t got the same situation that we had in Grozny where Russia using great overwhelming force - as has America in the past, as well - against its own rebel problem.

The Russians are winning, the Syrian state is winning and these outlets in the West who are just shields for imperial talking points can’t stand it. They can’t cope with the fact that they lost their regime change operation to send foreign death squads and to overthrow another country in the Middle East and North Africa. So, they are hitting back with the propaganda war.

      - Daniel Patrick Welch, political analyst

RT: CNN's reporter said Russia had little mercy for Chechen fighters. But aren't those rebels the ones who blew up buildings and metro stations in Russia killing hundreds of innocent people?

CS: Certainly, it was brutal and it is worth pointing out that even the international human rights organizations were severe critical of both sides in the Chechen war and indeed in the aftermath of that. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Chechen Islamist guerillas were played a brutal role as well. It is also worth pointing out that no matter what criticism there are of the Chechen administration and the situation there at the moment, it is generally regarded as a lot more stable and peaceful than it was during those years and it may take some kind of military solution of that type to settle the Syrian situation. At the end of the day, many in the West, particularly the US the UK, France and of course their allies in the Gulf: Saudi Arabia, Qatar specifically, and of course, Turkey; these countries have mercilessly backed rebellion, the inevitable result of which was massive civilian casualties.

You will always have, if you back one side in a military campaign, you can expect a response from the other. In many ways the response of the Syrian government, which it sees quite understandably as a war of national survival against what it sees - and there is much evidence to support that view that this is largely a foreign-fueled rebel movement that is sponsored, funded and armed by outside actors. They are fighting for survival in the same way that the West actually says that it fought for survival in the Second World War. And you have a very similar situation developing now: At the moment you have approaching 300,000 people dead in Syria, most of those were killed long before Russia became involved. But yes, in any military campaign it is obviously desirable and in fact necessary that civilian casualties should be avoided and minimized at all cost for any number of reasons. But it is also unfortunately true that civilian casualties in this kind of campaign - in any war, in any rebellion - are going to result. It is just a shame that some Western countries, particularly the US, the UK and France who backed this rebellion from the start, didn’t then consider at least openly what the civilian cost of the actions would be. Now we are seeing the cost of that.


RT: It was also reported that Russia wants a military solution in Syria and not a political one. Is that a fair assessment?

CS: I think Russia will pursue its national interests as does any other country. And in fact many of those interests should be shared by the West and the West claims to share them, particularly the fear of the Islamist terrorism. ISIS is a threat not just to the West but also to Russia…What the West doesn’t like is that the rebels that they’ve backed, that they like to call moderate, but in fact in most cases are far from that, are losing their chance to topple Assad’s government. It may be that a military solution is the best option actually for reducing further civilian casualties. Because in a negotiation process where both sides are equal, roughly speaking, you have a stalemate, you have no incentive for either side to negotiate. And let’s remember that in the recent negotiation attempt, it wasn’t Assad or his government or the Russians that walked away, it was in fact the rebels backed by the UK, US, France and others in the region… they are the ones who refused to negotiate.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.