Monday, July 16, 2012

Syria: The Geography Calls for Bloody War

In the reenactments, drills, and just for fun games I have participated in, some of the most violent experiences involved "clearing the bush" operations.  When one side controls the high ground, usually in the form of a redoubt, that side must make sure the immediate low area around the point of control is clear of obstructions and any possible hiding enemies.  Combat devolves into one-on-one and/or ambushes as the low ground forces know if they lose the bush they will be forced later on to attack the high ground through open, deadly territory.  Sniping, tackling, punching, and short expletives occur as units become smaller to work more effectively. 

Fights like this occur on the tactile level all the time whether it be the fight for the farm fields before Picket's charge, the effort to clear the area around Little Round Top which killed a relative of mine, or the fights around outposts in Afghanistan.  Clearing the bush operations also occur on an operational and strategic level.  Because of the need to clear the bush and physical geography, the lowlands of Syria are the new killing fields.

On 12 July somewhere between 100 and 300 people were killed in Tremseh.

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This massacre follows the 25 May Houla massacre

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And the 6 June Al-Qubeir massacre

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These Sunni villages are intermixed with smaller Alawite villages in the flat lands of Hama and Homs provinces.  This agricultural area is in the shadows, the bush if you will, of the An-Nusayriyah Mountains (also known as the Coastal Mountain Range; the term Nusayriyah references a derogatory term against Alawites).  The mountain range stretches from Turkey to Lebanon and separates majority Alawite Latakia and Tartus provinces from the Sunni Muslim dominated-interior.

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The Weekly Standard has a good article about how the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) seeks to control the Alawite areas (possibly to form a rump state) and that geography dictates that SAR needs to secure the areas in and around An-Nusayriyah Mountains.  Author Tony Badran compares SAR's situation to that of the Crusaders who made a series of fort to keep the Syrian coast in Christian control in order to connect the Crusader kingdoms with the Eastern Roman Empire.  The Crusaders were never able to control "the bush" around the mountains and therefore their castles were under constant siege which wore the Crusaders down.  It appears SAR is attacking Sunni villages around the mountains in order to cause Sunnis to leave the area and create a Alawite buffer around the once and possibly future Alawite State.

Geography though works against the SAR-Alawite forces.  The highland areas protect the only coastline for Syria.  A Sunni government in Damascus would most assuredly realize that in order to survive it needs the coastline for trade and oil export.  No state would give up that territory for long.  The only way an Alawite rump state would survive is with an open military presence of foreign/international troops from countries which Sunni Syria dare not challenge.  Anything less opens the Alawites up for attack.  A second scenario would be an Alawite plan to join with Lebanon, long thought of as a minority state.  This would cause a massive flux in Lebanon's careful demographic balance in favor of the Christian-Shia-Alawite axis versus the Christian-Sunni-Druze alliance.  Civil war would occur within days of an announcement a union between Lebanon and an Alawite state.  Lebanon knows this and would never allow this scenario to happen.

No one knows what will happen in Syria.  A SAR victory would cause long term Sunni resentment and lay the seeds for the next war.  A Sunni victory risks spilling over into Lebanon as the Christian-Sunni-Druze alliance would seek revenge against the pro-Syrian forces which hold the country hostage.  The sad truth is that geography calls for bloody war.

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