While the United Nations pushes for “freezing” all hostilities in the Syrian city of Aleppo, and Russia and Egypt make preparations for additional negotiations in Syria, U.S. senators are planning an escalation of the Syrian war. A delegation led by John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, first met with Saudi Minister of Defense Crown Prince Salam bin Abdulazid al-Saud on Saturday and then took part in discussions with Ahmed Jarba, former president of the opposition national coalition Etilaf. Jarba is considered one of the principle arms dealers supplying militant groups in Syria.
Since the onset of unrest in Arab countries in 2010 and 2011, McCain has been pushing for militarizing Libya and Syria and has held a series of meetings with leaders of armed militias in both countries. Now his delegation seeks to lay groundwork for the introduction of mercenary combat forces there. On the one hand, those forces will be deployed against the terrorist organization Islamic State, but the intention is also to engage the regular Syrian forces in combat, thus laying the groundwork for “regime change” in Syria.
McCain tweeted that a commander of the Saudi weapons and training program took part in the meeting with Jarba and al-Saud. On Sunday, the senators traveled to neighboring Qatar where they met with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been supplying Syrian militias with weapons, munitions and uniforms since 2011, and have given them logistical assistance, especially in the areas of communications and intelligence technology.
On Friday, the Pentagon confirmed that 400 troops and hundreds of support personnel would be dispatched as trainers to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to teach 15,000 “moderate rebels” how to combat Islamic State group forces. Officially, the United States will train 5,000 soldiers annually in a training program lasting three years. The CIA has been training such units in Jordan since March 2013. There is no evidence supporting the conclusion that Nusra Front jihadi didn't also receive the benefit of such training and equipment.
Acting U.N. special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, urged the parties in Geneva last Thursday to find a political solution for Syria during the coming year, remarking that continued fighting in the country is a “disgrace” that has set the country back 40 years. He added that the humanitarian crisis it caused is the greatest since World War II, and has resulted in more refugees than have fled Afghanistan. He also remarked that while the government and the opposition continue their heavy fighting, the Islamic State group is only 20 miles away from Aleppo. He said freezing hostilities was urgently necessary and that his deputy, Ramzi Ezzedine, would travel to Damascus next week to lead further talks.
The plan is viewed skeptically by Syrians. A ceasefire would mean the armed groups would retain a presence in the city and could solidify their positions with humanitarian assistance. That would effectively lead to the creation of a “buffer zone” as proposed by France and Turkey. The Syrian military hopes to prevent that and wants to continue its encirclement of Aleppo, the goal being disruption of supply routes used by Turkish combatants.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu meanwhile reiterated his insistence on a no-fly zone over Aleppo: "The source of the problem is the Assad regime's brutality ... [We want a] no-fly zone ... so that Aleppo will be protected at least against the air bombardment, and there will be no new refugees coming to Turkey," A spokesman for the “National Coalition” in Istanbul again called for a safe haven in southern and northern Syria.