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Imposing Costs by Other Means: Strategic Irregular Warfare Options to Counter Russian Aggression

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Imposing Costs by Other Means: Strategic Irregular Warfare Options to Counter Russian Aggression

Steve Ferenzi

America’s comparative advantage in conventional military power guarantees that its adversaries will seek to confront it below the threshold of traditional “war” in order to achieve their objectives. Russia’s recent aggression in Ukraine demonstrates one aspect of this battleground with troubling implications for the viability of the NATO alliance. Eliminating sanctuaries of impunity, whether they be within the political space of the “gray zone” being manipulated by Russia, or physical territory utilized by al-Qaeda or the Islamic State to launch attacks on the US homeland, requires the US to employ unconventional measures to compete and win.

It is time to unleash US irregular warfare capabilities. All the controversy over today’s “gray zone” challenges leads one to believe that the United States is an amateur player in this game. Throughout the 1980’s the United States successfully competed below the threshold of conventional war within the framework of “low-intensity conflict.” While the Iran-Contra affair and blowback from supporting the Afghan mujahedeen remain black eyes to US prestige, America successfully bled the Soviet Union without resorting to either nuclear Armageddon or conventional escalation. One can debate the minutiae, but the US achieved its strategic objectives at a relatively low cost. How can the US attain similar results in today’s operational environment where political willpower is the limiting factor? The answer is to enable what Russia fears the most: indigenous resistance movements along the lines of the “color revolutions” that shattered post-Soviet Russian influence in its traditional backyard.

Article 5 Dilemmas

The most pressing issue vis-à-vis Russia today is the United States’ commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Article 5 of the NATO charter requires that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against theman armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” Russia’s annexation of Crimea reinvigorated the debate over NATO’s utility in the post-Cold War era. The toothless US response may have been justifiable given the lack of legal commitments to non-member Ukraine, but what if Russia takes perceived American weakness as an invitation for a repeat performance in the Baltic States, actual NATO members? Both Russia’s “new generation” hybrid warfare doctrine and Moscow’s allies in the region exhort the use of non-military asymmetric means and “fifth columns”  in targeted areas to achieve strategic outcomes. Is America’s solution more armored road marches through Eastern Europe and combined training exercises? Does the US have the political will to actually pull the trigger on a conventional military response with the potential for escalation? Unlikely. Other concepts like “hybrid defense” and resurrecting variants of Cold War extended deterrence offer alternative solutions, but they don’t optimize limited fiscal and military resources to confront Russia.

The traditional mindset leads one to believe that when you need a tank, you need a tank. The prowess of American armor, especially when married with US airpower, is undeniable. It crushed Saddam Hussein’s attempt to seize Kuwait in 1991, and it once again delivered a crushing blow in the early phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While selectively validating the innate US superiority complex, America’s adversaries nonetheless realized that exposing themselves to a 120 millimeter round fired from an Abrams tank is not in their best interest. The solution? War by other means. In Iraq, this meant insurgency a la Che Guevara, Mao Zedong, and Carlos Marighella, overlaid with a jihadist veneer. In Ukraine, this meant Russia employing “little green men” to capitalize on indigenous ethnic Russian grievances and seize Crimea through salami tactics designed to plausibly stay below the threshold of prompting Western intervention. The key ingredient? Avoid American conventional military superiority, and paralyze its political willpower to employ unconventional options to successfully confront it.

Article 5 requires a collective defense against an armed attack; it doesn’t oblige a response against hybrid warfare, nor does it stipulate how a defense in either case should be executed. Instead of pretending that the US will actually go to war with Russia over an invasion of the Baltics enabled by subterfuge and disinformation, why not set the conditions for indigenous movements to thwart Russian occupation and block its strategic objectives? If Russia wants to invade the Baltics, no conventional state military response in the region will stand a chance. Russia demonstrated this in Georgia in 2008. The beauty of irregular warfare is its ability to impose significant costs with minimal resource expenditure. Robert Taber drew the analogy of fleas attacking a dog through protracted conflict to erode the opponent’s political resolve. Great powers throughout history, including the US, have suffered this when confronting nominally weaker foes.

Raise the Costs: Some Insurgencies are Good for the United States

This approach would succeed by raising the costs of Russian invasion to an unacceptable level. Executed covertly, it entails building indigenous resistance infrastructure to be unleashed once Russia crosses the line, bogging the great bear down in a morass of insurgency designed to nullify its comparative conventional advantage. This has historical Cold War precedent in the region: AECOB/ZRLYNCH was a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program that supported the anti-Soviet Latvian Resistance Movement as part of the broader strategy of enabling underground resistance movements in Eastern Europe.

Executed overtly, the development of resistance infrastructure would proceed analogously to the covert approach, but it would serve as a signal to deter Russian aggression, fully broadcasting the capabilities of the hornet nest that Russia would be wading into. Recent support to the Syrian rebellion has set a precedent for overt backing to resistance elements by US Special Operations Forces. However, the Syria debacle offers significant lessons that must be learned for the future, namely the importance of developing underground and auxiliary capacity in addition to armed guerrilla elements, a critical but often-ignored element of Unconventional Warfare doctrine, as well as the significance of deliberate measures to mitigate divergent actions resulting from the adverse selection of proxy forces.

A key consideration for policy-makers is the role of non-violent and violent resistance within such a Baltic defense plan. Lithuania's defense ministry recently issued a manual entitled "How to Act in Extreme Situations or Instances of War" that specifically discusses the role of organizing civil disobedience to counter hybrid warfare. Non-violent resistance has historical precedent in the Baltics against the Soviet Union, and evidence supports its potential effectiveness against Russia today. Even the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s predecessor during World War II, issued guidance on how to sabotage occupying forces with civil resistance. However, the outcome of the Syrian uprising demonstrates that both non-violent and violent resistance must be planned for as part of a comprehensive strategy.

The Paradox of Strategic Irregular Warfare

Irregular warfare options often present a debilitating paradox for the US and other stable democracies. According to Colonel (Ret) Mark Mitchell, a former commander of 5th Special Forces Group, politicians are most resistant to implementing irregular warfare measures when they are most likely to be successful. When introduced prior to or very early in a conflict, minimal resource expenditures may have outsized positive effects on strategic outcomes; however, informational ambiguity and the twin dangers of escalation and unintended consequences create political hesitation that prevents implementation of the necessary actions at the earliest stages. By the time policy-makers realize that the situation has degenerated into a real problem impacting US national interests (think Syria today) and decide to act, the opportunity to implement a decisive or even an efficacious low-visibility/low-cost solution has long since passed. Such solutions can still be implemented but are highly unlikely to deliver the desired results.  

Some may point to the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan as an example of an effective irregular warfare solution executed without a long lead. Such an assessment ignores the effects of US relationships with the Afghan resistance groups as a result of the efforts to impose costs on the Soviets in the 80s. Absent those relationships, built and sustained over the better part of two decades and exploited by the “horse soldiers” like Colonel Mitchell, the US would not have been able to rapidly implement an irregular warfare effort in 2001.

In 1948, George F. Kennan recognized the need to employ “political warfare” against the Soviet Union, integrating all national means, both covert and overt, to achieve national security objectives “in the absence of declared war or overt force-on-force hostilities.” This requirement remains the same today. Eliminating sanctuaries of impunity, whether they be within the political space of the “gray zone” being manipulated by Russia, or physical territory utilized by al-Qaeda or the Islamic State to launch attacks on the US homeland, requires the US to employ unconventional measures to compete and win.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. Special thanks to Ambassador Michael Sheehan, former Ambassador-at-Large for Counter Terrorism and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, and Colonel (Ret) Mark Mitchell, former commander of 5th Special Forces Group, for their contributions to this article.

About the Author(s)

Major Steve Ferenzi is an instructor in the United States Military Academy’s Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS) Program and Officer-in-Charge of West Point’s Irregular Warfare Group (IWG). He is an Army Special Forces officer with service in the 3rd Special Forces Group and the 82nd Airborne Division. He holds a Master of International Affairs degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

Comments

Zeogludon

Sun, 05/22/2016 - 7:46am

Very interesting article Major, and a new perspective on the vitality of American power that is often rejected. I would provide two cautions to the proposed strategy based on the Russian experience of dealing with insurgency in Chechnya.

Firstly, Russia is not as vulnerable to a 'color revolution' as they believe themselves to be. While you are right to note that Russian officials believe that a Western-backed color revolution carries serious security risks, the current Russian political landscape does not have any opposition group that could take action like Otpor!, Georgian Dream, or Southerns in Kyrgyzstan. Moreover, the new Russian laws strictly monitoring funding and activities of NGOs mean that American support for such political movements would be difficult to achieve in any significant way -- short of funding Caucasian Islamists or another full-scale militia, America could scare the Russian regime, but not pose a serious threat.

Secondly, actions by the Baltic states to prepare their militaries and populations for civil resistance or insurgency against a potential Russian invasion is admirable, but assumes that Russian occupational forces will conform to military convention. If the insurgency in the Baltics was truly serious, what would prevent the Russians from employing the same strategy as Chechnya? Insurgent Balts might be able to challenge a rule-bound military force, but will the resolve of the population stand if collaborator militias are turned loose on the population? Can these forces stand strong when heads are displayed on roadsides and entire villages are killed in retribution for hosting a rebel? In a pinch, the Russians can make the costs of insurgency intolerably and barbarically high, something I do not think the Balts have considered.

Hopefully Russia will realize that the potential costs of conflict with NATO countries is too high, but in the unlike situation that Russia did initiate military action in the Baltic these are important points to consider when toying with plans for an Eastern European insurgency.

Steve, how about you boys along the Hudson just try a little more honestly and a lot less cloak and dagger with Russia? Who knows, it could pay dividends over time and save the lives of a lot of Troopers.

Note 1:

From the concluding paragraphs of the "color revolution" link provided by our author above:

"If they (the Russian leadership) truly believe that the United States is seeking to force them out of power and is simply waiting for an opportune moment to strike, then Russian policies will remain committed to ensuring that the United States does not get such an opportunity.

The U.S. response to such a position needs to focus on a combination of reassuring steps to show that the United States is not planning to overthrow the Putin regime and a restatement of the core U.S. position that the citizens of each country deserve the right to determine their own government without external interference (from either Russia or the United States)."

http://www.ponarseurasia.org/memo/countering-color-revolutions-russia%E…

(Such recommendations as these; they seem to fly in the face of the recommendations of our author, MAJ Ferenzi, above. Yes?)

Note 2:

Our author, MAJ Ferenzi above, in his concluding paragraphs, points to US relationships with the Afghan resistance groups in the 80s, and how those relationships, "built and sustained over the better part of two decades and exploited by the 'horse soldiers' like Colonel Mitchell," allowed the US to rapidly implement an irregular warfare effort and quickly overthrow the Taliban in 2001.

The critical lesson learned, however, re: these activities, was that regime compromise/regime change -- whether achieved by unconventional means as in Afghanistan or by conventional means as in Iraq -- these such activities are to be avoided in almost every instance;

This, given the apparent impossible follow-on mission -- of governing the populations of these defeated countries and providing for all their conflicted/diverse wants, needs and desires -- and this, for an exceptionally long-term, if not indefinite, period of time thereafter.

(In this regard, for example, do we want Putin to call our "regime change" bluf, and, thus, we become totally and completely responsible for an "unhinged" Russia, and all the Russian people also?)

Note 3:

With these such suggestions (see Note 1 above) and these such understandings (see Note 2 above) before us, should we:

a. Re-consider any suggested moves to "fostering indigenous resistance movements?" Or, at least,

b. Describe how such moves are not as likely, or indeed more likely, to:

(1) Confirm our enemies' suggestions re: our objectives (regime change/global hegemony) and, thus,

(2) Play directly into our enemies' hands. And/or

(3) Otherwise put us into an even worse position than we are in now. (For example, by causing the Russian people to rally, even further, around their leader and his "countering" moves/cause?)

These such "counterproductive"/"back-fire" consequences, re: our "irregular warfare options" being discussed above (and indeed by others here on SWJ); these, in fact, being very reasonable questions and concerns? Questions and concerns that need to be more-adequately taken-on and addressed. Yes?

Outlaw 09

Fri, 05/20/2016 - 2:35pm

In reply to by THG

In some ways I like the term non linear warfare as it reflects both a noun ie "subject" and a verb..."action".....

What we seem to forget is that there are two key cornerstones to non linear warfare that must work for the so called "hybrid warfare" US term to be successful....1) information warfare and 2) cyber warfare....

What is interesting is that the Russians have since Crimea now been able to merge the two into internet trolling......combining social media as the info war piece and the internet for the cyber piece.....

While we always look at Russian trolling we tend to overlook the possibility that even US citizens engage in info warfare using trolling as the means....

Internet trolling is a tool of Russia's hybrid warfare
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bzx...w?pref=2&pli=1

AT what point is the Russian trolling in hybrid warfare any different than what we are currently seeing in a massive proTrump trolling...tactics are the same...."desired end state is the same"..........

https://www.commentarymagazine.com/a...line-brigades/

Trump’s Terrifying Online Brigades

The “alt-Right,” the “neo-reactionaries,” and the politics of grievance

James Kirchick / May 16, 2016

Quote:

When the journalist Julia Ioffe published a profile of Melania Trump for GQ, she had reason to expect that supporters of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee would be disappointed by its portrayal of Donald Trump’s third wife. “Her journey to marrying The Donald is like a fairy tale, or a too-crazy-to-believe rom-com,” Ioffe revealed. “It’s a story full of naked ambition, stunning beauty, a shockingly Trump-like dad, and even some family secrets.” What Ioffe, who is Jewish, did not expect was a torrent of anti-Semitic abuse and death threats.

On Twitter, the candidate’s anonymous backers superimposed images of Ioffe’s face over those of concentration camp inmates. On her voicemail, they left recordings of Hitler speeches. “This is not a heavily critical article. There is nothing in it that is untrue,” Ioffe told the Guardian. “If this is how Trump supporters swing into action, what happens when the press looks into corrupt dealings, for example, or is critical of his policies?”

It’s a good question. For any journalist or political figure who has been remotely critical of Donald Trump over the past year, Ioffe’s treatment came as no surprise. It was hardly news that his backers would traffic in this sort of filth—all the more so if the critic is Jewish, a woman, gay, or not white. Of course, crudity has always existed in American political life, on a bipartisan basis. But there is something new in the pervasive and relentless nastiness of Trump’s supporters, especially as they represent themselves online. While it’s certainly true that most of Trump’s supporters are neither racists nor anti-Semites, it appears to be the case that all of the racists and anti-Semites in this country (and many beyond) support Trump.

To take but one of countless examples, one of the most active pro-Trump Twitter accounts, with 27,000 followers, goes by the handle @Ricky_Vaughn99. Unlike many of his Internet brothers-in-arms, who utilize the likenesses of obscure interwar European fascists and nationalists as their avatars, this troll features the visage of actor Charlie Sheen from the film Major League. What he lacks in visible nostalgia for the Third Reich, @Ricky_Vaughn99 makes up for in his concern about “#whitegenocide,” interpreted as any sign of nonwhite racial advancement. “The Trump presidency will probably be bad for neocon jews, bad for liberal jews, but good for jews who are believers in the nation-state and American nationalism,” he told Armin Rosen, of Tablet magazine, via Twitter. Contrary to most Americans, @Ricky_Vaughn99 thrills at Trump’s every insult, derogatory comment, and affront. On his Twitter profile, he describes himself as a “free speech activist,” an identifier defiantly adopted as a mark of resistance against an alleged campaign by “SJWs” (social-justice warriors) to circumscribe the freedom of white men.

“Free speech activist” is a curiously prevalent appellation on the medium of Twitter for members of the “alt-right,” short for “alternative right,” a populist movement that has been emboldened and bolstered by the fortunes of the Trump campaign. Existing largely on the Internet, which makes the size of its following difficult to gauge, the alt-right is proudly ethno-nationalist, protectionist, isolationist, and culturally traditionalist. It takes intellectual guidance from publications and websites like American Renaissance, Radix Journal, Occidental Observer, Taki’s Magazine, and, increasingly, the popular news website Breitbart.com.

It was at Breitbart that, in March, an extensive article appeared defending the alt-right. While “establishment” conservative institutions and intellectuals have criticized the alt-right as little more than a bunch of gussied-up white supremacists, authors Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari explained that these arbiters of good conservative taste have the alt-right all wrong. Praising the “youthful energy” and “taboo-defying rhetoric” of alt-right writers and activists, the two Breitbart columnists led readers through a sort of ideological safari, applying their own taxonomy to the various types of personalities who comprise this “dangerously bright” movement.

Their “Guide to the Alt Right” is a prolix defense of juvenile racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and other assorted bigotries as much-needed “provocation” to the enervated conservative movement. One might quickly object that when so much of the alt-right’s rhetoric consists of terms like “peak negro,” “Niggertech,” and “ovenworthy” (the latter meaning “anything that would be substantially improved by immediate incineration”), it becomes difficult to know where the “taboo-defying rhetoric” and intellectual “provocation” end and where the monstrousness begins.

Our politics are becoming darker, our peoples more susceptible to the promises of demagogues, and the rise of an explicitly anti-democratic, pro-authoritarian right seems more possible in America than ever before.

Lest anyone take offense at these and other memes popularized by the dregs of the Internet (such as the cartoon of a hook-nosed Jewish caricature named “Shlomo Shekelburg” who cries, “Remember the 6 trillion, goyim!”) Yiannopoulos and Bokhari reassure their readers that the alt-right is harmless, the cheek of its younger cohort no different than that of the “60’s kids” who “shocked their parents with promiscuity, long hair and rock’n’roll.” Besides, the movement’s “true motivations,” they tell us, are “not racism, the restoration of monarchy or traditional gender roles, but lulz.” (“Lulz” is the Internet term to define the mocking laughter that arises from purposefully shocking someone else’s sense of decorum.)

Yiannopolous and Bokhari insist that the alt-right “is best defined by what it stands against rather than what it stands for.” This makes it the perfect intellectual base of the Trump campaign. Building walls, banning Muslims, “bombing the ####” out of people—there is nothing aspirational or positive about Trump, other than his vague and windy promise to “Make America Great Again.” In this important sense, Trump is truly an anomalous phenomenon, as he has replaced the perennially optimistic message of the American presidential campaign with something more suitable to Venezuela. Though we all have reason to be annoyed by the cultural resurgence of political correctness, the alt-right remedy is the oratorical inverse of the problem they claim they despise. Social-justice warriors needlessly shut down debate and proscribe certain words and ideas to assuage the feelings of allegedly vulnerable minority groups; the alt-right needlessly flings around racial epithets and Der Stürmer cartoons purely to transgress accepted social codes. And that’s only the most charitable explanation for their behavior, assuming as it does that they don’t “really” mean what they say.

But what about that element of the alt-right that actually does have a political agenda beyond annoying its adversaries? The primary alt-right constituency, according to Yiannopolous and Bokhari, consists of “natural conservatives,” largely white, male, middle-class Americans “who are unapologetically embracing a new identity politics that prioritizes the interests of their own demographic.” These voters are “conservative” not so much in the American sense as in the European one; they show no interest whatsoever in the GOP’s traditional free-market economic agenda of trade, low taxes, and flexible labor regulations, preferring instead a strongman leader promising trade protectionism, entitlement expansion, and the assertion of white male privilege.1

Illiberalism is sweeping the globe. Coming from left or right—and, as evidenced in this country by Trump and socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, often converging in that place where extremes meet—political leaders and movements across the democratic world are advocating economic and ethnic nationalism, the closing of borders, the imposition of trade barriers, the dissolution of multilateral alliances, and accommodation with dictatorships. Our politics are becoming darker, our peoples more susceptible to the promises of demagogues, and the rise of an explicitly anti-democratic, pro-authoritarian right seems more possible in America than ever before.
I
f the alt-right does have an intellectual forbear, it is a 43-year-old computer programmer named Curtis Yarvin. Along with fellow “neo-reactionary” thinker Nick Land (a former lecturer at the University of Warwick), Yarvin is the father of “The Dark Enlightenment.” This is a 21st-century, tech-friendly philosophy that, as its name implies, rejects democracy, egalitarianism, and the Whig interpretation of history. It is delineated in a 30,000-word pamphlet of the same name, written by Land and available for free on the Internet.

Continued.....

Along with “The Dark Enlightenment,” these works can be seen as the foundational texts of neo-reactionary ideology.

Around the time Trump’s rise began in 2015, his alt-right fans began slamming right-wingers of more conventional stripes with the term “cuck-servative” —a portmanteau of “cuckold” and “conservative” with racist undertones.

Continued.........

Really worth reading the entire article and then telling me there is a difference between this and Russian info warfare??

A very thoughtful piece. I'd only offer a couple cautions.

1. Be wary of using "hybrid warfare" as a concrete noun. It is far too broad and undefined of a term to be effectively used in a piece like this.

2. Not sure we have the causality of Russian actions in Crimea right. While we don't know for sure, it would seem that the "green men" tactic was used because its ambiguity supported the overall narrative of a local uprising/demand to join Russia. I doubt it was used to avoid an armored attack or even a NATO response.

3. "While the Iran-Contra affair and blowback from supporting the Afghan mujahedeen remain black eyes to US prestige, America successfully bled the Soviet Union without resorting to either nuclear Armageddon or conventional escalation." Outright violation of US law and the spread of a worldwide terror group are hardly "minutiae"--they might be a call to caution and thoughtfulness.

4. "The toothless US response may have been justifiable given the lack of legal commitments to non-member Ukraine." Again--your case isn't strengthened by hyperbole. The US regional activity has sharply increased, to include SOF. I'm not clear what a "toothy" response would be for you, but you have a worthy idea--focus on presenting it.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 05/19/2016 - 6:27am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Now SWJ commenters seriously convince me the Obama WH actually knows what it is doing?....his intel briefings should have covered this thoroughly but apparently they did not.

https://kyleorton1991.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/the-assad-regimes-war-ag…

The Assad Regime’s War Against Syria’s People

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton)
on February 8, 2016

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report earlier today documenting the Assad regime’s “systematic and widespread attack against [the Syrian] civilian population.” The report is meticulously compiled from reams of internal documents and the evidence of 621 witnesses who have been in Assad’s prisons, covering the period March 10, 2011, to November 30, 2015. Two-hundred of these witnesses personally saw somebody murdered. The report is focussed on the mass-murder of prisoners and the evidence leads to the conclusions that the Assad regime has committed extermination, murder, rape, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity, as well as a raft of at least six separate counts of war crimes.

OHCHR starts with the very earliest days of the uprising, when it was still a street protest movement, at which point the Assad regime began mass-arrests of civilians “perceived to be either supporting the opposition or insufficiently loyal”. Many of the civilians taken into custody were murdered, and “families were first informed about the death or whereabouts of their relatives from released fellow prisoners.” Most of the victims were males over fifteen, but women and children—one as young as seven-years-old and the infamous case of thirteen-year-old Hamza al-Khatib—were also tortured and murdered.

In early 2011, as the regime arrested civilians and liquidated peaceful activists like Ibrahim Qashoush and Ghiath Matar, it was releasing jihadists from its prisons, with the deliberate intention—as defectors have testified—of framing the uprising in sectarian terms and frightening a strategic majority of the population (and the international community) with the spectre of an Islamist/terrorist takeover.

“Caesar,” a photographer at a regime mortuary before he defected with thousands of images showing at least 11,000 people done to death in regime prisons, has reported on the systematic way the regime records the cause of death as “heart attack” or “respiratory problems”. OHCHR provides further testimony on this:

In no documented cases did the family receive further proof of death or documentation indicating that investigative measures had been taken by the authorities to verify the cause of death, or to establish or absolve responsibility of State agents or others for the fate of the victim, as required by international human rights law.

But OHCHR notes that the real importance of these “centralised, systemic procedures,” including the issuing of death certificates, is the proof it provides that the most senior levels of the Assad regime were at a minimum aware of what was happening, and thus at least complicit after the fact since they took no steps to stop or even punish the murderers. The various branches of the Military Police corps of the Syrian Arab Army, especially at its headquarters in al-Qaboun, Damascus, the staff at Tishreen military hospital who issued the death certificates, and the judicial institutions that registered these patently fraudulent documents were all involved in a systematic campaign of torture and murder against Syria’s civilians.

In addition to the systematized slaughter of prisoners, there was the random cruelty and killing:

Interrogators and guards employed gruesome methods of torture to kill detainees. In 2014, a detainee held in a centre under the control of the 4th Division of the Syrian army had his genitals mutilated during torture. Bleeding severely and left without treatment, he died three days later. A detainee of a Military Security branch in Homs witnessed an elderly man being severely beaten, and then hung by his wrists from the ceiling. The guards burned his eyes with a cigarette, and pierced his body with a heated, sharp metal object. After hanging in the same position for three hours, the man died.

And the conditions of the prisons—even for those who had not had wounds requiring medical attention inflicted upon them by torture—were arranged with a “calculated awareness that such conditions would cause mass deaths of detainees in the ordinary course of events”:

[Prisoners] perished as a consequence of inhuman living conditions inflicted on the prison population, including severe over-crowding, lack of food, and unclean drinking water. Prisoners were given inadequate or no medical care, and died in large numbers from preventable conditions such as diarrhoea or other contagious infections spread in the unhygienic and overcrowded cells

The report also documents arbitrary imprisonment and murder by Jabhat an-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, and the Islamic State, but notes that neither group has done anything that comes close to what the regime has done in terms of scale.

The “high frequency” of the killings in regime prisons, committed “over a long period of time and in multiple locations, with significant logistical support involving vast State resources,” makes it impossible that the regime’s leaders were uninvolved what was—and still is—happening.

The “near-total secrecy” of these crimes has meant that they are “largely lost to the international public and political discourse surrounding the violence of the conflict,” OHCHR notes. But many Syrians do know about this system—either by having had relatives pass through it, be lost to it, or collaborate in it. While the Syrian opposition in Geneva has been portrayed as intransigent for its adamancy that Assad is unsuitable to lead a political transition, this is a large part of the reason: they understand, as the outside world has chosen not to, that every day the Assad regime and its organs of State power remain in place hundreds of thousands of innocent people are trapped in its prisons, subject to inhumane treatment, and helpless to prevent their murder at any moment.

The report had one major omission: the role of Russia and Iran in enabling these crimes. Iran especially, which runs the sectarian and foreign militias that are all that remain of Assad’s State, is deeply implicated in everything that happens as part of Assad’s war-making policy, and Russia now provides the air cover, as well as the political protection, for the perpetuation of these crimes. Any legal proceedings would have to include consideration of who in Tehran and Moscow should join senior Assad regime officials in the dock.

Contrary to the recurring theme in Syria commentary, Assad was never a partner in defeating IS and likeminded groups, sharing with them the same strategic priority of eliminating the nationalist opposition. Frederic Hof once wrote that “those who counsel cooperation with Assad should think things through very, very carefully with their own reputations in mind.” If this report helps people find their moral bearings and to finally understand that the only path to peace in Syria is the removal of the dictator and his retainers, so much the better.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 05/19/2016 - 6:16am

A more perfect example of the Obama WH failures in reference to this article is the following......

I am not sure one should "cry" or simply "sigh" about the abject failures of Obama....this is what one get's when there is absolutely no national level strategic strategies for anything....beyond one's own legacy.....

This was announced by the every so efficient assistant national defense advisor for strategic communication's office.....

In Exec Order, Pres Obama reaffirms Atrocities Prevention Board to alert US to "mass atrocities and genocide" before it's "too late."

Response from the field was sudden and brutal....

Before it's "too late?" A joke re: what we've ignored in Syria? Or doesn't Syria qualify as "mass atrocities and genocide?"

In FIVES years he did not read a single newspaper article about Syria and or Iraq nor asked his UNSC Ambassador about genocide?

R U kidding? Or is it only the atrocities and genocides committed against countries with low oil production that matter.

He really should just go ahead and Executive Order a new Pres and Admin, best solution possible.

Are there a new "redlines" in the Exec Order?

Maybe they should have read the Intel reports about Isis, Syria and Iraq... they could have prevented some atrocities and genocide.

BUT WAIT....this Exec Board is for "future" atrocities and genocide events......

SO the Obama WH is starting from a clear slate and is "forgetting the Assad war crimes, use of starvation, destruction of hospitals, the killing of 500,000, imprisoning over 200,000, having 8M IDPs and 5M refugees"....with now the support of Putin.

That way he can argue he "knew nothing about it"......

BUT WAIT was that not the same arguments used by many Germans referencing their own concentration camp involvement??

Outlaw 09

Thu, 05/19/2016 - 2:25am

BTW this article is at a critical time in space so to speak......as IS is moving into a global form of guerrilla warfare whether we like it or not.

AND unless the National Command Authority gets with the program what we have previously seen of IS will pale as we will start seeing it virtually everyday and globally and we have already gotten a "taste" of their capacity.

My only concern is that the current NCA is totally wearing out the only force capable of dealing with it by constant deployments now over literally years instead of using larger numbers of the SOF total force.

Go big, go hard and go long..AND use the locals as much as possible..had the NCA followed this path we might be finally slowly coming to the end of the tunnel instead of spinning our wheels and standing at the beginning of the tunnel after 13 long years....

Tropiccid

Wed, 05/18/2016 - 2:59pm

I applaud your thoughtful approach to dealing with adversaries, however would echo previous comments regarding the will and resolve of the current occupant of the whitehouse (a wildcard any strategy will be subject to).

I would disagree that Russia has any strategic interest in the Baltics that would justify the risk of going to war with NATO, whether it be an asymmetric tit for tat as it appears you propose, or a full scale conventional conflict.

Lastly, I suggest that costs not be confined to resources as you mention prior to the taber quote. The risks associated with an American asymmetric effort may be more significant than the low cost of such an operation. We may not intend for a conflict to escalate to the conventional sphere. However, if we are as successful at it as you suggest, an adversary may roll in the tanks and kick it up to a notch we don't have the stomach for.

I believe that NATO partners with the will and capacity to defend themselves, and with the credible promise of eventual American military involvement (as Article V already provides), is the most effective deterrent to Russian adventurism.

Thanks for the intellectual stimulation!

Outlaw 09

Wed, 05/18/2016 - 11:38am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

It does no good that have great SWJ articles like this when in fact the current US WH is looking away as "Rome burns" and has basically written off Syria and the entire Sunni ME....thus basically ignores anything even remotely UW.....

Footage
The city of #Rastan in besieged #Homs province.
Heavy #Assad bombing raids.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eg3JnRod5qU

Extremely graphic footage.
14 civilians massacred by #Assad's jets in #Rastan.
13 of them of the same family.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77CbjMTNojU

BREAKING
While Steinmeier, Kerry and co. look away, Assad keeps slaughtering the Syrian people.
#RASTAN NOW !!

Footage
"Russian" cluster bomb attacks on the southern Hama front throughout the day.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIsrH6IfVQI

Also S-W & E of #Damascus,the #Assad regime pushes on its offensive
No reaction by the West.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0bjqY1oJuc

Outlaw 09

Wed, 05/18/2016 - 11:16am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

This is the perfect example of why this para in the article is so important....especially the second/third sentences of the para.....

Quote:

When introduced prior to or very early in a conflict, minimal resource expenditures may have outsized positive effects on strategic outcomes; however, informational ambiguity and the twin dangers of escalation and unintended consequences create political hesitation that prevents implementation of the necessary actions at the earliest stages. By the time policy-makers realize that the situation has degenerated into a real problem impacting US national interests (think Syria today) and decide to act, the opportunity to implement a decisive or even an efficacious low-visibility/low-cost solution has long since passed. Such solutions can still be implemented but are highly unlikely to deliver the desired results.

This is the US supported "UW option"....CIA/CENTCOM/Obama WH/DoD option that the Obama WH played and it is now fighting against a nominally US supported proxy FSA and YPG the US proxy is receiving Assad and Putin CAS as well is part and parcel of the US named terrorist group PKK....can a WH policy get even more convoluted?????

AND it is the FSA that is attacking IS daily while the US proxy YPG was suppose to be attacking IS BUT got sidetracked in building a Kurdish state and started attacking Sunni Arabs NOT IS and or Assad.....

BreakingNews
Syria's @SyriaCivilDef demand the YPG to stop supporting Russia and Assad in cutting off Aleppo.

Handara right now.
Assad,Russia & the YPG do everything to close the ring road. Aleppo.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jghUgH_3YsA

Outlaw 09

Wed, 05/18/2016 - 10:27am

There are two sentences and one para that stand out like searchlights in this article....

However, the outcome of the Syrian uprising demonstrates that both non-violent and violent resistance must be planned for as part of a comprehensive strategy.

Irregular warfare options often present a debilitating paradox for the US and other stable democracies. According to Colonel (Ret) Mark Mitchell, a former commander of 5th Special Forces Group, politicians are most resistant to implementing irregular warfare measures when they are most likely to be successful.

When introduced prior to or very early in a conflict, minimal resource expenditures may have outsized positive effects on strategic outcomes; however, informational ambiguity and the twin dangers of escalation and unintended consequences create political hesitation that prevents implementation of the necessary actions at the earliest stages. By the time policy-makers realize that the situation has degenerated into a real problem impacting US national interests (think Syria today) and decide to act, the opportunity to implement a decisive or even an efficacious low-visibility/low-cost solution has long since passed. Such solutions can still be implemented but are highly unlikely to deliver the desired results.

BUT and here is the kicker...it will require a decisive WH...not a timid one and therein lies the core problem....when we have a current WH that is totally 500% "risk averse" then even the best made plans of mice and men will fail end of story....

This Obama WH had five years ago ...... a decision to make and they went long and weak and never really thought their moves through and now it is virtually impossible to recover from that disastrous move....when given 50 different options they could not even pick one single COA.

This article should be printed out and pinned to the wall of the WH and made mandatory reading for the entire 700 person NCS and the WH so called national security advisors...BUT WAIT I forgot they are all "novelists".....

Dave Maxwell

Wed, 05/18/2016 - 6:02am

Excellent succinct essay on an important subject that regretfully is only talked about on Small Wars Journal and not enough in the mainstream media or academia. A properly executed UW campaign can impose costs on an adversary (emphasis on properly planned, supported, and executed) in support of an overall strategy (and again the emphasis on a strategy).