As always in war, ordinary Syrians continue to suffer, including the country’s Christian minority. Refugees live in horrific conditions, with one asking, “All of the international community is working against us. Are we all animals? Is there no humanity?” Another Syrian relates brutal stories from the Assad regime’s prisons, where torture is widespread. Despite the hardships, the country’s citizen journalists have kept reporting on the conflict; Syria Deeply checks in with a few.
Remember reports of a “sex jihad”, or Muslim women traveling to Syria to sleep with rebels? Lurid stories aside, it probably never happened. Women are playing a role in the fighting — remember the women of Kurdish militias? — and one appears to be an infantry commander in the Free Syrian Army.
As Islamist rebels reportedly gain ground at the expense of their moderate peers — an “enormous gift” to the regime, in James Traub’s words — the CIA is ramping up its covert training program. But with a lack of resources and commitment restricting the program to only producing “a few hundred” fighters a month, it is unclear what its practical impact will be. Speaking of extremist groups, it is important to remember that these groups may be attracting recruits due to their competency, not beliefs: “Fighting groups are also not ideologically homogenous, as many fighters join groups for their effectiveness on the battlefield and discipline — not their religious beliefs.”
More signs of black marketeers’ efforts to obscure the origins of Chinese-made MANPADS (or man-portable anti-air guided missile systems) in Syria.
Meanwhile, international organizations report major progress on Syria’s chemical weapons, with UN teams reportedly already beginning their disposal. Secretary Kerry praised the regime’s cooperation, calling it “a credit to the Assad regime, frankly,” and Eli Lake looks at the diplomatic sausage-making behind the Kerry-Lavrov deal. But not everyone is happy with the chemical weapons deal: “It is all about giving Assad more time to kill more people,” says one opposition activist. “The international community is celebrating the victory of keeping Assad as president despite the fact that he has killed hundreds of thousands.”
Elsewhere in the region, deadly attacks on Iraqi Shiites stirs anger at a government that seems unable to stop the violence, further violence rocks Egypt, the Lebanese Army has taken over security in southern Beirut suburbs previously administered by Hezbollah, and Israeli soldiers train in a mock ‘Hezbollah village’.
After the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall a weekend US raid in Somalia reportedly failed to capture or kill its al Shabab target. Kenyan human rights lawyer Al Amin Kimathi, who spent time in a Ugandan prison with self-confessed Islamist militants, discusses Shabab members’ mindsets: “They are given the feeling that they are a very important person and that martyrdom is something to aspire to – the anger over their deprivation is lowered to a feeling of comfort, to a point where the only thing they aspire to is a collective action.”
Gary Owen passes along news of an impasse in American-Afghan negotiations over the impending US drawdown that could lead to a potentially-disastrous complete withdrawal from the country in 2014 — without a deal to keep international troops in Afghanistan the US Congress “would not likely follow through on the assistance promises we’ve made, nor would other partners,” according to one American official.
In the world of violent political slogans, reports last week suggested that Iranian President Rouhani sought to retire the iconic ‘Death the America’ chant, only to have its use reaffirmed by a Brigadier General.