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Chuck Hagel: Syria Strategy Remains Unchanged

By John Ubaldi
Special Contributor to In Homeland Security

Amid reports of dissent inside the Obama administration regarding its Syria strategy, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, spoke before the House Armed Services Committee Thursday stating that “There is no change, and there is no different direction.”

Hagel continued his testimony saying, “The position of the United States remains that President Bashar al-Assad has lost the legitimacy to govern and that there is no purely military solution to the conflict in Syria. Alongside our efforts to isolate and sanction the Assad regime, our strategy is to strengthen the moderate opposition to the point where they can first defend and control their local areas; next, go on the offense and take back areas that have been lost to ISIL; and ultimately, as their capability and leverage develop, to create conditions for a political settlement in Syria.”

How is the U.S. strengthening the moderate elements in Syria when the moderate forces in Syria have faced major setbacks in recent weeks, as forces loyal to the regime of Assad have taken advantage of the U.S. air campaign against ISIS?

Last week Hagel sent a critical memo to National Security Adviser Susan Rice cautioning her failure to deal with Assad and compromising the administration’s efforts in Syria.

Hagel continued in his testimony that Iraq is the focus of the U.S. in its efforts against ISIS, and reiterated that ridding Syria of Assad will be no easy task. However, Hagel stated that ISIL “will not be defeated through military force alone.” In Iraq, he said, “much more needs to be done to achieve political reform.” And in Syria, since there exists no partner government to work with, Secretary Hagel pointed out that military strategy will demand time, patience and perseverance to deliver results.

“The position of the United States remains that [Syrian President Bashar] Assad has lost the legitimacy to govern,” Hagel said. The U.S. and coalition goal, he explained, is to ultimately create conditions for a political settlement in Syria.

The situation inside Syria was complicated last week when a meeting was held in the town of Atareb, by various terror groups, to outline a mutual agreement in attacking Kurdish forces in Northern Syria.

Newsweek reported Friday that according to The Associated Press, which spoke with high-ranking Syrian opposition officials and a rebel commander who were familiar with the plan laid out by ISIS and al-Qaida, they were able to determine that seven militant leaders were present at the late-night meeting which was held in the town of Atareb. ISIS sent one representative to the meeting, two of which were from the Nusra Front. Khorasan Group (al-Qaida,) Jund al-Aqsa (ISIS loyalists) and Ahrar al-Sham, which The Associated Press described as a “conservative Muslim rebel group,” also sent representatives.

Continuing the Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaida, has previously fought with ISIS for control of the region. In working together, the two terrorist organizations will first join forces to attack Kurdish soldiers in areas of northern Syria, the report said.

The terror groups also agreed to end fighting amongst themselves and concentrate its efforts in battling the Syrian Revolutionaries front, a group supported by the United States.

How will the U.S. ultimately create a political settlement in Syria when the partners we need are being attack from all sides?

Even the situation inside Iraq is very tenuous, as the Sunni tribes still feel alienated and have no incentive to join the fight against ISIS.

Hagel mentions in his testimony that “Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi is leaning forward by engaging all of Iraqi’s diverse communities. He’s appointed a Sunni defense minister after that post was left vacant for more than four years. And he’s moving to create an Iraqi National Guard which would empower local forces, especially in Sunni tribal areas of Anbar Province, while aligning them with the central government.”

All this may be true, but what happens to the Sunni’s when ISIS is defeated? The Sunni’s do not believe they will ever be part of the governmental apparatus in Baghdad. They may not like the philosophy of ISIS, but to them they hold a check and balance on the Shiite dominated government.

The U.S. has to be realistic and put forward pragmatic solutions; otherwise we will not defeat ISIS.

About the Author: John Ubaldi is President of Ubaldi Reports which provides credible, political content, addressing domestic and global issues written by military veterans with expertise on domestic and international issues. He has a Master’s in National Security Studies from American Military University with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies and a Bachelor’s in Government from California State University, Sacramento.

Read more of John’s articles at The Ubaldi Reports.

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