A Note on Recent Events in Syria

Posted by Robert S. Ford
February 10, 2012
Satellite Image of Homs, Syria February 6, 2012

Editor's Note: This entry appeared first on the U.S. Embassy Syria Facebook page. You can find additional satellite imagery of Syrian military movements here.

First, like people around the world, my colleagues and friends are watching the video coming out of Homs and some of the other Syrian cities in the last days with horror and revulsion. I hear the devastating stories about newborns in Homs dying in hospitals where electricity has been cut and when we see disturbing photos offering proof that the regime is using mortars and artillery against residential neighborhoods, all of us become even more concerned about the tragic outcome for Syrian civilians. The Arab League protocol, which received wide support from the international community, called for the Syrian military to withdraw from residential areas, to stop firing at peaceful protests and to release prisoners arrested due to the unrest. The film coming out of Homs and elsewhere in Syria shows the Syrian government's real response. And we have never heard of the armed opposition firing artillery for example. It is odd to me that anyone would try to equate the actions of the Syrian army and armed opposition groups since the Syrian government consistently initiates the attacks on civilian areas, and it is using its heaviest weapons.

I also want to say a word about our suspending the work of the American Embassy in Damascus. I can say without exaggeration that February 6 was the most emotionally taxing day of my career as a Foreign Service Officer. Due to the elevated security risks we confronted in Syria, the government of the United States had to suspend operations at our embassy in Damascus, and I had to depart with my American colleagues and say goodbye to our Syrian colleagues and friends who face a very uncertain future.

I left Damascus with immense sadness and regret -- I wish our departure had not been necessary, but our embassy, along with several other diplomatic missions in the area, was not sufficiently protected, given the new security concerns in the capital. We and those other embassies requested extra protection measures from the Syrian government, given the danger to both our citizens and the Syrian citizens that worked with and near us. Our concerns were not addressed.

As the United States' Ambassador to Syria -- a position that the Secretary of State and President are keeping me in -- I will work with colleagues in Washington to support a peaceful transition for the Syrian people. We and our international partners hope to see a transition that reaches out and includes all of Syria's communities and that gives all Syrians hope for a better future. My year in Syria tells me such a transition is possible, but not when one side constantly initiates attacks against people taking shelter in their homes.

Comments

Comments

bed43
February 10, 2012

W.W. writes:

time for the avengers league

The UN says over 5,400 people have died in the last ten months, some of them under torture in prison. Other groups – particularly those opposed to President Assad and his regime – claim the figure is much higher. The Syrian regime tells us that these claims are exaggerated and that the world should look instead at the deaths of soldiers and regime forces.

Who’s right? People say that it’s no longer possible to hide the truth. Anyone can post a video on YouTube or a link on Twitter for the world to see. But sometimes this abundance of information can lead to confusion over detail, instead of informed debate and rational arguments over the facts.

Sometimes we focus too much on the abstract and not enough on what we see with our own eyes.

Over the long period of time that I have known Syria, I have seen the regime of Hafez Assad and his son Bashar in action. The Assad dynasty was never a pleasant one to its people. I have seen the wounds of people released from prison. I have spoken to the families whose relatives have simply disappeared. I have heard from those who got a knock at 2am from the Mukhabarat (intelligence services) and were taken away for a still unknown affront to the Syrian authorities.

But even having witnessed Syria’s dark side, the violence and brutality I have witnessed over the last ten months shocks me.

From the very start of this unrest, the regime’s tactics were laid bare. On 15 March 2011 we watched as 40 Syrians lined up outside the Ministry of Interior on Merjeh Square in central Damascus to protest silently the arbitrary detention of their friends and family. They made no provocative chants and advocated no violence. They simply held up pictures of their friends and family members that had been held in detention for months or years without trial. It was a scene of dignified and peaceful protest.

After 10 minutes, the regime had had enough. Plain clothed security forces moved in en masse. We stood and watched as they beat innocent civilians with sticks and batons. No care was taken for the elderly, for women, for the young children. All were treated with equal brutality.

This scene has been repeated time and again. In the main Umayad Mosque in central Damascus, I witnessed a small group of Syrians chant for their freedom – only to be beaten by regime thugs.

I have seen myself what this regime can do – and is doing relentlessly, and on a daily basis.

I tell the Syrian opposition at every opportunity to avoid the path of an armed resistance. But the sad truth is that violence begets violence. That is why it is important that all sides refrain from violence and that the regime allows a political transition instead of repeating its hollow promises of reform.

Without context, it can be hard to make sense of YouTube images shot on a mobile phone. It can be hard to understand why a man with a family in a town in Syria would decide to take up arms against his government. It can be hard to believe that over 5,000 people have been killed in ten months, or that torture is a regular occurrence in prisons, children brutalised and tanks and mortars used by the army against its own citizens. If I hadn’t seen for myself what the Syrian regime has done I would be asking these questions too.

But I have. And it is too shocking to ignore. That is why I am so appalled by the vetoing of the draft resolution, tabled by Morocco, which supported the Arab League efforts to resolve the crisis. The resolution did not impose any sanctions. It did not authorise military action. And at every stage we worked to accommodate the concerns of others. There was nothing in the draft to warrant opposition. Those opposed to it will have to account to the Syrian people for their actions and the horror of the unfolding tragedy.

It is time for the world to speak with one voice to condemn the violations of the Assad regime and support the Arab League’s efforts to bring a peaceful, Syrian-led solution to the terrible crisis that is unfolding before us.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
February 10, 2012

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Amb. Ford,

Great to hear your perspective on the blog, and if I may and if you have the time, I have a question;

Will the "freinds of Syria" get to the point (if current crimes against humanity continue in Syria) that "responsability to protect" leads folks to undertake humanitarian intervention in Syria and physicly involve themselves in "regime replacement therapy" in some military form or another?

Or if this is too broad a hypothetical to answer, perhaps you could tell me if this group of nations has the courage, the political will, the capability, and the potential to change Assad's -the ethical infant's- diapers, as the smell of ill intent is overwhelming to humanity already?

Thanks, I hope you'll offer me a few off the cuff thoughts on what the future looks like sans UNSC resolution, and I'd be remis if I didn't invite you to participate in a little conversation some of the "regulars" on this blog are having, as your expert opinion would be most welcome.

Thanks for your service, and your being witness which surely couldn't have been easy on the eyes or the spirit.

Best Regards,

EJ

'http://blogs.state.gov/index.php/site/entry/potw_advancing_international...'

Reader
February 10, 2012

R. writes:

Urgent!

Go ahead to take action! Break the evil-axis before it's too late.

It's a historical responsibility to save the world at this moment, and it's far more important than your president campaign!

young11
February 10, 2012

W.W. writes:

Why you shouldn’t question what you know is true

February 9, 2012

I’ve been British Ambassador in Syria since 2008. But I first visited the country more that 30 years ago. Syria, I know well and like very much. That makes what has happened since March last year all the more horrifying and sad for me personally.

The UN says over 5,400 people have died in the last ten months, some of them under torture in prison. Other groups – particularly those opposed to President Assad and his regime – claim the figure is much higher. The Syrian regime tells us that these claims are exaggerated and that the world should look instead at the deaths of soldiers and regime forces.

Who’s right? People say that it’s no longer possible to hide the truth. Anyone can post a video on YouTube or a link on Twitter for the world to see. But sometimes this abundance of information can lead to confusion over detail, instead of informed debate and rational arguments over the facts.

Sometimes we focus too much on the abstract and not enough on what we see with our own eyes.

Over the long period of time that I have known Syria, I have seen the regime of Hafez Assad and his son Bashar in action. The Assad dynasty was never a pleasant one to its people. I have seen the wounds of people released from prison. I have spoken to the families whose relatives have simply disappeared. I have heard from those who got a knock at 2am from the Mukhabarat (intelligence services) and were taken away for a still unknown affront to the Syrian authorities.

But even having witnessed Syria’s dark side, the violence and brutality I have witnessed over the last ten months shocks me.

From the very start of this unrest, the regime’s tactics were laid bare. On 15 March 2011 we watched as 40 Syrians lined up outside the Ministry of Interior on Merjeh Square in central Damascus to protest silently the arbitrary detention of their friends and family. They made no provocative chants and advocated no violence. They simply held up pictures of their friends and family members that had been held in detention for months or years without trial. It was a scene of dignified and peaceful protest.

After 10 minutes, the regime had had enough. Plain clothed security forces moved in en masse. We stood and watched as they beat innocent civilians with sticks and batons. No care was taken for the elderly, for women, for the young children. All were treated with equal brutality.

This scene has been repeated time and again. In the main Umayad Mosque in central Damascus, I witnessed a small group of Syrians chant for their freedom – only to be beaten by regime thugs.

I have seen myself what this regime can do – and is doing relentlessly, and on a daily basis.

I tell the Syrian opposition at every opportunity to avoid the path of an armed resistance. But the sad truth is that violence begets violence. That is why it is important that all sides refrain from violence and that the regime allows a political transition instead of repeating its hollow promises of reform.

Without context, it can be hard to make sense of YouTube images shot on a mobile phone. It can be hard to understand why a man with a family in a town in Syria would decide to take up arms against his government. It can be hard to believe that over 5,000 people have been killed in ten months, or that torture is a regular occurrence in prisons, children brutalised and tanks and mortars used by the army against its own citizens. If I hadn’t seen for myself what the Syrian regime has done I would be asking these questions too.

But I have. And it is too shocking to ignore. That is why I am so appalled by the vetoing of the draft resolution, tabled by Morocco, which supported the Arab League efforts to resolve the crisis. The resolution did not impose any sanctions. It did not authorise military action. And at every stage we worked to accommodate the concerns of others. There was nothing in the draft to warrant opposition. Those opposed to it will have to account to the Syrian people for their actions and the horror of the unfolding tragedy.

It is time for the world to speak with one voice to condemn the violations of the Assad regime and support the Arab League’s efforts to bring a peaceful, Syrian-led solution to the terrible crisis that is unfolding before us.

Simon Collis

Roberto
|
United States
February 10, 2012

Roberto in the U.S.A. writes:

A January 27 hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security established that US intelligence agencies stopped the State Department from revoking the US visa of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

The Nigerian student, whom US officials suspected of being affiliated with the Yemeni terrorist group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, attempted to set off a bomb on Northwest Flight 253 into Detroit on Christmas Day. Revocation of Abdulmutallab’s visa would have prevented him from boarding the airplane.

This information exposes the official government story of the near-disaster to be a lie. That incident appears to be a classic false-flag operation.

President Obama, who has joined with top US intelligence, FBI and Homeland Security officials to insist that Abdulmutallab was inadvertently allowed to board the plane carrying explosives because of a failure to "connect the dots," had from the start been deceiving the American people.

Then you have "Fast and Furious" in which US government officials and their agents deliberately shipped arms to Mexican drug cartels in an alleged effort to get legislation to destroy the protection of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution, another classic false-flag operation.

So the big question is, how much disinformation is the US supplying about Syria?

Who is killing more civilians in Syria -- the rebels for propaganda value in order to get NATO assistance, or the Syrian government trying to prevent a violent overthrow of an established government?

Is Al Qaida attempting in Syria what they succeeded in doing in Libya? How would we know if our own government continually lies us?

short25
February 10, 2012

W.W. writes:

Shutting an embassy is a childish waste of time - now you reopen it you get in touch with assad regime and you try to gather information from assad in person on Iranian Nuclear activity

No war can be won from a goldman and sucker corrupted society and no monster can be defeated not even assad not even the true terroristic spiritual guide of iran

John
|
Canada
February 10, 2012

John in Canada writes:

@ Eric

Thanks for the links - haven't explored all of them (have my own puzzles Im working on)- but Your 5 star General. I had the pleasure of saying a prayer by where he lays. traveled to some places he fought.

Didnt know about him but he is just the sort of mind we seem to lack these days.For some reason we dont have the old school, sound thought that once was.Its probably because of minds like his - we didn't blow each other up during the cold war.

Assad will die in the end - no doubt in my mind -but intervention should have been done last September - now its a different ball game IMHO. Syria is not Libya or Egypt. The situation is different.

The Syrians didnt want support when support would have worked. Now they want support and I am not sure that support will work.

Walk through doors without hesitation or sometimes they close, comes to mind.

Its never easy weighing life and death - the 5 star general would understand this more than most.More than most politicians.

What is the true cost of intervening now as opposed to not intervening? I dont have enough info to make such a call.

If saving 10 thousand lives costs a war that claims the lives of 50 thousand - is it justified? (pretend numbers for illustration purpose)

What about the collateral fallout for the region as a whole with and without intervention? The situation is fluid in the region - so very unpredictable.

Intervention may be like intervening in a domestic dispute with a dysfunctional couple. Very messy - with the competing religious views - another dimension of "who knows".

I support human rights but I can think of the millions in the Congo that nations cared little about - we did not go to war for them.

The Syrians should have taken help at the beginning.This Syria business wont be over for a while.

Not much I or many could do but watch- especially where I sit now.

Till later

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
February 11, 2012

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ John in Canada,

I take it you were refering to what Gen. Omar Bradley spoke of on Armistice day 1948, nice to see you did your homework. See now, I do try to provide an interesting reading asignment...

Today , one hears that "there's no cookie cutter aproach" towards diplomacy with the varied number of nations on the planet, let alone engage in regime replacement therapy to better the people's lot.

And juxtapose that alongside a very consistant foreign policy towards dictators and potential threats to global peace and security since WW2 and combine the two in varied proportion to suit the circumstance and it's possible to derive effective policy thereby.

Bein' that we know the killing in Syria will continue because the diplomacy is failing to stop it and is darn near exhausted with Assad, efforts made from all quarters, things are different from Sept. past, in more actutely cognizant states of political awareness within the international community.

Reality has set in as to the nature of the beast.

Now as far as physicly intervening in Syria is concerned, one has to make an assesment as to whether Assad or his military commanders acting independantly would launch, transfer and/or sell off chemical and or biological weapons that Addad's regime has in inventory.

Given the fact that Ghaddafi was found to have squirreled away some undeclared WMD, now that a few inspectors have verified this.

One might take the attitude that NATO and the Libyan people just got lucky no was crazy enough to use them or give them away to another idiot willing to use them.

The reason I think Ghaddafi didn't use them was a question of deliverability, pure and simple.

I don't see Syria as being intervened upon by US or NATO troops on the ground (spec opps perhaps), but rather regional boots to take care of their own innocents within the Umma.
Since Assad has declared war on his own people and "mistaken them" for terrorists waging Jihad against him, rather than simply defending their homes and families from his assaults.

That excuse he gives isn't going to fly with anyone sane or of good heart, given the facts on the ground.

RE; "Assad will die in the end,..."

Everyone dies John, it's how well one lives that the rub.

It would do Russia well to defang the Frankenstein they've helped to create.

Best,

EJ

Barry D.
|
Australia
February 11, 2012

Barry D. in Australia writes:

It is disgraceful for the people of Russia and China to veto the UN security council resolution. We all know it is for commercial gain and shows the the low moral value of those Nations. People of Russia and China should be ashamed of there heritage and identity in the international community and should ensure their leaders are deposed.

It has also been displayed what a joke the United Nations is....there is no unity and justice...it is just a sham.

The US, UK and France should take action outside of the resolution to safeguard the citizens of Syria who cannot protect themselves. We are in the 21 st century and it is unthinkable that such barbaric behavior is tolerated by the international community.

Russia and China should be removed from the security counsel to restore integrity in the counsel.

palgye
|
South Korea
February 11, 2012

Palgye in South Korea writes:

Syria.

My opinion on the issue in Syria against Russia, "March presidential election to ensure, the long-ruling willing to give up do you have? I know there are people willing to talk." Has to say. As you might already offer you a ... To, Putin `s twitter but i don` t know Russia PM read or not ...

Diplomatic achievement for a politician give a big impact, but economic problems ordinary voters - think of the jobs are more interested in displaying.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
February 19, 2012

Eric in New Mexico writes:

RE:

"Now as far as physicly intervening in Syria is concerned, one has to make an assesment as to whether Assad or his military commanders acting independantly would launch, transfer and/or sell off chemical and or biological weapons that Addad's regime has in inventory."

(from my previous post on this thread)

So check this;

BBC Ch 4 News Item;

Syrian security forces are preparing to use chemical weapons to attack the rebel stronghold of Homs, activists in the city have claimed. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been shelling neighbourhoods controlled by dissidents continuously for more than two weeks, according to witnesses, but they have so far stopped short of a full-frontal assault with ground troops.

The Revolutionary Council of Homs, which controls the city, says it fears the regime is about to use chemicals, citing large-scale evacuations of parts of the city still controlled by Assad loyalists, and reports of masks being distributed to Syrian army troops.

The group said in a statement: "The Assad army has used all types of weapons, like rocket launchers, artillery, and tanks, in its violent attack.

"There are also reports of the possibility of using chemical weapons in this campaign, as it had done in its campaign in Rastan not too long ago, where Assad forces used planes to spray pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.

"What makes this possibility more likely is the migration of families from loyalist neighborhoods that are close to targeted neighborhoods like Karm al-Zeitoun and Waar, for example.

"Similar activity was noticed when the town of Talkalakh was attacked a while back, where all loyalist families migrated out of town two days before the attack took place."

Defector's claims
Earlier this month a defecting Syrian officer, Captain Abd al-Salam Ahmed Abdul Razek, claimed that Assad's forces have been supplied with nerve toxins and have been trained in their use by Russian and Iranian experts.

The statement went on: "In order to preserve those who are loyal to it, the regime had possibly leaked information about using chemical weapons, as a warning and to give them time to leave areas that can be affected.

"We have seen that migration indeed took place when families from loyalist neighborhoods were seen leaving and abandoning their homes and going back to their home villages.

"This happened during last week, during a curfew, when no one else could move around, let alone leave the city, except for the loyalist families. Additionally, it was reported that Assad forces and troops received masks that protect against chemical weapons."

'http://www.channel4.com/news/inside-free-syria'

Saman A.
|
Texas, USA
April 20, 2012

Saman A. in Texas writes:

All we can do is pray, so all we should do is pray.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
May 7, 2012

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Amb. Ford,

Congratulations on receiving the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award today!

Well deserved I might add...

Hope to see further update from you on Syria here on Dipnote in the near future.

Best,

EJ

.

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