Outside Analysis, Syria

William Arkin connects the “Syria’s next” dots

In the following blog post/article, the Washington Post’s William Arkin finds signs of U.S. military preparation for conflict with Syria going back to last year and further, and also highlights some of the quotes from administration figures (most notably, neocon — and now U.N. Ambassador — John Bolton) from as far back as 2002.

I’m archiving the post here, but the original has a lot of inline links that you might want to see.

Wag the Damascus?
By William M. Arkin | November 7, 2005

Last year, U.S. intelligence agencies and military planners received instructions to prepare up-to-date target lists for Syria and to increase their preparations for potential military operations against Damascus.

According to internal intelligence documents and discussions with military officers involved in the planning, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Tampa was directed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to prepare a “strategic concept” for Syria, the first step in creation of a full fledged war plan.

The planning process, according to the internal documents, includes courses of action for cross border operations to seal the Syrian-Iraqi border and destroy safe havens supporting the Iraqi insurgency, attacks on Syrian weapons of mass destruction infrastructure supporting the development of biological and chemical weapons, and attacks on the regime of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Though Syria was never mentioned by President Bush as a charter member of the “axis of evil” for developing weapons of mass destruction and support international terrorism, it has long been on the administration’s radar screen.

The January 2002 Nuclear Posture Review levied requirements on the military to conduct planning for potential use of nuclear weapons against Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and North Korea.

On April 1, 2002, almost a full year before the invasion of Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld accused Iran, Iraq and Syria of “inspiring and financing a culture of political murder and suicide bombing.”

On May 6, 2002, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation entitled “Beyond the Axis of Evil,” Under Secretary of State John Bolton identified Libya, Syria and Cuba as countries that were attempting to procure weapons of mass destruction. “States that renounce terror and abandon WMD can become part of our effort. But those that do not can expect to become our targets,” he said.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom itself, according to Gen. Tommy Franks’ book, American Soldier (p. 510), U.S. intelligence reported that Iraqi Ba’athist leaders and their families were fleeing to Syria in convoys of Mercedes and SUVs. Secretary Rumsfeld publicly accused Syria of being engaged in “hostile acts” by delivering military equipment to Iraq. Later, according to Inside CENTCOM (p. 121), a slim autobiography of Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, Franks’ deputy as CENTCOM, the US discovered “that Syria had been shipping military supplies, including night vision goggles, to Iraq.”

On April 9, 2003, the day that U.S. military forces flooded into central Baghdad, Bolton again warned Iran and Syria that those pursuing weapons of mass destruction should “draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq.”

While planning for Afghanistan and Iraq, and while the Iraq war was going on, the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Requirements, Plans and Counterproliferation Policy was leading a top to bottom review of war plans, revising the Presidentially-approved Contingency Planning Guidance (CPG) to account for “emerging threats.” The draft CPG for 2003 mandated 11 prioritized families of plans at four levels of detail, due to Rumsfeld by mid-2004. The April, 2004 CPG draft for President Bush’s signature further refined post-Iraq planning requirements.

Months after the draft CPG for 2004 was circulated, according to the internal documents, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was directed to beef up its Syria work. The Military Forces Analysis Office of the Directorate for Analysis established a special task force preparing order of battle (OB) and military forces analysis for Syria. Order of battle is an intelligence term that refers to characterizing the force structure, equipment, capabilities, and key military leadership.

DIA is responsible for maintaining the Modernized Integrated Database (MIDB), the repository of ground, air, naval, and missile order of battle for foreign countries. The MIDB also serves as the basis for developing target lists for a military campaign.

One novel element of new planning for Syria, according to the documents, involves the work of the IO [information operations] Fusion Support Center of DIA’s Directorate for Analysis. To support target “options” development, analysts have been directed to evaluate the vulnerability of critical “nodes” in Syria, including:

* “human factors analysis” regarding the identification and behavior of Syrian regime leaders and other important decision-makers in Syria
* design and vulnerabilities of Syrian communications and information infrastructure, and
* “electric power generation, transmission and distribution facilities and systems.”

Military planning for Syria was thus initiated long before the United Nations report implicating the Syrian regime in the February assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a vocal critic of Damascus. And it should be pointed out that much of the new military planning is also related to Syria’s overt and clandestine support for the Iraqi insurgency, as well as its continued harboring of former Iraqi Ba’athists and their families.

But when the UN last Monday endorsed a resolution demanding Syria fully and unconditionally cooperates with the UN investigation into the February assassination, new international confirmation was given to Syria’s mantle as a rogue state. The resolution warns of possible “further action.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the resolution “made it clear that failure to comply with these demands will lead to serious consequences from the international community.”

In some ways, military officers involved in the high-level planning efforts say Syria has eclipsed Iran in CENTCOM’s play book as much because of practicality as imminent threat. Iran is four times larger than Iraq with three times the population. Syria is in a difficult geographic position, especially with U.S. bases and forces in Iraq and its proximity to U.S. military strength in the Mediterranean. U.S. forces have also been operating along the Syrian border since early 2003, and there have been numerous reports of clashes between U.S. and Syrian forces on Syrian soil, as well as reports of U.S. special operations forces operating inside Syria on select missions.

Though Syria’s possession of WMD was the early justification for contingency planning for the country — even for American nuclear weapons planning — I imagine that in light of the Iraq intelligence failure and the current scandals, the administration would now have an impossible time selling WMD charges to the international community. But now all of the pieces could easily fall into place without even any mention of WMD. Political genius Karl Rove would be proud.

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