By Scott Taylor
Last week, the war in Syria garnered international headlines as Russian-backed government troops finally recaptured the last rebel-held territory in the city of Aleppo.
The civil war that has gripped Syria since March 2011 was particularly brutal in this sprawling city, the largest urban centre in the country.
In recent weeks, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were able to contain and surround rebel forces in just a few of Aleppo’s eastern suburbs. Under the terms of a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey, the remaining rebels agreed to be withdrawn from the city and relocated within other Syrian territory that is still under rebel control.
This final rebel collapse in Aleppo set off a wave of indignant condemnation by the western media, all of it aimed at Assad and his Russian ally, Vladimir Putin. One claim, levelled by none other than Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth, was that the siege of Aleppo constituted a war crime perpetrated by Putin and Assad. Roth’s rationale is that, by starving the besieged rebels, the Syrian government troops had denied humanitarian aid from being delivered to those unfortunate innocent civilians within those rebel-held areas.
By Roth’s logic, we need to revisit every siege staged throughout history and declare each and every one of them a war crime. There has never been a case where some benevolent commander allowed supplies through the siege lines in order to relieve the suffering and hunger of the civilians trapped inside.
One need only look at the news stream coming out of neighbouring Iraq to see the hypocrisy of Roth’s allegations. The U.S.-led coalition has boasted that they have completely surrounded the Daesh-held city of Mosul and that some Iraqi and Kurdish units have fought their way into the city’s eastern suburbs. There are an estimated one million residents left in Mosul and only some 5,000 of these are considered to be Daesh extremists. There is no way in hell that the U.S.-led besiegers are letting truckloads of food and fuel into Mosul to alleviate the suffering of the civilians.
When the Russians and Syrians do it, it’s a war crime. When the U.S.-led force — including Canadian special forces — employ a siege, it is a brilliant tactic.
The "moderate" rebels
There have been reports out of Aleppo that forces loyal to Assad have committed revenge killings as they entered rebel-held territory. The killing of what the Western media terms “moderate rebels” is then attributed directly to Putin and Assad as proof of their criminal policies.
I am not going to condone battlefield executions, but first off it must be pointed out that there is no such thing as a “moderate” rebel. The anti-Assad forces include some of the nastiest killers on the planet.
Not even counting the Daesh fighters, who were not present in Aleppo, the most effective fighting force in Syria is the al-Qaeda affiliate known as the al-Nusra Front. At the core of this unit are foreign jihadists, many of whom fought to oust Moammar Gadhafi from Libya in 2011.
Critics of Assad and Putin are quick to point out that many of those fighting for the embattled Syrian president are actually foreign Shiite Muslim volunteers waging a holy war against the majority Sunni Muslim Syrian rebels. These Iranian and Hezbollah fighters certainly helped Assad turn the tide in this war. However, if employing foreigners to fight your war is evil, then we must denounce all of those foreign fighters who chose to assist the Syrian rebels — aided and abetted by state sponsors such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
If foreigners should not insert themselves into these Middle Eastern conflicts, then what the hell are 200 Canadian special forces soldiers doing training Kurdish fighters to battle Daesh in Iraq?
In one media interview concerning the fall of Aleppo, I heard some sage commentary from a Syrian refugee who is currently residing in Toronto. His concerns were for his relatives who remained in Aleppo and the reporter expected him to condemn Assad for the siege and subsequent revenge killings. Instead, the Syrian refugee said, “All of those who took up guns in this conflict are to blame for the suffering.”
Instead of sending in agencies to assign guilt for specific war crimes in isolated incidents, we should begin with the premise that war itself is a crime.