Small units of Western Special Forces began filtering into Syria this week, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report. Their task was to mark out targets for aerial sorties and naval bombardments of President Bashar Assad's armed forces and government sites across the country, to be executed by the US and other NATO countries, including Turkey, Britain, France, Holland and Italy.
These advance units, no more than 6 to 8 men each, are also sussing out strategic sites in northern and central Syria for capture by the incoming Western and Arab armies.
Attached to each unit is a former Syrian officer, a deserter to the Free Syrian Army headed by Col. Riad al-Asaad, and an interpreter.
These defectors are well grounded from their regular military service on the locations to which the Western units are assigned and they know what parts of the army and local populace those units can count on for cooperation against Assad.
(Monday, Nov. 28, debkafile reported exclusively that a group of military officers from NATO and Persian Gulf nations had quietly established a mixed operational command at Iskenderun in the Turkish Hatay province on the border of North Syria. They hail from the United States, France, Canada, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with Turkish officers providing liaison.)
As this issue closes, we can also reveal the establishment of an intelligence-logistical headquarters for these forces in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli. The government in Beirut appears to be ignoring its presence.
Full civil war would call for substantial reinforcements
This outfit has two tasks: The first, to take charge of Syrian army deserters, sort them according to military skills and transfer them to the military training camps organized by the Turkish army and central intelligence agency, MIT. The second is to organize the flow of weapons from Lebanon and Turkey to the Free Syrian Army fighting inside the country.
Finally, this headquarters is also responsible for charting plans of operation to meet two possible eventualities:
1. The outbreak of a full-scale Syrian civil war.
This would necessitate large-scale Western and Arab reinforcements. Some of these special forces units would be airlifted or transported by rail from Europe, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, to land at small Syrian military and civilian airfields controlled by the advance guard of small special forces units already in the country. Others would be dropped by sea on Syrian beaches.
Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have begun setting up arms and logistical supplies dumps for their use.
The Iskenderun planners expect the bulk of the Syrian army to remain loyal to Bashar Assad in the early days of the campaign and engage the foreign forces in combat. But as the conflict drags out into several weeks, they count on a swelling outflow of defectors to the rebels’ side.
Responding to different kinds of coup
2. The outbreak of mutiny in the Syrian army and security services.
This could take three different forms:
– A Syrian Army high command conspiracy to overthrow Assad. Preparations are underway to strengthen potential coup leaders with international and Arab support and bonding them with the Free Syrian Army rebels and Syrian opposition factions.
Attempts by Assad loyalists to suppress the putsch will be fought with advanced technology and intelligence resources.
– A Syrian Alawite coup to keep this 3.5 million-strong community in power without Assad by installing another Alawite figure in Damascus in his stead. In that case, the Western-Arab plan would be to isolate the anti-Assad Alawite conspirators in order to save Syria from all-encompassing civil war.
– The survival of the Assad regime against Western-Arab military intervention and his ability to cling to power for another six months at least.
To meet these variable scenarios, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report three plans of action have been charted:
One: Foreign troops will be deployed the full length of Turkey’s 800-kilometer long border with Syria, a line that stretches between the Mediterranean and the intersection of the Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish frontiers.
Two: Those troops will seize control, with local rebel help, of the main protest centers in the North, such as Idlib, Rastan and Homs, and then move in on Aleppo, northern Syria's largest city whose metropolitan area has a population of over 2.5 million, mostly Sunni Muslims and Kurds.
Bisecting Libya finished Qaddafi. So why not Assad?
Severing Aleppo from the body of Syria and placing it under Western military protection would constitute the harshest economic sanction yet meted out to the Assad regime. It would cut off his access to financial resources for funding his military crackdown on the uprising against his rule.
Three: These movements would essentially divide Syria in two: a northern entity under anti-Assad opposition rule covering an area with a population of 6.5 million, 30 percent of the country’s total of 23 million. They will be kept going by assistance coming in from Turkey and Lebanon; and a southern entity, left initially under the rule of Bashad Assad in Damascus, until the northern sector can evolve into a beachhead for capturing the south as well.
Plans have matured for the seizure of one airport or more in northern Syria for the landing of cargo planes carrying logistical supplies to the Western and Arab forces in the field. A sea port is also to be commandeered on Syria’s Mediterranean coast for ships to unload essential supplies for the northern population.
Even if only a part of this master-plan comes to fruition, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources note, Syria will be partitioned in a manner that recalls the bisection of Libya last March, when a provisional rebel administration ruled from Benghazi and the Muammar Qaddafi regime held on for a time in Tripoli.
The Libyan experience taught the West and the Arabs emirs that a ruler's days are numbered when international backing – especially by the global financial system – is withdrawn and swings around to back an opposition administration setting up a rival shop in the same country.