Save Homs with Humanitarian Airdrops by Drones

The Baath regime in Syria killed another 60 persons on Tuesday. About 30 were killed by troops in restive Idlib province. The Syrian military also continued to pound Homs on Tuesday, using heavy artillery against the civilian district of Baba Amr and and killing another 30 there. The assault also set the stage for a humanitarian catastrophe as residents run out of water, food and medicine.

The Red Cross is calling for a daily brief ceasefire so that it can deliver humanitarian aid. The Baath regime is highly unlikely to grant the request. The Red Cross cannot send a convoy in without government permission because of the danger that it will be targeted.

The Baath army has had difficulty advancing into Baba Amr because it is being defended by well armed defectors from the Syrian army who are putting up the kind of fight in Homs that the Libyan youth revolutionaries put up in Misrata when that was besieged by the forces of Col. Muammar Qaddafi last spring and summer.

For regime military forces to call a ceasefire would, while in accordance with the laws of war when substantial civilian deaths are imminent, nevertheless allow the Syrian defectors to regroup. That development would make it even harder for government forces to advance after the ceasefire had ended. One suspects, as well, that the Baath military officers would shed no tears over civilians starving in the rebellious city of Homs.

The heartbreaking images that came out of Homs via the intrepid Arwa Damon of CNN and today via Marie Colvin have spurred calls for the Syrian resistance to be armed. Senator John McCain has urged that some third party, not the US, send arms. The Obama administration was initially cool to this idea, especially since US and Iraqi intelligence says that foreign Sunni radicals (“al-Qaeda”) based in Mosul in Iraq have now departed in some numbers for Syria. These guerrillas are likely responsible for the suicide bombing in Aleppo and the assassination there today of a government official.

But on Tuesday administration officials changed their tune and began allowing for the possibility of arming the Syrian Free Army defectors.

Regular readers know that I think sending a lot of arms into Syria is a very bad idea.

But given the humanitarian crisis in the besieged cities and towns, the international community’s responsibility to protect does require some action. I’d like to see airdrops of water, food and medicine on Homs and other encircled urban areas if the government won’t pause the fighting or allow a humanitarian corridor. The problem is that the Syrian regime has a lot of anti-aircraft batteries, and might well shoot down the planes being used for the drop. That development in turn might lead to hostilities, which would be very undesirable, and which Russia and China are pledged to block.

Well, I hate those US drones when used for purposes of warfare. But here is a Gandhian use for them. Let us defy the Syrian regime’s misuse of its sovereignty to murder its own citizens by using drones for supply airdrops. The US military was thinking already in 2009 of using drones to resupply troops in Afghanistan, and surely they have made progress since then. They could be launched from Incirlik Air Force base in Turkey, and I think Turkey might agree to this limited form of intervention. If the Syrian military shot down any humanitarian drones, no one would interpret that as an act of war requiring retaliation. So the tactic does not carry with it any danger of escalation into hostilities.

Readers in the military would know better how plausible this plan might be.

The USG Open Source Center translated the following interview in al-Sharq al-Awsat with a member of the Homs resistance (many Syrians pronounce it Hims):

“Report on Syrian Regime Forces Continued Bombardment, Siege of Hims
Report by Yusuf Diyab in Beirut: Hims Is Shelled by Rocket Launchers, and Its People Were Fasting Yesterday To Pray for Victory. An Activist to Al-Sharq al-Awsat: The Number of Victims Among the Free Army Is slight Compared With the Civilian Victims
Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Document Type: OSC Translated Text…

The city of Hims Continues to be on top of the scene of the

Syrian events due to the tightening of the military siege on it from all directions, the targeting of its suburbs and areas with violent bombardment by rocket launchers and mortar shells and the rising number of victims.

Abu-Ali Hasan, an activist in the Hims Coordination Committee, said that “the humanitarian situation in the city is very tragic but the morale of the people is high in spite of the difficult circumstances in which they are living at this stage.” He told Al-Sharq al-Awsat: “In spite of the siege, destruction, and tragedies, the people refuse describing their city as a stricken one because it is a city of dignity, sacrifice, and pride and the people are no longer wagering on the Syrian National Council, the Arab League, or the whole world but they are wagering on their sons, the revolutionaries who are the members of the Free Army, and all the people of Hims are fasting today (yesterday) to pray for victory for Almighty God.”

He said that “all the areas of Hims today (yesterday) are facing violent bombardment by rockets and mortar fire from the Air Defense College south of Hims and from the Military Academy in the area of Al-Wa’ar, west of the city,” pointing out that “what is disturbing the Free Army is the long range bombardment that targets the houses and kills innocent children and civilians, while the number of the Free Army’s martyrs is tiny compared with the civilian martyrs.”

Answering a question on what is said about the preparations of the Syrian Army to storm Baba Amr and wipe out the armed manifestations there, he said that “the army of (Syrian President Bashar) al-Asad is more coward than to dare to storm Baba Amr or any area in Hims.” He added: “They can enter a square for minutes, but they quickly withdraw in face of the strikes by the soldiers of the Free Army who go out of their defenses.”

On how do the revolutionaries in Hims get weapons and ammunition in spite of the tight siege imposed on the city, he said that “we get weapons from some traders or the dissident soldiers or from the spoils of war that the Free Army gets as a results of its operations against the regular army.”

He pointed out that “the revolutionaries in Hims are not satisfied with the performance of the National Council, which has not offered anything to the city in spite of the massacres and the destruction the city is facing and in spite of the ordeal the people are experiencing.”

He added: “We have received information, which we are going to verify, that says that prominent figures in the National Council do not want to topple the regime but want to share power with it. If this information is correct, then we will withdraw our confidence in it and will call for its collapse and to form a new national council that include ranking officers of the Free Army and civilian figures, such as Haytham al-Malih, Bassam Ji’arah, Muhyi-al-Din al-Lazqani, and Shaykh Adnan al-Ar’ur, and many other honorable figures.”

Meanwhile, the Syrian National Council yesterday called for “providing secure passages under international protection to deliver the humanitarian, relief, and medical aid,” considering that “any delay would mean a humanitarian tragedy whose consequences are awful.”

A spokesman for the National Council told Al-Sharq al-Awsat: “The Council has contacted European diplomats and the International Committee of the Red Cross to send urgent assistance to Baba Amr and all stricken areas in Syria, which are on continuous increase to include all the Syrian governorates and cities, and the response of the International Committee of the Red Cross was that it is impossible to go to areas other than those that the Syrian Army allows the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to enter to prevent the targeting of the convoys.”

(Description of Source: London Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online in Arabic — Website of influential London-based pan-Arab Saudi daily; editorial line reflects Saudi official stance….) “

from Juan


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