The Western Coalition will Fight to the Last Militant
Written by Mikhail Nicolaevsky; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
After the attack on the humanitarian convoy in the province of Aleppo it became quite obvious that, generously supported by Saudi and Qatari finances, the “war party” will do anything to disrupt the political settlement. Because of the blatant sabotage by the Pentagon and the CIA, the agreement in Geneva fizzled out as well as Russia’s “strategic patience”, according to Sergei Lavrov’s statement.
It seems appropriate to highlight the following processes, characterising the development of the Syrian crisis.
- The completed tactical fusion of “moderate” and radical opposition groups under the leadership of the designated radicals. The coordination between the fragments of the “absolute” and the “relative” radicals evolved into the banned in Russia Jabat al-Nusra and Ahrar Al-Sham. The showdown in the camp of the radicals led, albeit with a partial loss of the resulting September attack in Hama, to the fusion of Jund al-Aqsa with Al-Nusra.
- The factual recognition of the unification of Western patrons. The situation in the Security Council of the UN for the vote on the French and Russian draft resolutions, the declarations of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs ministries of France and Great Britain, representatives of the US State Department and the media signals show that the Western establishment in fact recognised the radical extremists as full-fledged partners.
- The financing, support for the radical opposition is no longer covered up by slogans and from October of this year, is revealed to the public. It is claimed that Russia’s position in Syria is similar to the Afghan scenario.
- Withdrawing the main part of controlled forces from Aleppo in the area of their operation, Turkey clearly outlined its interests in the conflict, the creation of an area of control between Kurdish cantons. The support of the forces in Idlib and Aleppo by the Turks are within the limits for the country’s required internal security.
- Moscow responded to the signals with the growth of military and political support of its ally in Damascus. The grouping of forces and supplies of the Syrian theatre is strengthening and the political situation became uncompromising.
All this suggests that the conflicting sides have reached an unspoken consensus: in the war against the Syrian Arab Republic and its allies and the radical army opposing them, guided by the Western and Middle Eastern patrons, there are no alternatives to a military solutions. This situation brings more certainty than at the beginning of October 2015. The USA and their allies will increase the material, technical and informational help to the radical opposition without the direct intervention of its armed forces. Turkey will maintain (but not enhance) the existing supply chains, without stepping into an open confrontation in Idlib and Aleppo, focusing its efforts on its own operations.
The experience that Syria, Russia and Iran have garnered, as well as having the resources, allows us to assert that the allies are capable of inflicting on the radical groups in Idlib, Aleppo and Deraa a resounding defeat. One of the necessary conditions for the success of the campaign is to assess the enemy’s infrastructure, its material and human resources, information and supply channels as well as areas and volumes of financing. It is an interesting analysis of the costs of the forces, which in the West is called the “Syrian opposition”.
The tip of the iceberg constitutes a relatively formalised organisation, with partial legitimacy to participate in international political dialogue, the “National Coalition” and the “National Council”. They are used to coordinate the League of Arab States (LAS), participate in the internal European dialogue on the question of the Syrian crisis and managing the media resources. Core funding of these organisations with headquarters in Doha and Paris comes from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and partial funding comes from occasional budget grants from the Americans through NED/NDI.
The management and staff receive regular salaries at the European level, are provided with housing, office and hotel infrastructures in the capitals, partly protected lines of communications. The leadership and management number about 160 persons, and a regular staff of about 800 persons. The total costs of the “National Coalition” are estimated at 16.044 million dollars, the “National Council” at 48.9 million dollars. In the expenditures structure substantial funds are allocated for transfers and travel, up to 13.68 million dollars. In total, 64.9 million dollars.
The information support for the anti-Assad and Anti-Russian campaign goes through the Internet community, specialised media portals as well as European observation groups. All this is aimed at covering the fighting, problems with the refugees and wounded and does not bother with questions of the big policy issues, the scope of activities of media companies. Social accounts spread the news from the front, summaries and lists of the dead, original “reports on the expenditures of funds”. Social accounts of Al Nusra have 3 bases, 320 to 330 supporters, up to 2.3 subscribers. Social accounts of the “moderates” have 4 bases, 420 supporters and up to 6 million subscribers. Arab countries support the media resources and mass distribution systems, spending as much as 4.17 million dollars. The West grants another 400 thousand dollars to such groups as SOHR (Syrian Observatory of Human Rights), Bellingcat, SyriaEye. In total, 4.5 million dollars.
The “Meat” of the War
The infrastructure related to transit, placement and maintenance of refugees is quite expensive compared to the media. The main load falls on Turkey and Jordan who, with a very modest support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, must finance:
the construction and maintenance of the refugee camps; Turkey has 26 camps with 330 thousand people, costing up to 400 million dollars per year, Jordan with 34 camps with 430 thousand people, costing 522 million dollars;
monthly maintenance of the refugees outside the camps (cards, soldering, payments); Turkey has 2.8 million people, costing 840 million dollars per year. Jordan has 240 thousand people, costing 84 million dollars.
The burden, that the maintenance of refugees imposes on the budget of these countries, is so significant that they go to any ways to minimise it: sending through legal and not-so-legal channels to the EU countries, blackmailing the European Commission officials to receive compensations (for 2015-2016 the EU and the commissions paid voluntarily up to 583 million dollars). The resources of the Arab monarchies are tapped into, which finance not only the maintenance of the refugees in these countries as payment for transit to Europe of the family members in exchange for the participation of the youth in the fight in Syria. This way, the refugee camps become a bottomless base for recruiting into Illegal Armed Formations (IAF).
Similar methods of recruiting are taken by Arab monarchies in Libya, Tunis, Sudan, Albania, Afghanistan and Iraq. The recorded parameters are 45 thousand recruits from 172 thousand family members, transferred through different channels to the EU (430 million dollars per year). It should be noted that the youth, once in Europe, keeps contact with relatives “in the field”, take part in Twitter campaigns, disseminating information. In total, 1,681 million dollars less the European compensation.
The next item of expenditure of the “opposition” is the recruitment of the member of the IAF, consisting of fees to representatives in the field, as well as the costs of delivery of the replenishments to the training camps. When the total demand of the opposition forces is 46 to 48 thousand men annually these costs amount to 70 million dollars and 93 million respectively. In total, 163 million dollars.
Instructors from the USA, France, Great Britain, Qatar, Jordan, the KSA and Turkey prepare the recruited replenishments. Each receives differentiated salary, from 9 thousand dollars per month for training in field skills, driving and working with Anti-Tank Missile Systems (ATMS), up to 15 thousand dollars (communications, ATMS, mining and snipers) and over 20 thousand dollars for training of air controllers. There are up to 2600 men (324 million dollars per year).
The average number of IAFs, currently in Western Syria fighting against the Syrian army, in 2015-2016 dropped from 105-110 thousand to 73,5 thousand men. The expenditures on the members of the IAFs, taking part in the battles, consist of monthly rates, differentiated on the basis of functions, and level of responsibilities as well as premiums according to results of actions, confirmed commands and video reports, expenses on communications (radio, field and satellite communications) and equipment. During 2016 the costs were changed from awards “by results” to allowances for “continuous operations”, return after treatment, etc. The rates for salaries ranged from 200 to 400 dollars per month (shooters, driver mechanics), 600 dollars (snipers, ATMS operations and junior commanders), up to 1500 and higher (middle chain of command, sappers, bomb experts). The estimated level of costs is 341 million dollars per year (ordinary drivers), 85 million dollars (specialists), 31 million dollars (middle chain of command), for communication tools input and equipment, 8.7 million and 7.4 million dollars respectively. In total, 473.1 million dollars.
The substantial item is the payment to the families of the deceased members of the IAF, the cost of operations, treatment and recovery in hospitals, payouts albeit small (up to 200 dollars per month) for disability allowances, wages during rehabilitation, the costs of medications for surgeries. Basing on data from the Russian MoD, Turkish opposition press, Syrian and Kurdish sources, we conclude that since October 2015 the losses of killed and missing in action of the IAF consisted of 28 thousand men, 43 thousand were wounded, needing hospital treatment, from which up to 15.5 thousand invalids, not capable of continuing combat action. Based on the cost of surgery and recovery in Turkey, with an average hospital stay (up to 30 days) and a period for full recovery (up to 4 months) purely medical costs are 592 million dollars, invalid payments are 37.7 million dollars, compensation to families of the deceased is 28.6 million dollars, supply of field medical supplies is 15.5 million dollars. In total, 673.9 million dollars.
Arsenal of the Militants
The necessary condition for the conduct of combat actions is the full and timely delivery of supplies and weaponry. In the course of the “Arab Spring” from 2011 to 2013, no less than 35 percent of armoured vehicles from government forces fell into the hands of the Syrian “opposition”, half of small arms and ammunitions from armouries and weapons supplies in the provinces of Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Daraa. The scale of loss of the Syrian army of heavy weapons, small arms and ammunitions can be estimated, based on the standards of provisions of the Soviet Army, which were used in their acquisition, and the testimony of the Syrian officers. The captured ammunition included up to 42 thousand tonnes of infantry and anti-tank munitions, 11 thousand tonnes of large calibre machine guns and anti-aircraft auto-cannons (12.7, 14.5 and 23 mm), 130 thousand tonnes of armoured vehicles, ACS, cannon artillery and mortars, 13 thousand tonnes of rocket launchers; weapons and military equipment: up to 1860 BMPs 1 and 2, BTRs, BRDMs, 730 units of ACS and towed artillery, up to 1400 main battle tanks (MBT), 150 MRLs and 1100 ZU-23-3 and -4 and mortars as well as up to 160 thousand small arms.
The equipment and arsenals, fallen into the hands of the radicals, were significant but limited. The value of the material received offset the initial high wear (from 70 to 20 %), the duration of hostilities, as well as chaotic and haphazard use of machinery, aggravating its condition. If we base the consumption of ammunition, typical of the fighting in Chechnya, it can be stated that at the beginning of 2015 the Syrian radicals spent 88 percent of the ammunition for small arms, almost all the rounds for the RPG-7, 82mm mortars, MLRS (BM-21 type). For shooting practices, more than 130 thousand rounds for small arms were produced, 620 ZU, 710 BTRs/BMPs/BPDMs and 640 MBTs. Up to 72 percent of rounds for anti-tank missile systems were spent.
By the spring of 2015 the opposition significantly reduced the intensity of usage of heavy artillery and the consumption of ammunition for the MBTs and ACS (down to 10 and 20 units per gun per day), and the active time of usage on average down to six days per month. The repair shops acquired great importance for the repairs and recovery of weapons and military equipment, laboratories for producing makeshift firing devices and ammunition. The massive transfer of heavy-duty pickups of different brands for the installation of launching blocks, large calibre machine guns, etc.
Similarly, the “Syrian Express” earned in full the “American”. Initially the supply of spare parts, explosive components, firearms and ammunitions considerably thinner after four years in a warehouse came from Libya, then, came from Romania, the Czech Republic, the Ukraine, Bulgaria and the connected production in Serbia. The structure and requirements of the Syrian militants confirm the data obtained by the publication Jane’s Defense: from average shipments of 980 tonnes, 20 percent were 7.62 mm cartridges, 25 percent of 12.7 and 14.5 mm, 200 tonnes of 82mm and 120 mm, 200 tonnes of AK-74, sniper riffles, modernised machine guns, RPG-7, 50 tonnes of rounds for the RPG-7, as well as heavy machine guns (DSK). In the following shipments of distribution were inclined towards unguided rockets (S-8, S-10), explosive components, modernised machine guns, Libyan and Ukrainian anti-aircraft machine guns (LSD 2 and 4), ZU-23-2 and gauges to them, anti-tank guided missiles “Maliutka” and “Fagot”. From mid-2016 81mm mortars are included in the shipments of American manufacture. The deliveries were carried out in equal shipments to Aqaba (Jordan) and Tasucu (Turkey), which characterises the even intensity of battles of that time in the south and north of the country.
With the appearance of the Russian Air Force, the IAF started to hide the armoured vehicles and the ACS, the operations were shifted to evenings and nights. On the positional parts of the front there were mass conversions for makeshift heavy mortar type installations (“Hell Fire”). The average outfit of machinery on a squad of 40 militants there were 8 to 9 heavy-duty pickups with mortars, machine guns and anti-tank missile launchers, 1 or 2 BMP/BTR, 1 IAF or 1 MBT, 4 or 5 anti-tank missile systems. Dismantled BMPs were used for the installation and attacks against bombers (up to 60 over the past year).
The Russian aviation answered with the obliteration of repair shops, makeshift production of explosives and munitions depots received through the “American Express”, which “snarled” at the deliveries of “humanitarian aid” such as missiles (S8, 10), BGM-71 TOW (up to 2 thousand units) and other anti-tank missiles (up to 12 thousand units) and in some areas were able to significantly complicate the life of the Syrian army. New and used heavy-duty pickups were massively thrown in (from 2900 up to 2960 pieces).
Based on the number of members of the IAF, the nature and intensity of clashes, the number and types of weapons used, the particularity of logistics of armoured trains, the residual life of the weapons, disposal of the personnel including the loss of weapons, it can be assumed that the needs of the radical groups of the “Syrian opposition” for the period from the beginning of the Russian Federation operations in Syria is up to 38 thousand tonnes of rifle ammunitions and RPGs, 3.5 thousand tonnes of large calibre machine guns, 14.4 thousand tonnes of shells for rocket launcher systems, 63 thousand tonnes of artillery systems, mortars, armoured vehicles and MBTs based on “black market” prices to the tune of 484.6 million dollars.
Also, in terms of disposal it can be calculated that for the war effort of the IAF the group needed no less than 109 thousand units of small arms and 33 thousand units of anti-tank missile systems and rounds for them (including TOW), up to 230 units of antiaircraft guns and missiles to the tune of 509.1 million dollars. The fleet of heavy-duty pickups up to 1420 units required replenishment also, based on reports from Russian and Syrian Ministries of Defence, to the tune of about 58 million dollars.
The logistics of this kind (based on data on transportation volumes of average shipments) consisted of up to 130 container vessels and up to 5.7 thousand voyages for automotive equipment to the tune of 7.5 million and 11.3 million dollars respectively. The estimated fuel technology and lubricants costs were no less than 51.8 thousand litres or 40 thousand tonnes for the period under study, costing 18.1 million dollars based on “black market” prices.
Preliminary Results of the Confrontation
- The expenses for the conduct of the military campaign from the anti-government IAF side in Syria in 2015-2016 prices amounted to 4,454 billion dollars. This is the conditional “cost” of the process. It does not consider the inevitable corruption component; to adequately simulate which is impossible in principle. However, I suppose that the Arab monarchies led a multi-stage control over the spending of allocated funds, as is evidenced by the retention, a kind of reporting, and the frequent elimination of unreliable commanders and intermediaries.
- With the use of the Syrian inventory of resources in the first two years of the conflict the total amount of expenses on the campaign can be tentatively estimated at 14 billion dollars with 78 to 80 thousand eliminated members of the IAF.
- In the expenditure structure of the military campaign the main part is taken up with the conduct and support for combat actions (61%), upkeep of refugees (38%). This directly takes up ¼ part of military expenses, costs on medical care and upkeep of families of the deceased and invalids. With every year of the conflict this burden increases.
- Given the number of potential and de-facto displaced persons, as well as the capabilities of financing from state sponsors, the mobilisation of resources for the campaign by the IAF can be evaluated at between 77 and 85 thousand men or three years of campaign at the current intensity with regard to their disposal and rotation.
- Based on the amount of armed pro-Turkish groups withdrawn from Idlib and Aleppo (up to 6 thousand men) and the load on the upkeep of the refugees, as well as the medical component, we can assume that Turkey now carries the main part of the support costs of the military campaign (42% or 1,864 billion dollars). The remaining expenses are divided between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The USA provide and cover the logistics of the “Express”, organising the training of the recruits.
- With the exception of Turkey, for the main sponsors of the Syrian campaign the costs are irrelevant and non-critical. They do not exert any immediate impact on the currency reserves and budgets of these countries. However for Turkey the costs on the results of 2015-2016 are unjustified. It is possible that this explains the reformatting of Ankara’s participation in the military campaign. While not supporting the previous regime’s weapons transit, Turkey will not seek to fully block the borders, given the wave of refugees from Northern Syria.
- Taking into account the intensity of the clashes and estimated parameters of obtained weapons and military equipment, it can be assumed that the technical resources of the IAF, opposing the Syrian government, have reached a breaking point. The last major use of heavy weapons and military equipment were at the breaking of the Aleppo siege, where the Syrian Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Forces destroyed and brought down to 115 units. On other parts of the front heavy equipment was used pointedly. The composition of the weapons and military equipment of the AIF is estimated at 1550 units with an average residual resource of 22 percent (1.5 years of campaign).
- In 2016-2017 the anti-government forces will fully protract the campaign, throwing themselves into recruiting “cannon fodder” and fully create an informational picture of the “anti-human and barbaric coalition of Assad and Russia”. The more so, the costs from state-sponsors for informational resources are minimal.
In this regard, Russia, the Syrian Arab Republic and Iran should intensify hostilities in Northern Syria, avoiding delays and “truces”. The Islamists are capable of protracting the campaign and to cause substantial damage to the reputation of the opposing side.