Cameron must demand another Operation Safe Haven in north-east Syria

Syrian war

Lest the Syrian city of Homs be destroyed as Hama was thirty years ago at the hands of President Assad’s father,  now is the time for the creation of a protected zone of safe haven for refugees.  Like the creation of the safe haven for Kurds in northern Iraq in April 1991, this should be a British-led initiative.  As in 1991, it seems as though nobody else has the stomach for this – but it does need to be done.

In 1991,  Saddam Hussein was allowed to withdraw his tanks and elite troops from the ground war.  In the ensuing surrender talks, he was allowed to retain use of helicopters “for humanitarian reasons”.   These two serious errors led directly to the massacre of opposition tribes: in the south, but also of the Kurds in the north.

At that time there was no  stomach for further military operations. President George Bush senior had been swayed into halting the ground offensive some 24 to 48 hours too soon by misleading press pictures of the so-called “Basra Road massacre”.  The idea of invading Iraq to protect anybody was simply not on the card.

Nevertheless, some three weeks after the end of  hostilities in Kuwait, a UK/USA force was sent to Turkey with the intention of entering Iraq to provide humanitarian aid for the Kurds, who following extensive genocide from Saddam’s forces, were at the top of his post-war clean-up list ( with the Marsh Arabs) in the south).   This force was extensively supported by air power, entered Iraq and achieved its mandate of aiding and protecting the Kurds in the north. By contrast, some 60,000 Marsh Arabs  were killed by Saddam’s Iraqi Government , some say with napalm but certainly using helicopter gunships, Only some 10% remain living there.

Operation Safe Haven – it’s US name “Provide Comfort” – was a British initiative, made at a time when the USA was fundamentally disinterested  in any further taking of action in the Gulf.  The Prime Minister’s lobbying of European colleagues achieved Nato support, leveraging the necessary American air support.  Then as Saddam’s retribution activities escalated, US ground and logistic support was also achieved.

This was a distinctly British initiative, which was dramatically successful, even though it appeared to be  dangerous – and in the climate of those times almost foolhardy. Operation Safe Haven literally “invaded” Iraq – when throughout the seven months of the Gulf War, there had been intense denials by all allied commanders and politicians this such a thing was even being considered.

The situation in Syria is nothing like as loaded politically, but the exact same threat of genocide is present and must not be tolerated, let alone permitted to take place.

A safe haven on Syrian soil, close to the Turkish border and easily reinforced, can legitimately be protected by ground troops and  air power.  Declaring a no-entry zone for Syrian forces, plus a very large no-fly zone could be done tomorrow, controlled by AWACS and Nato air force fighters.

This would require UN approval of course, but in the murky world of moral justification, the case is remarkably clean and clear.  Why might  Syrian air force fighters and bombers need to  fly – apart from to terrorise their citizens?

Furthermore, if Syrian forces attacked the “invading” humanitarian force,  a battle would take  place in the border country well away from the main cities and centres of population.  This “battle” would be decided by Syrian forces crossing ‘trip-wire’ type no-go  lines and being bombed.  The regime would be greatly and possibly fatally weakened.

This ‘safe haven’ military intervention scenario avoids putting in troops to fight with government forces – and in the process of being exposed to accusations of killing civilians.  It also avoids involvement in the ensuing chaos as other factions seek to take control.  The safe haven remains in force, but can be easily withdrawn at any time, and means boots are on ground if required for further humanitarian intervention.

6 thoughts on “Cameron must demand another Operation Safe Haven in north-east Syria”

  1. Whilst in agreement with the thinking behind this Hugh, one wonders if British Armed Forces actually have the spare resources to commit to such an initiative, given other commitments and drawback of serving members and even if Mr Cameron has the propensity for this kind of action?

  2. mark mcgreevy says:
    22 February 2012 at 9:01 am (UTC 0)
    hello Hugh , I met you at southsea a few years ago when you presented your gulf war one book at the D Day Museum . i am sorry to put upon you but if you have a spare minute can you please look at our facebook group , we are all gulf war vets and some are still denied war pensions for well evidenced medical symptons of service ( The gulf war 90/91 group ).

    and .

    We are all trying to keep our plight going in the media as we are fast becoming the forgotten army.

    Anything you can do to keep our story going would be appreciated.

    Best regards


  3. Hugh, would you mind going me a shout on the above email address?
    I’m working on a BBC programme and wondered if I could involve you?

  4. I’ve banging on in a similar vein for a while Chris…. However, just as John Major got things rolling in 1992 with France and Germany initially – then George Bush Senior, Cameron could be the political catalyst, even though we don’t have the means to do it ourselves,

    Ultimately, as we’ve learned in Iraq, it’s up to the people of nations to seize their own future for themselves, which they will only do when they feel strongly enough and rise up. The Russian elections were a travesty, but would we intervene? It takes a crowd of 30k and not much more on the Moscow streets to effect regime change…

    But protecting large numbers of civilians who are being attacked by their own government is I think cause for concern and possible intervention when that government has lost legitimacy plus isn’t strong enough to govern – as in Syria.

    Another factor suggesting the sort of international (and hopefully arab-led) intervention I’m suggesting is the effect of continual government-led warfare in such a potentially unstable a=region – leading to out and out civil war, interventions by others possibly Iran etc etc. The Assad emails indicate support from Qatar and others. Ambivalence is dangerous. I personally think at least trying to pull together political support for a humanitarian intervention would be less dangerous, plus send positive signals to the people of Syria (who will at some point be free of Assad), and a useful warning to Iran and the others.

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