One of the key themes offered by the Obama administration in regards to Syria is that Russia and Iran will become bogged down in an unwinnable war against ISIS. This begs a couple of questions, if the war against ISIS is unwinnable then why are we engaged in it? And if it is not unwinnable, how will the Russians and Iranians become bogged down?
The Daily Beast takes up this story line in Iran’s Losing Major Operatives in Syria.
With the aid of Russian airstrikes, Iranian-backed foreign fighters, and a combination of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regular and militia forces are on the march. Yet Iran and its proxies have taken some significant high-ranking casualties since the start of their recruitment and deployment drives to Syria.
These losses all serve to map out the current offensive being launched in thenorthwest of the country, including Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo. While other significant losses had been suffered in past engagements, deaths of key members were often more sporadic or concentrated on one group during a specific battle. If the goal is to secure an Assad-led coastal Syrian rump-state, it is coming at high cost to Assad’s Iranian ally.
The author goes on to name some losses:
Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani. (age 67)
Brigadier General Farshid Hasounizadeh
Brigadier General Hamid Mukhtarband
Hezbollah commander Hassan Hussein al-Hajj
Hezbollah commander Mahdi Hassan Obeid
Iraqi Shiite leader Sayyid Alaa Kasad Mahudar al-Musawi
To equate these losses as somehow significant is an exercise in self-deception. Within revolutionary movements, individual leaders can be critical. Had Castro fallen in the Sierra Maestra, then the Cuban Revolution might have ended very differently. But most military organizations can survive the loss of dynamic people. They have to. When Washington’s number two, General Charles Lee, was captured it led to the promotion of men like Anthony Wayne. The loss of Gustavus Adolphus did little to help the Imperial forces. Military organizations that cannot absorb losses and keep operating disappear very rapidly.
The three Iranian generals were all general officers in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. The only one we know anything about was Hossein Hamedani. He was very long in the tooth — the bugbear of many newly minted Syria experts, Quds Force commander, Qasem Soleimani, is 58 years old — and was responsible for spreading Iranian political influence rather than actually being involved in combat operations. We have no idea what the others were doing in Syria. They could have been in military-related positions or in logistics or intelligence because the IRGC is a huge organization with both military and civilian functions. What you can be sure of is that there were hungry men of equal competence who moved up. The loss of Hezbollah commanders, who could be replaced with IRGC officers of actual competence and undivided loyalty, could end up being a plus for the Iranian effort. Indeed, the author sums up:
As the war in Syria grinds on, the chances new commanders for Iranian proxy elements will rise to the foreground is a certainty. However, these new commanders’ formative experiences will be shaped more by Syria’s hyper-sectarian conditions and brutality, something which may lead to even more radicalism in the future. For the IRGC, growing a new leadership crop to control these elements will also face similar difficulties as Iran continues to expand its reach across the Middle East.
Regardless, to prop-up Assad and to show its Russian allies it can act on the ground, Tehran is bleeding out some of its top military leadership which helped form the current IRGC-controlled proxy network operating today.
Look for more and more articles in the coming days on how Iran and Russia are being hurt in Syria as the Obama administration’s failures become exceedingly transparent.