Even though Islamic State militants in Syria have no aircraft to speak of, the US’s top military commander says establishing a no-fly zone may be part of the campaign. Such a move is what US allies, including Turkey, have been pressing for.
Though Obama has long resisted this no-fly zone, many U.S. officials now argue it’s essential, not least to steady Turkey. Kerry signaled his support last week, and Dempsey agreed Sunday: “Do I anticipate that there could be circumstances in the future where that [a no-fly zone] would be part of the campaign? Yeah.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin broke with the Obama administration on Syria Wednesday by calling for buffer and no-fly zones near the Turkish border.
But wait. Why a No Fly Zone? No one thus far has claimed ISIS has air capability. As the Daily Beast's Josh Rogan makes clear:
The no-fly zone would stop Bashar al-Assad’s air force from bombing them while they fight ISIS on the ground.
As Yahoo News also reports, a No Fly Zone is effectively a declaration of war with Syria - a rather important threshold that's sort of thrown in there towards the bottom of the article:
[Enforcing a no fly zone] would mean embracing one of two options President Barack Obama has long resisted: cooperating with Syrian President Bashar Assad's government or taking out its air defenses, action tantamount to war.
Enforcing a No Fly Zone over Syria would effectively be the end of Assad's government. It would be entirely neutered and incapable of defending itself, opening up the inevitable scope creep of the US removing Assad - a "bonus" many in the hawkish wing of the Democratic media establishment have already floated:
But wait a second - the US is not, supposedly, at war with Syria nor did Congress or any public discussion occur to this effect. Right on cue, ISIS terror takes to the skies:
Iraqi pilots who have joined Islamic State in Syria are training members of the group to fly in three captured fighter jets, a group monitoring the war said on Friday, saying it was the first time the militant group had taken to the air.
Witnesses reported the flights were at a low altitude and only lasted five to 10 minutes before landing, the Observatory said. It was not possible to reach the Syrian government for comment and state media did not mention the report.
Former Iraqi pilots training ISIS fighters to fly captured Syrian jets, rights group says | Fox News
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group says some ex-Iraqi air force pilots are training members of ISIS to fly three warplanes
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a U.K.-based organization which relies on an extensive network of sources and activists inside Syria, claims defected Iraqi military officers are teaching members of the terror group how to fly three commandeered fighter jets.
The only source for this story? Once again: Rami Abdul Rahman a/k/a Syrian Observatory on Human Rights. As I documented three weeks ago Rami Abdul Rahman is an admittedly biased one-man show whose "reports" are based on a mysterious and unverifiable "group" of Syrian informants. He provides no photo evidence, no video evidence, and no names or places beyond "al-Jarrah military airport east of Aleppo". To Reuters credit, they hedge their bets:
Reuters was not immediately able to verify the report and U.S. Central Command said it was not aware of Islamic State flying jets in Syria.
But fuck it, let's report it anyway. And, as always in the game of ISIS fear popcorn, what starts off as one man asserting something without evidence under the pretense of a "human rights group" spirals into a meta conversation about what or what not to do about a possibly made up threat.
So #ISIS has an air force. Pretty soon they'll have more fighter jets than half the countries in NATO. Time to admit we have a big problem.— John Schindler (@20committee) October 17, 2014
And of course, the press, in need of visuals went on and reverse engineered some, selectively editing a bizarre propaganda film supposedly made by ISIS in October of last year and passing it off as new.
Thankfully, at least some in the press smelled bullshit:
But how credible is this? First, there is no official confirmation of these reports and the US Central Command remains resolute that it has not seen IS flying jets in Syria. A senior British defence source told Channel 4 News that the US has significant aerial surveillance around the al-Jarah airbase which is thought to have been a key target of US-led airstrikes in recent weeks.
By these conditions alone it would be extremely difficult for militants to restore Syrian aircraft and mobilise air training - let alone fly these planes on test missions, as the witnesses claim.
Channel 4 News also understands that the United Arab Emirates and Jordan have been assisting the US in military aerial activity in Northern Syria, making it entirely plausible that these planes that could have been mistaken for IS aircraft.
Ah, so the story's probably total nonsense and even if further analysis proves this fact three things will certainly happen:
1) US pundits will continue to use the ISIS air force story in the upcoming weeks when the US actually does institute a No Fly Zone (read: declares war on Syia). By the time the truth catches up to the claim, it will have served its purpose so it won't matter.
2) This whole episode will do nothing to undermine the credibility of Rami Abdul Rahman d/b/a "the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights" who will continue to make uncorroborated claims that invariably suit his anti-Assad agenda and the press will keep uncritically reporting them.
3) Paranoia from Syrians - including even anti-Assad forces - that our war with ISIS in Syria was little more than a pretext to finish what US military commanders couldn't last fall - the removal of Assad and the installment of a pro-West puppet government - will continue to look less and less irrational.