[Digest from All Born Equal Rights on the war without end]
(1) Syria – Some Preliminary Positioning For An Endgame (while conflict mounts)
(2) How Australia’s Colonial History Helps Shape Its Racist Approach to Syria
(3) International Military Review – Syria, Jan. 18, 2016
(4) Patrick Lang on the Aleppo front; Uighurs in Syria’s Idlib Province
(5) Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war
(6) Chinese Army Allowed to Carry Out Anti-Terror Operations Abroad
(7) Yemen: A very British war
(1) Syria – Some Preliminary Positioning For An Endgame
(while the conflict mounts toward a climax)
http://www.moonofalabama.org/ 20 Jan 2016
The Obama administration and its anti-Syrian allies had hoped for a defeated Syrian government in Geneva that would agree to their capitulation conditions. They now have to change the narrative. Peace talks in Geneva, they now argue, can not take place because the Syrian government is winning. Headlines the Washington Post: “Russian airstrikes are working in Syria — enough to put peace talks in doubt”:
[A]fter 3½ months of relentless airstrikes that have mostly targeted the Western-backed opposition to Assad’s rule, they have proved sufficient to push beyond doubt any likelihood that Assad will be removed from power by the nearly five-year-old revolt against his rule. The gains on the ground are also calling into question whether there can be meaningful negotiations to end a conflict Assad and his allies now seem convinced they can win.
“The situation on the ground in Syria is definitely not conducive to negotiations right now,” said Lina Khatib of the Paris-based Arab Reform Initiative think tank.
The Arab Reform Initiative is a bastard child of the U.S./Middle East Project, Inc. and various Middle East dictatorships. The Middle East Project was founded by Henry Siegman, a former National Director of the American Jewish Congress and has various hawkish U.S. politicians like Scowcroft and Brzezinski as its senior advisers.
In their view the Syrian government has to be regime changed and can not be allowed to win. Negotiations will have to be put off until the government is likely to fall. Thus the U.S./Saudi/Turkish controlled “opposition” of militant Islamists wants to exclude the Kurds and non-militant opposition from any negotiations and sets additional conditions that make negotiations impossible. They practically demand that Russia and Syria declare and keep a one-sided ceasefire before any ceasefire negotiations can happen.
In the meantime various parties are positioning themselves for the larger endgame. The Kurds in Syria want a corridor along the Turkish Syrian border to connect their areas in the east with the Kurdish enclave in the west. They are fighting against The U.S. supported gangs north-west of Aleppo with Russian support and with Russian and U.S. support against Islamic State gangs north-east of Aleppo. The U.S. is invading Syrian ground and building an airport in the Kurdish areas in east Syria. This probably to later support and guarantee an oil-rich Kurdish state:
The airport, known as “Abu Hajar”, lies southeast of the town of Remelan,site of one of Syria’s largest oilfields, run by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which sells its production through Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Russians may counter that move with their own airport in the area (Qamishli airport).
Israel, which buys most of the Kurdish oil and just again made friend with Turkey, is now officially calling for an independent Kurdish state. The Turks will not like that at all.
Turkey wants to prevent a Kurdish corridor along its border. It has instigated the “Turkmen” insurgents in Syria under its control to attack the Islamic State from their Aleppo-Avaz-Turkey corridor towards the east right along the border fence where Turkey can provide artillery support. That campaign stalled after a few days and several captured towns are now back in the hands of the Islamic State. New Turkish equipment and soldiers arrived on the Turkish border near the Jarablus border crossing which is currently in the hand of the Islamic State. It is the Islamic State’s only open crossing to a somewhat friendly state (i.e Turkey). Should the Kurds come near to that crossing Turkey is likely to invade Syria to set up a wider buffer against the Syrian Kurds.
In Iraq the Turks continue to occupy bases in Iraqi Kurdistan under the protection of the Iraqi-Kurdish mafia boss Barzani. This despite threats from the Iraqi government. But that government is now again controlled by the U.S. The Iranian influence had waned after clashes between the Iranian General Suleiman and the U.S. installed Prime Minister Abadi:
A source in the office of the Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said, “The United States delay of its support to Baghdad was not a coincidence or an unintentional lazy reaction. It was a strategic decision to: Teach Iraq a lesson for rejecting U.S military bases; To observe the Iranian military capability and inability of Tehran to use air power and intelligence gathering to defeat ISIS; To submit Baghdad to its will and dictate its conditions”.
That the U.S. used the ISIS phenomenon to again achieve regime change and U.S. control in Iraq was confirmed by Obama in an interview with Thomas Friedman:
The reason, the president added, “that we did not just start taking a bunch of airstrikes all across Iraq as soon as ISIL came in was because that would have taken the pressure off of [Prime Minister Nuri Kamal] al-Maliki. …
But all those U.S. games are just short term thinking. The Kurdish areas in Iraq and Syria are landlocked and none of their direct neighbors has interest in a Kurdish state. After his mandate ran out and was not renewed by the parliament Barzani’s presidency in Iraqi Kurdistan is illegitimate. The next ruler in the Kurdish areas in Iraq is likely to be less friendly with Turkey and the U.S. In Iraq the influence of Iran with the people will always be bigger than U.S. influence with parts of the elite. In Syria it is Russia that will dictate how the future of the state will look.
In the long run the U.S. has little chance to keep its currently regained dominant position. Obama is repeating his predecessors mistake of believing that U.S. meddling in the arena can be successful and continue forever.
The Islamic State is receding. It recently had to cut its wages by half. It is under continual bombing and has to fight ever bigger battles with ever higher losses. The population in the areas it holds is not happy. It will soon again revert to a guerrilla movement of underground terrorist cells. Then other interests of the various actors will again come to the fore, the U.S. will no longer be needed and again be dispelled from the theater. Then the U.S. will again wonder why it did not learn from the earlier lesson.
Posted by b
Daraa rebels ordered to stop fighting Syria regime: report [https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566514-daraa-rebels-ordered-to-stop-fighting-syria-regime-report]
The Amman-based Military Operations Center (MOC) directed Southern Front factions to focus their efforts against Al-Nusra Front.
Posted by: virgile | Jan 20, 2016 10:19:57 AM
The MOC’s alleged decision comes within the context of “warming ties” between Amman and Moscow following Russia’s aerial intervention on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime.
On October 23, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced in Vienna that his country and Amman had agreed to coordinate military actions in Syria with a “special working mechanism” based in the Jordanian capital.
A month later, Jordanian King Abdullah II met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian capital during a visit in which he said that the “only way of finding a political solution in Syria is with the strong role that both [Putin] and Russia play.”
Jordan was also tasked in November by Washington and Moscow with formulating a list of terrorist groups in the war-torn country that would be the target of mutually agreed upon airstrikes by the rival powers currently intervening in the conflict.
An unnamed source in the FSA’s Southern Front told Alaraby Aljadeedthat coordination between the two countries would not bode well for rebels in the Daraa province.
Qatar emir went to Russia to discuss a face saving exit in Syria.
Another minor but very significant event happened in Lebanon: the sudden switch of a Saudi ally in Lebanon, Geagea toward an Iranian ally, Michel Aoun.
The Nuclear deal has turned the West business interests toward the huge potential of Iran
All these are signs that old “friends” are deserting Saudi Arabia perceived now as a embattled country with little hopes for a better future.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia will be left in the cold in the Syrian negotiations and their only hope is a strong alliance with.. Israel
Posted by: virgile | Jan 20, 2016 10:40:25 AM
the usa might have thought russia going into syria would end in a quagmire due the fact the sole purpose of all usa military aims is to create a quagmire… they don’t say that, but it’s born out by the facts on the ground, especially in afganistan, iraq and libya – all quagmires that the usa is probably quite content with..
nice to see israel finally coming out and openly calling for a kurdish state.. that ought to go over like a hot damn with it’s good buddy erdogan.. fits well with the usa building an airport on syrian soil… does the usa always do everything in lock step with israel? sure looks like it a lot of the time.. personally i am glad to see those players being forced to show their hand… that often leads to a losing hand in poker.. we’ll see what happens here..
Posted by: james | Jan 20, 2016 11:53:59 AM
US has not yet confirmed they are controlling airfield in Hasakah province, Syria (by illegal means and no coordination with Damascus)
Written by Paul Antonopoulos on 20/01/2016
A spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has told Al-Jazeera that US troops have taken control of the Rmeilan airfield in Syria’s northeastern province of Hasakah. This is supposedly to assist the mostly Kurdish SDF in their fight against ISIS.
The airfield would become the first US-controlled airbase in Syria, however, by illegal means and no coordination with Damascus. It is strategically located near the border with Iraq and Turkey in the northeastern tip of Syria.
“Under a deal with the YPG, the US was given control of the airport. The purpose of this deal is to back up the SDF, by providing weapons and an airbase for US warplanes,” Taj Kordsh, a media activist from the SDF told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.
“This airport was previously controlled by the YPG for over two years now. This strategic airport is close to several oil bases – one of the biggest in this area.
“Rmeilan airport was previously used for agricultural purposes by the Syrian government,” he said.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor also reported on Tuesday that the US had taken control of the airbase.
Sourcing activists, the Observatory said the airfield is still being prepared for use by the US.
These reports are yet to be confirmed by the United States.
According to Syrian opposition media report (SOHR) at https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566513-russia-considering-airbase-in-syrias-qamishli-monitor
BEIRUT – Russia has reportedly been studying the feasibility of converting the civilian international airport in northeast Syria into an airbase for its expanding aerial operations on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Tuesday night citedactivists as saying that in recent days they spotted Russian officers and engineers arriving at the airport in the Hasakeh city of Qamishli, where both Kurdish and regime security forces maintain an uneasy power-sharing agreement.
Russian officials were conducting studies on the airport with the aim of bolstering its defenses and expanding the facility so that it can be used by Russian fighter jets and cargo planes, the monitoring NGO added.
Meanwhile, the activist Local Coordination Committees claimed that a delegation of Russian troops had flown into Qamishli International Airport.
“One hundred Russian soldiers, including ten officers of different ranks, arrived Monday morning at Qamishli airport on a special Syrian military aircraft,” the network of local activist groups reported overnight Tuesday.
The group added that the Russian military delegation proceeded to deploy to the nearby Regiment 154 base, which serves as a defensive line for the airport and is equipped with radars, anti-aircraft guns as well as artillery batteries.
LCC also quoted its sources saying that Russian intelligence officers visited Qamishli to meet with both Kurdish and regime security officials to discuss the Russian military presence.
While the LCC said no information was leaked on what operations the Russian would be conducting, the activist group’s sources did assert that the Russians would deploy only in regime-controlled areas of Qamishli, and not areas managed by the Kurds. (Ray’s note: Last week there were armed clashes between the pro-government Assyrian Christian militia and the YPG (who have fought with both pro-government and anti-government forces). See https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=sootoro)
Kurdish internal security forces (Asayesh) control large swathes of Qamishli and its surrounding eastern and western outskirts, while pro-regime forces maintain a presence in the center of the city, as well as the nearby airport and Regiment 154 bases to the south.
The Syrian regime has kept up public appearances of maintaining control over the northeastern Syrian region, even as the Kurds have moved increasingly toward autonomy amid tense non-aggression agreements with the remaining pro-Assad forces.
In January 2014, Kurdish authorities declared the formation of three self-ruled cantons (Cizire, Afrin and Kobane) under the Democratic Self-Rule Administration of Rojava, which has been dominated by the Democratic Union party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia forces.
The political reorganization was not recognized by the Syrian regime; however, it has become a de-facto reality, especially since pro-government forces withdrew from most Kurdish-populated regions in 2012, with the exception of Qamishli and the provincial capital Hasakeh 75 kilometers to the south.
Syria’s Kurds have been militarily ascendant in the past year rolling back ISIS in the Hasakeh province as well as in the Kobane region.
NOW’s English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Ullin Hope translated the Arabic-language source material.
(2) How Australia’s Colonial History Helps Shape Its Racist Approach to Syria
Global Research, January 19, 2016 (source)
The key Australian founding myth was that no civilised people occupied this island-continent before British colonisation. From that piece of fiction the rights of more than 400 indigenous peoples, their ownership of land and their very existence could be ignored. They could be treated as if they did not exist.
Based on that central myth (eventually put into a legal doctrine called ‘terra nullius’) grew an ugly garden of racist practice: the ethnic-cleansing of Australia’s fertile river valleys; the colonisation and enslavement of the Pacific Islands peoples; the ‘White Australia Policy’; racialised immigration; engagement in a string of overseas imperial wars; and unique forms of physical and cultural genocide, which included concentration camps and stealing indigenous children from their families.
That colonial mentality has wider implications, and taints Australian approaches to conflict in Syria and the Middle East, based as they often are on an underlying assumption that Syrian and other Middle Eastern people do not exist, except perhaps as victims or refugees. Many who knew very little about Syria moved rapidly to condemn and attack the Syrian Government, or cheer on unknown ‘revolutionaries’, as urged by Washington. No need was seen to speak with, recognise or respect the representatives and institutions of the Syrian people. Talking with Syrians or visiting Syria was effectively banned.
‘Racism’ is a term probably over-used, to include simple individual prejudice and ignorance. That trivialises the word. Yet all deep racial legacies stem from this colonial mentality, which denies the existence of other peoples while seeking to dominate, dispossess and displace them. This denial requires ideologies of systematic exclusion and dehumanisation.
The recent Australian Government approach combines these racial assumptions with a long standing, subordinate collaboration with the big power. And it is a sad historical fact that collaborators often try too hard to impress. They can sound more extreme than their masters, anxious to demonstrate their loyalty yet also keen to prove to the world they have something other than sycophancy to contribute.
So it is with Canberra’s Middle East policy. In the same week (in November 2015) that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop put on a brave face at Australia’s exclusion from the Vienna talks on Syria, her government presented the absurd claim that Australia was ‘the second largest international contributor’ to the military campaign ‘against ISIS’ in Iraq and Syria. Notice that Australia has coordinated precisely nothing with Syria. Bishop is referring to her commitments to Washington.
Australia’s dependent foreign relations are conditioned by its racialist history. To back Washington’s ‘regime change’ line – from Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya to Syria – Canberra has pretended that these other peoples do not exist, or at least that they have no voice, no organisation and no representatives.
Even reading the Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian and Russian media on the Middle East is disdained, if not prohibited, because those nations are either not recognised or are somehow disqualified. This is deep racism, and the peculiar dilemma of a sub-imperial power with an unresolved colonial history. The narratives of others must be authorised and mediated by the great power.
Minister Bishop has not been the greatest authority on the Middle East region. In late 2012 – while appropriately criticising her Labor predecessor, Senator Bob Carr, over his outrageous call for the assassination of the Syrian President – she exposed her ignorance by claiming that al Qaeda and Lebanon’s Hezbollah were both fighting the Syrian Government (Bishop 2012). In fact, Hezbollah has always been a close ally of secular Syria.
Nevertheless, a role was seen for Australia in pretending to reshape Syria. Ignorance has never been a barrier to colonial-style intervention. The new conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, while certainly more articulate than his predecessor Tony Abbott, set out on that difficult tightrope all sycophants have to walk. His initial message, as reported by Mark Kenny in the Sydney Morning Herald, was that ‘Mr Turnbull’s position is in lock-step with the Obama White House’ (Kenny 2015).
On the other hand, and on the same day, according to Philip Coorey of the Australian Financial Review, Australia ‘has had a different starting point to the US’ (Coorey 2015). The difference, supposedly, is ‘pragmatism and compromise’. The context was a western retreat from the imperious demand that ‘Assad must go’, though it is not clear what Australia contributed to this. In any case, Canberra was said to have been playing a ‘constructive role’.
This ‘distinct’ role seems to mean that – while both PM Turnbull and the very uncharismatic Labor leader Bill Shorten repeat Washington’s abusive mantras about Syria and President Assad – some form of ‘transitional’ power sharing may be possible. As though Canberra would have any say in the matter. Anyway, it was expected to say something.
This ‘poodle pie’ is a difficult dish to cook, but history tells us that extreme loyalty has been the main ingredient. Back in 1966 conservative PM Harold Holt coined the phrase ‘All the way with LBJ’, emphasising Canberra’s commitment to US President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s disastrous war in Vietnam, which would fail only after destroying the lives of three million Vietnamese people.
Forty years later the conservative Howard Government was Washington’s willing fool for a last minute manoeuvre to frustrate Cuba’s annual motion at the UN, to condemn the US economic blockade of the Caribbean island. These motions, consistent with international law, had always passed with overwhelming support. However, urged on by the US, Australia proposed a gratuitous amendment, critical of Cuba.
Cuba’s then Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque reacted by calling the Australian approach one of ‘pocket imperialism’ (imperialismo de bolsillo). He lashed Canberra for its support for the US torture camp at Guantanamo, declaring that Canberra, which had submitted its Aboriginal population to ‘a real apartheid-like regime, had no moral authority to criticise Cuba’ (Prensa Latina 2006). The proposed amendment failed and Australia voted with Cuba. It was a pointless intervention, only carried out to impress Washington. It was humiliating too because, just a few years later, Canberra felt obliged to develop a foreign aid partnership with Cuba, which by then had become the major medical trainer in the pacific islands.
This Australian sycophancy has been bipartisan. In 2010 Labor PM Julia Gillard rejected calls for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. ‘Australia will not abandon Afghanistan’, she said, in a speech where her voice was described as ‘shaking with emotion’. She expected Australia’s role in the occupation to continue ‘through this decade at least’. The following year President Obama began his ‘drawdown’ of US troops from a conflict he knew the US could not win. Gillard’s emotional display in favour of endless occupation was contrived and absurd.
In the current war, seeking overthrow of the Government of Syria by use of proxy Islamist militias, Canberra has been keen to play the role expected of it; but what is the correct line? The idea of ‘humanitarian intervention’ is virtually dead, having been replaced by a new ‘war on terror’. The problem here is that all the major supporters of the sectarian terror groups are the closest allies of Washington: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel (see Anderson 2015).
One thing that makes Australia’s colonial-style approach to Syria distinct has been the participation of many on the ‘left’ and in academia. Somehow the mission of ‘saving’ an unknown foreign people excites liberals enough to join forces with the more overt imperialists. This has echoes of the ‘civilising missions’ of 19th century colonialism. A similar racial contempt can be seen across a range of ignorant but highly opinionated Australians, who happen to share most of the US State Department’s ‘talking points’ on the target nation.
For example Corey Oakley, writing in Red Flag (9 June 2015), the paper of the small Trotskyist group Socialist Alternative, claimed there were “clear signs of coordination between ISIS and the [Syrian] regime”. This was repetition of a Washington-generated myth, created to maintain an artificial distinction between the ‘moderate’ and extremist terrorist groups attacking Syria. A few days earlier the US Government had insisted that “ISIS advances on Aleppo [were] aided by Assad” (Guardian 2 June 2015). In fact, the US and its allies sponsor every single terrorist group in Syria and most of the victims of ISIS and the others are Syrian soldiers and pro-government civilians (Anderson 2015).
Oakley goes on to criticise the US for not providing arms to “rebel groups” then praises Turkey and the Saudis for “finally” deciding to do so, facilitating the jihadist invasion and ethnic cleansing in north Syria. This Jaysh al Fateh (‘Army of Conquest’) coalition was led by the al Qaeda groups Ahrar al Sham and Jabhat al Nusra. In this way a small western ‘left’ group lent support to the most vicious and backward reactionaries, proxies for the big power.
Alex Chklovski in Red Flag (13 October 2015) backs another of Washington’s fictions, that the Syrian Government is founded on “narrow sectarian divisions”, echoing the ‘Alawite regime’ claims advanced by the Gulf Monarchies, Israel and Washington, because President Assad is from an Alawite family.
In fact, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood back in 2011 called for a holy war on Syria precisely because it was a “secular regime”. The insurrectionists would have to ensure that “the revolution will be pure Islamic” (Al-Shaqfa 2011). That view has been shared by all major anti-government armed groups in Syria, as US intelligence privately observed in 2012: “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq = the Islamic State in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria”. The eventual plan to create a “Salafist principality” in Eastern Syria was “exactly” what Washington and its allies wanted, US intelligence admitted (DIA 2012).
Similarly, ‘Solidarity’ member Mark Goudkamp (21 May 2015) celebrates the “renewed victories for the insurgency” which came from this ‘Army of Conquest’. As thousands of sectarian fanatics from dozens of countries poured into Syria from Turkey, funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and armed with US weapons, Goudkamp repeated Washington’s false claims that the Syrian Government was worse than ISIS and had been “responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths”. There is no source for this claim, but it does mimic the Washington line. This ‘left’ rhetoric, denying the existence of a Syrian nation and celebrating extreme reactionaries as ‘revolutionaries’, helps the US smokescreen for its dirty war. Those who might otherwise have opposed this dirty war either made fools of themselves or were lulled into silence.
Pretentious interventions also come from academia. Tom Switzer of Sydney University’s U.S. Studies Centre (established with government money to counter ‘anti-Americanism’ in Australia, in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq) joins US colleagues with a proposal that both Syria and Iraq be balkanised, divided into tiny sectarian statelets. ‘Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone. Iraq is not one people, but rather three peoples … Syria is also three peoples’, he claims (Switzer 2016). That idea has support from Tel Aviv, as it would tend to ‘normalise’ the apartheid state of Israel in a region thoroughly partitioned on sectarian lines. The idea has long been a ‘Plan B’ for Washington in both Syria and Iraq, in case they cannot tame unruly governments in Baghdad and Damascus.
The partition idea was detailed six months earlier by the US Brookings Institute (O’Hanlon 2015), which brazenly called for Washington to break its ‘Syria problem’ into ‘a number of localised components … envisioning ultimately a more confederal Syria made up of autonomous zones rather than being ruled by a strong central government’ (O’Hanlon 2015: 3). The Brookings report urges an initial two autonomous zones or ‘safe zones’ next to the borders of Jordan and Turkey, to allow ‘secure transportation lines for humanitarian as well as military supplies’.
All this, of course, would be in complete violation of international law, and only conceivable if the Syrian nation-state were destroyed and on its knees. Despite Washington’s best efforts, that is not the case. These academic ideas only have currency because ‘divide and rule’ has always suited the interests of big powers, intent on regional domination.
What is common to these pseudo-leftist and academic narratives, apart from their repetition of Washington’s talking points, is a deep contempt for Syrian people. None of the above authors pay attention to national organisations or representatives. The Syrian and Iraqi nation-states effectively do not exist. These colonial-style assertions rely almost entirely on western sources, consistent with the themes of colonial racism: refusing to listen to others’ voices, refusing to respect their organisations, in short refusing to recognise that other peoples exist.
Despite these colonial fantasies of ‘revolution’ and partition, the recent Vienna talks reaffirmed the important principle that only the Syrian people can decide their political leadership, and that Syria cannot be dismembered. Reassertion of these principles comes as Damascus finds itself in a much stronger military position, after Russian air power came to support a strong ground force led by the Syrian Arab Army and including local and neighbouring militia, the latter from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. The broader US plan is failing and, sooner rather than later, will be looking for some sort of face-saving exit.
Enter the Australian initiative of late 2015, which suggested that Syria, the one country in the region with a genuinely pluralist constitution, should abandon that in favour of the Lebanese ‘confessional’ model. This new constitution, according to PM Turnbull, was needed because Syria’s Sunni Muslims have been ‘disenfranchised’. He claims that the base of ISIS ‘is a Sunni population that has felt disenfranchised or depressed in Syria … [and has also felt] left out of the Shi’ite government [sic] in Iraq’. The implication is that a Lebanese-like system, where everyone must identify with a particular religious community, would somehow destroy the basis for sectarian terrorism. The sectarian history of Lebanon gives the lie to that.
This convoluted proposal is mixed with the proviso that it is the Syrians who must decide and that ‘dictating terms from foreign capitals is unlikely to be successful’. Quite so. But Australian proposals for a new constitution, prepared with zero Syrian input, are inconsistent with recognition of the right of the Syrian people to self-determination. Mr Turnbull seems to not recognise that Syrians have been just as opposed to the idea of a religious or sectarian state as would be most Australians.
US intelligence observed this fact back in 1982, after the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood insurrection at Hama. In a report of May that year, the US DIA noted ‘total casualties for the Hama incident probably number about 2,000. This includes an estimated 300 to 400 members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s elite ‘Secret Apparatus’ (DIA 1982: 7). The Brotherhood, in their typical way, would later inflate this to ‘40 thousand civilians’. Although the US had backed the insurrection, through their agents the Saudis, Saddam Hussein, the King of Jordan and others, US intelligence dryly concluded: ‘the Syrians are pragmatists who do not want a Muslim Brotherhood government’ (DIA 1982: vii). That last observation was quite right.
It is just as foolish to say that Sunnis Muslims are ‘disenfranchised’ in Syria as it is to say that Protestant Christians are disenfranchised in Australia, because we have had two successive Catholic Prime Ministers (Turnbull is a convert). All Syrians are full citizens, regardless of their religion and, as it happens, most ministers in the Syrian Cabinet are from Sunni Muslim families. It is equally foolish to call the Baghdad Government a ‘Shi’ite Government’, simply because most of the population and most MPs are from Shi’ia families.
Demanding that Arab and Muslim peoples be forced back into a sectarian box is old school racist ideology, used many times in the colonies, repeated by the sectarians and adopted by the big powers who see their own advantage in pushing sectarian division. The Australian PM references this idea to what he calls ‘Sunni Arab states’. That is Washington’s euphemism for the despotic Gulf monarchies, the least legitimate of all governments and the principal financiers of sectarian terrorism.
A few weeks after this ‘Turnbull initiative’ a UN Security Council resolution made it irrelevant. The UNSC called for an end to the Syrian conflict, demanding that the Syrian people decide their government, that terrorist groups be excluded from any truce and that a ‘unity’ government be formed. These principles require a Syrian vote on any possible constitutional change. However Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signalled his country’s support for Syria keeping its “united multi-confessional” national constitution. Syria has voted several times on this constitution and has maintained the most progressive, pluralist constitution in the region. Lavrov, who has constantly consulted with Syria, appreciates that fact; Turnbull does not.
Subsequently the Australian government set a limit to its military commitments (training Iraqis and air campaign assistance) to the US coalition but said it would consider ‘providing humanitarian support for Syria and Iraq … in consultation with our coalition partners’ (Doran 2016). In typical colonial manner, it had not consulted Syria on ‘humanitarian support’.
The good news is that Australia’s racist interventions and weak attempts to join in the subjugation of Syria will have little influence. Iraq has decided to join with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Russia to defeat the western backed proxy armies: ISIS, Nusra, the Islamic Front, Ahrar al Sham and the rest.
That will mark the beginning of the end for Washington’s bloody spree of ‘regime change’ across the region, aiming at a US-led ‘New Middle East’. How much more Canberra decides to poison its relations with Syria and its neighbours, to maintain most favoured status with Washington, remains to be seen.
It is a particularly Australian dilemma to have a culture pervaded by big power collaboration and colonial racism: looking for pretexts to intervene, refusing to listen to the other people’s voices, refusing to respect their organisations, even refusing to recognise that they exist. That racism goes well beyond government and overtly imperial sub-culture, into servile academia and imperious left-liberal ideologies.
We have been deceived by the dirty war on Syria, reverting to our worst traditions of intervention, racial prejudice and poor reflection on our own history. Our main hope seems to be restoring some decent understandings through our better traditions: the use of reason, ethical principle and the search for independent evidence.
Tim Anderson’s book ‘The Dirty War on Syria’ will be published online by Global Research (Canada) in January 2016.
AAP (2015) ‘Syria crisis: Turnbull, Shorten condemn Assad’, SBS, 19 November, online: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2015/11/19/turnbull-shorten-get-stuck-assad
Al-Shaqfa, Muhammad Riyad (2011) ‘Muslim Brotherhood Statement about the so-called ‘Syrian Revolution’’, General supervisor for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, statement of 28 March, online at: http://truthsyria.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/muslim-brotherhood-statement-about-the-so-called-syrian-revolution/
Anderson, Tim (2015) The Insidious Relationship between Washington and ISIS: The Evidence, Global Research, 3 September, online: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-relationship-between-washington-and-isis-the-evidence/5435405
Bishop, Julie (2012) ‘Syria on the brink’, Federal Member for Curtin, 6 December, online: http://www.juliebishop.com.au/syria-on-the-brink/
Chklovski, Alex (2015) ‘The left can oppose Russian intervention in in Syria without capitulating to our own rulers’, Red Flag, 13 October, online: https://redflag.org.au/article/left-can-oppose-russian-intervention-syria-without-capitulating-our-own-rulers
Coorey, Phillip (2015) ‘Vladimir Putin could accept Syria without Assad, Australia believes’, Australian Financial Review, 18 November, online: http://www.afr.com/news/politics/game-plan-to-destroy-islamic-state-20151118-gl1tbb
Coorey, Phillip (2015) ‘Malcolm Turnbull pushes US to accept deal on Assad’, Australian Financial Review, 19 November, online: http://www.afr.com/news/politics/malcolm-turnbull-pushes-us-to-accept-deal-on-assad-20151119-gl2tug
DIA (1982) ‘Syria: Muslim Brotherhood Pressure Intensifies’, Defence Intelligence Agency (USA), May, online: https://syria360.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/dia-syria-muslimbrotherhoodpressureintensifies-2.pdf
DIA (2012) Intelligence Report ‘R 050839Z Aug 2012’ in Judicial Watch, Pgs. 287-293 (291) JW v DOD and State 14-812, 18 May, online: http://www.judicialwatch.org/document-archive/pgs-287-293-291-jw-v-dod-and-state-14-812-2/
Doran, Matthew (2016) ‘Islamic State: Australia declines United States request to increase military commitment in Middle East’, ABC, 13 January, online: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-13/australia-declines-us-request-to-boost-fight-in-middle-east/7087174
Goudkamp, Mark (2015) ‘Syria between Assad’s and IS’s counter-revolution’, Solidarity.net.au, 21 May, online: http://www.solidarity.net.au/imperialism/syria-between-both-assads-and-iss-counter-revolution/
Grattan, Michelle (2010) ‘Gillard talks tough on war in Afghanistan’, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 October, online:http://www.smh.com.au/national/gillard-talks-tough-on-war-in-afghanistan-20101019-16sjh.html
Kenny, Mark (2015) ‘Malcolm Turnbull slaps down the military option in Syria, calls for compromise’, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 November, online: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/malcolm-turnbull-calls-for-practical-deal-in-syria-despite-terrorists-20151118-gl1yme.html
Oakley, Corey (2015) ‘Rebels on the march in Syria’, 9 June, online: https://redflag.org.au/article/rebels-march-syria
O’Hanlon, Michael (2015) ‘Deconstructing Syria: towards a regionalized strategy for a confederal country’, Center for 21st century Security and Intelligence, Brookings, 23 June, online: http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2015/06/23-syria-strategy-ohanlon
Prensa Latina (2006) ‘Contundente victoria de Cuba en la ONU. 183 naciones manifestaron su repudio al bloqueo de Estados Unidos, cifra récord en estas votaciones’, Estados Unidos vs Cuba, 8 November, online: http://estadosunidosvscuba.blogspot.com.au/2006/11/cuba-en-naciones-unidas.html
Switzer (2016) ‘Redrawing the map is the best way to fight Islamic State’, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 January, online: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/redrawing-the-map-is-the-best-way-to-fight-islamic-state-20160104-glyqq6.html
The original source of this article is Global Research;
Copyright © Prof. Tim Anderson, Global Research, 2016
(3) International Military Review – Syria, Jan. 18, 2016
The Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) attempted to launch counter-offensive in the Al-Bab Plateau in the province of Aleppo last weekend. However, the militants weren’t able to break the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) defensive positions.
Heavy clashes also were observed in the area of Ayn Al-Bayda where Liwaa Suqour Al-Sahra and the SAA repeal another offensive attempt of the militants. After the fall of Salma, the pro-government forces are continuing to gain momentum in the Latakia province. Recently, the Syrian forces took control of the villages of Kadin, Duwayrikah, Mrouniyat, Kurt Fawqani and the areas of Kurt Tahtani, Kuzbar Mount, Sundian Mount, Alkndisih and Beit Afeefah. Thus, the SAA and its allies are advancing in the direction of the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour located at the M4 highway.
The SAA and the NDF advanced on the concentration centers of the militant groups in the Sheikh Meskeen region of the Dara’a province. Also, the pro-government forces attacked the militants positions in al-Balad. Southwest of Gharz Prison in the Southern part of Dara’a city was also the scene of fierce clashes. Pro-Syrian sources report that the militants suffered heavy casualties.
On Jan.16 the Russian army launched humanitarian operations in Syria. The first humanitarian aid consignment has been delivered by Russian aircrafts to the city of Deir ez-Zor.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, some international non-governmental organizations have been already delivering humanitarian aid to Syria. However, this aid is mostly being delivered to the areas controlled by militants where most of this aid gets into the hands of extremists and is used for terrorist formations’ supplies.
On Jan.17, Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Mohammad Momani stated that supporters of ISIS are among Syrian refugees in the camps near the Syrian-Jordanian border. About 12,000 Syrian refugees are in these camps. There is nothing new in the fact that terrorist groups including ISIS use refugee camps especially in Turkey as rear bases for operations in Syria. However, this statement could mark a shift in the Jordanian strategy in this situation. It’s hard to believe that militants were able to successfully use refugee camps at the border without unofficial support of the Jourdanian special services.
SouthFront: Analysis & Intelligence remembers, last week, Russia set up a joint war room with Jordan to coordinate anti-ISIS military operations in Syria.
Below is a 17 January 2016 report by the Russian General Staff on recent progress in Syria, subtitled in English:
The Saker report (17 jan 2016) on Week Fifteen of the Russian Intervention in Syria
The Russians are steadily degrading Daesh on many levels: they are hitting their command posts, their ammo dumps, their logistics and supply routes, their training bases, etc. Since a lot of those targets have now been destroyed, the Russians are also proving more and more close air support, that is to say that they are now flying sorties in direct support of Syrian army operations. There is also mounting evidence that Russian officers are now working closely with the frontline Syrian units. This closer cooperation and coordination between the Russians and the Syrians has yielded many small victories and at least one major one: the city strategic of Salma, in northeastern Latakia province, has now been fully liberated…
On the negative side, the Syrians and Russians have still not found a way to deny Daesh its major advantage: the ability to pump more and more combatants into Syria through Turkey and other countries. At this point in time, it is unclear who has the advantage in this competition: can the Syrian kill Takfiris faster than Daesh can import them or not. Regardless, what is certain is that the Syrians are advancing and that tells me that while the influx of new combatants is definitely a problem for the Syrians, it is not one which has made it possible for Daesh to stop the Syrians from advancing.
I have already mentioned in the past that the Russians are also supplying the Syrians with advanced artillery systems which will gradually restore the Syrian’s ability to have organic and powerful firepower in their ground force units.
One very interesting news item came out recently: there are reports that Russia is now directly providing weapons to Hezbollah. If these reports are confirmed (more or less, nobody will ever acknowledge that officially, of course) then this would be a very elegant response to the Israeli bombings of Hezbollah arms depots. As for Iran, we can be quite sure that they can get almost anything they would need from the Russian market anyway. In other words, Russia will be slowly but surely rebuilding the Syrian capabilities.
Still, the big event of the past two week is a non-event, really. It is the fact that the US-lead “alternative coalition” is achieving exactly nothing. Not only was the big conference in Saudi Arabia a total failure after Ahrar al-Sham walked out, but the recent Saudi attempt are creating a crisis with Iran have also petered out without yielding any tangible results. Ditto for the French intervention in response to the massacres in Paris: the Charles de Gaulle sailed to Syria and then nothing. Literally nothing of any significance happened. As for the World Hegemon, it appears that Uncle Sam simply does not know what to do: all we have seen out of Washington is a series of vapid statements following by nothing. As for the Turks, they are now dealing with an internal situation which is getting worse by the day and they also appear to have no idea what to do about Syria.
This is why I think that “no news is good news”: because no news means that Russia is the only game in town: whatever the pace of the Russian-Syrian advance against Daesh, they are the only ones getting anything actually done while everybody else is in complete disarray.
For a while, the Pentagon was floating the idea of a US backed Kurdish offensive against the city of al-Raqqah, presented as the “capital of Daesh”, and some US special forces were sent in to help the Kurds, but it rapidly turned out that the Turks categorically opposed that. Worse, the Kurds also refused to provide cannon-fodder for a US run operation against Daesh. So much for that grand plan.
In other words, and in this moment in time, there appears to be no workable plan from the US, NATO, EU, Turkish, Saudi, etc. The only actor which not only has a plan, but which has now been pursuing its long term goal are Russia and Iran. It is also worth noting that the Russian-Iranian plan as build-in flexibility: if possible, the Russians and Iranian want to get the best situation on the ground before engaging in any negotiations about the future of Syria. If that is not possible and the Empire insists in doubling-down yet again, then the fall-back plan is simple: militarily defeating Daesh.
The best proof that the Russian side is willing to sustain a long campaign is the recentSOFA (status of forces agreement) signed between Russian and Syria which basically regulates the Russian presence in Syria and which does not have a time limit. In fact, if either side wants to withdraw from that agreement it has to give a one-year warning to the other side. It is likely that the Iranian and Syrians also have a very similar agreement but that it has not been made public.
There is a lot of speculations about a possible Russian ground operation in Syria. I don’t buy this notion at all. Not only have Russian officials and military experts dismissed such an option, but the Russian military is simply not configured for such a long-range power projection. Yes, Russia could, in theory, send in and Airborne forces and then have then supported by a naval task force, but that would run counter to Russian military doctrine and pose very serious potential risks. Barring something truly extraordinary, I don’t see the Kremlin going for such an extremely dangerous gambit.
So the plan appears to be the following one:
- Stabilize the Syrian government (done)
- Attrition warfare against Daesh (in progress)
- Re-build the Syrian armed forces (in progress)
- Establish a permanent Russian military presence (done)
- Prevent the imposition of a no-fly zone by the US/NATO (done)
- Force the Empire to negotiate with Assad (in progress)
- Disrupt the Turkish, Saudi and Qatari support for Daesh (in progress)
- Co-opt as much as possible of the armed opposition to Assad into a common anti-Daesh front (in progress)
- Provide military aid to Iran and Hezbollah (in progress)
- Keep Daesh combatants away from Russia and her allies in the Caucasus and Central Asia (in progress)
- Try to convince the Europeans that their stance in the Middle-East (and elsewhere) is self-defeating and that they must work with Russia to restore stability (no results so far)
- Try to drive a wedge between the US and Europe (no results so far)
I think that this plan successfully combines short-term and long-term objectives and that it has a good chance of succeeding, at least in the first 10 objectives. Alas, I don’t see any signs that the US grip on Europe (via the subservient European compradorelites in power) is getting weaker. If anything, the complete flop of Hollande’s trip to Washington proved that even France has no real sovereignty left.
(4) Patrick Lang on the Aleppo front; Uighurs in Syria’s Idlib Province
“Syria regime prepares for ‘biggest military operation’ of war in Aleppo” Rudaw (Kurdish news network) By Colonel W. Patrick Lang, retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces (served for nearly a decade as the chief Middle East civilian intelligence officer for the DIA.), 18 Jan. 2016. http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2016/01/httprudawnetenglishmiddleeastsyria160120164.html
“As fighters in the city (of Allepo) dig-in and try to consolidate their positions, those fighting on the regime’s side are cutting off supply lines along seven fronts in a bid to cut-off the eastern part of the city, ahead of the upcoming offensive.
The Syrian military and its allied militias have once again started offensive operations after Russia intervened late last September on their side and began providing air support. ” Rudaw
Rudaw is a Kurdish news network.
“b” (the blogger at http://www.moonofalabama.org/) tells us that there are 8,000 R+6 reinforcements newly arrived in the Aleppo area. Who these troops might be I know not. Is this the much reported newly created 4th Assault Corps of the Syrian Army or some other group? And what exactly is the composition of the 4th Assault Corps?
Russian air and artillery are chewing the “opposition” to bits while the threat of Russian anti-air defenses have effectively grounded the Turkish Air Force. This has enabled the YPG Kurds to advance across the Euphrates River to threaten the IS’ supply line to Turkey and the Syrian Army to re-group and sort out the confusion caused by the long, slow decline it had experienced at the hands of rebels supplied by the US, Turkey and the Gulfies.
The “grinding” process continues as forces are positioned for the climactic battle we have characterized here as the kesselschlacht .
If I were in northern Syria as an “opposition” fighter I would either be thinking of “rallying” to the government side or looking over my shoulder at the Turkish border. pl
Info on the 4th Assault Corps in this article (at http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/OEWatch/201511/201511.pdf) on p.13:
a … “plan is underway to gradually dissolve (Syrian) National Defence Forces (NDF) and fold them into the conventional army through the 4th Corps. The process is to occur in stages on a region-by-region basis. Although the NDF are believed to have been key in keeping the regime afloat, tensions between NDF fighters and military personnel have been a constant concern for the government and its supporters…
The fourth accompanying article … explains that as Moscow’s involvement grows, pro-Assad fighting forces will rely more on the Russian model and less on the Iranian one. The former, the author argues, relies on local militias recruited on a sectarian basis, while the latter focuses on reinvigorating and modernizing conventional forces.”
One can call that development dissolving the NDF, or one can call it upgrading from an irregular light infantry to a heavier force under more central control, probably stiffened by Syrian army regulars.
Almost more interesting is the follow-up article on p.15, headlined “Uighurs and the Changing Demographics of Syria’s Idlib Province“. The influx of Uighurs into Syria is being facilitated by Turkey.
“According to the article, the Uighur families who are settling in Idlib are filling in the homes of Syrian Arabs who have either fled to Europe or taken refuge in Turkey’s Hatay Province. Because Uighurs are a Turkic and Muslim group and, at least those who have made it to Turkey, are grateful to Turkey for its support to the Uighurs, the Uighurs in Idlib will likely form a pro-Turkish base of support. This would help extend Turkish influence into Idlib and contribute to Turkish geopolitical objectives of establishing pro-Turkish areas along the Turkish border in Syria and serving as a base for offensives against the Syrian government and repelling incursions into northwestern Syria from Kurdish militias.”
i.e. Syrians returning from Europe would – courtesy of Erdogan – find their old homes occupied by these newcomers, not just by Uighurs, but Islamist Uighurs of groups like the Turkistan Islamic Party, who happen to fly the same flag as Al Qaeda. The idea would be that they serve as an insurance against Kurdish ambitions and to extend Turkish area of influence.
That is, we’re speaking of ethnic cleansing by Turkey in Syria. That is what Erdogan’s safe zone was about – create a Turkish zone of influence in northern Syria. Erdogan’s of neo-ottoman, pan-turkish pan-islamism in practice.
A buffer zone for Erdogan’s Turkic settlements in Syria? By Christina Lin on 11 OCTOBER 2015 in AT OPINION, CHINA, MIDDLE EAST
Uighur jihadist group in Syria advertises ‘little jihadists’
By Bill Roggio & Caleb WEISS | 24 September 2015 | email@example.com |
Turkistan Islamic Party
(5) Military to Military
Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war (London Review of Books, Vol. 38 No. 1 · 7 January 2016 pages 11-14 ) [Source]
Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped.
The military’s resistance dates back to the summer of 2013, when a highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then led by General Martin Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos and, potentially, to Syria’s takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was then happening in Libya. A former senior adviser to the Joint Chiefs told me that the document was an ‘all-source’ appraisal, drawing on information from signals, satellite and human intelligence, and took a dim view of the Obama administration’s insistence on continuing to finance and arm the so-called moderate rebel groups. By then, the CIA had been conspiring for more than a year with allies in the UK, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to ship guns and goods – to be used for the overthrow of Assad – from Libya, via Turkey, into Syria. The new intelligence estimate singled out Turkey as a major impediment to Obama’s Syria policy. The document showed, the adviser said, ‘that what was started as a covert US programme to arm and support the moderate rebels fighting Assad had been co-opted by Turkey, and had morphed into an across-the-board technical, arms and logistical programme for all of the opposition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State. The so-called moderates had evaporated and the Free Syrian Army was a rump group stationed at an airbase in Turkey.’ The assessment was bleak: there was no viable ‘moderate’ opposition to Assad, and the US was arming extremists.
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the DIA between 2012 and 2014, confirmed that his agency had sent a constant stream of classified warnings to the civilian leadership about the dire consequences of toppling Assad. The jihadists, he said, were in control of the opposition. Turkey wasn’t doing enough to stop the smuggling of foreign fighters and weapons across the border. ‘If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic,’ Flynn told me. ‘We understood Isis’s long-term strategy and its campaign plans, and we also discussed the fact that Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the Islamic State inside Syria.’ The DIA’s reporting, he said, ‘got enormous pushback’ from the Obama administration. ‘I felt that they did not want to hear the truth.’
‘Our policy of arming the opposition to Assad was unsuccessful and actually having a negative impact,’ the former JCS adviser said. ‘The Joint Chiefs believed that Assad should not be replaced by fundamentalists. The administration’s policy was contradictory. They wanted Assad to go but the opposition was dominated by extremists. So who was going to replace him? To say Assad’s got to go is fine, but if you follow that through – therefore anyone is better. It’s the “anybody else is better” issue that the JCS had with Obama’s policy.’ The Joint Chiefs felt that a direct challenge to Obama’s policy would have ‘had a zero chance of success’. So in the autumn of 2013 they decided to take steps against the extremists without going through political channels, by providing US intelligence to the militaries of other nations, on the understanding that it would be passed on to the Syrian army and used against the common enemy, Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State.
Germany, Israel and Russia were in contact with the Syrian army, and able to exercise some influence over Assad’s decisions – it was through them that US intelligence would be shared. Each had its reasons for co-operating with Assad: Germany feared what might happen among its own population of six million Muslims if Islamic State expanded; Israel was concerned with border security; Russia had an alliance of very long standing with Syria, and was worried by the threat to its only naval base on the Mediterranean, at Tartus. ‘We weren’t intent on deviating from Obama’s stated policies,’ the adviser said. ‘But sharing our assessments via the military-to-military relationships with other countries could prove productive. It was clear that Assad needed better tactical intelligence and operational advice. The JCS concluded that if those needs were met, the overall fight against Islamist terrorism would be enhanced. Obama didn’t know, but Obama doesn’t know what the JCS does in every circumstance and that’s true of all presidents.’
Once the flow of US intelligence began, Germany, Israel and Russia started passing on information about the whereabouts and intent of radical jihadist groups to the Syrian army; in return, Syria provided information about its own capabilities and intentions. There was no direct contact between the US and the Syrian military; instead, the adviser said, ‘we provided the information – including long-range analyses on Syria’s future put together by contractors or one of our war colleges – and these countries could do with it what they chose, including sharing it with Assad. We were saying to the Germans and the others: “Here’s some information that’s pretty interesting and our interest is mutual.” End of conversation. The JCS could conclude that something beneficial would arise from it – but it was a military to military thing, and not some sort of a sinister Joint Chiefs’ plot to go around Obama and support Assad. It was a lot cleverer than that. If Assad remains in power, it will not be because we did it. It’s because he was smart enough to use the intelligence and sound tactical advice we provided to others.’
The public history of relations between the US and Syria over the past few decades has been one of enmity. Assad condemned the 9/11 attacks, but opposed the Iraq War. George W. Bush repeatedly linked Syria to the three members of his ‘axis of evil’ – Iraq, Iran and North Korea – throughout his presidency. State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks show that the Bush administration tried to destabilise Syria and that these efforts continued into the Obama years. In December 2006, William Roebuck, then in charge of the US embassy in Damascus, filed an analysis of the ‘vulnerabilities’ of the Assad government and listed methods ‘that will improve the likelihood’ of opportunities for destabilisation. He recommended that Washington work with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to increase sectarian tension and focus on publicising ‘Syrian efforts against extremist groups’ – dissident Kurds and radical Sunni factions – ‘in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and uncontrolled blowback’; and that the ‘isolation of Syria’ should be encouraged through US support of the National Salvation Front, led by Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president whose government-in-exile in Riyadh was sponsored by the Saudis and the Muslim Brotherhood. Another 2006 cable showed that the embassy had spent $5 million financing dissidents who ran as independent candidates for the People’s Assembly; the payments were kept up even after it became clear that Syrian intelligence knew what was going on. A 2010 cable warned that funding for a London-based television network run by a Syrian opposition group would be viewed by the Syrian government ‘as a covert and hostile gesture toward the regime’.
But there is also a parallel history of shadowy co-operation between Syria and the US during the same period. The two countries collaborated against al-Qaida, their common enemy. A longtime consultant to the Joint Special Operations Command said that, after 9/11, ‘Bashar was, for years, extremely helpful to us while, in my view, we were churlish in return, and clumsy in our use of the gold he gave us. That quiet co-operation continued among some elements, even after the [Bush administration’s] decision to vilify him.’ In 2002 Assad authorised Syrian intelligence to turn over hundreds of internal files on the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Germany. Later that year, Syrian intelligence foiled an attack by al-Qaida on the headquarters of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, and Assad agreed to provide the CIA with the name of a vital al-Qaida informant. In violation of this agreement, the CIA contacted the informant directly; he rejected the approach, and broke off relations with his Syrian handlers. Assad also secretly turned over to the US relatives of Saddam Hussein who had sought refuge in Syria, and – like America’s allies in Jordan, Egypt, Thailand and elsewhere – tortured suspected terrorists for the CIA in a Damascus prison.
It was this history of co-operation that made it seem possible in 2013 that Damascus would agree to the new indirect intelligence-sharing arrangement with the US. The Joint Chiefs let it be known that in return the US would require four things: Assad must restrain Hizbullah from attacking Israel; he must renew the stalled negotiations with Israel to reach a settlement on the Golan Heights; he must agree to accept Russian and other outside military advisers; and he must commit to holding open elections after the war with a wide range of factions included. ‘We had positive feedback from the Israelis, who were willing to entertain the idea, but they needed to know what the reaction would be from Iran and Syria,’ the JCS adviser told me. ‘The Syrians told us that Assad would not make a decision unilaterally – he needed to have support from his military and Alawite allies. Assad’s worry was that Israel would say yes and then not uphold its end of the bargain.’ A senior adviser to the Kremlin on Middle East affairs told me that in late 2012, after suffering a series of battlefield setbacks and military defections, Assad had approached Israel via a contact in Moscow and offered to reopen the talks on the Golan Heights. The Israelis had rejected the offer. ‘They said, “Assad is finished,”’ the Russian official told me. ‘“He’s close to the end.”’ He said the Turks had told Moscow the same thing. By mid-2013, however, the Syrians believed the worst was behind them, and wanted assurances that the Americans and others were serious about their offers of help.
In the early stages of the talks, the adviser said, the Joint Chiefs tried to establish what Assad needed as a sign of their good intentions. The answer was sent through one of Assad’s friends: ‘Bring him the head of Prince Bandar.’ The Joint Chiefs did not oblige. Bandar bin Sultan had served Saudi Arabia for decades in intelligence and national security affairs, and spent more than twenty years as ambassador in Washington. In recent years, he has been known as an advocate for Assad’s removal from office by any means. Reportedly in poor health, he resigned last year as director of the Saudi National Security Council, but Saudi Arabia continues to be a major provider of funds to the Syrian opposition, estimated by US intelligence last year at $700 million.
In July 2013, the Joint Chiefs found a more direct way of demonstrating to Assad how serious they were about helping him. By then the CIA-sponsored secret flow of arms from Libya to the Syrian opposition, via Turkey, had been underway for more than a year (it started sometime after Gaddafi’s death on 20 October 2011). (Seymour Hersh wrote about this in the LRB of 17 April 2014.) The operation was largely run out of a covert CIA annex in Benghazi, with State Department acquiescence. On 11 September 2012 the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed during an anti-American demonstration that led to the burning down of the US consulate in Benghazi; reporters for the Washington Post found copies of the ambassador’s schedule in the building’s ruins. It showed that on 10 September Stevens had met with the chief of the CIA’s annex operation. The next day, shortly before he died, he met a representative from Al-Marfa Shipping and Maritime Services, a Tripoli-based company which, the JCS adviser said, was known by the Joint Staff to be handling the weapons shipments.
By the late summer of 2013, the DIA’s assessment had been circulated widely, but although many in the American intelligence community were aware that the Syrian opposition was dominated by extremists the CIA-sponsored weapons kept coming, presenting a continuing problem for Assad’s army. Gaddafi’s stockpile had created an international arms bazaar, though prices were high. ‘There was no way to stop the arms shipments that had been authorised by the president,’ the JCS adviser said. ‘The solution involved an appeal to the pocketbook. The CIA was approached by a representative from the Joint Chiefs with a suggestion: there were far less costly weapons available in Turkish arsenals that could reach the Syrian rebels within days, and without a boat ride.’ But it wasn’t only the CIA that benefited. ‘We worked with Turks we trusted who were not loyal to Erdoğan,’ the adviser said, ‘and got them to ship the jihadists in Syria all the obsolete weapons in the arsenal, including M1 carbines that hadn’t been seen since the Korean War and lots of Soviet arms. It was a message Assad could understand: “We have the power to diminish a presidential policy in its tracks.”’
The flow of US intelligence to the Syrian army, and the downgrading of the quality of the arms being supplied to the rebels, came at a critical juncture. The Syrian army had suffered heavy losses in the spring of 2013 in fighting against Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist groups as it failed to hold the provincial capital of Raqqa. Sporadic Syrian army and air-force raids continued in the area for months, with little success, until it was decided to withdraw from Raqqa and other hard to defend, lightly populated areas in the north and west and focus instead on consolidating the government’s hold on Damascus and the heavily populated areas linking the capital to Latakia in the north-east. But as the army gained in strength with the Joint Chiefs’ support, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey escalated their financing and arming of Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State, which by the end of 2013 had made enormous gains on both sides of the Syria/Iraq border. The remaining non-fundamentalist rebels found themselves fighting – and losing – pitched battles against the extremists. In January 2014, IS took complete control of Raqqa and the tribal areas around it from al-Nusra and established the city as its base. Assad still controlled 80 per cent of the Syrian population, but he had lost a vast amount of territory.
CIA efforts to train the moderate rebel forces were also failing badly. ‘The CIA’s training camp was in Jordan and was controlled by a Syrian tribal group,’ the JCS adviser said. There was a suspicion that some of those who signed up for training were actually Syrian army regulars minus their uniforms. This had happened before, at the height of the Iraqi war, when hundreds of Shia militia members showed up at American training camps for new uniforms, weapons and a few days of training, and then disappeared into the desert. A separate training programme, set up by the Pentagon in Turkey, fared no better. The Pentagon acknowledged in September that only ‘four or five’ of its recruits were still battling Islamic State; a few days later 70 of them defected to Jabhat al-Nusra immediately after crossing the border into Syria.
In January 2014, despairing at the lack of progress, John Brennan, the director of the CIA, summoned American and Sunni Arab intelligence chiefs from throughout the Middle East to a secret meeting in Washington, with the aim of persuading Saudi Arabia to stop supporting extremist fighters in Syria. ‘The Saudis told us they were happy to listen,’ the JCS adviser said, ‘so everyone sat around in Washington to hear Brennan tell them that they had to get on board with the so-called moderates. His message was that if everyone in the region stopped supporting al-Nusra and Isis their ammunition and weapons would dry up, and the moderates would win out.’ Brennan’s message was ignored by the Saudis, the adviser said, who ‘went back home and increased their efforts with the extremists and asked us for more technical support. And we say OK, and so it turns out that we end up reinforcing the extremists.
But the Saudis were far from the only problem: American intelligence had accumulated intercept and human intelligence demonstrating that the Erdoğan government had been supporting Jabhat al-Nusra for years, and was now doing the same for Islamic State. ‘We can handle the Saudis,’ the adviser said. ‘We can handle the Muslim Brotherhood. You can argue that the whole balance in the Middle East is based on a form of mutually assured destruction between Israel and the rest of the Middle East, and Turkey can disrupt the balance – which is Erdoğan’s dream. We told him we wanted him to shut down the pipeline of foreign jihadists flowing into Turkey. But he is dreaming big – of restoring the Ottoman Empire – and he did not realise the extent to which he could be successful in this.’
One of the constants in US affairs since the fall of the Soviet Union has been a military-to-military relationship with Russia. After 1991 the US spent billions of dollars to help Russia secure its nuclear weapons complex, including a highly secret joint operation to remove weapons-grade uranium from unsecured storage depots in Kazakhstan. Joint programmes to monitor the security of weapons-grade materials continued for the next two decades. During the American war on Afghanistan, Russia provided overflight rights for US cargo carriers and tankers, as well as access for the flow of weapons, ammunition, food and water the US war machine needed daily. Russia’s military provided intelligence on Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts and helped the US negotiate rights to use an airbase in Kyrgyzstan. The Joint Chiefs have been in communication with their Russian counterparts throughout the Syrian war, and the ties between the two militaries start at the top. In August, a few weeks before his retirement as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Dempsey made a farewell visit to the headquarters of the Irish Defence Forces in Dublin and told his audience there that he had made a point while in office to keep in touch with the chief of the Russian General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov. ‘I’ve actually suggested to him that we not end our careers as we began them,’ Dempsey said – one a tank commander in West Germany, the other in the east.
When it comes to tackling Islamic State, Russia and the US have much to offer each other. Many in the IS leadership and rank and file fought for more than a decade against Russia in the two Chechen wars that began in 1994, and the Putin government is heavily invested in combating Islamist terrorism. ‘Russia knows the Isis leadership,’ the JCS adviser said, ‘and has insights into its operational techniques, and has much intelligence to share.’ In return, he said, ‘we’ve got excellent trainers with years of experience in training foreign fighters – experience that Russia does not have.’ The adviser would not discuss what American intelligence is also believed to have: an ability to obtain targeting data, often by paying huge sums of cash, from sources within rebel militias.
A former White House adviser on Russian affairs told me that before 9/11 Putin ‘used to say to us: “We have the same nightmares about different places.” He was referring to his problems with the caliphate in Chechnya and our early issues with al-Qaida. These days, after the Metrojet bombing over Sinai and the massacres in Paris and elsewhere, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that we actually have the same nightmares about the same places.’
Yet the Obama administration continues to condemn Russia for its support of Assad. A retired senior diplomat who served at the US embassy in Moscow expressed sympathy for Obama’s dilemma as the leader of the Western coalition opposed to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine: ‘Ukraine is a serious issue and Obama has been handling it firmly with sanctions. But our policy vis-à-vis Russia is too often unfocused. But it’s not about us in Syria. It’s about making sure Bashar does not lose. The reality is that Putin does not want to see the chaos in Syria spread to Jordan or Lebanon, as it has to Iraq, and he does not want to see Syria end up in the hands of Isis. The most counterproductive thing Obama has done, and it has hurt our efforts to end the fighting a lot, was to say: “Assad must go as a premise for negotiation.”’ He also echoed a view held by some in the Pentagon when he alluded to a collateral factor behind Russia’s decision to launch airstrikes in support of the Syrian army on 30 September: Putin’s desire to prevent Assad from suffering the same fate as Gaddafi. He had been told that Putin had watched a video of Gaddafi’s savage death three times, a video that shows him being sodomised with a bayonet. The JCS adviser also told me of a US intelligence assessment which concluded that Putin had been appalled by Gaddafi’s fate: ‘Putin blamed himself for letting Gaddafi go, for not playing a strong role behind the scenes’ at the UN when the Western coalition was lobbying to be allowed to undertake the airstrikes that destroyed the regime. ‘Putin believed that unless he got engaged Bashar would suffer the same fate – mutilated – and he’d see the destruction of his allies in Syria.’
In a speech on 22 November, Obama declared that the ‘principal targets’ of the Russian airstrikes ‘have been the moderate opposition’. It’s a line that the administration – along with most of the mainstream American media – has rarely strayed from. The Russians insist that they are targeting all rebel groups that threaten Syria’s stability – including Islamic State. The Kremlin adviser on the Middle East explained in an interview that the first round of Russian airstrikes was aimed at bolstering security around a Russian airbase in Latakia, an Alawite stronghold. The strategic goal, he said, has been to establish a jihadist-free corridor from Damascus to Latakia and the Russian naval base at Tartus and then to shift the focus of bombing gradually to the south and east, with a greater concentration of bombing missions over IS-held territory. Russian strikes on IS targets in and near Raqqa were reported as early as the beginning of October; in November there were further strikes on IS positions near the historic city of Palmyra and in Idlib province, a bitterly contested stronghold on the Turkish border.
Russian incursions into Turkish airspace began soon after Putin authorised the bombings, and the Russian air force deployed electronic jamming systems that interfered with Turkish radar. The message being sent to the Turkish air force, the JCS adviser said, was: ‘We’re going to fly our fighter planes where we want and when we want and jam your radar. Do not fuck with us. Putin was letting the Turks know what they were up against.’ Russia’s aggression led to Turkish complaints and Russian denials, along with more aggressive border patrolling by the Turkish air force. There were no significant incidents until 24 November, when two Turkish F-16 fighters, apparently acting under more aggressive rules of engagement, shot down a Russian Su-24M jet that had crossed into Turkish airspace for no more than 17 seconds. In the days after the fighter was shot down, Obama expressed support for Erdoğan, and after they met in private on 1 December he told a press conference that his administration remained ‘very much committed to Turkey’s security and its sovereignty’. He said that as long as Russia remained allied with Assad, ‘a lot of Russian resources are still going to be targeted at opposition groups … that we support … So I don’t think we should be under any illusions that somehow Russia starts hitting only Isil targets. That’s not happening now. It was never happening. It’s not going to be happening in the next several weeks.’
The Kremlin adviser on the Middle East, like the Joint Chiefs and the DIA, dismisses the ‘moderates’ who have Obama’s support, seeing them as extremist Islamist groups that fight alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and IS (‘There’s no need to play with words and split terrorists into moderate and not moderate,’ Putin said in a speech on 22 October). The American generals see them as exhausted militias that have been forced to make an accommodation with Jabhat al-Nusra or IS in order to survive. At the end of 2014, Jürgen Todenhöfer, a German journalist who was allowed to spend ten days touring IS-held territory in Iraq and Syria, told CNN that the IS leadership ‘are all laughing about the Free Syrian Army. They don’t take them for serious. They say: “The best arms sellers we have are the FSA. If they get a good weapon, they sell it to us.” They didn’t take them for serious. They take for serious Assad. They take for serious, of course, the bombs. But they fear nothing, and FSA doesn’t play a role.’
Putin’s bombing campaign provoked a series of anti-Russia articles in the American press. On 25 October, the New York Times reported, citing Obama administration officials, that Russian submarines and spy ships were ‘aggressively’ operating near the undersea cables that carry much of the world’s internet traffic – although, as the article went on to acknowledge, there was ‘no evidence yet’ of any Russian attempt actually to interfere with that traffic. Ten days earlier the Times published a summary of Russian intrusions into its former Soviet satellite republics, and described the Russian bombing in Syria as being ‘in some respects a return to the ambitious military moves of the Soviet past’. The report did not note that the Assad administration had invited Russia to intervene, nor did it mention the US bombing raids inside Syria that had been underway since the previous September, without Syria’s approval. An October op-ed in the same paper by Michael McFaul, Obama’s ambassador to Russia between 2012 and 2014, declared that the Russian air campaign was attacking ‘everyone except the Islamic State’. The anti-Russia stories did not abate after the Metrojet disaster (in Sinai), for which Islamic State claimed credit. Few in the US government and media questioned why IS would target a Russian airliner, along with its 224 passengers and crew, if Moscow’s air force was attacking only the Syrian ‘moderates’.
Economic sanctions, meanwhile, are still in effect against Russia for what a large number of Americans consider Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine, as are US Treasury Department sanctions against Syria and against those Americans who do business there. The New York Times, in a report on sanctions in late November, revived an old and groundless assertion, saying that the Treasury’s actions ‘emphasise an argument that the administration has increasingly been making about Mr Assad as it seeks to press Russia to abandon its backing for him: that although he professes to be at war with Islamist terrorists, he has a symbiotic relationship with the Islamic State that has allowed it to thrive while he has clung to power.’
The four core elements of Obama’s Syria policy remain intact today: an insistence that Assad must go; that no anti-IS coalition with Russia is possible; that Turkey is a steadfast ally in the war against terrorism; and that there really are significant moderate opposition forces for the US to support. The Paris attacks on 13 November that killed 130 people did not change the White House’s public stance, although many European leaders, including François Hollande, advocated greater co-operation with Russia and agreed to co-ordinate more closely with its air force; there was also talk of the need to be more flexible about the timing of Assad’s exit from power. On 24 November, Hollande flew to Washington to discuss how France and the US could collaborate more closely in the fight against Islamic State. At a joint press conference at the White House, Obama said he and Hollande had agreed that ‘Russia’s strikes against the moderate opposition only bolster the Assad regime, whose brutality has helped to fuel the rise’ of IS. Hollande didn’t go that far but he said that the diplomatic process in Vienna would ‘lead to Bashar al-Assad’s departure … a government of unity is required.’ The press conference failed to deal with the far more urgent impasse between the two men on the matter of Erdoğan. Obama defended Turkey’s right to defend its borders; Hollande said it was ‘a matter of urgency’ for Turkey to take action against terrorists. The JCS adviser told me that one of Hollande’s main goals in flying to Washington had been to try to persuade Obama to join the EU in a mutual declaration of war against Islamic State. Obama said no. The Europeans had pointedly not gone to Nato, to which Turkey belongs, for such a declaration. ‘Turkey is the problem,’ the JCS adviser said.
Assad, naturally, doesn’t accept that a group of foreign leaders should be deciding on his future. Imad Moustapha, now Syria’s ambassador to China, was dean of the IT faculty at the University of Damascus, and a close aide of Assad’s, when he was appointed in 2004 as the Syrian ambassador to the US, a post he held for seven years. Moustapha is known still to be close to Assad, and can be trusted to reflect what he thinks. He told me that for Assad to surrender power would mean capitulating to ‘armed terrorist groups’ and that ministers in a national unity government – such as was being proposed by the Europeans – would be seen to be beholden to the foreign powers that appointed them. These powers could remind the new president ‘that they could easily replace him as they did before to the predecessor … Assad owes it to his people: he could not leave because the historic enemies of Syria are demanding his departure.’
Moustapha also brought up China, an ally of Assad that has allegedly committed more than $30 billion to postwar reconstruction in Syria. China, too, is worried about Islamic State. ‘China regards the Syrian crisis from three perspectives,’ he said: international law and legitimacy; global strategic positioning; and the activities of jihadist Uighurs, from Xinjiang province in China’s far west. Xinjiang borders eight nations – Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – and, in China’s view, serves as a funnel for terrorism around the world and within China. Many Uighur fighters now in Syria are known to be members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement – an often violent separatist organisation that seeks to establish an Islamist Uighur state in Xinjiang. ‘The fact that they have been aided by Turkish intelligence to move from China into Syria through Turkey has caused a tremendous amount of tension between the Chinese and Turkish intelligence,’ Moustapha said. ‘China is concerned that the Turkish role of supporting the Uighur fighters in Syria may be extended in the future to support Turkey’s agenda in Xinjiang. We are already providing the Chinese intelligence service with information regarding these terrorists and the routes they crossed from on travelling into Syria.’
Moustapha’s concerns were echoed by a Washington foreign affairs analyst who has closely followed the passage of jihadists through Turkey and into Syria. The analyst, whose views are routinely sought by senior government officials, told me that ‘Erdoğan has been bringing Uighurs into Syria by special transport while his government has been agitating in favour of their struggle in China. Uighur and Burmese Muslim terrorists who escape into Thailand somehow get Turkish passports and are then flown to Turkey for transit into Syria.’ He added that there was also what amounted to another ‘rat line’ that was funnelling Uighurs – estimates range from a few hundred to many thousands over the years – from China into Kazakhstan for eventual relay to Turkey, and then to IS territory in Syria. ‘US intelligence,’ he said, ‘is not getting good information about these activities because those insiders who are unhappy with the policy are not talking to them.’ He also said it was ‘not clear’ that the officials responsible for Syrian policy in the State Department and White House ‘get it’. Anthony Davis of IHS-Jane’s Defence Weekly estimated in October that as many as five thousand Uighur would-be fighters have arrived in Turkey since 2013, with perhaps two thousand moving on to Syria. Moustapha said he has information that ‘up to 860 Uighur fighters are currently in Syria.’
China’s growing concern about the Uighur problem and its link to Syria and Islamic State have preoccupied Christina Lin, a scholar who dealt with Chinese issues a decade ago while serving in the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld. ‘I grew up in Taiwan and came to the Pentagon as a critic of China,’ Lin told me. ‘I used to demonise the Chinese as ideologues, and they are not perfect. But over the years as I see them opening up and evolving, I have begun to change my perspective. I see China as a potential partner for various global challenges especially in the Middle East. There are many places – Syria for one – where the United States and China must co-operate in regional security and counterterrorism.’ A few weeks earlier, she said, China and India, Cold War enemies that ‘hated each other more than China and the United States hated each other, conducted a series of joint counterterrorism exercises. And today China and Russia both want to co-operate on terrorism issues with the United States.’ As China sees it, Lin suggests, Uighur militants who have made their way to Syria are being trained by Islamic State in survival techniques intended to aid them on covert return trips to the Chinese mainland, for future terrorist attacks there. ‘If Assad fails,’ Lin wrote in a paper published in September, ‘jihadi fighters from Russia’s Chechnya, China’s Xinjiang and India’s Kashmir will then turn their eyes towards the home front to continue jihad, supported by a new and well-sourced Syrian operating base in the heart of the Middle East.’
General Dempsey and his colleagues on the Joint Chiefs of Staff kept their dissent out of bureaucratic channels, and survived in office. General Michael Flynn did not. ‘Flynn incurred the wrath of the White House by insisting on telling the truth about Syria,’ said Patrick Lang, a retired army colonel who served for nearly a decade as the chief Middle East civilian intelligence officer for the DIA. ‘He thought truth was the best thing and they shoved him out. He wouldn’t shut up.’ Flynn told me his problems went beyond Syria. ‘I was shaking things up at the DIA – and not just moving deckchairs on the Titanic. It was radical reform. I felt that the civilian leadership did not want to hear the truth. I suffered for it, but I’m OK with that.’ In a recent interview in Der Spiegel, Flynn was blunt about Russia’s entry into the Syrian war: ‘We have to work constructively with Russia. Whether we like it or not, Russia made a decision to be there and to act militarily. They are there, and this has dramatically changed the dynamic. So you can’t say Russia is bad; they have to go home. It’s not going to happen. Get real.’
Few in the US Congress share this view. One exception is Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii and member of the House Armed Services Committee who, as a major in the Army National Guard, served two tours in the Middle East. In an interview on CNN in October she said: ‘The US and the CIA should stop this illegal and counterproductive war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad and should stay focused on fighting against … the Islamic extremist groups.’
‘Does it not concern you,’ the interviewer asked, ‘that Assad’s regime has been brutal, killing at least 200,000 and maybe 300,000 of his own people?’
‘The things that are being said about Assad right now,’ Gabbard responded, ‘are the same that were said about Gaddafi, they are the same things that were said about Saddam Hussein by those who were advocating for the US to … overthrow those regimes … If it happens here in Syria … we will end up in a situation with far greater suffering, with far greater persecution of religious minorities and Christians in Syria, and our enemy will be far stronger.’
‘So what you are saying,’ the interviewer asked, ‘is that the Russian military involvement in the air and on-the-ground Iranian involvement – they are actually doing the US a favour?’
‘They are working toward defeating our common enemy,’ Gabbard replied.
Gabbard later told me that many of her colleagues in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, have thanked her privately for speaking out. ‘There are a lot of people in the general public, and even in the Congress, who need to have things clearly explained to them,’ Gabbard said. ‘But it’s hard when there’s so much deception about what is going on. The truth is not out.’ It’s unusual for a politician to challenge her party’s foreign policy directly and on the record. For someone on the inside, with access to the most secret intelligence, speaking openly and critically can be a career-ender. Informed dissent can be transmitted by means of a trust relationship between a reporter and those on the inside, but it almost invariably includes no signature. The dissent exists, however. The longtime consultant to the Joint Special Operations Command could not hide his contempt when I asked him for his view of the US’s Syria policy. ‘The solution in Syria is right before our nose,’ he said. ‘Our primary threat is Isis and all of us – the United States, Russia and China – need to work together. Bashar will remain in office and, after the country is stabilised there will be an election. There is no other option.’
The military’s indirect pathway to Assad disappeared with Dempsey’s retirement in September. His replacement as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in July, two months before assuming office. ‘If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia,’ Dunford said. ‘If you look at their behaviour, it’s nothing short of alarming.’ In October, as chairman, Dunford dismissed the Russian bombing efforts in Syria, telling the same committee that Russia ‘is not fighting’ IS. He added that America must ‘work with Turkish partners to secure the northern border of Syria’ and ‘do all we can to enable vetted Syrian opposition forces’ – i.e. the ‘moderates’ – to fight the extremists.
Obama now has a more compliant Pentagon. There will be no more indirect challenges from the military leadership to his policy of disdain for Assad and support for Erdoğan. Dempsey and his associates remain mystified by Obama’s continued public defence of Erdoğan, given the American intelligence community’s strong case against him – and the evidence that Obama, in private, accepts that case. ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria,’ the president told Erdoğan’s intelligence chief at a tense meeting at the White House (as I reported in the LRB of 17 April 2014). The Joint Chiefs and the DIA were constantly telling Washington’s leadership of the jihadist threat in Syria, and of Turkey’s support for it. The message was never listened to. Why not?
Seymour M. Hersh
(6) Chinese Army Allowed to Carry Out Anti-Terror Operations Abroad
(Sputnik News Military & Intelligence Report, 28 Dec. 2015) [Source]
China’s legislature passed the country’s first anti-terrorism law on Sunday (27 Dec 2015), making it legal for the People’s Liberation Army to take part in counter-terrorism missions abroad.
China has approved the law at a critical time for the country and for the world at large: terrorist attacks in Paris, the bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt, and the rise of Daesh (Islamic State) are all pointing to the ever-growing threat of terrorism.
According to China’s top legislator Zhang Dejiang, the new law is an important part in creating systemic rules for national security.
The law will take into effect basic principles for counter-terrorism work and in order to strengthen measures of prevention and punishment the departments may collaborate with overseas governments and international organizations in holding policy dialogues, communicating on intelligence information, enforcing the law and regulating international capitals.
Under the new bill, telecom operators and internet service providers will provide technical support and assistance, including decryption, to police and national security authorities in the prevention and investigation of terrorist activities.
It will be mandatory for them to prevent the distribution of information on terrorism and extremism.
Before Sunday’s new bill, China did not have anti-terrorism legislation, though similar provisions feature in various NPC Standing Committee decisions, as well as the Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law and Emergency Response Law.
NOTE: This Sputnik News report should be considered together with the January 2016 LRB essay “Military to Military” where Seymour Hersh reported the following in regard to China’s perception of the “grave” national security threat it faces from both the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh) and Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT):
“China, an ally of [Syrian leader] Assad has committed more than $30 billion to postwar reconstruction in Syria. China, too, is worried about the Islamic State. China regards the Syrian crisis from three perspectives: international law and legitimacy; global strategic positioning; and the activities of jihadist Uighurs, from Xinjiang province in China’s far west.
Xinjiang borders eight nations – Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – and, in China’s view, serves as a funnel for terrorism around the world and within China.
Many Uighur fighters now in Syria are known to be members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement—an often violent separatist organization that seeks to establish an Islamist Uighur state in Xinjiang.
The fact that they have been aided by Turkish intelligence to move from China into Syria through Turkey has caused a tremendous amount of tension between the Chinese and Turkish intelligence and China is concerned that the Turkish role of supporting the Uighur fighters in Syria may be extended in the future to support Turkey’s agenda in Xinjiang.”
(7) Yemen: A very British war, by Dan Glazebrook, 13 January 2016
The day after the Saudis began ‘Operation Decisive Storm’, David Cameron phoned the Saudi king personally to emphasize “the UK’s firm political support for the Saudi action in Yemen.”
Over the months that followed, Britain, a long-term arms dealer to the Saudi monarchy, stepped up its delivery of war materiel to achieve the dubious honor of beating the US to become its number one weapons supplier. Over a hundred new arms export licenses have been granted by the British government since the bombing began, and over the first six months of 2015 alone, Britain sold more than £1.75billion worth of weapons to the Saudis – more than triple Cameron’s usual, already obscene, bi-annual average. The vast majority of this equipment seems to be for combat aircraft and air-delivered missiles, including more than 1000 bombs, and British-made jets now make up over half the Saudi air force. As the Independent has noted, “British supplied planes and British made missiles have been part of near-daily raids in Yemen carried out by [the] nine-country, Saudi Arabian led coalition.”
Charities and campaign groups are unanimous in their view that, without a shadow of a doubt, British patronage has greatly facilitated the carnage in the Yemen. “The [British] government is fuelling the conflict that is causing unbearable human suffering. It is time the government stopped supporting this war,” said chief executive of Oxfam GB, Mark Goldring. The director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen, said: “The UK has fuelled this appalling conflict through reckless arms sales which break its own laws and the global arms trade treaty it once championed….legal opinion confirms our long-held view that the continued sale of arms from the UK to Saudi Arabia is illegal, immoral and indefensible.”
For Edward Santiago, Save the Children’s country director in Yemen, the UK’s “reluctance to publicly condemn the human cost of conflict in Yemen gives the impression that diplomatic relations and arms sales trump the lives of Yemen’s children,” whilst Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade, has written that “UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the humanitarian catastrophe that is being unleashed on the people of Yemen.” Leading lawyers including Philippe Sands have argued that Britain is in clear breach of international law for selling weapons which it knows are being used to commit war crimes.
British military personnel embedded with Saudi forces:
Now it has emerged that it is not only British weapons being used in this war, but British personnel as well. According to Sky News, six British military advisors are embedded with the Saudi air force to help with targeting. In addition, there are 94 members of the UK armed forces serving abroad “carrying out duties for unknown forces, believed to be the Saudi led coalition,” according to The Week – although the government refuses to state exactly where they are.
Indeed, even British airstrikes in Syria may have been motivated in part by a desire to prop up the flagging war effort in Yemen. Questioning of Philip Hammond in parliament recently led him to admit that there had been a “decrease in air sorties by Arab allies” in Syria since Britain’s entry into the air campaign there due to the “challenges” of the Yemen conflict.
For Scottish Nationalist MP Stephen Gethins this suggests that, by stepping up bombing in Syria, Western countries were effectively “cutting them [Arab states] a bit of slack to allow them to focus on the Yemen conflict,” especially needed given that support for the Yemen campaign has been flagging from states such as Jordan, Morocco and Egypt. It is particularly ironic that British MPs’ supposed commitment to destroying ISIS in Syria is actually facilitating a war in Yemen in which ISIS is the direct beneficiary.
Finally, it is worth considering British support for the Saudi bid for membership of the UN Human Rights Council. The Council’s reports can be highly influential; indeed, it was this Council’s damning (and, we now know, fraudulent) condemnation of Gaddafi that provided the ‘humanitarian’ pretext for the 2011 NATO war against the Libyan Jamahiriya. And the Yemeni government’s recent expulsion of the UN Human Rights envoy shows just how sensitive the prosecutors of the Yemeni war are to criticism. It would, therefore, be particularly useful for those unleashing hell on Yemen to have the UN Council stacked with supporters in order to dampen any criticism from this quarter.
Britain, then, is the major external force facilitating the Saudi-fronted war against the people of Yemen. Britain, like the Saudis, is keen to isolate Iran and sees destroying the Houthis as a key means of achieving this. At the same time, Britain seems perfectly happy to see Al-Qaeda and ISIS take over from the Houthi rebels they are bombing – presumably regarding a new base for terrorist destabilization operations across the region as an outcome serving British interests.
People gather at the site of a Saudi-led air strike in Yemen’s capital Sanaa January 6, 2016. © Khaled Abdullah / Reuters
Saudi coalition dropped US-manufactured cluster munitions on the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, on 6 January 2016. SANAA: Saudi-led coalition bombs Sanaa, a city of nearly 4 million people with prohibited cluster bombs. The internationally banned weapons were used in three heavily populated civilian neighborhoods in the heart of the capital Sanaa. The three areas are al-Sinaina district, Hayel street a busy commercial street, and the western ring road. https://www.facebook.com/SaudiArabia.war.crimes.against.Yemen/videos/1505551059740883/?theater
Devastating air strikes, led by Saudi Arabia, have killed thousands of Yemeni civilians and destroyed homes, schools and hospitals. Meanwhile, the UK government has been providing weapons to those committing these horrific war crimes. https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/uk-stop-selling-arms-saudi-arabia
24 food shipments DESTROYED by Saudi airstrikes in #Yemen over 10 months while millions of children hungry https://www.facebook.com/SaudiArabia.war.crimes.against.Yemen/
An Arab coalition headed by Saudi Arabia has been carrying out airstrikes against Houthi positions in Yemen at the request of President-in-exile Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi since late March 2015.
Pakistan will not send ground troops to Saudi Arabia or any other country after having joined the 34-state Islamic military alliance led by Saudi Arabia. Pakistan will be sharing intelligence with Saudi Arabia to counter terrorism.
“An emergency meeting of OIC foreign ministers has been summoned in Jeddah where Pakistan would present important proposals to reduce Iran-Saudi tensions.”
It is not Pakistan’s policy to deploy its troops outside the country’s borders except for UN peacekeeping missions.
Yemen 300 days of hell
Yemen: Over 2.3m people forced to flee homes due to civil war
By Adam Justice, December 15, 2015
Across Yemen, more than 21m people are now in need of some form of humanitarian protection and assistance and (of these 21m) the (2.3m) displaced are often the most vulnerable. Many have moved into abandoned school buildings, more than 3,000 of which, according to the UN, have been closed due to the violence, while others have sought refuge with relatives.
With displacement comes a whole range of concerns, for both hosting communities and the displaced. Resources, including access to water, food and sanitation, have been stretched to breaking point in often overcrowded shelters, increasing risk of disease and violence.
Britain and Saudi Arabia Shoulder to Shoulder in Atrocities in Yemen
by Felicity Arbuthnot / January 18th, 2016
Britain’s aiding and abetting of the brutal, head chopping, summarily executing, flogging regime of Saudi Arabia continues unabated.
In spite of a “Letter before action sent as a threat of legal action over arms export licences to Saudi Arabia increases …” by London law firm Leigh Day, acting on behalf of Campaign Against the Arms Trade “… challenging the government’s decision to export arms despite increasing evidence that Saudi forces are violating international humanitarian law (IHL) in Yemen …“, it transpires that UK military advisors are also “working alongside Saudi bomb targeters.”
According to the Daily Telegraph:
British military advisers are in control rooms assisting the Saudi-led coalition staging bombing raids across Yemen that have killed thousands of civilians, the Saudi Foreign Minister and the Ministry of Defence have confirmed.
Briefing the Telegraph and other journalists the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said that the UK and other countries in the control centre: “… are aware of the target lists.”
The “target list” would seem to have included five attacks on schools, disrupting the remaining shreds of normality for 6,500 children. “In some cases the schools were struck more than once, suggesting the strikes were deliberately targeted”, states a report by Amnesty International.
“In October 2015 the Science and Faith School in Beni Hushayash, Sana’a was attacked on four separate occasions within the space of a few weeks. The third strike killed three civilians and wounded more than 10 people.” The only school in the village, it provided education for 1,200 students.
In the village of Hadhran, the Kheir School: “also suffered multiple airstrikes causing extensive damage, rendering it unusable.” In the same village two civilian homes and a mosque were bombed, two children were killed, their mother injured, with one man killed and another injured whilst praying in the mosque.
“The director of another school in Hodeidah city, the al-Shaymeh Education Complex for Girls, which catered for some 3,200 students described her horror after the school came under attack twice within a matter of days in August 2015 killing two people. No students were present at the school during the attack, but a man and woman were killed. (All emphases added.)
“I felt that humanity has ended. I mean, a place of learning, to be hit in this way, without warning… where is humanity …”? she asked.
The al-Asma school in Mansouriya was destroyed in a bombing in August. However, these horrors barely scrape the surface of the criminal and humanitarian outrage.
Yemen’s Ministry of Education showed Amnesty data revealing more than 1,000 schools inoperable, 254 completely destroyed, 608 partially damaged and 421 being used as shelter by those displaced by the Saudi-led, UK-assisted onslaught.
The UK is subject to the Arms Trade Treaty which entered into force on the December 24th, 2014 and which Britain has both signed and ratified (April 2nd, 2014) which prohibits arms transfers “… if they have knowledge that the arms would be used to commit attacks against civilians, civilian objects or other violations of international humanitarian law.”
Britain “have knowledge that … arms would be used … against civilians or civilian objects” – it is seemingly also helping to plan them, with the US also providing arms and “intelligence.”
The targets for which the UK surely share responsibility also include three medical facilities supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres, the latest on January 10th, a hospital in Saada in the north of the country resulting in six deaths by the January 17th, in which eight were also injured, two critically.
“This is the third severe incident affecting an MSF health facility in Yemen in the last three months. On October 27th, Haydan hospital was destroyed by an airstrike … and on 3 December a health centre in Taiz was also hit”, with nine people wounded.
The exact co-ordinates of the facilities had been given to the Saudi-led, British-advised coalition, as they had when the US bombed the MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on October 3rd, 2015.
It seems giving details of humanitarian facilities to trained killers is interpreted as an invitation to become target practice.
Other potential war crimes have included destruction of the Al-Sham water bottling factory, killing thirteen workers about to head home from the night shift and “markets, apartment buildings and refugee camps … eleven people in a mosque.”
Also destroyed last September was formerly one of the country’s largest employers, the ceramics factory, where Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch stated they had found definitive proof a UK made Marconi Cruise Missile was used in the destruction.
Amnesty also stated that they had: “found evidence of apparent war crimes in connection with thirteen airstrikes around the north-eastern Saada region, which killed about one hundred civilians including fifty nine women and twenty two children.” (Guardian, November 25th, 2015.)
Some population centres are so comprehensively decimated that survivors wonder if they are finally safe, since there is nothing left to bomb. Doctor Natalie Roberts, working with MSF, told the New York Times of women giving birth in caves, feeling them the safest places.
The human cost, as ever, defies imagination:
Omar Mohammed al-Ghaily, 28, sat in the center of town, near the ruins of his clothing store … The strikes killed Seif Ahmed Seif, who owned an umbrella store. Mr. Ghaily kept Mr. Seif’s identity card, maybe to return it one day to his daughter, who lives far away in Taiz. He kept coming to the rubble, he said, because he had ‘no place to go.’
Elsewhere, when locals tried to dig the barber from the rubble of his shop: “We found only his legs.” Bombs being dropped range from 250 pounds to 2,000 pounds. Yet last September the US was: “finalizing a deal to provide more weapons to Saudi Arabia including missiles for its F-15 fighter jets”. Yemen’s population is just 24.41 million (2013 figure.)
Between March and September 2015, Britain issued thirty-seven arms export licences for arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, pointed out a correspondent to theGuardian, noting:
The UK boasts that it has ‘one of the most rigorous and transparent export control regimes in the world.’ If this really is the case, the government needs to immediately suspend all arms transfers to the conflict and launch an investigation into how these weapons have been used.
Whilst the Ministry of Defence continues its mantra of having one of: “the most robust arms export control regimes in the world”, unease is growing amongst government legal advisers, with one from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office telling the Independent (November 27th, 2015): “There are many Elizabeth Wilmshursts around here at the moment. Not all are being listened to”, referring to the senior government legal advisor to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who resigned in March 2003 because she was convinced of the illegality of the proposed attack on Iraq. She had worked with the Department since 1974.
It can only be hoped that some of the “many Elizabeth Wilmshursts” will publicly call time on David Cameron’s government’s collusion in atrocities in Yemen and that Leigh Day and the Campaign Against the Arms Trade legal initiative bears fruit. Justice for so much in the region has been long delayed.
Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger’s Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland.) Read other articles by Felicity.
This article was posted on Monday, January 18th, 2016 at 9:38am and is filed under Crimes against Humanity, Militarism, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, War Crimes, Weaponry, Yemen. http://dissidentvoice.org/2016/01/britain-and-saudi-arabia-shoulder-to-shoulder-in-atrocities-in-yemen/
SANAA: Deadly air strikes in the heart of the capital Sanaa where the security office of the capital secretariat was targeted. The building is located in the middle of a densely civilian populated area. Several civilians and security personnel from the local police force were killed and many more injured in 17 January 2016 brutal Saudi-led coalition’s air strike. Rescue efforts are still underway to dig up victims still under the rubble of the now completely destroyed building.
An airstrike from the Saudi fighter jets in Yemen on 19 January 2016 hit an athletics building and a factory that produced children’s food stuffs in Sanaa. – See video at: http://en.alalam.ir/news/1781194
Saudi-Led Coalition Airstrike Hits Pharmaceutical Factory in Yemen