1. Crisis News & International Military Reviews – Syria, 19 Feb 2016 & 18 Feb 2016
2A. Libya 2.0? At least 40 reported dead following strikes on northern city of Sabratha
2B. US airstrikes target Islamic State militants in Libya
3A. Did Russia Just Threaten Turkey With Nuclear Weapons?
3B. NATO Warns Turkey; No Support if You Start a War With Russia
3C. German General: Russia Will Bring Peace to Syria, Turkey Will Bring Catastrophe
4A. “Are Green Berets Leading The YPG In North-West Syria?” – “Wrong Question …”
4B. Military to Military – Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war
5. Russian MoD press briefing on alleged hospitals and schools bombed in northern Syria
6. Who needs war with peace like this? – window for a major world war is closing
7. Why Are Neocons so Desperate to Rescue al-Qaeda in Syria?
8. Aleppo: The Corporate Media Credibility Gap – By Brian Hemming, 19 Feb 2016
1A. 19.Feb.2016 CRISIS NEWS
No Government Confirmation that 22 Turkish Air Force Pilots Killed in Terror Attack Original published by Zvezda (in Russian); translation by J.Hawk
According to Turkish Ulke TV station, the victims of the February 17 terrorist attack in Ankara include 22 Turkish Air Force pilots, out of 28 total fatalities.
Turkish government has not issued an official confirmation but, according to Turkish media, Erdogan is deliberately trying to conceal that fact.
The explosion took place next to the Turkish Armed Forces headquarters building, as well as the parliament and government buildings. The fatalities included 26 military and 2 civilians. Another 60 people were wounded.
On Feb.17 at least 28 people were killed and 61 more injured after a car exploded in Ankara. According to Turkish officials, nine people have been detained following the attack. The scene of the explosion took place in close proximity to Turkey’s parliament, the Presidency of the General Staff, and Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard commands.
On Feb.18, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has accused some “forces” linked to the Kurdish YPG militia of the terrorist attack in Ankara. Davutoglu added the attack showed the Kurdish YPG is a terrorist organization and that Turkey expects cooperation from “its allies” against the group.
Following the Ankara incident, six military personnel were killed and one seriously wounded in an explosion that hit a military convoy in the southeast of Turkey on Feb.18. The convoy was traveling along a highway linking Diyarbakir and Bingol.
The US State Department says Washington believes ISIS terrorists carried out chemical attacks in Syria and Iraq. Spokesman Mark Toner made the announcement after the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that Syrians were exposed to sulfur mustard north of Aleppo last August.
Note: Militant Kurdish group linked to PKK claims responsibility for 17 Feb 2016 attack on convoy of military service vehicles in Ankara: “On February 17 in the evening a suicide attack was carried out by a sacrifice warrior on a military convoy of the fascist Turkish Republic in Ankara… The attack was realised by the Immortal Battalion of the TAK” the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) said in a statement on their website. http://www.afp.com/en/news/militant-kurdish-group-linked-pkk-claims-ankara-attack-statement
1B. International Military Review – Syria, 19 Feb 2016
On Feb.18, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) liberated the village of Kinsibba pushing Al-Nusra, Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) from their major stronghold in the Latakia province. Now, the Syrian forces are in position to liberate the village of Kabani west of the militant stronghold at Al-Sirmaniyah.
The SAA and its allies are advancing in the direction of the Idlib’s provincial capital. According to the reports, the Syrian forces are now deployed in areas near the city. The army’s new major offensive came as the Syrian air force targeted strongholds of militant groups based near the towns of Khan Sheikhoun and Mardikh on the outskirts of Idlib.
Turkish military vehicles crossed into a Kurdish area in Syria, Afin, on Feb. 18. Turkish troops also reportedly started to dig a trench between the towns of Sorka and Meydan Ekbis in the province of Aleppo. Meanwhile, Turkish artillery continued to shell the Kurdish YPG positions in Northern Syria.
On Feb.17, at least 500 Turkish-backed militants crossed the Turkish border at the Bab al-Salam border crossing heading for town of Azaz in the province of Aleppo, Syria. This group is reinforcements for militant groups have suffered setbacks at the hands of Kurdish YPG militia.
This is the second time in the recent days a large group of Turkish-backed militants has crossed the border. On Feb.14, some 350 passed through the Atme border crossing armed with heavy and light weapons.
1C. INTERNATIONAL MILITARY REVIEW – SYRIA, FEB. 18, 2016
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) supported by the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces have liberated the remaining points under terrorist control in the cities of Harasta and Douma. Thus, the government forces gained full control over the Homs-Damascus highway. Next expected targets of the SAA are the pockets in northern Douma and the Industrial District of Harasta.
The Kurdish YPG units engaged in heavy fighting with the militant groups in neighborhoods of Bani Zeid and al-Ashrafiyeh and seized the hospital of Hanan in the Aleppo city. Nonetheless, the situation in the area remains complicated.
The SAA is continuing an advance along the Salamiyah-Raqqa highway clashing ISIS in the area. According to reports, the SAA is in 5 km west of Marina.
At least 28 people have been killed and 61 injured in a car explosion in the center of Ankara. The scene of the explosion took place at 16:30 GMT and is located in close proximity to Turkey’s parliament, the Presidency of the General Staff, and Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard commands. The attack was originally targeting military buses at traffic lights.
There isn’t information about the organizers of the attack but it comes in a serious time for the country since Turkey has been conducting massive operations against the Kurds and the Assad government forces in Northern Syria.
On Feb.17, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan said Turkey wants to establish a secure zone 10km within Syria which would include the town of Azaz. Turkey has been attempting to implement a kind of this plan for a long time. The recent attack could be used as a casus belli to launch a military intervention. SouthFront: Analysis & Intelligence remembers Erdogan’s government already concentrated a significant military force, the 2nd Army at the Syrian border.
2A. Libya 2.0? After Sowing Chaos with 2011 Invasion, US Bombs Destabilized Nation – At least 40 reported dead following strikes on northern city of Sabratha by Andrea Germanos, 19 February 2016. http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/02/19/libya-20-after-sowing-chaos-2011-invasion-us-bombs-destabilized-nation
The United States on Friday conducted air strikes in Libya, a country described as having “all but collapsed” since the NATO military intervention there five years ago.
Local officials say that at least 40 people were killed from the strikes in the early morning, with others critically wounded, news agencies report. The location of the strike was a reported Islamic State training camp in the northern Libyan city of Sabratha.
The Pentagon said that it was not clear yet whether the target of the attack, Noureddine Chouchane, was among those killed.
Chouchane, a Tunisian national, has been linked to attacks in 2015 on a Tunis museum and a beach in the resort town of Sousse.
“He facilitated the movement of potential ISIL-affiliated foreign fighters from Tunisia to Libya and onward to other countries,” the Associated Press reports Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook as saying.
The Guardian reports that the new airstrike, the third by the US in Libya since June, raised questions about the US opening another front against an enemy whose strength in Libya has grown in the chaos resulting from Nato’s 2011 war aiding the revolutionaries that killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi. But some officials suggested that the strike on Chouchane was a target of opportunity, rather than the inaugural shots of a long-telegraphed initiative. The two previous strikes hit an Isis base in Derna in November and an al-Qaida gathering at Ajdabiya in eastern Libya in June.
As journalist Glenn Greenwald and professor of international relations Vijay Prishad both indicated in early-morning tweets, Friday’s bombing should be read as an indication of the Obama administration’s failed strategy in Libya: “The military intervention in Libya was such a fantastic success so it’s time to do it again”
Last month, after speaking with his French counterpart, Gen. Pierre de Villiers, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “It’s fair to say we’re looking to take decisive military action against ISIL [in Libya] in conjunction with a legitimate political process.”
The strikes come just days after President Obama said, “With respect to Libya, I have been clear from the outset that we will go after ISIS wherever it appears, the same way that we went after al Qaeda wherever they appeared.”
“We will continue to take actions where we’ve got a clear operation and a clear target in mind. And we are working with our other coalition partners to make sure that as we see opportunities to prevent ISIS from digging in, in Libya, we take them.”
But this reflects an approach akin to “a game of whack-a-mole spanning multiple unstable foreign countries,” argues Paul Pillar, professor at Georgetown University for security studies.
Opening up a real military front against [ISIS in Libya] with Western armed forces might seem to be an appropriate going to where the action is, but it also would perpetuate a fundamentally flawed conception of counter-terrorism as revolving around military offensives against whatever presence on the ground has been established by whatever radical group currently worries us the most. […]
The underlying problem in a place such as post-Gaddafi Libya is a lack of good governance or of any governance. Inadequate governance has multiple bad effects, including the sort of chaos that violent extremists exploit. Libya does not have a governance problem because ISIS is there; ISIS is there because Libya has a severe governance problem.
Yet another fallacy in common thinking about counter-terrorism is that whacking the offending group is progress. It is not, if what is left after the whacking is just more of the inadequate governance that led to the group establishing its presence there in the first place.
Others similarly described the governance problem. From the Guardian earlier this week:
“Libya is becoming a scenario whereby you will have three governments,” says Ludovico Carlino of IHS Jane’s, a London defense analyst. “An intervention [without a unity government] will probably cause more anarchy and chaos.”
The reporting adds this comment from Guma El-Gamaty, the rebel government’s London envoy during the revolution: “We are now suffering the legacy of Gaddafi, the lack of institutions, no democracy, the lack of knowing how to come together.”
Reuters reports: “A U.N.-backed government of national accord is trying to win support, but is still awaiting parliamentary approval. It is opposed by factional hardliners and has yet to establish itself in the capital Tripoli.”
Last month, in an article entitled “The U.S. Intervention in Libya Was Such a Smashing Success That a Sequel Is Coming,” Greenwald wrote that since the 2011 NATO bombing of Libya, the country so predictably — has all but completely collapsed, spending years now drowning in instability, anarchy, fractured militia rule, sectarian conflict, and violent extremism. The execution of Saddam Hussein was no vindication of that war nor a sign of improved lives for Iraqis, and the same was true for the mob killing of Qaddafi. […]
the much bigger question was when (not if, but when) the instability and extremism that predictably followed the NATO bombing would be used to justify a new U.S.-led war — also exactly as happened in Iraq. […]
Just as there was no al Qaeda or ISIS to attack in Iraq until the U.S. bombed its government, there was no ISIS in Libya until NATO bombed it. Now the U.S. is about to seize on the effects of its own bombing campaign in Libya to justify an entirely new bombing campaign in that same country.
And in a statement Friday, Prashad said, “The U.S. Air Force should have named this current bombing run in Libya ‘Operation Deja Vu.’ It is the third such strike at ISIS. What is not clear is the strategy being followed by the U.S. Occasional bombing runs have not stopped ISIS from fully taking Sirte and now expanding along the edge of the Gulf of Sidra.”
2B. US airstrikes target Islamic State militants in Libya – Military has not yet determined if target, an Isis leader linked to last year’s Sousse attack, has been killed. By Chris Stephen in Tunis and Spencer Ackerman in New York, Saturday 20 February 2016 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/19/us-airstrikes-target-islamic-state-militants-in-libya
US warplanes have carried out airstrikes on an Islamic State base in western Libya, targeting a leader linked to last year’s Sousse beach massacre in Tunisia.
Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman, indicated that the military had not yet determined if the target of Friday’s attack, Noureddine Chouchane, was killed. Reports indicated that 41 people, including suspected Isis militants, died in the attack near Sabratha.
Chouchane, a Tunisian, was suspected of being involved in two recent attacks in his native country, including the Sousse attack in which more than 30 British nationals were killed.
Local reports and photographs show pulverised buildings at a compound close to al-Ajaylat, outside Sabratha, 40 miles west of Tripoli.
“This strike demonstrates we will go after Isil [Isis] whenever it is necessary, using the full range of tools at our disposal,” Cook said. Earlier this week Barack Obama said the US “will go after Isis wherever it appears, the same way that we went after al-Qaida wherever they appeared”.
The British defence secretary, Michael Fallon, confirmed the operation had made use of British bases.
“I welcome this strike that has taken out a Daesh [Isis] training camp being used to train terrorists to carry out attacks,” he said. “I was satisfied that its destruction makes us all safer, and I personally authorised the US use of our bases.”
Cook later told reporters the camp had as many as 60 fighters and suggested the US had surveilled it for “weeks”, leading to an understanding that the US believed an Isis attack emanating from the camp on US “interests … in the region” was at some stage of preparation.
Cook said the facility was struck before the militants could pose a more specific threat, without providing further detail. “They had ill intent in their mind,” he added.
Without elaborating on the buildup to the strike, Cook said the special operations reconnaissance effort had given Washington “a better sense today” of the scope of Isis inside Libya. He would not specify any country aside from the UK that contributed to the strike, but said others helped.
“We feel confident this was a successful strike,” Cook said, indicating that even if Chouchane survived, the US views destroying the camp itself as a prime objective.
“There are other training camps in Libya like this … when we see the opportunity or need to take this kind of action, we will do so,” Cook said.
US and British special forces have been deployed in Libya in recent weeks, with drones and intense reconnaissance by American, British and French warplanes.
Western leaders are concerned that the chaos of a civil war between the elected government in Tobruk and a rival Islamist-led administration in Tripoli has allowed Isis to grow across the country, building up a presence on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Unidentified aircraft have bombed other Isis bases in the eastern Libyan towns of Sirte and Derna in recent days, with Human Rights Watch saying a hospital was struck in the Derna raids.
Friday’s airstrike, the third by the US in Libya since June, raised questions about the US opening another front against an enemy whose strength in Libya has grown in the chaos resulting from Nato’s 2011 war aiding the revolutionaries that killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi. But some officials suggested that the strike on Chouchane was a target of opportunity, rather than the inaugural shots of a long-telegraphed initiative. The two previous strikes hit an Isis base in Derna in November and an al-Qaida gathering at Ajdabiya in eastern Libya in June.
Senior Pentagon officials fear the sprawling Isis presence in Libya will allow the group to consolidate, as it did in Iraq and Syria, and to attack the west. Officials estimate the group has rallied 5,000 Libyan fighters to its side, up from 1,000 in mid-2015.
Gen Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has said the US and France were preparing for “decisive” action against Isis in Libya. Elite US special operations forces have conducted what the Pentagon has termed a reconnaissance mission there, scouting for local militias to ally with an effort targeting Isis.
Ashton Carter, the US defence secretary, said in a speech last month that the US would target Isis in north Africa, widely believed to announce US intentions against the group in Libya this year.
But US officials on Friday did not indicate that the strike against a senior Isis member indicated a broader campaign was imminent. The Daily Beast reported on Thursday that the White House had turned down a Pentagon plan to attack Isis in its Sirte stronghold with a combination of a concerted air campaign and special operations-led organisation of rival militias on the ground.
Officials were expansive in speculating the impact of the strike on Isis, as they often are when announcing attacks on high-valued targets.
Cook said that destroying the training base and killing Chouchane was “expected to have an immediate impact on Isil’s ability to facilitate its activities in Libya, including recruiting new Isil members, establishing bases in Libya, and potentially planning external attacks on US interests in the region”.
Al-Ajaylat, the site of Friday’s strike, is a cluster of compounds opening out on to the Sahara, and has been the focus of US attention for several months. It sits at a gap between the frontline of Libya Dawn militias who hold the northern coast and pro-government units deployed to the south.
In December, pictures were released of US special forces with dune buggies at al-Wattiya, a government-controlled desert airbase 30 miles south of the Isis compound. Reports from the area claimed the American unit was mounting surveillance on the compound that has now been struck.
The Pentagon said in January that US special forces were in Libya seeking to “partner” local militias to tackle ISIS, and last week the UK foreign office minister Tobias Ellwood revealed RAF warplanes are now flying missions over Libya.
Sabratha has long been home to Islamist militants. In January 2014 local jihadis were blamed for the beachfront murder of the British oil worker Mark De Salis and his girlfriend from New Zealand, Lynn Howie, at the nearby Melittah gas complex. Many of those militants have now gravitated to Isis.
In recent weeks Isis has been building up strength around the town, launching attacks on local militias at nearby Surman on the coastal highway.
This week the country is marking the fifth anniversary of its revolution against Gaddafi. Western powers have so far backed United Nations efforts to mediate an end to Libya’s civil war – which has raged since the summer of 2014 – in the hope that a unity government can persuade the country’s fractious militias to turn their guns on the militants.
But the UN’s unity government plan was rejected by the Tobruk parliament on Monday, and western military planners fear that delaying action against ISIS will see it capture and destroy Libya’s strategically vital oil ports. The militant group launched an offensive against Ras Lanuf, the country’s largest refinery, earlier this year setting storage tanks ablaze.
Ayesha Gaddafi as a New Leader of Resistance against NATO and the Libyan Terrorists
Written by Maja Orlic; published at in4s.net, translated by Mario Andrijasevic exclusively for SouthFront 31 January 2016
The daughter of Muammar Gaddafi will lead the resistance against NATO and the other Libyan terrorists. Ayesha stated that she is now the leader of the resistance and she is about to create a new secret government.
Ayesha Gaddafi has become the new leader of the resistance at a crucial moment for the country – on the eve of the new NATO intervention. As a Lieutenant General of the Libyan army she swore loyalty to the order of her legendary father and urged Libyans to wake up in order to win, to be successful and to “return the Jamahiriya government”.
Ayesha Gaddafi guarantees that in the next few months she will form a “secret government” of “famous Libyans,” who are loyal to Gaddafi and that will act as a mediator in Libya and abroad. Analyzing the current situation she criticized the former army because of “a crazy mix of anarchists” who decided to wage war on a principle “I fight for whoever pays me more.”
Gaddafi´s daughter accused them of using a green flag of Jamahiriya and recruiting their supporters, as well as strengthening tribal governments, under whose shadow they joined the alliance with the Tuareg and Toubou Islamists. She accused the Tuareg and Toubou tribes of separatism and conspiracy with the government in Tobruk.
Ayesha Gaddafi called on the soldiers of the Libyan armed forces to give her the oath as a Supreme Commander, in order to restore the state.
3A. Did Russia Just Threaten Turkey With Nuclear Weapons?
[Note by the Saker: I do not believe that Russia has made such a threat and I will post my reasons for this in the next 24 hours. However, I might be wrong and Mercouris and Perry right, I therefore feel like I should post this analysis]
Reports say a source close to Putin claims Russia warned Erdogan of readiness to use tactical nuclear weapons to defend Russian strike force in Syria from Turkish attack
by Alexander Mercouris for Russia Insider:http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/did-russia-just-threaten-turkey-nuclear-weapons/ri12936
The US investigative journalist Robert Parry has made an astonishing claim – and one that has gone completely unnoticed.
He is reporting that the Russian government has warned Erdogan that Russia is prepared to use tactical nuclear weapons to defend its Syrian strike force from Turkish attack.
Parry’s exact words are as follows:
“A source close to Russian President Vladimir Putin told me that the Russians have warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Moscow is prepared to use tactical nuclear weapons if necessary to save their troops in the face of a Turkish-Saudi onslaught.
Since Turkey is a member of NATO, any such conflict could quickly escalate into a full-scale nuclear confrontation.”
Generally I would be skeptical of such a story from an anonymous source. However Parry is a journalist of the highest reliability and integrity so there can be no doubt he actually has been told this by a real source.
Of course it is possible the source is making the story up, or that he is not as close to Putin as Parry believes.
However on 11th February 2016 Russia’s Security Council held a meeting the public report of which is unusually terse, whilst on the same day the Russian military reported to Putin about a series of military exercises arranged at short notice in their southern military district, which look like they were intended to prepare the Russian military for rapid action at short notice against Turkey should the need arise.
If a warning really was given it might have been given either on that day or possibly on the day after, to coincide with the military exercises whose meaning in that case would not be lost on either the US or the Turks.
The meeting of the Security Council (whose importance I discussed here) would in that case have been convened to discuss and authorise it.
The fact Obama telephoned Putin a day later on 14th February 2016 might also be connected to the warning, if it really was given.
Both the Turks and the Russians would surely have informed the US of such a warning. It would be entirely understandable in that case that the US President would want to discuss it with the Russian President. In fact it would be astonishing if he did not want to.
If it was the warning Obama and Putin discussed, then that might explain why the US and the Russians are giving such completely different accounts of the conversation.
Neither side would want to make the warning public – something which would escalate the crisis to stratospheric levels – and each would want to concoct a cover story to hide what was really discussed, which given the circumstances and the urgency they might be unlikely to coordinate with each other. That might explain why the accounts of the conversation differ so much.
Against that it must be said that it is by no means unusual for Russian and Western governments to publish radically different accounts of conversations Russian and Western leaders have with each other.
All this it should be stressed is speculation, though as is apparent it is consistent with some of the diplomatic and military moves.
If such a warning really was given it would not be the first time the US or Russia have threatened to use nuclear weapons.
The US for example warned Saddam Hussein in 1990 that it was ready to retaliate with nuclear weapons if he used chemical weapons against their troops in the First Gulf War.
However a threat to use nuclear weapons is one that is never made lightly. If it really was made it shows how fraught the situation in Syria has become.
If the Russians really did make such a threat then it would be a further reason why the US and its European allies would be urging Erdogan to act with restraint, and would be counselling him against plunging into a war with the Russians in Syria.
Confirmation that the Western powers are warning Erdogan against an invasion of Syria has now also come from the Financial Times (see “Turkey and Saudi Arabia consider Syria intervention”, Financial Times, 18th February 2016):
“The US is seeking to rein in its allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia from military action in Syria if a ceasefire planned for today in the bloody civil war fails.
Despite mounting regional frustration over Washington’s allegedly passive stance on the five-year-old conflict the Obama administration and other western powers are worried that direct military interventions could lead to an escalation of the conflict and a dangerous clash with Russia.
“Are they going to deploy troops there? Not if we can help it,” said one senior Nato diplomat.””
Each day now provides further news of advances by the Syrian army and its allies in northern Syria.
The very latest information is that the last major rebel held town in Latakia province has been recaptured by the Syrian army, and that the Syrian army is just a few kilometres away from the city of Idlib.
Slowly but surely the trap around the jihadi rebels in Aleppo is closing.
Meanwhile – whether because of warnings from Moscow or Washington or for some other reason – the Turks and the Saudis have so far not matched their rhetoric with action.
The much discussed Saudi aircraft deployment to the US airbase at Incirlik has turned out to be much smaller than initially reported, and may not actually have taken place.
The Turks are publicly sticking to their position that they will not send their troops into Syria unilaterally – which could be taken to mean they will not invade Syria unless they have US agreement and unless the US contributes ground troops to the invasion force.
Turkish action so far has been limited to cross-border shelling of Kurdish forces near Azaz and demands the Kurds stay away from Azaz, which is near the Turkish border and which the Turks say they want to make part of a buffer zone.
Even these moves have been too much for some of Turkey’s NATO allies, provoking criticism by some NATO states of Turkey for its shelling of the Kurds, though claims the UN Security Council has passed a Resolution condemning Turkey’s actions are untrue.
Interestingly the Western powers seem reluctant to endorse Turkey’s claims the Kurds of Iraq and Syria – as opposed to the Kurds of Turkey – were behind Wednesday’s terrorist attack on a military convoy in Ankara (see this discussion here), whilst Turkey’s response to the attack was to bomb Kurdish targets in Iraq rather than in Syria.
The situation is still very tense and it is premature to say that the crisis – if one exists – is past.
Whether because of Russian threats to use nuclear weapons or because of calls of restraint from the West and possibly from his own military or for some other reason, the signs for the moment however point to Erdogan backing off.
With every day that passes without a Turkish ground invasion the prospects of it happening grow less. The next few weeks should decide the issue.
3B. NATO Warns Turkey; No Support if You Start a War With Russia
by Newsroom@superstation95.com, 19 February 2016 https://www.superstation95.com/index.php/world/912
“Ankara should not exaggerate its NATO resources: The alliance would not give any support of a Turkish aggression against Russia.” Those were the words of Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, who made clear he spoke for several other NATO Member countries.
An example of Turkey’s abuse of its NATO membership became crystal clear about five days ago, when Turkey began artillery shelling from 400 meters away from its border with Syria. The Turks fired countless artillery shells into Syria, in support of Turkish-backed rebels who are trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Syria told Turkey to stop the artillery shelling. Turkey refused. Then Russia told Turkey to stop because the shelling is endangering Russian forces inside Syria who are fighting the Rebels and ISIS/Al-Qaeda terrorists. Turkey refused. Then The United States told Turkey to stop the artillery shelling, and Turkey again refused, apparently thinking that its membership in NATO made Turkey invincible. ”
“They seem to think the US and NATO are obligated to fight for Turkey even if Turkey is the one who starts a war” said one US State Department Spokesman. “That is not how the NATO Treaty works” he continued. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn confirmed this when he said ‘The mutual defence guarantee applies only if a Member State is attacked in a unique way.’
Some have used more common examples to describe Turkey’s recent behavior. “They’re like a little brother who abuses everyone thinking his big brother will simply beat up everyone the little guy starts a fight with.” Sooner or later, the big brother has to allow the little guy to get a bloody nose so he understands he cannot treat people any way he wants and use the big brother as a threat.”
Despite this clear warning, Turkey continues its artillery shelling of Syria. Sadly, it looks like Turkey is headed for that “bloody nose” to teach it to behave.
3C. German General: Russia Will Bring Peace to Syria, Turkey Will Bring Catastrophe
Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ, 16th February, 2016
Western countries should look at Russia’s actions in Syria more objectively and abandon the prejudice that behind every decision of the Kremlin lies a “terrible threat”, wrote the Huffington Post quoting the opinion of the former Chairman of the military Committee of NATO, a retired German General Harald Kujat.
Like all parties, who are one way or another involved in the Syrian conflict, Russia has its strategic interests in the region, however, this does not mean that they should be considered exclusively in a negative way.
Moscow has a coordinated plan to combat the jihadists, and it is obvious that without its participation the solution is impossible. “Without Russia, there will not be peace in the region” — said the General.
The former General also spoke about his vision for the future of Russia. The liberation of Aleppo is only an intermediate step on the road to the liberation of the country from the terrorists of the “Islamic State”. The aim of Moscow’s airstrikes is to help government troops cut off the Turkish supply of arms to jihadists. Furthermore, the government’s army will be able to pave the corridor to the North-East of the country to the stronghold of ISIS – Raqqa.
The General also noted that the Syrian conflict has sides who will prevent the implementation of this plan, the first of which is Ankara. The corridor created by the army of Assad will eventually run into areas that are now under the control of Kurds, who distinguished themselves in the fight against terrorists. Meanwhile Turkey does not intend to stop the bombing of these areas and intends to continue the operation against Kurdish troops. In addition, Ankara is planning to send ground forces to Syria than can undermine all efforts to resolve the crisis.”Turkish intervention has the potential to transform the Syrian conflict into a global catastrophe,” concludes Kujat.
4A. “Are Green Berets Leading The YPG In North-West Syria?” – “Wrong Question …”
19 February 2016 http://www.moonofalabama.org/
A few days ago we asked the speculative question: Are Green Berets Leading The YPG In Taking The Azaz Pocket?
The Kurds in the Azaz pocket have also some support from a professional military. Their moves are very purposeful and controlled. They are clearly coordinated with the Syrian army. The coordination with the Russian airforce works well and there is ground fire coordination with the SAA.
Who are the professionals that are helping the YPG to take the Azaz pocket?
My first thought was of course Russian Spetsnaz. But I asked around and none of my usual sources would confirm this. The sources acknowledged that the YPG in west Syria has special force support but there was some quite unexpected silence over who these forces were. It is clear to me that these are not Syrian special forces. The YPG does not want to be seen as an adjunct to the Syrian government. No one would confirm to me that these are Russian forces even as that would be of no great surprise to anyone. This leads me to speculate that some U.S. special forces are directing the YPG in the Azaz pocket. This in coordination with the Syrian army and the Russians.
The idea presumed a split between the CIA, which arms the jihadis with TOWs and other toys, and the U.S. military, which helps the Kurds against the Islamic State jihadis in north-east Syria.
But there are now additional data points which support my crazy idea. The “Kurds” besieging the Azaz pocket from the west and the south are not all Kurds. They have local allies with whom they are organized under the label Syrian Democratic Forces. Indeed, according to this report, the Kurds have pulled back from the southern Azaz line and leave it to an allied group. Some of the pro-Syrian troops now there are intimate friends of the U.S. military:
On Feb. 10, the YPG and Jaish al-Thuwar (Army of Revolutionaries), two allied SDF units, seized the Menagh air base south of Azaz and then the nearby villages of Maranaz, Malikiye, Der Jammal and Tell Acar.
The Syrian rebel group Jaish al-Uswar entered Tell Rifaat on Feb. 15. The next day, Ahmed al-Omar, the group’s spokesman, said it had cleared Tell Rifat after four days of battles. Tell Rifaat was a key point for logistics operations between Aleppo and Turkey.
After Tell Rifaat, SDF units captured the villages of Ain Dejne, Kfar Naya and toward Azaz and then entered Marea.
My question was wrong. It was about Green Berets accompanying the YPG. But I should have asked about Green Berets accompanying whoever was moving there, the YPG and/or other groups, and fighting on the pro-Syrian side.
Who makes up Jaish al-Thuwar? Established in May 2015, some of its fighters were in the US-supported, but then disbanded, Hazm Movement and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front. Cephed al-Akrad (the Kurdish Front) — made up of Kurds who had not joined the YPG — is another unit of Jaish al-Thuwar. The Seljuks Brigade and Sultan Selim Brigade of Turkmens, which operate separately from the Turkish-supported Turkmen forces, are also part of Jaish al-Thuwar. An alliance of Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds, Jaish al-Thuwar joined the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces in October 2015. Most of the fighters hail from settlements on the Azaz-Marea line and areas of Menbic, al-Bab and Jarablus currently controlled by IS. It isn’t accurate to call Jaish al-Thuwar fighters outsiders.
After capturing areas near Azaz, the YPG left them to the control of Jaish al-Thuwar and withdrew to Afrin. Some observers in the Turkish government circles interpreted the move as the YPG using Jaish al-Thuwar as a cover. This may be a bit of an overstatement, as the Americans function as a coordinator between these two SDF units.
There is an amalgamation of various small groups, some trained by the U.S. military, which is holding the southern border of the Azaz pocket including the Menagh air base and Tell Rifaat. This group coordinates with the YPG Kurds through U.S. intermediaries.
Who then are these intermediaries and who is really leading or “advising” the quite diverse Jaish al-Thuwar?
Adding another data point that supports my hunch the Pentagon yesterday admitted that the special forces it put down in Syria to coordinate the Kurds fighting the Islamic State are in contact with the Russian forces in Syria:
The Pentagon has asked Russia to stay away from parts of northern Syria where US special operations troops are training local fighters to combat the Islamic State group, military officials said Thursday.
The acknowledgement is significant because the Pentagon has repeatedly stressed it is not cooperating with Moscow as the two powers lead separate air campaigns in war-ravaged Syria.
Lieutenant General Charles Brown, who commands the US air forces in the Middle East, said US officials had asked Moscow to avoid “broad areas” in northern Syria “to maintain a level of safety for our forces that are on the ground.”
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Russia had honored the request, and stressed the Pentagon only provided broad geographic descriptions of where the US troops are, not their precise location.
There was “one instance in which we have asked, for the safety of our special operators, (the Russians) to not engage in that particular geographical area,” Cook said. “We think it’s a reasonable request.”
The Pentagon last year said it was sending about 50 special operations forces to work with anti-IS fighters in Syria, though officials have said next to nothing about their whereabouts and progress since.
Notice that the AFP report above emphasizes “northern Syria”. Not “north-east Syria” or “east-Syria” where the YPG, with acknowledged U.S. air and special force support, is successfully cleaning the Hasakah governate of Islamic State trash. The AP report does likewise.
The insertion of 50 U.S. special operation forces into Syria was announced at the end of October 2015, around the same time the Jaish al-Thuwar joined the YPG to form the SDF named alliance. Jaish al-Thuwar includes people who have been through the Pentagon’s training program.
After the Syrian army closed the Azaz pocket the YPG and its allies made fast, elegant and well coordinated moves to take the southern line of the Azaz pocket and to push north from it. A rag-tag force of amateurs would not have been able to operate like that. It is the way that this happened that led me to believe that there were some extraordinary well trained folks involved in it. These folks were coordinating the SDF force itself as well as with the Russians and the Syrian army.
So let me rephrase my earlier question about the Green Berets leading the “YPG”:
Are Green Berets leading the SDF and more so Jaish al-Thuwar in taking the Azaz pocket?
If the answer is “Yes” additional questions follow from the above one:
- Does this demonstrate a split between CIA and the Pentagon with each supporting opposing sides?
- Is this the real reason for Erdogan’s rageover the U.S. affair with the “YPG”?
- Was this coordinated between Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov?
- What does this mean for the future of Syria?
Posted by b on February 19, 2016 at 02:19 AM
In the COMMENTS section of the above article jfl asked: ‘why is the Pentagon on the side of the syrians at this point?‘ David responded:
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n01/seymour-m-hersh/military-to-military is a possible explanation.
4B. 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
The article is very long. Here are two long excerpts. Bear in mind that the various levels of US administration and military (and military-industrial complex) may have changed since Russia has dramatically changed the situation on the ground.
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.’
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 theTitanic. 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?
5A. Russian MoD press briefing for February 16th, 2016 – (English subtitles) on alleged hospitals and schools bombed in northern Syria
5B. Marina Zakharova on Civilian Casualties in the ‘Propaganda and Imperial Ambitions’
- Who needs war with peace like this? – window for a major world war is closing
This comment was chosen by Mod HS from the post “Moveable Feast Cafe 2016/02/13 13:58:37”. The moderator believes this comment questions whether there will be a World War III. The commenters conclusion is there won’t be a World War III and the window for a major world war is closing.
Comment by Larchmonter445
To all who predict the inevitable war, wherever your mind thinks it will transpire:
It is a requirement of that prediction to tell us what the Order of Battle shall be.
For instance, China attacked by the US.
Or, Turkey and US/NATO/Arabs with oil attacking Russia.
Or, Turkey and the nazis of Ukraine attacking Russia.
Or, some Israeli (Zio-whatever you want) false flag attack that results in attacking Russia.
Please tell us how the war gets going with planes? with missiles? with sub? with carriers and destroyers?
And lay out the first 5-10 hours, then day one in full, and then the next day.
And tell us, dear friends of the next inevitable war, how many men, how many planes, how many ships are involved on the attacking West’s side.
See, that inevitable stuff is nonsense in the nuclear age.
The kind of war we are seeing now in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen and earlier in Ukraine and what we saw in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan are very deadly to be sure. But they are small conflicts.
They have wide impact on civilians mostly. Somehow the armies rarely clash in large formations.
At most, only Ukraine has given us enormous impact because the Ukies are especially ignorant and horribly led. Yemen is a bloodbath, but it is amongst minor players.
But what you predictors of inevitable Russia attacked by the West in any form say is a fiction.
And attacking China is even more so.
One, you do not understand military doctrine. And the most important national military doctrine is Russia’s. It openly states that they will use nuclear weapons in many situations. They have a clear fast path of first use.
The West does not intend to state its first strike use, but it would strike first in full fashion if it could.
It does not because it does not want to be totally destroyed.
Russia does not much care if it gets hit by nukes under the situation of saving its troops from destruction or warding off a massive ground attack, or suffering some attempt at EMP attack or even Cyber or Space (by laser or hypersonic weapons).
What this business of nuclear is really doing is down-scaling the ‘war” between giants. There simply cannot be a war, a grand war anywhere, by proxy or by principals. The big wars are over.
No nation is going to stand still today and watch 300 ships form off its coast ready to send 4000 cruise missiles into its ports, airports, urban centers and industrial sites, and all it military installations and defenses.
No nation will be able to assemble the armor and vehicles of 90,000 men anywhere near a major nation and threaten an invasion.
No nation can send 100 or 1000 or 10,000 sorties of bombers or cruise missiles or IRBMs or ICBMs into another nation without suffering total annihilation in return.
So, there won’t be WW3.
There will be many more Syrias if Russia does not prevail. And more Ukraines if Russia does not prevail. There will be some more Yemens, probably.
But there won’t be WW3. You simply must understand the Order of Battle to form such a war is impossible today. No large nation (or tiny one like Israel with 350 nukes) will stand by and take that sort of preparation and first strike hit. The threatened nation will use their nukes to destroy the formation.
Thus, Saudi Arabia’s invasion threat and Turkey’s invasion threat are by necessity small threats.
Russia and Syria and Iraq can handle these.
The only dominant force the US has left is its naval power. And no nation is threatening it on the seas. So they can’t win anywhere. No one to fight on the oceans.
Where and how they want to fight is blocked. They want to fight the Russians and the Chinese with planes, drones and missiles. But they can’t. The S400 and S300 and next year the S500 will stop them. And if they somehow broke through in a few places, they would be nuked by missiles Russia and China have that they can’t find, can’t see and can’t stop.
The US has to get relatively close with its cruise missiles to fire them effectively. China and Russia can hit the US ships and subs from 3x the distance.
There simply is not a feasible Order of Battle for victory.
There is not going to be a WW3.
There might be a deadly clash. Jets shot down. Troops and defenses blasted.
But it won’t accelerate too widely. Even if a few hundred died, the reaction would be scaled to the region where the clash occurred. It would be over before the whole thing was reported. An hour.
And the window of war is closing. Americans are rising up. They want no more, except with Terrorists.
- Why Are Neocons so Desperate to Rescue al-Qaeda in Syria?
written by Daniel McAdams, 11 February 2016 This is an excerpt, read the whole article at: http://www.ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/neocon-watch/2016/february/11/why-are-neocons-so-desperate-to-rescue-al-qaeda-in-syria/
Reading Dennis Ross and David Ignatius is a good reminder that the neocons live in a different world than the rest of us. They do not conform their analysis to reality, but rather they conform reality to their view of the world. Where most people would be encouraged to read that Aleppo in Syria was about to be liberated from its 3.5 year occupation by al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, the neocons see a disaster.
On the brink of al-Qaeda’s defeat in Aleppo, the Washington Post’s Ignatius is furious that, “President Obama won’t approve military tactics that could actually shift the balance.” Yes, he wants to shift the balance toward al-Qaeda because like the other neocons he is so invested in the idea of regime change in Syria that he would even prefer turning the country into another Libya than to see government forces defeat his jihadist insurgents. Failing to “shift the balance” toward al-Qaeda fighters in Aleppo only brings “greater misery for the Syrian people,” in the world of Ignatius.
Ignatius’s Washington Post, which has never seen a potential war it did not want to see turned into an actual war,thinks it a tragedy that the Syrian army’s advance on al-Qaeda occupied Aleppo has “cut off all vital routes of supply from Turkey to the rebel-held areas of the city.” Those would be Turkish supplies in support of al-Qaeda and ISIS rebels, but the Post is too deceptive to mention that fact.
It is as dishonest an inversion of reality as anything printed in Pravda of old.
In the same vein as Ignatius, former Bush/Clinton/Obama Administration Middle East “expert” Dennis Ross writes to tell us, “what Putin is really up to in Syria.” In the above-linked article, The Los Angeles Times does not reveal that Ross is hardly an objective observer of the situation. As one of the founders of AIPAC‘s Washington Institute for Near East Policy — and a current counsellor to that organization — Ross strongly supports AIPAC’s position in favor of regime change in Syria and Israel’s active role in assisting jihadist rebels from al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in their efforts to overthrow the Assad government…
Ah but here is where Ross plants his seed, whispers in the Administration’s neocon power brokers’ ears:
“Certainly, were Russia’s costs to increase, Putin might look for a way out.”
Hmm, now we see what he’s getting at:
…it is time we make it clear to the Russians that unless they impose a cease-fire on Assad and Hezbollah and insist that humanitarian corridors are open, we will have no choice but to act with our partners to create a haven in Syria — for refugees and for the organization of the Syrian opposition.
In other words, tell Russia if you do not stop fighting al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria we will face-off in a WWIII-threatening stance to establish a “jihadistan” in part of Syria from where the hundredth or so version of a rebel fighting force can be re-assembled.
Ross’s plan is not for the weak of heart. “[W]e cannot threaten to create a haven without following through if Putin refused to alter his course,” he writes. Meaning of course that we must be willing to actually go through with WWIII if Putin does not blink, back down, and pull out of Syria just as Russia’s intervention is meeting its objective. Surrender when on the verge of victory in Syria or face a nuclear war with the United States.
No one ever accused the neocons of thinking small. But with much of the Middle East a smoldering ruin due to the disastrous interventions they lied us into, no one should count out even their most insane-sounding plan being seriously considered somewhere in Washington.
Copyright © 2016 by RonPaul Institute. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit and a live link are given.
8. Aleppo: The Corporate Media Credibility Gap – By Brian Hemming, 19 February 2016
“Less than four years ago, Aleppo was a prosperous and beautiful city. Christians and Muslims lived side by side, as did Sunni and Shia. A tolerant culture was sustained by a massive industrial centre. Aleppo’s dynamic business community had developed thousands of factories in the industrial suburb of Sheikh Najjar, which employed one million Aleppans.” Peter Oborne
Last week Peter Oborne became the first Western journalist to enter Aleppo following its relief by the Syrian Army. Since that day corporate media reports directly from Syria’s largest city have built up to become almost a trickle.
Gone are the times when the BBC’s John Simpson liberated Kabul single-handed. Nowadays, we are mostly fed the opinions of pre-programmed stenographers comfortably seated behind desks in London,Washington, Paris or Berlin. That might give a clue as to why the Aleppo, Oborne reports on, doesn’t seem to fit the prevailing narrative of a city recently occupied by ‘moderate’ rebels that has dominated our daily news over the last few weeks.
“In a nearby room a man from a family of olive oil merchants told me that al-Nusra has murdered three of his brothers-in-law for alleged pro-government sympathies. One was beheaded, one was ripped to pieces after being tied between an electricity poll and a moving car. A fourth brother has been kidnapped and no one knows where he is.” Peter Oborne
For Oborne’s full account, published by Middle East Eye, click on: Journey to Aleppo: How the war ripped Syria’s biggest city apart
To judge from the few reports coming out of Syria from journalists actually on the ground it becomes increasingly obvious the Western corporate media is stretching readers’ credibility beyond breaking. The decreasing number of comments sections on contentious issues left open, often bulge with posters expressing utter disbelief. We can only surmise our leading media outlets are facing a crisis of credibility.
For The Guardian that crisis threatens to become terminal. But rather than face the unpalatable truth, the newspaper has decided to kill the messengers. By cutting back on articles allowing comments, and banning commentators who refuse to fall into line, the paper seems to be signing its own death warrant.
“And from the smashed village of al-Rabiaa – newly taken by the Syrian army from the retreating rebels of Jabhat al-Nusra – you can watch the shells exploding across the valley, a great curtain of blue smoke that ascends into the heavens just this side of the Turkish border.” Robert Fisk
The Independent’s Robert Fisk is the about the only other British journalist writing for a major news outlet to have reported from Aleppo. To read his eyewitness account of what is happening on the Syrian border with Turkey click onto: After entering Aleppo with Russia’s help, the Syrian army may set its sights on Raqqa
These reports are not secondhand accounts garnered from a man with a telephone stuck to his ear above a shop in Coventry, or bought from a self-styled weapons expert headquartered in a house in Leicester — both of which seems to pass for serious research in most newspapers nowadays — but are sights seen, and stories heard, by seasoned journalists, who risked their lives to get them. Oborne and Fisk still believe you have to be on the spot to discover the true picture. Having said that, it is important to point out that neither man could be labelled partisan, or an Assad sympathiser. While Oborne could be accurately described as right wing; despite being a war correspondent, Fisk is virulently anti-war.
What ought be a wake-up call to all Western news outlets with serious credibility deficits, including the supposedly-neutral BBC, is that the stories filed by Oborne and Fisk appear to confirm what Russia’s media has being saying all along.
“The children are no longer startled by bursts of gunfire. For them it’s a daily adventure, but it’s scary considering that the enemy is just across the wasteland crammed with burned out cars. The black al-Nusra flag waves from the top of a building three hundred meters away. The ends of the streets facing the block of ‘musalahins’ (gunmen in Arabic) are protected from snipers by huge tents.” Alexander Kots and Dmitry Steshin
Written by Alexander Kots and Dmitry Steshin, this last quote is from a report published — along with a video — by Russia’s largest circulation daily, Komsomolskaya Pravda.
For more of that report, including a video, click here: Aleppo Residents Back Assad: ‘We Don’t Need Help From Turkey’.
What is so striking about the four quotes employed here, is not so much how little they differ from each other, but how much they differ from the myriad reports we have become so used to seeing on our TV screens and reading in our newspapers.
They show how a dangerously irresponsible corporate media seems reluctant to fulfill its role as the pillar of democracy it has so long claimed to be.
As Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan hardens his resolve to drag NATO into a war from which no winners can possibly emerge, his threats to world stability, following the latest Ankara bombing, are being virtually ignored by the corporate media. To look at headlines featured on the latest Guardian on-line front page, at the time of writing, you could be forgiven for thinking a news blackout has been imposed.
Links to alternative views on the war in Syria in both the corporate and alternative media, which I hope to add to over the following days:
The Boston Globe reports on how the corporate media misleads the public on Syria: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2016/02/18/the-media-are-misleading-public-syria/8YB75otYirPzUCnlwaVtcK/story.html
Vanessa Beeley’s excellent blog: thewallwillfall
Finian Cunningham reports on the duplicity of the West: http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2016/02/18/russia-lances-the-poison-in-syria.html