Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 31, 2014

Syria: Pro-Nusra "Rebels" Turn Anti-Nusra "Rebels" Turn Dead

How a month can change the perspective ...

McClatchy, September 27 2014: Rebel-held towns in Syria protest US bombing of al-Qaida affiliate

The protests in rebel-held territories illustrated the confusion among Syrians over the aims of the U.S.-led coalition and the support that al-Qaida’s Nusra Front enjoys among rebel factions.

In Afamia, a town in western Hama province, demonstrators carried Nusra’s black flags, chanted anti-Assad slogans, called for the downfall of the Syrian Opposition Coalition — the U.S.-backed civilian organization that the United States recognizes as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people — and condemned what they called “the coalition strikes against the mujahedeen,” or holy warriors.

McClatchy, October 29, 2014: Syria rebels plead for U.S. help as Nusra, a former friend, goes on the attack

Al Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, which has long been viewed by that country’s rebels as an ally in the battle to topple President Bashar Assad, has turned on them in recent days, forcing the beleaguered rebels into a three-front war that they say they are sure to lose unless the United States changes policy and sends them more weapons.
...
Commanders warned Wednesday that assaults this week by Nusra could cause the collapse of rebel front lines, which already were under stress from fighting the Islamic State and the Assad government.

The CIA and special forces in contact with those "moderate rebels" can now say "told you so" when they ask for more help. After the pro-Nusra demonstrations last month more material help is unlikely to come:

A third CIA-vetted commander said that the U.S.-led coalition had cut the flow of arms and ammunition to a trickle and painted a dire image of the outcome should this not change.

There are some nine different wars going on now between the various insurgent groups and between them and the government of Syria and its supporters. That chaos helps the Syrian army to gain ground.

But the chaos will shrink. The "Fee Syrian Army" is pretty much dead. The Nusra front is shrinking with many of its fighters and officials deserting and joining the Islamic State. In a few month the Islamic State will be the only group fighting against the Syrian (and Iraqi) government and Hizbullah and other pro-government militias. That battle will be epic.

The shiny, all new, to be U.S. trained "Fee Syrian Army" planned for now is unlikely to ever get off the ground.

"We're not going to be able to build that kind of credible force in enough time to make a difference," said a senior U.S. officer who is involved in military operations against the militants and who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "We've watched the moderate opposition dwindle and dwindle and now there's very little left."

To find fighters and support from Turkey and Saudi Arabia Obama would have to promise to use the "new" FSA against the Syrian government. But destroying the Syrian government is likely a guarantee that the Islamic State will seize Damascus and the rest of Syria. The Obama administration seems to rightfully fear that and will, despite heavy pressure from some hawks and Pentagon brass, hopefully not go that way.

Posted by b on October 31, 2014 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

October 30, 2014

Open Thread 2014-25

(Busy with end-of-month deadline ...)

News & views ...

Posted by b on October 30, 2014 at 03:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (96)

October 28, 2014

U.S. State Department Tweets Incite People To Join Terrorist Groups

The U.S. State Department is running some odd (dis-)information campaign under the name "Think Again Turn Away". It is using so called "social media" to, supposedly, deter people from joining extreme international groups. It has a Facebook page with 8,450 likes and a Twitter account with some 12,700 followers.

But the whole program seem to be run by some bumbling intern. How please is this tweet supposed to deter young, easily impressed people from joining the Islamic State or any other extremist group fighting against the Syrian government?

That tweet is a direct invitation to join any of the hundreds of extremist insurgency groups that are fighting against the governments in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

That the above tweet is inciting people to join to commit terrorism against the Syrian state is not the only issue. Its content is a lie. The British doctor in question came to Syria illegally and provided medical services to insurgents. He was caught and put into jail. There he hanged himself:

A British surgeon, imprisoned in Syria for over a year, has died in detention, his family has told the BBC.

Dr Abbas Khan, a 32-year-old orthopaedic surgeon from Streatham, south London, travelled to the city of Aleppo last year to help civilians.
...
A Syrian government official said Dr Khan had committed suicide in his cell.
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Last week the family expressed concern that Dr Khan was depressed and may want to harm himself.

If a depressed man with known suicidal tendencies hangs himself in prison and there is zero evidence of any other involvement in his death how can the State Department claim that he "was killed by regime forces"?

The link in the above State Department tweet goes to an AlJazeerah story. AlJazeerah is a TV station financed by the government of Qatar which has also given billions in cash and weapons to insurgents in Syria including, at least indirectly, to Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Is promoting Qatari government media and thereby its policies of promoting terrorism now also one of the State Department's tasks?

The State Department tweet is linking media of the terrorist supporting Qatari government with a false claim about a doctor`s death to incite against the Syrian government. It thereby justifies terrorism attacks against the Syrian state and its people. Such justifications incite young people, especially in the "west", to join Jihadist groups that are fighting against government forces in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Is that an expression of the State Department's official policy?

Foggy Bottom should "Think Again" about this media campaign and "Turn Away" from such primitive policies.

Posted by b on October 28, 2014 at 01:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (38)

October 27, 2014

Syria: "No (U.S. supported) Field Force To Liberate Damascus"

Obama's pointman for the efforts against the Islamic State, Gen. John Allen, gave an interview to the Saudi Asharq Al-Awasat paper. There are lots of interesting bits in it but this part on the role of the "Free Syrian Army" and the "new" forces the U.S. wants to train sticks out:

Q: But you don’t see the FSA units that are being trained to fight ISIS as being those who will later fight the regime’s armed forces?

No. What we would like to see is for the FSA and the forces that we will ultimately generate, train and equip to become the credible force that the Assad government ultimately has to acknowledge and recognize. There is not going to be a military solution here [in Syria]. We have to create so much credibility within the moderate Syrian opposition at a political level . . . that they earn their spot at the table when the time comes for the political solution. Now, there could be FSA elements that ultimately clash with the regime, that may well be the case, as they seek to defend themselves and those areas that they dominate and as they seek to defend their families and their ways of life . . . it could be an outcome. But the intent is not to create a field force to liberate Damascus—that is not the intent. The intent is that in the political outcome, they [the moderate Syrian opposition] must be a prominent—perhaps the preeminent voice—at the table to ultimately contribute to the political outcome that we seek.

It seems to me that the Obama administration has given up on the FSA and the Syrian exile opposition. Reports from inside the insurgency claim that the U.S. support has slowed to a trickle and to many groups simply ended. The Syrian army is gaining the upper hand in more and more battles. The creation of the "new" anti-Syrian force, should it ever come into being, is just a fig leaf for giving up on overthrowing the Syrian government.

The strategy against the Islamic State that Allen describes is some decade long program of social engineering in Iraq by creating some Iraqi National Guard like the U.S National Guard. That is, in my view, likely to fail.

Obama has kicked the can down the road for the next president to kick again, to give up on the issue or to try some yet untried hail mary pass.

---

Another more short term issue is Kobane, the Syrian town held by Kurdish PKK/YPG forces. The Islamic State just released a video in which its prisoner John Cantlie, who may have joined the IS by now, is "reporting" from Kobane: : "The Islamic State won the battle in Kobane, it's nearly over here". The video is impressive with aerial footage of Kobane, a direct view on Turkish tanks and western style stand-up reportage of IS talking points by John Cantlie. But from the media reports Cantlie remarks on one can guess that the video was shot about a week ago and Kobane has still not fallen completely. The IS success claim in the video seems therefor somewhat exaggerated.

The Turkish government is still refusing to let any reinforcement or supplies come to help of the PKK forces in Kobane. The announced reinforcement by peshmerga fighters form kurdish Iraq, considered to be friendly to the Turkish government, has been held up for "technical reasons." The U.S. has bet some prestige on the Kobane issue. The White House will be furious should the city fall because of Erdogan's foot-dragging.

Posted by b on October 27, 2014 at 03:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (46)

October 25, 2014

Ukraine: Winter And Reigniting The War

(While I am busy ..)

The Saker says something is up in Ukraine. He expects a Ukrainian offense after tomorrows election (in which the anti-coup opposition is given no real chance to compete).

As I wrote earlier I believe that Jack Frost makes a new military campaign unlikely. I am not sure which side would want to again heat up the low flame "truce" war that has waged over the last weeks. Though both sides seem to have some itch for it.

But it has started freezing in Ukraine and a winter-war would be mostly road-bound, difficult to proceed for both sides with some additional advantages for those defending build up areas. Tanks and trucks would get stuck in muddy fields. It is not the environment in which one can expect wide space taking movements that would change the overall situation.

I am therefore scratching my head and wondering what military genius, obviously without any knowledge of World War II battles in Ukraine, would plan for such a campaign. It would be a quite lunatic endeavor.

Posted by b on October 25, 2014 at 03:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (186)

October 23, 2014

Israeli Defense Minister Predicts The End Of Artificial ME States

Moshe Ya'alon predicts the end of his country:

Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon is known for his blunt manner, and in an interview with NPR, he says that a future map of the Middle East will look very different that the one that exists today.
...
"We have to distinguish between countries like Egypt, with their history. Egypt will stay Egypt," Ya'alon, who is on a visit to Washington, tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep.

In contrast, Ya'alon says, "Libya was a new creation, a Western creation as a result of World War I. Syria, Iraq, the same — artificial nation-states — and what we see now is a collapse of this Western idea."

Which country in the Middle East is the most artificial? Which one was created as the result of a World War and is solely a "western" idea?

It seems to me that Ya'alon lacks the self awareness to detect the irony in what he said.

Posted by b on October 23, 2014 at 09:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (102)

October 21, 2014

Radek Sikorski Throws Eggs At Ben Judah And Blake Hounshell - Hits Faces

Yesterday Politico promoted a story about "Putin's Coup written by junior neocon Ben Judah. The lede:

The war in Ukraine is no longer only about Ukraine. The conflict has transformed Russia. This increasingly is what European leaders and diplomats believe: that Vladimir Putin and his security establishment have used the fog of war in Ukraine to shroud the final establishment of his brittle imperialist dictatorship in Moscow.

Among those who believe that this is happening, and that Europe will be facing down a more menacing Russia for a long time to come, is Radek Sikorski, who was Poland’s foreign minister from 2007 until September.

Anything that starts off by calling the elected government of the Russian Federation an "imperialist dictatorship" is obviously rubbish.

But the hard right-wing Radek Sikorski, who ones had a U.S. British passport and is married to the neocon Washington Post columnist Anne Appelbaum, always makes some funny jokes, like identifying Obama's grandfather as a cannibal, so I read on.

And I was right, there were some really funny lines in there:

Russia has attempted to involve Poland in the invasion of Ukraine, just as if it were a post-modern re-run of the historic partitions of Poland. “He wanted us to become participants in this partition of Ukraine,” says Sikorski. “Putin wants Poland to commit troops to Ukraine. These were the signals they sent us. … We have known how they think for years. We have known this is what they think for years. This was one of the first things that Putin said to my prime minister, Donald Tusk, [soon to be President of the European Council] when he visited Moscow. He went on to say Ukraine is an artificial country and that Lwow is a Polish city and why don’t we just sort it out together. Luckily Tusk didn’t answer. He knew he was being recorded.”

So Russia was planning, in 2008, to divide Ukraine between Poland and itself? Why the hell should or would Russia ever take up such a burden? Why should it create a mess in Eastern Europe which would be against all its interests? Anyone who has intelligently watched Putin and Russian politics would immediately recognize that Sikorski's claim is obviously false. Putin does realpolitik, always and ever. He reacts when Russia gets attacked, by Georgia's artillery on Russian peacekeepers or by a U.S. plotted neonazi coup in Kiev, but he is certainly not one who will risk anything significant for some lunatic imperial phantasy.

Whoever came up with that funny joke must have had way too many drinks. And the reporter who believed it and the editor who published it must have way too few braincells.

Reuters though thought differently, or just for fun wanted to stir the caldron, and distributed the nonsense on its wire.

Following that wire, Russia characterized the claim as "a fable" and Sikorski was pressed to take it back. That did not go well either:

In a news conference on Tuesday, Sikorski was vague about whether he made those exact remarks to Politico Magazine and told journalists to refer to another interview he gave to a Polish media website. He said there that he didn't hear Putin's words firsthand, but stressed that they were treated in 2008 as "surrealistic" or a joke.

Later in the day, he held a second news conference where he said his memory had failed him in the interview with Politico Magazine and that the bilateral meeting between Tusk and Putin didn't take place in Moscow, as he said earlier, but at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008.

So Sikorski said:

  • "Putin suggested to Tusk to divide Ukraine between themselves."
  • "Putin suggested to Tusk to divide Ukraine between themselves, but it was a joke."
  • "Putin suggested to Tusk to divide Ukraine between themselves, but I wasn't present at the conservation."
  • "No such conservation took place and I certainly was not present when it happened."

Sikorski even got the place of Putin-Tusk meeting wrong. The Politico author and editors, Blake Hounshell in this case, obviously did not even do a basic fact-checking of their sources claims.

Sikorski is nuts. Everyone in Europe knows this and that is exactly the reason why he was recently fired as Foreign Minister of Poland and reassigned to play Speaker of Parliament where one had hoped that he would produce less nonsense. As that reassignment did not help it is now really time to send him off to the American Enterprise Institute or some other asylum for neoconned lunatics. His boss seems to agree:

Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz, who's in the same party as Sikorski, criticized him for dodging reporters' questions on the issue at the first conference. Political opponents want him fired, saying there is no room in politics for what they called irresponsibility.

Kopacz said she expected Sikorski to directly answer reporters' questions.

"I will not tolerate this kind of behavior. I will not tolerate this kind of standards that Speaker Sikorski tried to present at today's (news) conference," Kopacz said.

Note to reporters and editors: Publishing such nonsense like Sikorski's obviously rubbish claims is egg on your faces. Lots of it.

Posted by b on October 21, 2014 at 03:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (71)

Open Thread 2014-24

Your news & views ...

(me busy)

Posted by b on October 21, 2014 at 02:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (88)

October 20, 2014

Pressured Turkey Accomodates Some Support For Kobane

The U.S. is getting trapped in its support for the Kurds in Kobane while Turkey's Erdogan, for unknown reasons, seems to making a u-turn in his anti-Kurdish position.

Just yesterday the Turkish president Erdogan said that no weapons should be given to the YPK/PPK fighters defending Kobane, near to Turkish Syrian border, against the onslaught by Islamic State fighters:

Turkey wouldn't agree to any U.S. arms transfers to Kurdish fighters who are battling Islamic militants in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying Sunday, as the extremist group fired more mortar rounds near the Syrian-Turkish border.
...
"The PYD is for us, equal to the PKK. It is a terror organization," Erdogan told a group of reporters on his return from a visit to Afghanistan.

Obama, just after another phonecall with Erdogan on Sunday, showed him the finger and a few hours later U.S. air force planes dropped weapons for the PKK fighters in Kobane.

This was against a new U.S. law which allows U.S. weapon transfers only to "appropriately vetted" anti-IS fighters. Turkey, the U.S. and the EU see the PKK, and the associated YPK in Syria, as terrorists. So who has now vetted these folks?

Obama's excuse is the claim that these weapons were donated by the Kurdish government in Iraq's Kurdish areas (KRG). They are, technically, not U.S. weapons but as the Washington Post remarked:

Much of the material, however, had been at least indirectly provided to the Iraqi Kurds by the United States and coalition allies.

Erdogan had earlier set three conditions for the supporting the Kurds in Syria. They should fight against the Syrian government under the command of the Turkish supported (fictitious) Free Syrian Army, stop striving for any autonomous areas and suspend any action against the Turkish government. His demands towards the U.S. were support for the overthrow of the Syrian government, creation of a no-fly zone over Syria and the creation of a secured border zone on Syrian ground. The U.S. had rejected those demands.

But the Kurds in northern Syria now seem to have, at least verbally, moved towards some accommodation of Erdogan's demands. In a statement released by them they say:

The resistance shown by our units YPG and the factions of the free Syrian army is a guarantee for defeating ISIS terrorism in the region. Counter-terrorism and building a free and democratic Syria was the basis for the agreements signed with factions of the free Syrian Army. As we can see that the success of the revolution are subject to the development of this relationship between all factions and the forces of good in this country.
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We will work to consolidate the concept of true partnership for the management of this country commensurate with the aspirations of the Syrian people with all its components, sects and social classes.

One might guess that each side will read whatever it will into this statement.

Turkey still rejects any support for the YPK/PKK but has now agreed to allow Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from its allies in north Iraqi under president Barzani to pass through Turkey into Kobane.

"It will be very wrong for America with whom we are allied and who we are together with in NATO to expect us to say 'yes' (to supporting the PYD) after openly announcing such support for a terrorist organization," Erdogan said.
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Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference that Turkey was facilitating the passage of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces which have also fought Islamic State when the militants attacked the Kurds' autonomous region in Iraq over the summer. He gave no details.

Syrian Kurds who had fled from Kobane to Turkey and who support the fighters will not be allowed to return to Syria but Iraqi Kurds will now be allowed to do just that. The deal was arranged by KRG intelligence chief Lahur Talabani. Turkey may hope that the Peshmerga, who are internal Kurdish enemies of the Marxist PKK, may take the lead in the fight against the Islamic State and diminish the PKK influence on this issue. It is not clear if the YPK/PKK fighters will welcome such Peshmerga support.

It is difficult to find out what really happened in this Turkish u-turn. There was either a deal behind this whole and astonishing Turkish turnaround or Obama's weapon drop over Kobane has finally forced Erdogan into a more accommodating position. Or maybe the attempted kidnapping of a Turkish supported insurgent commander by the Islamic State played a role.

Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, who only last week said that Kobane had no strategic relevance, is lauding the "valiantly fighting" PKK in Kobane:

"It would be irresponsible of us, as well morally very difficult, to turn your back on a community fighting ISIL as hard as it is at this particular moment," he said.

For weeks the U.S. did not help in Kobane. Only after much publicity documented the fighting did the U.S. intervene. Only after pressure from domestic opposition did the U.S. intensify its bombing against the Islamic State in Kobane. Now Obama is in a trap. He can not let the city fall without loss of face and without receiving vicious attacks from the republicans in Congress. This while the attack on Kobane is most likely only a diversion created by the Islamic State to draw away those U.S. resources which could hinder its consolidation in the Iraqi Anbar province.

Posted by b on October 20, 2014 at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (45)

October 18, 2014

State Department Contractor Breaks Russian Visa Law, Whines When Caught

The U.S. State Department is continuing its influence program against the Russian state. It finances "workshops" in Russia to eventually prepare for a "color revolution" there. It hires academic trainers from U.S. universities to work on various parts of the plans. One of those parts is the recruitment and influencing of Russian journalists. When the State Department sends those trainers to Russia it tells them to falsely claim to be "tourists". The Russian found out about practice and told those "trainers" to stop such nonsense.

The U.S. media though used the issue to predicatively"blame Russia". That explains factually false headlines like Boston Journalist Briefly Detained in Russia or even worse Two U.S. tourists detained in Russia:

Two American journalists were briefly detained in Russia and taken to court Thursday for teaching an investigative journalism workshop. Both were found guilty of violating visa regulations, authorities said. The New England Center for Investigative Reporting said that its co-founder, Joe Bergantino, and University of South Carolina professor Randy Covington, were detained for several hours by immigration authorities as they began teaching their first workshop in St. Petersburg.

Since when are "tourists" teaching workshops? Even worse - the same article headline with "U.S. tourists detained" later remarks:

Bergantino and Covington, who had tourist visas, were told they couldn’t continue teaching, but were free to leave the country as scheduled Saturday, the New England Center for Investigative Journalism said.

It said the visas the two journalists held were the type recommended by the U.S. State Department for that visit.

The State Department admits that much:

Asked if the U.S. was concerned about what had happened to them, [State Department spokeswoman Jen] Psaki said: “They were there to do a training that we sponsored, so I think our preference would have been for them not to be detained, I think it’s fair to say.

The "tourists" or "journalists" broke Russian immigration laws and had been advised by the U.S. State Department to do just that. What did they expect the Russian immigration service to do? To also ignore Russian law because the U.S. State Department says so?

One of the State Department contractors, Joe Bergantino, who came as "tourist" to Russia to run a U.S. State Department financed influence workshop is pissed that Russia follows the rules of law. He writes an angry open letter to the Russian president:

Let me repeat the question, Mr. Putin: Was all that really necessary? It’s clear that you enjoy playing the tough guy on the world stage and that the Russian people overwhelmingly support your message to the rest of us: Russia is strong and will exercise her will as she sees fit.

But let me get personal for a moment.
...

What Mr. Bergantino should have asked, and rather himself than Mr. Putin: "Was it really necessary to come to Russia under false pretense? And was it really necessary to, knowingly, break Russian law?"

And would a real journalist, not a propagandist, really lament foreign "tough guy" nonsense without looking into the homeland mirror? How would the U.S. Homeland Security behave if something similar happened in the United States?

We can answer that question. Since 2003 all journalists from all countries who come to the U.S. must get a special and expensive visa as journalists. Even those from countries, like France or Germany, which have general visa-waver agreements with the United States. What happens when such journalists, not even on a foreign state influence contract but just for real reporting, enter the United States to do their job without a special visa?

On the weekend of May 10 and 11, six French television journalists visiting Los Angeles to cover the massive E3 video-game expo were stopped for questioning by LAX border guards, barred from entering the country, and sent back to Europe. "These journalists were treated like criminals—subjected to several body searches, handcuffed, locked up and fingerprinted," Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Ménard complained in a letter ..

Now compare that to Mr. Bergantino who was not treated like a criminal, received only an administrative warning and was allowed to stay until his regular departure flight.

Which country here, Mr. Bergantino, really owns the moral high ground?

Posted by b on October 18, 2014 at 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (110)

October 17, 2014

How To Create A No-Fly Zone Over Syria

So how does one get political momentum for the creation of a no-fly zone over Syria?

Easy.

Just claim that the current boogeyman is using planes and one is free to shoot ALL planes, especially Syrian government ones, out of the sky.

Islamic State training pilots to fly in three jets -Syria monitor

Iraqi pilots who have joined Islamic State in Syria are training members of the group to fly in three captured fighter jets, a group monitoring the war said on Friday, saying it was the first time that the militant group had taken to the air.

The group, which has seized land in Syria and Iraq, has been flying the planes over the captured al-Jarrah military airport east of Aleppo, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the report.

BTW - Who's secret service is funding this Rami Abdulrahman guy?

Afterthought: Isn't the threat of an Islamic State air force a good reason for Russia to finally deliver the ordered S-300 air defense system to Syria?

Posted by b on October 17, 2014 at 07:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (55)

October 16, 2014

Syria: Arming Insurgents Probably Achieved Its Real Aim

CIA studies, commissioned in 2012 and 2013, found that arming "rebels" in civil wars usually fails. When such operations do somewhat work, like in Afghanistan against the Soviets, the later blowback is hard to avoid. The Obama administration leaked this story now to reject criticism against its current policies in Syria where it has given up on the Free Syrian Army and wants to create another one.

Political scientists have know for quite a while that arming "rebels" is nearly always a bad policy:

In general, external support for rebels almost always make wars longer, bloodier and harder to resolve (..). Worse, as the University of Maryland’s David Cunningham has shown, Syria had most of the characteristics of the type of civil war in which external support for rebels is least effective.

But if the administration knew that arming rebels was bad policy why did the U.S. start in June 2012 to arm them and why does it continue do so? Why does it still allow Israel and Qatar to do so?

Dan Froomkin suggests that it is all about electoral politics. Not arming the "rebels" ..

.. probably would have been cast by the elite media — not to mention Fox News — as surrender, costing the Democrats another few House and Senate races.

It could also have been a policy driven by the neocon/liberal-interventionist urge to just "do something" - i.e. to achieve some self-satisfaction.

Or the plan was never to win. If the aim was and is the "destruction of the infrastructure, economy and social fabric of Syria" then arming all kinds of insurgents was and is a sane and successful policy.

Posted by b on October 16, 2014 at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

Iran Moves Iraq And Syria Portfolio to Higher Management

Foreign Policy wonders about the new publicity the commander of the Iranian Quds force, Qassem Suleiman, is striving for:

Qassem Suleimani, a silver-haired Iranian spymaster Washington has long disparaged as a terrorist, has spent decades staying out of public view as he quietly worked to funnel arms and money to Iranian proxies and allies across the Middle East. Now, he's stepping into the limelight as the face of Tehran's intensifying battle with the Islamic State.

In recent weeks, photos of Suleimani on a mountaintop alongside Yazidi elders who had faced extermination at the hands of the Islamic State and shaking hands with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on battlefields in Kurdistan have been widely shared on Twitter, Facebook, and Iranian state-run media. That means the once-elusive leader of the Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard responsible for high-profile missions outside of Iran, is enjoying a strange form of celebrity

FP is asking "why" Suleiman is now going public but finds no answer to the question aside from pure speculations.

Suleiman was solely responsible for Iran's external relations with various "militant" groups in the Middle East including Hizbullah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Palestine and various Iran friendly militia in Syria and Iraq. While he was successful in earlier years the recent rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as well the U.S. intervention in those countries is rather dangerous for Iran's direct security and its influence in those states.

Suleiman's portfolio has now been moved upwards. He is no longer the sole responsible man for Iran's relations to those groups but is now subordinated to a new committee (machine translated) which was formed under Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani. Shamkani is the Supreme Leader's military adviser and is secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

Suleiman's sudden publicity is likely a kind of self-defense against his critics in the Islamic Republic: "Look here, I am doing a lot!" The rise of the Islamic State is not the only danger to Iran. The re-introduction of U.S. troops in Iraq, under the pretense of fighting the Islamic State which U.S. allies helped to create, is the bigger problem. Suleiman, his critics say, did not foresee this and/or failed to prevent it.

The new role of Admiral Shamkhani is visible in his recent travels. He met Lebanon's Prime Minister and offered Iranian help against Sunni Jihadists in Lebanon. He also met Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah. He has visited Syria and held talks with the Syrian president Assad. Yesterday he received the head of the Islamic Jihad Movement of Palestine and promised further help and weapons for Gaza. Shamkhani's portefolio is wider than just the contact to "militant" groups. He recently had talks with the former French foreign minister De Villepin likely about further developments in Syria.

So unlike in earlier years, when Suleiman was directly negotiating with the U.S. over Afghanistan and Iraq, Suleiman is no longer the sole person to decide over such policies. Endangered in his position he now needs to up his image in Iran and that is very likely the reason why one now seems more pictures of him in the field with various of his client groups.

[Side remark: The FP piece repeats the U.S. propaganda about Iranian origin of "explosively formed penetrators" used against U.S. troops in Iraq:

Shiite militias used advanced weapons called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) to destroy American armored vehicles and kill those inside. Those weapons were almost certainly made in Iran and then given, using networks Suleimani helped establish, to Shiite fighters.

Many U.S. media have reported that these penetrators were found to be produced in various workshops in Iraq and there has never been any fact based report that traced their origin to Iran.]

Posted by b on October 16, 2014 at 04:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

October 14, 2014

Syria: UK Still Wants "Regime Change"

The British government does not get it. There is no reasonable alternative to the current government of Syria. The Syrian National Council is a joke:

Over the weekend, the Syrian National Coalition failed to failed to agree on a prime minister during a summit in Turkey. A member of the SNC said the biggest dispute at the Istanbul meeting centred around a split between the favoured candidates of vital funders Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Everyone seems to acknowledge that those idiots should not be allowed to run Syria. Why then still go for regime change?

Britain's top diplomat says the US-led military campaign in Syria against Islamic State militants must be followed by regime change in Damascus, the seat of power for President Bashar al-Assad.

In an interview, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain would help the US to stand up a proxy army in Syria that would be capable of fighting both Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and President Assad's forces.

The CIA has been building up a proxy army in Syria for three years. It has supplied it with all kinds of weapons including hundreds of anti-tank missiles. Other "allies" have supplied Chinese anti-air missiles. The CIA proxy army, the Free Syrian Army, is in disarray. It has allied itself with extreme Jihadist forces and the weapons it received have been taken by the Jihadists and have recently been used to shoot down Iraqi army helicopters.

What Hammond now at least admits is that the forces he wants to train are mercenaries. People who fight for money and not for some higher interests:

Hammond argues that regular funding is key to building a cohesive rebel force in Syria. "They will be employees. We’re not talking about training a bunch of freelancers who go off on their pick-up trucks and we never see them again," he says, noting that the FSA already has organized units that draw a regular salary.

He estimates that IS fighters are paid between $300 and $600 a month, which provides a yardstick for funding a proxy army. "The wage bill for a force built up eventually to 50,000 is not going to break the bank,” he says.

I am confident that it will be nearly impossible to find enough Syrians willing to continue to fight to fill another 50,000 men army. The war has been going on for some years and people get tired of it. And what is the difference here between employees and freelancers? Would "employee" mercenaries be more loyal to Hammond than "freelance" mercenaries? Does he think he can pay those Islamic State fighters a bit more than their Caliph pays them and they will forget about the ideology and do his bidding?

Is Hammond really that naive?

Posted by b on October 14, 2014 at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (114)

A Somewhat Flawed Microsoft "Zero Day" Warning

ZDNet August 16, 2013: Microsoft warns Windows XP users risk 'zero day forever'

Microsoft has been beating increasingly louder the XP end-of-support drum. Earlier this summer, Microsoft gave its reseller partners marching orders to step up their warnings about the end of support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. This week, Microsoft echoed that warning, adding a new twist, via an August 15 post on the Microsoft Security Blog.
...
Because a security update will never become available for XP after April 8, "Windows XP will essentially have a 'zero day' vulnerability forever," [Tim Rains, Microsoft's Director of Trustworthy Computing] said.

WaPo October 14, 2014: Russian hackers use ‘zero-day’ to hack NATO, Ukraine in cyber-spy campaign

A Russian hacking group probably working for the government has been exploiting a previously unknown flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system to spy on NATO, the Ukrainian government, a U.S. university researcher and other national security targets, according to a new report.
...
The firm began monitoring the hackers’ activity in late 2013 and discovered the vulnerability — known as a “zero-day” — in August, [iSight Senior Director Stephen Ward] said. The flaw is pres­ent in every Windows operating system from Vista to 8.1, he said, except Windows XP.

This post was written and edited on a laptop running Windows XP SP3 :-)

Posted by b on October 14, 2014 at 03:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

October 13, 2014

Saudis Dump Oil To Increase Leverage Over U.S. Middle East Policies

During the last years U.S. president Obama talked a lot about energy independence:

In his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama celebrated the efforts his administration has made to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while also praising recent increases in domestic oil and gas production.

Obama said early in his address that there is now more "oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world," for the first time in two decades.

Obama did not say that the increase in U.S. fossil fuel production was only possible because international oil and gas prices had increased above the magic $100 per barrel equivalent. Below that price shale gas and oil extraction as well as oil production from tar sands are only marginally profitable or not profitable at all.

But the "energy independence" talk allowed various experts to claim that the U.S. could now ignore the Middle East:

Clearly, the booming American oil and gas businesses are not problem-free, but the benefits -- economic, geopolitical and environmental -- of this impending energy independence far outweigh the drawbacks.

The days when Mideast oil-producing dictatorships and their friends at OPEC could so easily wave their power over a trembling, oil-thirsty West are on their way to becoming a relic of the past.

As a new world-wide recession is creeping in, consumption of fossil fuels has declined. Typically such a decline would be followed by a decline in production by major producers to keep the prices and their income somewhat stable. But that is not happening.

The Saudis and other Gulf state rulers disliked U.S. energy independence talk very much. They need to keep some leverage over U.S. policy. They now decided to end the U.S. "energy independence" talk and to push the U.S. to again do their bidding. The simple method they apply is to keep oil production high enough during a period of declining consumption to take prices lower and to thereby make new U.S. domestic production a money losing business:

[T]he [Saudi] kingdom, OPEC's largest producer, is ready to accept oil prices below $90 per barrel, and perhaps down to $80, for as long as a year or two, according to people who have been briefed on the recent conversations.

The discussions, some of which took place in New York over the past week, offer the clearest sign yet that the kingdom is setting aside its longstanding de facto strategy of holding prices at around $100 a barrel for Brent crude in favor of retaining market share in years to come.

The aim is clear. Kick producers with higher production costs than OPEC out of the market and thereby retain the global market share as well as the leverage needed to pursue the Gulf countries' political aims:

Kuwait's oil minister Ali al-Omair was quoted as saying by state news agency KUNA on Sunday that OPEC is unlikely to cut oil production in an effort to prop up prices because such a move would not necessarily be effective.

Omair said $76-$77 a barrel might be the level that would end the oil price slide, since that was the cost of oil production in the United States and Russia.

The Saudis and the other Gulf producers all have positive current account balances (pdf, Fig 3). They can easily afford lower oil prices.

U.S. shale and tar sand production costs are higher than Saudi or Russian production cost. They are the first to die when prices are kept low:

Allowing Brent to fall below $85 could slow the U.S. shale boom because some producers would lose money pumping at that price, Francisco Blanch, head of commodities research at Bank of America, said in a report Sept. 9.
...
Curtailing the shale boom would ensure continued U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern energy, Bank of America’s Blanch said.
...
“For Saudi Arabia, I can’t see why they’d come in and manage prices unless it falls below $90,” Torbjoern Kjus, an analyst at DNB in Oslo, said by phone Sept. 10. “It benefits the Saudis to test where the limit is for U.S. shale.

OPEC’s de facto leader has the “fiscal firepower” to tolerate prices as low as $70 for two years without experiencing economic difficulties, according to Energy Aspects Ltd., a consultant in London. The kingdom held reserve assets valued at $741.6 billion in July, almost double the level five years earlier, according to the Saudi Arabia Monetary Agency.

This strategy will not only allow the Gulf dictators to retain their market share but the Saudis and others will use this strategy to slow down, if not stop, U.S. overtures to Iran as well as to press for U.S. enabled regime change in Syria.

Posted by b on October 13, 2014 at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (77)

October 12, 2014

The Ebola Scare

The Ebola virus caused disease is not very contagious but relatively deadly. 40-70% of the Ebola infected people are likely to die from it. (That is not as deadly as life, mind you, as life has a total fatality rate of 100%.)

The early basic symptoms of an Ebola infection are similar to a flue. They also often occur without any infection at all. In the "western" world that is typically after the patient watched too much Ebola scare news on her favorite cable canal.

The means of infection are well known, in general body fluids of all kinds from an infected person will carry the virus. That knowledge alone will help enough to decrease the number of newly infected people as more are warned and protect themselves when caring for an infected person. The epidemic will thereby die out within a few weeks.

There is a positive aspect of the current scare. It will increase funding for research into a vaccine and it will at least lead to better treating methods.

Posted by b on October 12, 2014 at 02:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (80)

October 10, 2014

War On Syria Spills Into Neighbor Countries - Lebanon Now In Serious Danger

Eighteen month ago the Syrian president Assad warned that the war against Syria would also inflame neighboring countries:

“We are surrounded by countries that help terrorists and allow them to enter Syria,” he told Turkish TV station Ulusal Kanal. “Everybody knows that if the disturbances in Syria reach the point of the country’s breakup, or terrorist forces control Syria . . . then this will immediately spill over into neighboring countries and there will be a domino effect that will reach countries across the Middle East.”

Since then the Islamic State (aka ISIS) has taken not only east Syria but also Anbar province in Iraq where it is preparing for an attack on Baghdad International Airport and the Iraqi government in the Baghdad "Green Zone".

In cooperation with Turkey the Islamic State has laid siege on the independent Kurdish enclave Kobane in north east Syria. The city is likely to fall soon just as the Turkish government wants it to. Turkey's blockade of reinforcement and supplies for the defenders inflames the 15 million strong Kurdish population in Turkey. The fall of Kobane may well lead to an end of the peace process between Turks and Kurds and to a renewed civil war in south east Turkey. Turkey houses many refugees from Syria and is a major logistic hub for the Islamic State. Its security personal is already under influence of the Islamic State:

There are signs of an anti-Kurdish and pro-Islamist backlash with Turkish police shouting Isis slogans as they charge Kurdish demonstrators.
The Turkish security forces have also revived the Kurdish Hizbullah which has absolutely nothing to do with the Shia Hizbullah in Lebanaon. The Turkish/Kurdish version was secretly founded by Turkish security services and is a collection of Kurdish Sunni radicals who want to implememt an Islamic State and who were used as death squadrons against secular Kurdish independence groups. In the last few days such revived Hizbullah groups, with tacit support from security forces, attacked pro Kurdish demonstrations by the more mainstream and secularist Kurdish PKK and its associated organizations. Over the last week some 30 people were killed during various such demonstrations against Turkey's support for the Islamic State. The death toll in the first long planned 2011 anti-Assad riots in Syria was at about the same level.

Jordan, south of Syria, is a major hub of anti-Assad activities. The CIA is running large training programs in Jordan where refugees from south Syria get prepared for fighting the Syrian government. As soon as groups of such "moderate rebels" are send over the border to fight against the Syrian army parts of them inevitably defect to the Islamic State or the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhad al-Nusra (JAN). They take the weapons they were given by the CIA and the supporting Gulf states with them. Chinese FN-6 man-portable air-defense system, supplied by Qatar to such "moderate rebels", were used in recent days by the Islamic State to shoot down at least three Iraqi army helicopters. While Jordan has mostly isolated the Syrian refugees in desert camps parts of its own population are also sympathetic to the Islamic State. Jordan has now closed its borders to all refugees to isolate itself against further IS infiltration. It might hold out a bit longer before the flood reaches its main cities.

From Jordan "moderate rebels" and Jabhat al-Nusra Islamists have progressed in north-western direction along the Golan height demarcation zone with Israel against Syrian government forces and towards south Lebanon. These groups are protected against Syrian counterattacks by Israeli artillery and do get some of their support, including medical services, directly from the Israeli side. Their task is to infiltrate through the Druze inhabited areas near the Sheba Farm into south Lebanon and to attack the Lebanese Hizbullah positions which are protecting Lebanon from Israel. Israel is also continuously probing those positions by reconnaissance by force. Hizbullah recently publicly acknowledged to counter these probes thereby demonstrating undiminished capabilities despite also being engaged in other areas. Other "moderate rebel" groups supporting Jabhat al-Nusra went north from Jordan and took the important Syrian height of Tar Harrah between the Golan heights and Damascus. Some Syrian army forces are now squeezed between the insurgents on the Golan heights and those around Tal Harrah. Both of these "moderate rebel" thrusts from Jordan progressed due to massive use of U.S. supplied TOW anti-tank missiles.

These forces in south-east Syria are not the only danger to Lebanon. On its eastern border several thousand Jabhat al Nusra fighters, here in direct cooperation with Islamic State fighters, occupy an 80 kilometer long and 10 kilometer wide north-to-south strip in the LebaneseQalamoun mountains. The Syrian army and forces of the Lebanese Hizbullah have attacked these forces throughout the summer. But the very difficult terrain with many caves and narrow valleys is an ideal defensive zone and the progress has been slow.

The Islamists in the mountains get their support and reinforcements through Syrian refugee camps in east Lebanon like in the Lebanese town of Arsal. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), with support from Hizbullah, have tried to clear militants from these towns but with the coming winter more are expected to come down from the freezing mountains and to further infiltrate into Lebanese proper. Native Lebanese Sunnis, especially in the northern city of Tripoli, have also been radicalized. There have been several attacks on Lebanese army posts in recent days in Tripoli and elsewhere. There have also been mass attacks against static and isolated Hizbullah checkpoints in several areas of Lebanon's east. Despite the coming winter the heat in Lebanon has seriously increased.

Tripoli and some flashpoints in eastern Lebanon have a strong, open Islamic fighter presences. Other areas also have such presence but less openly. In Beirut's suburbs alone some 30,000 fighting age Sunni refugees from Syria occupy ever shifting tent camps which Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State fighters use to recruit and to infiltrate further into Lebanon.

The Lebanese Armed Forces are under control of the unity government but as the Sunni faction in that government does not want to attack their spiritual kinfolks the LAF is held back from a stronger reaction against radical Sunni activities. Parts of the LAF also have sympathies for Islamic State fighters and there have been reports of direct support by individual LAF soldiers for their activities.

A coordinated attack from Islamic radical forces from the south with Israeli support, from the mountains in the east and from within Lebanese cities would overwhelm the Lebanese Armed Forces and even Hizbullah. Such an all out attack could be coordinated in a larger scenario with an attack on Baghdad and others within Syria and possibly Turkey. Such coordinated attacks would overwhelm not only the respective local government forces but also all international response capabilities.

President Assad predicted the spillover of the attack on Syria into the neighboring countries. This spillover has happened in Iraq, it is currently happening in Turkey and Lebanon looks like a quite weak target that could blow up overnight. Only Jordan looks still looks somewhat stable for now but with Islamic State fighters in its north and east as well as Islamic State sympathizers in its cities it will only be a question of time until it also goes down in flames.

Posted by b on October 10, 2014 at 09:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (106)

October 09, 2014

Open Thread 2014-23

News & views ...

Posted by b on October 9, 2014 at 01:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (122)

October 08, 2014

Was Obama "Yanked" Into The New Middle East War?

There are big B1-B bombers flying over Kobane and there are U.S. friendlies' eyes on the ground telling them where to drop their bombs. There were many strikes today but the Islamic State fighters, with the help of massive car bombs, are still progressing against the Kurdish defenders.

Last night there were big demonstrations in Turkey by Kurds who demand that the border to Syria be opened to resupply the defenders in Kobane. The Erdogan regime gunned down at least 19 of the peaceful protesters. When will Obama say that Erdogan has "lost his legitimacy"?

The Erdogan regime has put a curfew on all major towns and cities in south east Turkey and deployed the military in the streets. But there are 14 million Turks of Kurdish heritage and if they rise up even the military's might will have trouble to hold them back.

Pat Lang is running a war-game about the Islamic State versus the Coalition war and the first task for the participants was to describe the current situation. One of them, Bandolero, wrote an interesting long term conspired overview over the Middle-East intrigues starting in 2001. I do not necessarily agree with it but find it thought provoking. Bandolero suggests that Obama did not want to engage in the Middle East but was dragged into it. Here is an excerpt as an appetizer:

Despite that Al Qaeda in Syria and Iraq are labeled terror organisations, US partners for regime change in Syria, like the Sauds and Turkey, continued to heavily support these organisations (ISIS, Nusra Front et al) deep into 2014, because they deemed them the most effective fighters against the Syrian army, and they want regime change in Syria at any price. Israel and it's friends made clear that they agree with that policy, as they too think, better have Al Qaeda ruling in Syria than Assad. But one such Al Qaeda group, ISIS, - which is likely heavily infiltrated by Syrian, Iranian and Russian intelligence - slipped out of control of it's Saudi masters. ISIS's attack on Mosul (a megacity where Al Qaeda is very strong and deeply entrenched since many years) was planned by it's masters as a blow against the Iranian-backed government in Baghdad and coordinated with Israel's and Turkish clients in the KRG, but Tehran and Baghdad doubled down, and let it happen largely unchallenged while playing surprised. Their bet is, ISIS takeover of Mosul and some more towns in Iraq and Syria will turn against those countries interests, who fuel the sectarian insurgencies in Syria and Iraq.

Chinahand, aka Peter Lee, like Bandolero sees an unwilling Obama dragged into a war he did not want:

Given the too little too late bombing at Kobane, wonder if one of the rules is "targeting by coalition consensus only". So Turkey saying

"IS stands for 'infrastructure', doesn't it? So let's bomb some buildings!". Becoming clearer that GCC/TK want to drag US back into ME

do the dirty work of checking Shia power in Baghdad, removing Assad, and injecting the money & troops to deal with the mess they created.

& let's not forget Israel is doing its bit by working w/ JAN at the ISR/SYR border. "Want to pivot to Asia? Well, pivot to Hell!"

Hate to say it, but US looks like it's totally getting its chain yanked by GCC, Israel, and Turkey,the most brutally inept actors in ME

& this IS campaign will be quite a bloody debacle

Is Obama really unwilling, yanked on by Netanyahoo, Erdogan and the Saudis, or is this going along his own plans? Bandolero and Chinahand think the first is the case. I am not so sure.

It reminds of those Russian peasants who lamented their lot in life with the phrase: "If only the Czar knew." They believed that if the leader only knew how bad things were, something would change. But of course the Czar did know but didn't care. 

A lot of Obama voters seem to be a bit like those peasants: "If only he could". "If only he were not surrounded by those gastly other folks". "If only those damned Middle Easterners would not yank him into war".

So what is it? Was Obama "yanked" into the new Middle East war or were these his plans all along?

Posted by b on October 8, 2014 at 12:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (114)

October 07, 2014

Ukraine: Waiting For Jack Frost

As little new as happening in Ukraine I refrained from writing on the issue. But there still seems to be a lot of interests in the comments so please have at it.

The Minsk ceasefire is largely holding even as daily battles occurs at the Donetsk airport. There coup-government troops are holed up in the nuclear bunkers beneath the airport and resist all attacks from the federalists while other government units indiscriminately shell the city every day.

But that fight is a bit of a sideshow. The government troops have lost too much material to go on a large offense and the federalists currently lack resupplies from Russia and are thereby restricted to generally defensive positions.

Russia is for now happy with the situation. It sits comfortable and waits for its largest traditional ally, Jack Frost, to come and to squeeze the Ukrainian government into further concessions. As the Washington Post editors with weeping and gnashing of teeth remark:

Mr. Putin is on the cusp of achieving all his major objectives. In addition to Crimea, he has captured a strategic slice of territory containing up to 10 percent of Ukraine’s population, creating a “frozen conflict” that he can use to keep the rest of the country permanently destabilized. He has bluffed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the European Union into postponing the implementation of an economic-association agreement that was the original cause of the conflict. He has pushed Ukraine’s economy into a free fall likely to intensify this winter, especially if Moscow fails to deliver supplies of gas or purchase Ukraine’s goods. If the Kiev government manages to hold successful elections this month and begins to find its footing, Mr. Putin can use his Donetsk clients to restart the war whenever he wishes.

The editorial puts too much hope on the coup government and fails to mention that the Ukraine, or what is left of it, is a crumbling cookie:

Poroshenko, who represents and pleases practically no one besides his Western patrons, finds himself exceptionally isolated, being opposed on all sides and to different degrees by Pravy Sektor, pro-war provocateurs, anti-war activists, and the remaining Russian speakers. With such tense societal fractures, Ukraine seems to be living up to its name as a ‘frontier’, albeit not only one between East and West, but now of one Ukrainian against the other.

The WaPo editors demand more sanctions on Russia or at least no lifting of those already applied. But they are unlikely to have their wishes fulfilled.

There are already signs that the U.S. (and NATO) is trying to make peace with Russia. The U.S. needs Russia in many international venues. When, for example, a solution is found in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, the U.S. will need Russian (and Chinese) agreement to conclude an agreement.

For now the Russian government only needs to wait for winter to come. The political fallout of the internal disunity in Kiev will then become even more apparent as will the costs the "west" will have to bear to keep Ukraine alive.

The current stalemate may not be to the liking of those fighting for Novorussiya but without Russian support and supplies they have few means to change the situation. They should now hole up for winter and prepare for a new campaign in spring.

Posted by b on October 7, 2014 at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (280)

U.S. Finally Reacts To Islamic State Attack On Kobane

After days of doing nothing while the Islamic State fighters encroached on Kobane the U.S. finally started air strikes against IS positions. Reporters near the locations said that several IS tanks were hit.

I assume that it was becoming too awkward to keep up all the rhetoric about the "evil" of the Islamic State while the world media were standing on a hill in south Turkey looking over the border at Kobane, counting the IS tanks surrounding the city and reporting exactly zero U.S. or Turkish attacks on them.

One wonders how the Turkish president Erdogan will feel about these attacks now. He tried to use the Islamic State advance to blackmail first the Kurds in Kobane and then the United States.

His demands to the Kurdish leader of the YPG forces holding the city in exchange for some help were: 1) Cut ties with Assad 2) Join the Free Syrian Army and fight Assad 3) Accept a Turkish buffer zone in Syria on your grounds 4) Stop any striving for independence 5) Do not threaten Turkey. The Kurds rejected these conditions.

Towards the United States Erdogan demanded that the U.S. should set the priority on destroying the Syrian government if it wants any Turkish help in its fight against the Islamic State. It should also install a no-fly-zone over Syria acting, like in Libya, as the insurgent's air force and it should support a Turkish buffer zone within Syria.

Especially after the recent spat between Erdogan and Biden I find it unlikely that Obama agreed to Erdogan's and believe that the air attacks today were ordered against Turkey's wishes.

How will Erdogan respond to this? The Kurds will have taken note of his behavior and the war the Kurdish PKK in Turkey waged against the state may soon become hot again. With his relations with all neighbors and now also with U.S. damaged one of Erdogan's few political successes, the peace negotiations with the Kurds, is now also in tatters. Who will he blame for this latest mistake?

After Washington dithered these attacks now come too late. While over the last week Islamic State forces were more or less out in the open around Kobane and easy targets they are now within the city and thereby much difficult to hit from the air. It is also somewhat disconcerting that the U.S. Central Command reports attacks on Kobane and Ayn al-Arab as two categories as if those were different places and not just the Kurdish and Arabic names for and the very same city.

Still - while the whole campaign against the Islamic State is likely to fail I do find it important that at least the heavy weapons it controls get destroyed before they create more suffering and damage.

Posted by b on October 7, 2014 at 07:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (47)

October 05, 2014

Sitrep Iraq And Syria

A situation report gathered from public and private news sources.

In north east Syria next to the Turkish border fighters from the Islamic State are besieging the Kurdish fighters of the YPG. Up until this afternoon media in Turkey could watch right across the border and see Islamic State tanks surrounding the city. Despite clearly visible and identifiable targets there were no U.S. airstrikes to fend off the IS attack and the Turkish army kept the border close.

One mortar shell, very likely fired by the Islamic State, hit a house on the Turkish side. The army then declared the area a no-go zone and started to evacuate the village on its side. Some month ago errant mortar shells fired by the Syrian army had hit some vegetable fields in Turkey. The Turks retaliated for that with artillery fire. There was no such reaction when the IS mortar hit today.

Media in the area were told to leave and while they were leaving vans with the crews from CNN and BBC were fired on with tear gas by Turkish police/troops. Two vans had their back windows broken with tear gas grenades landing inside (vid). The Turks clearly have no interest in letting the public know what is now happening in Kobane. This evening Kurdish media reported firefights within the city.

In Iraq the Islamic State today attacked Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, and took over most parts of it. The Iraqi Security Forces have allegedly left the city.

IS now controls the axis Hit, Ramadi, Fallujah and highway 1 between Baghdad and Jordan and highway 12 between Baghdad and Syria. The only significant town left between the IS controlled area west of Baghdad and Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) is Abu Ghraib where a quite intense IS presence has already been reported. Should IS be able to set up some of the artillery it earlier captured in Abu Ghraib it could close down BIAP and thereby make any evacuation of U.S. personal a challenge.

The U.S. today used AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to attack IS positions in Ramadi and Hit. Such helicopters are vulnerable to ground fire and would not be used unless the need is dire. The Apaches are stationed at BIAP with the sole purpose of protecting the airport.

Some U.S. paid mercenaries from the Free Syrian Army took a Syrian government position at al-Hurrah half way between the Jordan border and south Damascus. They came from a western direction where they, together with Jabhat al-Nusra, have positions next to the Golan height demarcation zone with Israel and are protected by Israeli artillery. Videos showed them using plenty of U.S. provided TOW anti-tank missiles.

A group of Jabhat al-Nusra fighters coming from the Golan zone tried to attack a Hizbullah position in east Lebanon. They were ambushed and lost some 30 fighters.

North of Aleppo the Syrian army has nearly closed the ring around Aleppo and insurgents who have occupied some parts of the city will soon be under a tight siege.

A big number of Ahrar al-Shams fighters in Aleppo province have today pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. IS will soon be the only anti-Syrian-government game in town.

Posted by b on October 5, 2014 at 03:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (74)

Hubris "Far Beyond" Any Borders

The Washington Post claims:

A recent spate of dangerous midair encounters between American military aircraft and Chinese and Russian planes in the Pacific is the result of increasingly assertive strategies by both U.S. adversaries to project power far beyond their borders, according to the top U.S. Air Force commander in the region.

Far beyond their borders? That is a bit curious as neither China nor Russia have, besides their nuclear missiles, any real military capability for such power projection. So how "far beyond their borders" does this really go?

[Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, the head of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, ] said U.S. and Chinese forces are frequently encountering each other in parts of the East China and South China seas ... China’s navy has conducted more exercises farther away from its shores and is closely patrolling areas in disputed waters where Chinese companies are drilling for oil.
...
That incident occurred in international airspace about 135 miles east of China’s Hainan Island.

Funny how all the incidents listed to provide examples for China's power projection "in the Pacific" and "far beyond" its borders happened in the two China seas and near the Chinese shoreline.

Now how about Russian power projection "far beyond" its borders?

On Sept. 17, U.S. fighter jets intercepted a half-dozen Russian military planes — two fighter jets, two long-range bombers and two refueling tankers — as they were flying in international airspace near the coast of Alaska.

Umm - is that the same Alaska from which a certain U.S. vice president candidate could actually see Russia? That then must really be "far beyond" Russia's borders, right?

Really, how dare these countries to have their borders so very near to U.S. ships and air-planes?

I find the hubris expressed in such nonsensical claims "far beyond" any rationality.

Posted by b on October 5, 2014 at 08:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (53)

October 04, 2014

Hong Kong: The "Radicalize Or Fold" Alternative

The protest in Hong Kong, instigated by U.S. financed groups, were on the verge of ending in a fizzle.

Hong Kong protests dwindle after talks offer

Mass protests in Hong Kong appear to have lost steam after the leader of the Chinese territory refused to step down, instead offering dialogue.
...
The Hong Kong Federation of Students said in a statement early on Friday that they planned to join the talks with the government, focused specifically on political reforms. They reiterated that Leung step down, saying he "had lost his integrity".

A wider pro-democracy group that had joined the demonstrations, Occupy Central, welcomed the talks and also insisted that Leung quit.

The offer for talks, the weather and the end of a two day holiday was the point where the protests largely died down. A few diehards kept blocking streets and buildings but the end was in sight.

Remarked a political editor of a U.S. magazine:

Blake Hounshell
‏@blakehounshell

When protesters don't get at least some of what they want, they have to radicalize or fold. Key moment in Hong Kong right now.

5:36 AM - 2 Oct 2014

It seems that other people had the same thought and some idea of how to radicalize the crowd:

Hundreds of people opposed to Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrations converged on one of the movement's main sites Friday, prompting some of the ugliest scenes of violence yet in the past week of protests.

In the early afternoon on Friday, opponents of the demonstrations moved en masse against the occupation site in the neighborhood of Mong Kok, a popular shopping district across the harbor from Hong Kong. They dismantled tents and removed the protesters' supplies. Scuffles broke out, with reports of roving street battles between protesters and their opponents.

The predictable consequence of that attack, certainly not in the interest of the government, was a revival of the protests and a hardening of the protesters position:

Student leaders called off talks with the government – offered the previous night – accusing officials of allowing violence to be used against them. It dashed the hopes of a resolution to a mass movement that has seen tens of thousands of people take to the streets of the city at its height.

So who paid the thugs, the police says some attackers were members of criminal triads, who instigated the radicalization? The government which wants to end the protests, the businesspeople who lose money due to the blockades or some three letter agency of foreign provenience?

The government now announced that it will end the protesters' blockades of public roads and buildings by Monday. As I had warned in an earlier piece:

While earlier Color Revolutions employed mostly peaceful measures the aim now is blood in the streets and lots of infrastructure damage to weaken the forces resisting the regime change attempts. Accordingly the authorities in Hong Kong should prepare for much more than just unruly demonstrations.

Posted by b on October 4, 2014 at 08:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (132)

October 03, 2014

Israel Lobby Supports Jabhat Al-Nusra, Insurgents In Aleppo Surrounded

Israel gives cover and opened a corridor for Jabhat al-Nusra along the Golan height demarcation line to reach south Lebanon and the southern approaches to Damascus.

There seems to be no concern in Tel Aviv that one day Jabhat al-Nusra could turn against Israel too. That is somewhat astonishing as both Hizbullah and Hamas started with Israeli support as counterweights to the Palestinian Liberation Organization only to later become the most capable foes of the Israeli occupation forces. One might have thought that Israeli strategists had learned from such foolishness.

But obviously they have not and now their lobby in the United States, here in form of the Washington Institute, supports that dumb policy by calling for further support for the Al-Qaida affiliate:

The risk of empowering an al Qaida affiliate is a small price to pay for Nusra’s contributions on the battlefield, said Jeffrey White, a former senior Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who’s now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank.

But while the White House Syria policy is foolish enough to continue its feud against the Syrian president Assad it is unlikely to give direct support, silently or openly, to a designated part of Al-Qaeda.

That would be of no help anyway. Jabhat al-Nusra recently lost several hundred of its fighters. These left their positions in Idleb and Aleppo and went to Raqqa in east Syria to join the Islamic State. This again enabled the Syrian army to regain control over several villages east of Damascus and to now close the ring around the insurgency held parts of Aleppo. Cut off from resupply and under constant bombardment those parts will likely fall within a few weeks.

Posted by b on October 3, 2014 at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (75)

October 01, 2014

Syria: Turkey's Plans And Other Confused Thinking

Under U.S. pressure the Turkish parliament will vote tomorrow on joining the coalition against the Islamic State. But that will only be a disguise. The real aim of the Turkish president Erdogan is to install a puppet Islamist regime in Damascus. That is the price he is asking for:

Turkey will not allow coalition members to use its military bases or its territory in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) if the objective does not also include ousting the Bashar al-Assad regime, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hinted on Oct. 1.

Erdogan's Turkey is cooperating with the Islamic State, partly for ideological reasons, partly out of fear the Islamic State fighters in Turkey would attack within the country.

Erdogan is now planning for some Turkish controlled border zone in Syria where he could train anti-Syrian forces and continue to deal we the Islamic State out of the eyes of interested observers. The likely false pretense for a Turkish invasion in Syria will be a tomb under Turkish protection which has been for some time surrounded, but never attacked, by IS fighters:

Yeni Safak, a pro-government daily, said that as many as 1,100 fighters of the Islamic State, which now controls more one-third of Iraq and one-third of Syria, had deployed around the shrine of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. [...] Turkey maintains an honor guard and protective detachment of 36 troops at the tomb, which lies about about 15 miles inside Syria.

Another reason to occupy a border zone within Syria are the Kurdish held areas within Syria under control of the YPG, a sister organization of the Kurdish PKK which is fighting for Kurd rights within Turkey. The area around Kobane is currently under attack by the Islamic State and neither Turkey nor the U.S. is doing anything to prevent a takeover there:

[I]n recent days, the Islamic State has been advancing, and the U.S. coalition, no doubt spurred on by Turkey’s fears that the YPG is allied with its own Kurdish separatist insurgents, hasn’t come to the rescue. When Turkish Kurds tried to send in fighters, the Turkish government stopped them, using tear gas.On Tuesday there was no sign of more volunteers, and none of the two dozen or so returning Kobane residents said they intended to join the militia, and a sense of hopelessness swept those who’d fled.

Russia has given warnings to Turkey to not proceed with its plans. Moscow surely has contingency plans for further support of Syria should the U.S. or Turkey attack the Syrian government.

During the last week the Islamic State has pulled back some of its fighters around Damascus. This has allowed the Syrian army to widen its protection zone around the city. But the last time the Islamic State pulled back, then in north-west Syria, the planned retreat was followed by the big attack on Mosul. The current retreat around Damascus is therefore likely in preparation for yet another big push against an unknown bigger target.

The U.S. acting against the Islamic State seems to be without any strategic framework. It has none to little intelligence about the targets it attacks and the lack of care of civilian casualties is quite astonishing. If this continues the U.S. will again end up as the one party hated by all other parties of the conflict.

The confused thinking is not limited to the White House. For the last three years the Washington Post's David Ignatius has propagandized for a united "moderate opposition" in Syria. That pink pony has yet to arrive. But he today has a new great idea of how to finally reach that aim: "Bomb Christians and more civilians":

[I]f U.S. airstrikes and other support are seen to be hitting Muslim fighters only, and strengthening the despised Assad, this strategy for creating a “moderate opposition” will likely fail.

Posted by b on October 1, 2014 at 01:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (147)

 
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