Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 30, 2015

Guess Why The U.S. Is Not (Seriously) Bombing ISIS's Oil Business

The U.S. did not start bombing the Islamic State's oil infrastructure and oil distribution system until the Russian president Putin shamed U.S. President Obama at the G20. Putin showed around satellite pictures of huge oil truck assemblies waiting in the desert to be filled. These were through 13 month of bombing left completely unmolested by U.S. air strikes. The U.S. then bombed a bit and claimed to have destroyed 116 waiting oil trucks while the Russians claimed to have destroyed over 1,000.

So far I have found four reason given to explain why the U.S. did not bomb, and does not seriously bomb,  the oil truck convoys.

Civilian casualties:

The Obama administration has also balked at attacking the Islamic State’s fleet of tanker trucks — its main distribution network — fearing civilian casualties.

Environmental damage:

A former CIA director says concerns about environmental impact have prevented the White House from bombing oil wells that finance the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“We didn’t go after oil wells, actually hitting oil wells that ISIS controls, because we didn’t want to do environmental damage, and we didn’t want to destroy that infrastructure,” Michael Morell said Tuesday on PBS’s “Charlie Rose.”

Long-term economic damage to Iraq and Syria

In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris this month, the United States has more aggressively targeted the militants’ oil production and smuggling operations, which it had held off from doing for fear of inflicting long-term damage to the Iraqi and Syrian economies.

Regime change in Syria has precedence

Just think of it: IS has killed American nationals and yet the Pentagon has been ordered to handle the IS with kid gloves! President Barack Obama waxes eloquently about his determination to “degrade and destroy” the IS, but the Pentagon is under instructions not to disrupt the IS’ oil trade! This is cold-blooded statecraft. Obama probably knows all about the Turkish elite’s flourishing business, but then, he has uses for Erdogan, too. Simply put, the regime change agenda in Syria got precedence over cutting off the IS’s funding sources.

Three of the above four reasons were given by the Obama administration or its proxies,  one by an astute observer,  Guess which of those reasons is the real one.

Posted by b on November 30, 2015 at 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (209)

November 29, 2015

Open Thread 2015-45

News & views ...

Posted by b on November 29, 2015 at 12:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (213)

November 28, 2015

Will Turkey Close Or Erase Its Border With Syria?

There are some new and worrying development on the ground next to Syria.

The Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday said that Russia is ready to close the Turkish Syrian border:

Lavrov recalled that French President Francois Hollande earlier voiced the proposal to adopt specific measures to block the Turkish-Syrian border.

"We actively support that. We are open for coordination of practical steps, certainly, in interaction with the Syrian government," he said. "We are convinced that by blocking the border we will in many respects solve the tasks to eradicate terrorism on Syrian soil."

Russia is taking active steps to make that happen. Six or seven truck staging areas near the crossing points north of Aleppo have been bombed over the last several days. Truckers and truck owners will now think twice before taking on a cross border trip. In Latakia the Syrian army and its allies are pushing Turkey's "turkmen" mercenaries back over the border into Turkey. From the east Kurdish forces with Russian air support push along the border towards the Aleppo corridor.

A day after Lavrov's statement the U.S. suddenly claims it also urges Turkey to seal the border. But that claim may be false:

The Obama administration is pressing Turkey to deploy thousands of additional troops along its border with Syria to cordon off a 60-mile stretch of frontier that U.S. officials say is used by Islamic State to move foreign fighters in and out of the war zone.

The U.S. hasn’t officially requested a specific number of soldiers. Pentagon officials estimated that it could take as many as 30,000 to seal the border on the Turkish side for a broader humanitarian mission. Cordoning off just one section alone could take 10,000 or more, one official estimated.

It’s unclear how Turkey will respond.

We do not know how serious the U.S. is about this. We do know that the U.S. connives the Islamic State's oil trade with Turkey and handles weapon transfers to the "moderate" rebels through the Turkish-Syrian border. I doubt that these issues have changed.

But Turkey is moving troops to the border:

Turkey deployed additional tanks, armoured personnel vehicles and other weapons alongside its border with Syria on Saturday after the downing of a Russian military jet by Turkish Armed Forces heightened the tensions between the two countries.

A convoy of military trucks, coming from western Turkish provinces and towing armoured personnel vehicles and 20 tanks, entered into the 5th Armored Division Command in the border province of Gaziantep.

Previous day, another batch of tanks were deployed alongside Turkish border with Syria.

Tanks are not very useful to close down borders. That needs infantry, lots of it. But tanks are good to fight other state's forces. There were also a report that Turkey deployed an ASELSAN Koral electronic jammer system at the border. That could probably jam the Russian air defense in Syria or could blind Russian fighter jets. Such a system was used to electronically blind the Syrian army and to disable its radios when the "moderates" earlier this year stormed in from Turkey and conquered Idleb.

To me the Turkish deployments so far look offensive, not like preparations to shut off the border.

Syria alleges that Turkish weapon shipments to the rebels increased and that its soldiers were fired on from Turkish ground:

"We have certain information that the Turkish government has recently increased its support to the terrorists and the level of their supplies of weapons, ammunition and equipment necessary to continue their criminal acts," an army statement said.
...
The statement by the Syrian army command alleged that weapons were being delivered in shipments which Turkey claimed to be humanitarian assistance. It also alleged the weapons were supplied in exchange for looted Syrian and Iraqi antiquities and oil sold at low prices.
...
The Syrian statement also said Turkey had fired a number of mortar bombs toward Syrian army positions on Friday night from a location just over the border from Latakia province in northwestern Syria.

Turkey may pull back from its aggression against Syria and really close its border. The weapons supply to the "moderates" would then shrink significantly. If Turkey does just sits tight and does nothing Russia will do it the way it already started to do it. It will bomb any truck or other transport that crosses into Syria.

But maybe Turkey wants to prevent that and will try to scare the Russian away from the border and to push its troops into Syria to create a "safe zone" and attack Aleppo and other Syrian cities from there. It is a bad idea. It would not work but it would be bloody and potentially escalate further into a bigger war. One wonders if Obama will give a green light for that and promises the "moderate" Erdogan his support.

PS: This may well be a good book: The Dirty War on Syria

Posted by b on November 28, 2015 at 02:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (102)

"Moderate" Head Choppers As Defined By Brookings Doha

Charles Lister, a propagandist at Brookings Doha which is financed by the Wahhabi regime of Qatar, has been tasked to sell Islamist radical head choppers in Syria as "moderate" rebels. He isn't good at it but the "western" media love him as a talkative"expert" from a formerly reputable think tank.

The mask comes off when Lister has to find the 70,000 "moderates" the British Premier Cameron promised to support by waging war on Syria. He finds those by ignoring a word's literal meaning. Here is Lister's new Orwellian definition of "moderate":

As diplomatic efforts for Syria gain pace and as Saudi Arabia prepares to host a major conference bringing together 60-80 representatives of a broad spectrum opposition, the definition of “moderate” has been shifting. The most effective definition now must be based upon a combined assessment of (a) what groups are acknowledged as being opposed to ISIL and (b) what groups our governments want, or need to be involved in a political process.

He says that a group is "moderate" when:

  1. it dislikes ISIS for whatever reason
  2. some government wants or needs the group to be categorized as "moderate"

The first fits for everyone who claims to be not ISIS including al-Qaeda. The second part is just dependent on who the sponsor of a specific groups is. If Saudi Arabia sponsors al-Qaeda and wants it "moderate", al-Qaeda is "moderate". If Turkey sponsors the Turkistan Islamic Party its head-choppers are "moderate". The Lister definition is completely independent of the observable actions of these groups and of the believes or plans such groups openly or secretly hold. It is bollocks.

Lister goes on to lists two handful of groups, some existing, some mere fantasy, and adds imaginary numbers of how many fighter belong to each of the various groups. Add them up and there you have the 70,000 Cameron was trolling about.

Lister lists, for example, Asala wa-al-Tanmiya with 5,000 fighters as "moderate". It is an Islamist gang sponsored by Saudi Arabia. Its main allies on the battlefield, according to its Wiki entry, are the Islamic Front and the al-Nusra Front. But they do fight the Islamic State and have a government backing them. Thus these al-Qaeda allies are now "moderate".

Lister's original "moderate" table tweeted by him here (backup) even includes Jaish al-Islam with allegedly 12,500 fighters and Ahrar al-Sham with 15,000 fighters. Both of these groups follow the same ideology as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda and commit (incl. video) similar atrocities:

The largest Islamist rebel group “Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham” has posted a video on their multiple social media accounts that show their fighters mutilating the head of a wounded militant from the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) in the northern Aleppo countryside.
...
Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham has attempted to promote themselves as a “moderate” rebel group after their Op-Ed in the Washington Post; however, their behavior and their numerous crimes in northern Syria have made them appear closer to ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra in ideology, rather than a “moderate” Islamist group that is simply fighting for the interests of the Syrian people.

These literal head choppers are "moderates" on Lister's list.

Support for al-Qaeda and similar groups is illegal under several UN resolutions. U.S. law is even more stringent. Al-Qaeda allies like the groups Lister lists as "moderate" would surely be guilty under 18 U.S. Code § 2339A - Providing material support to terrorists. The "material" as defined by that law includes "intangible, or service" and "expert advice or assistance". How far from those categories are Lister's propaganda pieces and actions?

Lister ones worked as analyst at IHS Janes, a well known military journal, and did a decent job. He then followed the smell of Qatari money to Brookings Doha and threw away his reputation. It can only go downwards from there.

Posted by b on November 28, 2015 at 02:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (32)

November 27, 2015

Erdogan Establishes No-Fly Zone Over Syria

Turkey PM 'will support' Syria no-fly zone - May 10 2013

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, has told a US television station that his country will support a US-enforced no-fly zone in Syria.

Turkey's Erdogan says U.N. must decide on any Syria no-fly zone- May 17 2013

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday it would be up to the U.N. Security Council to decide whether to establish a no-fly zone inside Syria and said he backed the involvement of Russia and China in planned peace talks.

Turkey's Erdogan calls for no-fly zone in Syria - Sep 26 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that a "no-fly zone" should be created in Syria to protect part of it from attacks by Syria's air force.

Erdogan: Allies Warming to Idea of Syria ‘Safe Zone’ - Nov 10 2015

Speaking to CNN today, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that his allies are “warming” to the idea of imposing a safe zone in northern Syria, a plan that his government had advocated for years as an alternative to Turkey accepting massive numbers of refugees.

Turkey's Erdogan renews call for creation of secure, no-fly zone in Syria - Nov 11 2015

ANKARA, Turkey – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has renewed a call for the creation of a no-fly zone in Syria that would allow refugees to return to their homeland.

Only a few weeks ago Erdogan's long desired no-fly zone looked increasingly possible. But then the guardsman passed by.


by Viliam Weisskopf, published 1958 in the Czech magazine Roháč (bigger)

Caught in the act Erdogan is now compelled to install the desired no-fly zone over Syria. For Turkish jets.

Turkey suspends Syria flights after crisis with Russia - Nov 27 2015

The Turkish army has suspended flights over Syria as part of an ongoing joint military campaign with the United States against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) after it shot down a Russian jetfighter, sparking an unprecedented crisis between Ankara and Moscow.

The decision was taken following the eruption of the crisis with Russia in which a Turkish F-16 downed a Russian warplane early Nov. 24 after it allegedly violated Turkish airspace, according to diplomatic sources.

Posted by b on November 27, 2015 at 06:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (199)

November 26, 2015

Syria: The Turkish Russian Apology Contest

"The incident which happened two days ago in the skies over Syria defies common sense and international law. The plane was shot down over Syrian territory. And we have yet to receive an intelligible apology from Turkey on a top political level, " [the Russian President Putin] said.

---

"I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us," [the Turkish President Erdogan] said. "Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize. Our pilots and our armed forces, they simply fulfilled their duties, which consisted of responding to ... violations of the rules of engagement. I think this is the essence."

Erdogan did not take the exit ramp Putin offered. So who will win this contest?

U.S. Air Force General (ret) Charles J. Dunlap assesses that Russia wins the legal case. The Turkish shoot down of the Russian bomber was plainly illegal under international law as there was no threat to Turkey from the Russian plane. Even Turkey itself does not allege that the Russian bomber intended to attack that country. There was no self-defense situation that would allow such behavior.

Russia is taking all kinds of small and bigger economic measures to let Erdogan feel the consequences of attacking the Russian military in Syria:

The businessmen were selling their stuff at the Krasnodar agro trade exhibition illegally as they only held tourist visa. There are more such measures like official warnings to Russians not to go on vacation in Turkey and thorough safety controls of Turkish ships in Russian ports. More can follow.

Over all 55% of Turkey's gas consumption depends on Russian gas. A quarter of Turkey's electricity production runs on Russian gas. It is unlikely for now that Russia will use the leverage that comes with this Turkish energy dependency. But should another big incident happen "technical problems" with gas deliveries will come into play.

An overview of other economic and trade ties shows that Russia would probably lose some business in Turkey should the economic fight escalate. But the damage for the Turkish economy from losing business in Russia would be much bigger. The Turkish construction, agriculture and tourism industry would all lose their best or second best customer.

The Syrian army is intensifying the fight on its side of Syrian-Turkish border in the Latakia area where the Russian bomber was shot down. The "Turkmen" in that area have been joined by Erdogan's party youth "volunteers":

Emrah Çelik, a 27-year-old district organization member of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in northwestern Tekirdağ province who joined the Turkmen forces voluntarily, said the 2nd Coastal Division has been fighting against regime forces for the last seven months.

That people from his own political party fight in Syria gives Erdogan some interior political problems. He will be urged to fight on their side but a direct fight against Russian forces, without NATO backing, is too big a risk for him.

Russia says it 'destroyed' the rebels in that area:

"The terrorists operating in that area and other mysterious groups were destroyed," [military official Igor Konashenkov] said.

The Russian airforce also attacked (vid) other fortified "Turkmen" positions in Latakia and it again attacked truck convoys near Azaz next to the Turkish-Syrian border crossing. Some of those convoys carry "aid" in the name of the IHH, a Humanitarian Relief Foundation with ties to Erdogan's party. Such "aid" is measured as 7.62mm, 23mm or some other caliber.

Over the years various IHH "aid" trucks on their way to Syria had been stopped by Turkish police and were found to carry weapons and ammunition. Just today two leading Turkish journalist were arrested for publishing about such arm transfers. They were charged of being members of a terror organization, espionage and revealing confidential documents. A very stupid move by Erdogan as it highlights the very issue Russia is pocking at.

Syria will soon officially demand that all the "aid" trucks crossing the border be checked by United Nations personal to make sure that no weapons or ammunition are carried with them. Any truck not having been checked risks to be bombed.

The Kurdish YPG fighters are using the Russian air cover in the area and advance from the east along the border attacking the "moderate" rebels of al-Nusra and Ahrar al Sham within the corridor from Turkey down to Aleppo. This is precisely the area where Erdogan wanted to have his "safe zone". He had earlier threatened to bomb the Kurds should they move to close that corridor. But how can he do that now when Russia gives them air cover and has excellent air defense (see below) readily available? Should he invade? If he does there is no chance that NATO will stand with him.

All this looks like Putin is celebrating thanksgiving and having Turkey for lunch.

Additional Russian targets today were again oil storage (vid) and truck distribution points (vid) around Raqqa run by the Islamic State. Why has the U.S., flying there daily for the last 13 month, never attacked these obvious targets?

Russia activated one S-400 air defense system at its Hmeimim air base in Latakia. One  S-400 system consist of two radar vehicles, a command and control vehicle and up to twelve launcher vehicles with four missiles each. Parts of this system were already in Syria for at least two weeks. After additional transport arrivals (vid) it is now set to permanent combat readiness. With a range of 400 kilometers the system can cover west Syria and south Turkey as well as Lebanon and most of Israel. Another S-400 system is on its way to Syria. Also on their way are up to twelve additional fighter planes which will help the four fighters already deployed to fly air-to-air cover for the Russian ground bombers and helicopters. These fighters are modern and can match all modern "western" systems.

Seemingly completely detached from the real situation in Syria U.S. neocons have opened a concerted campaign for the eradication of the Sykes-Picot borders and the destruction of Syria and Iraq.

All three op-eds are merely fantasies and neither consider all actors on the ground nor the various motivations and aim of those actors. All three require large U.S. troop deployments into a fighting zone.

Why do they believe that the U.S. should decide border issues of Syria or Iraq? And, after the mess the U.S. created in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, why do they believe it could?

Posted by b on November 26, 2015 at 01:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (123)

November 25, 2015

Was The U.S. Involved In The Turkish Attack Against The Russian Jet?

Erdogan criticized Syria harshly on Tuesday for shooting down the Turkish fighter jet, saying: "Even if the plane was in their airspace for a few seconds, that is no excuse to attack."

"It was clear that this plane was not an aggressive plane. Still it was shot down," he said.Turkey hardens military position after Syria downs jet June 27, 2012

A violation of one to two kilometers is accepted as "natural" given the speed of aircraft, the statement [by the the General Staff] said. This year's violations of Turkish airspace lasted between 20 seconds and nine minutes, which showed "airspace violations can be resolved by warning and interceptions," the statement said.
Turkey could have downed 114 planes for airspace violations: Army June 25, 2012
Turkish fighter jets and military helicopters have dramatically increased their incursions into Greek airspace, according to a study based on data from the Greek military, forcing the cash-strapped Greek air force to respond.
Turkey buzzes weakened Greece - In growing numbers Ankara’s fighter jets test Greek territorial claims. - July 23, 2015

Turkey also regularly violates Iraq's airspace by flying bombing attacks against Kurds in north Iraq.

All this provides that yesterday's incident in which Turkey shot down a Russian jet was not a case of an ordinary airspace violation but a deliberate act to take down a Russian plane. The surviving co-pilot of the Russian jet insists that it neither flew through Turkish airspace nor was warned of an imminent attack. As I wrote yesterday:

This then was not legitimate air-defense but an ambush.

I am not the only one who came to that conclusion. Deep inside a McClatchy piece a "western" diplomat sees it as an "orchestrated" event:

One Western diplomat based in Iraq, but with extensive experience in Syria and Turkey, called the incident “brazenly orchestrated and inevitable,” but asked that the identification of his country not be used in the statement.

The Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov also came to that conclusion:

The downing of a Russian warplane in Syria by Turkey appears to be a pre-planned provocation, the Russian Foreign Minister said. Ankara failed to communicate with Russia over the incident, he added.

We have serious doubts that this act was unintentional. It looks very much like a preplanned provocation,” Lavrov said, citing Turkey’s failure to maintain proper communication with Russia, the abundance of footage of the incident and other evidence.

Several NATO ambassadors will have had the same though when they admonished Ankara over the act:

"There are other ways of dealing with these kinds of incidents," said one diplomat who declined to be named.

The attack on the Russian plane was preconceived on November 22 when a security summit was held with the Turkish government under Prime Minister Davutoğlu and the Turkish Armed Forces. Davutoğlu personally gave the order to shoot down Russian planes. This, Turkey says, was necessary to stop Russian bombing of "Turkmen" in north Syria's Latakia near the Turkish border.

Many of the "Syrian Turkmen" fighting against the Syrian people are from Central Asia and part of the terrorist groups of Jabhat al-Nusra, Ansar Al Sham, Jabhat Ansar Ad Din and Ahrar al Sham. Uighurs smuggled in from China and fighting under the "Turkistan Islamist Party" label even advertise their ‘little jihadists’ children training camps in the area. The few real Syrian Turkmen work, as even the BBC admits, together with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Their leader and spokesman, one Alparslan Celik, is a Turkish citizen from Elazığ.

The Turkish claim of defending "Turkmen" in Syria is a sham. It is defending mostly foreign Islamist terrorists.

Whoever planned the ambush on the Russian jet miscalculated the reaction. NATO will not come to Turkey's help over this or the next such incident. NATO countries know that the Russian plane was hit within Syria. Russia will not be scared into drawing back. Instead it massively increased the bombing of targets in that area:

At least 12 air strikes hit Latakia's northern countryside as pro-government forces clashed with fighters from al Qaeda's Nusra Front and Turkmen insurgents in the Jabal Akrad and Jabal Turkman areas, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A Turkmen commander said missiles fired from Russian warships in the Mediterranean were also hitting the area, as well as heavy artillery shelling.

Russian jets also bombed insurgency supply trucks (video) in al-Qaeda controlled Azaz, north of Aleppo and just some two kilometers from the Turkish border. They also bombed the Bab al-Hawa border crossing to Turkey. That is a big FU to Erdogan.

The Russian missile cruiser Moskva with its extensive air defense systems is now covering the area. Russia will officially deploy two S-400 air defense systems to cover all of north-west Syria and southern Turkey. Russia also has lots of electronic wizardry it can (and will) apply. The preparation of additional airfields is ongoing. There will be no outward military revenge against Turkey unless it crosses into Syria. The "safe zone" within Syria Erdogan dreams of would have to be won by defeating Russian forces.

The 4.5 million Russian tourists who visited Turkey this year will not come again. Turkish business in Russia, mostly in the building industry and agricultural products, will shrink to nearly zero. That the scheming to take down a Russian air plane may have negative consequences for Turkey suddenly also dawned to Davutoğlu who now pretends that we wants to make nice again:

Turkey is not aiming to escalate tension with Russia, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Nov. 25, echoing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following the downing of a SU-24 Russian jet the previous day.

“Russia is our friend and neighbor. Our bilateral communication channels are open. But our security, as for every friendly country, should be based on the principle of respect under international law. It’s normal to protect our national airspace,” Davutoğlu said, addressing party members in parliament.

And it is normal for Russia to defend its ally Syria. Against all enemies. By all means.

But back to Turkey's motive. The way this is played one might believe that this was a indeed a lonely Turkish idea to defend its immediate interests in Syria - the "Turkmen" as well as the oil business Erdogan's son has with the Islamic State.

But there is also a bigger game going on and it is likely that Erdogan has a new contract and Obama's backing for this escalation. James Winnefeld, the deputy chief of General Staff of the U.S. military, was in Ankara when the incident happened. The cooperation between U.S. and Turkish military and especially the air forces is quite tight. It is hard to believe that there was no communication about what was prepared to happen.

After the Islamic State attack in France President Hollande attempted to create a global coalition against IS which would include Russia and Iran as well as the U.S. led anti-ISIS block. But such a coalition, which makes a lot of sense, would have to agree to leave Syria alone and to help Syrian ground forces to effectively fight the Islamic State. It does not make sense to destroy the Syrian state and to just hope that the outcome would be something better than an emboldened IS or AlQaeda ruling in Damascus. That outcome is certainly not in Europe's interest. But a global coalition is not in U.S. or Turkish interests. It would end their common plans and efforts to overthrow the Syrian government and to install a "Sunni" state in Syria and Iraq as a Turkish protectorate.

The Russian jet incident decreased the likelihood of such a coalition. Holland, visiting Washington yesterday, had to pull back with his plan and was again degraded to parrot Obama's "Assad must go" nonsense. Obama feels emboldened and now pushes to widen the conflict in Syria:

The Obama administration is using the current moment of extreme anger and anxiety in Europe to press allies for sharp increases in their contributions to the fight against the Islamic State. Suggestions include more strike aircraft, more intelligence-sharing, more training and equipment for local fighters, and deployment of their own special operations ­forces.
...
While new contributions would be added to anti-Islamic State campaigns across the board, the attention is clearly on Syria, marking a shift in what began as an “Iraq first” focus when Obama authorized airstrikes in the region last fall.
...
Obama, speaking beside Hollande on Tuesday, restated his insistence that Assad is part of the problem, not the solution, and that he must go.

The Obama administration is also preparing to install the Turkish dream of a "safe zone" between Aleppo and the Turkish border north of it.

Among several coalition priorities in Syria, the United States has begun a series of airstrikes in an area known as the “Mar’a line,” named for a town north of Aleppo in the northwest. There, a 60-mile stretch to the Euphrates River in the east is the only remaining part of the Syria-Turkey border under Islamic State control.

The administration had delayed beginning operations in the area because U.S. aircraft were needed in operations farther east, and it has been uncertain that local opposition forces­ would be able to hold the territory if it could be cleared with airstrikes.

The increased Russian air defense and the likely increase of its deployed planes will make those "safe zone" plans impossible.

But Obama, in my conclusion, still wants to drag NATO into Syria and wants to assemble enough forces "against ISIS" to be able to overwhelm the Syrian government and its Russian protectors. If that does not work he at least hopes to give Russia the Afghanistan like "quagmire" in Syria he and other U.S. officials promised. The again increasing tensions with U.S. proxy Ukraine only help in that regard.

But there is even more to that plan. Just by chance (not) the NYT op-ed pages launch a trial balloon today for the creation of a Sunni state in east Syria and west Iraq. But that (Islamic) State is already there and the "containment" strategy Obama practices towards it guarantees that it will fester.

Obama continues his immensely destructive policies in the Middle East with zero regard to the all the bad outcomes these are likely to have for the people there as well as for Europe. One again wonders if all these action follow from sheer incompetence or from some devilish, ingenious strategic planning.

Posted by b on November 25, 2015 at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (207)

November 24, 2015

Open Thread 2015-44

News & views (not fitting in other threads) ...

Posted by b on November 24, 2015 at 02:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (201)

The Two Versions Of The Latakia Plane Incident

Edited and updated

Turkey says two of its F-16 fighters shot down a jet that had crossed into Turkey and then crashed in Syria:

Two Turkish F-16's shot down a Russian-made SU-24 jet on Nov. 24 near the Syrian border after it violated Turkish airspace, presidential sources said.

Turkey shot down the jet after it failed to heed the warnings within the rules of engagement.

Initial reports said the jet belonged to Russia, but presidential sources later clarified that the jet's nationality was unknown.

The Turkish Armed Force also stated that the jet of “unknown nationality” had been warned 10 times in five minutes about its violation of the border.

Meanwhile, a Turkish official told Reuters that two warplanes approached Turkish border and were warned before one of them was shot down.

The jet was Russian SU-24. One pilot was killed and the body is in the hands of "rebels". At the of a video the "rebels" made of the dead pilot they call themselves "mujahideen". One picture shows the body with two bullet holes in the chests suggesting that he was illegally executed. A rebel source claims that he was shot while parachuting from the burning plane. That is a war crime under the Geneva Convention. A second pilot was probably wounded but was said to have landed somewhere in Syrian army covered territory. The search for him is ongoing.

Russia's official version of the incident is remarkably different from Turkey's:

Today an aircraft from the Russian air group in the Syrian Arab Republic crashed on the territory of Syria supposedly shot down from the ground.

The aircraft was flying at the altitude of 6 000 metres. The status of the Russian pilots is being defined.

According to the preliminary data, the pilots managed to eject from the warplane.

The circumstances of the crash are being defined.

During all the flight time, the aircraft was flying only within the borders of the Syrian territory. That was registered by objective monitoring data.

The Russian version leaves it open who shot the plane down. Is that meant to deescalate?

Turkey claims that the red line here shows the flightpath of the Russian plane.



bigger

If that is correct than the (alleged) violation of Turkey's airspace was for just some 5 seconds and would in no way justify to shot down the plane. Just Friday Turkey "warned" Russia over attacks on "Turkmen" in Syria. This then was not legitimate air-defense but an ambush. Most NATO country will shake their heads over the irresponsible Turkish behavior and will not get further involved such lunacy.

So there will likely be no war over this but a lot of strong statements will be issued. NATO councils and the UN Security Council may meet. But the propaganda preparation for war is targeted at the Islamic State and Syria, not at Russia.

In a separate incident two Russian journalists covering the Syrian army were wounded by a projectile from the "rebels".

The Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov canceled his visit to Turkey which was planned for tomorrow. After having lost many "western" tourists Turkey will now also lose the last Russian guests. There are many hotels in Antalya that will have to close down. Turkey's energy supplies depend on Russian (and Iranian) gas. The shooting down of the plane may lead to "technical problems" with those supplies. The PKK fighting the state in Turkey's east may soon have a new sponsor and modern weapon supplies.

The area where the plane came down is in Latakia, some 3.5 kilometers from the Turkish border. It is in the hand of what Turkey calls "Turkmen" which may mean imported Uighur and Uzbek Islamist fighters - mujahideen like they call themselves in the video. They are now already under sharply increased artillery fire. They may soon have to endure some very violent direct attacks by Russian special forces. Future Russian air-to-ground attacks in the area will be flown with "top cover" from additional fighter jets ready to engage the Turks with the very best Russian weapons as soon as they make the tiniest mistake.

In short. This Turkish escalation step will be answered.

UPDATE: Putin just held a press conference with the Jordan King Abdullah on his side(!) and boy was he pissed. Some major points:

  • Confirms Turkish version of air-to-air missile but says plane was in Syrian airspace
  • Describes Turkish attack as "a stab in the back by accomplices of terrorists"
  • "Together with our US partners we signed an agreement to prevent" incidents like this
  • "Ankara will discuss this tragedy with NATO as if it was Russia who shot down their jet. Does Turkey want NATO to serve ISIS goals?"
  • Accuses Turkey of financing, protecting ISIS
  • Turkey doing oil business with ISIS
  • This will have serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations

 

Posted by b on November 24, 2015 at 06:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (251)

The Fear Department Pushes For War, Turkey Shots Down Russian Jet

To start off the silly season, or a war, the State Department issued a Worldwide Travel Alert:

The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats.

At the same time the boss of the State Department says he knows of "no specific threat". Local officials also say that there is nothing to fear.

How does that fit? Did the State Department receive a memo headlined:

ISIS DETERMINED TO STRIKE ON PLANET EARTH

but it did not inform the Secretary of State?

Or is the U.S. State Department saying that its active support for fundamentalist Islamists over the years, from Afghanistan to Syria, has made the world unsafe?

The chance of getting crushed by your furniture is higher than getting killed in a terror attack. But the State Department warns you of leaving your house:

U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation. Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowed places. Exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events.

This is not just a "travel alert". It is a walking-down-the-street, going-anywhere-anytime-anyhow alert. "Stay indoors, don't answer your phone, avoid driving and/or walking. Light breathing is fine when you are alone."

What purpose do such alerts have? Cover-your-ass for some bureaucrat? Scare people shitless to then press for ever stronger security laws? Push up military contractor stocks? None of that makes much sense.

I see no sensible reason for such warnings but to prepare the people for war. Push their fears, as unspecific as possible, so far that they will agree to anything to get relief from their fears.

The Turkish military just shot down a Russian jet over Syria and anti-Syrian insurgents capture (vid) a pilot. (correction: was old footage). At the same time the U.S. puppet regime in Ukraine is pushing to renew the conflict there.

Will all this escalate into a new great war?

The State Department also says:

This Travel Alert expires on February 24, 2016.

That's when the war will be over?

Posted by b on November 24, 2015 at 04:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (44)

November 22, 2015

New U.S.-Turkish Bluster For Open War On Syria

The U.S. media, especially cable TV, seems to create full hysteria over the Islamic State and Muslim in general. I assume that this campaign is supposed to prepare the U.S. public for war on Syria.

The way thereto has its own logic. Tom Toles catches the salami slicing drift into it. It is exactly how the open U.S. involvement in war on Syria unfolded so far.


How the U.S. goes to war. Every. Single. Time.

The neocons, here Robert Kagan who wants Hillary Clinton as next president, are already salivating. He claims there is a "crisis of world order", which is something that never really existed, and he wants U.S. troops to invade Syria and Iraq:

What would such an effort look like? First, it would require establishing a safe zone in Syria, providing the millions of would-be refugees still in the country a place to stay and the hundreds of thousands who have fled to Europe a place to which to return. To establish such a zone, American military officials estimate, would require not only U.S. air power but ground forces numbering up to 30,000. Once the safe zone was established, many of those troops could be replaced by forces from Europe, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, but the initial force would have to be largely American.
...
The heretofore immovable Mr. Assad would face an entirely new set of military facts on the ground, with the Syrian opposition now backed by U.S. forces and air power, the Syrian air force grounded and Russian bombing halted.

But why would Russia and Syria allow this? Why would they halt their bombing of the anti-Syrian insurgents? Kagan does not say. The last quoted sentence is the only mentioning of Russia in the whole lame op-ed. By what means does he want to convince the Russian to agree to that plan? He does not say.

Kagan also wants another 20,000 U.S. troops to directly fight the Islamic State guerrilla. Such an effort alone would need trice that number and would likely escalate further. Kagan is a certified lunatic but for whatever reasons his views are taking seriously in U.S. policy circles.

In the UK prime minister Cameron is also moving towards war:

The prime minister is likely to make a statement to MPs on Thursday, the day after Osborne’s spending review, and he will give them up to a week to digest his argument before deciding whether to call a Commons vote before the December recess.

There is speculation in Westminster that political opinion has shifted in favour of British involvement in Syria. The unanimous support in the UN security council for a resolution calling on member states to take all necessary means to eradicate Isis in the wake of the Paris assault is believed to have helped change the mood among MPs.

But the relevant UN resolution does not allow for war against Syria. It restricts all action to international law and the UN Charter. "Who cares," might Kagan say and Cameron think. Well, the Russians do. And they will have a say on this issue.

Meanwhile Turkey is introducing another proxy army into Syria. After official protest against Russian attacks on "Turkmen" insurgents Turkey is upping the propaganda and claims to have sent volunteers to defend Turkmen in Syria against the Islamic State. Two border villages were captured. But the Turkmen story does not make much sense. There are hardly any Turkmen in Syria except those Chinese Uyghur Jihadis Turkey smuggled in on false Turkish passports. The volunteers Turkey claims to have send are also not harmless. Even the Syrian opposition propaganda outlet in the UK calls them out:

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that the villages had been captured from IS but said the campaign had been waged by rebel and Islamist factions and not just Turkmen fighters.

250 of the "volunteers" are men from the Alperen Ocaglari, the youth movement of the Great Union Party. These are real islamo-fascists combining hard right nationalism and radical Islamism into a crude ideology.

M.K. Bhadrakumar believes that Erdogan wants to take, and keep, a big slice of Syria up to Aleppo and that this is the beginning of a new phase:

In strategic terms, a defining moment has been reached in the Syrian conflict – the “first step” in the creation of a swathe of land in northern Syria that will be out of bounds for military operations by Syrian government forces, Russian aircraft, or various militia groups such as Hezbollah who are fighting on the side of the Syrian regime.

Put differently, the race for Aleppo has begun.

But neither Syria nor Russia will agree to that and it is unlikely that Erdogan will be able to send his official army. And make no mistake. Russia HAS the means to prevent Erdogan from further developing this scheme. One unconfirmed report said that a Russian cruise missile already hit one of those "Turkmen" towns. I am not sure that it is more than a rumor but it sounds like a good idea.

I doubt that the U.S. will send its soldiers to  occupy Syria for Erdogan. Obama is unlikely to want to risk war with Russia.

So for now I regard all this as bluster.

But should some kind of (allegedly) Islamic State related terror incident happen in the U.S. all bets are off. Obama may then turn to Kagan for "advice" and start a war that will confront another superpower.

Posted by b on November 22, 2015 at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (138)

November 20, 2015

PBS NewsHour Uses Russian Airstrike Footage While Claiming U.S. Airstrike Successes

U.S. media can no agree with itself if Russia is giving ISIS an airforce or if Russia pounds ISIS with the biggest bomber raid in decades. Such confusion occurs when propaganda fantasies collide with the observable reality.

To bridge such divide requires some fudging.

So when the U.S. claims to act against the finances of the Islamic State while not doing much, the U.S Public Broadcasting Service has to use footage of Russian airstrikes against the Islamic State while reporting claimed U.S. airstrike successes.

The U.S. military recently claimed to have hit Islamic State oil tankers in Syria. This only after Putin embarrassed Obama at the G-20 meeting in Turkey. Putin showed satellite pictures of ridiculous long tanker lines waiting for days and weeks to load oil from the Islamic State without any U.S. interference.

The U.S. then claimed to have hit 116 oil tankers while the Russian air force claims to have hit 500. But there is an important difference between these claims. The Russians provided videos showing how their airstrikes hit at least two different very large oil tanker assemblies with hundreds of tankers in each. They also provided video of several hits on oil storage sites and refinery infrastructure.

I have found no video of U.S. hits on Islamic State oil tanker assemblies.

The U.S. PBS NewsHour did not find any either.

In their TV report yesterday about Islamic State financing and the claimed U.S. hits on oil trucks they used the videos Russia provided without revealing the source. You can see the Russian videos played within an interview with a U.S. military spokesperson at 2:22 min.

The U.S. military spokesperson speaks on camera about U.S. airforce hits against the Islamic State. The video cuts to footage taken by Russian airplanes hitting oil tanks and then trucks. The voice-over while showing the Russian video with the Russians blowing up trucks says: "For the first time the U.S. is attacking oil delivery trucks." The video then cuts back to the U.S. military spokesperson.

At no point is the Russian campaign mentioned or the source of the footage revealed.

Any average viewer of the PBS report will assume that the black and white explosions of oil trucks and tanks are from of U.S. airstrikes filmed by U.S. air force planes.

The U.S. military itself admitted that its strikes on IS oil infrastructure over the last year were "minimally effective". One wonders then how effective the claimed strike against 116 trucks really was. But unless we have U.S. video of such strikes and not copies of Russian strike video fraudulently passed off as U.S. strikes we will not know if those strikes happened at all.

Propaganda and reality also collide in the larger U.S. policy on Syria. President Obama claims that the "overwhelming majority of people in Syria" want the Syrian President Assad to leave. But independent British polling in Syria found (pdf) that a strong plurality of Syrians prefers him as president over any of the available alternatives.

And while new research reveals extensive cooperation between NATO member and U.S. ally Turkey and the Islamic State the U.S. is asking for more cooperation with Turkey to shuffle more weapons into the Syria conflict and thereby, inevitably, also to the Islamic State. Some other U.S. allies are likewise deeply involved in financing and equipping the Islamic State.

But Kuwait just arrested a gang that was smuggling weapons from the new U.S. client state Ukraine to the Islamic State. Iraqi military and Shia militia find huge bundles of cash (vid) which were to be smuggled to the Islamic State. How does it come that the otherwise all-seeing (including your emails) U.S. secret services are unable to uncover Islamic State financing and smuggling when smaller states with much less resources can do so?

Does all this sound like the U.S. is really campaigning against the Islamic State? Or is this whole campaign just as fraudulent as the PBS video and Obama's proclamations? Why is the U.S. so deeply lost on the ‘Dark Side’ in Syria?

h/t CHPSTCK

Posted by b on November 20, 2015 at 08:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (127)

November 19, 2015

Open Thread 2015-43

News & views ...

Posted by b on November 19, 2015 at 08:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (205)

November 18, 2015

The Physicians For Human Rights "Report" on "Aleppo" Is A Scam

One of the organizations providing anti-Syrian propaganda is the U.S. based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) which claims to be "Using science and medicine to stop human rights violations".

It used neither in its most recent pamphlet about "Aleppo" which fraudulently asserts that a tiny piece of the city is representative for all of it. The NYT short piece on that "report" says:

A New York-based human rights organization is accusing the Syrian government of flouting international law by killing health workers, bombing hospitals and blocking lifesaving aid from entering a strategic city in northern Syria that was held by the opposition groups.

In a report released Wednesday, the group, Physicians for Human Rights, chronicled 45 attacks on medical facilities in Aleppo since 2012, mostly by Syrian government forces.

The report paints a harrowing picture of the risks to those who provide basic medical services in Aleppo. A barrel bomb killed a doctor and a public health worker who were vaccinating children against polio in early 2014 — the first of 26 airstrikes on medical facilities.
...
The report says that 95 percent of Aleppo’s doctors have fled or been killed. The group also says that Russian airstrikes have hit 10 medical facilities since the air campaign began in September.

The NYT piece is only about "Aleppo" and fails to differentiate between the insurgent held eastern part and the government held western part.

That may have been because the PHR press release on its "report" also only speaks of "Aleppo". It claims:

A new report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) shows the devastating impact of the Syrian conflict on Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city and the area that has been the hardest hit in terms of attacks on medical facilities. In the past three years, Aleppo has suffered 45 attacks on health care facilities, more than two-thirds of hospitals no longer function there, and roughly 95 percent of doctors have fled, been detained or killed. Today’s ratio of doctors to residents is eight times less than what it was before the conflict began, and this extreme shortage of health professionals is exacerbating the already dire humanitarian crisis.

That press release is intentionally deceiving and the NYT writer fell for the scam.

Only deep in the longer PHR report (pdf) do we find what area the report is really about:

This report focuses on the state of health care in eastern Aleppo city4..

The footnote 4 at the end of the report says:

Eastern Aleppo city is referred to as “Aleppo” in the remainder of this report. Any references to western (government-controlled) Aleppo city or Aleppo governorate are noted explicitly.

Eastern Aleppo is bombed out Jihadi held part of Aleppo. It is practically empty except for the Jihadis and a few members of their families. In March the Guardian's Martin Chulov actually visited eastern Aleppo. He wrote:

Western Aleppo has had by far the better of the war, with civic services still functioning in most neighbourhoods and war damage minimal. Much of the east, though, is ravaged and empty.
...
Those who remain in eastern Aleppo, roughly 40,000 from a prewar population estimated at about a million, have been without electricity or running water for more than a year.

A recent Reuters report about a supply route to west Aleppo gives the number of inhabitants there:

The road is the army's supply route to government-held western parts of Aleppo, home to around 2 million people.

The PHR report is about an area where maybe 40,000 people live while claiming to be about "Syria’s most populous city". But the report says nothing about the government held area with 2 million people. It is only looking at the damaged empty parts of the city and pretends that these are representative for the whole city.

It also purely based on hearsay provided by insurgency supporters:

The findings in this report are based primarily on interviews conducted by PHR in Gaziantep and Kilis, Turkey from July 22 to July 30, 2015. The research team conducted semi-structured interviews with 24 individuals providing health care, supporting the health care system, or documenting events in Aleppo.

The report does not say how many of those 24 individuals were actually "providing health care" and how many were just "documenting events in Aleppo", i.e. professional propagandists for the Jihadi side. None of the authors of the report has actually been in Aleppo east or west.

The whole pamphlet is highly misleading and one sided propaganda with can neither satisfy "scientific" nor "medical" standards. It is ridiculous, though not unexpected, that the media will uncritically distribute its claims by copy-pasting the misleading PHR press release without actually reading the report.

Posted by b on November 18, 2015 at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (77)

November 17, 2015

Russia's Lavrov: U.S. Is Not Seriously Fighting Against The Islamic State

Throughout the last week the Russian airforce updated its target list in Syria. Plans were prepared, units designated, ammunition was loaded.

Today President Putin announced that the destruction of a Russian airliner with 224 people on board over the Sinai peninsula had indeed been an Islamic State terror attack. Traces of explosives were found on parts of the debris.

The Russian mission in Syria is no longer just to help the Syrian government but is now a matter of Russian national self-defense. The Russian parliament was not shy in assigning guilt:

"The recent tragic developments confirm the topicality of Russia’s continuous warnings that permanent destabilization in the Middle East by those who claim global dominance, primarily the United States, could lead to the expansion of the zone of bloody chaos and entail numerous human tragedies," the document says. "France and other European states are, as a matter of fact, reaping the consequences of Washington’s nearsighted and selfish policy."

There will now be no backing out for Russia and no time limit.

At the same time as Putin spoke Russian ships in the Caspian sea, submarines in the Mediterranean and long range strategic strike bombers flying from Russia launched 34 cruise missiles against Islamic State targets in Syria.

The Russian defense ministry announced that it would double its strikes in Syria using 5 TU-160, 6 TU-95MS, 14 TU-22m3. 8 SU-34 and 4 SU-27sm in addition to the 34 airplanes already in Syria. The new assets are long-range and will mostly fly directly from Russia. They will attack the static targets which the Russian and Syrian intelligence will designate. The planes in Syria will now take a more tactical role in direct combat air support for the Syrian army and the allied forces on the ground. The strike capacity will immediately double and it is planned to further increase it.

The French, now bombing IS in retaliation for the attack in Paris, are also adding to their strike capacity by moving their airplane carrier towards the Syrian coast. President Putin personally ordered the Russian ships in the Mediterranean to recognize the French forces as allies. This may be an opening to France and an offer to Hollande to leave his anti-Syrian stance and to stop his support for anti-Syrian insurgents.

After Putin shamed Obama into bombing Islamic State oil truck assemblies his Foreign Minister Lavrov went a step further. He directly accused the U.S. of not being serious about fighting the Islamic State:

"The problem around the U.S.-led coalition is that despite the fact that they declared its goal in fighting exclusively the Islamic State and other terrorists and pledged not to take any action against the Syrian army (...), analysis of the strikes delivered by the United States and its coalition at terrorist positions over the past year drives us to a conclusion that these were selective, I would say sparing, strikes and in the majority of cases spared those Islamic State groups that were capable of pressing the Syrian army," he said.

"It looks like a cat that wants to eat a fish but doesn’t want to wet its feet. They want the Islamic State to weaken Assad as soon as possible to force him to step down this or that way but they don’t want to see Islamic State strong enough to take power."

That the U.S. was not seriously fighting the Islamic State was obvious to any observer but it is now a public position stated by Russia and the U.S. will have to react to.

Maybe Lavrov hopes he can goad the U.S. into getting more serious about the Islamic State. With the background of the attacks in Paris and against the Russian plane (more are likely to come) the chances for that are not too bad.

The "isolated" Russia that was never actually isolated is not isolated anymore. The U.S. rhetorical position is now defensive as Russia is taking the lead in the fight against IS. But it still wants to look like its is doing something:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday his country is starting an operation with Turkey to finish securing the northern Syrian border.

"The entire border of northern Syria - 75 percent of it has now been shut off. And we are entering an operation with the Turks to shut off the other remaining 98 kilometers," he said in an interview with CNN.

That is not much of a change at all. Crossing the border and smuggling will in future require either a Turkish secret service or CIA permit. A real change in the U.S. position will only come when its stops the support for the various forces fighting against the Syrian government. But that may require an even bigger shock than the attack in Paris or the downing of a Russian plane.

Posted by b on November 17, 2015 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (115)

November 16, 2015

Putin Names And Shames Obama Into Bombing IS Oil Smugglers

The U.S. claims it wants to hit the Islamic State but in one year of bombing it never really touched one of its biggest sources of income. Hundreds of oil tanker trucks are waiting every day at IS distribution points to smuggle oil to Turkey and elsewhere. Only one such distribution point was ever bombed and that attack was  by the Iraqi air force.

Now the Russian President Putin played some "name and shame" at the G-20 meeting in Turkey and, lo and behold, the problem gets solved.

The Obama administration recently claimed it would increase attacks on the most expensive Syrian oil infrastructure which is owned by the Syrian government but under IS control. But it said it would still not hit the large truck gatherings.

While the American-led air campaign has conducted periodic airstrikes against oil refineries and other production facilities in eastern Syria that the group controls, the organization’s engineers have been able to quickly repair damage, and keep the oil flowing, American officials said. The Obama administration has also balked at attacking the Islamic State’s fleet of tanker trucks — its main distribution network — fearing civilian casualties.

But now the administration has decided to increase the attacks and focus on inflicting damage that takes longer to fix or requires specially ordered parts, American officials said.

The obvious target to stop the oil trade is to hit the trucks. Without trucks the other infrastructure is useless for IS as the oil can not be sold. With trucks destroyed the men behind the smuggling will lose all profits and leave the business. The "civilian casualties" argument does not hold. There could be warnings to avoid human damage or one could consider that these oil smugglers are dealing with terrorists and thereby accomplices. The real U.S. reluctance to hit the oil smuggling might be out of deference to the Turkish government which of course profits from such oil transfers.

Then came along Russia and its President Putin and demonstrated at the current G-20 meeting that the U.S. is not serious about fighting IS. Today the Turkish journalist Abdullah Bozkurt reports remarks by President Putin from a G-20 sideline event:

Abdullah Bozkurt @abdbozkurt
Putin in #Turkey: I provided examples based on our data on the financing of different #ISIL units by private individuals.

"This money, as we have established, comes from 40 countries and, there are some of the G20 members among them”, Putin says

"I’ve shown our colleagues photos taken from space & from aircraft which clearly demonstrate the scale of the illegal trade in oil"

Putin provided that information and the photos yesterday. Obama must have been deeply embarrassed and pissed. Suddenly, a day after Putin exposed the U.S. reluctance to hit IS where it is needed, a big truck assembly was bombed:

Intensifying pressure on the Islamic State, United States warplanes for the first time attacked hundreds of trucks on Monday that the extremist group has been using to smuggle the crude oil it has been producing in Syria, American officials said. According to an initial assessment, 116 trucks were destroyed in the attack, which took place near Deir al-Zour, an area in eastern Syria that is controlled by the Islamic State.
...
Until Monday, the United States had refrained from striking the fleet used to transport oil, believed to include more than 1,000 tanker trucks, because of concerns about causing civilian casualties. As a result, the Islamic State’s distribution system for exporting oil had remained largely intact.

It seems that Putin's naming and shaming with regards to the oil smuggling was successful. We might soon see a similar effect on the financing sources he mentioned.

Posted by b on November 16, 2015 at 12:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (145)

November 15, 2015

After Paris Two Questions

Syrian Presidency @Presidency_Sy
President al-Assad: Terrorism will not stop here, it will export itself through illegal immigration into Europe.

11:46 AM - 17 Jun 2013


---

Two questions:

  1. What should be the response to the attacks in Paris?
  2. What will be the response to the attacks in Paris?

Discuss.

Posted by b on November 15, 2015 at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (209)

November 14, 2015

What Preceded The Islamic State Attacks In France - Some Links (Updated)

This happened last night: At least 120 dead in Paris attacks, Hollande declares emergency

Gunmen and bombers attacked restaurants, a concert hall and a sports stadium at locations across Paris on Friday, killing at least 120 people in a deadly rampage that a shaken President Francois Hollande called an unprecedented terrorist attack.

The Islamic State claims responsibility (English version) for the attack.

But who weaponized and financed the Islamic State or prior organizations in Syria and Iraq from which this terror attack grew? Is this cartoon justified?

Cartoon of the day by Carlos Latuff

Consider:

In 2012 - Hollande admits arming Syrian rebels in breach of embargo - book

The French president has admitted delivering weapons to the Syrian rebels during a period of EU embargo, a new book about to be published in France reveals.

The deliveries took place in 2012, before the embargo was canceled in May 2013, according to François Hollande's last year interview with journalist and writer Xavier Panon. "We began when we were certain they would end up in the right hands. For the lethal weapons it was our services who delivered them," Hollande told the writer, ...

Okt 2012 - Rebel Arms Flow Is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria

WASHINGTON — Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats.

Dec 2012 - France funding Syrian rebels in new push to oust Assad

France has emerged as the most prominent backer of Syria's armed opposition and is now directly funding rebel groups around Aleppo as part of a new push to oust the embattled Assad regime.

Large sums of cash have been delivered by French government proxies across the Turkish border to rebel commanders in the past month, diplomatic sources have confirmed. The money has been used to buy weapons inside Syria and to fund armed operations against loyalist forces.

Aug 2014 - France delivered arms to Syrian rebels, Hollande confirms

President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that France had delivered weapons to rebels battling the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad “a few months ago.”
Nov 2015
Murad Gazdiev @MuradoRT
French APILAS rocket launcher supplied to #syria rebels fall into hands of #ISIS. Pics from #Deraa, Southern #Syria
12:09 PM - 6 Nov 2015


Jun 2014 - 'Thank God for the Saudis': ISIS, Iraq, and the Lessons of Blowback

[T]wo of the most successful factions fighting Assad’s forces are Islamist extremist groups: Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the latter of which is now amassing territory in Iraq and threatening to further destabilize the entire region. And that success is in part due to the support they have received from two Persian Gulf countries: Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Qatar’s military and economic largesse has made its way to Jabhat al-Nusra, to the point that a senior Qatari official told me he can identify al-Nusra commanders by the blocks they control in various Syrian cities. But ISIS is another matter. As one senior Qatari official stated, “ISIS has been a Saudi project.”

France benefited from its support for the U.S.-Wahhabi regime change project in Syria and Iraq by getting huge orders for military equipment from the medieval Wahhabi regimes:

Apr 2015 - France and Qatar seal $7 billion Rafale fighter jet deal

Qatar has agreed to buy 24 Dassault Aviation-built Rafale fighter jets in a 6.3-billion-euro (4.55 billion pounds) deal, the French government said on Thursday, as the Gulf Arab state looks to boost its military firepower in an increasingly unstable region.

June 2015 - Saudi Arabia and France ink $12bln deal

Saudi Arabia and France agreed Wednesday to sign $12 billion of deals, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubair said during a landmark visit by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Paris.

Even after it became obvious for everyone that the regime change project in Syria has led to an expansion of terrorism Hollande was still demanding the end of the Syrian state.

Sept 2015 - François Hollande of France Says Assad Must Go

President François Hollande of France told the United Nations General Assembly on Monday that his country would “shoulder its responsibilities” in global efforts to end the fighting in Syria, but that the conflict could be resolved only if President Bashar al-Assad was removed from power.

Can Hollande now change his tune?

Posted by b on November 14, 2015 at 01:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (308)

November 13, 2015

Russia Revives Long-Dead Nuclear Torpedo - Reestablishes Deterrence

Russia has a big problem with the "missile defense" shield the U.S. wants to install in Europe. Such a "defense" would give the U.S. the ability to launch a first strike nuclear attack on Russia while defeating a retaliatory strike Russia would launch in response. Alternatively the "missile defense missiles" stationed in east Europe could be used to launch a direct attack against ground targets in Russia leaving it with a insufficient warning time of only a few minutes.

This is comparable to the situation in the 1960s when Nike-Hercules air defense missile were stationed in the U.S. and in Europe. That system could kill Soviet strategic nuclear bombers and thereby endangered Soviet second strike capabilities towards the U.S. and others. (The Nike-Hercules also had a secondary ground attack capability.)

The Russian, then Soviets, problem with the Nike-Hercules was overcome by Soviet development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) which could not be targeted by that Nike-Hercules system. The balance of deterrence was reestablished and held for the next fifty years.

Then came the new U.S. missile defense in Europe. All Russian protests and warnings against stationing such capabilities have not been able to deter the U.S. for proceeding with it. Should the missile defense project go forward Russia will have to invent new means to reintroduce a significant second strike capability. Both sides, Russia says, would be better off by not introducing these new capabilities.

To strongly send that message the Russian military scientists went back into the archives to find some old crappy idea that could overcome missile defense and be horrible enough in its effects to recreate some deterrence.

The scientists came back with an odd idea the "human rights activist" Andrej Sakharov once promoted:

At the height of the Cold War, August 12, 1953 have been produced successfully tested the new Soviet weapons of terrible destructive force - a thermonuclear bomb. One of the creators of the bomb, the newly elected member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, the 32-year-old Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov suggested as a "means of delivery" to use the developed nuclear submarines of project 627, equipping each of them a giant torpedo under the 100-megaton thermonuclear charge (approximately 6000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima). As conceived by the young academician exploding the U.S. coast ocean, these torpedoes were to cause a tsunami of unprecedented power, the height of 300 meters, which would be simply washed off American cities, causing irreparable damage to the United States.

The planned U.S. "missile defense" systems would have some difficulties hitting such a torpedo.

Thus the Kremlin decided to reuse this old Sakharov idea to scare the U.S. off from its current "missile defense" course:

On November 10, 2015 President Putin held a regular meeting with his generals in Sochi to discuss development of the Russian strategic forces. The president used the occasion to complain again about U.S. missile defense plans and to warn that Russia will do whatever it takes to preserve the strategic balance.

The meeting was filmed (vid) by a major Russian TV station and "just by chance" the cameraman caught a power point page (also at 1:46 min in the video) one of the attending Generals was reading:

Russian television cameras caught a page in a briefing book describing the development of a new nuclear weapons system called Status-6. It’s nothing less than an underwater drone designed to carry a thermonuclear weapon into foreign ports. If detonated, Status-6 would be capable of dousing cities like New York in massive amounts of radioactive fallout.

"Massive amounts of radioactive fallout" or, in the old version, a 300 meter high tsunami - choose whatever you like better but you will probably be hit with both.

A "underwater drone" is by the way what we used to call a "torpedo". But the "drone" moniker might sound scarier so the author chose to use that one.

The U.S. analyst just quoted does not like the old and new Russian idea:

At the risk of understating things, this project is bat-shit crazy. It harkens back to the most absurd moments of the Cold War, when nuclear strategists followed the logic of deterrence over the cliff and into the abyss. For his part, Putin seems positively nostalgic.

But what is really "bat-shit crazy"?

Destroy the nuclear deterrence between world powers that had worked well for some 50 years by installing a "missile defense" shield in Europe? Or reestablish deterrence by introducing a new weapon category that the U.S. "missile defense" shield can not defend against?

You decide.

I for one think that the idea of striving for a realistic first strike capability by eliminating the possibility of a meaningful retaliation, which is what the "missile shield" is trying to achieve, is indeed "over the cliff and into the abyss." I rather prefer to be "positively nostalgic" and reestablish a stable deterrence.

If the Russian second strike capability no longer lies with ICBMs but with the threat of permanent destruction of all major U.S. ports and port cities through long range nuclear torpedoes the planned "missile defense" shield will be a completely useless investment.

Since at least 2010 the Russian President Putin has repeatedly said in many public fora that the planned U.S. "missile defense" is a dangerous way forward. The U.S. did not listen. Now Russia is putting some muscle behind Putin's words. It "leaks" the "secret" (not so much) plans to counter "missile defense" and it will make sure that everyone understands that it has the means and the will to develop such capabilities if needed.

This "unintended leak" is an offer to Obama to talk. A deal could be made that would end the U.S. "missile defense" nonsense while Russia would promise to abstain from the development of countermeasures like the harbor killer torpedo. All would spend less money on crazy new weapons and the world would be better off.

The industrial lobby that wants to make loads of money money from missile defense has so far found open ears in the U.S. Congress. But if those weapons can no longer deliver the strategic advantage they once promised Congress may be willing to stop shuffling money towards them.

Russia just made an offer to the U.S. government. It would be better for all if that offer would be accepted.

Posted by b on November 13, 2015 at 12:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (72)

November 12, 2015

Today's Battle Progress In Iraq and Syria

(Sorry for the lack of maps but as I am time constricted.)

The fight against Islamic fundamentalist in Iraq ad Syria rapidly progressed today. U.S. air support in Iraq and Russian air support in Syria enabled the various ground forces to take significant amounts of ground.

Russia continues to build out its arsenal in Syria and may soon introduce more ground and air components.

After several days preparations by U.S bombing 7,000 Kurdish and Yezidi forces today attacked the Islamic State from the Sinjar mountain range southwards towards Sinjar city. Sinjar is about 50 kilometers east of the border between Syria and Iraq. Just south of the city lies the important Highway 47 which is the main transport artery between Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

The attackers were supported on the ground by U.S. Forward Air Controllers who called in pinpoint airstrikes whenever the attack was held up. The operation succeeded faster than expected. The city is surrounded by YPG and Peshmerga forces and a wide stretch of the highway is now under Kurdish control. First units are breaking onto the city. The main problem are now snipers, mines and booby traps and the bloody phase in the city will take a while. Counterattacks on the highway are to be expected but are unlikely to succeed over the open land as long as the U.S. air force provides cover for the Kurds.

Progress in Syria was even better. After yesterday reliefing the IS besieged Queires airport east of Aleppo, more ground around the airport was taken today. The plan seems to be to free the area between the airport east of Aleppo, which was relieved from the south, and Aleppo city in the west from all enemies. The thermal power station between the airport and the city was taken today. The airport will be rehabilitated and will allow for rapid, short distance air support for all further operations between Aleppo and the Turkish border.

South west of Aleppo the successful campaign towards the highway between Aleppo southward to Idleb, Hama, Homs and Damascus progressed fast. The al-Qaeda/Jabhat al-Nusra held town Al-Hadher was taken today surprisingly fast and the attack immediately proceeded further west towards the highway capturing Al-Eis. The highway, now only 2 kilometers away, is currently under al-Qaeda/FSA control and is an important resupply road from Turkey to the al-Qaeda occupied areas further south.

East of Damascus a military airport Marj Al-Sultan in the hands of Jaysh al-Islam was retaken by government forces after air preparations. A cordon around the insurgent held east-Ghouta area was thereby established for the first time in three years. East-Ghouta is used by the insurgents to fire mortars and rockets into Damascus. The area is now under siege and will be cleaned up in due time.

There have been sightings of new Russian weapons in Latakia near the Mediterranean coast. For the first time a T-90 main battle tank was seen in Syria (unconfirmed). This is the most modern Russian tank in service and will have a Russian crew. The tank may belong to a new Russian ground component. At the Russian military airport in Latakia a 96L6 acquisition radar for a S-300PMU2 or S-400 air and missile defense battery was seen (confirmed). The Russian troops will no longer depend on the sea based air defense cover provided by the missile cruiser Moskva. They now have a mobile long range air defense with a range of 300-400 km established on the ground. This can be easily moved further inland to cover all of west-Syria as needed. Russia is working to increase the number of air sorties it can provide per day and is equipping an additional airport. Additional planes and helicopters are expected to arrive soon.

Three One suicide attacks in the Shia dominated area of Ayn al-Sikkeh in south Beirut in Lebanon killed at least 25 37 civilians and wounded some 100 180. This was likely an al-Qaeda terror attack seen as revenge for Hizbullah's support for the Syrian government ISIS claimed to be responsible for the attack.

The official U.S. strategy in Syria was build on unicorns: a Free Syrian Army of secular Syrians and a political support group of exiles that would create the new government of Syria. What is left of the unicorn Free Syrian Army criminals is now deserting. The current head of the hotel exiles, the "Interim Governor of Syria" Ahmad Tameh, crossed into Syria from Turkey today to set up some just-for.-show government. The insurgents of the Islamist Levantine Front in Syria told him to get lost and he had to flee back to Turkey. The official U.S. strategy in Iraq was to build up a Sunni force to take on and defeat the Islamic State. It turns out that the potential leaders of such an Anbar-Awakening-version-2  force have been killed by the Islamic State or are no longer willing to take part in such a risky endeavor. Only the government supporting forces in Iraq as well as in Syria will be able to regain significant territory from the Islamic State and other terrorist forces.

Posted by b on November 12, 2015 at 12:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (89)

November 11, 2015

UK Accuses U.S. Of Supporting Terrorists But Sells Out To Saudi Arabia

On October 30 an international conference on Syria  agreed on a framework for ending the conflict in Syria. The communiqué states:

While substantial differences remain among the participants, they reached a mutual understanding on the following:

1) Syria’s unity, independence, territorial integrity, and secular character are fundamental.
...
6) Da'esh, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the U.N. Security Council, and further, as agreed by the participants, must be defeated.
...
Ministers will reconvene within two weeks to continue these discussions.”

Secretary of State Kerry had already accepted the "secular" point in earlier talks with his Russian colleague. The next meeting this Friday will mainly be about the question of who is a terrorist and must thereby be defeated. Propagandist for the Jihadis call this a "Russian trap".

So far the U.S. and its allies have supported various fundamentalist groups who's deeds and proclaimed philosophies surely put them into the same category as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

The British Foreign Minister accuses the U.S. of supporting such terrorist groups and said that this needs to change:

The world powers trying to end the civil war in Syria are drawing up a list of "terrorist" groups, Britain said Tuesday, warning that some countries may have to drop support for allies on the ground.

"It will require deep breaths on several sides, including the US side," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned, speaking to reporters in Washington.

Some of the groups that qualify as terrorists, so Hammond, do get support from the U.S. and it will take a "deep breaths" by the U.S. to refrain from further supporting them.

As part of this, Hammond said, the countries backing various factions within the country would have to decide which are moderate enough to be included in the political process and which would be excluded.

"I'm not so sure I would write off the possibility of agreeing on who is a terrorist," he said, in remarks at the British embassy the morning after talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

But he warned that there would be horse trading ahead.

Can one "horse trade" who is a terrorist? Is it "moderate enough" to only cut off the heads of prisoners of war instead of burning them alive? How much would that "trade" cost?

Hammond seems to believe that a money-for-values deal is possible and needed. Here is his horse trade: On one side the Saudis want the Jihadists they support to be recognized as non-terrorists:

"The Saudis are never going to sign up to Ansar al-Sham being categorized as terrorists," he said, citing the example of one Sunni armed group reported to receive outside Arab backing.

"So we have to see whether we can reach a pragmatic solution on these areas," Hammond added.

On the other side Hammond wants to sell more weapons to Saudi Arabia despite its abysmal human rights record:

In an interview with Newsnight, Mr Hammond was asked if he would like to see the current £5.4billion of weapons trade with Saudi Arabia increase.

He replied: “We’d always like to do more business, more British exports, more British jobs and in this case very high end engineering jobs protected and created by our diplomacy abroad.”

So there is the Hammonds "pragmatic solution" - the UK will support the Saudi position on the terrorist groups Ahrar al Shams, which is related to and closely cooperating with al-Qaeda, and the Saudis will buy more British weapons.

There is only a slight problem. The framework submitted by the October 30 conference, excerpted above, agreed of the fundamental "secular character" for the Syrian state. But even a now revisionist Ahrar al-Shams insists that Islamic law must the constitutional base of Syria. A state build on Islamic law is certainly not "secular". Unless of course one redefines what secular means. And that is exactly what Hammond, hearing the cash register ringing, now proposes:

While Mr. Hammond declined to offer any details on which groups could eventually take part in political negotiations, his comments suggested that the West might be prepared to back Sunni Islamist groups with close ties to allies, including Saudi Arabia. “What we mean by a secular constitution, and what people in the Muslim world will understand by secular will be two different things,” Mr. Hammond said.

British orientalism at its finest: The Salafi jihadists of Ahrar al-Shams are not "terrorists" because the Saudis will buy more British weapons. A Syria based on Islamic law will be "secular" because those [censored] Arabs don't even know what that means.

Maybe the U.S. should also offer to buy more British weapons? Foreign Minister Hammond would than surely recognize that the terrorists the U.S. supports in Syria are "moderate enough" hardline Islamists to fit his deranged definition of "secular".

 

Posted by b on November 11, 2015 at 06:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (135)

November 10, 2015

Yemen: UN Gives Cover For U.S. Spies - Endangers Its Employees

On October 26 UN reporter Mathew Lee of InnerCity Press scooped all other media with this nugget on Yemen:

Inner City Press' sources exclusively tell it of a new low, that the UN brought into Sana'a what the Houthis call two members of US intelligence, with the cover identification that they work for the company running the former hotel now occupied by the UN. But, the sources say, security in Sana'a recognized the two and they are now detained.

The "contractors" flew to Sanaa from Djibouti where the U.S. has a large military and intelligence base. The plane the "contractors" came on was rented by the UN.

The Houthis surely wondered why at that time, with Sanaa being under intense Saudi-U.S. air attacks, "hotel contractors" would arrive in Sanaa.

Now one of the "contractors" died, allegedly by suicide, while imprisoned by the Houthis. USAToday reports that his name is John Hamen from Chesapeake, Va. and that his body is currently repatriated to be buried at Arlington Cemetery. For a "hotel contractor" Hamen has a rather interesting resumé:

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told CBS that she could not confirm the contractors' nationality but said they arrived on a U.N. aircraft from Djibouti on Oct. 20 and were detained by "the authorities at the airport in Sanaa."

He said the two "are not U.N. contractors" but work for the company that manages the facilities that the U.N. is using in Sanaa, CBS reported.

Hamen's LinkedIn professional page lists his occupation as "Diplomatic Support" and described his previous employers as the U.S. Special Operations Command, the U.S. Army, and the Joint Communications Support Element.

Is that the qualification one needs to run a former hotel for the UN?

The Joint Communications Support Element is an interesting shop:

JCSE [..] is composed of joint active duty, Guard and Reserve personnel who can globally deploy within hours of notification to provide communications packages tailored to the specific needs of a full joint task force headquarters and to a joint special operations task force.

These two "contractors" and "former" U.S. special forces were anything but regular civilian staff. The were probably preparing to set up a new U.S. military or intelligence communications hub in Sanaa.

The UN has bungled the Yemen issue since the moment that former president Saleh left his office. It was tasked with setting up a new governance structure that would administrate Yemen and organize elections to replace the interim president Hadi. But the UN driven National Dialog Conference left out the interests of the most important forces on the ground which had helped to push for Saleh's ouster, the Houthis. Left without representation in the UN advised structures the Houthis took over Sanaa and the government. Under Saudi pressure the UN envoy to Yemen resigned.

Now the Saudis and the U.S. wage war on Yemen to kick out the Houthis and to reinstall Hadi who no Yemeni wants back in power. While the Saudis are committing war crimes in Yemen they now also occupy an important seat at the UN Human Rights Council. The UN also bungled the current ceasefire negotiations between the Houthi and the Saudi-U.S. alliance:

Inner City Press previously reported on and published the Houthis' letter denouncing UN envoy Ould Cheikh Ahmed as little more than a Saudi tool. Now it's gotten worse: even Kenny Gluck who works for the envoy and went to Muscat trying to meet the Houthis was unable. He waited then returned to Riyadh.
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The Saudis, asserting control, have told Ould Cheikh Ahmed to try to cut Oman out, sources tell Inner City Press, hence the idea the talks will be in Geneva. But what talks, if the Houthis won't talk to Ould Cheikh Ahmed or his Kenny Gluck.

The Houthis accused the new UN envoy of falsely asserting that they agreed to all Saudi conditions while ignoring the spread of al-Qaeda in southern Yemen. The Russians, also haggling with the Saudis, seem to be the only other party concerned over the spread of al-Qaeda and terrorism in Yemen under the Saudi war cover.

The UN has completely abdicated any neutrality on Yemen. It serves as a mere mouthpiece and servant of misguided U.S.-Saudi policies. The now confirmed, though not admitted, transporting of "former" U.S. special forces under UN cover is an inexcusable breach of its independence and a danger to all its employees.

Any UN envoy or contractor all over the world will now be under suspicion of being a U.S. military or intelligence agent. This will endanger the lives of thousands of UN employees working under difficult circumstances in various conflict areas.

Meanwhile the Saudis and the UAE are pulling all ground forces out of Yemen and are outsourcing their war to soldiers from Sudan, Mauritania, Senegal and Eritrea as well as to mercenaries from Columbia. After the UAE pullback the Houthis have recovered several southern Yemeni cities and are planing to re-capturing the Al-Anad airbase near Aden.

Posted by b on November 10, 2015 at 06:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (68)

November 09, 2015

No, This Is Not The Anti-Syrian Twitter Campaign

Via Club des Cordeliers we find an army of Twitter bots which is, on first sight, spreading negative propaganda about Syria.

These robots, hundreds or thousands of them, are artificial Twitter accounts which tweet every few minutes around the clock. They seem to be programmed to recite single short sentences on Syria. Many of these accounts add the hash-tag #NaturalHealing to their tweets.

Currently a search on twitter for "syria's media outlets" produces a long list with similar tweets:


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The tweets are all the same basic sentence: "Nearly all of Syria's media outlets are state-owned, and the Ba'ath Party controls nearly all newspapers." with some of them attaching the "#NaturalHealing" hash-tag. A Internet search for that sentence points to the Wikipedia article on Syria as the source. A closer look at several of these bot accounts and their tweets shows that this is a recurring phenomenon.

It is thereby somewhat dubious that these bots were hired for anti-Syrian propaganda. They just quote random sentences from the Wikipedia entry on Syria which have no specific propaganda value like:

Cami Vestal ‏@CmVstl530 1h1 hour ago
#NaturalHealing The Abbasiyyin Stadium in Damascus is home to the Syrian national football team.

Other tweets these robot accounts currently put out are from the Wikipedia entry of Richard Nixon, the Wikipedia entry of the city of Manchester in England, the entry on Academic dress and several others. None of which have of course anything to do with "natural healing" but also nothing to do with anti-Syrian propaganda interests.

All the robots have English sounding names, have the registered country USA and the attached photos of their personalities are mostly attractive and young Caucasian people. The quoting of Wikipedia articles and endless retweets of other bots in that network are just fillers to make these accounts seem "alive" and to then use them to deliver paid-for advertising for health related products.

I have some reason to believe (but can not prove) that this bot army is run (or rented) by the British company Marketing Runners which says it is:

Assisting Businesses and Individuals to Increase Their Online Presence, Generate Leads, and Discover Opportunities.

The Twitter account of Marketing Runners has some unbelievable 83,500 followers of which 99.9% are likely artificial. Marketing Runners is registered by Ad Easy Ltd, Kemp House, 152 City Road, London, UK which is run by one Derin Cag. Cag is involved in various "new media" marketing companies in London.

So while this on first sight seemed to be an anti-Syrian campaign a deeper look shows that it just a run-of-the-mill marketing scam. Its twitter bots are programmed to put out quotes from various Wikipedia articles to make them look "human", attractive and seemingly alive.

All of which does not mean that there are no anti-Syrian campaigns on Twitter and elsewhere. There surely are. But those I have come across are run more intelligently. They use sock-puppets, dozens of fake Twitter and Facebook accounts with similar propaganda but run by one human or a human group. Such accounts are better individualized with more specific content that random Wikipedia quotes. In March 2011, just in time for its Syria campaign, the U.S. military purchased software that helps running such sock-puppet armies. Unfortunately they are hidden and hard to detect.

Posted by b on November 9, 2015 at 06:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (38)

November 08, 2015

Open Thread 2015-42

News & views ...

Posted by b on November 8, 2015 at 02:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (181)

November 07, 2015

WaPo Peddles Crackpot Idea - Fears Russia Will Steal It

The Washington post editors peddle the crackpot idea that the CIA smuggled a bomb on board of the Russian airline that went down over the Sinai peninsula. Or something like that. No one else, as far as I can tell, has offered such an idiotic conspiracy theory.

So far there is not even a shred of real evidence that a bomb took down the plane. All we know is that the black boxes on board of the plane suddenly stopped recording. This points to a sudden rupture and decompression of the plane after which it disintegrated and fell down. The cause of such ruptures can be manifold. Metal fatigue or faulty repairs are a frequent cause (see Japan Airlines Flight 123). As the plane's tail separated from the main cell a tail strike the plane suffered years ago might be relevant. A turbine blade may have cracked and hit the nacelle at a critical point (see Delta Air Lines Flight 1288). A Lithium ion rechargeable battery pack in some luggage in the rear luggage hold may have exploded (see UPS Airlines Flight 6).

The Islamic State claimed it had something to do with the downing of the plane but that announcement was unusual as it contained zero evidence. Other Islamic State attacks were announced with video or other evidence of its misdeeds. Here the Islamic State might just piggyback on a mere technical accident.

Maybe some farting goats on board released methane which exploded? Maybe. But there is no evidence that there were goats, or a bomb, on board of the flight.

Non the less, the Washington Post editors suggest that, maybe, the CIA took down the plane and that, maybe, Russian or Egyptian peoples might be told such:

[W]e won’t be surprised if Russians and Egyptians are told the CIA is somehow responsible for the tragedy in the Sinai.

How come the editors "won't be surprised"? I "won't be surprised" if Russians and Egyptians are told that one plus one is two because I know that one plus one is two. So when the editors "won't be surprised" do they know something about CIA involvement that we do not know?

The editors suggest that the governments of Egypt and Russia might lie about the incident:

The Egyptian and Russian regimes are far less adept at fighting terrorism than they are at lying.

This from the media of the country that peddled the falsehood of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and wages a "war of terror" which increased the membership of al-Qaeda from some low hundreds in 2001 to a hundred thousand in 2015.

There is little chance for Russia or Egypt to lie about the incident. The investigation of the plane wreckage and circumstances will be done by several countries and technicians from Airbus will be involved:

Under international aviation rules, representatives from France, Ireland, Russia and Germany are included in the official committee investigating the crash because of various connections to the plane or the flight.

So how would Russia or Egypt lie about it? The WaPo editors accuse both countries of some nefarious mindset:

While Mr. Putin suspended Russian flights on Friday, his spokesman was still insisting there was no reason to conclude that there had been an act of terrorism. When not issuing his own denials, Egypt’s transport minister was obstructing the British evacuation effort, reducing the number of London flights from 29 to eight.

But the Putin spokesman is right - there is no reason to conclude that this was terrorism because there is no evidence to support such a conclusion. And the "obstruction" by the Egyptian transport minister was a well founded decision after the British government said the British passengers flying home could only take carry-on luggage:

“The British airlines opt to fly without the hold baggage of the British passengers,” Hossam Kamal, the minister of civil aviation, said in the statement.

“The airport will not accommodate more than 120 tons of left-behind luggage,” he added. “This big volume affects the smooth operation of the rest of the domestic and international flights.” The burden of the British baggage, he suggested, had caused the airport to reduce the number of British departures to eight instead of the 19 flights previously scheduled, thus prolonging the plight of the stranded vacationers.

There is no doubt that the neoconservative Washington Post editors hate the Russian and the Egyptian governments. But that is hardly a good reason to wrongly accuse those governments of falsehoods or for suggestions that the CIA may have taken down the Russian plane.

Posted by b on November 7, 2015 at 08:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (96)

November 06, 2015

More Chaos And Catastrophes in Yemen

Yesterday at about noon a Russian plane brought 23 tons of humanitarian aid to Yemen:

AFP journalists saw the plane at Sanaa airport -- which is controlled by Shiite Huthi rebels -- and were told it contained aid.

The plane was then set to fly back to the Russian capital Friday with some 75 people on board who wanted to quit the strife-torn city, the ministry said.

The Saudis together with the UAE and under advise from the U.S. now regularly bomb Yemen. The Saudis effectively control the Yemeni airspace and Saudi air controllers are directing all traffic. According to the Yemeni lawyer Haykal Bafana in Sanaa they compelled the plane not to fly back to Russia without a stopover in Saudi Arabia:

Abu Hud Al Hadhrami @BaFana3
This #Russia plane landed in Sanaa, #Yemen today. Now #Saudi Arabia threatens to attack plane if it takes off. pic.twitter.com/zgpAxOOGDE

Abu Hud Al Hadhrami @BaFana3
Riyadh-Moscow standoff over Russia plane trying to depart from Sanaa #Yemen : Who's on board the plane?

Abu Hud Al Hadhrami @BaFana3
#Yemen : #Saudi Arabia orders Sanaa Airport runway lights off, #Russia plane exit taxiway or KSA jets will bomb it.

مدهش ™ @Dip_Ye
To be exact, KSA threatens to attack 2russian 1omani airplanes if they take off. Pilots refuse inspection @BaFana3

A few hours later

Abu Hud Al Hadhrami @BaFana3
Saudi military spokesman Gen Al-Assiri dismissed Sanaa Airport standoff as "Houthi hysteria". Planes will leave Fri.

AlArabia, a Saudi news outlet in English, reported

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Iranian-backed Houthi militias delayed on Thursday the departure of a Russian plane from the capital Sanaa that was carrying more than 20 tons of humanitarian aid, the spokesman of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iranian-backed group there said.

“The militias have prevented the departure [of the Russian aid plane] ... in an attempt to attract international attention,” Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri told Al Arabiya News channel.

“The plane is now scheduled to fly back to the Russian capital tomorrow,” Asiri said.

Why and how would the Houthis hold up a Russian plane that just brought aid to Sanaa? That sounds rather fishy.

Today a news outlet from the United Arab Emirates published a different story than the mouthpiece of its Saudi coalition partner:

Deposed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh tried to flee the capital Sanaa aboard a Russian plane but he was prevented by the Saudi-led coalition imposing a ban on flights over the conflict-battered Arab country, Yemen’s media reported on Friday.

A Russian aircraft carrying diplomats and relief aid landed in Sanaa airport on Thursday apparently after getting permission from coalition air force.
...
It said the coalition ordered the pilot of the Russian plane to fly first to Bisha airport in Southern Saudi Arabia for inspection but he refused.

“This confirms the information that the deposed President tried to flee the country,” the report said, adding that Saleh visited the Russian embassy in Sanaa on Tuesday.

Saleh is allied with the Houthi (Ansar Allah) and pays the parts of the Yemeni army which together with the Houthi fight against the Saudi/UAE/mercenary invasion of Yemen. That Saleh should leave is a demand of that coalition. Why, if he really was on board of that plane, would the Saudis stop him from leaving?

The Russian seem pissed and their ambassador found some quite clear words to press the Saudis:

Saudi Arabia is a key to resolving the Yemeni crisis, Russian Ambassador to Yemen Vladimir Dedushkin said.
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According to the envoy, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State terrorist groups in recent years strengthened their positions in Yemen "like never before, since the entire eastern part of Yemen, nearly 70 percent of the country, is largely controlled by extremists."
"Now only Ansar Allah fights al-Qaeda at the same time withstanding the onslaught of the coalition and the army of President [Abd Rabbuh Mansour] Hadi," Dedushkin told RIA Novosti.
...
He added that as the Yemeni crisis increases anarchy in the country it creates a breeding ground for terrorists, who arrive in Yemen from abroad, including from Syria.

"Therefore, there is a serious risk that if the Ansar Allah recedes from their positions, they will be occupied by the terrorists," the ambassador stressed.

The multi-front fighting in Yemen is ongoing with no changes in the lines of the conflict. The Saudis brought in additional mercenaries from Sudan and Eritrea while the UAE is sneaking out of Yemen under the disguise of a "troop rotation" which has no new "rotating" troops arriving. The last UAE task before leaving was to stop violent fighting in Aden between their allied Yemeni troops under former president Hadi's son and their allied Yemeni troops from the southern resistance movement.

Due to the war and the U.S.-Saudi blockade of Yemen's harbors and roads the economy has fallen off a cliff and some 6 million people, always depending on food imports, are under imminent threat of famine. Two days ago the cyclone Chapala brought several years of average rainfall within a few hours to Yemen and at least some 10,000 houses are believed to be destroyed by the flood. Another tropical storm will probably make landfall in Aden on Tuesday. There is no reporting from the ground and "western" media mostly ignores the catastrophic events in that country.

Meanwhile Yemeni army soldiers and Houthis continue to bring the war into Saudi cities (vid, long version).

The Saudi-U.S. war on Yemen is a complete failure. Will someone give the Saudis a helping hand to get out of their mess without a complete loss of face?

Posted by b on November 6, 2015 at 11:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (53)

November 05, 2015

IBTimes' "S-300 in Syria" News Nothing But Hot Air

The International Business Times creates fake news. Today it claims: Russia deploys S-300 anti-aircraft missile system in Syria after Sinai plane crash

Just days after a Russian civilian plane was suspected to have been shot down by a radical Islamist group, Moscow announced that after evaluating the threat it has deployed the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system around the Latakia airbase in Syria to counter any threat.

The Russian defence ministry has said the deployment of the anti-aircraft system will not only secure its airbase in Syria, but also deter any attempt to hijack its warplanes.

Russia's Aerospace Forces Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Viktor Bondarev told Russian dailies on Thursday the country was taking all measures to secure its assets in Syria.

"We have studied all the possible threats," said Bondarev, adding that it has also sent in missile systems besides "fighter jets, attack aircraft, bomber aircraft, helicopters," Tass reported.
...

I would be astonished if Russia would now deploy the ground based long range air defense system S-300 to Syria. A complete S-300 unit is quite bulky with several radar and command vehicles plus the launcher vehicles and the logistic elements. There is also the Russian guided missile cruiser Moskva at sea near the Syrian coast which has an equivalent system with 64 missiles on board. There is no need to now deploy a similar land based system.

So where did IBTimes get that S-300 information from? It helpfully links to TASS at its source which says:

Russia sends missile systems to Syria to counter possible threats — air force head

Russia has deployed missile defense systems in Syria to counter a possible strike against its forces in the country and also to prevent attempts to hijack a warplane, Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s Aerospace Forces Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev has said.

"We have studied all the possible threats. We sent there not only fighter jets, attack aircraft, bomber aircraft, helicopters but also missile systems. As various force majeure circumstances may occur," Bondarev said in an interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper published on Thursday.

There is nothing in the TASS bulletin that claims deployment of an S-300 long range air defense system.

We know since mid September that Russia deployed the short range air defense system Pansir-S1 (NATO designation SA-22 Greyhound) to Syria. Reuters reported on September 11:

Moscow is sending an advanced anti-aircraft missile system to Syria, two Western officials and a Russian source said, as part of what the West believes is stepped-up military support for embattled President Bashar al-Assad.

The Western officials said the SA-22 system would be operated by Russian troops, rather than Syrians. The system was on its way to Syria but had not yet arrived.

Since then tracked as well as wheeled versions of the Pansir have been seen in Russian TV reports from the Russian airport in Syria.

The Russian general said nothing new. He just mentioned what Russia "sent" to Syria in the past. The TASS headline gets that wrong as the present "sends". And the IBTimes S-300 claim is a lie pulled from hot air and without any factual base.

But such scaremongering will surely reverb in the various Internet echo chambers. It will then be used as "justification" for the U.S. to throw more weapons to jihadists in Syria.

Posted by b on November 5, 2015 at 09:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (105)

November 03, 2015

BREAKING NEWS: Russia's Position On Assad Unchanged Since 2011 - Reuters, BBC

A typical part of propaganda campaigns is to claim that the "villain" has very recently changed his political positions. Then follows "analysis" which interprets the "change" as a sure sign that the villain is under pressure and on the verge of loosing the fight. Often such claims are completely unfounded as the villain only repeated a long standing position. They are only made to repeat, repeat, repeat ... that the villain is or was up to something bad.

When Iran, for example, states again that it does not want nuclear weapons it is repeating a decades old political position. But "BREAKING NEWS" headlines will claim that the position is new "Ayatollah: Iran to refrain from nuclear weapons". This lets people assume that Iran was planing to make nuclear weapons and that it just now changed that position.

Here is a live example of this propaganda technique.

Reuters


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BBC


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How do we we know that this "BREAKING NEWS" is pure propaganda? Because Russia said over and over again that it is not supporting the person of Bashar Assad but the Syrian state and its people. A few examples:

June 5 2012: Russia says Assad could go in Syria settlement

Russia said Tuesday it was prepared to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leave power in a negotiated solution to 15 months of bloodshed that has claimed more than 13,000 lives.
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"We have never said or insisted that Assad necessarily had to remain in power at the end of the political process," Gatilov told the ITAR-TASS news agency in Switzerland.

"This issue has to be settled by the Syrians themselves."

September 15 2012: Russia says not 'clinging' to Syria's Assad

"We are not clinging to any political figures," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in brief comments reaffirming the country's official position.

"And anyone who claims otherwise is distorting the picture," Gatilov told the Interfax news agency.
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"It is only through the political process -- and not through any decision of the UN Security Council -- that the Syrians should determine the future of their state and its make-up," he added.

December 20 2012: Putin Says Russia Not Wedded to Assad, Wants End to Strife

Russia isn’t wedded to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its main goal is to end the civil war in the country, President Vladimir Putin said.
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“We aren’t concerned about Assad’s fate, we understand that the same family has been in power for 40 years and changes are obviously needed,” Putin said.

This point was made over the years again and again. It has been Russia's position from the beginning of the Syria conflict and had never changed.

September 15 2015: Russia's Vladimir Putin Says Only Syrian People Can Decide The Future Of President Assad

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that only Syrian people are entitled to decide who should govern their country and how. He was reacting to the reference of the U.S. coalition partners who want to see Syrian President Bashar Assad leave his office.

Most recently the ever unchanged position was stated on October 30 by Russia's Foreign minister Lavrov in a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State:

Lavrov: As John has said, we have no agreement on the destiny of Assad. Russia believes that it is up to Syrian people to decide within the framework of the political process. It is said in the joint statement that the political process should be done by the Syrian people and belong to the Syrian people, and the Syrian people should decide the future of their country.
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"Journalist": [...] Russia has said, as you said just a few moments ago, that you do not necessarily believe that Mr. Assad needs to go?
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Lavrov: I did not say that Assad has to go or that Assad has to stay. I said that Assad’s destiny should be decided by the Syrian people, as well as all other aspects of further development of the Syrian state.

So there. Nothing changed in Russia's position from 2011 through 2012, 2013, 2014 up to 2015.

Any journalist who follows the news on Syria knows this:

@DavidKenner Retweeted Reuters World

This is something Russia has said again and again, but will now be touted as some sort of breakthrough.

How then, if not for nefarious reasons, can a restatement of the unchanged Russian position be "BREAKING NEWS" for Reuters and the BBC?

It is not Russia but the U.S. which has been totally inflexible in its position regarding Assad. It arrogantly demands, without having any authority over the issue, that Assad must leave. Since 2012 at least it delivers weapons to jihadists who kill the Syrian people. It is thereby the U.S. which is blocking any solution and prolonging the war on Syria.

Posted by b on November 3, 2015 at 10:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (143)

November 02, 2015

Open Thread 2015-41

News & views ...

Posted by b on November 2, 2015 at 01:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (133)

November 01, 2015

Erdogan's AKP "Wins" Snap Election - Successful Challenge Unlikely

The snap election results in Turkey are somewhat surprising and strongly diverge from recent opinion polls. And the result will, as predicted, not check Erdogan. This snap election than "corrected" the June vote in which the AKP had lost its former majority.

With 98% of the vote counted the announced preliminary result is about

  • AKP 50%
  • CHP 25%
  • MHP 12%
  • HDP 10%

With this count Erdogan's AKP would have some 317 seats, 13 less than the 330 needed for constitution changing supermajority. But should the lefty/Kurdish HDP fall, by whatever means, under 10% its seats would practically go to the AKP and a supermajority would be likely.

But the election commission has now, for unexplained reasons, shut down its website and we do not get updated results. Pre-election polling, which was quite to the point in the June election, is now off by 6 to 8%. No pollster predicted the AKP above 44%.

We can therefor expect that many people will call this a fraudulent election. It may well have been one. Erdogan certainly does not refrain from playing dirty. But do not expect much success for any challenge. The police, prosecutors, and courts are all under tight AKP control. Internationally Erdogan is getting a lot of support from "western" states.

Just two day before the vote the U.S. announced that it approved long held back ‘smart bomb’ sale to Turkey. The EU held back a report critical on political and human rights in Turkey. Just twelve days ago Merkel visited for a photo op on the Sultan's throne and offered billions for Turkey to stop sending migrants to northern Europe. There was little criticism of Erdogan for seizing the Koza-İpek Group and the various media channels it owns. These "western" measure were, all together, very supportive for Erdogan and likely brought him some additional voters. So do not expect any criticism from these sides even if some evidence of vote manipulation emerges. The fix is now in.

The larger question though is what does this mean for Turkey? What does it mean for the civil war in Turkey against the Kurds? And what does this mean for the Jihadi war on Syria that Erdogan and others are waging?

Posted by b on November 1, 2015 at 01:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (85)

 
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