Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 15, 2018

Los Angeles Is First In US To Install Intrusive Subway Security - All Riders Will 'Volunteer'

The frog supposedly does not feel the slow increase of temperature until the water it sits in boils. In a similar vein people to not feel the loss of their freedoms when the observation and control instruments used on them are slowly more and more intrusive. The city of Los Angeles ratchets the screws up a few notches: Los Angeles is first in US to install subway body scanners

Los Angeles’ subway will become the first mass transit system in the U.S. to install body scanners that screen passengers for weapons and explosives, officials said Tuesday.
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The machines scan for metallic and non-metallic objects on a person’s body, can detect suspicious items from 30 feet away and have the capability of scanning more than 2,000 passengers per hour.

The capacity to check 2,000 passengers per hour is way too small for a subway line which usually has between 20 and 30,000 passengers per hour. While the system is software supported it will still need a lot of paid staff to watch the screens and to bother all the people who might carry something 'suspicious'.  There will likely be dozens if not hundreds false alarms per day.


Pic: Thruvision - bigger

This is supposedly to prevent someone with an explosives belt or an automatic rifle from entering the subway with the intend to commit mass murder. But how often does that happen? Globally its probably once per decade with zero to a few dozen casualties in any such incident. The risk of an accident or fire is much higher. It is doubtful that the expenditure and operating costs are justifiable.

Such security theater has the effect and purpose to make people feel afraid. It also makes a few people very rich.

But we are told that it is good for us. And taking part in this nonsense it is of course completely "voluntary":

Signs will be posted at stations warning passengers they are subject to body scanner screening. The screening process is voluntary, Wiggins said, but customers who choose not to be screened won’t be able to ride on the subway.

The poor have little choice but to use the subway and to get 'voluntarily' screened. The rich though will not be bothered at all.

Posted by b on August 15, 2018 at 01:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

August 14, 2018

UN Sanction Monitor: U.S. Stands By While ISIS In Syria Recuperates, Gains Money From Oil

Since November 2017 the U.S. largely stopped the fight against ISIS in north-east Syria. It gave ISIS the chance to regain power. A new report to the UN Security Council now confirms that ISIS in north-east Syria recuperated. It again profits from oil extraction under the nose of U.S. forces.

As noted here in April:

The U.S. military in Syria has refrained from fighting ISIS for months. The map of the territory held by ISIS (grey) at the Syrian-Iraqi border in the U.S. controlled zone north of the Euphrates (yellow) has not changed since November 2017.

Livemap: Nov 30 2017, Apr 24 2018 - bigger, bigger

(The yellow corridor going south east towards Iraq on the map is misleading. The U.S. has no forces there and ISIS crossed it several times to attack Syrian forces (red) across the river.)

The British group Airwars documents the U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. ... The U.S. strikes hit, if anything, only very minor targets.
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It is obvious that the U.S. wants to keep ISIS alive and well to again use it, if need be, against the Syrian and Iraqi government.

The Sanctions Monitoring Team of the UN Security Council recently released its 26nd report (pdf). It notes in the summary:

[The] Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), having been defeated militarily in Iraq and most of the Syrian Arab Republic during 2017, rallied in early 2018. This was the result of a loss of momentum by forces fighting it in the east of the Syrian Arab Republic, which prolonged access by ISIL to resources and gave it breathing space to prepare for the next phase of its evolution into a global covert network. By June 2018, the military campaigns against ISIL had gathered pace again, but ISIL still controlled small pockets of territory in the Syrian Arab Republic on the Iraqi border. It was able to extract and sell some oil, and to mount attacks, including across the border into Iraq.

Under the nose of more than 2,000 U.S. forces in north-east Syria ISIS recuperated and again gained force. It is still able to pump oil from the ground and sell it into the local market.

In the details of its report the Sanctions Monitor writes:

It appears that ISIL can still draw on some of its traditional funding streams, including hydrocarbons and extortion, earning millions of dollars per month. In its previous report, the Monitoring Team highlighted the group’s loss of control of oil and natural gas fields however, the slowdown of military progress against ISIL in early 2018, mentioned earlier, allowed the group to regain access to some oil fields in north-eastern Syrian Arab Republic. As a result, oil remains a primary source of revenue, with the group using primitive methods to extract it, both for its own consumption and for sale to locals, in addition to the extortion of distribution networks.

Oil extraction can certainly be seen by surveillance drones of which the U.S. flies plenty in the Syrian airspace. But there is not one report of an airstrike against oil related targets in the U.S. military reports collected by Airwars for April, May or June 2018.

After a slight uptick in May and June airstrikes against ISIS in July were again down at a very low level.


Source: Airwars - bigger

Publicly announced U.S. operations against ISIS in north-east Syria have a Groundhog Day feeling to them:

Zana Amed @zana_med - 11:17 AM - 13 Jul 2018
#DeirEzzor - After a short surveillance tour by Gen. Funk, Gen. Jarrard and #SDF commander in Middle Euphrates River Valley heval Çiya yesterday, operation to liberate #Hajin to start today in the evening.
Para Keta @ParaKeta - 8:55 AM - 14 Aug 2018
#SDF commander said they will launch “Operation to Liberate #Hajin” in a few days to clear the final places held by #ISIS to the east of the Euphrates.

The U.S. claimed that it had to stop its operation in east Syria because its Kurdish proxy ground force, the SDF, was busy fighting the Turkish invasion of Afrin in north-west Syria.  But U.S. air attacks against ISIS in Syria already slacked in November 2017. The Turkish invasion of Afrin started on January 20 and ended on March 24. Hardly any Kurdish units from east Syria were involved in the fight.

Giving ISIS time and liberty to recuperate and to make more revenue seems to be a deliberate strategy.

It is a repeat of the earlier U.S. coddling of ISIS. During the ISIS occupation of eastern Syria in 2014 and 2015 oil extraction and its sale to Turkey was ISIS' main financial resource. But the U.S., despite declaring a grand coalition against ISIS, never made the lucrative ISIS oil operations a target. Only when Russia's President Putin showed aerial pictures of thousands of oil tankers, waiting in the desert to load ISIS oil, to his colleagues at the G20 summit in Turkey, was U.S. President Obama shamed into attacking them. A day after the G20 summit the U.S. airforce started to bomb the long lines of oil tankers.

The UN Sanctions Monitor also notes another ISIS relevant area under U.S. protection:

The densely populated Rukban camp in southern Syrian Arab Republic contains some 80,000 internally displaced persons, including families of ISIL fighters, a situation which Member States fear might generate new ISIL cells.

The Rubkan camp in the semi-desert at the Jordan border is within the 55 kilometer protection zone of the al-Tanf border crossing to Iraq which the U.S. military occupies. Syrian government forces got bombed by the U.S. when they tried to reach it. Currently the Syrian Army is fighting ISIS forces which earlier attacked Suweida and massacred some 250 people there. Those ISIS forces are now surrounded at the Safa lava field nearby. They will be defeated because the Syrian army isolated them from their sources of supplies in the U.S.protected zone:

Desert Hawk @Syrian_Uruk - 7:31 utc - 14 Aug 2018
The #SyrianArmy surrounded ISIL gatherings at #Safa after cutting off their supply lines between the Zalaf & Rahim Dam while the #SAA secured a wall between the #US #tanf base to cut off roads from Al-Rikban and Al-Tanf camps and separate them from each other #Syria #OpDignity

The Syrian army is still preparing for the operation in Idleb governorate which is mostly under al-Qaeda's control. Under the Astana de-escalation agreement Turkey has been given until early September to solve the al-Qaeda problem in the province. It is unlikely that Turkey will succeed with that.

The Sanctions team finds:

[The Al-Nusra Front (ANF)] is assessed to remain the controlling force within the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) umbrella, which has accordingly been added by the Sanctions Committee as an alias of ANF. Syrian national Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani is the leader of both ANF and HTS. HTS maintains a position of strength in Idlib province, but is under pressure from other Syrian opposition groups.

Member States assess that HTS and its components still maintain contact with Al-Qaida leadership. ... According to one Member State, HTS recently seized territories from Ahrar Al-Sham and other armed groups after being reinforced by the arrival of military and explosives experts from Al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Some ISIL fighters, such as the leader of the ISIL Green Brigade in north-western Syria, have also joined HTS.
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Extortion remains a primary source of financing for ANF, which earns money through its control of Idlib and checkpoints, including by “taxing” the movement of commercial commodities. Kidnapping for ransom of locals is another source of revenue, and the group may earn some funds through external donations.

'Western' media continue to play down the Idleb problem and al-Qaeda's influence there. Their 'experts' cry crocodiles tears about the upcoming Syrian operation. But these ain't 'moderate rebels'. Al-Qaeda in Syria, under the Nusra or HTS label, continues to be a danger not only to the local population and not only to Syria. It must be eliminated as soon as possible.

But the same way the U.S. continues to use ISIS for its imperial interests, it will likely continue to use al-Qaeda in Syria to exercise pressure on the Syrian and Russian government. As soon as the Idleb operation starts we can expect another full propaganda onslaught with daily news of the "last hospital bombed", more faked 'chemical attacks' and fake rescue videos.

Posted by b on August 14, 2018 at 01:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (52)

August 12, 2018

The MoA Week In Review - Open Thread 2018-40

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

Three weeks before the current Canadian-Saudi spat, the Canadian Revenue Agency took away the charity status of an Islamic center and mosque in Ottawa. The mosque had received largess from foreign donors and, it is alleged, featured radical preachers. The event may have caused the otherwise inexplicable Saudi behavior.

Just now the U.S. occupation suffers a new defeat.

On Friday some 1,000 Taliban infiltrated into Ghazni, an important city on the ring-road between Kabul and Khandahar. They have since taken most of the city:

Accounts from residents leaving the city said the only areas still being held by the government were the governor’s office, police and intelligence agencies headquarters, an ancient fort called the Bala Hisar and a few other government facilities.

Early today the Taliban brought the police headquarter under their control:

Intense fighting continues in Ghazni, the police HQ caught fire and collapsed to the Taliban. 113 dead bodies and 142 wounded were taken to Ghazni hospital. The hospital is running out of the capacity for treatment, they are using corridors and other available space.

Only the province government headquarter is still defended. More than 100 police and soldiers have been killed so far. Relief forces sent from Kabul are holed up in an army headquarter some five kilometers away. Telephone communication with the city is down. Some bridges were blown up by the Taliban which makes it difficult for the army bring in more re-enforcements. Some 150,000 civilians live in the city and bombing it to hit a few hundred Taliban would be catastrophic and of little use.  Additionally to the city 15 of the 18 districts of Ghazni province are under Taliban control and it is obvious that they have the support of a significant part of the population.


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The U.S. occupation forces and their Afghan proxy government have long been in denial about the Taliban forces in Ghazni province as well as elsewhere. With the Taliban sitting on the ring-road, the south of Afghanistan is cut off from the center. They may eventually be evicted from the city but the attack is already a huge propaganda success for the Taliban and the negative moral effect on Afghan government forces will be huge. Another U.S. war that the empire obviously lost.

Right now Erdogan is holding a speech in Trabzon. He is defiant:

DAILY SABAH - @DailySabah
LIVE — President Erdoğan: The fluctuation in Turkish lira is a plot against Turkey, but Turkish people will not give in
LIVE — President Erdoğan: We might as well say goodbye to those who sacrifice their strategic partnership with a country of 81 million, alliance over 50 years for links with terror groups

Does that sounds like "Good bye NATO"? The Turkish military would not be happy with that. But by now it is presumably under Erdogan's full control.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on August 12, 2018 at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (133)

August 10, 2018

How Turkey's Currency Crisis Came To Pass

Updated below
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President Erdogan of Turkey often asserts that 'foreign powers' (meaning the U.S.) want to bring him down. He says that the 'interest lobby' (meaning (Jewish) bankers), wants to damage Turkey. He is somewhat right on both points.

Since last week the Turkish lira is on an extended down-slide. Today alone it lost nearly 20% of its value. It will likely take the Turkish economy with it and Erdogan need someone to blame for it.

But while foreign powers and banks surely use the crisis for their own aims, it its Erdogan's economic policy that is foremost to blame. The long boom he created with borrowed foreign money is finally turning into a bust.

Here is a recap of how it came to this.


The larger political picture:

During the U.S. induced 'Arab Spring' U.S. President Obama joined with Qatar and Turkey in an attempt to install Muslim Brotherhood governments throughout the Middle East. When Hillary Clinton left the position of Secretary of State and John Kerry took over, the Obama administration changed its position. It endorsed the coup against the elected Egyptian President Morsi and it refrained from actively using the U.S. military to bring the Syrian government down.

Especially with regards to Syria Turkey was left holding the bag. Erdogan had bet on the U.S. plan to overthrow the Syrian government. His invitation of Syrian refugees and support of radical Islamists fighting in Syria had cost a significant amount of money and brought a lot of trouble with it. The Turkish trade route through Syria to the Gulf countries was closed. Economic relations with Iran suffered. Erdogan needed to get something out of it.

But U.S. policies had turned against him. The Gezi protests in 2013 had all the signs of a  U.S. color revolution attempt. They failed. In 2014 the Obama administration began to support the Kurdish PKK/YPG forces in Kobane, east Syria. The PKK is a terrorist organization which tries to create its own country in the eastern part of Turkey, north Syria and north Iraq. The U.S. alliance with and arming of the Kurds created a PKK/YPG dagger pointed at Turkey's underbelly.

In response to a Turkish led attack on Latakia and Idleb in mid 2015 Russia deployed its forces to Syria. In hindsight it was the point where Erdogan's game in Syria was over. The U.S. would not launch a war against the nuclear armed Russia. Syria would not fall. But Erdogan played on.

In November 2015 the Turkish air defense ambushed and shot down a Russian jet. Russia responded with a total stop of all economic exchanges with Turkey.  These were not the needle prick sanctions the U.S. often uses, but a total abrupt end of all trade relations including millions of Russian tourist visits in Turkey. The economic damage for Turkey was huge. Erdogan had to submit to Russia. Putin was gracious and allowed Erdogan to save his face. The Russian government offered a lucrative pipeline deal and other sweeteners. In mid 2016 the CIA arranged for a hard coup against Erdogan but Russian intelligence warned Erdogan and the coup failed. Turkey is asking the U.S. to hand over Fethullah Gulen which it accuses of instigating the coup. Gulen is a Turkish preacher with a large following and a long time CIA asset who resides in Pennsylvania.

Flipping Turkey from the "western" to the "eastern" camp can be seen as part of Russia's Black Sea strategy. It is repeat of a mid 19th-century plan executed under Tzar Nicholas I. The current plan is so far successful. But it collides with the U.S. plans to revive NATO for another lucrative Cold War. Thus the current U.S. plan is to use Turkey's economy problems to finally bring Erdogan down.


The larger economic picture:

Outside of his country Erdogan is much disliked. His arrogance and autocratic style do not leave a good impression. But within Turkey he had a very successful career and continues to be supported by a majority of his people. The reason behind this is the long economic boom he created.

In 2002, when Erdogan became prime minister, Turkey was recovering from a recession. Erdogan's predecessor Kemal Derviş had implemented some significant reforms.  Erdogan took credit for the results. He additionally discarded a number of cumbersome regulations and cleaned up the bureaucracy. He invited foreign investment. The program worked well. The economy grew at a fast pace and many Turks were pulled from poverty. A few became rich. The early years of economic success under his rule are remembered well. Inflation was steady at a relatively low rate even while money was freely available and the economy grew. But Erdogan's expansive economic program also made Turkey more vulnerable.

Turkey has a chronic current account deficit. It imports more goods and services than it exports and has to borrow foreign money to pay for the difference. In the early Erdogan years a lot of money flowed into Turkey. But it was invested in unproductive matters. New housing expanded a booming Istanbul. New splendid bridges and airports, lots of shopping malls and more than 10,000 new mosques were build as well as a 1,000 room palace for Erdogan to use. His cronies in the building industry got very rich.

But productive industries that create products to export to other markets are harder to build than mosques. Erdogan never made them a priority.  Thus Turkey's current account deficits grew from 1% of its GDP to about 6% of GDP. This was clearly unsustainable.

During the boom the Turkish central bank interests rates came down from earlier heights but were still kept higher than elsewhere. The industries and banks borrowed in euros or dollars which carried less interests but this also meant that they took on a high currency risk. If the Turkish lira was to fall the loans would have to be paid back in hard currencies from revenue made in a diminishing lira.

Under normal circumstances Turkey's central bank would have engineered one or more mild recession during the 16 year long boom. Some of the accumulated waste and bad loans would have been discarded. Consumption of foreign goods and the current account deficit would have come down. But Erdogan has a curious understanding of economic theory. He believes that high interest rates cause inflation.

Every time the Turkish central bank increased its interest rate to keep inflation in check and to stop the lira from falling Erdogan found harsh words against it and threatened its independence. The relatively cheap money kept flowing, the Erdogan boom kept going, but the structural problems became worse.

Since early 2017 inflation in Turkey picked up. It since increased from 8% to now 15%. The currency went down. The value of 1 lira fell from US $0.30 in 2016 to US $0.20 a week ago. During the last few days it crashed another 25% to US $0.15. It now takes more than 2,000 lira to pay back the principal of a 1,000 lira loan taken out in U.S. dollars in 2016. The Turkish industries and banks have borrowed some $150 billion in foreign currencies. Only those who export most of their products in hard currencies will be able to pay back their loans. The others are practically bankrupt.

The bill for the long boom is coming through. The Turkish lira is crashing. No foreigners want to loan Turkey more money. For taking such a high risk they demand extremely hight interest. Turkey will soon be unable to pay for its imports, especially for the hydrocarbon energy it needs. Unfriendly relations with the United States will make it difficult to ask the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an emergency loan. It would come with very harsh conditions such as demands to 'reform', i.e. end, the benefits Erdogan has channeled to his followers.


The current escalation:

The escalation of the currency crisis during the last week coincided with the escalation of a minor conflict with the United States.

After the 2016 coup attempt Turkey imprisoned U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, who had long worked in the country, and charged him with terrorism. Last week a deal was arranged to exchange Brunson for a Turkish person held in Israel on terrorism charges. Turkey had expected more from the deal. It wants to free Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker, who the U.S. imprisoned for having breached U.S. sanctions on Iran. (He indeed did so by arranging a gold for oil trade with Iran. A trade from which Turkey, and especially Erdogan's immediate family, profited.)

Last week the U.S. side says that Erdogan went back on the exchange deal:

The deal was a carom shot, personally sealed by Trump, to trade a Turkish citizen imprisoned on terrorism charges in Israel for Brunson’s release. But it apparently fell apart on Wednesday, when a Turkish court, rather than sending the pastor home, ordered that he be transferred to house arrest while his trial continues.

Trump and the evangelical vice president Pence went berserk:

Thursday morning, after a rancorous phone call with Erdogan, Trump struck back. The United States “will impose large sanctions” on Turkey, he tweeted. “This innocent man of faith should be released immediately.”

Vice President Pence chimed in, saying in a speech at a religious conference that Turkey must free Brunson now “or be prepared to face the consequences.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called his counterpart in Ankara.

The U.S. went on to sanction two cabinet ministers of its long time NATO ally. But Erdogan would not give in. The markets reacted to the public sanctions and counter-sanctions threats. The lira began to crash from 4.80 lira per dollar to 5.20 per dollar. On Wednesday a Turkish delegation traveled to Washington to further negotiate the issue but the talks failed. The lira went to 5.50 per dollar. The financial markets became alarmed. The fall out of the spat threatens to impact European banks.

This morning Erdogan held a speech in which he dismissed fears of a lira crash:

“There are various campaigns being carried out. Don’t heed them,” Erdogan said.

“Don’t forget, if they have their dollars, we have our people, our God. We are working hard. Look at what we were 16 years ago and look at us now,” he said.

Erdogan said he would not "surrender to economic hitmen". The banks which have loaned a lot of money to Turkey might understand that as a threat to default on Turkey's debt.

At noon the lira was falling minute by minute at a 20% per day rate. Erdogan's son in law Berat Albayrak, who was recently made finance minister, held a planned speech on the economy. He was expected to give some numbers on the deficits and to name some concrete measures the government would take to end the lira problem. But he refrained from doing so. He tried to calm the markets by claiming that the Turkish central bank is independent and would act as necessary. No one believes that the central bank in Turkey can act without Erdogan's approval. Erdogan is a self-declared enemy of high interests and the central bank did not intervene today when it was urgently needed.

In the mid of Albayrack's speech Donald Trump personally intervened via Twitter:

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump - 12:47 utc - 10 Aug 2018
I have just authorized a doubling of Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong Dollar! Aluminum will now be 20% and Steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!

Steel is one of Turkey's biggest export products. The U.S. imports $1+ billion worth of Turkish steel per year. The White House later said the these tariffs are tied to security, not to trade.

Meanwhile Erdogan held a phone call with the Russia's President Putin to "discuss the economic ties". He may have asked for an emergency loan.

Meanwhile the lira dropped to 6.80 for a dollar.

Erdogan then gave another speech in which he lambasted the U.S. pressure without naming Trump or mentioning his tweet.

At the end of the day the lira stood at 6.50 to the dollar after 5.50 yesterday. Turkish stocks were down some 2%. Stocks of some Turkish banks and steel producers fell 15%. Spanish, Italian and French banks, which lent tens of billion Euros to Turkish banks, also lost. Bloomberg documented today's tic-toc in a live blog.


Where from here:

Erdogan now has the weekend to discuss the issue with his advisors. If no measures are taken by Monday morning, today's crash will gain pace. The lira will fall further. The central bank will have to raise interest raise to 30+% to stop the slide and to attract urgently needed foreign money. The Turkish economy will go into a deep recessions. A number of its banks and companies will go bankrupt. Unemployment will rise.

Erdogan will blame the U.S. and the "interest rate lobby" for the downfall. His followers will believe him. Any hope that Erdogan will go over this is in vain.

But Turkey's problems are structural. The burst of its bubble was long expected. Its foreign account deficit is simply unsustainable. It will have to cut back on imports and boost its exports. It will need large emergency loans.

Yes, the U.S. is using the issue to put pressure on Turkey. But the U.S. is not the root cause of the problem. It only exposes it.

The U.S. pressure is not about Turkey's economy and not even about pastor Brunson. The pressure is, and has been since 2013, to bring Erdogan in line with the U.S. agenda. He will have to stop his good relations with Russia. He will have to stop his purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system. He may be ordered to stop the Russian pipeline. He must follow the U.S. lead on Syria. As long as he does not do so the U.S. will try everything to bring him down.

The only chance Turkey has to escape from U.S. demands is to further ally with Russia. Putin knows that Erdogan needs him. He will play for time to increase the pressure and then make his own demands. Erdogan will have to give up completely on his plans for Syria. All Syrian land Turkey or its proxies hold must be put back under Syrian government control. Only then will the Turkey's trade route to the Gulf states reopen. Only then will Russia (and Iran) help Turkey though its crises.

On Monday Russia's foreign minister Lavrov will visit Turkey.

Will Erdogan accept the Russian demands or will he flip back to the U.S. side and surrender to Trump and the IMF?  Or will he find a different way to escape from this calamity?

Update (Aug 11, 8:45 utc):

Erdogan has an op-ed in today's New York Times. He reminds of the decades of good relations, lists his charges against recent U.S. action and blames it for the deteriorating relations. It culminates in this:

At a time when evil continues to lurk around the world, unilateral actions against Turkey by the United States, our ally of decades, will only serve to undermine American interests and security. Before it is too late, Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives. Failure to reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies.

Posted by b on August 10, 2018 at 04:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (200)

August 09, 2018

U.S. 'Fine Tuning' Of Saudi Airstrike Target List Creates Results

U.S. Deepens Role in Yemen Fight, Offers Gulf Allies Airstrike-Target Assistance - Wall Street Journal - June 12, 2018

The U.S. military is providing its Gulf allies with intelligence to fine-tune their list of airstrike targets ...
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Saudi-led coalition claims deadly Yemen attack - Daily Mail - August 9, 2018

A Saudi-led coalition battling in Yemen said it carried out a deadly attack in the rebel-held north on Thursday, which the Red Cross said hit a bus carrying children.
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"Following an attack this morning on a bus driving children in Dahyan Market, northern Saada, (an ICRC-supported) hospital has received dozens of dead and wounded," the organisation said on Twitter without giving more details.

In a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, the coalition called the strike a "legitimate military action" ...

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Last Thursday, attacks on a hospital and a fish market in the strategic rebel-held port city of Hodeida killed at least 55 civilians and wounded 170, according to the ICRC.

Posted by b on August 9, 2018 at 02:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (104)

August 08, 2018

Why They Fail - The Quintessence Of The Korengal Valley Campaign

A new excerpt from a book by C.J. Chivers, a former U.S. infantry captain and New York Times war correspondent, tells the story of a young man from New York City who joined the U.S. army and was send to the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. While the man, one Robert Soto, makes it out alive, several of his comrades and many Afghans die during his time in Afghanistan to no avail.

The piece includes remarkably strong words about the strategic (in)abilities of U.S. politicians, high ranking officers and pundits:

On one matter there can be no argument: The policies that sent these men and women abroad, with their emphasis on military action and their visions of reordering nations and cultures, have not succeeded. It is beyond honest dispute that the wars did not achieve what their organizers promised, no matter the party in power or the generals in command. Astonishingly expensive, strategically incoherent, sold by a shifting slate of senior officers and politicians and editorial-page hawks, the wars have continued in varied forms and under different rationales each and every year since passenger jets struck the World Trade Center in 2001. They continue today without an end in sight, reauthorized in Pentagon budgets almost as if distant war is a presumed government action.

That description is right but it does not touche the underlying causes. The story of the attempted U.S. occupation of the Korengal valley,  which Civers again describes, has been the theme of several books and movies. It demonstrates the futility of fighting a population that does not welcome occupiers. But most of the authors, including Chivers, get one fact wrong. The war with the people of the Korengal valley was started out of shear stupidity and ignorance.

The main military outpost in the valley was build on a former sawmill. Chivers writes:

On a social level, it could not have been much worse. It was an unforced error of occupation, a set of foreign military bunkers built on the grounds of a sawmill and lumber yard formerly operated by Haji Mateen, a local timber baron. The American foothold put some of the valley’s toughest men out of work, the same Afghans who knew the mountain trails. Haji Mateen now commanded many of the valley’s fighters, under the banner of the Taliban.

Unfortunately Chivers does not explain why the saw mill was closed. Ten years ago a piece by Elizabeth Rubin touched on this:

As the Afghans tell the story, from the moment the Americans arrived in 2001, the Pech Valley timber lords and warlords had their ear. Early on, they led the Americans to drop bombs on the mansion of their biggest rival — Haji Matin. The air strikes killed several members of his family, according to local residents, and the Americans arrested others and sent them to the prison at Bagram Air Base. The Pech Valley fighters working alongside the Americans then pillaged the mansion. And that was that. Haji Matin, already deeply religious, became ideological and joined with Abu Ikhlas, a local Arab linked to the foreign jihadis.

Years before October 2004, before regular U.S. soldiers came into the Korengal valley, U.S. special forces combed through the region looking for 'al-Qaeda'. They made friends with a timber baron in Pech valley, a Pashtun of the Safi tribe, who claimed that his main competitor in the (illegal) timber trade who lived in the nearby Korengal river valley was a Taliban and 'al-Qaeda'. That was not true. Haji Matin was a member of a Nuristani tribe that spoke Pashai. These were a distinct people with their own language who were and are traditional hostile to any centralized government (pdf), even to the Taliban's Islamic Emirate.

The U.S. special forces lacked any knowledge of the local society. But even worse was that they lacked the curiosity to research and investigate the social terrain. They simply trusted their new 'friend', the smooth talking Pashtun timber baron, and called in jets to destroy his competitor's sawmill and home. This started a local war of attrition which defeated the U.S. military. In 2010 the U.S. military,  having achieved nothing, retreated from Korengal. (The sawmill episode was described in detail in a 2005(?) blog post by a former special force soldier who took part in it. It since seems to have been removed from the web.)

Back to Chivers' otherwise well written piece. He looks at the results two recent (and ongoing) U.S. wars:

The governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, each of which the United States spent hundreds of billions of dollars to build and support, are fragile, brutal and uncertain. The nations they struggle to rule harbor large contingents of irregular fighters and terrorists who have been hardened and made savvy, trained by the experience of fighting the American military machine.
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Billions of dollars spent creating security partners also deputized pedophiles, torturers and thieves. National police or army units that the Pentagon proclaimed essential to their countries’ futures have disbanded. The Islamic State has sponsored or encouraged terrorist attacks across much of the world — exactly the species of crime the global “war on terror” was supposed to prevent.

The wars fail because they no reasonable strategic aim or achievable purpose. They are planned by incompetent people. The most recent Pentagon ideas for the U.S. war on Afghanistan depend on less restricted bombing rules. Yesterday one predictable and self defeating  consequence was again visible:

An American airstrike killed at least a dozen Afghan security forces during intense fighting with the Taliban near the Afghan capital, officials said Tuesday.
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Shamshad Larawi, a spokesman for the governor, said that American airstrikes had been called in for support, but that because of a misunderstanding, the planes mistakenly targeted an Afghan police outpost.
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Haji Abdul Satar, a tribal elder from Azra, said he counted 19 dead, among them 17 Afghan police officers and pro-government militia members and two civilians.
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In the first six months of this year, United States forces dropped nearly 3,000 bombs across Afghanistan, nearly double the number for the same period last year and more than five times the number for the first half of 2016. ... Civilian casualties from aerial bombardments have increased considerably as a result, the United Nations says.

One argument made by the Pentagon generals when they pushed Trump to allow more airstrikes was that these would cripple the Taliban's alleged opium trade and its financial resources. But, as the Wall Street Journal reports, that plan, like all others before it, did not work at all:

Nine months of targeted airstrikes on opium production sites across Afghanistan have failed to put a significant dent in the illegal drug trade that provides the Taliban with hundreds of millions of dollars, according to figures provided by the U.S. military.
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So far, the air campaign has wiped out about $46 million in Taliban revenue, less than a quarter of the money the U.S. estimates the insurgents get from the illegal drug trade. U.S. military officials estimate the drug trade provides the Taliban with 60% of its revenue.
...
Poppy production hit record highs in Afghanistan last year, where they are the country’s largest cash crop, valued at between $1.5 billion and $3 billion.

More than 200 airstrikes on "drug-related targets" have hardly made a dent in the Taliban's war chest. The military war planners again failed.

At the end of the Chivers piece its protagonist, Robert Soto, rightfully vents about the unaccountability of such military 'leaders':

Still he wondered: Was there no accountability for the senior officer class? The war was turning 17, and the services and the Pentagon seemed to have been given passes on all the failures and the drift. Even if the Taliban were to sign a peace deal tomorrow, there would be no rousing sense of victory, no parade. In Iraq, the Islamic State metastasized in the wreckage of the war to spread terror around the world. The human costs were past counting, and the whitewash was both institutional and personal, extended to one general after another, including many of the same officers whose plans and orders had either fizzled or failed to create lasting success, and yet who kept rising. Soto watched some of them as they were revered and celebrated in Washington and by members of the press, even after past plans were discredited and enemies retrenched.

Since World War II, during which the Soviets, not the U.S., defeated the Nazis, the U.S. won no war. The only exception is the turkey shooting of the first Gulf war. But even that war failed in its larger political aim of dethroning Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. population and its 'leaders' simply know too little about the world to prevail in an international military campaign. They lack curiosity. The origin of the Korengal failure is a good example for that.

U.S. wars are rackets, run on the back of lowly soldiers and foreign civil populations. They enriche few at the cost of everyone else.

Wars should not be 'a presumed government action', but the last resort to defend ones country. We should do our utmost to end all of them.

Posted by b on August 8, 2018 at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (62)

August 07, 2018

Repost: Saakashvili Wants War? He Will Get It.

This is a repost. The original was published 10 years ago, just a few hours after that little war in Georgia began.
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Despite yesterday's announced ceasefire, the government of Georgia today launched an all out military attack on the breakaway region South Ossetia in northern Georgia.

There are multiple reasons for this conflict. South Ossetia declared itself independent in the early 1990s. Ossetians are a distinct ethnic group with some 60,000 living in South Ossetia and some 500,000 living in North Ossetia which is a part of Russia. Most people in South Ossetia have a Russian passport and there are UN mandated Russian peacekeepers there.

In the bigger picture Georgia is supported by 'the west' as part of an energy transport corridor from the Caspian to the Black Sea.

In 2003 the U.S. engineered Rose revolution brought the U.S. trained lawyer Mikheil Saakashvili to the top of Georgia. He since ruled with a dubious civil rights record. When opposition demonstrations in November 2007 became too big he imposed a state of emergency and suppressed the media.

Why Saakashvili decided to escalate this conflict right now is a bit mysterious. He may hope that the Olympics will distract from the conflict. He seems to have some 'western' support for this escalation:

At the request of Russia, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session in New York but failed to reach consensus early Friday on a Russian-drafted statement.

The council concluded it was at a stalemate after the U.S., Britain and some other members backed the Georgians in rejecting a phrase in the three-sentence draft statement that would have required both sides "to renounce the use of force," council diplomats said.

For internal reasons as much as on foreign policy ground Russia will not allow Saakashvili to take over South Ossetia. It will either support the Ossetians with weapons which may lead to a prolonged guerrilla war, or it may even invade on its own.

Saakashvili already claims Russian intervention in form of air assaults and uses this as a pretext for mobilization of reserves. I'd take that with some grains of salt as it sounds like coming from the Gleiwitz radio station. If three Russian planes really bombed Georgia, they would have left damage. So far none was shown.

Saakashvili may hope for physical help from 'the west', but neither NATO nor the EU has any appetite to support his escapades.

What has led him to this miscalculation?

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So far the repost. Saakashvili's little war unfolded pretty much as foreseen above. After the Georgian artillery attack on Russian peacekeepers the Russian army responded and within five days Georgia was defeated and disarmed. The status quo ante was reinstated. Saakashvili ate his tie (vid).

After the short war Russia diligently analyzed its losses and failures. The war gave impetus to the development of new weapons and tactics. Russian airplanes were equipped with new electronics. Better communication and coordination within the ground troops was emphasized. The high operational capabilities the Russian military demonstrates in Syria would not exist to their extend had that little war not happened.

The other side of the war - the U.S., NATO and Georgia - seems to have learned nothing from it.

Posted by b on August 7, 2018 at 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (66)

August 06, 2018

Codename Acor Sycamore - The Saudi-U.S.-Al-Qaeda Plan To Reconquer Canada

Official news of the Saudi-U.S.-Al-Qaeda alliance was probably not enough to make the point. Anyone who crosses a U.S. or Saudi red line will be punished with by al-Qaeda .

Canada crossed such a line. That is what a verified Saudi propaganda account @infographic_ksa expressed today when it published this photo:


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There is little subtlety in showing an airliner flying into the CN Tower in Toronto. (The tweet, and a follow up without the plane, have since been deleted. Earlier today the account called for murdering Iran's supreme leader. That tweet is still up. Update: The account was deleted.)

The 9/11 like tweet was part of a Saudi response to Canada's "overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of #SaudiArabia".

On July 30 Saudi Arabia incarcerated the activist Samar Badawi, a sister of the Saudi dissident Raif Badawi. Raif Badawi himself has been in prison for several years. His wife Ensaf Haidar and their three children found asylum in Canada. They live in Sherbrooke in Québec.

On August 3 Canada's government expressed its displeasure with the recent arrest:

Foreign Policy CAN @CanadaFP - 14:10 utc - 3 Aug 2018
Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.

Since yesterday the Saudis fire back:

Foreign Ministry @KSAmofaEN - 22:59 utc - 5 Aug 2018
#Statement | The negative and surprising attitude of #Canada is an entirely false claim and utterly incorrect.
...

The Saudi clown prince does not tolerate any criticism. His ambassador to Canada was recalled and the Canadian ambassador in Riyadh was given 24 hours to leave. All new trade and investment transactions between Saudi Arabia and Canada are frozen. It suspended scholarship for 8,000 of the 25,000 Saudi students in Canada. The Saudi troll brigade was activated and immediately went into action:


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Dozens of Saudi accounts sent the copy/paste tweet below to various addressees. They were retweeted thousands of times.

خالد بن عبدالله آل سعود @KAFTA78 - 18:29 utc - 5 Aug 2018‏
- Replying to @CanEmbSA
In Saudi Arabia we feel worried about Canada committing cultural genocide against Indigenous people. We also support the right of Quebec to become an independent nation.
839 retweets 630 Likes

Donald Trump will follow the Canadian Saudi dispute with strong interest. He believes that "giving Canada their independence" was "the biggest mistake America ever made". In May he accused Canada of burning down the White House. It is high time to take revenge for that burning insult.

Canada has a controversial $15 billion deal to provide Saudi Arabia with more than 900 'Light Armored Vehicles', 40% of which are actually a Heavy Assault type. The sanctimonious Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called them 'jeeps'. He approved the export permits despite the acknowledged use of these tanks against internal Saudi resistance and in the Saudi rape of Yemen. Donald Trump will happily accept the Saudi request to move the deal to U.S. production lines.

Sources speak of a joint CIA-Saudi operation to arm moderate Québécois rebels for their fight against the repressive Trudeau regime in Ottawa. Codenamed Acor Sycamore, the operation will purchase weapons in Bulgaria and Croatia and secretly ship those to CIA trained freedom fighters. The Saudis will redeploy their al-Qaeda and ISIS from Syria to the Canadian tar sands. The U.S. plans to use their establishment as pretext for the war on Canada and its following occupation. The Israeli cyber spy company the Saudis hired to attack Amnesty International will be redirected to attack Ottawa. Mossad will send agents to sabotage Canada's Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve. The move will increase demand for U.S. syrup products.

Canada should note that its independence - graciously granted by Trump's America - can be revoked. The man who desires to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN may come to see the re-acquisition of the oil-rich but empty north-American space as the climax of his political career.

Today's AP piece on the Saudi-U.S.-Al-Qaeda alliance in Yemen and the Saudi '9/11 in Canada' tweet are not unrelated.

Justin Trudeau must immediately hop on a plane to Moscow and ask for Russia's support. Firing his anti-Russian, Nazi descendant foreign minister may help to gain Putin's grace.

Trump's MAGA intentions are well known. The message the Saudis sent is clear. The CN Tower will fall. Ottawa will be besieged. It is high time for Trudeau to act.

/snark

 

Posted by b on August 6, 2018 at 02:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (74)

Yemen - The Saudi-U.S.-Al-Qaeda Alliance Is Now Official 'News'

When in March 2015 the U.S and Saudi Arabia launched their war on Yemen, Moon of Alabama noted:

[T]he U.S. supported Saudi campaign is actually in support of their Wahhabi Al-Qaeda brethren, not in support of the majority of Yemenis.

In April 2015 evidence emerged that Saudi Arabia hired al-Qaeda in Yemen to fight the Houthi movement and its allies.

At that time al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (APAQ) captured the military base, refinery and port of Mukala in south Yemen. The Yemeni soldiers guarding those facilities had orders not to resist the move. They were under command of a Muslim Brotherhood officer who resides in Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda immediately renamed itself "Sons of Hadramaut" while the Saudis announced that they would support the new "Popular Committees". 

To the Saudis the Zeyda Shia and especially the Houthis are "extremist groups". Al Qaeda, especially in the form of "popular committees" like the "Sons of Hadhramaut", are friends and tools to be armed and used to Saudi advantage. As the Houthies will certainly not give up under Saudi pressure, the Riyan Mukalla Airport seized by the "popular" "Sons of Hadhramaut" will soon be indeed very busy.

The hiring and arming of al-Qaeda by Saudi Arabia and others has since been a frequent occurrence. But the mainstream media hardly ever reported the issue. It was a 'conspiracy theory' peddled by lowly bloggers like yours truly.

Now it is official news. The Associated Press headlines: Yemen: US allies don’t defeat al-Qaida but pay it to go away.

Even though the AP headline and the first paragraphs are somewhat misleading, the piece is well worth the read:

Again and again over the past two years, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has claimed it won decisive victories that drove al-Qaida militants from their strongholds across Yemen and shattered their ability to attack the West.

Here’s what the victors did not disclose: many of their conquests came without firing a shot.

That’s because the coalition cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash, an investigation by The Associated Press has found. Hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself.

These compromises and alliances have allowed al-Qaida militants to survive to fight another day — and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the 9/11 attacks. Key participants in the pacts said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes.

That lede does not reflect the detailed reporting following it. The cooperation between Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda started immediately after the launch of the war, not only two years ago. It has since been ongoing. Early on al-Qaeda captured several towns and places with the implicit help of Saudi Arabia. It also received weapons and large payments. When its expansion became too obvious, the Saudis moved other proxy forces into those places or simply asked al-Qaeda to raise a different flag. The reporting deeper into the AP piece indeed concludes that al-Qaeda is not only paid to leave, but is hired and equipped by the Saudis to fight on all fronts. It provides that the U.S. war of terror against al-Qaeda is just a sham:

[T]he U.S. is working with its Arab allies — particularly the United Arab Emirates — with the aim of eliminating the branch of extremists known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. But the larger mission is to win the civil war against the Houthis, Iranian-backed Shiite rebels. And in that fight, al-Qaida militants are effectively on the same side as the Saudi-led coalition — and, by extension, the United States.

While the highlighted core news is correct, the AP piece again misleads in the details. The direct involvement of the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and of mercenaries from a dozen countries proves that the war in Yemen is not a "civil war". It is a full fledged attack on Yemen, its resources and applaudably cool (vid) people. The Houthis are Zaida, not Twelver Shia like the Iranians. The are backed by Iranian rhetoric but that's about it. The missiles they launch against Saudi Arabia are from North Korea, not from Iran:

With Ali acting as a go-between, a "protocol of cooperation" between Yemen's Huthi rebels and North Korea was negotiated in 2016 in Damascus that provided for a "vast array of military equipment."

Al-Qaeda is directly involved in the ongoing attempt to encircle and starve millions of people in north Yemen. It plays a leading role in the attack on Hodeidah:

Two of the four main coalition-backed commanders along the Red Sea coast are allies of al-Qaida, the al-Qaida member said. The coalition has made major advances on the coast, currently battling for the port of Hodeida.

Video footage shot by the AP in January 2017 showed a coalition-backed unit advancing on Mocha, part of an eventually successful campaign to recapture the Red Sea town.

Some of the unit’s fighters were openly al-Qaida, wearing Afghan-style garb and carrying weapons with the group’s logo. As they climbed behind machine guns in pick-up trucks, explosions from coalition airstrikes could be seen on the horizon.

The U.S. has allied with the Saudi created al-Qaeda since 1979. It was used to further U.S. interests against the Soviets in Afghanistan, in Chechnya, Bosnia, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

Why is this involvement of al-Qaeda in the war on Yemen now official news? For years it was an open secret. This blog covered it in about each of its dozens of posts about Yemen. But it was only rarely reported on in mainstream news. When such 'conspiracy theories' become official 'news' it is often only because it is useful to the powers that be. So why is AP publishing this now?

Is someone in the U.S. Defense Department upset with the U.S.-Saudi war on Yemen? Is this supposed to stop the attack on Hodeidah? Or is the White House miffed about Clown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who is in charge of the war? Is this meant as a warning to 'behave'?

Posted by b on August 6, 2018 at 07:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (41)

August 05, 2018

The MoA Week In Review - Open Thread 2018-39

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

The talk in U.S. media is all about "denuclearization". But denuclearization is the last step in the four step Joint Statement Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un signed in Singapore. "New US-DPRK relations", "a lasting and stable peace regime" and "security guarantees to the DPRK" come before "denuclearisation". They are preconditions. The U.S. side tries to skip over them. At the current ASEAN Regional Forum the Foreign Minister of North Korea Ri Yong Ho again emphasized the sequencing:

Confidence is not a sentiment to be cultivated overnight. In order to build full confidence between the DPRK and the U.S., it is essential for both sides to take simultaneous actions and phased steps to do what is possible one after another.

We believe that the only practical way for moving forward is to take a new approach of giving priority to confidence-building and implementing all items of the Joint Statement in a balanced, simultaneous and phased way.

Only when the U.S. ensures that we feel comfortable with and come close to it, will we be able to open our minds to the U.S. and show it in action.

This is the core essence of the spirit of the agreement shared by the leaders of the DPRK and the U.S.

The New York Times report on that Ri Yong Ho speech is repeating the false emphasis on "denuclearization". Its characterization of the four steps of the Singapore Statement is wrong:

Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim held their historic summit meeting in Singapore on June 12, signing a document in which Mr. Kim committed to work toward a “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” while Mr. Trump promised to provide security guarantees to the North and to build “new” bilateral relations. They recognized that “mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The NYT sets denuclearisation first and security guarantees and relation building as second. The "building of a peace regime", i.e. the formal ending of the Korea War by a peace treaty, is not mentioned at all. The relevant facts a reader needs to understand the North Korean complain are simply left out.

Aaron Maté interviewed Professor Isa Blumi, the author of "Destroying Yemen", on The Real News Network: The Saudi-US Agenda Behind Destroying Yemen. Blumi talks of the larger "western" motives in supporting the Saudi/UAE assault on Yemen: resources, fishing rights, sea control and more.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on August 5, 2018 at 09:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (77)

August 04, 2018

Washington Post Blames Iran For Trump's Unilateral Sanctions Against It

Who is to blame for the Trump administration's revocation of the nuclear deal with Iran? Who is to blame for the sanctions the Trump administration is unilaterally imposing on Iran, parts of which go into effect today?

According to Jason Rezaian, it is the Iranian government.

Jason Rezaian was the Washington Post bureau chief in Tehran. In July 2014 he was arrested in Tehran for espionage and sentenced to prison. In a side deal to the nuclear agreement he was released in 2016 in exchange for Iranians held in the United States.

Rezaian now writes a Global Opinion column for the Post. His latest is headlined: I lived in an Iran under sanctions. Here’s what it’s like.

I lived in Tehran then and reported extensively on the impact the sanctions had.

If that experience is a predictor of what is about to hit the people of Iran, here’s a preview of what ordinary Iranians can expect in the weeks and months ahead.

He lists a number of issues that sanctions will cause: the rial will fall further, some medicines will be difficult to get, there will be other shortages, black markets will reappear, a few will profit from them:

That small but not inconsequential segment of the population will see its wealth balloon as it did in 2012 and 2013. There will be a disproportionate number of the most expensive luxury cars on Earth sitting in Tehran's perpetual traffic.

Sounds like London or New York to me. Indeed, as one commentator to that op-ed remarks:

A lot in this article sounds like daily life for large numbers of Americans, as if there were sanctions on a large portion of the US population. Iran may see the lifting of those sanctions one day but those Americans most likely will not, partly because so many keep voting for their oppressors.

Rezaian continues:

Soon enough, well-connected officials and their families with access to the black markets will begin importing and selling goods at exorbitant prices, callously taking advantage of the misfortune that their cronies in government helped create.

How, please, have the "cronies" in Iran's government "helped create" the new sanctions? Iran was fulfilling all is duties under the JCPOA agreement. It was solely Donald Trump who abrogated the UN endorsed deal despite the protests of all other signatories.

While Rezaian pretends to be concerned about the Iranian people, he continues to put the blame on the wrong party:

Maybe the regime in Tehran will quietly crumble tomorrow — wouldn’t that be nice? — but more likely it will press forward, doing little to address the very legitimate concerns of its people just to defy Washington.
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Just as Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela and many other anti-U.S. regimes manage to limp along for years, Iran’s ruling class is similarly stubborn.
...
The general malaise of a society living under the perpetual darkness caused by being marked a pariah nation will only worsen.

It is hard to discern on what planet Jason Rezaian lives. It must be the one where all nations and people bow to the unreasonable whims of some loudmouth in Washington DC. That is not planet Earth. Iran is not "stubborn". It demands its rights under the JCPOA. Iran is not a "pariah nation", the United States are. It was the U.S. that unilaterally abrogated the nuclear deal.

Russia, Turkey, India, China and many others will not abide to unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran. They will not bow to secondary sanctions if the U.S. tries to impose those.

Trump "cronies" visited Asia and demanded that China and India, two of Iran's biggest oil customers, stop buying Iranian oil. Both countries said no. The Trump cronies then begged China and India to not increase their imports when, in November, those sanctions bite, when some of Iran's customers stop buying and when more Iranian oil comes to the market.

Those talks happened some months ago and both countries asked for more time to think about the problem. China has now in principle agreed to the Trump request - but only after it made the necessary preparations:

The U.S. has been unable to persuade China to cut Iranian oil imports, according to two officials familiar with the negotiations ...

Beijing has, however, agreed not to ramp up purchases of Iranian crude, according to the officials, ...
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China -- the world’s top crude buyer and Iran’s No. 1 customer -- has said previously that it opposed unilateral sanctions and lifted monthly oil imports from the country by 26 percent in July. It accounted for 35 percent the Iranian exports last month, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.

India seems to have had the same idea:

India’s monthly oil imports from Iran surged by about 30 percent to a record 768,000 barrels per day (bpd) in July, as state refiners’ intake surged ahead of U.S. sanctions in November, preliminary tanker arrival data obtained by Reuters showed.
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July volumes were about 85 percent higher than year ago shipments of about 415,000 bpd, the data showed.

When in November the hard oil sanction against buyers of Iranian oil go into effect India and China will insist to keep their current volume flowing. Both have already increased their buys from Iran. They can now promise to Trump that they will not increase their imports from Iran because they already upped those by a very large amount. Iran exports between 2.2 to 2.8 million barrels per day. At least half of that will continue to flow to its two biggest customers. By that measure the sanctions already failed.

Trump can not even use the jurisdiction over the U.S. dollar to stop these trades. The deals with India and China are made under bilateral contracts in local currencies and futures contracts than can now be bought and sold in Shanghai where they are denominated in yuan.

In addition to the sanctions the Trump regime has launched a number of shady to outright brutal initiatives against Iran. It sent people to Europe to claim that Iran is behind some terror plots in Europe, and that this is enough reason to end the deal. But: "European officials, some skeptical that Iran is behind the plots, say the nuclear deal benefits the region." Still, some European leaders have no backbone and submit to U.S. pressure.

A U.S.-Israeli joint operation was set up to increase internal pressure in Iran. It will try to influence protesters in Iran and to incite terrorism. This is likely an early sign of that initiative:

A large shipment of weapons incl anti-aircraft guns, 7000 cannon projectiles, 73mm antitank cannons, other ammo found in east of #Iran. Kerman prosecutor gen. says they belonged to anti-government groups.

Iran will not fold under pressure, it never folded. It was the Obama administration that wanted and needed the nuclear deal. It used Oman's good office to negotiated with Tehran. Trump may try to do the same (or may indeed already talk with Iran). But his administration made unreasonable demands that Iran can not and will not fulfill.

Trump's offer of unconditional talks are not welcome:

Every Iranian official I spoke to said “there is no trust in this US establishment” and that “Iran needs practical proof before initiating any dialogue.” “The U.S. tried to isolate Iran from Russia and China when signing the JCPOA, in the hope that Tehran would accept to stand by the U.S. This was a wrong approach because Russia and China are well established and reliable partners and we certainly can’t say the same for the U.S. Trump wants to sit down with us without conditions. We don’t want to sit down with him unless he backs off. His style of pressure is not the way to attract Iran; on the contrary, it is the best way to push us far away. One thing is clear: we shall not negotiate away our missile production and capabilities and the support we offer our allies in the Middle East. If this is what he wants, he can stay where he is.”

It is Trump who will have to climb down and reinstate the JCPOA deal. Unless he does so Iran will not be willing to deal with him. The problem now is that the Zionists behind Trump will not allow him to do that. They will insist on pushing the issue towards a military conflict. It will be another one of those that the U.S. continues to lose.

Posted by b on August 4, 2018 at 02:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (64)

August 03, 2018

Saudi Coalition Renews Attack On North Yemen's Lifeline

The war on Yemen, which has been ongoing for three years, gets way too little mention in "western" media:

The reason for inattention is obvious: The United States bears real responsibility for the crisis. A quote from a Yemeni doctor found in PBS reporter Jane Ferguson’s piece sums it up:

“The missiles that kill us, American-made. The planes that kill us, American-made. The tanks … American-made. You are saying to me, where is America? America is the whole thing.”

The war is also complicate and difficult to explain. The alliances are opaque and make little sense. Individual events conceal the big picture.

The Saudis started the war after a Zaidi Shia movement from Yemen's northern highlands, the Houthi, pushed the Saudi proxy-government under the former president Hadi out of the capital Sanaa. The exiled Hadi government is still internationally recognized but under complete Saudi control.

The Saudis want to control all of Yemen. While Yemen is geographically smaller and dirt poor it has an equal number of citizens and some valuable resources. The Saudis have for decades financed Wahhabi preachers to proselyte in Yemen. But Yemen has its own milder style of Islam and the Wahhabis were generally not welcome. There are also plans for a Saudi pipeline to Yemeni ports which would allow Saudi exports to bypass the Strait of Hormuz. For their war on Yemen the Saudis allied with the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE have their own plans for Yemen. They wants to control south Yemen and the port of Aden as a gemstone in their expansionary Dubai Port World conglomerate.

Both have hired Yemeni tribal proxies and foreign mercenaries to help in their campaigns. The Saudis have allied with the Yemeni Islah party which is part of the international Muslim Brotherhood. The UAE allied with some southern Yemeni tribes who strive for independence from the north.

The U.S. supports its Gulf "allies" and sells them lots of weapon. It is also interested in keeping al-Qaeda in Yemen down.

All these aims are conflicting with each other.

Ahmed Muthana, a former Yemeni diplomat based in Washington DC, explains why, for example, al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) can not be eliminated from Yemen:

The reason why it’s impossible to defeat al-Qaeda in Yemen today is the deep coordination on the ground between AQAP and Al-Islah, the Muslim Brotherhood’s party in the country. Al-Islah is a crucial part of the Yemeni government.

The links between Al-Islah and Al-Qaeda go far back, and senior Al-Islah leader Abdul Majeed al-Zindani played a vital role in the bridge between the two parties. In 2004, the U.S. government labeled him as “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” for his ties with al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. When the Yemeni army was about to start an offensive against al-Qaeda in Abyan in southern Yemen in 2012, Al-Zindani called for a halt. The Al-Islah leader is a close ally of President Hadi.

According to Mareb Press, a news outlet loyal to the government, Hadi met with Al-Zindani in 2018 and described him as “the heir of the Prophet.” During the meeting, Hadi insisted for Al-Zindani to play a more prominent preaching role in Yemen, which would generate more violent thinking in the region.

One of Hadi's military leaders, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, is also an al-Qaeda ally:

In 2005, the U.S. embassy in Yemen raised a red flag about Al-Ahmar’s trips to Afghanistan and meetings with Bin Laden in the 1980s. In the U.S., Al-Ahmar is believed to have played a key role in the relocation of large groups of al-Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan to Yemen. Al-Ahmar resettled many terrorists that were banned from going back to their countries in Yemen.

That an individual with a long history of friendship with AQAP is leading the country’s army, makes it is no surprise that terrorist group is not defeated in the north yet.

The Saudis are (again) using al-Qaeda for their purpose while the U.S. is (again) trying to keep it down. But both also want the former president Hadi to regain his position in Sanaa.

 The troops of the United Arab Emirates in Yemen,  officially allied with the Saudis, have become one of al-Qaeda's main target:

Elisabeth Kendall - @Dr_E_Kendall - 13:47 utc - 3 Aug 2018
1st formal claim from #AQAP #Yemen in 2 weeks: Jihadists ambushed #UAE-backed Rapid Reaction Forces 11am today in al-Mahfad, Abyan. 4 soldiers killed, commander seriously hurt, 2 vehicles destroyed. Follows reported gun battles last night between AQAP & military in al-Mahfad city

Yemen has no air force and no air defenses. The Saudi coalition has been bombing the Houthi held parts of the country for three years and destroyed much of its infrastructure. It is killing indiscriminately. The UN and the media have downplayed the number of casualties by citing an estimate of 10,000 killed that has not been updated since mid 2016.

Last year a Moon of Alabama piece found that the real casualty number is likely much higher:

Up to July 2017 the U.S.-Saudi coalition had flown more than 90,000 air-sorties over Yemen. Most of those will have involved weapon releases.
...
100,000 dead civilians caused by the war so far is a more likely number than the never changing 10,000.

The U.S. media is slowly waking up to this:

For almost two years, a figure — 10,000 people — has been frequently cited by journalists and relief agencies to describe the number of civilian deaths in the conflict.
...
But in public discussion of the conflict, the number has never been revised, even as the war has retained its ruthless intensity.

But despite that insight the Washington Post piece is still using a low balled number:

Data collected by ACLED, a group that studies conflicts, puts the death toll at nearly 50,000 people in the period between January 2016 and late July 2018.

That number includes combatants but excludes people not directly killed during the fighting — thousands of civilians who have died of malnutrition or cholera, for instance. Last year, Save the Children estimated that 130 children were dying every day because of “extreme hunger and disease.”

The Saudi coalition blockades the Houthi held parts of the country. 70% of the available food comes through the port of Hodeidah which the Houthi still hold. If the Saudi coalition manages to catch the harbor it could put the Yemeni highlands under a complete starvation siege. The Houthi would have to give up.

In June a UAE led ground and sea operation attempted to take Hodeidah from the Houthi. The attack along the southwestern coast had reached the border of the airport south of the city when Houthi forces managed to cut its supply line.


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The UAE led attack has since stalled. The UN envoy to Yemen is negotiating with both sides over control of the port. Losing, or respectively winning the port would likely decide the war.

Hodeidah has been under Saudi air attacks despite a local ceasefire. Following recent air strikes the UN warned of a human catastrophe:

On 26, 27 and 28 July, airstrikes occurred near a reproductive health centre and public laboratory in Hodeidah and hit and damaged a sanitation facility in Zabid and a water station, which supplies the majority of the water to Hodeidah City.
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“Cholera is already present in neighborhoods across the city and governorate. Damage to sanitation, water and health facilities jeopardizes everything we are trying to do,” said Ms. Grand, [the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen]. “We could be one airstrike away from an unstoppable epidemic.”

The targeting of civilian installations is not a mistake, but the Saudi coalition tactic to put pressure on Yemen's population. Yesterday a double tap strike hit the fishing docks of Hodeidah port where hundreds of fishermen, peddlers and buyers were haggling over the daily haul. An hour after the first strike the Saudi coalition hit the entrance of the nearby al-Thawra hospital. More than 70 were killed and more than 150 were wounded. For lack of food, medical and financial resources many of the wounded are likely to die in the next days. Local sources say that all of the casualties were civilians.

Authorities in Hodeidah said these air attacks "were largely unexpected because both the Houthi fighters and the Saudi-UAE alliance had announced that they were going to cease hostilities in and around the port of Hodeidah to give UN peace efforts a chance".

The only report of the deadly strike on the New York Times website is a Reuters piece which blames the Houthi.

Pictures and video from the ground show that at least one of the strikes was not by air but by British made mortars which came in from a southern direction. The targeted area, marked red, is within mortar firing range of the UAE forces south of the airport.


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The UAE recently send fresh material and soldiers to the area. It is building up the force to renew its attack.

These coalition forces have little respect for the life of Yemeni civilians.

Iona Craig, one of the few "western" on the ground reporters in Yemen, recently got her hand on some intelligence report which describes a Saudi night bombing of some tents in the desert:

Unbeknown to the Maswadahs, Royal Saudi Air Force drones had been hovering for 45 minutes over their dwellings at the edge of the wide plain walled by mountains. Saudi duty officers more than 550 miles away watched the family’s tents on their screens, along with two “hot spots” likely created by the body heat of people and animals inside.
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[They] observed “no personnel or vehicles visible, nor any other intelligence information about the location,” according to the report.
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At 9:25 p.m., the absent general issued the order [by phone] to strike the tents.

The family inside the tent, which included nine children, was lucky. The bomb hit the backside of the small hill their tent stood next to. But the strike was clearly indiscriminate.

The UK government admitted that British officers supervise the Saudi targeting process. U.S. officers are likewise in the Saudi operations centers and at least observe the Saudi targeting. They obviously don't intervene against the indiscriminate strikes:

As the intelligence report shows, the U.S. maintains a significant presence in the Saudi operations center. It also sells munitions and aircraft to the coalition and provides maintenance, training, targeting assistance, and mid-air refueling for fighter jets carrying out bombing runs.

Last week a large Saudi crude oil carrier was allegedly hit by a rocket while sailing through the Red Sea’s Bab al-Mandeb strait. The Saudis allege that Houthi forces did it and try to sell it as a reason to hit Hodeidah. The Houthi have no navy. Hodeidah is some 300 kilometer north of the straits and the coast next to it is under UAE control.

Nevertheless the Saudis stopped their tankers from passing through the Red Sea. Not because of the potential danger, but to increase pressure on the United States, Britain and others to help to invade Hodeidah:

Analysts say Saudi Arabia is trying to encourage its Western allies to take more seriously the danger posed by the Houthis and step up support for its war in Yemen, where thousands of air strikes and a limited ground operation have produced only modest results while deepening the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
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The suspension of Saudi shipments - with the implied threat of higher oil prices - may also be aimed at pressuring European allies, who have continued to support the nuclear deal with Iran following the U.S. withdrawal in May, to take a stronger stance against Tehran’s ballistic missiles program and support for armed groups across the region.

There was no official confirmation that the move was coordinated with Washington but one analyst said it would be astonishing if it were not, given the strategic alliance between the two countries.

After the Saudi ship was hit the British government sent 20 British Special Forces to an unnamed "Red Sea Port" and dispatched a frigate to the area.

The Saudi claims, that Iran is involved in the war and is smuggling ballistic missiles through Hodeidah to the Houthi, is false. All larger ships going to Hodeidah get searched and inspected. The Houthi may receive some material support smuggled from Oman through the Saudi coalition lines but that is clearly not big stuff or in a decisive amount. The biggest source of weapons and ammunition they use comes from raids on the Saudi coalitions' supplies or are bought from Saudi proxy forces.

Hodeidah is not relevant for smuggling but it is the lifeline for Yemen's besieged northern highlands. More than 10 million lives depend on the food that comes through the port. If the Houthi lose control over the port, to the UN or the Saudi coalition, their people will starve and they will lose the war.

The plan behind the current Saudi tactic of bombing Hodeidah's water supplies and markets is to push the population out of city to make it easier to attack and occupy it. It city is the Houthi's jugular and the Saudis want to go for it.

The U.S. and other "western" military and governments know this.  If they allow the Saudi coalition to take the port they will be complicit in the genocidal famine that will follow.

Posted by b on August 3, 2018 at 02:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (48)

August 02, 2018

Open Thread 2018-38

News & views ...

Posted by b on August 2, 2018 at 02:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (121)

August 01, 2018

Syria Sitrep - The Southwest Is Liberated - On To Idlib

The Syrian Arab Army campaign in southwest Syria is coming to an end. The whole (green/black) area held by "rebels" and ISIS just six weeks ago is now liberated. After early resistance was overcome by a large force, many "rebel" groups gave up their fight and agreed to hand over their heavy weapons to the government forces. Those who accepted reconciliation agreements were granted amnesty, a few preferred to be evacuated to Idleb governorate.

The quarter million displaced persons the UN claimed to be in the area have not been found.


Daraa governorate, June 18 2018 - bigger

After the eastern half was cleaned and "rebels" in Daraa city defeated the fight continued in the Quneitra area along the ceasefire to the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. Here the early resistance was again strong but soon broke down. The "rebels" were offered a new alternative. They could attach their units to the Syrian army. More than 400 are now serving with the 4th Armored Division led by Maher Assad, the brother of Syria's president. Others were formed into the separate 'Ahmed' brigade. Many of these former "rebels" helped to overcome the resistance of the last ISIS fighters at the southwestern border with Jordan. A few of the ISIS nutters survived and were taken to prison (vid).

This model of converting "moderate rebels" into government soldiers to fight al-Qaeda, ISIS and other radical Islamist will be an important element in the upcoming operation to liberated Idleb.

During the last phase of the attack on ISIS holdouts in Quneitra some 150 other ISIS fighters, who had earlier dispersed in the southeastern desert, launched a surprise attack on Suweida city which is home of many Druze people. Lax guarding and likely some inside help enabled the night assault. The ISIS fighters went from house to house and slaughtered more than 250 civilians before escaping. A similar number of people were wounded.

Forces that were part of the southwestern Daraa operation have now been dispatched to comb through the semi-desert where these ISIS fighters are hiding. A similar situation exists in Iraq's Anbar desert. The size of the areas and the hilly geography make it difficult to find a dispersed enemy. It will require continuous long range desert patrols and several large sweeping operations to hunt these animals down.


Some of the military forces which took part in the southwestern battle had already moved north. Others will now follow. Idleb province is largely under control of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, the former Jabhat al Nusra and part of al-Qaeda. The total opposition force in Idleb governorate is estimated at 80-120,000 of which some 15,000 are foreigners including large contingents of Uighurs, Turkmen and Chechnians. Many of the "rebel" leaders in Idleb are Saudis and Egyptians. In total there are less than 2 million people in the (green) rebel held area. The Syrian government has opened several corridors to enable civilians to flee towards its side.


Idleb governorate, August 1 2018 - bigger

The large government campaign to liberate Idleb governorate will only start in September. Preliminary 'shaping' operations by artillery and air will prepare the battlefield.

The western "rebel" area in Latakia near the Turkish border will have to be recovered before proceeding towards Jisr al-Shughur where many foreign fighters reside. The first large phase will recover the areas south of the (Latakia) - Jisr al-Shughur - Saraqib - Aleppo road. There will likely be several axes of operations from the east, south and west. This for now would avoid a fight for the city of Idleb. The resistance by local Syrian "rebels" will likely be weak. They are demoralized and only think of how to escape from another fight. The Idleb campaign will likely take no longer than three to four month. 

Turkey is responsible for the 'de-escalation area' of Idleb governorate. It was supposed to separate the "moderate rebels" from al-Qaeda and other radical fighters but did not succeed. Turkish forces holds some 12 outposts along the current demarcation line between the government and the rebels. It is not expected that these isolated, platoon sized units will take part in any fight.

Turkey's President Erdogan had hoped to keep parts of Syria for Turkey. That is unlikely to happen. Turkey is in deep trouble. Today the Trump administration sanctioned the Turkish Ministers for Justice and Interior for keeping U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson under Turkish house arrest. Congress threatens to sanction Turkey should it buy the Russian S-400 air-defense system. The Turkish Lira just broke through the 5 lira per US$ mark and continuous to fall. Many Turkish companies and banks took loans in U.S. dollars and Euros and will have problems to pay these back. The U.S. military supports the anti-Turkish PKK/YPG militias in northeast Syria. Turkey has nowhere to go. NATO will not come to its help. It can not start a war against Syrian forces which have the support of Russia without strong U.S. backing.

Over the last two days another round of the Astana talks between Russia, Turkey and Iran was held in Sochi, Russia. The final statement again empathizes Syria's territorial integrity and sovereignty. With the Syrian army coming north Turkey can no longer justify to hold onto Syrian land.

After the recent Sochi talks Alexander Lavrentiev, President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to Syria, spoke (Ru, machine translation) with TASS news agency about the Idleb campaign. He hopes that a big fight over Idleb can be avoided. The plan is to incentivize "moderate rebels" to join the Syrian army in the fight against the Islamists as recently seen in Daraa. The Russian reconciliation officers are ready to make such offers.


Last week the Syrian government held talks with the Kurdish YPG/PKK organization that acts as U.S. proxy in northeast Syria. The Kurds want strong autonomy or even a federate state with its own income sources but are unlikely to get that much. The U.S. will not start a fight with the Syrian government when it recovers its northeastern land. The other Syrian people will not forget that the Kurds enabled the U.S. occupation of parts of their land and let Afrin go to the Turks instead of handing it to the Syrian government. The YPG/PKK Kurds are useful for Syria to  threaten Turkey but that's about it.

Russia initiated talks with the German and French governments about the return of refugees to Syria and financial help for Syria's recovery from the war. As a first tranche of its atonement fee France sent a planeload of medical supplies to Damascus. More such gestures will follow.

Posted by b on August 1, 2018 at 03:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (76)