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September 19, 2018

Open Thread 2018-48

News & views ...

Posted by b on September 19, 2018 at 01:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (62)

September 18, 2018

Syria - Israel's Provocation Kills Russian Soldiers - Moscow Will Take Political Revenge

Yesterday Turkey and Russia agreed on a further de-escalation in Idelb province in Syria (see the update here). This agreement takes away the chance of an imminent wider war in which the U.S. and some of its allies would use a fake 'chemical attack' as a pretext to launch missiles against a large number of Syrian government targets and military positions.

A peaceful solution of the Idleb situation is unsatisfying for Israel. The successful Syrian defeat of the Jihadi enemy inside the country would allow Syria and its allies to concentrate their forces against Israel. Israel wants the Syrian government destroyed and the country in chaos.

On Sunday September 16 Israel tried to hit an Iranian Boeing 747 freight plane at Damascus airport. The plane allegedly carried an Iranian copy of the Russian S-300 long range air defense System for the Syrian army.

On Monday around 10:00pm local time 4 F-16 jets of the Israeli airforce, coming from the sea, launched missiles against at least three targets on Syria's coast. The strike came only hours after Israel released satellite images of what it called "strategic targets" in Syria. The integrated Syrian and Russian air-defenses responded.

The Israeli air force had warned the Russian forces in Syria only one minute before the strike. A Russian IL-20 electronic warfare airplane (red line) was preparing to land at the Russian airport near Latakia just as the Israeli attack (blue) happened.


Source: Russian defense Ministry - bigger
The IL-20 was hit 35 kilometers off the coast by a S-200 air-defense missile fired by the Syrian military towards the Israeli attack. There were 15 Russian soldiers on board of the plane which were likely all killed. Russian ships search for survivors. Some wreckage of the plane was found at sea 27 kilometers west of the village of Banias.

IL-20 electronic warfare version - bigger

The Israeli attack came out of the same direction as the Russian IL-20. The large 4 propeller plane creates a much bigger radar reflection than the small F-16s fighter jets. The S-200 missiles have a semi-active radar homing seeker. These are passive detectors of a radar signal which is provided by an external source, in this case the Syrian and Russian radars on the ground. While the missile was aimed at the F-16 its seeker likely mistook the larger radar reflection of IL-20 for the intended target.

At the same time as the Israeli air force attacked, a Russian frigate (red) near the coast detected missile launches from the French Frigate Auvergne (blue) nearby. The French frigate carries air, ship and land attack missiles. France denied "any involvement in the incident." But it seems that this only referred to the IL-20 incident and was not a denial of missile launches.

Even more was going on says Haaretz:

Not only Russian and (allegedly) Israeli and French aircraft and missiles were in the air. Civilian radar also tracked British Royal Air Force aircraft, which, unusually, had switched on their transponders and gone into holding patterns – most likely to avoid being somehow involved in the exchange of fire over Latakia.

The Russian Defense Ministry accuses the Israeli government of a deliberate set up:

"Israel did not warn the command of the Russian troops in Syria about the planned operation. We received a notification via a hotline less than a minute before the strike, which did not allow the Russian aircraft to be directed to a safe zone," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.

After the Israeli attack the Syrian state TV showed the headquarters of the Technical Industries Agency near Latakia on fire. Other targets were near Jableh, south of Latakia, and Homs. At least ten people were wounded due to these attacks.

The Russian military spokesman also accused Israel of "hostile action" against Russian forces:

"We see these provocative actions of Israel as hostile," Konashenkov said, adding that 15 Russian servicemen were killed as a result of the "irresponsible actions" of Israel's Defense Forces, which violated "the spirit of the Israeli-Russian partnership."
According to the spokesman, the Russian Defense Ministry reserves the right to an "adequate response" following the Israeli attack.

Israel (and France?) are deliberately provoking the Syrian and Russian forces. It hopes for a response that allows it to play the victim and to call on U.S. President Trump for help and protection. The help would come in the form of a U.S., British and French attack on the Syrian government and Syrian military targets.

Russia will certainly take revenge for the Israeli provocation, but will likely do so in the political arena. On Netanyahoo's personal request Russia had stopped the delivery of original Russian S-300 long range air-defense missiles to the Syrian military. These would have been less likely to veer off towards the wrong target. In consequence an Iranian 747 was damaged and 15 Russian soldiers were killed. Netanyahoo can forget about any further such 'favors' from Moscow.

Posted by b on September 18, 2018 at 06:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (358)

September 16, 2018

The MoA Week In Review - Secret Bio-weapons - Skripals - OT 2018-47

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

The theme of the week was the now delayed operation to liberate Idelb governorate in Syria.


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But the White Helmets will have to wait with their next 'chemical weapon' scam. The attack was delayed. The crisis has for now receded but the issue will be back in the news in some six to eight weeks.


The Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva published an extensive investigative piece on the secret U.S. biological weapon laboratory near Tbilisi, Georgia:

US diplomats involved in trafficking of human blood and pathogens for secret military program

The US Embassy to Tbilisi transports frozen human blood and pathogens as diplomatic cargo for a secret US military program. Internal documents, implicating US diplomats in the transportation of and experimenting on pathogens under diplomatic cover were leaked to me by Georgian insiders. According to these documents, Pentagon scientists have been deployed to the Republic of Georgia and have been given diplomatic immunity to research deadly diseases and biting insects at the Lugar Center – the Pentagon biolaboratory in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi.

A copy is also available at the Balkanspost. The Georgian government rejects the allegation and claims that the laboratory is under its full control. But why then is the U.S. buying even the toilet paper the scientist use in the lab?

Dilyana Gaytandzhieva previously published on secret weapon transfer from east-Europe to Syria and elsewhere under diplomatic cover.


The British government claimed that two Russian men, who traveled under the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, were in Salisbury to assassinate the British spy Sergej Skripal. It said that those names were likely false. But the chaps are real and talked with Russia Today editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan. There is an English transcript of the full interview. Some of their answers may suggest that they are a gay couple. Looking at their picture this seems quite obvious to me ;-).


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Petrov and Boshirov say that they went Salisbury on March 3 to see Stonehenge but were hampered by the weather. That might well be true. Stonehenge was indeed closed on March 3 because of high snowdrifts on the road to it. The chaps came back on March 4 but were again disappointed. Traffic was still hampered.

The newest British claim is that the two men partied the night before they allegedly tried to kill Skripal. They smoked grass and brought a prostitute into their hotel for some loud sex. Other guest complained to the staff. Only highly professional GRU agents with the most dangerous poison on a secret mission to assassinate a criminal Russia pardoned years ago would do such a thing.

Or would they?

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on September 16, 2018 at 12:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (204)

Syria - The Rationale Behind The Delay Of Idleb's Liberation - Updated 2x

Updated (twice) below

Southfront has an excellent longread on the Turkish role in the war on Syria from its very beginning. The piece includes a list of the groups Turkey currently supports and gives an outlook on Turkey's plans:

Turkish Strategy In Northern Syria: Military Operations, Turkish-backed Groups And Idlib Issue.

The conclusion:

In the contemporary military and diplomatic reality surrounding the Syrian crisis, Ankara is pursuing the following tactical goals:
  • To eliminate or at least disarm and limit influence of US-backed Kurdish armed groups in northern Syria;
  • To strengthen a united pro-Turkish opposition Idlib and to eliminate any resistance to it, including in some scenarios the elimination of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its allies;
  • To facilitate return of refugees from Turkey to Syrian areas under its own control;
If these goals are achieved, Ankara will significantly increase its influence on the diplomatic settlement of the crisis and on the future of the post-war Syria. The returned refugees and supporters of militant groups in the Turkish-controlled part of Syria will become an electoral base of pro-Turkish political figures and parties in case of the implementation of the peaceful scenario. If no wide-scale diplomatic deal on the conflict is reached, one must consider the possibility of a pro-Turkish quasi-state in northern Syria, confirming the thesis that Erdogan is seeking to build a neo-Ottoman empire.

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Elijah J. Magnier confirms our take that the Syrian-Russian operation to liberate Idleb is on hold but not canceled:

What is clear so far is the certainty that President Assad is not ready to give up Idlib to President Erdogan. Assad is said to be ready to start the attack in a few weeks even alone, at the cost of dragging everybody behind him onto the battlefield.

The operation has to wait until the Congressional elections in the U.S. are over and the danger of a U.S. escalation for domestic policy reasons recedes. Russia also fears that an attack on Idelb right now could re-unite the U.S. and Turkey and lead to a new coordinated onslaught on Syria.

Thomas Seibert at The Arab Weekly points to an upcoming change in the balance that will lower this risk:

Moscow would wait until October or November before ordering an all-out attack because the Kremlin expects the crisis in Turkish-US relations to deepen even further by then.
...
“Comprehensive action will start at a time when Turkey desperately needs Russian support” and Ankara is unlikely to add a crisis with Russia to its difficulties with the United States, [Kerim Has, a Moscow-based analyst of Russian-Turkish relations,] said. US sanctions against the Iranian oil industry starting in November are one reason why tensions between Turkey and the United States could worsen soon. Turkey buys about half its crude oil imports from Iran and has said it will not abide by the new sanctions.

But Turkey still does not want to remove al-Qaeda from Syria. It wants to move the group around while keeping it under its own control. They are excellent shock troops which, if transferred to Jarabulus in Turkey's Euphrates Shield area, could potentially be used against the U.S. supported Kurds in the northeast of Syria:

Erdogan’s government is proposing to transfer extremist groups such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, out of southern and western Idlib into the northern part of the province or to Afrin and Jarabulus, two Turkish-controlled areas in northern Syria.
...
News reports said Turkey would then deploy rebel forces of the Ankara-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL) to take up positions abandoned by HTS.

The chance for Turkey to achieve that is quite small. Just today HTS published a fatwa against showing the Turkish flag in Idleb. Other Jihadi groups in Idleb also issued statements against the "apostate Turkish army" and its presence in Idleb.

It is likely that the situation in Syria will now calm down for a while only to escalate again in two month when the operation to liberate Idelb will get its final go.


---
Update (Sep 17 - 16:30 utc):

President Erdogan of Turkey and President Putin of Russia met today in Sochi. The main discussion point was the Idleb operation.

Elijah Magnier provides a first insight of the results:

Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai - 16:21 utc - 17 Sep 2018

#BreakingNews:
#Syria #Idlib postponed until 15 of #Decembre to start with, with a 15km buffer zone and an engagement of #Turkey to disarm Nusra ( or merge it) and neutralise all other jihadists.

#Moscow has accepted to give #Ankara more time (for after the US sanctions really) to sort out #Idlib and the jihadists in the city, defusing the #US intention to bomb #Syria.
So: no job for warmongers for the next couple of months. Find another war.

#turkey wants the #idlib case to be postponed until the constitutional changes and the peace process to kickoff in #Geneva: more time for Idlib and Turkey to sort out its affairs with Syrian proxies. [...]

More: #Turkey has the right to pursue any group in #Idlib and to bring further military forces in the city to stop Jihadists. #Damascus approves the Moscow-Ankara signed' agreement between the two defence Ministers (Russian and Turkish).

What is huge is: #Russia signed a military agreement with a #NATO member (#Turkey) in #Syria. NATO won't like it at all.

Turkey will get one month more than expected. The Turkish controlled Jihadis will attempt to kill the al-Qaeda aligned Jihadis and vice versa. The Turkish army will also pay a death toll. The al-Qaeda aligned groups, coming under Turkish attacks, will likely try to slip into Turkey to commit attacks there.

Update (Sep 17 18:00 utc)

More information:

  • Turkey will not be allowed to give air support to its proxy forces or to its own forces when they fight in Idleb.
  • An additional 'demilitarized area' with 15-25 kilometer depth will be created and patrolled by Turkish and Russian forces. This area will allow transports on the M5 highway. It is of high value for Syria and its economy.

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Posted by b on September 16, 2018 at 11:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (106)

September 15, 2018

The Dike Breaks - Netherland Ends Support For "White Helmets" Terrorist Propaganda

Updated below
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The Netherland just announced that it is ending its support for al-Qaeda's propaganda gang, the "White Helmets". It also ends its support for the so called Free Syrian Police. Last week the Netherlands shut down its "non lethal" support for the Free Syrian Army after Dutch news organizations found that members of these groups were accused of terrorism by their General Prosecutor.

According to the Volkskrant daily (in Dutch), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ended the support for the White Helmets after its Directorate for International Research and Policy Evaluation issued a critical report about them. For the White Helmets, which had received €12.5 million from the Dutch government, it lists the following issues:

  • According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the supervision of the behavior of the rescue workers is 'inadequate'. The organization that supervises, Mayday, based in the Netherlands, is closely intertwined with the White Helmets itself. In practice, donors do not understand the difference between the two organizations.
  • Mayday wants to spend a maximum of 0.9% of its budget on supervision of the work of the White Helmets. 'That is why there is a lack of independent supervision of the activities and results of the project.'
  • The money for the White Helmets is transferred to the Syrian border in cash or enters the country via the hawala system. It is 'problematic' that Mayday does not know how much money is paid via which route. That is why there is a danger that money has fallen into the hands of armed groups. The cash flow can also indirectly be used for illegal trade. Systematic control of the money flow is missing.
  • The White Helmets are active in areas where armed groups are in power that are considered 'unacceptable' for the Netherlands. Contact between the White Helmets and local administrators who work together with extremist organizations is inevitable.

The seemingly intentional lack of transparency practically guarantees that much of the more than $150 million the White Helmets received from various governments will have flown into the private pockets of the people who organize the scam.

This blog published several pieces about the White Helmets, mostly pointing out their obviously faked media productions:

For background information on the White Helmets the earlier pieces by Vanessa Beeley's at 21stCenturyWire´are still the best: Syria’s White Helmets: War by Way of Deception – Part I and Part II – Syria’s White Helmets: ‘Moderate Executioners’.

Vanessa Beeley, Eva Barlett (vid) and others have tried for years to point out the nefarious scheme behind the propaganda scam "White Helmets". Roger Waters rightly calls them (vid) a "fake propaganda construct for terrorists". But 'western' media loved the dramatic fake photos and videos the White Helmets produced, partly because they could put them into print and on screen free of any charge. Whoever criticized them and questioned their narratives was publicly smeared and derided.

The Volkkrant notes:

It is the first time that a Western government states that there are problems with the project.

It will not be the last time. More people will take note, look into the issue and pressure their governments to end their support. As the Dutch know well, once the dikes break it is impossible to stop the flood. The relentless work of a few engaged writers put pressure onto the dike and finally broke it. The White Helmet scam will soon come under a flood of public scrutiny and will be swept away into some dark corner of history.

Just a month ago Germany's Foreign Minister Maas, also known as a "well styled NATO call boy", met the White Helmets front man Raed al-Saleh, who was denied entry into the U.S., and promised him more money. Maas also lauded the recent 'evacuation of White Helmets' from the Quneitra and Daraa area to Israel which was just another scam. Israel used the White Helmet cover to evacuated a number of terrorists commanders it had paid and equipped for years in its war on Syria.

Maas and his NATO colleagues in other countries will soon be asked about the Dutch example. Can they refute the analysis the Foreign Ministry of their NATO ally Netherland made? Can Maas explain what happened with the €17 million Germany gave to them? In who's pocket did they end up?


Update (Sep 16, 5:30 utc):

The Netherlands also ends its participation in the U.S. bombing campaign against ISIS:

Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 fighter jets will be pulled out of the mission against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria at the end of the year, the Dutch government said Friday, September 14.

“Cabinet has decided not to prolong the use of F-16s in the fight against IS past December 31,” the Dutch cabinet said in a statement on Friday.

Some 80 Dutch troops will continue to provide training for the Iraqi army.


Update (Sep 16, 9:10 utc):

The publishing note from the Foreign Ministry on the report discussed above is available in Dutch language. There is a cover letter (pdf) from the Directorate for International Research and Policy Evaluation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also in Dutch. It describes the programs the Netherland contributed to (machine translation):

Since the start of the conflict, the Netherlands has spent more than EUR 70 million in stabilization support in Syria, in consultation with many like-minded international partners and donors. The programs aimed to contribute to some degree of liveability in the opposition area and the prevention of further refugee flows, new power facets and the influence of extremists. This support took place within the complex and fluid context of the Syrian war, during which the situation on the ground has changed drastically in seven years. The Cabinet has informed the House about contributions to the projects. Including the significant contributions to the non-lethal assistance program (NLA), White Helmets, and Access to Justice and Community Security (AJACS) program from 2015.

The evaluation report itself is in English: Review of the monitoring systems of three projects in Syria AJACS, White Helmets and NLA (pdf).

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End Update

Posted by b on September 15, 2018 at 03:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (92)

September 14, 2018

Syria - Al-Qaeda And Turkey Stage "Peaceful Civilians" Events

Turkey and other supporters of the terrorists in Syria arranged for fresh Friday demonstrations by "civilians" in Idleb governorate. These are supposed to show the 'western' public that the population of the al-Qaeda controlled province is still in favor of the anti-Assad "revolution".


Source video - bigger

Some tweets from yesterday make clear that these demonstrations are a highly choreographed propaganda exercise:

TØM CΛT @TomtheBasedCat - 17:34 utc- 13 Sep 2018

Supposedly, an array of European press agencies with security will enter Idlib city tomorrow to cover some demonstrations there.

Idelb is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), an internationally banned al-Qaeda organization. Turkey, which has friendly relations with al-Qaeda in Syria, will have arranged for the security of the foreign media.

Some prominent people also spoke about the event:

Harald Doornbos @HaraldDoornbos - 19:08 utc - 13 Sep 2018

Interesting. Son of Al-Qaeda co-founder Abdullah Azzam, Huthaifa Azzam, calls on opposition in Idlib not to raise black/jihadi flags during tomorrow's protest but only revolution flags because there are international journalists on the ground reporting on the protests.


original tweet - bigger

For once al-Qaeda does not want its flag to be seen. The demonstrations must only show "peaceful civilians".

Sam Heller, now with Crisis Group, caught two voice recordings that were distributed via Telegram. It is not completely clear that these are legit, but they make sense:

Below are translations of two voice recordings purported to be of Tahrir al-Sham emir “Abu Akramah al-Urduni,” via anti-Jabhat al-Nusrah/Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group “JAN Violations.” The voice messages are notable for their apparently acute sensitivity to the optics of Idlib’s protests and those protests’ portrayal in foreign media ..

The first message is an advise similar to the one given by the son of al-Qaeda co-founder Abdullah Azzam: Do not let any HTS/al-Qaeda flags appear in the choreographed demonstrations. It seems that HTS fears that these could be used against it:

“Brothers, a very important issue: We don’t want it to be come out in the Western media that the people opposes us, and that the people brought down our banner and stomped on it. Pay attention: If the banner is raised, there will be people placed just to pull away the banner and stomp on it. And it will appear in the Western media that they stomped on the Hayah’s banner. This is a big issue, brothers. It means that the battle will be against us, in the future. They’ll say that the people is ready now to announce the battle in these protests. Because these protests are what, the people, the public. If the people and the public pull away our banner in front of the media and stomp on it, that means the battle is ready against us now.”

The second message is an order to accompany the demonstrations and to take care that everyone behaves:

“Peace and God’s blessings be upon you, something very important to say: Coordinate with those responsible for these protests and say to them, ‘We’re with you, your brothers, and whatever you need, we’ll walk with you. And for your protection.’ Talking is free, brothers. Why not speak to them kindly. They’ll say, ‘God reward you, we don’t need anything.’ Tell them, ‘Okay, we’ll walk with you. We’re Muslims, too, and we demand the toppling of the regime.’”

The demonstrations, arranged for the media, took place as ordered.

Now the regime change propagandists are out to promoted the first videos from these staged events:

Thomas van Linge @ThomasVLinge - 12:41 utc - 14 Sep 2018

Once again protests against the #Assad regime have erupted all over rebel-held #Idlib and northern #Aleppo.
Syrians in the town of #Kafranbel sing "we want freedom!"

The demonstrations are similar to those staged in 2011-2013. Green-white-black French-colonial Syria flags and a few Turkish ones get waved -all new it seems- and a few dozens men and young boys, no women or girl in sight, chant some sectarian slogans:

"Let the Nusayriah [Alawites] hear, we are people who drink blood." Protesters: "Allah Akbar"

No black and white HTS/al-Qaeda flags is visible and no weapons are in sight. The video shots are tightly controlled and concentrate on the civilian clothed men and children. Where a wider frame is shown fighters in camouflage can be seen at the edge of the crowds.


Source video - bigger

The intended message of these stunts:

"Do you see us? There are only peaceful civilians in Idelb. No fighters are here. We are not terrorist. We only want freedom!"

The message is false.

Idleb governorate is completely controlled by Hayat Tahrir al Sham (vid). HTS, foreign Jihadis, as well as 'moderate' Islamists affiliated with Turkey. These are terrorist who prevent civilians from leaving and oppress the population:

In the northern Syrian town of Harem, militants last week erected a gallows in a public square, saying it was for “frogs,” or traitors.
...
[O]pposition fighters linked to al-Qaeda are seeking to head off the kind of negotiated surrender that has sealed the fate of other opposition areas.

The gallows, which the militants publicized on their official news website, was “set up to intimidate the traitors that worked on reconciliation agreements to the regime, so that they know that in the end their fate is death,” said an activist in the town, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation. “The purpose of its construction is to strike fear.”

Al-Qaeda has not vanished from Idleb. It still terrorizes the population. What would have been the punishment for not following the orders for these demonstrations. The gallows? A customary beheading? Or just some whipping of the soles of ones feet?

These videos of demonstrations are propaganda clips directed by the Turkish president Erdogan, in co-production with al-Qaeda, to delay the liberation of Idleb.

No one should fall for them.

Posted by b on September 14, 2018 at 11:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (119)

September 13, 2018

This Anti-China Foreign Policy Piece Makes No Sense

A recent Foreign Policy piece on the reeducation campaign in China's Xinjiang region is another example of nonsensical claims made in the current anti-China propaganda campaign.


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Notice the picture caption:

Uighur people pick up their children from school on July 27, 2017, in Kashgar City, Xinjiang, where everyday activities such as wearing a headscarf in the presence of the PRC flag can be cause for detainment.

The picture caption makes no sense. Carl Zha points out that every school in China flies the People's Republic of China flag. It is raised in a weekly ceremony each Monday morning. All the women in the picture above wear headscarfs in the presence of a PRC flag. Will they all be detained for some ideological training? How come they show no fear of being thrown into a "concentration camp"?

The Foreign Policy piece is based on a Human Rights Watch (pdf) report which again is based on interviews with 56 expatriates from the Xinjiang area of China. These people make claims of reasons for which they believe they themselves, or people they claim to know, were put through ideological training sessions. The FP author list all 48 of these reasons, claimed by notoriously unreliable expats, even when many of them do not make any sense.

How can "Trying to kill yourself when in the education camps" be a reason to be send into an education camp? "Owning welding equipment" is likewise certainly not something, on its own, that will put anyone into ideological training. China has an active anti-smoking campaign with high penalties for smoking in prohibited space. To then claim that "Abstaining from cigarettes" is a reason for being send into reeducation is obviously nonsense.

Sine the early 1990s a number of terror incidents by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) killed several hundred people in China. ETIM is sanctioned by the UN as an al-Qaeda aligned movement. Three years ago China decided to attack the problem at its roots. It prohibited Salafist-Wahhabi Islamic practice, which was only recently imported into the traditionally Sufi Uyghur-Muslim areas, and it tries to weed out any such ideology. It also fears the potential growth of an ethnic-nationalistic Turkic Uyghur movement, sponsored by Turkey, that could evolve into a separatist campaign.

People who are susceptible to such ideologies will be put through an reeducation training which includes language lessons in Mandarin and general preparation for the job market. This may not be the way 'western' countries mishandle a radicalization problem, but it is likely more efficient. There surly are aspects of the program that can be criticized. But to claim that these trainings happen in "concentration camps" and for nonsensical reasons is sheer propaganda.


For more on the issue you can listen to Carl Zha's recent Clash of Civilization podcast: Trouble on the Silk Road: The Real Situation of Uyghurs in China.

Posted by b on September 13, 2018 at 03:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (86)

Syria - Turkish Tantrum Delays Liberation Of Idleb

Turkey is again turning to the U.S. to achieve its aim of controlling and annexing north Syria.

At the Tehran summit of the Russian, Iranian and Turkish presidents, Turkey presented a (likely U.S. induced plan) for Idleb governorate:

It included:
  • prolongation of the deescalation ceasefire
  • 12 armed groups, including Hayat Tahrir al Sham to be disbanded
  • Turkey will train a new rebel force to control Idleb under Turkish command
  • Groups who resist will be targeted in counter terrorism operations
  • ...

Russia and Iran rejected the plan. Idleb is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) (vid) which is an internationally banned terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda. Turkey had over a year to solve the HTS problem under the existing de-escaltion agreement and failed.

HTS, foreign Jihadis, as well as 'moderate' Islamists affiliated with Turkey prevent civilians from leaving and terrorize the population:

As a possible showdown approaches, the rebels have arrested and tortured people they accuse of conceding defeat, sowing fear in the local population. A doctor was recently pulled from his home at night, witnesses said. A pistachio peddler was arrested as masked men patrolled the street.
...
Monitoring groups and local residents put most of the blame on HTS, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, but say the Turkish-backed fighters have also arrested dozens of people.
...
[R]ebel groups have embarked on their wave of ­arrests, accusing those they ­detain of secret communications with government representatives. Many have been taken to secret prisons and tortured, groups documenting the arrests say.
...
“Although this is certainly why some people have been arrested, the problem now is that it is also being used by al-Nusra to arrest the people who criticize their behavior, or to arrest their opponents,” said Fadel Abdul Ghany, director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

After the Tehran summit the Syrian and Russian operation to liberate Idleb was to commence. The troops were in place,  air as well as artillery attacks to 'shape' the battlefield were ongoing.

But Erdogan again turned on his partners and is back flirting with the U.S. he otherwise despises. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal he  begged for U.S. and NATO help:

All members of the international community must understand their responsibilities as the assault on Idlib looms. The consequences of inaction are immense. We cannot leave the Syrian people to the mercy of Bashar Assad.
...
It is crucial for the U.S., which has concentrated on chemical attacks, to reject its arbitrary hierarchy of death. Conventional weapons are responsible for far more deaths. But the obligation to stop the next bloodshed is not the West’s alone.
...
If the international community, including Europe and the U.S., fail to take action now, not only innocent Syrians but the entire world stands to pay the price. Turkey has done everything in its power to stop the bloodshed next door. To ensure that we succeed, the rest of the world must set aside narrow self-interest and throw its weight behind a political solution.

At the same time Erdogan is pushing the U.S. to do his bidding in northwest Syria, he accuses the Trump administration of supporting anti-Turkish PKK/YPK terrorists in northeast Syria. Turkey also continues to insist on buying Russian air defense systems instead of a U.S. produced one.

To halt the Idleb Dawn operations Erdogan shipped new weapon supplies to insurgent groups affiliated with Turkey:

Senior rebel officials said Turkey had sent more military aid to rebels in and around the Idlib region since a summit meeting with Iran and Russia last week failed to agree a deal to avert a government offensive into the area.
...
“They pledged complete Turkish military support for a long, protracted battle,” a senior FSA commander who was privy to talks in recent days with senior Turkish officials said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly.

All border areas between Idleb and Turkey are under control of HTS. It takes a share of every load that comes through the border. Turkey is effectively arming the organization it is supposed to eliminate. Turkey also sent reinforcements to its observation posts in Idleb, including tanks (vid).

Erdogan claims that he fears a new wave of refugees coming towards Turkey. He uses this to press the European Union to support his position:

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said a refugee influx across Turkey’s borders would have international repercussions.
...
“The global community also needs to take responsibility,” Kalin said after a Cabinet meeting Tuesday. “Another migrant wave coming to Turkey at a time when we already host millions of refugees will cause other complications,” he said. “This will spread from here to Europe and other countries.

But the concern over a new refugee wave is exaggerated and likely a diversion. The real plan seems to be much larger. Turkey wants to annex Idleb.


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The new Turkish 'plan' for Idleb which it offered to Russia and Iran is said to include:

  • no Syrian army attacks on Turkish supported groups
  • no Syrian army entry in areas controlled by Turkish supported groups
  • Turkey and Russian troops are to enter to eliminate HTS
  • Turkey and Russia will police the areas after HTS is cleared out
  • Turkey will only leave when the Kurdish YPG, the U.S. proxy force in northeast Syria, is dismantled

The YPG in Syria, which operates as the PKK terror organization in Turkey, is under U.S. protection. It can not be disbanded. The condition Turkey sets out is unfulfillable.

Moreover Turkey is preparing a 'legal' claim on Idleb. It uses its proxies in Idleb to claim 'Ottoman' ownership of the areas they control and to installs its own state structures there:

[T]he sources confirmed to the Syrian Observatory that there are 15 villages in the south-eastern sector of Idlib countryside, in the area between Maarrat Al-Nu’man and Sinjar area, including Al-Sayyadi, Barsah, Khyara, Seraa and Saree, have been owned by the Turks, since the time of the Ottoman presence in the area, which pushed the Turks, according to the sources, to interfere strongly and bring grand military forces and large numbers of members, equipment, ammunition and vehicles in addition to fortifying their military posts stationed in Idlib, Hama and Aleppo.
...
Turkey depends to prove that it owns these areas, on titles and deeds of ownership of these villages, and what supports this claim is that Turkey deliberately established 3 observation posts in the east of the International Highway which passes through Idlib province and links between the Syrian – Turkish border and the Syrian – Jordanian border, and Turkey also depends on similar proofs to prove its ownership of other areas such as Jarabulus, Manbij and the areas where Ottoman commanders had been buried
...
Turkey will work on preventing the regime forces from starting any battle in the western countryside of Idlib, and will not allow this to happen along with requesting the factions to be completely ready in the case that any changes that may take place, while a request will be submitted to Ankara for the services and the restoration of schools, as well as a request that will be submitted about the demanding of the return of Jabal Al-Akrad and Jabal Al-Turkman and putting them under the Turkish protection and the return of their residents to them.”

The claims are of course ludicrous. The Ottoman empire is gone and the territory is internationally recognized as part of Syria.

Russia seems to be willing to give Turkey more time:

“We are saying the situation in Idlib should be settled most preferably in a peaceful way. It is possible to abstain from using military force,” Alexander Lavrentiev, Russia's Syria envoy, told reporters after talks in Geneva with U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura.

Idlib province is...a sort of zone of responsibility of Turkey; it is their responsibility to separate the moderate opposition from the extremists, from Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups, other terrorist groups,” he said.

Syria and Iran will be very unhappy about this delay but they need Russia's backing to proceed.

Russia anticipates that the 'west', with the help of Turkey, will try to use the Syrian liberation of Idleb for an all-out attack on the Syrian government. The Russian Defense Ministry continues its warning of another fake a chemical incident which would be a pretext for a 'western' attack on the Syrian government. For the last 48 hours, all Syrian and Russian air attacks on the terrorists in Idleb have stopped. This is probably to prevent that such strikes are used to claim a 'chemical bombing':

Another U.S. attack on Syria would help U.S. President Trump on domestic issues, most importantly in the upcoming elections for Congress. In two weeks Trump will chair a UN Security Council meeting which he could use to propagandize against an Idelb attack. It is possible that Russia will hold back until these events are over.

For Russia this is a tricky situation. Erdogan can probably be pressured into retreat. But Russia also wants to prevent that it falls back into the U.S. fold.  The typical Russian reaction in such a situation is to hedge, to play for time and to hope that some other incident happens which then helps to turn the situation. Such an event may come sooner than expected.

This morning Erdogan called on the Turkish central bank to lower its interest rates. He believes that high interests rates drive high inflation. The Turkish Lira fell 3%. Two hours after Erdogan's call the Central Bank raised the interest rate by 625 basis points to 24% and the Lira rallied. This will over time bring down the inflation rate but Turkey's economy will stall.

Such economic turmoil increases Turkey's dependence on Russia and Iran which are the main energy suppliers to Turkey. The Central Bank move is also a threat to Erdogan's personal authority which he can not to let unanswered. But attacks on the independence of the Central Bank will bring 'western' punishment.  Who will then back him if not Russia and Iran?

Posted by b on September 13, 2018 at 07:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (98)

September 12, 2018

Open Thread 2018-46

News & views ...

Posted by b on September 12, 2018 at 01:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (134)

September 11, 2018

A Few Items Related To Syria

The U.S. candidate to (again) become Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, is out of the race. After the recent riots in Basra the party of Moqtada al-Sadr renounced its support for his candidacy. Even before that Abadi lacked the votes in parliament to get elected. On top of that Ajatollah Sistani let it be known that he will not support any candidate who had already tried and failed to solve Iraq's problems. Former Prime Minister Maliki and Abadi both fall into that category.

U.S. envoy Brett McGurk had tried to press the Sunni and Kurdish factions to support Abadi and encouraged the Saudis to bribe Moqtada al-Sadr.  He failed. It now looks like the various Shia parties, plus some Sunni and Kurdish independents, have a solid coalition large enough to reign the country. Most of them want the U.S. military to leave Iraq. Iraq will get a new prime minister and it will not be the person that U.S. would like to see in that role. This will create some serious logistic difficulties for the increasing U.S. deployment in Syria.

The fight against ISIS in Iraq is not over. The political instability allows ISIS to return (vid) in the form of a lose guerrilla army. Iraq still lacks some tools, intelligence and nighttime fighting capabilities, to wear down these groups. With an anti-U.S. government the ISIS problem will certainly increase as the U.S. will gain use ISIS to keep a foot in the door.

Robert Fisk travels along the frontline of Idleb governorate in Syria. He sees remarkably few Syrian forces. He expects that the upcoming attack will smaller than expected and a rather slow moving affair.

Geographer Fabrice Balanche reasonably assumes that the Syrian army will, in a first phase, only attack the Turkish supported "moderate" rebels, painted in light green, in the southern part of the Idleb pocket. The Al-Qaeda/Nusra/HTS brigades, painted in middle dark green, would only be attacked in a later phase. This fits to the observations Robert Fisk made on the ground.


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That the "moderate" rebels are not moderate at all is again proven through a recent scandal in the Netherlands. The Dutch newscaster NOS Nieuwsuur and the daily newspaper Trouw report (in Dutch) that the Dutch government until very recently spent at least €25 million to provide "moderate" rebels in Syria with pick-up trucks, uniforms, satellite phones, cameras, medical kits, tents and rubber mattresses.

The journalists find that the "non-lethal" supplies were of course used to fight the Syrian government. They also reveal that the groups supplied, which the government held secret, were all Jihadis and that the Public Prosecutor of the Netherlands indicted several of their members for terrorism.

Trouw and Nieuwsuur decide to carry out further research into the NLA program. In recent months, both media have been talking to about 100 rebel leaders and those involved in the NLA program, and have succeeded in determining which groups the Netherlands has supported in any case. These are the Sultan Murad Brigade, the Suleyman Shah Brigade, Suqour al Jabl and Division 13 of the Free Idlib Army, Brigade 51 and Jabhat al-Shamiya. Commanders from these groups have spoken to us in recent months and tell us what kind of goods they received from the Netherlands.
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The Public Prosecution Service has actually prosecuted Dutch Syria volunteers for joining brigades of the Free Syrian Army. Take the Dutch Syrian Driss M. On March 21, 2017 he had to appear in court. He is accused of having participated in the Islamist group Jabhat al-Shamiya in 2014 and 2015. According to the Public Prosecution Service, this is a 'salafist/jihadist organization that seeks to establish a caliphate, and is part of the jihadist Ahrar al-Sham. But at the same time, Jabhat al-Shamiya is also part of the Free Syrian Army supported by the Netherlands and described as moderate.

At least one prosecutor seems to believe that the government committed a crime:

The sending of relief supplies to combat groups can also be punishable, because then you contribute to the fight and possibly even terrorist financing. "If you send pick-up trucks, you enable someone to travel, you enable an organization to be able to get from A to B." Van Veghel concludes in a strict tone: "If you in any way role plays in that battle, either active as a combatant, or less active but in such a way that you enable another person to take part in that battle, then you will have criminal responsibility."

Legal trouble is also coming up for the German government.

The U.S. asked the Merkel administration to participate in "retaliatory" regime change strikes on the Syrian government forces when, likely soon, another faked 'chemical' incident will be blamed on it. Several high ranking members of Chancellor Merkel's party want to follow that call. But now the Scientific Services of the German Bundestag, the equivalent of the U.S. Congressional Research Service, released an authoritative legal opinion (pdf, in German) on the issue. Such an attack would be illegal under international law and it would also violate the German constitution. There will be no official German support for such a wider attack on Syria. (In an earlier opinion the Scientific Service found that the continued U.S. presence in Syria is illegal.)

Fitting to the anniversary of a remarkable incident that took place in New York, Maram Susli, aka SyrianGirl, released this video with quotes from Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, and from the U.S. ambassador to the UN Nicky Halley.

 

Posted by b on September 11, 2018 at 01:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (103)

September 09, 2018

MoA Week In Review - Open Thread 2018-45

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

The timestamp question is solved, but there still many, many other inconsistencies.

There is a report of a very large Turkish Army convoy entering Syria's Idleb province. That is wishful thinking by some "rebel" circles. Turkey is only strengthening its border position. It is unlikely to intervene in the Syrian and Russian 'Idleb Dawn' operation to free the province of terrorists.

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 Finally a realistic assessment of the British role in World War II:

Peter Hitchens @ClarkeMicah - 7:40 utc- 9 Sep 2018

Actually no, we didn't Win the Second World War. We started it, but, thanks to our weakness and shortage of cash had to hand it over to the USA and the USSR half way through. First extracts, in the Mail on Sunday, from my new book 'The Phoney Victory'

The limeys will be livid about this insult and ignore the truth. Recommended.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on September 9, 2018 at 01:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (213)

The Strategic Aspect Of Bashing China's Re-education of Uyghurs

The New York Times reports on China's re-education program for Uygurs in Xinjiang, who are in danger for falling to Islamist extremism. The report is part of a larger U.S. campaign to instrumentalize the issue as a pressure point against China. It is a strategic issue for both sides.

The lede:

HOTAN, China — On the edge of a desert in far western China, an imposing building sits behind a fence topped with barbed wire. Large red characters on the facade urge people to learn Chinese, study law and acquire job skills. Guards make clear that visitors are not welcome.

Inside, hundreds of ethnic Uighur Muslims spend their days in a high-pressure indoctrination program, where they are forced to listen to lectures, sing hymns praising the Chinese Communist Party and write “self-criticism” essays, according to detainees who have been released.

The goal is to remove any devotion to Islam.

There are rumors that up to a million people are moved through such programs. That estimate is based on only 8 vague interviews with locals. The real number is likely in the lower thousands. There is no evidence that any serious harm is done to them.

The NYT report includes this gem of Orientalism:

One official directive warns people to look for 75 signs of “religious extremism,” including behavior that would be considered unremarkable in other countries: growing a beard as a young man, praying in public places outside mosques or even abruptly trying to give up smoking or drinking.

The writers of the New York Times seem to have little knowledge of their own city. In 2007 the New York Police Department published a study on Islamist radicalization that remarked on exactly those points:

As these individuals adopt Salafism, typical signatures include:
  • Becoming alienated from one’s former life; affiliating with like-minded individuals
  • Joining or forming a group of like-minded individuals in a quest to strengthen one’s dedication to Salafi Islam
  • Giving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling and urban hip-hop gangster clothes.
  • Wearing traditional Islamic clothing, growing a beard
  • Becoming involved in social activism and community issues

The Chinese government probably copied its list of signs of religious radicalization from the NYPD and other 'western' sources. A French law prohibits public praying in the street. Other European states enacted laws against the wearing of certain religious attire. The Chinese do not lead in such analysis, they follow 'western' examples.

The re-education program became necessary after religious and even ethnic radicalization in Xinjiang became a real problem for the local population and the government. Deep down the NYT acknowledges this:

[Hotan, a] city of 390,000 underwent a Muslim revival about a decade ago. Most Uighurs have adhered to relatively relaxed forms of Sunni Islam, and a significant number are secular. But budding prosperity and growing interaction with the Middle East fueled interest in stricter Islamic traditions. Men grew long beards, while women wore hijabs that were not a part of traditional Uighur dress.

Now the beards and hijabs are gone, and posters warn against them. Mosques appear poorly attended; ...

The real wake up came only after and riots and acts of terrorism:

The government shifted to harsher policies in 2009 after protests in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, spiraled into rioting and left nearly 200 people dead.

But there is more behind this than the extinction of a local insurgency. The NYT report misses the geopolitical point of the endeavor.

China is developing new rail and road connection throughout Eurasia as part of its strategic One Belt One Road initiative.


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Xinjiang province is larger than Great Britain, France, Spain, and Germany combined. It is a mostly uninhabitable landscape of mountainous and desert terrain with a tiny population of some 24 million of which only 45% are Muslim Uyghurs of Turkic ethnicity. It would be rather unimportant outer province for China were it not at the core of the new Silk road connections.


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It is a vulnerable point. An established insurgency in the area could seriously interrupt the new strategic communication lines.

Chinese strategists believe that the U.S., with the help of its Turkish, Saudi and Pakistani friends, was and is behind the Islamic and ethnic  radicalization of the Turkic population in the province. It is not by chance that Turkey transferred Uyghur Jihadis from Xinjiang via Thailand to Syria to hone their fighting abilities. That the New York Times publishes about the Xinjiang re-education project, and also offers the report in Mandarin, will only confirm that suspicion. China is determined to end such interference.

The re-education or indoctrination program for people suspected of following an Islamist or national-ethnic trend is only one long term part of a security initiative that comes with intense surveillance and police control. The other part is economic development. Large infrastructure investments in Xinjiang create new options for a formerly rural or nomadic population.

But people do not live by bread alone. It is doubtful that Turkic and Muslim identity of Uyghurs can be exterminated by re-education. It will be necessary to adopt it in some pacified form that can integrate itself into the larger ideological construct of the Chinese state.

Posted by b on September 9, 2018 at 12:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (111)

September 08, 2018

NYT Reconfirms U.S. Coup Plot In Venezuela - Adds Pro-Coup Propaganda

U.S. rejects claim by Venezuela's Maduro that U.S. envoys engaged in conspiracy - Reuters - May 22 2018

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it rejected accusations by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro that two top U.S. diplomats were engaged in what Maduro called a “military conspiracy” or had been meddling in the country’s economic and political issues.

Maduro earlier on Tuesday ordered the expulsion of U.S. charge d’affaires Todd Robinson and another senior diplomat, Brian Naranjo, ordering them to leave Venezuela within 48 hours.

As the saying goes: "Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied." The above denial confirmed Nicolas Maduro's claim of U.S. coup attempts against the Venezuelan government. A new report reconfirms the plot and reveals some new details of the still unwritten larger story.

Trump Administration Discussed Coup Plans With Rebel Venezuelan Officers - New York Times - September 8 2018

The Trump administration held secret meetings with rebellious military officers from Venezuela over the last year to discuss their plans to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro, according to American officials and a former Venezuelan military commander who participated in the talks.
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The administration initially considered dispatching Juan Cruz, a veteran Central Intelligence Agency official who recently stepped down as the White House’s top Latin America policymaker. But White House lawyers said it would be more prudent to send a career diplomat instead.
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After the first meeting, which took place in the fall of 2017, the diplomat reported that the Venezuelans didn’t appear to have a detailed plan and had showed up at the encounter hoping the Americans would offer guidance or ideas, officials said.
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The American diplomat then met the coup plotters a third time early this year, but the discussions did not result in a promise of material aid or even a clear signal that Washington endorsed the rebels’ plans, according to the Venezuelan commander and several American officials.
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Days later, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has sought to shape the Trump administration’s approach toward Latin America, wrote a series of Twitter posts that encouraged dissident members of the Venezuelan armed forces to topple their commander in chief.

The Venezuelan generals the U.S. diplomat plotted with, are under U.S. sanctions for alleged corruption and drug smuggling. Isn't it illegal to deal with them? The story claims that nothing came from these talks. I see no reason to believe that. One attempt may have failed. But the U.S. surely continues to cultivate such contacts to overthrow the Venezuelan government.

The NYT hack, Ernesto Londoño, also inserts this:

Establishing a clandestine channel with coup plotters in Venezuela was a big gamble for Washington, given its long history of covert intervention across Latin America. Many in the region still deeply resent the United States for backing previous rebellions, coups and plots in countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, Brazil and Chile, and for turning a blind eye to the abuses military regimes committed during the Cold War.

Only Cuba, Nicaragua, Brazil and Chile? It seems that a not-so-small number of other U.S. coups in South America are missing here, even very recent ones. Why is there no mention of the 2009 military coup in Honduras, which the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton avidly supported? And it was only during the Cold War that the U.S. turned a bling eye to torture? What about the ongoing abuses regimes in Latin America currently commit?

Then there is also this nonsense:

Most Latin American leaders agree that Venezuela’s president, Mr. Maduro, is an increasingly authoritarian ruler who has effectively ruined his country’s economy, leading to extreme shortages of food and medicine.

"Most Latin American leaders" obviously means those satraps the U.S. installed and supports. Even then it is doubtful that they say such things. The author just abuses them to introduce a false claim.

It is not Maduro "who has effectively ruined his country’s economy". Illegal U.S. sanctions against Venezuela, imposed under Obama as well as Trump, did and do that.

Max Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research explains on BBC (vid) how the U.S. is waging a brutal economic war against Venezuela. It is this war that caused the depression and makes a recovery from the induced hyperinflation nearly impossible. Billions of dollars that Venezuelan owns and needs are frozen in U.S. accounts. U.S. sanctions make it extremely difficult for the country to sell assets or to borrow money:

[W]ith Trump’s executive order, even if Venezuela were to stabilize the exchange rate and return to growth, it would be cut off from borrowing, investment, and proprietary sources of income such as dividend payments from Venezuela-owned but US-based Citgo Petroleum. This makes a sustained recovery nearly impossible without outside help—or a new government that is approved by the Trump administration.

Venezuela is a rich country. It has the biggest known oil reserves on the planet, though much of those are difficult to retrieve.

That is of course the reason why the U.S. wants to install a rightwing proxy government in Venezuela. It is the reason why it wages war  against its people.

China is currently the only country with the necessary capacity and geopolitical standing to support Venezuela. It would the best for the country, and for the world, if China would come to its help.

 

Posted by b on September 8, 2018 at 11:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (125)

September 07, 2018

Syria - U.S. Reveals Underpants Plan For Indefinite Occupation

Today the United States officially announced a new policy in its war on Syria. It is an equivalent to the three step business plan (vid) of the underpants gnomes:

The new U.S. plan is to: 1. keep north-east Syria indefinitely occupied, 2. ???, 3. Iran leaves Syria and the 'regime' in Damascus falls:

President Trump, who just five months ago said he wanted “to get out” of Syria and bring U.S. troops home soon, has agreed to a new strategy that indefinitely extends the military effort there and launches a major diplomatic push to achieve American objectives, according to senior State Department officials.

Although the military campaign against the Islamic State has been nearly completed, the administration has redefined its goals to include the exit of all Iranian military and proxy forces from Syria, and establishment of a stable, nonthreatening government acceptable to all Syrians and the international community.

The first major step of the "diplomatic push" is to prevent the imminent Syrian army operation against al-Qaeda aligned groups in Idleb province:

While the United States agrees that those forces must be wiped out, it rejects “the idea that we have to go in there . . . to clean out the terrorists, most of the people fighting . . . they’re not terrorists, but people fighting a civil war against a brutal dictator,” as well as millions of civilians, [U.S. special representative for Syria James] Jeffrey said. Instead, the United States has called for a cooperative approach with other outside actors.

“We’ve started using new language,” Jeffrey said, referring to previous warnings against the use of chemical weapons. Now, he said, the United States will not tolerate “an attack. Period.

Jeffrey just visited Turkey. The intent was to stiffen Turkey's objection to the upcoming Idleb attack. The result was a plan that the Turkish president Erdogan presented today at the Tehran summit with President Putin of Russian and President Rohani of Iran. It included:

  • prolongation of the deescalation ceasefire
  • 12 armed groups, including Hayat Tahrir al Sham to be disbanded
  • Turkey will train a new rebel force to control Idleb under Turkish command
  • Groups who resist will be targeted in counter terrorism operations
  • ...

The plan is nonsense. It is a copy of the task list Erdogan was given when the deescalation zone in Idleb was established at an earlier summit in the Astana format. Erdogan failed to implement it. HTS still rules Idelb province. HTS still rejects to dissolve. The observation posts Turkey established around Idleb still depend on the goodwill and protection of HTS fighters.

Erdogan has no way to implement his plan. Accordingly today's summit in Tehran ended with a mealymouthed statement. It failed to come up with a common way forward for Idleb.


via Thomas van Linge - bigger

Syria and its allies Russia and Iran should proceed with their plans to cleanse Idleb of terrorist. The U.S. is bluffing. It has no realistic means to prevent the operation. Any U.S. attack on Syrian and Russian forces involved in it would likely escalate into a conflict between nuclear powers. That is a risk the U.S. military is unwilling to take. It knows that the forces it planted into Syria are vulnerable to attacks.

The U.S. is now screaming of imminent chemical attacks by the Syrian army on "civilians" in Idleb:

“If they want to continue to go the route of taking over Syria, they can do that,” said Nikki Haley at a UN press conference today, without explaining how a nation’s only recognized government can ‘take over’ the country it governs. “But they cannot do it with chemical weapons. They can’t do it assaulting their people. And we’re not gonna fall for it. If there are chemical weapons that are used, we know exactly who’s gonna use them.

If a chemical incident occurs the U.S. will know who did it because it provided the chemicals to the terrorist. The Syrian army will of course not use any such weapons. Sun Tzu never gave this advice:


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Chemical warfare is ineffective. That is why everyone agreed to ban it. Like in east-Ghouta the U.S. obviously plans to again fake such a "chemical attack on civilians" to have a propaganda pretext to attack Syrian forces.

Tomorrow the Russian fleet will finish its ongoing maneuver in the eastern Mediterranean. All Syrian army units have taken up their launching positions for the Idleb operation and are ready to go. The shaping operations by artillery and air forces have been ongoing for a while. Any hold off now would only deteriorate the readiness of the troops and give the U.S. more time to implement counter measures.

The Russian President Putin seems to understand that. At the press conference at the Tehran summit he said:

"Regarding a ceasefire, we consider it unacceptable when, under pretext of protecting the civilian population, they want to withdraw terrorists from being under attack, as well as inflict damage on Syrian government troops."

Russia is not in the mood to compromise. It warned the U.S. military that it would soon launch an operation against ISIS forces under protection of the small U.S. garrison in al-Tanf. Those forces recently launched another attempt to recapture Palmyra but were caught and defeated before they could achieve their aim:

Russian complaints about the presence of potential Al Qaeda or ISIS fighters in the buffer zone are not new, the US officials point out. But with an imminent Russian-backed assault by Syrian regime forces in the Idlib area in the north, there is concern Moscow could see this as an optimum time to conduct multiple offensive operations.

And there is the problem of the new U.S. strategy in Syria. The position in al-Tanf is untenable. The U.S could put a full brigade there, including anti-air assets, and it would still be too vulnerable. That is why today the U.S. launched a rescue and exfiltration exercise in al-Tanf. The place is too far away from other U.S. assets to withstand a committed attack.

In the north-east of Syria the U.S. positions is likewise endangered. Since early August 1,900 trucks brought in weapons and equipment for its Kurdish proxy forces, the SDF. The Saudis have committed to pay some money for reconstruction and the U.S. surely hopes to use the oil fields there to finance a future occupation. It will soon start to announce some 'independent' regional government that will be under its complete control.

But Turkey is against such empowerment of Kurds. The supply lines through Iraq are vulnerable. The population is diverse with many Syrian Arab tribes unwilling to live under Kurdish/U.S. control. They will resist the sectarian and ethnic cleansing the Kurds have planned. That makes it easy to instigate a guerilla war against the U.S. occupiers and their proxy forces. What happens when the U.S. forces start to take serious casualties?

The U.S. presence in Syria is costly heap of underpants with no chance to ever turn it into a profit. It was a mistake by Trump to fall for the siren songs of the neo-conservatives and Zionists who pressed for this plan. It is he who will have to pay the political price.

Posted by b on September 7, 2018 at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (143)

September 06, 2018

Syria - Mattis Lacks State Department's Intelligence ... On Al-Qaeda's Chemical Capabilities

The U.S. Secretary of Defense seems to lack the intelligence the Un and the U.S. Department of State obviously have.

U.S.'s Mattis says 'zero intelligence' that rebels in Syria's Idlib have chemical weapons capability

New Delhi (Reuters) - There was “zero intelligence” of chemical weapons capabilities possessed by groups opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the province of Idlib, U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said, adding that the facts did not back Russian assertions.
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We have zero intelligence that shows the opposition has any chemical capability,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him to the Indian capital of New Delhi.
...
“We have made very clear that by putting out innuendo that somehow any chemical weapon use coming up in the future could be ascribed to the opposition, well, we want to see the data,” Mattis said. “We cannot see anything that indicates the opposition has that capability.

On October 18 2017 the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Syria:


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It says in the third paragraph (pic):

Terrorist and other violent extremist groups including ISIS and al-Qa’ida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (dominated by al-Qa’ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusrah, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization), operate in Syria. In July 2017, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham consolidated power in Idlib province after it clashed with other armed actors. [...] Tactics of ISIS, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and other violent extremist groups include the use of suicide bombers, kidnapping, small and heavy arms, improvised explosive devices, and chemical weapons. ...

The UN also knows of and is similar concerned about Hayat Tahrir al-Sham's chemical weapon capabilities. During a press conference on August 30 the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, explicitly discussed these:

So, the issue of avoiding the potential use of chemical weapons is indeed crucial and would be totally unacceptable. We all are aware that both the government and al-Nusra have the capability to produce weaponised chlorine, that’s the one people are talking about, not sarin. Hence an increased concern by all of us, and everyone else, and alert.

There is no doubt that HTS and other such groups have chemical capabilities. They do.

Why is Mattis lying about it?

Posted by b on September 6, 2018 at 06:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (75)

September 05, 2018

The Strange Timestamp In The New Novichok 'Evidence' - UPDATED

Please read the Update highlighted below.
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Today, in a politically convenient moment, the British government released new information about the poisoning of the British spy Sergej Skripal, his daughter, and three other persons. It claims to have identified two men with Russian passports who arrived in London from Moscow on March 2, went to Salisbury on March 3 on a 'reconnaissance' trip, came back to Salisbury on March 4 to put Novichok poison on the doorknob of Skripal's home and flew back from London to Moscow on the same day. The names of the men were given as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov which are Russian language equivalents of Joe Smith and Sam Jones. These names are likely false.

The police says that CCTV pictures were taken at several steps of the men's travel. The British news agency Reuters seem to distribute these. Several media have picked up copies.

Here are screenshots of two CCTV pictures, taken from an 18 picture gallery in a report by The Independent headlined Salisbury poisoning suspects are Russian state assassins, Theresa May tells MPs.

These are pictures 7 and 8 of a 18 picture gallery within that piece.

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Pic 7 of 18 - full, uncropped screenshot
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Pic 8 of 18 - full, uncropped screenshot

The pics are also available at the Metropolitan police site: 1, 2.

Notice that the time stamp on both pics is identical, 02/03/2018 16:22:43. But the pictures show two different men, each walking alone through the same part of a jet bridge as they arrive in Britain. How can it be that both of these pictures were taken at the exactly same second? And who tilted the permanently installed CCTV camera between the two shots? How did the camera angle change between picture one and two which were apparently taken at the very same place and at the very same time?

If these two pictures can not be trusted how much can one trust the other CCTV pictures the Met showed to support its claims?

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UPDATE Sept 6 - 5:20 UTC

Here is the answer to the above questions. In the North Terminal of Gatwick Airport, at the northern end of arrival level zero, there are several parallel and apparently identical gates leading into the airport. Each of these has a camera.

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Thanks to Bruce Leidl who found the above picture in Google maps.
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The two pictures above with identical timestamps were taken in two of these gates with each of the 'Russian assassins' passing through one of them at the same time. Aeroflot flights from Moscow are serviced at the North Terminal.

End of the Update - the original text continues below.
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The full statement of the Metropolitan police is here. Excerpts of Prime Minister Theresa May's statement are here.

While May claims the two men were send by Russia's military spy service GRU, the Metropolitan police makes no such claims. Theresa May does not say on what evidence she based her conclusion. There seems to be none.

It also seems a bit curious that a 'Russian assassin' team, allegedly from a highly professional secret service, would travel together and use direct flights from Moscow to London and back. That seems extraordinary careless. Why not fly separate and via a third country?

And why would a professional assassin team drop a cellophane wrapped, unopened perfume bottle with the same poison into a charity bin behind shops in Catherine Street in Salisbury where Charlie Rowley would find it some 14 weeks(!?) later?

The police says that it found traces of Novichok in the crappy hotel the 'Russian agents' stayed in between March 2 and March 4. It found those traces on May 4 but it waited until today to publicly ask other guests at the hotel to contact the police?

If the incident was a professional assassination attempt with a highly potent 'Novichok' compound why did 4 out of 5 people who came into contact with it survive? The 80% failure rate is inconsistent with the scary tale about the highly potent 'Russian' Novichok poison. A decent dose of Megachok is probably more lethal.

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Sergej Skripal has not been seen in the public or even on video since the incident happened. His daughter Yulia Skripal appeared in a British government hostage video but then vanished. The Russian Embassy in London says that it has no access to them. The policeman, who allegedly was also injured during the incident, also never reappeared in public. Why are these people held incommunicado and under arrest?

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Previous Moon of Alabama posts on the Skripal case:

March 8 - Poisioned British-Russian Double-Agent Has Links To Clinton Campaign
March 12 - Theresa May's "45 Minutes" Moment
March 14 - Are 'Novichok' Poisons Real? - May's Claims Fall Apart
March 16 - The British Government's 'Novichok' Drama Was Written By Whom?
March 18 - NHS Doctor: "No Patients Have Experienced Symptoms Of Nerve Agent Poisoning In Salisbury"
March 21 - Russian Scientists Explain 'Novichok' - High Time For Britain To Come Clean (Updated)
March 29 - Last Act Of 'Novichok' Drama Revealed - "The Skripals' Resurrection"
March 31 - Hillary Clinton Ordered Diplomats To Suppress 'Novichok' Discussions
April 3 - Operation Hades Blamed Russia - A Model For The 'Novichok' Claims?
April 4 - It's The Cover-Up" - UK Foreign Office Deletes Tweet, Posts False Transcript, Issues New Lies
April 5 - Novi-Fog™ In Fleet Street - Truth Cut Off
April 6 - The Best Explanation For The Skripal Drama Is Still ... Food Poisoning
April 7 - A Very British Farce
April 12 - New Developments In The Skripal Drama - Police Statement, OPCW Report Release
April 15 - Were the Skripals 'Buzzed', 'Novi-shocked' Or Neither? - May Has Some 'Splaining' To Do
April 28 - The Silence Of The Skripals - Government Blocks Press Reports - Media Change The Record
May 4 - Media Use Disinformation To Accuse Russia Of Spreading Such
May 24 - British Hostage Video Of Yulia Skripal Released
July 4 - British Government Peddles Warmed Over Novichok Muck
July 16 - The Magic Of Novichok - Deadly Agent Found In Perfume Bottle

Posted by b on September 5, 2018 at 01:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (169)

September 04, 2018

Syria - UN, U.S. Try To Delay Idlib's Liberation

The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura and his Special Advisor, Jan Egeland, held a press conference (vid) today. They appealed to the Russian President Putin and President Erdogan of Turkey to find a solution for Idleb province that would avoid the upcoming Syrian army attack on the province ruled by al-Qaeda.

De Mistura claimed that there are 2.9 million civilians in the area. That number is nonsense. In 2011 Idleb governorate had a population of 1.5 million. Several hundred thousands of those, Christians, Alawites, government employees, soldiers and their families, fled when in 2015 al-Qaeda and its Free Syrian Army allies attacked and occupied it. Some new people, 10-20,000 Chinese Uyghurs as well as other foreign Jihadis, arrived. But their total numbers were in the ten thousands, not in the hundred thousands. When in 2017 the Syrian army liberated Aleppo and then east-Ghouta and other areas, about 50,000 people in total asked to be put on buses and to be shipped off to Idleb. The total number of people in the province and the attached areas held by the Jihadis must be well under 2 million.

As for the number of terrorists in Idleb de Mistura only spoke of some 10,000 of the al-Qaeda aligned Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the former Jabhat Al-Nusra Front. But the total number of radical Jihadists in the governorate is much larger. There are two large groups of "rebels" in Idleb.

Turkey’s favourite is the NLF, which is led by Fadlallah al-Hajji, a Muslim Brotherhood ally. The NLF includes Turkey-friendly Islamists like Ahrar al-Sham, the Noureddine al-Zengi Brigades, Failaq al-Sham, Jaish al-Ahrar, and groups that fought under the Free Syrian Army banner, like the Victory Army and the 2nd Coastal Division.

Big but brittle, the NLF is held together by Turkish sponsorship and shared enemies: al-Assad’s government, Syrian Kurdish groups, and hardline jihadists.

These ain't your friendly neighbors but brutal Islamists. Ahrar al Sham is a recognized terrorist group founded by a senior al-Qaeda veteran. The al-Zengi brigades became famous when they published a video which showed them beheading a wounded 12 year old boy.

The second, larger, and even more brutal group is the alliance around HTS under its leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani. It includes several thousand Uyghur and Chechen fighters:

Some of al-Golani’s jihadist critics, many of whom are Jordanians and Palestinians, have gathered in a pro-al-Qaeda splinter faction known as Hurras al-Deen.
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Hurras al-Deen is accompanied by a number of small foreign-led factions close to Tahrir al-Sham, including the Chechens of Junoud al-Sham. The so-called Islamic State also operates clandestine cells in the area, hunted by both the NLF and Tahrir al-Sham.

Jaish al-Ezzah, a Free Syrian Army-flagged faction based near Hama, has not joined the Turkish-backed NLF like many of its former comrades. Some see the group as a covert Tahrir al-Sham ally ..
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In the western part of the enclave, Jisr al-Shughour has emerged as a stronghold of the Turkestan Islamic Party, TIP, a group of Uyghur Chinese jihadists.

HTS and other Jihadis have rejected Turkish requests to dissolve themselves. When the liberation of Idleb starts the Turkish influenced NLF will join HTS and other Jihadis in the fight:

[T]o the Syrian government, Idlib’s rebels are all terrorists pure and simple – and the Idlib fighters themselves also see al-Assad as their primary enemy, transcending factional divides. Aba-Zeid insisted that if Russia green-lights a Syrian government offensive on Idlib, no matter how the various groups view Turkey or each other, they would all “prioritise repelling the attack”.

Mustafa Sejari, a leader in the Ankara-backed Moutassem Brigade, agreed. “This is the last fortress of the Syrian opposition and preserving it is everyone’s obligation,” he said.

HTS and its allies must have some 15-25,000 fighters, the groups aligned with Turkey may have a slightly lower number, some are locals and they are probably less willing to fight. In total the Syrian army is likely to face a force of some 30-45,000 capable and willing fighters.

What these groups currently lack is the supply of weapons and ammunition. In August 2018 not one anti-tank guided missiles was used against the Syrian army. The U.S. officially ended its supplies for the "rebels". The Gulf states have washed their hands over Idelb. It is no longer their fight. Turkey also seems to have stopped weapon supplies. Without constant resupply of anti-tank weapons and especially artillery ammunition the "rebel" groups will soon run out of the basic necessities for waging war.

But their are still voiced who call for further arming the Jihadis. The "eminent scholar" and warmonger Anthony Cordesman of CSIS just advised to re-up such supplies:

If anything, the U.S. should begin now to evaluate the kind of aid it might give any renewed Sunni or other rebels faction both now in Idlib or later.

This is in line with the idea of U.S. administration officials who want to "create quagmires" for Syria and Russia.

The New York Times did its best to push for that with an op-ed of some "democratic" Jihadi fan-girl and a propagandistic "news" piece on Idleb that took the reader to the 21st paragraphs to learn that the province is ruled by al-Qaeda:

H.T.S. has controlled much of Idlib since 2015, acting as de facto governmental authority, facilitating trade across the long border with Turkey and organizing aid deliveries.

The "de-facto governmental authority" HTS is known to publicly execute women accused of adultery. It "facilitates trade" by taxing it to finance its terrorist activities. It "organizing aid deliveries" by talking half of any aid that is brought in. That is the reason why the Inspector General of USAID recently shut down its aid program in Idleb.

If the U.S. wants to "create a quagmire" in Idleb it will need Turkish support to restart its arming of the terrorists. Today U.S. emissaries arrived in Ankara likely to offer a deal:

United States Special Envoy for Syria James Jeffrey held talks with Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal in the Turkish capital on Sept. 4.

Jeffrey had served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara between the years of 2008 and 2010 and thus have great knowledge on the importance of Turkish-American ties.
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The top three issues in regards to the current situation on Syrian soil that Turkish officials discussed with Jeffrey were the looming Idlib operation by Syria-Russia, delays in the implementation of the Manbij deal and efforts to speed up political settlement in Syria.

On Idlib, Turkey and the U.S. are on the same page and have expressed that a massive operation into the overpopulated province would create an unprecedented humanitarian tragedy if civilians are not separated from terrorists. Both countries think al-Nusra and affiliated groups should be eliminated but this should be done carefully and without civilian casualties.

The de Mistura press conference today made the same point and was likely coordinated with these talks.

But neither de Mistura nor James Jeffrey nor any Turkish official have presented an idea of how to achieve that. Turkey was given several month to solve the Jihadist problem in Idleb by talks. It tried and failed.

The current situation can not continue. It is unconscionable to leave the 1-2 million civilians in Syria under the rule of al-Qaeda. HTS is just now arresting hundreds of civilians who want to reconcile with the government. It builds gallows as warning to not talk to the government. It executes those who do and publishes pictures of it.

Two UN Security Council resolutions demand to fight the "Al-Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups" and "to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Syria ...".

How is that supposed to be done without fighting them? Will the U.S. offer to resettle HTS and the other Jihadis in Wyoming? Will Turkey give them apartments in Antalya? No? Then what?

U.S. President Trump added another warning against the Idelb operation:

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump - 22:20 utc - 3 Sep 2018
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!

(Note: Instead of the "animal Assad" Trump used in an earlier tweet he now properly addressed Syria's president.)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dunford, also chipped in:

“We don’t see any way that significant military operations are going to be beneficial to the people of Syria,” Dunford told reporters during a trip to Athens. “If major military operations take place we can expect humanitarian catastrophe and I think we would all want to see that be avoided,” ...
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Pressed about the best course, Dunford said: “More of a discussion between the Turks, the Syrians and the Russians at more precise counterterrorism operations — as opposed to large scale conventional operations — would be the right approach.”

The U.S. is not a friend of the people of Syria. If it gives advice the Syrian government and its allies should do the opposite. Any delay of the liberation of Idleb will strengthen their enemy. They should launch the operation as soon as possible.

Today the Syrian army began to prepare the battlefield for the upcoming fight. Some 30 bombing attacks were flown by the Syrian and Russian air force. The targets were depots and headquarters of the Jihadis.  Removing their supplies is the easiest way to shorten the fight and to thereby prevent unnecessary civilian casualties.

Posted by b on September 4, 2018 at 02:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (102)

September 02, 2018

MoA Week In Review - Open Thread 2018-44

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on September 2, 2018 at 12:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (187)

Syria Sitrep - U.S. To Stay To "Create Quagmires"

Last week we looked at the upcoming campaign to liberate Idleb. The attack will commence only after the September 7 summit of the  presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran in Tehran. Meanwhile the U.S. detailed its future role in the war on Syria.

The new U.S. aim in Syria is to hinder all potential progress in the reestablishing of government control as well as to obstruct any repair of the damage its war on Syria caused.

The semi-permanent U.S. occupation of north-east Syria will be used in a new (and futile) attempt to achieve the long held U.S. aim of regime change. Secretary of Defense Mattis declared as much in a recent press conference. Asked about Iran in Syria he said:

What are they doing in Syria in the first place, other than propping up someone who has committed mayhem and murder on his own people?

They have no business there. And our goal is to move the Syria civil war into the Geneva process so the Syrian people can establish a new government that is not led by Assad and give them a chance for a future that Assad has denied them, with -- with overt Russian and Iranian support.

If Iran, a treaty ally invited by the legitimate Syrian government, has 'no business' in Syria what business does the uninvited U.S. invasion force have?

Asked about the prospect of U.S. troops in Syria Mattis said:

[L]et me give three points here. One, we have to destroy ISIS. The president's been very clear that -- that ISIS is to be taken out, so that's got to happen. We also have to have trained local troops who can take over. We're doing that training as we speak. As we uncover ground, the chairman's got people assigned there specifically to train the locals. And third, we need the Geneva process, the U.N.-recognized process to start making traction towards solving this war.

Now, if the locals are able to keep the security, obviously during this time we might be reducing our troops commensurate with their ability to meet -- deny ISIS a return, but it really comes down to finding a way to solve this problem of Assad's making.

The claim that the U.S. is there to fight ISIS is a lie. ISIS is still active in two places in Syria. Both are under U.S. control.

On the east side of the Euphrates, near Al-Bukamal, ISIS holds several villages and the city of Hajin with originally some 40,000 inhabitants. The U.S. and its Kurdish controlled proxy force SDF stopped attacking those ISIS position in November 2017.


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On June 6 Mattis announced that the attack on ISIS in Hajin had re-commenced but there was zero news of any fighting. Instead ISIS forces from Hajin crossed the Euphrates and attacked Syrian government positions. Further imminent attacks on ISIS in Hajin were announced by the U.S. proxy forces on July 13 and on August 14. None happened.

The U.S. claims that the SDF has 50,000 fighters. What are they doing?

Refugees from Hajin ask the same question and protest against the delays:

[H]undreds of displaced people in Bahra village, Gharanij town, and other areas east of Deir Ezzor went out in demonstrations demanding the SDF to start a military operation and control Hajin town and expel the “Islamic State” organization from it and the from entire east of Euphrates River, in order to return to their homes.

For ten month now ISIS sits unmolested in Hajin and the nearby areas. According to (pdf) the UN Sanctions Monitoring Team it is again extracting and selling oil and "earning millions of dollars per month". ISIS attacks from Hajin on Syrian government forces west of the Euphrates continue.

The other ISIS concentration in Syria is around the al-Tanf border crossing between Syria and Iraq which is also under illegal U.S. control. The nearby Rukban refugee camp, with allegedly 50,000 inhabitants, is housing many ISIS families. Last week the Syrian army prevented an attack from the U.S. controlled area towards Palmyra:

"The militants’ objective was to conduct a series of terrorist attacks in the vicinity of the city of Palmyra and to ensure the passage of the main forces of about 300 militants to capture the city within the next week," the [the Russian Reconciliation Center]’s report said.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the militants, captured by Syrian government forces, claimed that they had been trained and armed by American instructors in a camp near the US military base in al-Tanf.

The U.S. is not fighting ISIS in Syria. It is building semi-permanent bases, trains a large proxy force, and controls Syria's oilfields. Its aim is still regime change, the same aim it had when it launched the war on Syria seven and a half years ago. To achieve that it will continue to sow as much chaos as possible.

As CIA and Pentagon mouthpiece David Ignatius wrote this week:

[T]he administration has stopped the dithering and indecision of the past 18 months and signaled that the United States has enduring interests in Syria, beyond killing Islamic State terrorists — and that it isn’t planning to withdraw its Special Operations forces from northeastern Syria anytime soon.

“Right now, our job is to help create quagmires [for Russia and the Syrian regime] until we get what we want,” says one administration official, explaining the effort to resist an Idlib onslaught. This approach involves reassuring the three key U.S. allies on Syria’s border — Israel, Turkey and Jordan — of continued American involvement. ...

It is quote doubtful that Turkey or Jordan are happy to see continued U.S. meddling in Syria.

... U.S. goals in Syria have been sketched publicly by Pompeo and Mattis: withdrawal of all Iranian-commanded forces from the country, rather than just from a 50-mile buffer zone along the Israel border, as in the deal Russia arranged; and a political transition that can prevent Syria from becoming a terrorist base again and stabilize it enough that refugees can return to their homes. Pompeo and Mattis want more U.S. involvement in the Geneva deliberations on a political transition, too.

The U.S. is massively expanding its positions in north-east Syria. More than 1,600 trucks with new equipment arrived over the last month. The U.S. now has 18 bases in north-east Syria, 6 of which have their own landing strips. The media continue to claim the the U.S. has 2,000 soldiers in the north-east. The real number is more than double or triple of that. It is quite obvious that the U.S. is settling in with the intent to split the north-east from the rest of Syria, similar to what it did with the creation of a Kurdish entity in northern Iraq.

Much of the U.S. position in north-east Syria depends on the outcome of the current government formation in Iraq. Pro- and anti-U.S. factions are in fierce competition. Without a friendly Iraqi government the U.S. contingent in Syria is isolated and cut off from land supplies.

The U.S. is warning that any attack on Idleb "will escalate the crisis in Syria and the region". The former British ambassador to Syria Peter Ford fears that France, the UK and the U.S. (FUKUS) will repeat a Suez crisis. They will use the pretext of a "chemical attack", staged by the White Helmets propaganda group, to launch a large bombing attack against Syria. But like the attack on the Suez Canal 62 years ago such an operation would be in vane:

Suez was a fiasco. While militarily it was a mitigated success, politically it achieved the opposite of what was planned. Nasser emerged stronger than ever.

Will history repeat itself? Assad has only to survive physically a few days’ barrage (if he is wise, he will repair to the Russian base near Latakia for the duration) to emerge just as Nasser emerged from Suez, bloodied but unbowed. Eden’s career was over when he resigned two months after the armistice in Egypt.

(Peter Ford was recently interviewed (vid) by Syria Girl.)

 Russia is well aware of the U.S. intent to create chaos:

A senior Kremlin official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that American officials “want to play spoiler big time. They are disgusted that we’ve gotten an upper hand in dealing with this crisis and now they want to put spokes in every wheel we are trying to make roll.”
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The Kremlin source added, “Conversations with Turks aren’t going easy but we are optimistic in that both parties are genuinely inclined to find a mutually acceptable solution. Another outside military escalation in Syria now will be seen as a clear intent to hamper this process. Frankly, it’s irritating and exhausting that every time there’s a need for a needle to fix certain fine things there comes a guy with an ax saying he’s going to fix it altogether.”

The U.S. is not only spoiling the military operations against the terrorists in Syria. It is trying to hamper any reconstruction and the return of refugees. Reconstruction is made more difficult by the devious sanction regime of the U.S. and EU. But like other problems these will be overcome. It is the U.S. and the EU that will lose the business opportunities while Russian, Chinese and other countries companies will thrive on them.

'Western' media continue to support their governments' line. AFP Beirut office, notorious for pro-Jihadist reporting by its freelancers within al-Qaeda territory, is providing another example. The UN's Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) recently held a conference about reconstruction in Syrian and provided an estimate of the economic war a damage. The AFP headline is: Cost Of Syria War Destruction At $388 Billion, Says UN

ESCWA said the "volume of destruction in physical capital and its sectoral distribution" had been estimated at more than $388 billion.

It said the figure did not include "human losses resulting from deaths or the loss of human competences and skilled labour due to displacement, which were considered the most important enablers of the Syrian economy."

As that figure seems way too high, a look at that passage in the original ESCWA press release is advisable:

Discussions focused on estimations related to the volume of destruction in physical capital and its sectoral distribution, which according to ESCWA experts reached over $388 billion US dollars, while the actual physical cost of destruction was close to 120 billion dollars.

These figures do not include human losses resulting from deaths or the loss of human competences and skilled labor due to displacement, which were considered the most important enablers of the Syrian economy.

AFP left out the half sentence which describes the actual physical damage, $120 billion. The other $268 billion ESCWA cites are an estimate of lost opportunities and not realized profits. They simply never happened. When the AFP leaves out that half sentence it is exaggerating the damage and advances the 'western' claim that Syria needs 'western' money to rehabilitate itself.

One news item on the upcoming Idleb campaign is encouraging.

Turkey gave up on convincing Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which rules most of Idleb province, to dissolve. It finally admitted so on Friday when it blacklisted HTS as an al-Qaeda affiliated terror group. With this move Turkey is giving a green light for the Syrian/Russian operation in Idleb.

Like the U.S. Turkey is eager to hold onto as much of Syria as it can. But Syria does not welcome occupiers. In Azaz city, near the Turkish-Syrian border, people held a sit-in against the Turkish controlled local administration. The protests were dissolved by a bomb exploding next to them. In Afrin district, taken by the Turkish forces a few month ago, daily guerrilla attacks against the occupiers continue. In Qamishli city in the U.S./SDF held Hasakah province Syrian Arab Christians protested after the Kurds shut down two Christian schools. Local IED attacks against Kurdish SDF forces around Raqqa occur every other day.

The U.S. wants to create a quagmire in Syria. By doing so it will likely find itself in one. That is what happened to Turkey:

Seven years into the war in Syria, as Turkey struggles to shield itself from the destabilizing spillover of regional turmoil, Erdoğan’s bet on the Arab world looks increasingly like a losing one. A Syria at war has become the graveyard for any dreams of the neo-Ottoman grandeur he may have nurtured.

The U.S. is allegedly drawing up a target list for a large scale strike on Syria after a staged chemical incident. But has anyone thought about the U.S. forces in al-Tanf or in north-eastern Syria? If the U.S. strikes at the Syrian government in Damascus and elsewhere, all gloves will come off. Can the relatively few U.S. soldiers strewn over many small bases survive an all out attack by the Syrian missile and air forces? How would the U.S. react when a few hundred of its soldiers get killed? Could the then following escalation be limited to Syria? Can Israel survive a Hizbullah missile strike on its industrial centers?

The wish to "create quagmires" can easily get out of hand and the U.S. may very soon find itself in a pretty deep one.

Do Trump, Mattis or Pompeo really want to carry that burden?

Posted by b on September 2, 2018 at 12:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (69)