Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 12, 2015

Today's Battle Progress In Iraq and Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by b at 12:22 PM | Comments (89)

November 11, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he warned that there would be horse trading ahead.

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

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

Posted by b at 06:12 AM | Comments (135)

November 10, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Joint Communications Support Element is an interesting shop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by b at 06:33 AM | Comments (68)

November 09, 2015

No, This Is Not The Anti-Syrian Twitter Campaign

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

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

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


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

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

Cont. reading: No, This Is Not The Anti-Syrian Twitter Campaign

Posted by b at 06:51 AM | Comments (38)

November 08, 2015

Open Thread 2015-42

News & views ...

Posted by b at 02:08 PM | Comments (181)

November 07, 2015

WaPo Peddles Crackpot Idea - Fears Russia Will Steal It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by b at 08:09 AM | Comments (96)

November 06, 2015

More Chaos And Catastrophes in Yemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few hours later

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

AlArabia, a Saudi news outlet in English, reported

Thursday, 5 November 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by b at 11:18 AM | Comments (53)

November 05, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by b at 09:45 AM | Comments (105)

November 03, 2015

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

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

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

Here is a live example of this propaganda technique.





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

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

Posted by b at 10:43 AM | Comments (143)

November 02, 2015

Open Thread 2015-41

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:35 PM | Comments (133)

November 01, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by b at 01:36 PM | Comments (85)

October 31, 2015

Islamic State Plane Attack Claim Could Be Helpful

Today a Russian civil airliner came down over the Sinai peninsula. All 224 on board of the Airbus A-320 were killed. The Islamic State in Sinai claims to have "brought down" the plane.

That is unlikely. According to flight radar data the plane was flying at 30,000 feet when whatever happened occurred. IS in Sinai has anti-air weapons but those reach no higher than 10,000 feet. It is in principle possible that IS infiltrated the airport at the Egyptian tourist resort Sharm el-Sheikh where the plane was was coming from and smuggled someone on board. But it is unlikely. The usual travel arrangements for Sharm el-Sheikh are group travels where anyone not belonging to a group would be suspicious. Security at Sharm el-Sheikh is usually tight. There is also a report that preliminary investigations point to a technical failure.

But IS claimed responsibility and the fact that it did can be used. How about a salvo of cruise missile on "IS targets" in Syria and Iraq? No one could really complain now if some of those cruise missiles hit IS ... or something else ...

But whatever. That IS claims to have taken down an airliner shows that it has intent to do such. That is then the end of stupid arguments to work with IS or to let it live and prosper. The claim will also the end to any attempt to give serious air defense weapons to "insurgents" in Syria. The weapons could easily end up in al-Qaeda or IS hands and it is now clear what they would be doing with them. 

Posted by b at 11:52 AM | Comments (150)

October 30, 2015

U.S. Stopped Syria Air Strikes While Nusra And IS Prepared Attack On Government Supply Route

During the last days a large attack on the Syrian government supply line to Aleppo city was carried out by Jabhat al-Nusra (aka al-Qaeda in Syria) and the Islamic State seemingly in coordination with the U.S. military.

During September the U.S. anti-IS coalition carried out an average of 4.2 airstrikes on IS in predominately east Syria. This after an average of 6.8 per day in August. The rate in October was about the same as in September until Thursday October 22. Then, according to the U.S. Military Times, the strike rate decreased markedly:

~4 strikes per day up to Oct 20
4 - Oct 20 Tuesday
8 - Oct 21 Wednesday
1 - Oct 22 Thursday
0 - Oct 23 Friday
0 - Oct 24 Saturday
0 - Oct 26 Sunday
1 - Oct 27 Monday
0 - Oct 28 Tuesday
0 - Oct 29 Wednesday

The Islamic State used the lull in airstrikes in east Syria to move hundreds of fighters and heavy equipment towards the supply line that connects Damascus with the government held areas (green) of Aleppo.


After two days of no U.S. airstrikes in east Syria the Islamic State (purple) attacked the government supply corridor from the east while at the same time and at the same main point Jabhat al-Nusra (orange) attacked the supply corridor from the west. The attacks started with suicide car bombs against Syrian army checkpoints which suddenly had to defend themselves to the front and the rear.

On Saturday October 24 Almasdar news reported:

For the first time in three months, the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) main supply route along the Khanasser Highway was closed due to an obstruction by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS); this chaotic situation forced the pro-government forces to call on hundreds of reinforcements from the Aleppo Governorate to help push back the encroaching terrorists.

Initially, the Syrian Armed Forces were successful in repelling both ISIS and the Syrian Al-Qaeda group “Jabhat Al-Nusra” after they attacked from different axes in the Hama Governorate; however, ISIS regrouped near the Al-Raqqa Governorate border in order to launch another massive assault on the Khanasser Highway.

ISIS’ second assault on the Syrian Armed Forces’ defensive positions proved successful, as they cutoff the Khanasser Highway and pushed further west towards the strategic city of Ithriyah in east Hama.

The Islamic State fighters killed about a dozen government troops and captured several armed vehicles (gruesome photos here).

The Syrian army send reinforcements from the Palestinian resistance militia Liwaa Al-Quds to help clear the road. This was only somewhat successful as bad weather and a sandstrom on the 25th prevented air support.

The operations room in Damascus was not too unhappy with the situation even though the road was still cut. The thought was that having IS and Nusra fighters concentrated in an otherwise wide open rural area would help to eliminate them. On the 26th and 27the Russian and Syrian air forces flew some 90 attacks within 24 hours against the enemy held parts of the road.

These attacks cleared the IS held parts of the road but the Islamic State concentrated more forces on another part of the road further north and on October 27 it suicide-bombed another government checkpoint and again blocked the road. Additional support from Hizbullah arrived during the next days and the road is now mostly cleared though still endangered.

The closed supply route led to hardship for the nearly two million people in the government held parts of Aleppo as prices for produce and gasoline exploded.

The operations room in Damascus where Syria, Iran, Russia and Hizbullah coordinate the intelligence and operations in Syria suspects that the attack on the supply corridor was coordinated at a higher level than just between Nusra and the Islamic State.

The total cessation of U.S. air attacks on east Syria allowed the Islamic State to move hundreds of fighters and heavy equipment like tanks and cannons from its stronghold in Raqqa city to the west of Syria. At the same time Jabhat al-Nusra brought hundreds of fighters from other fronts south-eastward for its part of the attack. It is difficult to believe that these were just unrelated coincidences.

Posted by b at 05:51 AM | Comments (218)

October 29, 2015

Turkey's New Election Unlikely To Check Erdogan

The outcome of Sunday's election in Turkey will likely be the same as the prior one in June. At least that is what the polls are saying:

The June results:
AKP 40,9%, CHP 25%, MHP 16,3%, HDP 13,1%, Voter turnout: 83,9%

The prognosis for Sunday:
AKP 41,7%, CHP 27,9%, MHP 14,2%, HDP 13,8%, Voter turnout 91%

The two main parties, Erdoigan's Islamist AKP and the hapless social-democratic CHP, will slightly win. The right-wing MHP will lose voters to Erdogan's AKP and the leftist/Kurdish HDP will also gain a bit. The many minor parties which do not make the 10% cut will be the overall losers.

The coalition perspectives will be the same as in June. There is no way the MHP would join any coalition in which the HDP takes part and after Erdogan reignited the war on the Kurds the HPD has no way to join with the AKP. But any possible coalition AKP + CHP or AKP + MHP will lead to a significant loss of Erdogan's powers. A lot of AKP's dirty laundry would be washed in public should CHP or MHP cabinet minister go through the files in the ministries they would take away from the AKP.

The AKP could still win a parliamentary majority should either the MHP or the HDP not make the 10% cut. There may be ways to arrange that like creating more "terror attacks" in Kurdish areas on election day or some other shenanigan. This report, interesting for its detailed view on the Turkish society, analyses that unlikely case.

But why should Erdogan agree to a coalition when he didn't agree to one in June? He could just let any negotiations fail, install another temporary government and require new elections in spring. Meanwhile he could further build his presidential empire and degrade the prime minister and cabinet to mere servants. He would have time to raid more media that are not toeing his line. Rumor says he is already planning for that. He would also have time to create some judicial case against the HDP that would would keep it out of a third election round.

The U.S. would hardly protest. Notice that there has been no outcry in U.S. media over the AKP takeover and yesterdays raid on the Koza-İpek Group and the various media channels it owns. Erdogan is openly threatening to bomb the U.S. Kurdish allies in Syria and no one is Washington is protesting this. There is also no outcry from the EU which is holding back a critical report on Turkey and Erdogan because he is threatening to unleash further "refugee" waves.

As Erdogan is getting away with each and every crime without even a bit of protests from his major NATO allies he is unlikely to hold back from further mischief. His constitutional role as president of Turkey is to be a neutral arbitrator not the partisan dictator he actually is. But no one in the international sphere is calling him out on it. I therefore expect that the election on Sunday will have results similar to the one expected above but that it will neither lead to a stable government nor to an end of Erdokhan's rule over Turkish politics.

Posted by b at 02:53 PM | Comments (39)

October 28, 2015

Open Thread 2015-40

(While I am busy ...)

Edward Dark from Aleppo:
The flawed prescription for peace in Syria: More war

Not too bad Frontline video (59 min):
Inside Assad's Syria

On Ukraine - the Nazis and oligarchs win:
Why A Star Wars Emperor Won Office In Ukraine

And other news & views ...

Posted by b at 02:57 PM | Comments (180)

October 26, 2015

Two Prominent Promoters Of The "Syrian Revolution" Give Up

Two prominent fans and promoters of the unicorn Free Syrian Army and its "revolution" are giving up.

Since the start of the regime change operation in Syria Jenan Moussa, who works for the UAE based Al Aan TV, is an ardent fan of the "moderate rebels". Her embedded reports about them were more one sided anti-regime propaganda than journalism. She is quite prominent with over 100,000 followers on Twitter.

But her honeymoon with the FSA seems to be over. She finally recognizes that the FSA is a mere weapon courier service between the CIA and Saudis on one side and al-Qaeda and the Islamic State on the other:

Jenan Moussa @jenanmoussa
In Maarat Numan #Syria, court issues strict Islamic dress code for women. Rules similar 2 Sirt,Timbuktu &Raqqa >

Strict dress code not only introduced in MaraatNuman, also Idlib city. Controlled by Jihadist coalition JaishFatah >

Strict dress code campaign by jihadists in Idlib is called “My veil is my chastity” >

FSA in Hama & Idlib can’t do anything against strict Islamic rules issued by Jaish alFatah because FSA weak & doesn’t control territory. >

This is main problem of FSA in Hama/Idlib: Yes, FSA still exists, but they dont control territory. If they disobey radicals, FSA is out. >

We all remember how Jamal Maruf group & Hazem (both western backed FSA) were destroyed by Nusra (AlQaeda) after they "disobeyed" them.>

So FSA in Idlib/Hama has only HQ's, no territory. Even worse: FSA have no courts. So if FSA-member makes mistake, trial is at Nusra court >

Nusra allows FSA 2 operate in Hama/Idlib bcz FSA there gets TOWmissiles from West. FSA uses these TOW in support of Nusra etc vs SAA. <

That is, of course, not new. When the German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer, who traveled to ISIS-controlled Syria and Iraq last year, was asked about how the FSA is seen by the Jihadis he responded (vid):

They are laughing about the FSA. They don't take them for serious. They say: "The best arms sellers we have are the FSA. If they get a good weapon they sell it to us." They didn't take them for serious. They take for serious Assad. They take for serious of course the bombs. But they fear nobody. But FSA does not play any role.

Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda in Syria, is meanwhile happy with all the attention the Islamic State gets. It helps Nusra to play the "moderates". In a recent edition of Nusra's English magazine Al Risalah, a long term al-Qaeda/Nusra member from Australia is interviewed:

“One of the greatest things about IS [Islamic State] its that before people saw al Qaeda and the Mujahideen (in general) as the extremists, and those that abstain from jihad as the normal ‘moderate’ Muslims (following the middle-way),” Australi explains. “But now the truth has come out — the Mujahideen are in fact upon the correct and ‘moderate’ path, with IS being the extremists.”

These people, who order strict Islamic dress code for women Idlib and punish anyone who disobeys them, are the ones the U.S. is talking about when it accuses Russia of bombing "non-ISIS" positions or the "moderate rebels".

Another long term fan of regime change in Syria and a busy propagandists on Twitter with some 26,000 followers is The 47th. Yesterday he finally had this realization:

The 47th @THE_47th
There isn't a single credible, promising & uniting Syrian oppositions figure that could possibly run against Assad.

Indeed. And that is the reason why the U.S. will never agree to a plan which includes free elections in Syria and in which Bashar al Assad, next to whomever, would be on the ballot. They know he would win.

Posted by b at 02:27 PM | Comments (144)

October 25, 2015

Open Thread 2015-39

News & views ...

Posted by b at 10:56 AM | Comments (126)

October 24, 2015

Hillary Clinton: We Lied. The Aim Of Our War On Libya Was Regime Change

Micah Zenko finds a nugget in yesterday's Benghazi hearing of Hillery Clinton:

When asked by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) about a video clip that read, “We came, we saw, he died [meaning former Libyan President Muammar al-Gaddafi]. Is that the Clinton doctrine?” Clinton replied, “No, that was an expression of relief that the military mission undertaken by NATO and our other partners had achieved its end.”

The video clip in question is here and should be watched by everyone to understand what an evil character Hillary Clinton is.

But the point, Zenko says, is that she admits that Obama and Clinton as his Secretary of State lied when they claimed to wage war on Libya for some "humanitarian reasons":

What is now totally forgotten is that regime change WAS NOT the intended military mission of the Libya intervention in March 2011. As President Barack Obama stated in a speech to the nation on March 28, 2011, "The task that I assigned our forces [is] to protect the Libyan people from immediate danger, and to establish a no-fly zone," adding explicitly, "Broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake."

If there are any competent opponents to her candidacy for president they should pick up on this and use it to destroy her: "You want a president that is lying to you about going to war? About getting your sons and daughters killed?"

Posted by b at 12:53 PM | Comments (134)

October 23, 2015

No End To The Stuck War On Yemen

This somewhat funny battle map of Yemen was posted by Haykal Bafana some five weeks ago.


The last bigger post on the war on Yemen here was on September 9. Since then nothing important happened there to write about. Little has changed in the positions on the battlefield. The daily Saudi bombing of the cities continues, the Saudi/U.S. blockade on the country continues and a wide raging famine is imminent.

The Houthis are still fighting the Saudis in Marib in the north-east. They are still invading the former Yemeni areas in Saudi Arabia in the north. They are still targeting Saudi ships that come near the Yemeni coast in the west. (Two were allegedly hit.) They still indiscriminately shell Saudi coalition positions in Taiz. Al-Qaeda and Islamic State groups are still gobbling up more territory in the south-east and around Aden. The Saudi attack on the Yemeni highlands and Sanaa is still stuck right where it started.

The Saudi/U.S. coalition included troops from the UAE which had landed in Aden. They brought in the Saudi sponsored "government" of the former president Hadi. But Hadi left the country after just 24 hours on the ground and the building the "government" occupied in Aden was targeted by double suicide car bombs. Some more UAE troops were killed and the "government" went back to reside in a convention center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The UAE troops now keep to their camps.

The "vice president" Khaled Bahah is trying to arrange some peace talks but neither the Saudis nor anyone else is listening to him. The UN is also arranging peace talks but nobody expects any results. The Saudi lunatic "young leader" Mohammad bin Salman-un wants to get whatever he wants or continue the war.

Last week troops from Sudan, paid by the Saudis, landed in Aden. The U.S. is now in a coalition with Sudan even as it accuses the same troops of genocide in Darfur. Yesterday the soldiers from Sudan were attacked with a suicide car bomb and some 15 of them died. Some 500 troops are also suppose to come from Mauritania. They will fare no better. The Saudis also hired 800 Christian mercenaries from Columbia. Al Qaeda and IS are feverishly waiting for them.

The Saudis really believe they can buy everyone and anything and achieve the results they favor. But non of the bribes they paid to this or that Yemeni tribe to fight the Houthis changed the position on the ground. All their high tech weapons fail to decide or end the conflict. None of their mercenary troops have a chance against fiercely independent Yemenis defending their homes. All the support the U.S. gives the Saudis only brings more death, destruction and misery.

This war on Yemen is the most stupid one I can think of. There is nothing to win for anybody. Who will tell the Saudis?

Posted by b at 02:02 PM | Comments (109)

October 22, 2015

That Silly "Chilly" Syria Piece Does Not Get Russia's Strategic Aim

According to the New York Times:

Bashar al-Assad Finds Chilly Embrace in Moscow Trip.

That headline of that page A1 piece awoke my interest because the White House clearly had a different impression than the New York Times scribes:

We view the red carpet welcome for Assad, ...

If this was a "chilly embrace" why was there a "red carpet welcome"? And what about that exclusive dinner?

Senior Russian officials joined Mr. Putin and Mr. Assad for dinner including the defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu; the prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev; and Mr. Lavrov, the foreign minister.

Was that also "chilly"? Was the borscht served cold?

There is nothing in the "chilly" headlined piece that supports the claim made in the headline. Indeed not Russian or Syrian voice in it and all who are quoted have no more knowledge about the meetings than anyone who read the news agency reports. The whole thesis is taken from "chilly" air.

Mr. Putin’s military has forcefully intervened to shore up Mr. Assad’s government in its struggle against an array of insurgents, but, even as Mr. Assad flew secretly to Moscow on Tuesday night for a meeting to assess the fighting in Syria, the chilly personal relationship between the two men has not changed, according to officials, diplomats and analysts.

Up to that paragraph there is nothing in the piece that actually establish that Putin and Assad had or have a "chilly personal relationship". There might well have no personal relationship at all. The two have only seen each other once before, in 2005.

By all accounts, the two leaders remain distant and wary of each other.

But what are those accounts:

“It’s not personal, this whole thing,” said Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, referring to Mr. Putin’s intervention. The highest priority of the Russians, he said, has been saving the central authority of the Syrian state as much as Mr. Assad himself in hopes of stemming the spread of chaos and, with it, the fertile ground in which the Islamic State can take root.
“To them, Assad is not a sacred cow,” Mr. Trenin added. “The issue to them is to save the Syrian state, to prevent it from unraveling the way Libya unraveled, Yemen unraveled.”

Fine. So what is "chilly" about that?

“Not being wedded to Assad does not mean that they’re prepared to negotiate a way for him to go,” said a senior administration official in Washington

Correct. And not "chilly".

“There’s not much chemistry in the relationship,” said one long-serving Western diplomat in the region.

Yeah. How could there be when they met only once before ten years ago?

Mr. Assad has, in fact, proved at times to be a reluctant partner in Russia’s efforts to end the conflict. He has stood up on many occasions to the Kremlin, to the extent that diplomats and analysts say it has irritated Mr. Putin.

“I think they know how confused the Assad regime is, and they’re frustrated by it,” said Andrew J. Tabler, an expert on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has followed the conflict closely, referring to the Russians.

So the Israel lobby is asked to add to the spin even those Tabler knows nothing about Russia or the relations between Putin and Assad.

The whole spin in that "chilly" piece is without any sources or examples that support the claim. Russia and Syria might have, at times, different views? Of course they have. But they are allies, fight together against common enemies and value each others' contribution. A red carpet and a first class dinner with the most important people of the Russian state bear witness to that.

There is actually no hint at all from Russia or Syria that Russia would make Assad go or that Assad is seeking exile in Moscow. All such talk is silly spin. Russia will fight together with Syria until the Islamist threat is reduced and the Syrian state re-stabilized. There will then be some new government that includes some non-violent opposition members and that government will prepare for new elections to the parliament and for the president. Assad may be one of the candidates and may even win. That and not much less is, I believe, what Russia is willing to settle for.

The main strategic (and value) issue for Russia is to not condone any more U.S. induced "regime change" by "color revolutions" or by force. To end the unilateral catastrophic misbehavior in foreign policies that has become a U.S. habit. That is the most important and often repeated point president Putin has made. No more unilateral regime changes. He again made that point today at the Valdai Club meeting.

If Russia would let Assad fall it would concede "regime change" in Syria to Washington. It can not see Putin, or any other Russian president, do that. Not under any currently thinkable circumstance.

Posted by b at 01:41 PM | Comments (138)

October 21, 2015

"Western" Media Silent As Iraq And 4+1 Inflict Huge Islamic State Defeat

Update Oct 22:

An detailed Iraqi account of the Baiji operation: Baiji District Recaptured by Iraq’s Forces in Rapid Offensive

The US-led international coalition played a minimal role at best during this weeklong offensive. From Oct. 13th-20th, the coalition conducted a grand total of just 10 strikes on Da’ish positions ‘near Baiji’. On Friday, as fighting in the district was winding down and militants were fleeing north towards Mosul or northeast towards Hawijah, the coalition dropped one bomb on one artillery piece. That’s it. While abysmal, it’s hardly surprising due to the heavy presence of the Hashd Al-Sha’abi, which the coalition actively tries to avoid aiding.

End Update - original piece follows

Yesterday saw a huge defeat of the Islamic State but "western" media hardly noted it.

Iraqi Hashd militia and the Iraqi army defeated the Islamic State fighters in Baiji refinery and Baiji city. This was a big success:

Footage aired by the state-run TV showed Iraqi troops waving flags from rooftops in Baiji as thick black smoke billowed into the air.
Baiji is the second most significant area recaptured in Salahuddin over the past months as pro-government forces retook the provincial capital of Tikrit in late March after weeks of clashes with the militants. The liberation of Baiji could be a prelude to Iraq’s highly-anticipated offensive into Mosul, which has served as the de-facto capital of Daesh in Iraq.

The road from Baghdad to Mosul runs south to north through Balad, Samara, Tikrit and Baiji. Tikrit was liberated in March and the fight about the Baiji refinery and Baiji city had waged since. The victory now opens the road towards Mosul, Iraq's second biggest city and in the hand of the Islamic State.

The success can be attributed mostly to Iraqi militia supported by Iran. The 4+1 intelligence and operations room in Baghdad, where Iraq, Iran, Russia, Syria and Hizbullah as well as the Hashd coordinate their efforts, advised throughout the operation. The U.S. was not involved as it does not want to work with the Hashd militia and Iran.

When looking through the daily strike reports of the U.S. lead operation Inherent Resolve one finds hardly any air strikes against IS forces around Baiji. The few that took place hit some IS "machine gun position" or "tactical fighting position". Hardly the effort that was needed to free the city. Indeed it took the Iraqi air force to do the real work:

Zaid Benjamin @zaidbenjamin
Inherent Resolve Spx Steve Warren: Dealing with small pockets in #Beiji refinery. Iraqi air-force mounted 40 airstrikes & the coalition 4.

Iraqi militia did the groundwork and the Iraqi air force covered the attack. The operation proceed under advice from Russia and Iran. The U.S. was not involved. It is no wonder then that "western" media are mostly silent about it.

There is nothing about the Iraqi victory in the Washington Post and the New York Times gives it just one sentence in a piece about the Joint Chiefs chairman. This after wall-to-wall coverage when the Islamic State first captured the refinery.  Even the small mention in the NYT manages to deceive its readers about the leading party of the operation:

The American-led coalition is putting pressure on the militants on several fronts. Backed by American air power, Iraqi forces are on the outskirts of Ramadi, which was taken by the militants in May. Iraqi forces and Shiite militias captured the Baiji oil refinery, north of Baghdad, on Friday and are trying to expand the territory under their control there. On Tuesday, the Iraqi military said it had secured the nearby town of Baiji after days of fighting.

The casual reader of that paragraph will assume that the "American-led coalition" and "American air power" was responsible for the liberation of Baiji. But besides four minor airstrike in as many days that "American-led coalition" was not involved at all. The Iraqi militia supported by Russia and Iran are clearly steeling the Pentagon's show.

The U.S. fears the replacement of its sham campaign against the Islamic State by a real one run by Russia and Iran. The Joint Chiefs chairman Dunford even threatened the Iraqi premier with love deprivation:

If Russia did begin flying missions over Iraq, it would preclude the United States from flying, Dunford told the Iraqi leaders. They understood the situation, he said, and Abadi told him that Iraq has not asked the Russians to fly missions over Iraq and Russia has not offered to launch strikes inside Iraq.

Officially Abadi has not asked. But Iraqi requests were made to Moscow and answered positively. Iraq will wait a few month and then compare the Russian success in Syria with the U.S. success in Iraq. Should the campaign in Syria be more successful than the U.S. led one in Iraq it surely would consider switching its partners.

In Syria meanwhile the "moderate rebels" open more joined operations rooms with Ahrar al-Shams and Jabhat al Nusra. There is new talk about a unification of the "moderate rebels" of Ahrar al-Shams and the "moderate rebels" of Al Qaeda:

Zaid Benjamin ‏@zaidbenjamin
Ahrar ash-Sham forge alliance with Jabhat al-Nusra one day after a CNN interview with #Qatar's FM saying that Ahrar has no links to al-Qaeda

Russian intelligence picked up talks between the the Islamic State and Nusra/al-Qaeda commanders about a united effort against the Syrian government.

The reality that all these groups submit to the same ideology and aims will soon become even more evident. That will make it more difficult for the U.S. and Turkey to continue with their sham campaign against the Islamic State while supporting the "moderates" that are joined with that professed enemy.

Meanwhile Russia continues its political efforts to end the fighting in Syria. The Syrian president Bashar Assad visited Moscow for talks with the Russian president Putin. He also had an intimate dinner with the highest figures of the Russian government - Putin, Medvedev, Lavrov and Shoygu attended. After the visit the Russian president had phonecalls with the Turkish president Erdogan and the Saudi King Salman today. The foreign ministers of Russia, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Turkey will meet Friday in Vienna. There is either a deal in the making ... or the war on Syria will escalate further.

Posted by b at 01:26 PM | Comments (107)

October 20, 2015

NYT: G.O.P. Candidate Hillary Clinton Calls For No-Fly Zone

The New York Times explains on which side of the aisles Hillary Clinton positions herself.

Headline: G.O.P. Candidates Leading Charge in Call for Syrian No-Fly Zone

Third paragraph:

Hillary Rodham Clinton has split with President Obama, advocating a no-fly zone in an attempt to stop the bloodshed, reduce the flow of refugees and give the United States leverage against Russia.

Not that we had any doubt about it ...

Clinton lost the nomination race in 2008 against some young senator because of her hawkish foreign policy position. As she is obviously unable to learn from her mistakes she deserves another defeat.

Posted by b at 05:45 AM | Comments (140)

October 19, 2015

Why Is The U.S. Silently Bombing Syria's Electricity Network?

The Aleppo power plant is a 1,000 megawatt thermal plant in five units build by Mitsubishi Heavy Industry in 1995-1998. It is situated some 25 kilometers east of Aleppo city center.  During the fighting around Aleppo various electricity distribution stations were damaged and electricity in parts of the city has become scarce and unpredictable. But the main power station had so far not been hit.

The plant is in the hands of the Islamic State but there is an informal agreement between the government, which controls the distribution network, and those who hold the power generating station:

[T]he agreement of understanding pertains to the division of the electricity supply between the parties, whereby ISIS will receive 60% of the quota and the Syrian regime will receive 40%.

Both sides will have some electricity and the civilian as well as fighters on both side will be better off than without electricity. No side has a motive to destroy that plant.

But last night the U.S. coalition bombed the Aleppo thermal power plant and destroyed parts of it:

A military source told SANA that warplanes of the Washington alliance violated Syrian airspace and attacked civilian infrastructure in Mare’a, Tal Sha’er, and al-Bab in Aleppo countryside on Sunday.

The source added that the warplanes attacked the biggest electric power plant that feeds Aleppo city, which resulted in cutting off power from most neighborhoods in Aleppo city.

Just a week ago U.S. air attacks had attacked another power station and a big distribution transformer al-Radwaniye also east of Aleppo.

The electricity generation and distribution system is civil infrastructure. It is used and useful to everyone no matter what side of the conflict. After the first U.S. attack on a power station a week ago the Russian president Putin was asked about the strikes. He called them "strange":

"On Sunday, the American aviation bombed out an electrical power plant and a transformer in Aleppo. Why have they done this? Whom have they punished there? What’s the point? Nobody knows," the president said at a meeting with the Russian government members.

The Russians and the Syrians are sure that it were F-16 planes from the U.S. coalition that bombed the power infrastructure even though the coalition reports do no mention the attacks. Why are these bombings not mentioned in the U.S. coalition reports?

The U.S. claims it is only fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. It accuses Russia of not only attacking ISIS even though Russia, and Putin himself, always said that ISIS is not their sole target but that supporting the Syrian government against all its enemies is the overarching aim. The Russian just snuffed out a 16 vehicle ISIS convoy. Something that the U.S. somehow never manages to do. The U.S. itself, by the way, has killed and kills some non-ISIS "moderate rebels". All its complains against the Russians are just nonsense.

But why would fighting ISIS or this or that "moderate rebel" terrorist necessitate the destruction of valuable infrastructure which serves all sides of the Syrian society?

Without the plant Aleppo city, with some 2-3 million inhabitants and refugees, as well as the surrounding areas in Aleppo governate have no electricity. The damage the U.S. bombing caused will make sure that any repair will take a long time. This will make life for people on every side of the war more unbearable and more people will leave to seek refuge in foreign countries.

Is that the purpose of the U.S. bombardment of electricity infrastructure in Syria? If not what else is this supposed to achieve?

Posted by b at 01:49 PM | Comments (99)

October 18, 2015

Open Thread 2015-38

News & views ...

(These fill up fast these days ...)

Note: There is some troll around trying to incite anti-semitism by commenting using the user names of regulars here. I have blocked it and deleted the fake comments. Please let me know when some comment by a regular looks suspiciously off compared to that posters other comments.

Posted by b at 02:05 PM | Comments (184)

October 17, 2015

Syria - The New South Aleppo Campaign

Yesterday the Syrian Arab Army supported by Iraqi and Iranian forces and the Russian air force launched a surprise attack to the south and east of Aleppo. Progress at the beginning was rapid but resistance has by now grown and the current progress is at a slower and more sustainable pace. As the front lines are constantly moving the the news about actual positions vary.

An excellent map of the ongoing operation via TexMapMaker1. (Again with green=insurgents, red=Syrian government and allied forces)

big version

There are three important axis. The first one (the upper left marked 1 and 2 in the map) towards the besieged cities Nubl and Al-Zahra developed when earlier this week foreign paid insurgents lost some of their positions north-east of Aleppo in fighting with the Islamic State. The SAA took the opportunity of that fighting in the area to extend its position towards the besieged cities. Extending that position to relief the cities would also cut off the supply line of the insurgents within the northern parts of Aleppo city.

Towards the east SAA troops are fighting to relief the besieged military airport of Kuweiris (on the right of the map). Coming from the south they bypassed the direct west to east road that connects Aleppo city with Kuweiris but is under insurgent control. They made decent progress and might reach the airport tomorrow or the day after.

The main surprise attack yesterday and today was southward from Aleppo city. The troops progressed some six miles south before turning right towards the west and the M5 highway (in dark yellow on the left). They will try to reach the insurgency held highway or at least the controlling range of hills directly east of it.

This operation came as a surprise for the insurgents. Operational security was obviously tight. Several hundred Iran supported fighters from Iraq under Quds force commander Suleiman were transferred overnight from Latakia to Aleppo to support the south Aleppo attack.

There has also been news of some additional 3,000 Hizbullah fighters coming in which would bring up the number of fighters on the Syrian government side from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon to 10,000 total. The Pentagon is estimating the number of Russian soldiers in Syria at 3,000, much higher than the 1,250 I am aware of.

Some months ago I estimated the Syrian army would need a division sized (15,000 men) outside support to again gain ground. The current influx of foreign government allies has nearly reached that mark. Should the rumored about new armored brigade run by Hizbullah join the current forces a sustained large attack towards Idleb and then towards the Turkish border could be sustainable. That would close the main supply lines of the insurgency and would likely be the beginning of its end.

But that attack has not started yet. Instead we are seeing several smaller operation around Rastan where Russian helicopters help (video) to slice and dice an insurgent bubble, in Latakia, in the Ghab plain and now in Aleppo. We must keep in mind that the whole campaign is now influenced by Russian operational thinking. Maskirovska, the feinting here and there before hitting somewhere else, is part of every bigger Russian military operation. What we currently know about the disposition of Syrian government and allied forces is mostly what someone wants us to know. It might or might not reflect the real dispositions and plans. Expect to see more surprises.

Posted by b at 11:21 AM | Comments (82)

October 16, 2015

Open Thread 2015-37

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:25 PM | Comments (188)

October 15, 2015

U.S. Official Bemoans Russian Destruction Of "Our" Terrorists

Some U.S. official is whining because his flock of bastards gets hurt:

"Putin is deliberately targeting our forces," a U.S. official, who is disappointed in the U.S. response to Russia, told Fox News.

"Our guys are fighting for their lives," said the official, estimating up to 150 CIA-trained moderate rebels have been killed by the Russians.

"Our forces", "our guys" - hmm. The official is referring to the CIA-mercenaries who are fighting under al-Qaeda's command:

Advancing alongside the Islamist groups, and sometimes aiding them, have been several of the relatively secular groups, like the Free Syrian Army, which have gained new prominence and status because of their access to the TOWs.

Even in smaller quantities, the missiles played a major role in the insurgent advances that eventually endangered Mr. Assad’s rule. While that would seem like a welcome development for United States policy makers, in practice it presented another quandary, given that the Nusra Front was among the groups benefiting from the enhanced firepower.

It is a tactical alliance that Free Syrian Army commanders describe as an uncomfortable marriage of necessity, because they cannot operate without the consent of the larger and stronger Nusra Front.

The "official" should go to jail for, at least, indirectly arming and supporting the terrorists of Jabhat al-Nusra aka al-Qaeda in Syria.

Under U.S. domestic law Obama justifies his attacks on the Islamic State in Syria (which is illegal under international law) with reference to the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists as passed by the United States Congress on September 14, 2001. According to that AUMF:

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist ...

If that is the relevant legal code to fight the Islamic State then this even more so applies to Jabhat al-Nusra as it is loyal to the original al-Qaeda organization.

What Russia does, fighting on behalf of the legal government of Syria after having been asked to do so, is not only legal under international law but it is also easily justifiable by the same U.S. domestic law which the U.S. president applies to fight the Islamic State.

That whining official should recognize that a. what "his forces" do is illegal under U.S. law b. what Russia does with "his guys" is legal even under U.S. law and c. that there is always a moral hazard when using such proxy forces.

When the CIA send some idiots to invade Cuba where they were killed or capture it could do nothing and did nothing to protect them because that would have started a much bigger war. This is the same case here. These forces will be destroyed and there is nothing the U.S. can or will do about that. If you are sentimental about the fate of mercenaries and if you do not want this to happen do not use proxy forces but be man enough to go yourself.

Posted by b at 01:51 PM | Comments (101)

October 14, 2015

The Battle Of Idleb Part 1 - The Northern Hama Plain

Someone from Texas made this excellent map of the current situation in north-west Syria.

big version

The plain between Hama and Idleb is likely the place of a coming big Syrian attack. The Syrian army and allied positions are in red and the CIA mercenary and Jihadi positions are green.

In north Latakia, where there is currently preparatory fighting in Salma (Russian TV video with an interesting comment on Syrian troop moral). The aim is to kick the enemy northward and out of the country and to secure the border with Turkey. The area must be cleaned to prevent any surprises against Latakia and the Russian bases there. The attack should then move further to the north-east where the intermediate target is Jisr a Shugur and then along the M4 highway towards Idleb.

At the same time a two pronged attack is planned in the north Hama plain to follow along the M5 highway northward also in the direction of Idleb (2d map). There have been reports in U.S. media that recent fighting there was costly for the Syrian army as the CIA mercenaries had lots of TOW anti-tank missiles to take out Syrian armor. But the 30 tank kills the opposition reports claimed were not real. Eight TOW impacts have been confirmed and not all of those were kills. The attack by the Syrian side was not very serious yet. It was rather reconnaissance by force to find out where the enemy might have strong or weak points.

The big attack will start only when reinforcements have arrived and the Russian are able to fly more air attacks per day.

Expected reinforcements are:

Al-haydareyeen Iraqis Forces (2000 fighters), the Fatimids Afghan forces (2000 fighters), the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (2,000 fighters) and the elite of Hezbollah (1000 fighter)

The civil airport in Latakia has been closed to civil traffic and will be used by the Russian airforce to support the upcoming attack. This is necessary as the average number of sorties a small airport with one landing strip can handle is only about 100 sorties per day. With a second active airport now available some 200 to 300 sorties/day will be available to support the Syrian army. The Syrian airforce will of cause add its own capacity to these numbers.

New artillery arrived too, mostly multiple rocket system, which in typical Russian war fashion will be intensely used against the lines of the TOW handlers.

To get an impression of what is coming here a video of some moderate intense bombing by the Russian airforce and a video, filmed from far away, of an attack by a multiple rocket system with cluster ammunition. Such intense fire inevitably "softens" defensive lines and will lead to huge losses for the defenders.

After the CIA boss Brennan visited Saudi Arabia last week the Saudis delivered at least 500 U.S. made TOW anti-tank weapons to Syria. This in addition to lots of other new supplies and munitions. Al-Qaeda/al-Nusra also sent many of its men to reinforce their defensive line in the north Hama plain.

As usual in Russian influenced war fighting the Syrian army break through that heavily defended line will be enforced by massive fire from artillery and by hundreds of air attacks. Fleeing enemies will be pursued as fast as possible to prevent the build up of new defense lines.

The above is the plan as far as I can read it. But keep in mind that no battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy. There will be unexpected losses and unexpected gains and the situation may change fast.

There is also fighting going on in lots of other places in Syria. Yesterday some insurgents in east Ghouta thought it wise to launch two mortars onto the Russian embassy in Damascus. The response came today with an intense bombardment by the Russian airforce followed by a renewed ground attack by Syrian forces. Notice that "western" media always say that east Ghouta is "besieged". But in reality the area has always had plenty supplies of munitions and fighters which are coming in through the desert from Jordan.

Another fight is currently ongoing in the northeast of Aleppo. Some of the CIA mercenaries have lost positions there to the Islamic State and the Syrian army has used that infighting to make some gains on its own. It is now aiming (see maps) to connect its positions in north-north-east Aleppo with the besieged Shia towns of Fua and Kafraya some 10 kilometers north-west of the Aleppo outskirts. If successful this move would cut off the Syrian enemies who are within Aleppo as their supply route to Turkey would be blocked.

There is also fighting around Rastan between Homs and Hama where a cauldron encloses an unknown number of insurgents who block a major supply route. That bubble needs to be eliminated to clear the route and to allow for wider future operations.

There are several other more static fights around besieged military airports and in the Golan. The southern front around Deraa though is mostly quiet. No new mercenary attacks occurred. It seems that Jordan has joined Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in welcoming the Russian initiative and decided for now to stay out of the conflict. This split with the Wahhabi fraction of the Arab League, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, will likely widen.

The situation in Syria has cleared in that the former thousands of "rebel" groups using guerrilla tactics are now down to two or three major actors and mostly conventional fighting. This can be countered by conventional means with massive and wide ranging operations. The Russians are one of the few masters of this style (having learned it from the German operations against them). If they take the lead in planning and commanding this I am quite confident that substantial results will be achieved.

Hizbullah cleared the western front of mercenaries and Wahhabis. Russian diplomacy quieted the southern front. Now the push comes to clear the north. It will take a while. Then the east, where the Islamic State rules with few capabilities but propaganda, will be cleaned up with little effort. Syria may become whole again.

Posted by b at 01:57 PM | Comments (141)

October 13, 2015

Obama and Putin Agreed To Screw Erdogan?

It's official! The New York Times finally admits that the "CIA rebels" in Syria who received tons of TOW anti-tank missiles are working under the field command of al-Qaeda/Jabhat al Nusra:

Rebel commanders scoffed when asked about reports of the delivery of 500 TOWs from Saudi Arabia, saying it was an insignificant number compared with what is available. Saudi Arabia in 2013 ordered more than 13,000 of them. Given that American weapons contracts require disclosure of the “end user,” insurgents said they were being delivered with Washington’s approval.

But, be assured, because these "CIA rebels" feel bad about it, they are still "moderate" or somewhat "relative moderate".

Advancing alongside the Islamist groups, and sometimes aiding them, have been several of the relatively secular groups, like the Free Syrian Army, which have gained new prominence and status because of their access to the TOWs.
It is a tactical alliance that Free Syrian Army commanders describe as an uncomfortable marriage of necessity, because they cannot operate without the consent of the larger and stronger Nusra Front. But Mr. Assad and his allies cite the arrangement as proof that there is little difference between insurgent groups, calling them all terrorists that are legitimate targets.

That these "relative secular" al-Qaeda auxiliaries are threatening suicide attacks against Russians only confirms their secularism. Judging from the reader comments to that NYT piece the U.S. people are pretty aghast about this now openly admitted cooperation. They, and a realist op-ed in the NYT, call for cooperation with Russia and the Syrian government.

There may already be more cooperation between Russia and the U.S. than we can see. At least that is what the Turkish President Erdogan perceives.

Yesterday the U.S. dropped 50 tons of small weapons and munition to Kurdish fighters in north east Syria. According the U.S. justification for this those Kurds along with some Arab Syrian tribals are supposed to attack the Islamic State in Raqqa. (Those Arab tribals are by the way just a bunch of worthless thieves. This according to the Voice of America(!).) But the Kurds do not seem to know about those Raqqa plans anyway. They have different aims:

U.S. officials hope the YPG will now turn its attention to Raqqa, the Syrian city that is the defacto capital of the Islamic State, which lies just 60 miles south of Tal Abyad, a border town the YPG seized from the Islamic State in June, with U.S. help.
But PYD spokesman Can said the Kurdish group’s first priority is to link the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, northwest of the Syrian city of Aleppo, with Kobani, the Kurdish enclave northeast of Aleppo. That would mean clearing the Islamic State from villages along 60 miles of the Turkey-Syria border, in particular the border town of Jarablus.

“Our prime and most important goal is to liberate Jarablus and to connect Kobani with Afrin,” Can told McClatchy. Capturing Raqqa, a mostly Arab city, is “not really” a PYD objective, he said. “Not for now,” he said.

That is just as I suspected the Kurds to react. But why did the U.S. officials claim that these Kurds and the collection of thieves would attack Raqqa? Did they not coordinate with them or was that Raqqa story a ruse?

The Turks seem to assume such and they accuse the U.S. as well as Russia of coordinating with the Kurds to seal the border with Turkey: Turkey warns U.S., Russia against backing Kurdish militia in Syria

Turkey has warned the United States and Russia it will not tolerate Kurdish territorial gains by Kurdish militia close to its frontiers in north-western Syria, two senior officials said.

"This is clear cut for us and there is no joking about it," one official said of the possibility of Syrian Kurdish militia crossing the Euphrates to extend control along Turkish borders from Iraq's Kurdistan region towards the Mediterranean coast.
"The PYD has been getting closer with both the United States and Russia of late. We view the PYD as a terrorist group and we want all countries to consider the consequences of their cooperation," one of the Turkish officials said.

Turkey suspects Russia, which launched air strikes in Syria two weeks ago, has also been lending support to the YPG and PYD.

"With support from Russia, the PYD is trying to capture land between Jarablus and Azaz, going west of the Euphrates. We will never accept this," the official said.

Is there now really coordination between Russia and the U.S. to seal the Syrian-Turkish border witch would cut off the Islamic State but also the al-Qaeda "CIA rebels" from their supplies? This would destroy all Turkish plans for Syria: a "safe zone" in Syria under Turkman control, a Sunni ruled pipeline corridor from Qatar to Europe, the Turkish-Ottoman annexation of Aleppo. Turkey would be pushed back into a secondary role.

Do Russia and the U.S. now really make common cause and decided to screw Erdogan? This would make sense if the destruction of the Islamic State and all other terrorists in Syria is the common aim. That would be a change in the Obama administration's policy. Up to now it only helped the "salafist principality" to grow and never seriously attacked it.

And if there is such cooperation why does the U.S still deliver thousands of TOWs to al-Qaeda which only kill more Syrians and prolong the fighting?

Posted by b at 10:00 AM | Comments (125)

October 12, 2015

There Are U.S. Special Forces In South Syria

Hassan Ridha @sayed_ridha
Drone downed by #SAA over Izraa #Daraa countryside

More pictures of the debris can be found here.

The various munition experts on Twitter agree that this is debris of an Aerovironment Switchblade (Datasheet-pdf) loitering munition "for use against beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) targets":

This miniature intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and lethal platform can be operated manually or autonomously. Switchblade provides the operator with real-time video and GPS coordinates for information gathering, targeting or feature/object recognition.

The switchblade has the size of a remote piloted hobby plane but features a visual and infrared camera and an explosive charge. It can be "suicided" on a target. According to the datasheet the battery powered killer drone has a "10 km radius of operation".

Izraa, where the debris was found, lies (map) at the crossing of the M5 highway from Amman in Jordan north to Damascus and road 109 which runs west to east through south Syria. Izraa is about 40 km north of the Syrian Jordan border and 40 km east of the Golan demarcation line. Anyone who used this armed drone must have been on Syrian ground.

The U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corp are the only known users. Since 2012 the weapons has been used in Afghanistan. The system surely requires significant training. Controlling a remote plane 10 km away over unknown terrain is not easy. This excludes the use of the system by some more or less untrained Syrian mercenaries.

My conclusion is that U.S. soldiers, likely some special forces, are in south Syria on Syrian ground on either reconnaissance or targeted killing missions. This is an invasion in violation of international law.

Russia plans to more than triple the airstrike sorties it flies per day in Syria. This to support the several thousand new fighters coming in now from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon to help the Syrian government and its people.

There should then be enough available flights and men to expulse the intruders from south Syria.

Posted by b at 06:41 AM | Comments (133)

October 11, 2015

Iraq: Caliph Not Killed But Still A 4+1 Intelligence Room Success

The Islamic State Caliph Baghdadi was nearly killed today. This also happened on two earlier occasions one last year and one in April this year. But today at least a few IS honchos found their end. The probably decisive difference was the involvement of the 4+1 intelligence operations room in Baghdad on which I reported here ten days ago.

How the news developed:

Conflict News @Conflicts
BREAKING: #Iraq says their air-force has struck the convoy of #ISIS leader al-Baghdadi. More to come.

Borzou Daragahi @borzou
Iraq claims "many Daish leaders killed" in air force bombing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's convoy in Anbar.

Reuters: Iraqi air force hits convoy of Islamic State leader Baghdadi

The Iraqi air force struck a convoy of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in western Anbar province close to the Syrian border on Sunday, a military statement said.
"Iraqi air forces have bombed the convoy of the terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi while he was heading to Karabla to attend a meeting with Daesh commanders," the statement read, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
"The location of the meeting was also bombed and many of the group's leaders were killed and wounded. Fate of murderer al-Baghdadi is unknown and he was carried away by a vehicle. His health condition is still unclear," the military said.

More from my stream:

Max Abrahms @MaxAbrahms
Even if Baghdadi survived, it seems likely other high-level ISIS guys may have been killed in the Iraqi attack.

الجغايفة Al-Jughayfa @haditha_tribe
#Iraq #AlBaghdadi #ISIL leader killed in #Qaam city and his body now in #Bokamal and isis talking who is going to take his position #USA

Fer G @FGunay1
HUGE! Tribe loyal to Iraqi gov claims ISIS leader Baghdadi is dead! Airstrike in result of Iraq-Iran-Russia coop

Fer G @FGunay1
Iran-Syria-Iraq-Russia cooperation resulted in a strike of the convoy. Reports indicate Baghdadi was present

Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai#Iraq : #ISIS leader Baghdadi hit by airstrike around Ramadi. He was the Military ops main target (in my [earlier] article)

Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai
An Eye inside Russia/Iraq/Syria/Iran/Hezbollah (4+1) operational room. My take via @AlraiMediaGroup

Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai
#Baghdadi convoy was on its way to a meeting in Karabla when they hit it. He may be in or not in but tt is the result of the intel ops room

Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai
It is confirmed that #USA led coalition was not involved in this intelligence gathering about Baghdadi or his leadership.

Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai
If killed, it will create a hoo-ha among all those who gave his Ba'ya (to d man not to d organisation). Interesting time ahead (if killed).

Fer G @FGunay1 .@FGunay1
A joint operation room runned by Irak-Iran-Syria-Russia designated 50 targets among them a convoy in Ramadi w Baghdadi present

Fer G @FGunay1 .@FGunay1
While its still unknown whether Baghdadi himself was killed local sources claim he is in fact hit & killed by z airstrike

Max Abrahms @MaxAbrahms
Iraqi military releases statement after airstrike against presumed Baghdadi convoy: "His health status is unknown."

Dion Nissenbaum @DionNissenbaum
US military says can't confirm Iraqi reports of strike on ISIS leader Baghdadi's convoy.

Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai
Baghdad claim that #ISIS leaders "Abu Saad al-Karbuli and Abu Omar al-Qabissi were killed in the airstrike". No independent confirmation.

Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai
It seems #ISIS leader wasn't in the convoy hit in #Iraq.

Al Arabiya English @AlArabiya_Eng
#BreakingNews ISIS leaders killed in airstrike but not the militants’ head Baghdadi: hospital sources and residents

Even if this was only a near miss and not a lethal hit on the Caliph himself the operation is a success for the recently revealed intelligence cooperation between Syria, Iraq, Russia, Iran and Hizbullah. That the U.S. was not involved in and not even informed of the operation is a sign of the increasing mistrust the Iraqi government develops against it. Here is the reason:

The believe in Baghdad is that the U.S. does not want to kill off the Islamic State but is silently supporting it. There are some facts, the DIA 2012 analysis and the lack of U.S. airstrikes against IS, that support such thinking.

The death of several high Islamic State leaders is a huge moral lift for the Iraqi and Syrian forces and likely a loss of impetus for the various Jihadi groups in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

Posted by b at 11:11 AM | Comments (65)

October 10, 2015

Obama Launches A Proxy War On Russia In Syria

For a moment it looked as if the U.S. was giving up on violent "regime change" in Syria. Under Russian pressure Secretary of State Kerry concided on September 29 that the outcome should be something that is not supported by the U.S. Gulf allies and proxy fighters of the war on Syria:

The United States and Russia agree on "some fundamental principles" for Syria, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday, adding that he plans to meet again with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday.

"There was agreement that Syria should be a unified country, united, that it needs to be secular, that ISIL (Islamic State) needs to be taken on, and that there needs to be a managed transition," Kerry told MSNBC ...

But instead of building on that agreement and of further working with the Russians, the U.S. is now slipping into a full war by proxy against the Russian Federation and especially with its contingent in Syria. Obama had claimed that he would not get drawn into a proxy war with Russia in Syria but his administration, the Pentagon and the CIA, is now doing all it can to create one. The Russian support for Syria is not limited. With the U.S. administration now moving into a position where war on Russia in Syria becomes the priority the fighting in and around Syria will continue for a long time.

The official Pentagon program to train Syrian insurgents will cease to vet, train, arm and support those mercenaries. But the program will not end. The Pentagon will simply shorten the process. It skips the vetting and training part and will arm and support anyone who proclaims to want to "fight ISIS":

The move marks an expansion of U.S. involvement in Syria’s protracted ground war and could expose the Obama administration to greater risks if weapons provided to a wider array of rebel units go astray, or if U.S.-backed fighters come under attack from forces loyal to Assad and his allies.
Under the new plan, leaders of groups already battling the Islamic State undergo vetting and receive a crash course in human rights and combat communications. Many of them have already received that training outside Syria, officials said.

Eventually the Pentagon plans to provide ammunition and basic weapons to those leaders’ fighters and would carry out airstrikes on targets identified by those units.

We know how well things go when some rogue proxies identify targets they want the U.S. air force to hit. The destroyed MSF hospital in Kunduz and the 50 something killed in the U.S. attack on it, on request of Afghan special forces, tell the story.

Significant military aid to those fighters, in an area where Islamist extremist groups are mixed with and often fighting beside moderate opposition rebels, would mark a departure from previous U.S. policy. A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter, declined to give specifics on any new aid that might arrive in northwest Syria. But the official said that “these supplies will be delivered to anti-ISIL forces whose leaders were appropriately vetted,” and described them as “groups with diverse membership.”

That would be these diverse groups which all include al-Nusra/al-Qaeda, Ahrar al Shams and other Jihadis. Even if not directly given to them the fact that al-Qaeda demands a "toll" of 1/3 of all weapons going through its controls, and sometimes takes all, shows that this program is effectively a direct, though unacknowledged, armament program for al-Qaeda.

The new program is separate from a CIA-led effort to aid rebel factions in Syria. It was not immediately clear how Friday’s announcement might affect the CIA program.

The CIA runs a similar but much bigger program since 2012. Weapons are handed out to everyone who wants to take down the Syrian government. Most of those weapons have landed in the hands of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda.

Indeed it is the CIA, under its torture justifying chief Brennan, which has pushed the Obama administration away from Kerry's conceding statement and into a full blown proxy war with Russia.

Russia bombed some of the CIA'S trained, armed and paid groups. It had earlier asked the U.S. to tell it who not to bomb but didn't receive an answer. As the CIA mercenaries are fighting against the Syrian government and are practically not distinguishable from al-Qaeda, ISI or other terrorists they are a legitimate targets. But not in the eyes of the CIA which nevertheless finds Russian attacks on them useful:

Reports indicate that CIA-trained groups have sustained a small number of casualties and have been urged to avoid moves that would expose them to Russian aircraft. One U.S. official who is familiar with the CIA program — and who like other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters — said the attacks have galvanized some of the agency-equipped units. “Now they get to fight the Russians,” the official said. “This improves morale.”
Brennan departed for the Middle East last week as the Russian strikes intensified. U.S. officials said that the trip was previously planned and not related to the bombings but acknowledged that his discussions centered on Syria.

The decision to dismantle the Pentagon’s training program — whose small teams of fighters were often quickly captured or surrendered their weapons to rival rebel groups in Syria — may force Obama to weigh ramping up support to the CIA-backed groups.

U.S. officials said those involved in the agency program are already exploring options that include sending in rocket systems and other weapons that could enable rebels to strike Russian bases without sending in surface-to-air missiles that terrorist groups could use to target civilian aircraft.

The person who told the Saudis to deliver 500 TOW missiles to Syria ASAP was likely CIA chief Brennan. He also ordered to plan for attacks on the Russian base.

So instead of a calming down and cooperation with Russia to fight the Islamic State the Pentagon was told to shorten its program and to hand out weapons to everyone who asks. The CIA is feeding more weapons to its mercenaries via its Gulf proxies and is planning for direct attacks on Russians.

The war on Syria, and now also on Russia, is unlikely to end in the near future. With the U.S. throwing more oil into the fire the war will burn not only in Syria but in every other country around it.

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up today at a rally of the Kurd friendly HDP party in Ankara. Some 90 people were killed and some 200 wounded. This is the biggest terrorist attack modern Turkey has ever seen. The Turkish government disconnected the country from Twitter and forbid any reporting about the terror attack. The HDP party is leftist and supports a peaceful struggle for Kurdish autonomy. The militant Kurdish PKK in Turkey is currently fighting skirmishes with Turkish security forces in the east of the country. It has now announced that it will stop all attacks unless when it is attacked first. The sister organization of the PKK in Syria, the YPK, is currently fighting against the Islamic State. Erdogan's AK-Party and his government have supported the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Syria. It sees the HDP party and the Kurds in general as its enemies. As one Turkish non-AKP politician said today, the bloody incident in Ankara was either a total Turkish intelligence failure or a Turkish intelligence operation.

Whatever else it was, the bombing, very likely by Islamic State suicide bombers, is a sign of an ongoing destabilization of Turkey. The instability will increase further until there is a major policy change and a complete crackdown on any support for the Jihadis in Syria as well as a complete closure of the Turkish-Syrian border.

Today the Russian President Putin will meet the Saudi "young leader" deputy crown-prince Mohammed Salman-un. Can Putin read him the riot act and tell him to stop being a proxy in the U.S. war on Syria? One hopes so.

Posted by b at 11:55 AM | Comments (135)

October 09, 2015

Syria: Obama Officially Throws The Towel, Unofficially Though ...

The last MoA dispatch on Syria concluded:

The U.S. lost the game. It should take up the Russian offer or leave the table.

Despite the bickering from the usual neocon suspects the Obama administration is taking that advice and officially throws the towel:

Mr. Obama’s advisers say there is little they can do to change the situation in the near term. Proposals are being drafted for meetings in coming days, but Mr. Obama has made clear he is not willing to confront the Russians and risk an escalation, nor does he have a broad new strategy to resolve the conflict or defeat the Islamic State.

“There isn’t a solution at this point that they’re going to get done on their watch,” said Michael McFaul, a former White House adviser to Mr. Obama who later served as ambassador to Russia before returning to Stanford University. “They’re just going to contain it.”

The Obama administration is, for now, giving up on official "regime change" training ops in Syria and is unlikely to go for more intense fighting against the Islamic State. But that is only the official position. Unofficially, we can safely assume, the CIA and various shady Pentagon entities will continue their mischief in Syria and in Iraq.

But thanks to the Russians, it is now for all to see that the U.S. was never serious about fighting the Islamic State or about reigning in al-Qaeda and other Jihadis in Syria. While the U.S. has flown a total of 137 serious air attacks in Syria in some thirteen month the Russians delivered 148 airstrikes within just one week.

The public, as reflected in the comments on U.S. media pages, has finally recognized that the U.S. is not serious in fighting against or has even willingly furthered the growth of the Jihadi phenomenon. Indeed Obama recently admitted as much. He was asked why the U.S. did not counter the Islamic State when it was still small:

The reason, the president added, “that we did not just start taking a bunch of airstrikes all across Iraq as soon as ISIL came in was because that would have taken the pressure off of [Prime Minister Nuri Kamal] al-Maliki.

Obama wanted "regime change" in Iraq and got it (despite Maliki winning a record number of votes) by letting the Islamic State grow enough to seriously threaten the Iraqi state. Only then did the U.S. intervene and only enough to lecture the Islamic State on how far it is "allowed" to grow.

But such "doing nothing" is not the only way the Obama administration has helped the growth of ISIS. The Treasury Department is asking from where the Islamic State received all the Toyota Hilux cruisers it uses as weapon platforms. The Treasury will not have to look very far. The answer can be found via a simple web-search or nearby in the State Department:

Recently, when the US State Department resumed sending non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels, the delivery list included 43 Toyota trucks.

Hiluxes were on the Free Syrian Army's wish list. Oubai Shahbander, a Washington-based advisor to the Syrian National Coalition, is a fan of the truck.

"Specific equipment like the Toyota Hiluxes are what we refer to as force enablers for the moderate opposition forces on the ground," he adds. Shahbander says the US-supplied pickups will be delivering troops and supplies into battle. Some of the fleet will even become battlefield weapons.

The British government delivered similar equipment as did the Turks and the U.S. Gulf allies. Guess where all those cars ended up. It now seems the so called Free Syrian Army was and is nothing but a weapon transfer shop to deliver weapons and equipment to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

The official delivery of "non-lethal aid" which then becomes "battlefield weapons" may now end but the "unofficial" CIA program and its 10,000 mercenaries will very likely continue their war on Syria. If only because the CIA like the Pentagon is seriously pissed about the way the Russians moved into the game:

Overheard at the Pentagon: "Right now, we are Putin's prison bitch."

If the Obama administration would really "let the Russians do their thing" why is there a need for Obama's Defense Secretary Carter to threaten Russia with terrorism:

“This will have consequences for Russia itself, which is rightly fearful of attacks. In coming days, the Russians will begin to suffer from casualties.”

Like usual the CIA will hide its nefarious deeds behind some "allies" who will arrange for the terrorism in Russia and will increase the delivery of weapons to their "moderate" Jihadi mercenaries in Syria:

[The well-placed official] said those groups being supplied did not include either Islamic State (IS) or al-Nusra Front, both of which are proscribed terrorist organisations. Instead, he said the weapons would go to three rebel alliances - Jaysh al-Fatah (Army of Conquest), the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Southern Front.

That "well-placed official" made a funny joke but the BBC reporter probably did not (want to) catch it. How can you NOT supply to al-Nusra but only to Jaysh al-Fatah when al-Nusra is THE main component of the Jaysh al-Fatah alliance?

Even Syria experts now admit that the major weapon flow was and is always in the direction of the worst Jihadis:

Probably 70% of US arms sent into Syria have ended up in Nusra hands. Idriss, Hazm, & Company 30 all had arms taken.

And that percentage only holds for the weapons delivered over the table in official programs. It is unlikely to hold for the additional 120mm mortars the Pentagon still plans to move in. Of the weapons delivered under the table some 100% likely was sold off to or taken by the Jihadis. The 500 TOWs the Saudis claim to send now will surely do some significant damage to the Syrian army. But they will end up with al-Qaeda and will help it and the Islamic State to gain more ground from what is left of the "moderate" mercenaries.

An increased weapon flow is not the only way the CIA and its "allies" will continue to stir the pod:

Some sources inside the #FSA claim the US is communicating with them, informing them of upcoming Russian airstrikes (unconfirmed)

If true, and I tend to believe it is, the Pentagon and/or CIA continues to give tactical advice about the Russian and Syrian Army's moves and positions.

While the Saudis said, via the BBC above, that they will increase the delivery of anti-tank weapons to Syria we can also expect that Qatar will throw in additional anti-air manpads, as it did in 2013, to have some Russian helicopters shot down. But unlike the Syrian army which lost helicopters to the then unexpected Qatari manpads the Russian army is prepared for this (overrated) threat. Video shows the armored Russian Mi-24P combat helicopters flying low and fast over Syria and using a copious amount of decoy flares while eliminating panicking terrorists (vid).

The 4+1 coalition operations rooms in Baghdad, Damascus and Lebanon, led by a Russian Lieutenant General, will not only collect and assess intelligence but will also make operational plans for the wider fight against the Islamic State and other terrorists. One task the command has is surely to stop the weapon flow to the terrorists.

So far the weapons flowed freely through Turkey and Jordan and nothing has been done to interrupt the flow within those countries. That was, in my view, always a major mistake. The "western" spies, the weapon merchants and the various Jihadi militia bosses live safely in their hotels in Gaziantep or Amman. That will have to end and the weapon convoys will have to be destroyed or sabotaged before they reach Syria or Iraq. Every bullet that passes the borders may well kill another Iraq, Syrian or Russian soldier, another Iranian general or innocent civilians. Stop the bullets delivery and the killing will, over time, stop too.

If Jordan and Turkey are not willing to cease and desist delivering arms and ammunition to the Jihadis they should at least feel some of the pains these goods cause. Theirs, and the Saudis, resources and political will are not endless.

Posted by b at 08:21 AM | Comments (114)

Fact-Check This NATO Scare Story

A contest for my readers here.

How many factual errors are in these 58 leading words of today's NYT scare story?

NATO, Tested by Russia in Syria, Raises Its Guard and Its Tone

BRUSSELS — Confronted with its biggest military challenge since the end of the Cold War, a weakened NATO took steps Thursday to shore up its flanks, both in the Middle East and Europe, as Russia continued to test the credibility of the alliance’s bedrock principle of collective defense.

Please leave your reasoned count in the comments. Three brownie points to the winner.

Posted by b at 03:52 AM | Comments (41)

October 08, 2015

Open Thread 2015-36

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:39 PM | Comments (151)

October 07, 2015

Syria, Iraq: Russia Shows Its Cards And Wins

He he ... Russia is now really showing off :-)

Four Russian Navy warships have fired a total of 26 missiles at the position of the terrorist group Islamic State in Syria, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced. The missiles were fired from the Caspian Sea.

“Four missile ships launched 26 cruise missiles at 11 targets. According to objective control data, all the targets were destroyed. No civilian objects sustained damage,” Shoigu said.

The missiles flew some 1,500 km before reaching their targets, probing their efficiency.

"And a happy birthday to you dear Vladimir Vladimirovich," Shoigu added.

These Russian Klub (3M-14 KalibrN) cruise missile, with some interesting capabilities (vid), crossed Iranian and Iraqi airspace (vid) with the consent of those countries. There is a video of the launches and pictures of the left-overs of a night of "Russian Klub'bing" in Raqqa governate.

These launches have several aims:

  • destroy some Islamic State assets in Syria
  • provide that Russia, while giving intense air support (vid, 22 bombs in 5 min) to the Syrian army in its attack in Hama, is fully committed to the larger aim of destroying the Islamic State
  • demonstrate that Russia can and will engage in the fight from afar should its forces in Syria be attacked. (The earlier "offer" to the U.S. to join the fight against ISIS with Tu-22M(3) long range strikers of even Tu-160 strategic bombers made a similar point.)
  • challenge the U.S. to take up the war against the Islamic State in a serious matter.

The U.S. command has bragged about having flown such and such thousands of sorties in its operation Inherent Resolve against the Islamic State. What it did not brag about was that only 20% of those sorties included a weapon release and that many of these releases were only against minor targets. Destroying an "ISIS excavator" with a guided weapon is not war fighting but very expensive pinpricking. Others also noted the differences:

In Tel Aviv, Israeli military analysts have noted that the first Russian airstrikes in Syria seem much more aggressive than those of the U.S.-led coalition.

The Russian forces have now made sure that they have all the assets in or around Syria that are needed

Despite a lot of noise from U.S. politicians, any U.S. controlled "no-fly zone" is now completely out of question. The Russians though could create such a zone in Syria in no time. Already U.S. reconnaissance drones over Syria get intercepted. The announced additional U.S. weapon deliveries to some Kurds and the newly formed Syrian Arab Coalition, which is just another collection of unreliable looters and thieves, will do nothing to free Raqqa or have any other major impact. The Kurds will not fight outside of their territories and the thieves will just sell their weapons, travel to Germany and become "refugees".

The other "relative moderate" rebels the U.S. armed have either turned over their weapons to Al-Qaeda or joined it. The public now learns that up to 80% of the weapons the U.S. delivered to Syria have ended up in the hand of Jihadis. Relaunching such programs again and again will not change that pattern and can no longer be publicly justified.

The U.S. and NATO also make loud noise when two Russians planes violate Turkish airspace (to test the Turkish radars and reaction times :-). But 11 nations in the U.S. coalition regularly violate Syrian airspace to pinprick ISIS and I have yet to see any "western" complaining about that. There will now be more talks between Russia and Turkey, Israel and the U.S. about avoiding air incidents. The Russians will likely simply say "just stay away."

The Russians are offering the U.S. a wider alliance than just some airspace deconfliction. But the U.S. so far rejected that. An alliance with Russia against the Islamic State does not fit its plans of splitting Iraq and Syria into many smaller U.S. dependent entities. The Iraqis, like the Syrians, have noted that and seek a larger role for Russia. The long planned for 4+1 coalition of Russia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Hizbollah now leads the fight against the Islamic State.

The U.S. lost the game. It should take up the Russian offer or leave the table.

Posted by b at 08:57 AM | Comments (132)

October 06, 2015

In Which The NYT Claims That John McCain Is A White House Official

Some rag reports: Kremlin Says Russian ‘Volunteer’ Forces Will Fight in Syria:

Russia signaled deepening intervention Monday in the Syria war, strongly hinting that its “volunteer” ground forces would soon be fighting there..
Although President Vladimir V. Putin has ruled out sending ground forces to Syria, a senior Kremlin defense official told Russian news agencies on Monday that military veterans who had fought in eastern Ukraine were likely to start showing up as “volunteer” ground forces in Syria.

The statement by the official, Adm. Vladimir Komoyedov, head of the armed forces committee in Russia’s Parliament, asserted that such volunteers “cannot be stopped.”

Maybe a map is needed for the NYT to learn some political differentiation.

Dear NYT -believe it or not- but the Kremlin and the Parliament in Moscow are indeed two dissimilar  institutions. The retired Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov is the elected chairman of the defense committee of the Russian Duma and not a "Kremlin official". Also - Senator John McCain is not a "White House official" no matter how much he would like to be one.

The Kremlin cares about the former Admiral's opinion just as much as the White House cares about McCain's usual blabber. Komoyedov can announce whatever nonsense he likes. It does not make it Russian state policy.

The NYT of course loves to depict Russia as a dictatorship and attributes everything someone in Moscow says or does to the President of the Russian Federation or, even darker, to "the Kremlin". But that is propaganda, not reporting.

But back to the issue of the possibility Russian volunteers in Syria. On the "World" page of the NYT website we find a promotion for a current NYT Magazine piece headline: Meet the American Vigilantes Who Are Fighting ISIS

A ragtag group of fighters from America and Europe have joined the fight against extremists in Syria. But with little training and no clear leadership, do they know what they’re doing?

Are U.S. volunteers going to Syria to fight extremists in Syria a "signal" of "deepening intervention" by the official U.S. of A.? Why is seen as such when some Russian volunteers might want to do alike?

Posted by b at 09:42 AM | Comments (124)

October 05, 2015

Russia "Violated" Turkish Airspace Because Turkey "Moved" Its Border

Russian planes in Syria "violated Turkish air space" the news agency currently tell us. But an earlier report shows that this claim may well be wrong and that the U.S. pushes Turkey to release such propaganda.

Reuters (Mon Oct 5, 2015 7:54am BST): Turkey says Russian warplane violated its airspace

A Russian warplane violated Turkish airspace near the Syrian border on Saturday, prompting the Air Force to scramble two F-16 jets to intercept it, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

The Foreign Ministry summoned Moscow's ambassador to protest the violation, according to an e-mailed statement. Turkey urged Russia to avoid repeating such a violation, or it would be held "responsible for any undesired incident that may occur."

AFP (10:20am · 5 Oct 2015): Turkey 'intercepts' Russian jet violating its air space

Turkey said on Monday its F-16 jets had at the weekend intercepted a Russian fighter plane which violated Turkish air space near the Syrian border, forcing the aircraft to turn back.
Turkey said on Monday its F-16 jets had at the weekend intercepted a Russian fighter plane which violated Turkish air space near the Syrian border, forcing the aircraft to turn back.

Here now what McClatchy reported on these air space violations in a longer piece several hours before Reuters and AFP reported the Turkish claim:

ISTANBUL - A Russian warplane on a bombing run in Syria flew within five miles of the Turkish border and may have crossed into Turkey’s air space, Turkish and U.S. officials said Sunday.
A Turkish security official said Turkish radar locked onto the Russian aircraft as it was bombing early Friday in al Yamdiyyah, a Syrian village directly on the Turkish border. He said Turkish fighter jets would have attacked had it crossed into Turkish airspace.

But a U.S. military official suggested the incident had come close to sparking an armed confrontation. Reading from a report, he said the Russian aircraft had violated Turkish air space by five miles and that Turkish jets had scrambled, but that the Russian aircraft had returned to Syrian airspace before they could respond.

The Turkish security official said he could not confirm that account.

So it is the U.S., not Turkey, which was first pushing the claims of air space violation and of scrambling fighters. The Turkish source would not confirm that.

But how could it be a real air space violation when Russian planes "flew within five miles of the Turkish border and may have crossed into Turkey’s air space". The Russian planes were flying in Syrian airspace. They "may have crossed" is like saying that the earth "may be flat". Well maybe it is, right?

Fact is the Russians fly ery near to the border and bomb position of some anti-Syrian fighters Turkey supports. They have good reasons to do so:

The town, in a mountainous region of northern Latakia province, has been a prime route for smuggling people and goods between Turkey and Syria and reportedly has functioned as a key entry for weapons shipped to Syrian rebels by the U.S.-led Friends of Syria group of Western and Middle Eastern countries.

One Russian plane may even indeed have slightly crossed the border while maneuvering. But the real reason why the U.S. military official and Turkey claim the above "violations" is because Turkey unilaterally "moved" the Turkish-Syrian border five miles south:

Turkey has maintained a buffer zone five miles inside Syria since June 2012, when a Syrian air defense missile shot down a Turkish fighter plane that had strayed into Syrian airspace. Under revised rules of engagement put in effect then, the Turkish air force would evaluate any target coming within five miles of the Turkish border as an enemy and act accordingly.

If Syrian rules of engagement would "move" its northern border up to the Black Sea would any plane in eastern Turkey be in violation of Syrian air space? No one would accept such nonsense and that is why no one should accept the U.S.-Turkish bullshit here. Russian planes should not respect the "new" Turkish defined border but only the legitimate one.

It would also be no good reason to start a NATO-Russia war just because such a plane might at times slightly intrude on the Turkish side due to an emergency or other accidental circumstances. Do we have to mention that the U.S., France, Britain and Jordan regularly violate Syrian airspace for their pretended ISIS bombing? That Turkey is bombing the PKK in north Iraq without the permission of the Iraqi government? What about Israels regular air space violations over Lebanon?

But what is this all really about? Germany, the Netherlands and the U.S. stationed some Patriot air defense systems in Turkey to defend Turkey and its Islamist storm troops in north-Syria. These systems were announced to leave or have already left. Are these claims about air-space violation now an attempt to get these systems back into Turkey? For what real purpose?


Posted by b at 05:44 AM | Comments (121)

October 04, 2015

Open Thread 2015-35

News & views ...

(A warning -again- to all. Refrain from attacking fellow commentators. Facts can be sourced and proven, opinions can be discussed. There is no need to denigrate or insult someone for having this or that view of an issue.

I will aggressively ban those who can not accept such basic decency and will delete all their comments.)

Posted by b at 10:47 AM | Comments (136)

October 03, 2015

Kunduz Hospital Bombing Exposes U.S. Airstrike Hypocrisy

Is the U.S. still using propaganda claims that the Syrian government is willingly bombing hospitals? Or that it uses "dumb bombs" or "barrel bombs" that cause "collateral damage"? Will its proxies prepare more fake videos that allegedly show such bombings?

Well, it is time to end that nonsense because the hypocrisy is now too obvious:

Kabul, October 3, 2015: At 2:10 AM local time on Saturday October 3, the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) Trauma center in Kunduz was hit several times during sustained bombing and was very badly damaged.

Three MSF staff are confirmed dead and more than 30 are unaccounted for.
Since fighting broke out on Monday, MSF has treated 394 wounded. When the aerial attack occurred this morning we had 105 patients and their caretakers in the hospital and over 80 MSF international and national staff present.
MSF’s hospital is the only facility of its kind in the whole northeastern region of Afghanistan, providing free life- and limb-saving trauma care. MSF doctors treat all people according to their medical needs and do not make distinctions based on a patient’s ethnicity, religious beliefs or political affiliation.

MSF was hiding "terrorists" is the claim the officials make. People at the hospital were "individuals threatening the force" says the U.S. military.

A video of the aftermath shows that the MSF clinic is a single, large building with a large courtyard and  walled off from the surrounding. This was no accidental hit by a "dumb bomb" but multiple willful targeting with "smart" bombs:

MSF International @MSF
All parties to conflict, including in Kabul & Washington, were clearly informed of precise GPS coordinates of our facilities in #Kunduz

MSF International @MSF
Precise location of our #Kunduz hospital communicated to all parties on multiple occasions over past months, including on 9/29

MSF International @MSF
Bombing continued for >30 minutes after American & Afghan military officials in Kabul & Washington first informed of proximity to hospital.

The total number of confirmed dead is currently creeping up with some saying that it will reach over 50.

Meanwhile the U.S. and the Saudis are tussling over who of them was responsible for designating a wedding in Yemen as an air attack target thereby killing over 130 people.

The U.S. and others (note: not Jordan(!) which seems to have left the anti-Syrian coalition) are whining that the Russian air force targets al-Qaeda CIA mercenaries and are begging to end that. Why exactly it should do so is not said.

Obama said yesterday that he will not get into a proxy fight with Russia over Syria. But the measures he announced, more weapons to the opposition, more bombing runs, point exactly into that direction. But with protection from the Russian air force and air defense the causing of "collateral damage" to the Syrian government, like to the MFS clinic, will be a bit more complicate.

Posted by b at 07:17 AM | Comments (123)

October 02, 2015

Russia's Campaign To Snuff Off The CIA's Al-Qaeda Forces

With some 125 strikes in three days the Russian bombing campaign continues to build. The U.S. media is now obsessed with the idea that Russia may be using "dumb bombs" instead of Syrian "barrel bombs". This is becoming a new propaganda meme. But videos from the Russian airbase show that at least some of the planes are armed with KAB-500S-E satellite (GLONAST) guided bombs which are precise "smart" bombs. (Other pictures and video from the Russian air base show a quite comfortable life including air conditioned quarters, a mess tent, Gulaschkanonen, a bakery, a laundry etc. This base is not an improvised short-term installation.)

Besides that how is it more humane to kill by a precise bomb than by a "dumb bomb" or "barrel bomb". Gaza was bombed by the Israelis with (U.S. produced) smart bombs. That did not lead to less destruction or killing. The recent Saudi (U.S. produced) bomb on the Yemen wedding that killed 130 people was also "smart" and hit right where it was targeted at.

The Russians bombed, as I earlier described, mostly in the corridor up to the Turkish border which is in the hand of al-Qaeda, Ahrar al Shams and CIA mercenaries. It also bombed Raqqa, the Syrian capital of the Islamic State and killed a dozen fighters. In response to that the Islamic State canceled Friday prayers in Raqqa seemingly out of fear that any congregation of IS fighters would now get bombed.

Funny. The U.S. claimed for a year that it was seriously bombing the Islamic State. But the Friday prayers have never be canceled before. Could it be that the Islamic State did not believe the U.S. claims but now fears that the Russians really mean business?

The Syrian air-force had avoided bombing near the Turkish border as it rightly feared that Turkey might shoot down a Syrian jet. But the Russian can now do this. The ground bombing is done by the ground attack planes build for task, Su-24, Su-25 and Su-34, while above those planes Su-30M fighter jets armed with superfast, medium to long range R-27 air to air missiles give cover. These would shoot down any Turkish jet that would try to attack the Russian bombers. This is just to make sure that Erdogan does not get any stupid ideas.

The air campaign is also well coordinated with Syrian government forces on the ground. From a paywalled WSJ piece quoted here:

[T]housands of rebels regrouped in several enclaves north of Homs, in towns like al-Rastan and Talbiseh. Russian jets hit both civilian and military targets in these two towns and five surrounding villages, said Rashid al-Hourani, a Syrian army officer from the area who defected to the rebels in 2012.

He said the airstrikes were followed with a barrage of artillery fire from several nearby positions where pro-regime Alawite and Shiite militias, including an Iran-backed group known as the Ridha Brigade, have been massing over the past few days.

The Syrian army will soon attack in coordination with the Russian air force and will try to regain northern territory along the M4 and M5 highway. That again would allow for a wider attack up to the Turkish border. Ground troop reinforcements from Iran, Iraq and Hizbullah are on their way or have already arrived. We are witnessing the build up to a wider battle.

The Guardian rumors that the Gulf states will counter the Russian move by providing more weapons:

Russia’s move clearly risks counter-action by countries supporting the rebels. According to one independent analyst, that may have already begun, with the Qataris – acting with the agreement of Saudi Arabia – flying in planeloads of weapons to Turkish airbases. “I would expect a huge influx of weapons into the north to try to blunt any ground assault by the regime,” the analyst said.
“The stakes are very high.”

And the Russian planes fly very high. They currently mostly fly above 5,000 meter and no Man-Portable-Air-Defense (MANPAD) missile can reach them. The people who get bombed do not even see or hear the planes coming. This will change when the Syrian army attacks and more direct ground support is needed but the planes to be used then are Su-25 and Su-34 build for that purpose and have armored cockpits.

The Russian airbase is protected by modern air defense on the ground and on Russian ships in the nearby sea. It is protected on the ground by some 1,250 Russian marines. It reportedly has ammunition and other supplies for at least three month. Nobody will mess with that base and the Russian campaign. It could not be done without very major forces and using such would practically guarantee a wider war with Russia, a nuclear superpower. Syria is Russia's sister (vid) and will be defended.

The Obama administration has therefore decided that it will not interfere with Russian attacks on CIA mercenaries and their al-Qaeda brother in arms. Some concerned trolling statement gets issued but that is just for show.

But the female candidates for the next presidential elections are not that smart. Both, Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina, have called for a U.S. enforced no-fly zone over northern Syria which would of course mean starting a war with Russia and its allies. These women want to attack Russian forces to defend al-Qaeda! Note: The country to decide who is flying or not over Syria is Russia. Dear U.S. voters. Please do not ever again allow these maniacs anywhere near a powerful position.

The CIA mercenaries in Syria - 10,000 men trained, armed and paid under a secret program - are directly cooperating with al-Qaeda and the likewise terrorist Ahrar al Shams. The NYT finally acknowledges this in two pieces today. The first says:

The fighters advancing on that [northern] front were not from the Islamic State but from the Army of Conquest, a group that includes an affiliate of Al Qaeda known as the Nusra Front and other Islamist groups, including several more secular groups that have been covertly armed and trained by the United States.

A second piece on the Army of Conquest:

The alliance consists of a number of mostly Islamist factions, including the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate; Ahrar al-Sham, another large group; and more moderate rebel factions that have received covert arms support from the intelligence services of the United States and its allies.

The groups fighting together in the Army of Conquest of course share their weapons, ammunition and other supplies. They very likely also have similar ideologies. The CIA, under Obama, Petraeus and Brennan, has been knowingly arming al-Qaeda in Syria and has done so for quite a while. The NYT had pointed out a year ago that the CIA mercenaries are working with Islamists but that piece was somewhat mealymouthed and depicted it as a minor problem. It is also quite astonishing that in-between the 2014 piece and the two pieces today no NYT pieces on Syria mentioned that relation but instead concentrated on the Pentagon "five moderate rebels" clown show which was a mere diversion.

The Pentagon is playing dumb with regards to the people hit when the Russians bomb al-Qaeda positions:

Q: McCain says they hit CIA-backed rebels. I mean, presumably, you guys are looking at the same information. Is that true, or you're uncertain? Where are we on that?

COL. WARREN: Right, well -- again, what I'll say, Tom, is we don't think they were ISIL. You know, who's backing who, you know, that's -- I'm not going to get into that. I'm just not going to, particularly when you're talking about -- you know, it's not even a DOD agency you're referring to.

I take that as confirmation.

The Israelis are now also admitting that they work with al-Qaeda:

Together with some local militias Nusra is in charge of most of the 100-kilometer border with Israel on the Syria side of the Golan Heights. In recent years, Nusra slightly toned down its militant ideology due to the influence of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which provide it with financial support.
Nusra is in control of most of the border but so far has reached a tacit understanding not to turn its weapons against the Jewish state.

Nusra controls the border because Israel has helped it by firing at the Syrian army whenever Nusra needed help. The linked Jerusalem Post piece is also of interest with regards to the famous Odet Yinon plan as it confirms that destroying Middle Eastern nations into warlord statelets is supervised by the Israeli military intelligence:

Some years back, the intelligence community started to reassess the chaotic reality emerging in the Middle East. Maps drawn up by MI’s Research Department show states being replaced by organizations. ...

That is the plan also for Syria. But with stronger support now forming up to regain Syrian territories that plan might well falter.

Posted by b at 03:10 PM | Comments (117)

October 01, 2015

Iraq: A Russian Alternative To Washington's Bumbling Anti-IS Campaign

The U.S. has been pressing Iraq to accept its orders on how to fight the Islamic State. It prohibited the use of quite effective, though mostly Shia, Hashd al-Shabi militia against IS in Ramadi and other places and instead wants to (again) retrain a hopelessly useless Iraqi army and a few tribal Sunni militia. The U.S. also held back long ordered weapons for the Iraqi army and air force and its bombing campaign against IS targets in Iraq is rather lackluster. By accident Hashd al-Shabi militia attacking IS positions have been hit by U.S. air strikes several times.

The public opinion in Iraq is that the U.S. has (again) nefarious aims and is neither committed to a united and sovereign Iraq nor to eradicating the Islamic State.

But now Russia offers an alternative. An intelligence operations room was opened in Baghdad in which Iraq, Iran, Syria, Russia and Hizbullah (the 4+1) develop and exchange intelligence about the Islamic State and possible targets for coming attacks. It looks pretty bad for the U.S. to not be trusted enough to take part in it.

But that is not enough yet. After Russia started its anti-terrorist air campaign in Syria yesterday despite U.S. protests it is now setting the mark even higher. Against a onslaught of dumb U.S. propaganda it is expertly trolling the U.S. over its lack of legitimacy:

Micah Zenko
LOL Lavrov, "We are polite people, as you know. We don't come if not invited."

Lavrov also trolled the U.S. by making an offer to Iraq and that offer was received rather friendly. From my feed timeline:

Sky News Newsdesk @SkyNewsBreak
Reuters: Russian foreign ministry says it would consider any request from #Iraq to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq

Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai
#Russia informed #Baghdad inofficially ts readiness 2bomb #ISIS in #Iraq. I am not sure PM Haidar Abadi would dare 2ask for Russian support.

Marc Perelman @mperelman
#Iraq Pm #Abadi @FRANCE24: #Putin told me Russia fighting #ISIS in Syria and I trust him, I'm open to Russian airstrikes vs Daech in Iraq

Loveday Morris @LovedayM
Abadi tells France24 there are no talks with Russia on strikes in #Iraq - yet. "If we get the offer we’ll consider it.. I would welcome it"

Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai
Abadi wouldn't dare now. He is halting Hashd al-Shabi following a #USA request. I can't see U.S & Russia collaborating in Iraq

I for one can see Abadi changing horses. Why rely on the U.S. when all it does, preferring the Kurds and Sunni militia while holding back effective Shia militia, seems to be against a unified Iraq and when the U.S. fight against IS is at maximum halfhearted. But even if Abadi will not kick out the U.S. and invite the Russians he can at least use the Russian offer to pressure the U.S. into a different behavior. It now has to respects the will of the Iraqi government and must wages an effective war against IS. Or it can leave.

It is always good to have an alternative when negotiating with a superior partner. Abadi now has one. And Abadi isn't the only one who is interested to change horses:

The largest pro-Kurdish group fighting in Syria has said it is ready to co-operate with Moscow, after Russian jets began launching airstrikes in the country.

After Russia began a series of 20 strikes in the north of the country on Wednesday night, the leader of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) called the move “an important step”.

Sipan Hemo, general commander of the YPG, told Russian news agency Sputnik that his fighters want to co-operate with Russia against the forces of Islamic State (IS).
In his statements to Sputnik [..] Hemo said he would support Russian strikes targeting al-Nusra Front as well as IS.

“Russia should fight not only against IS, but also against al-Nusra. There is no difference between Nusra and IS – they are both al-Qaeda,” Hemo is quoted as saying.

It now seems that every U.S. "ally" on the ground, except the now finally acknowledged CIA trained friends-of-Nusra-and-IS, would prefer to work with Russia instead of working under hapless U.S. policies.

That is some well deserved egg in the face for the Obama administration and its duplicity within its anti-Syria and anti-IS campaign.

Posted by b at 02:29 PM | Comments (118)

September 30, 2015

Syria: Thoughts On The Russian Air Support

Some things that happened today:

  • The Syrian government asked the Russian Federation for air support in its fight against the foreign supported insurgency.
  • The Russian parliament agreed to a Russian government request for a legal mandate to do so.
  • Russian officers in Iraq informed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad of upcoming strikes and recommended that U.S. planes stay out of the area and that U.S. forces on the ground be removed.
  • Russian planes started to bomb insurgency held fixed positions in Homs and Hama governate in west Syria. Both governates are next to Latakia where the Russian forces are deployed.

Immediately after news of the first Russian strike the U.S. payed "Syrian Civil Defense" organization "White Helmets" posted propaganda claims of killed children. The picture it used to prove its claims had also been used on September 25, before the Russians started to bomb.

Next came claims that the Russian had hit "moderate rebels" which the U.S. says are its good guys.

To which Mark Adomanis snarked:

The US couldn't find "moderate" rebels in 3 years. Apparently the Russians did in 24 hours

Indeed. Even back in 2012 the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency found:


"Moderates"- my ass.

The neocon Institute for the Study of War correctly identifies the target the Russian planes hit:

An alleged Russian airstrike hit the rebel-held town of Talbisah north of Homs City. Talbisah is home to Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, hardline Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, and a number of other local rebel groups, all of which are active in local governance efforts in the area. Both Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have claimed a number of vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs) in Homs City, located only 12 kilometers south of Talbisah.

The Russians themselves claim 8 ISIS targets hit as they do not differentiate much between the various groups of violent jihadi organizations.

The U.S. and its European lap dogs are now outraged, OUTRAGED that the Russians did not hit the Islamic State but al-Qaeda. "They claimed to fight the Islamic State. How could they hit our moderate rebels and their friendly al-Qaeda cooperation partners?"

One of the eight Russian targets was in Rastan in Homs governate. No Islamic State there claims the "western" propaganda. Except that just nine days ago the Islamic State shot dead seven men in Rastan for being allegedly gay.

Human Rights Watch and its ever lying ISIS promoting boss Kenneth Roth have not yet complained that Russia is NOT using their beloved "barrel bombs". But we can be sure that they will soon come up with some other dull bullshit.

The Russian will first clear, as much as possible, the area between their base in Latakia and the Turkish border. That is pretty much a self defense measure as some insurgent groups have already tried to hit the Russian base with improvised rockets. It also has the advantage that the targets are only a few flight minutes away.

The bottleneck here is intelligence. The Russians have UAV drones as well as manned signal intelligence aircraft in Syria and will use those to find targets. The Syrian government will help with its on-the-ground intelligence.

The Russians now have at least 24 ground attack fighters on their base. Each could fly at least six sorties per day (and night), with double crewing even more. When the Russians have settled in we can expect a regular 100-150 air attacks per day on the "moderate rebels" with surges of up to 250 per day. This is about the same amount as the Syrian air force is currently delivering. But the Russian planes are better equipped and have better accuracy. For those CIA paid "moderate rebel" TOW shooters and their al-Qaeda allies life will soon become very uncomfortable. Only after the immediate danger to the base and to important Syrian government positions in west Syria is pushed away will Russia start to hit Islamic State targets further east. This may require moving some of its planes to another airfield further east. 

I also expect that the Russians will do much more than just bombing rebel headquarters and the like. A main task will be direct ground support for the Syrian army when it starts to reclaim insurgent held areas. The Russians will have forward air controllers on the ground embedded with the Syrian forces. Effectively directed, all weather air support will make upcoming ground campaigns much easier.

The "western" anti-Syrian governments will continue to play outraged over the Russian help for the Syrian government. But I do not expect them to take any serious countermeasures. What can they do? Give anti-air missiles to their "moderate rebels" so that these can be handed over to al-Qaeda?

The Gulf dictatorships though may make such a grave mistake:

Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, said Tuesday that there were no circumstances in which his country would accept the Russian effort to keep Mr. Assad in power.

He hinted that if a political solution that led to his departure could not be found, the shipment of weapons and other support to Syrian rebel groups would be increased.

Posted by b at 02:04 PM | Comments (133)

September 29, 2015

Under Russian Pressure U.S. Accepts "Unified", "Secular" Syrian State

Putin's realist talk about Syria at the UN, which embarrassed the platitude spouting Obama, led to a change in U.S. policies.

The White House has halted the Pentagon training of the unicorn riding "moderate rebels". That program is toast but the real question is if the "secret" CIA run program, which is vastly more extensive, is also suspended. My hunch is that it is.

On top of that Secretary of State Kerry made a very new statement that amounts to a really significant change in policy:

The United States and Russia agree on "some fundamental principles" for Syria, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday, adding that he plans to meet again with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday.

"There was agreement that Syria should be a unified country, united, that it needs to be secular, that ISIL (Islamic State) needs to be taken on, and that there needs to be a managed transition," Kerry told MSNBC, adding that differences remained on what the outcome of such a transition would be.

Never before has the U.S. officially expressed a demand that the Syrian state should in future be "secular" as it is now. This is a rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood dominated Syrian exile coalition and of the GCC states' proxy fighters in Syria who demand a sectarian state based on Islamic law.

Since Israel lost the 2006 war against Hizbullah the U.S. and Israel plotted to overthrow the Syrian government which they accuse of facilitating Hizbullah's military supplies. The U.S. planned, prepared and financed a "color revolution" scheme and an exile opposition. The failing Iraq war and the emergence of a Shia dominated Iraqi government also led to an alliance between Israel, the U.S. and Sunni dominated Gulf states which planned, organized and financed radical Sunni guerrilla forces to attack Iran and its allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. As Seymour Hersh reported in 2007:

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

The "Arab spring" phenomenon allowed to implement the scheme against Syria. Under the disguise of the color-revolution narrative of "peaceful demonstrations" a guerrilla war was launched against the Syrian state. More than ninety policemen and soldiers were killed by the insurgents in the very first month of that "peaceful" revolution.

With sheer endless amounts of Gulf money Syrian soldiers were bribed to defect, unemployed rural youth and foreign mercenaries were hired to bring down the Syrian state. A year after the war on Syria started it was clear that there were no "moderates" fighting against the Syrian government but only radical Islamists. The NYT reported that CIA provided arms were flowing to them. The Defense Intelligence Agency noted in 2012 to the White House:


Despite that the U.S. rejected peace offers brokered by Russia and the CIA significantly increased weapon provisions and the training of additional jihadis.

The DIA also remarked:


That the recruiting for and weaponization of the anti-Syrian forces continued after these warnings were issued confirms that the current results, the Islamic State Caliphate and al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, is the (more or less) intended outcome. The U.S. did not turn a blind eye to the issue but, as the Defense Intelligence Chief General Flynn said, took a "willful decisions" to facilitate this.

That "willful decision" is also the reason why many people doubt that the U.S. declared "fight against the Islamic State" is serious. The current U.S. attacks on IS target look more like an attempt to regulate its size and behavior than a serious war to defeat or eradicate it. The Saudis have flown 2.5 times more air attacks against Yemen within six month than the U.S. led coalition of 62 countries has flown against the Islamic State within a full year. Long known U.S. plans to reorganize the Middle Eastern borders along presumed sectarian and ethnic lines are regularly peddled by this or that high U.S. official or "expert".

It is obvious that the U.S. organized a sectarian revolt in Syria and in 2012 made the willful decision to further the growth of a sectarian Islamic State. It planned to partition Syria and Iraq and some surrounding countries into new sectarian entities.

That Kerry now says "Syria should be a unified country, united, that it needs to be secular" and "ISIL (Islamic State) needs to be taken on" is tantamount to admitting Obama's policy so far was always fundamentally wrong. If meant serious and backed by political and military means it is a huge turnaround.

Should this come to fruition it is not only the turn of the corner for Syria. It is the defeat of the failed neoconservative "democracy spreading" and neoliberal "responsibility to protect" infested ideologies in face of the straight realist policies represented by the Russian President Putin.

Posted by b at 12:16 PM | Comments (127)

September 28, 2015

Various Items: Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Clintonmail

As I am currently time constrained just a few mixed items that caught my eyes.


On September 14, two weeks ago, a UAE big shot announced that the Marib dam would be taken by his forces that very day:

Video: Abu Dhabi crown prince Muhammad Bin Zayed "Today, we will raise UAE's flag over Marib dam, God willing"

Two weeks later no UAE troops have reached the dam but today some local mercenaries took a look at it:

#Yemen: The Popular Resistance Committees (backed by the Arab coalition forces) took control of #Maarib Dam.

Fighting continues around the dam and no flag was raised.

There are daily attacks by Yemeni soldiers within Saudi Arabia and a lot of military stuff gets destroyed while the Saudi troops mostly flee (vid). Two days ago another Saudi general was killed (vid) inside Saudi Arabia near the border with Yemen. The Saudis took again bloody revenge against the women and children of Yemen:

Apache helicopters fired rockets at the village of Bani Zela in Hajjah province, 10 km (6.5 miles) from the Saudi border, killing at least 25 civilians, including women and children, the residents and medics said.

The helicopters returned for a second strike as residents and medical teams were trying to evacuate casualties, killing three medics and two more civilians, they said.

"People were fleeing their homes as the helicopters pursued," a resident who identified himself as Khaled, told Reuters by telephone. "They committed a massacre for no reason."

The "double tap", attacking rescuers who help the victims after a first strike, is a U.S. tactic but is now also general Saudi procedure. A Saudi attack today on a wedding killed some 130 people, mostly women and children, according to local sources. There are over 50 daily bombings by the Saudi air force in Sanaa and hardly any of them hit military targets. Since Obama took office the U.S. sold weapons for over $90 billion to the Saudis. It actively wages the war against Yemen with intelligence and refueling services for the Saudi air attacks.

In Aden, which is allegedly in the hand of the Saudi supported Yemeni exile government, the only flag flying is that of the southern separatist movement. The Saudi war on Yemen is thus likely to lead to real regime change - in Saudi Arabia.


NYT, November 26 2001:

Northern Alliance commanders said Sunday night that their troops had captured the city of Kunduz in the dark, overrunning the last Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan.

The deputy defense minister of the Northern Alliance, Atiqullah Baryalai, said that his men had taken control of the city
The claims could not be verified Sunday, but the rumble of artillery fire could be heard this morning on the outskirts of Kunduz. The situation in and around the city has clearly been worsening for the Taliban, with several days of mass defections and intense American bombings.

NYT, September 28 2015:

After months of besieging the northern Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz, Taliban fighters for the first time seized control of significant parts of the city on Monday, officials said, sending government security forces retreating toward the airport.
Some soldiers who had fallen back to the airport on the outskirts of Kunduz reported that by nightfall, the Taliban effectively had the run of the provincial capital, with no security forces remaining within the city proper.


With the Russians making their stand and the "western" governments turning towards the more sensible Russian position of supporting the Syrian government, the Gulf paid rebel propagandist "experts" tie themselves into knots. See for example this BBC piece by the Qatari paid Charles Lister of Brookings Doha. It includes lots of lies of the "Assad created ISIS" type (GWB anyone?) but also amazingly contradictory claims when it argues that the "non-terrorists rebels", which closely cooperated with the terrorists, are united:

Contrary to popular opinion, the Syrian armed opposition is not divided, ... this amounts to a core of roughly 100 factions.

"Roughly 100 factions" are "not divided". Obviously the definition of faction -"party strife and intrigue; dissension"- is beyond that authors comprehension.

United States:

The clown show of the republican presidential candidates continues with the candidates competing over who is the most fascist one. Meanwhile Hillery Clinton is going down over her ever changing claims about the private unsecured email server she used for classified state business:

The U.S. Defense Department has found an email chain that Hillary Clinton did not give to the State Department, the State Department said on Friday, despite her saying she had provided all work emails from her time as secretary of state.

The correspondence with General David Petraeus, who was commander of U.S. Central Command at the time, started shortly before she entered office and continued during her first days as the top U.S. diplomat in January and February of 2009.
The emails with Petraeus also appear to contradict the claim by Clinton's campaign that she used a private BlackBerry email account for her first two months at the department before setting up her account in March 2009. This was the reason her campaign gave for not handing over any emails from those two months to the State Department.

It's the cover-up, not the crime, that will end her bloody career. Unfortunately, at least in foreign policy issues, the other democratic candidates are no better.

Posted by b at 12:41 PM | Comments (84)

September 26, 2015

Syria Turns The Corner

From Elijah J. Magnier's latest report:

The deployment of forces from Iran, Russia and Hezbollah along with the Syrian Army aims to recover key and strategic cities and areas under the control of al-Qaeda and ISIS in the first place. Damascus gave Hezbollah 75 tank to become part of this organized- irregular organization. It is the first Hezbollah armored brigade composed of new T-72 and T-55 tanks to support the group’ Special Forces on the ground.

The source ended: “The direct Russian intervention and involvement in the Syrian war was decided after Turkey’s violation of the undeclared red lines by giving facilities and supporting al-Qaida and its allies to enter Syria into Kessab and later to Idlib provoking the Russian bear who believed that national interests are threatened. The lost of Idlib upset the battle balance in all of Syria. Russia and Iran informed Turkey that such a support will have serious consequences and that Iran and Russia’s national security have been put in jeopardy. After having seen the reaction on the ground and the direct intervention of Russia and Iran, Turkish President’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Assad could be part of the future of Syria. It is a kind of late apology for the strategic mistake that needs to be rectified now. Turkey’s wrong move in Idlib led even the United States and Europe very close to chanting: Long Live President Assad.

Israel has been told to go back into its corner and to shut up. It has no longer any role in Syria. Any further intervention by air, sea or on the ground would lead to harsh responses. Natanyahoo will comply. He understands that the Russian support for the Syrian government is unwavering:

Sayyed Nasrallah considered that Russia's support to President Bashar Al-Assad is inevitable, revealing that "even when Iran proposed finding a substitute for President Al-Assad, Russia refused."

Jordan has already pulled support for the southern mercenary flank which failed in its attacks on Deraa. The U.S. military now admits, after prior denials, that its "vetted" mercenaries gave weapons and other supplies to al-Qaeda. That fact is another argument against the various Gulf paid, hawkish "experts" who want to continue the war on Syria. The serious folks have lost all confidence in their judgement. The hapless CentCom commander General Lloyd Austin will be the fall guy for their failed strategy.

The wannabe Sultan in Ankara started to change his language but will have to do much more. Should he be stupid enough to continue to supply Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, the Kurdish PKK -with which he is unnecessarily at war within Turkey- may suddenly find an excellent supply source for some serious anti-tank missiles and other goodies. The Turkestan Islamic Party, Uighur Islamists who were smuggled by Turkey from China to Syria, now trains child soldiers in Idlib. Does Erdogan believe that China will ignore them? Or will it rather send its navy and a special force brigade to eradicate that looming danger? Erdogan pissed off Russia, China and, with his war against Kurds, also the United States. All at the same time. You don't mess with all three superpowers at once without serious personal consequences.

The collapse of the Syrian government would be a disaster for everyone. Erdogan and his "western" friends made fools of themselves with their childish "Assad must go" blathering. With the grown ups taking over this nonsense has now, hopefully, come to an end.

Posted by b at 01:50 AM | Comments (162)

September 24, 2015

Open Thread 2015-34

News & views ...

Posted by b at 02:22 PM | Comments (136)

September 23, 2015

Russia To Buy *Used* Mistral Helicopter Carriers From Egypt

New cars are often offered at high fixed list prices set by the manufacturer. A trick car dealers use to circumvent such fixed list prices and to sell more cars is to "sell" the new car for a day or two to some strawmen. These cars are marketed as "demonstrator" or per-registrated cars. The "used car" is handed back to the dealer who sells it to the originally intended buyer for a price lower than the manufacturer's list price.

A somewhat similar trick, though not involving pricing, seems to be in the making for a set of interesting war ships:

France has agreed to sell two Mistral helicopter carriers to Egypt, which were originally ordered by Russia.
The Mistrals contract, worth €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion), was signed by France’s DCNS/STX and Russia’s Rosoboronexport in 2011. The contract specified that two French helicopter carriers would be delivered to Russia, the first in 2014 and the second in 2015. Russia was to partly manufacture the vessel hulls and provide its own military electronic equipment for the warships.

However, the French government decided not to hand the vessels over to Moscow after it came under intense political pressure from the US and its European allies following Crimea’s reunification with Russia and the outbreak of armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Egypt has little use for these quite expensive and difficult to operate helicopter carriers. I am not aware of any sensible scenario in which Egypt could put them to good use. The likely story behind this deal is thus different.

Egypt will buy these two ships probably using a credit line forwarded by Russia. Russian specialists will out fit them with Russian weapon systems. Then, in a year or two, Egypt will offer the "used helicopter carriers" to Russia. The inevitable bribes and other incentives of this transaction will be used as a well deserved bonus for the Egyptian leadership.

I have no doubt that the French, who never wanted to cancel the original Russian deal, has been in on this scheme from the very beginning.

The only question now is: What is Washington gonna do about it?

Posted by b at 08:30 AM | Comments (64)

September 22, 2015

Syria: The End Of The "Vetted Rebels" Scam

This was reported yesterday in the London Times. But for some curious reason no major U.S. media picked it up:

A US attempt to relaunch its much-criticised rebel training programme faced a setback yesterday when a second batch of western-trained fighters were detained by other rebel groups in northern Syria.

About 70 fighters from the US-trained group, called the 30th Division, entered the Bab al-Salama border crossing north of Aleppo in a heavily armed convoy of 12 vehicles with US air cover, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Pentagon vetted group was allegedly detained by some Turkmen group which is sponsored by Turkey. More crazy rumors about the fate of the group followed throughout yesterday but the situation has now cleared up. The very carefully vetted and selected Pentagon trained group was not detained, it changed sides within minutes of being injected into Syria:

Pentagon-trained rebels are reported to have betrayed US and handed weapons over to an al-Qaeda affiliate immediately after entering Syria.

Fighters with Division 30 surrendered and handed over "all its weapons" to Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, sources alleged on Monday.
"A strong slap [in the face] for America... the new group from Division 30 that entered yesterday hands over all of its weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra after being granted safe passage," tweeted Abu Fahd al-Tunisi, who purports to be a member of the al-Qaeda affiliate.

[Obama's Islamic State War Czar General Allen just got fired - probably over the incident above. He was the genius who gave a free hand to Turkey to bomb the Kurds in exchange for access to the Incirlik air base in Turkey. (Could the ever failing disgraced General Petraeus replace him?)]

The leader of the U.S. trained, paid and equipped group published six reason (Arabic) why he changed sides.

But according to some rather weird Washington Post piece the administration is already thinking about a new strategy which would replace the failed idea of inserting "well vetted" fighters:

The administration is considering providing arms and ammunition to a wider array of rebel groups in Syria and relaxing vetting standards, effectively deepening America’s involvement in the ongoing civil war.

So as the "vetted" rebels change over to Al-Qaeda the remedy is to use less vetting.

But less or no vetting was used all along with the CIA paying, training and equipping 10,000+ anti-Syrian fighters since early 2012. Most of those fighters have, like the Pentagon trained group, sold their weapons and ammunition to Jihadis or even joined them. Vetting is obviously not necessary at all. An AP piece on 14 Syrian civilians killed by rebel shelling yesterday remarks:

The rebel coalition, known as the Army of Conquest alliance, includes Syria's al-Qaida branch, the Nusra Front, and the extremist Jund al-Aqsa group, and is backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

A Reuters piece that attempts to polish the Salafist Jihadis of Ahrar al-Shams notes:

With strong backing from Syria's neighbor Turkey, Ahrar al-Sham (the Free Men of Syria) is playing a significant role in Syria's four year old civil war - if not the biggest among insurgent group apart from Islamic State.
Under its new leadership it is trying to differentiate itself from al Qaeda, angering the Nusra Front and other hardliners. But its al Qaeda-linked background means Ahrar al-Sham still has a special relationship with the Nusra Front.

Rebels inside Syria say Ahrar al-Sham supplied many of Nusra's weapons. It was not clear if it was still doing so.

A former Nusra fighter who has now left the war said Nusra and Ahrar once had strong relations.

"All I know is that Nusra sees Ahrar as their source for weapons, especially in some battles," he said.

The Pentagon carefully "vetted" the few mercenaries it send into Syria and they promptly went to Nusra. It sure would not fail to also "vet" Ahrar als-Shams and come away with a similar positive judgement. The whole "vetted rebels" nonsense is obviously a scam as the U.S. and its allies never stopped supplying the not "vetted" Islamists who fight against the secular Syrian state.

But Ahrar's best days may soon be over. It is currently pampered by and supplied through Turkey but tomorrow the Turkish President Erdogan is supposed to meet the Russian president Putin.

Putin just deployed a considerable amount of equipment and personal to Syria to snuff out the Islamists. The numbers may well grow and end up as a fully equipped expeditionary corps with some 15,000 soldiers. Russia is allied with Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hizbullah as the "4+1" alliance and will coordinate the fight through a common headquarter. Russian reconnaissance is all over the Syrian battlefield and its results, as well as new weapons, already help the Syrian government to successfully attack Islamic State concentrations killing dozens of fighters in Raqqa and Palmyra.

Turkey depends on Russian gas for some 30+% of its primary energy needs. Erdogan has great plans for Turkey to become a bigger energy hub by taking part in a new Russian gas pipeline, an €11.4 billion project. But gas will only continue to reliably flow through Russian pipelines if the Turkish weapon pipeline to the Islamic State, Ahrar al Shams and Jabhat al-Nusra closes. Erdogan will have to choose which pipeline better fits his interests.

Should Erdogan decide to continue the supply to the Islamists Russia decided to fight he will put his country into a very dangerous position. Russia could, for example, secretly supply those Kurds who fight the Turkish state in east Turkey. How successful could they be with an endless supply of modern Russian weapons?

I suspect that Erdogan's game is over. Russia decided to end the war the U.S. and its allies are waging against Syria. It will use all the tools of a great nation to support its positions. "Western" installed no-fly zones or protected opposition areas within Syria are now mere pipe-dreams. The genius Petraeus, who started the CIA mercenary program that supplied Nusra and the Islamic State, just again demanded such and other nonsense:

“We could, for example, tell Assad that the use of barrel bombs must end. And that if they continue, we will stop the Syrian Air Force from flying,” he said. “We have that capability.”

The U.S. "has that capability" only if it wants many of its own pilots killed. The country to decide over "no-fly zones" in Syria is Russia. The new S-300 and S-400 air defense systems now seen in Latakia make sure that nothing flies in Syria's airspace without Russian(!) acquiescence.

Posted by b at 01:10 PM | Comments (93)

September 21, 2015

That Scary Iranian "Pink Tarp" Nuclear Explosion Chamber ... Does Not Exist

Everyone reading about the Iran nuclear program will remember the scary news about the "explosion chamber" at a "military site" in Parchin which was assumed to have been used for explosions simulations of a nuclear warhead:

In the November 2011 IAEA Safeguards report on Iran, the IAEA disclosed that information from member states indicated that Iran constructed a large explosives containment vessel or chamber at the Parchin military complex in 2000 to conduct high explosive and hydrodynamic experiments related to the development of nuclear weapons. After constructing the chamber at the Parchin site, some 30 kilometers southeast of Tehran, Iran constructed a building around the large cylindrical object. According to the report, “a large earth berm was subsequently constructed between the building containing the cylinder and a neighboring building, indicating the probable use of high explosives in the chamber.”

Lots of satellite pictures showing the building were published and AP even came up with a graphic sketch of the alleged scary chamber that anyone could have made within half an hour or so. Lots of words were written by this or that expert about that alleged chamber and I mocked it here. I had always assumed that, should such a chamber exist, it must have been used to produce nano-diamonds because at one point an Iranian university hired a Russian scientist who's specialty was creating nano-diamonds in similar explosion chambers. But that nano-diamond story did not fit the "scary Iran" tale.

When the Iranians renovated the building that allegedly held the chamber ISIS propagandist David Albright freaked out over a "pink tarp" Iran used to "cover the roof". That "pink tarp" turned out to be newly installed pink colored styrofoam insulation as used throughout Europe.

Today the IAEA director Yukiya Amano, tasked with verifying the nuclear deal with Iran, visited Parchin and entered the building. He found ... nothing:

Deputy Director General Varjoranta and I went to the site on Sunday. This was the first time that the Agency had visited the location.

We entered a building which the Agency had previously only been able to observe using satellite imagery.

Inside the building, we saw indications of recent renovation work. There was no equipment in the building.

Duh. That big bulky and heavy explosion chamber in that "pink tarp" building does not exist!

Now we will wait for those large headlines in the media and the long comments by the "experts" explaining this "tiny" correction of their earlier scare stories.

It is likely though that Godot will arrive first.

Posted by b at 11:57 AM | Comments (36)

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