Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
January 31, 2016

Open Thread 2016-06

News & views ...

Posted by b on January 31, 2016 at 18:42 UTC | Permalink | Comments (139)

January 30, 2016

Elijah Magnier On The Mistakes Of ISIS And The Future Of Jabhat Al-Nusra

Last night Elijah J. Magnier tweeted a small essay about the mistakes the Islamic State leader and his predecessor made in Iraq and Syria. Then followed a shorter essay about Jabhat al-Nusra and the development in Syria. As he is one of the most knowledgeable experts on the war in Syria and Iraq his thoughts deserve a wider discussion.

This is my summary of his tweets on the Islamic State:

Abu Mus'ad al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), ignored directives from Aymen al-Zawaheri, the operational leader of al-Qaeda central, to not attack the Shia in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi attacked Shia and Sunnis who disagreed with him and ignited a sectarian war. Had he only attacked the U.S. occupiers the Shia of Iraq, and the anti-U.S. states around Iraq (Iran, Syria) would have been with him. He could have gained much influence over all Iraq but for his (bloody) mistake.

The leader of the Islamic State (the former AQI) Abu Bakr al Baghdadi made more than one mistake. He rejected al-Qaeda central's advice to restrict his organization to Iraq and to leave Syria to an autonomous al-Qaeda entity Jabhat al-Nusra. The Baghdadi's troops crept into Syria and attacked Jabhat al-Nusra. Until then Jabhat was very low profile, fought successfully and gaining many followers in Syria. It could have gained more men and areas if it had been left alone. But the infighting between Baghdadi's group and Jabhat severely weakened both.

The second mistake Baghdadi made was shortly after the conquering of Mosul. He declared war on all other groups in Iraq and also on Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Kurds and other states. He also incited the "west" against him through his grueling marketing videos. Without that he could have gained much outside support from the various Sunni states. Iraq would look much different today had Baghdadi not declared war on everyone (but on Turkey). Baghdad and parts of south Iraq would probably be in his hands.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is now fought by everyone. It will be defeated and revert back into an underground terrorist organization.

The current talks over Syria in Geneva are unlikely to have any concrete result. But they are a move in the right direction. The Saudi/Qatari/Turkish/U.S. proxy fighters continue to lose ground in Syria. The only hope for those countries and their proxies to receive some benefit from their "investment" in Syria is to gain concessions during negotiations.

The main Jihadi groups, the Islamic State, Jabhat al Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) and Ahrar al Sham are not taking part. According to UN resolution 2254 any ceasefire in Syria would exclude these entities and all groups aligned with them. The UN Security Council calls:

... to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al-Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council ... and notes that the aforementioned ceasefire will not apply to offensive or defensive actions against these individuals, groups, undertakings and entities ...

Those groups the Saudis now send to Geneva were previous allied and fighting together with Jabhat al-Nusra. In north Syria Jaish al-Fath, an alliance of Nusra, Ahrar al Shams and various U.S. supported FSA groups, conquered Idleb. But the FSA and other proxy groups will now have to distance themselves from Nusra or will have to go down with it.

Starting from a recent Reuters report that Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al Sham negotiated but failed to unite, Elijah J. Magnier looks at the consequences (edited for readability):

Al-Qaeda asked Ahrar al-Sham to unite over a year ago but Ahrar refused. The news of Ahrar's rejection is thereby not new.
Jabhat al-Nusra tried to keep a low profile, promoting other Syrian rebels, due to its link to al-Qaeda central that crippled it. Jabhat al-Nusra has succeeded to integrate - on the surface - with other rebels group. A smart move to create "Jaish al-Fath" but that won't last.

It was fine as long as Russia was out of direct involvement in the Syria war. Russia now imposed itself not only on the U.S. but also on the regional players. Now that the U.S. is not willing to stand against Russia in Syria, the game is run differently: Salafist Jihadists are no longer tolerated.

The only chance for Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to minimize their losses in Syria is to push all rebels to distance themselves from Jabhat al-Nusra. Russia is aware of that. What Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have lost on the ground won't be gained in diplomacy at the Geneva talks. Jordan already inspired its proxies to distance themselves from Jabhat al Nusra. Qatar, Turkey and the Saudis will very soon follow.

Jabhat al-Nusra is not unaware of the move. Despite the blood and deep, very deep animosity between Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS they have no choice but to cease hostilities between them. Cessation of hostility does not mean that they will merge. ISIS is in deeper trouble than Nusra.

Jabhat al-Nusra still has another option when ISIS and Nusra will remain the only "two enemies" of everyone in Syria. The majority of Jabhat al-Nustra fighters are Syrians. They can easily disperse within their communities and wait for "better time". This happened before in Iraq during the peak of the "Awakening".

So far Elijah Magnier.

I mostly agree with the above but for the future of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. It will surely try to go underground and it will for a while continue to exist as a terrorist entity. But unlike in Iraq  where the U.S. invasion completely destroyed the state and its institutions, Syria still is a real state and has a functioning bureaucracy. Unlike Iraq it has centrally controlled secret services that are able to hunt down underground terrorists. According to Mao the guerrilla fish needs the sea of an accommodating population to swim in. I doubt that enough of the population of Syria will support Jabhat as an underground organization. There will be snitches at every corner and every person somewhat associated with Jabhat al-Nusra will be dead, in jail or under strict surveillance.

So while the Islamic State in Iraq, after it is again cut down to an underground entity, may survive there,  Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria will probably be rooted completely.

Posted by b on January 30, 2016 at 16:21 UTC | Permalink | Comments (85)

January 29, 2016

Why Long-term Occupations Of Afghanistan Always Fail

The U.S. military now plans for a permanent occupation of Afghanistan. A discussion of the historic analogy of the Soviets in Afghanistan shows that this is unlikely to be a successful endeavor.

A Pakistani official summed up the Soviet dilemma in Afghanistan as follows:
The Soviets can continue to occupy the country, but the can not win over the people. The longer they stay, the more they alienate the people. The more they alienate the people, the longer they must stay. This Russian dilemma is also the Afghan dilemma, and both seem condemned to suffer the consequences.
Quoted in Joseph. J.Collins, Afghanistan: The Empire Strikes Out, Perimeters, 1982

The above is an apt description of the current situation in Afghanistan, just replace Soviet with American.

Having tried suppression through torture and indiscriminate bombing, massive bribing, escalation via the "surge", COIN and other social science nonsense, the U.S. military is now pushing for a decades long occupation of Afghanistan to facilitate the long-term Afghanization of the conflict:

Top U.S. military commanders, who only a few months ago were planning to pull the last American troops out of Afghanistan by year’s end, are now quietly talking about an American commitment that could keep thousands of troops in the country for decades.
[T]here is a broad recognition in the Pentagon that building an effective Afghan army and police force will take a generation’s commitment, including billions of dollars a year in outside funding and constant support from thousands of foreign advisers on the ground.

“What we’ve learned is that you can’t really leave,” said a senior Pentagon official with extensive experience in Afghanistan and Iraq who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. “The local forces need air support, intelligence and help with logistics. They are not going to be ready in three years or five years. You have to be there for a very long time.”

The above quoted paper looked at such a long-term occupation and Afghanization as an exit-option for the Soviets:

"Afghanization" might provide a long-term solution, but efforts to carry out such a policy to date have shown little immediate return. This lack of return is not surprising since the Soviets have not generally been successful in developing Soviet-style cadres in Third World countries. Indigenous pro-Soviet movements have been successful, but only when they have drawn on nationalism or on ethnic or tribal affiliation. Soviet prospects for exploiting these unifying factors in Afghanistan are extremely poor.

Again replace Soviets with American and the statement holds.

The paper concludes with a lecture which the hubristic politicians and generals in Washington DC still have not learned:

Afghanistan is proof positive that great power does not insulate its holder from great mistakes. Indeed, having great power tempts the possessor to regard it as invincible whatever the circumstances. Afghanistan vividly demonstrates that even superpowers are at the mercy of religious, ethnic, radical and other such historic forces in their dealings with Third World countries. Armored divisions and unusable ICBMs have rarely overcome the indigenous forces of nationalism and religious faith. Great powers must take this into account in their dealings with Third World countries. There are tides which one dares not to swim against.

Afghanistan is a conglomerate of  people of various ethnicity, tribal and religious affiliations. There is, besides maybe in sports, no real Afghan nationality on which one could build an overarching structure to rule. The scholars of the 1980s knew this, but their lecture was forgotten. When will it be relearned?

Posted by b on January 29, 2016 at 6:24 UTC | Permalink | Comments (76)

January 28, 2016

My First Take On The Presidential Election

Say what you will about Donald Trump but he knows how to market himself. Staging a feud with Fox News and abstaining from tonight's Republican candidate debate gives him more media coverage than taking part. He is already the front runner of the Republican candidates. More debating could only endanger that position. Staying away and making a fuzz about it gives him a bigger lead.

That Trump knows marketing well gives me some doubt about his real positions. Who owns him? Who pays his campaign? Answers to these questions are likely more revealing than the fascist dog-whistle politics he publicly emphasizes. He seems to favor neither neoconservative nor liberal interventionist foreign policy. That would be welcome change.

On the democratic side I do not see a chance for Clinton to win. I believe that the American people have had enough of the Clintons. If she would win the nomination she would lose in the presidential election as many voters would abstain. Her policy record is abysmal. Yes she has experience - of misjudgement and not learning from it. In interior policies she is clearly in the hands of Wall Street and the big banks. Her "liberal" image is all fake. In foreign policy she is "the vessel into which many interventionists are pouring their hopes":

“If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue,” [top neocon Robert Kagan] added, “it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”

Sanders is hard to see as president. His domestic policies are somewhat comparable to middle-of-the-road European social-democrats. His foreign policy stand isn't clear. While not an interventionist he supports the colonists in Palestine. The people obviously favor him over Clinton but he will need big money for the big campaign should he get the nomination. To whom would he sell out?

The Republican party is coming around in favor of Trump. The party big-wigs believe he has no real positions, that they can manipulate him. That is probably wrong. The Democratic party machine is clearly in favor of Clinton. Would it try to sabotage Sanders if he wins primary after primary? Could they throw in another plausible candidate?

My gut instinct say it will be Sanders against Trump with a voter turnout advantage for Sanders. What is your take?

Posted by b on January 28, 2016 at 17:57 UTC | Permalink | Comments (143)

January 26, 2016

Libya: The Imperial Violence Keeps Giving

Imperial violence is a gift that keeps giving. After the U.S. lied to the UN Security Council about alleged Ghaddafi threats against "protesters" in Benghazi the UNSC allowed for the use of force to protect them. Russia and China abstained instead of vetoing it.

Libya, Spring 2011

The U.S. and its NATO allies abused the UNSC resolution. They weaponized the "protesters", bombed the country to smithereens and killed the leading government figures including Muhammar Ghaddafi. Then U.S. Secretary of State, Clinton the monster, famously bragged (vid): "We came, we saw, he died."

The UNSC resolution is the reason why then Russian President Medvedev was not allowed to run for a second term. Now President Putin - then as Prime Minister only responsible for interior politics - said that as he read the UNSC resolution he found holes in its wording a whole army could march through. Medvedev had made a huge mistake by allowing it to pass. That he had to go is the only positive result of the NATO attack on Libya.

Now the U.S. wants to attack Libya again:

Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Friday that military officials were “looking to take decisive military action” against the Islamic State, or ISIS, in Libya, where Western officials estimate the terrorist group has roughly 3,000 fighters.

Administration officials say the campaign in Libya could begin in a matter of weeks. They anticipate it would be conducted with the help of a handful of European allies, including Britain, France and Italy.

This will go it always goes, bomb strikes, special forces on the ground, proxy fighters trained by U.S. forces or private companies who will then develop into their death squads and terrorize the population.

There is chaos in Libya as was foreseeable and predicted here when the war on Libya began. There are many armed groups and two parliaments and two rudimentary governments, on in the east and one in the west. The UN just tried to set up a third, unity government and failed:

Libya's internationally recognized parliament voted on Monday to reject a unity government proposed under a United Nations-backed plan to resolve the country's political crisis and armed conflict. ... Since 2014, Libya has had two competing parliaments and governments, one based in Tripoli and the other in the east. Both are backed by loose alliances of armed groups and former rebels who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Many of the "rebels" who were paid by Qatar and others to overthrow the Libyan government are Islamists. Many went from Libya on to Syria to fight against the Syrian government and the U.S. helped to supply weapons from Libya to those foreign terrorists in Syria.

It is unlikely that the real U.S. interest now is to fight the few foreign Islamic State fighters in Libya. Most of the Islamic State followers in Libya are locals of some specific tribes who earlier were part of this or that local Islamist gang. They are not a threat and other local forces will hold them at bay.

The U.S. wants the whole country under its indirect control but has so far only half of it:

The armed forces allied to the eastern government are led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally. He has also fought Islamist militants in the eastern city of Benghazi and has become one of Libya's most divisive figures, enjoying strong support in the east but despised by forces allied to the government in Tripoli.

Haftar was once with Ghaddafi but was shunned after he screwed up in a war with Chad. Around 1990 he tried to overthrow Ghaddafi but failed. He went to the U.S., became a U.S. citizen and worked for the CIA. In 2011 he was back in Libya again attempting to overthrow Ghaddafi.

In 2011 the U.S. failed to install its proxy ruler over Libya. It is now going back in a new attempt to gain full control over the country and its resources. Once established in Libya it can subjugate countries in northern Africa.

It is easy to see that this will develop into more war, more terror and more refugees who will flee their home. The imperial violence keeps giving.

Posted by b on January 26, 2016 at 16:34 UTC | Permalink | Comments (61)

January 25, 2016

Open Thread 2016-05

News & views ...

Posted by b on January 25, 2016 at 19:23 UTC | Permalink | Comments (171)

January 24, 2016

Syria: The Battlefield Negotiations Now Favor The Syrian Government

The Syrian army today liberated the the town Rabiah in Latakia province as well as several other villages in the area near the Turkish border. Rabiah, together with Salma which was liberated a few days ago, was one of the jihadists strongholds in the region. Russian air support and artillery (vid) was again decisive. Pictures from the town showed graffiti the "moderate" foreign supported insurgents left behind. It read "All Alawites will be exterminated".

This map shows the current frontline as well as the old frontline from where the Latakia campaign started a few weeks ago.

bigger hi-res

The jihadis evacuated all positions west of Rabiah and are on the run. Turkey closed its border to prevent them from crossing it. They will seek refuge in Kinsabba near the Jabal al-Akrad heights, their last strong point, which will be attacked next. After that the general attack will be launched at Jisr al Shanghaur in Idleb province from the west and the south after which a larger pincer attack on Idleb city is planned.

Latakia province and the Russian bases there are now secured. Opposition supply lines from Turkey are largely severed. The momentum is clearly on the side of the government troops.

In the south there the Syrian army continues to clear Sheikh Miskeen near the border to Jordan. Should the city be freed the southern insurgents supply lines from Jordan will be in jeopardy. The lines are already restricted as Jordan clamps down on militants crossing its border.

In the north as well as in the south various rebel groups started to fight each other. Clashes between various groups were reported from Daraa in the south and in Idleb between Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra groups. Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's section in Syria, is now under heavy pressure on many fronts and has called for more foreign fighters to join it. There are already strategic discussions within Nusra to end the open war and to go back being an underground guerrilla to hit at the Syrian government and other entities from behind their lines. But the guerrilla fish needs the water of the population to swim in and it is doubtful that Nusra has support of more than very few Syrian citizens.

The Syrian army also liberated Qatar (vid) from the Wahhabi Islamic State supporters. Unfortunately this Qatar was not the country at the Persian Gulf but a small town north east of Aleppo.

The Syrian government troops and some 200,000 civilians in Deir Ezzor in east Syria are under continuing heavy attacks from fighters of the Islamic State. The Syrian army sent reinforcements by transport helicopters, the Russian air force has dropped tens of tons of food for the population and Russian jets provide air support for the defenders.

In the Kurdish area in the north-east of Syria Russian specialist are working to establish another air base. The Turkish President Erdogan said such a base would not be tolerated. But what can he do besides launching an open war against Russia which Turkey would lose just like the other 17 wars it once waged against Russia. The U.S. is establishing its own base nearby to supply Kurdish forces. The Russian base will make sure that the U.S. base will not gain any permanence.

A report in the NYT describes how the U.S. organized the attack on Syria while the Saudis provided the financing at a rate of several billions per year. The report misleads as it only looks from 2013 onward. We already know that the CIA provided weapons and fighters from Libya reached Syria in late 2011 to early 2012.

But the U.S., as well as the Syrian government side, now wants the conflict to die down. It is putting a lot of effort into the next Geneva talks between some opposition groups and the government. Those opposition groups have been selected by Saudi Arabia and Russia has rejected the inclusion of the Salafi Army of Islam and the lack of representation of Kurdish groups. A compromise over this may now be possible with the Kurds and other non-Islamist opposition groups coming to Geneva as a third delegation.

But the war will not be decided through talks. The real negotiations happen on the battlefield. The Syrian government and its supporters will continue the attacks and will build on their recent successes. It is now likely that they will achieve war deciding results before the Geneva talks become serious.

Posted by b on January 24, 2016 at 17:13 UTC | Permalink | Comments (112)

January 23, 2016

NYT Finds Troubles In Russia Which Are Already Cured

The New York Times has another Schadenfreude piece to make its readers giddy about Russia's economic problems. It seems that nothing is better to divert from job losses and zero wage growth in ones own economy than to pick on some other nation.

But the piece has problems in finding real problems in Russia. It points to only one small demonstration by some elders against cuts in their transportation subsidy. The cuts were discarded. Some people in small private companies have not received their pay. Such small problems are hardly a specialty of Russia and the general "anxiety" the writer tries to find is nothing special. Where the piece goes into the wider economic discussion it lacks basic economic math. How else could one explain these numbers:

With the federal budget approved in December based on oil at $50 a barrel, Anton Siluanov, the finance minister, announced that the country faced a budget deficit of about $40 billion, and ministries were ordered to cut spending 10 percent
Russia has around $360 billion in foreign currency reserves and some $120 billion in two rainy day funds, down from just under $160 billion a year ago. At current spending rates, however, the two funds are expected to last only 18 months.

Two rainy day funds with $120 billion to cover a $40 billion yearly deficit before further cuts or tax increases. How does that compute into "only 18 month"?

Because of economic sanctions over Ukraine and the fall of oil prices Russia has had a bad year. But Russia's financial situation has already stabilized. Mark Adomanis dug into the numbers:

Russia’s Central Bank was bleeding reserves at an enormously quick pace as 2014 came to an end. However, this bleeding has been staunched: over the past year, reserves have stabilized at around $370 billion.
Russia’s current FX reserves are, depending on your assumptions, somewhere between 18 and 22 months worth of “import coverage,” substantially more than the (highly unscientific!) six month threshold that is usually considered the minimum level necessary for macroeconomic stability.
So, in early 2016, Russia is in a situation in which its foreign currency reserves are stable at a reasonable (if not high) level and in which its corporate sector has already undertaken a significant (if not full-scale) de-leveraging. That does not sound, to me, like a country which is on the verge of collapse.

Sure, Russia has relative high inflation and the free floating ruble lost value against the U.S. dollar as most other currencies did during the last year. But the only negative effect of that is in more expensive imports and Russia has enough resources and production capacities to hardly need any. The doom and gloom the NYT tries to find in Russia is just not there. When the oil price collapsed the Russian government acted quickly and avoided the troubles other countries will still have to go through:

The pain being experienced by Russian consumers is very real. Indeed, part of the reason that Russia’s macroeconomic position remains resilient is that it has already taken some extraordinarily painful medicine in very large doses. Most oil producers have attempted to delay adjustment to the “new normal” of low oil prices by, among other things, maintaining currency pegs at artificially high rates or running gargantuan budget deficits. Not Russia. It let the ruble float back at the end of 2014, largely so that it wouldn’t have to spend its reserves in a futile effort to protect an expensive ruble. And, given the austerity talk emanating from the Kremlin, it seems determined to limit its deficit to a modest 3-4% of GDP.
None of this is set in stone. Russian policy making, which to this point seems to have been largely by the economic textbook, could change in a more populist direction. There’s a lingering danger of the imposition of currency or capital controls, either of which would be a disaster. But while lots of oil producers do genuinely seem headed for an economic apocalypse, Russia does not. At least for now.

There is a danger in the false NYT depiction of Russia as an economic basket-case. Policymakers who only read such pieces will see an opportunity to push Russia over the economic edge and will try some rather reckless stunts. They will then be surprised when a strong standing Russia retaliates. Such situations can lead to unnecessary escalations.

Posted by b on January 23, 2016 at 8:40 UTC | Permalink | Comments (87)

January 22, 2016

Warmed-Over Propaganda: 'Putin Asks Assad To Leave'

For nearly five we are told every six month or so that Russia or Iran is, NOW FOR REAL, dropping its support for Syria and/or its President Assad.

These claims are part of psychological disinformation campaign the U.S. and its allies are running against Syria. The stories are supposed to sow doubt between Syria, its allies and supporters.

The media love to blather about such groundless speculation and each such propaganda round is accompanied by a wave of the ever same stupid analysis. It will be the same today after some "western" intelligence agencies, likely British this time, again claim that Putin asked Assad to step down:

Russian President Vladimir Putin asked long-time ally Bashar Assad to step down as president of Syria toward the end of 2015, the Financial Times reported.

The message from Putin was relayed by Colonel-General Igor Sergun, the head of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency before his death in January, according to two senior western intelligence officials who spoke to the FT on the condition of anonymity.

How convenient that the guy who allegedly talked with Assad is now dead. That might be a good chance to blame the Kremlin, which strongly denies the above report, for his death. We can be assured that Putin 'probably' murdered him.

But why should Russia ask Assad to step down when this would demoralize the Syria army with which it is fighting? Why would that be in Russia's interest?

According to one European intelligence official, speaking to the FT, after beginning airstrikes in Syria “Putin had taken a look under the bonnet [hood] of the Syrian regime and found a lot more problems than he was bargaining for.”

As if Russia would need to "take a look" at Syria. It has had deep relations with the country for decades, there are many economic and personal ties and Syrian officers are trained in Russia. Russia's foreign services knows more about Syria than anyone's else. There was surely no need to "look under the bonnet" after the Russia decision to intervene was made. Russia does not act like the U.S. which jumps into conflicts head first before figuring out the aims of its interventions and means to reach them. Russia's targets and means were identified before it went into Syria. Even if Syria is a mess "under the bonnet" how would dismissing Assad change that? Is there anyone in sight who could do a better job?

Cameron, the British premier, probably needed this diversion and threw this propaganda bone towards the Financial Times. Cameron had famously claimed that:

"there are about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups."

The foundation of his former comrade in crime Tony Blair today put a nail through that claim:

Our study of 48 rebel factions in Syria revealed that 33 per cent - nearly 100,000 fighters - have the same ideological objectives as ISIS. If you take into account Islamist groups (those who want a state governed by their interpretation of Islamic law), this figure jumps to 60 per cent.
Despite the conflicting ideologies of the rebel groups, 90 per cent of the groups studied hold the defeat of Assad's regime as a principal objective. Sixty-eight per cent seek the establishment of Islamic law in Syria. In contrast, only 38 per cent have the defeat of ISIS as a stated goal.

Some 60-80% of the "rebel" groups in Syria do not want to fight the Islamic State but want the diverse, secular country under Islamic law. If they would carry such opinion in Britain Cameron surely would label them extremists.

The Blair foundation is tricky with its numbers. The claim that the 1/3 of the groups it checked are extremists and have 100,000 fighters will let some lazy thinkers assume that the total number of fighters is 300,000. But that is completely false. The 1/3 of the groups the foundation names as extremists include all major groups on the ground like Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra and Jaish Islam. Together the named groups have more than 90% of the total men power on the opposition side. While there are several dozens factions that may not be extremists these are all very small and hardly more than local village guards.

But we shall not think any further along that line.

Did you hear that Putin 'probably' killed the boss of his military intelligence? And that he wants Assad to leave immediately?

Posted by b on January 22, 2016 at 18:10 UTC | Permalink | Comments (68)

January 21, 2016

Putin 'Probably Approved' Murder Of Baby Jesus

Thought you ought to know this.

Posted by b on January 21, 2016 at 18:12 UTC | Permalink | Comments (118)

January 20, 2016

Syria - Some Preliminary Positioning For An Endgame

When the Russian campaign in Syria started Obama promised that it would end in a quagmire. Various media and opinion writer picked up that narrative. It was false as Russia was and is executing a well thought out campaign.

Being confronted with reality the U.S. media is now changing its false narrative. The LA Times writes:

The Latakia attack mirrors similar government gains across the country, as forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, backed by Russian air power, have been on the offensive.
It's a dramatic shift for the forces of Assad, who less than six months ago had warned supporters that the government would have to "give up areas" after a string of humiliating setbacks.
The gains have strengthened the government's position in the run-up to Syrian peace negotiations scheduled to begin next week in Geneva.

The Obama administration and its anti-Syrian allies had hoped for a defeated Syrian government in Geneva that would agree to their capitulation conditions. They now have to change the narrative. Peace talks in Geneva, they now argue, can not take place because the Syrian government is winning. Headlines the Washington Post - Russian airstrikes are working in Syria — enough to put peace talks in doubt:

[A]fter 3½ months of relentless airstrikes that have mostly targeted the Western-backed opposition to Assad’s rule, they have proved sufficient to push beyond doubt any likelihood that Assad will be removed from power by the nearly five-year-old revolt against his rule. The gains on the ground are also calling into question whether there can be meaningful negotiations to end a conflict Assad and his allies now seem convinced they can win.

“The situation on the ground in Syria is definitely not conducive to negotiations right now,” said Lina Khatib of the Paris-based Arab Reform Initiative think tank.

The Arab Reform Initiative is a bastard child of the U.S./Middle East Project, Inc. and various Middle East dictatorships. The Middle East Project was founded by Henry Siegman, a former National Director of the American Jewish Congress and has various hawkish U.S. politicians like Scowcroft and Brzezinski as its senior advisers.

In their view the Syrian government has to be regime changed and can not be allowed to win. Negotiations will have to be put off until the government is likely to fall. Thus the U.S./Saudi/Turkish controlled "opposition" of militant Islamists wants to exclude the Kurds and non-militant opposition from any negotiations and sets additional conditions that make negotiations impossible. They practically demand that Russia and Syria declare and keep a one-sided ceasefire before any ceasefire negotiations can happen.

In the meantime various parties are positioning themselves for the larger endgame. The Kurds in Syria want a corridor along the Turkish Syrian border to connect their areas in the east with the Kurdish enclave in the west. They are fighting against The U.S. supported gangs north-west of Aleppo with Russian support and with Russian and U.S. support against Islamic State gangs north-east of Aleppo. The U.S. is invading Syrian ground and building an airport in the Kurdish areas in east Syria. This probably to later support and guarantee an oil-rich Kurdish state:

The airport, known as “Abu Hajar”, lies southeast of the town of Remelan, site of one of Syria’s largest oilfields, run by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which sells its production through Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Russians may counter that move with their own airport in the area.

Israel, which buys most of the Kurdish oil and just again made friend with Turkey, is now officially calling for an independent Kurdish state. The Turks will not like that at all.

Turkey wants to prevent a Kurdish corridor along its border. It has instigated the "Turkmen" insurgents in Syria under its control to attack the Islamic State from their Aleppo-Avaz-Turkey corridor towards the east right along the border fence where Turkey can provide artillery support. That campaign stalled after a few days and several captured towns are now back in the hands of the Islamic State. New Turkish equipment and soldiers arrived on the Turkish border near the Jarablus border crossing which is currently in the hand of the Islamic State. It is the Islamic State's only open crossing to a somewhat friendly state. Should the Kurds come near to that crossing Turkey is likely to invade Syria to set up a wider buffer against the Syrian Kurds.

In Iraq the Turks continue to occupy bases in Iraqi Kurdistan under the protection of the Iraqi-Kurdish mafia boss Barzani. This despite threats from the Iraqi government. But that government is now again controlled by the U.S. The Iranian influence had waned after clashes between the Iranian General Suleiman and the U.S. installed Prime Minister Abadi:

A source in the office of the Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said, “The United States delay of its support to Baghdad was not a coincidence or an unintentional lazy reaction. It was a strategic decision to: Teach Iraq a lesson for rejecting U.S military bases; To observe the Iranian military capability and inability of Tehran to use air power and intelligence gathering to defeat ISIS; To submit Baghdad to its will and dictate its conditions”.

That the U.S. used the ISIS phenomenon to again achieve regime change and U.S. control in Iraq was confirmed by Obama in an interview with Thomas Friedman:

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. ...

But all those U.S. games are just short term thinking. The Kurdish areas in Iraq and Syria are landlocked and none of their direct neighbors has interest in a Kurdish state. After his mandate ran out and was not renewed by the parliament Barzani's presidency in Iraqi Kurdistan is illegitimate. The next ruler in the Kurdish areas in Iraq is likely to be less friendly with Turkey and the U.S. In Iraq the influence of Iran with the people will always be bigger than U.S. influence with parts of the elite. In Syria it is Russia that will dictate how the future of the state will look.

In the long run the U.S. has little chance to keep its currently regained dominant position. Obama is repeating his predecessors mistake of believing that U.S. meddling in the arena can be successful and continue forever.

The Islamic State is receding. It recently had to cut its wages by half. It is under continues bombing and has to fight ever bigger battles with ever higher losses. The population in the areas it holds is not happy. It will soon again revert to a guerrilla movement of underground terrorist cells. Then other interests of the various actors will again come to the fore, the U.S. will no longer be needed and again be dispelled from the theater. Then the U.S. will again wonder why it did not learn from the earlier lesson.

Posted by b on January 20, 2016 at 13:42 UTC | Permalink | Comments (106)

January 19, 2016

Open Thread 2016-04

News & views ...

Posted by b on January 19, 2016 at 17:53 UTC | Permalink | Comments (139)

January 18, 2016

No, The Nuclear Sanctions On Iran Did Not Work

Some (not so) smart people believe that the implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal shows that "sanctions worked":

Doug Saunders @DougSaunders
The Iran paradox: this week proved that sanctions worked. So it was the worst week for US Congress to impose new sanctions
10:42 AM - 17 Jan 2016

This is completely wrong. Sanctions did not work in the case of the nuclear issue with Iran. Sanctions will also not work one Iran's ballistic missile program.

Other authors have already expanded on this in length but it needs repeating.

For Iran the development of a civil nuclear program for electricity and other needs was and is seen as a precondition to become a fully developed modern state. The U.S. and Israel wanted to prevent that. Israel sees Iran as a competing power in the Middle East and the U.S. sees Iran as too independent and too powerful to be left alone. Both want to restrict Iran's development unless Iran agrees to again become the client state it once was.

The vehicle to pressure Iran was its nuclear program and an assertion that "Iran has no right to an enrich" Uranium. That assertion was wrong as a legal argument as any state has a natural right to use its resources as it like but the U.S. went to great length to make that claim. If it would have gotten its way it would have achieved a veto over how Iran, and others, could manage and use its natural resources.

It was that U.S. claim and Iran's will to resist it that prolonged the conflict over a decade. After first (false) claims were made that Iran was developing nuclear weapons negotiations ensued and made fast progress. Iran was willing to restrict its activities and to have its nuclear program under full inspection. But its was the U.S. "no right to enrichment" point that blocked any solution. Writes UK negotiator Peter Jenkins:

Having served on the UK’s Iran Nuclear negotiating team in 2004 and 2005, I know that in March 2005 President Hassan Rouhani and Minister Javad Zarif, then in different roles, were ready to offer a deal very similar in its essentials to the JCPOA.

At that time Iran had only a few experimental centrifuges and little enriched Uranium.

But the U.S. insisted that Iran had no right to enrichment and blew the negotiations. Sanctions followed and Iran responded by building up more enrichment capabilities. Several more sanction rounds followed and Iran responded to each round by again increasing its capabilities. After the last round of sanction Iran announced that it would create highly enriched Uranium to fuel nuclear submarines.

At that point the U.S. finally understood that it was senseless and impossible to ever increase international sanctions as a way to stop Iran's nuclear program. Only two alternatives were left. A very aggressive and expensive military attack on Iran followed by a lengthy occupation for which the U.S. public had zero appetite or negotiations and concessions to settle the issue.

A new negotiation round started in November 2013 and at the core of the issue was again Iran's right to enrich:

Disagreement over whether Iran has the right under international law to enrich uranium goes to the heart of the decade-old dispute over its nuclear program and has complicated diplomacy to end the standoff.

Iranian officials made clear on the third day of talks in Geneva on Friday that the Islamic state's "right" to enrich uranium must be part of any interim deal aimed at curbing its atomic activity in exchange for some sanctions relief.
The United States says no country has that explicit right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the 1970 global pact designed to prevent the spread of atomic bombs.

During those negotiations in 2013 the U.S. finally caved and a few days later an preliminary agreement was reached:

The initial nuclear deal struck with Iran at the weekend states unambiguously that the second step – or “comprehensive solution” – will “involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits.”

The wording allows Tehran to state that the U.S. and five other powers in the negotiations have conceded that a final agreement, due within six months, will leave Iran with a domestic uranium-enrichment program.

Iran interpreted that as the acknowledgement of its right to Uranium enrichment. After this key issue was solved further negotiations were about give-and-take points but no longer about a fundamental disagreement.

As was revealed only later the U.S. had given up on the "no right to enrichment" claim even before the November 2013 negotiations:

The secret US-Iran diplomatic channel that helped advance the interim nuclear deal last year got underway after a message from US President Barack Obama was conveyed to Iran: The United States would be prepared to accept a limited Iranian domestic enrichment program as part of a nuclear agreement in which Iran would take concrete and verifiable steps to assure the world its nuclear program would remain exclusively peaceful.
Obama’s message that he would be prepared to accept a limited Iranian enrichment program in an otherwise acceptable deal was conveyed to Iran at a secret meeting in Oman in March 2013, by a US delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, which also included Jake Sullivan, now Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, as well as Einhorn and then-White House Iran adviser Puneet Talwar.

It was the U.S. that caved and pulled back from its (indefensible) position that Iran was not allowed to enrich Uranium. It was this concession by the U.S. - not the sanctions -  that brought Iran to the table and which allowed to end the conflict over Iran's nuclear program.

Posted by b on January 18, 2016 at 16:27 UTC | Permalink | Comments (48)

January 17, 2016

In Less Than 24 Hours U.S. Breaks Spirit Of Agreement With Iran

Just yeterday, shortly before the Iranian nuclear deal went into implementation. I asked

How long until the U.S. will, one way or another, transgress against it - if not in letter then in spirit?

The answer is in. It took the U.S. less than 24 hours to break the spirit of the deal and to again promote hardliners in Tehran:

The US Treasury says it is imposing new ballistic missile sanctions on Iran after Tehran released five American prisoners. The move also comes less than a day after some of the sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program were removed by the US and EU.

Washington has imposed sanctions on 11 companies and individuals for helping to supply Iran’s ballistic missile program, the Treasury Department stated.

“Iran’s ballistic missile program poses a significant threat to regional and global security, and it will continue to be subject to international sanctions,” Adam J. Szubin, acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a press release.
The US move comes after an Iranian missile test carried out in October that broke a UN Security Council resolution restricting the development of missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

The nuclear agreement makes sure that Iran does not have and can not develop nuclear warheads. What sense then does it make to restrict its ballistic missile capabilities?

Of Iran's neighbors Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia all have medium to long range ballistic missiles. Missiles from Israel and the U.S. also can reach Tehran. Four out of those five have nuclear warheads for their missiles. Turkey is developing its own offensive missile capability.

Absent an Iranian program to develop nuclear weapons there is absolutely no justification for the upholding of the UN resolution and for new sanctions.

Even before U.S. prisoners were to be freed by Iran yesterday as part of the nuclear Hillary Clinton irresponsibly called for new sanctions on Iran. On can understand that as the money she wastes for egomaniac campaigning to become president comes from Israel-Firsters like Haim Saban.

Saban says his greatest concern is to protect Israel. At a conference in Israel, Saban described his formula. His three ways to influence American politics were: make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets.

Clinton's statement likely added a seven digit figure to her campaign fund.

That Clinton is corrupt down to her last fiber is not news. But there was no such reason for the Obama administration to now make this move. It is an expression of arrogance and disdain for decency.

Next month the people of Iran will vote for a new parliament. The Rouhani government, with which the nuclear deal was successfully negotiated, now looks as if it was duped into the deal. The hardliners opposed to that government were just given the very best argument they could have asked for. They always said the U.S. can not be trusted. The Obama administration proved them to be right.

Posted by b on January 17, 2016 at 16:01 UTC | Permalink | Comments (66)

January 16, 2016

When And How Will The U.S. Infringe On The Iran Deal?

The nuclear deal with Iran may go into implementation today.

The question I am currently asking myself is:

How long until the U.S. will, one way or another, transgress against it - if not in letter then in spirit?

Libya disarmed in December 2003 and was attacked by the U.S. and others -with the help of Islamist proxy forces- in February 2011.

I do not expect a Libya like war against Iran. But the U.S. is never short of some subterfuge to to break agreements. Some reason will be found that then will be used to infringe on the nuclear agreement and to implement new measures to hinder Iran's development. The time-frame for this will be much shorter than the eight years it took to attack Libya.

Other ideas?

Posted by b on January 16, 2016 at 18:38 UTC | Permalink | Comments (90)

January 14, 2016

Feeling Ignored By Obama Saudi Dynasty Threatens To Hurt Itself

Someone paid Kim Ghattas, a BBC correspondent in Washington, to write an extremely pro-Saudi piece for Foreign Policy.

The money was not well spent. The piece, The Saudi-Iran War Is America’s Fault, is as lousy as its headline.

The central argument goes somewhat like this:

"If the U.S. does not stop the nuclear disarmament of Iran - the Saudis baddest foe -  then the Saudis will have no other choice but to destabilize Saudi Arabia."

No. That does not make sense. But that is the argument the piece makes. It is also something that the Saudis are actually doing.

Some excerpts:

The United States cannot ignore or choose to stay out of the brewing rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is not a purely religious feud, and it is not someone else’s civil war — it’s a hornet’s nest in which Washington poked its finger by pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran. ... It is this shifting regional context caused by the JCPOA [nuclear deal] that explains not only Saudi Arabia’s increasingly assertive stance in recent months, but also its decision to execute Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Jan. 2.

Not only is the Obama responsible for Saudi warmongering at Tehran but he also killed the Saudi rabble-rouser Nimr al-Nimr!

How did he do that?

The Saudis knew that going ahead with the death sentence would provoke the Iranians and worry the Americans. So why did they choose this moment to do it? It was time to send a clear message to U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration that Riyadh is sufficiently antagonized by Washington that it no longer feels obligated to go along with American efforts to tiptoe around Iran.

So the Saudis killed Nimr because, like a child that stomps its feet, they needed Obama's attention.

The Saudis also went to war against Yemen because of Obama's lack of attention, says the author. That war goes badly she admits but the Saudis will go on anyway because Obama is dangling after Iran. How the support for the Saudis war on Yemen by U.S. air-tankers, intelligence, targeting advice and expedited ammunition delivery can be seen as a lack of U.S. attention is left unexplained.

The Saudis are also miffed that Obama did not protest when an anti-western terrorist on their payroll was killed:

In December, the head of a powerful Islamist Syrian rebel group, Zahran Alloush, was killed in an airstrike that rebels blamed on Russia. He was no moderate and no friend of the West, but he was a powerful rebel leader and his death was a blow to Syrian peace efforts.
In the eyes of Riyadh, Washington’s muted reaction to Alloush’s killing was worse than the strike itself.

So Obama should have protested the killing of an anti-western Jihadi, who publicly put children and women into cages as human shields, because ...

The nonsense continues like that. Yes, says the author, the Saudis are richer and have more and better weapon than Iran and more international support. But they still fear Iran and that is Obama's fault.

The threat is, the author says, that the Saudis will continue their childish behavior and further hurt themselves. That would, somehow, be bad. Obama must therefore pad them on their head and slap Iran.

The author does well in describing the irrationality of recent Saudi behavior. But she then uses that irrationality as a pro-Saudi argument for more U.S. engagement. It does not strike me as a compelling reasoning. I doubt it will convince anyone else. The Saudi embassy in Washington should ask for its money back.

There is no doubt that the Saudis are not doing well right now. Their war on Yemen is expensive, endless and has zero positive results. Big partners of the new alliances the Saudis announced repudiate to be part of it. The still sinking oil price is creating huge budget troubles.

But the Saudis could still behave worse and if this unconfirmed report is right they will soon start doing so:

Saudi King Salman Al-Saud plans to abdicate his throne and install his son Mohammed as king, multiple highly-placed sources told the Institute for Gulf Affairs.

Mohamed bin Salman is the current deputy crown prince, second in-line to the throne, and defense minister.

King Salman, 80, has been making the rounds visiting his brothers seeking support for the move that will also remove the current crown prince and American favorite, the hardline Mohammed bin Naif from his positions as the crown prince and the minister of interior.
Salman plans to abdicate and install his son as king while he is still alive to guarantee his offspring would not be marginalized and driven out of power like all the sons of former Saudi kings who lost power and influence after the death of their fathers.
The sources did not give a specific time line for the abdication but believed the matter will be concluded within a matter of weeks.

Deputy Clown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, the guy who has Debt To GDP, is responsible for the totally irresponsible war on Yemen and its continuation. His planned economic and social reforms practically guarantee social discontent within Saudi Arabia. His coronation would also lead to deep trouble within the very large al-Saud family. Many older princes would feel snubbed out and pull their strings to regain power.

The precipitant change of guard is probably the worst the Saudis could do to themselves. But, as the first quoted piece above argues, this is the very reason why Washington should pamper the Saudis and attack Iran.

Let us hope that no one else in Washington draws such a lunatic conclusion.

Posted by b on January 14, 2016 at 18:24 UTC | Permalink | Comments (144)

January 13, 2016

Syria: Obama's Delusion Over Russian Retreat Continues

Some U.S. media say that Iran is "aggressive" when it detains U.S. ships and sailors ... who invade Iranian waters.

It is such delusional worldview that has people all over the world shake their heads over U.S. media and politics.

But this messy thinking starts at the top. The Obama administration is filled with delusional thinkers. Consider this nonsense, relayed by the unofficial spokesperson David Ignatius, over Putin's position towards the Syrian President Assad:

Putin this week seemed to take a public step toward the U.S. position that Assad must go eventually. In an interview with the German newspaper Bild released Tuesday, Putin hinted that he might grant Assad asylum.
Putin’s reference to asylum was taken “very seriously” by the White House, a second administration official noted Tuesday. “I think he was sending a signal about where he stands” that was consistent with what Russian officials have been telling the United States in private, the official said.

The transcript of the interview is available in English and Russian for all to see.

Putin was in no way "sending a signal". He was deflecting a direct question that the reporters asked. He took a firm stance that Assad must stay and be allowed to take part in new elections:

Question: If, contrary to expectations, al-Assad loses the elections, will you grant him the possibility of asylum in your country?

Vladimir Putin: I think it is quite premature to discuss this. We granted asylum to Mr Snowden, which was far more difficult than to do the same for Mr al-Assad.

First, the Syrian people should be given the opportunity to have their say. I assure you, if this process is conducted democratically, then al-Assad will probably not need to leave the country at all. And it is not important whether he remains President or not.

How is that "sending a signal"? The only signal I perceive therein is that - as far as Russia is concerned - Assad will stay where he is right now. I have no doubt that the private statements of Putin and the Russian government in this case are exactly the same than the official ones.

In October Obama demanded that Russia let go of Assad or end in a quagmire. Since then the position of the Syrian government has solidified and the Russian support has turned out to be very effective and not a burden. The position of the U.S. administration and its jihadist proxy forces in Syria has deteriorated. With each Islamic State attack the pressure to end the U.S. war on Syria is increasing.

How then can the "administration official" come up with this nonsense?

Is there still this neocon superiority illusion that lets U.S. news media and politicians believe they are the only ones who matter? That the U.S. is the only country which has a say in global issues?

One would have thought that the lost war in Iraq and the U.S. quagmire in Afghanistan would have cured such delusions. But stupid thinking seems hard to heal.

Posted by b on January 13, 2016 at 15:52 UTC | Permalink | Comments (109)

January 12, 2016

Syria: Russian Campaign Enables Government Progress - Terrorist's Lines Fall Apart

To put pressure on Turkey for more support the Islamic State attacks the Turkish economy. But that is in vain if the Syrian government and its supporters can close the border to Turkey. That now looks very possible as the Syrian government, supported by Russian air force and indirect fire, is winning on all fronts.

Turkey received the fruits of its support for terrorists in Syria today. Ten people, most of them foreign tourists, were killed in a suicide attack in the Sultanahmet district, a main tourist area in Istanbul.

The Turkish government says the culprit was a 28 year old Saudi man. That mostly excludes that this was an attack of the PKK or any radical left group. The Islamic State is likely the organization behind this attack.

The attack's real target is the Turkish economy. Istanbul is the third most visited tourist city in Europe. That will now change. Earlier Russia warned its citizens against visiting Turkey. The German government and others are now likely to follow. Russians and Germans were the two top tourist origins for Turkey.  This will have significant consequences for the Turkish economy and employment situation.

Turkey has supported the Jihadists anti-government terrorists in Syria and Iraq. Until,very recently the Islamic State ran a sophisticated immigration operation through the Turkey-Syria border:

Turkey has long said that it is unable to secure its 500-mile border with Syria. In January, as Isis was logging people passing in and out of Tel Abyad, the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, told the Independent that sealing the border would be impossible.
The border crossing remained open until Kurdish forces took control of the town in June, at which point Turkey promptly sealed it. The crossing remains closed, a government official confirmed.

There are still other parts of the border where people can cross from Islamic State held territory to Turkey and back. Imports to the Islamic State come mostly from Turkey while stolen oil is exported to Turkey. Turkey will have to stop all support for the various terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq or it will experience ever increasing mayhem on its own soil.

Last year Turkey helped an alliance that included al-Qaeda in Syria and similar groups in capturing Idleb province and Idleb city from the Syrian government. That attack und the Turkish support for these groups was one of the reasons that prompted the Russians to intervene on the Syrian government side. Since then Russian intelligence and air support has helped to turn the war on Syria around. The government forces are now winning on every front.

But Turkey is not the only "western" country that is still actively supporting the Jihadidsts:

In a statement Monday to Foreign Policy, the Syrian Emergency Task Force said Russian planes bombed one of its offices in central Idlib province in a strike that “completely destroyed” the facility and equipment. The staff — which host civil society workshops, helps distribute U.S. humanitarian aid, and documents atrocities — was not present during the incident, and no one was killed, according to SETF.

Can someone explain why and how the U.S. Syrian Emergency Task Force, which is financed by the U.S. State Department, can continue to operate in al-Qaeda occupied Idleb?

When the Russian air support in Syria started and the Syrian army went on the offense a large number of U.S. provided anti-tank guided missiles where used by the terrorists. The number of such missile attacks has now significantly decreased. The Russian bombing broke the logistic lines of the various groups and ransacked their headquarters and support areas. The four month bombing campaign is now showing real results.

In Latakia in north west Syria the Syrian army today took the resort town Salma which had been a major center of terrorist activities in the area. Yesterday a whole suburb west of Aleppo city fell to the Syrian army. East of Aleppo city the Syrian army is advancing towards Al Bab which lies on one of the Islamic State's major roads to Turkey. Near Rastan in Homs province the Syrian army crossed the Orontes river and captured Jarjisah. Further south the Syrian army is progressing towards the Jordanian border. The Russian air attacks also support the advances of the Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State under the label of the U.S. created Syrian Democratic Front. The SDF is now moving to Manbij north east from Aleppo from the east and towards Avaz north-west of Aleppo from the west which together with the Syrian government rush north towards Al Bab develops into a pincer movement that will cut the Islamic State and other terrorist groups from the Turkish border.

Since the beginning of active Russian support the Syrian army has - according to the Russian General Staff - liberated more than 150 towns and villages from the terrorist forces. Since the beginning of January more than twenty two towns have been freed.

Bombing is not a solution for conflicts. The U.S. started bombing Iraq 25 years ago and has bombed it ever since. last year alone it dropped over 23,000 bombs on Muslim countries. But the Russian bombing in Syria is in support a legitimate and capable government which has the majority support of its people and that makes all the difference.

The Russian campaign has significantly decimated the militant's fighting force. A few weeks ago the head of the Islamic State Baghdadi had called for a general mobilization of all Muslims to support his shrinking state. Yesterday the main religious leaders of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's organization in Syria, also issued a call for total mobilization. The Chechen terrorist groups in Latakia under Emir Muslim Shishani are calling for help. The fronts held by these shrinking forces now regularly fall apart when under Russian style attacks. They are now near their breaking point.

During World War II a majority of casualties were caused by indirect fire. During the recent fighting in Ukraine some 80-90% of the casualties on the Ukrainian government side were caused by massive artillery attacks. The Syrian army has copied this Russian style of fighting by using more by artillery and airstrikes for the preparation of attacks. This preserves the manpower of friendlies but requires strong logistics and causes massive damage on buildings and infrastructure.

With the lack of manpower resulting in defeats everywhere the militants and their supporters have upped their "information operations". In a massive propaganda effort they asserted the people in Madaya, under siege by Syrian troops, were starving. Lots of fake and old pictures distributed by "activists" and mainstream media like the BBC showed starving people. But Madaya, like other cities under siege from the terrorists, had received food for several months in October and in late November. The militants seized all provisions and sold them to the inhabitants at extortion prices. Still the International Committee of the Red Cross could not confirm any famine casualties. The propaganda campaign over Madaya did not achieve the intended result of more "western" intervention. Madayan received fresh food but so did Fuar and Kefraya which are bigger and under siege by the terrorist forces.

The "starving" claims were fake assertions as they have accompanied the war on Syria from its very beginning. According to the Indian ambassador in Syria at that time al-Qaeda was involved even in the very first weeks of the 2011 "peaceful protests". A fact that at that time was denied by "western" media and is still covered up in recent reporting.

But as 9/11 showed and today's attack in Istanbul again demonstrates supporting fundamentalist terrorist forces always comes back to bite. Unfortunately only after creating terrible damage elsewhere.

Posted by b on January 12, 2016 at 15:31 UTC | Permalink | Comments (67)

January 11, 2016

Open Thread 2016-03

(While I am busy ...)

Your news & views ...


Posted by b on January 11, 2016 at 18:31 UTC | Permalink | Comments (128)

January 10, 2016

So The DEA Sent Sean Penn To Get Al Chapo?

The Rolling Stones story in which actor Sean Penn meets and interviews the Mexican drug lord El Chapo is weird. Some of the details do not make sense. It smells.

El Chapo was recently (re-)captured in an large operation by Mexican marines together with U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents.

Even more suspect than the Sean Penn piece itself is the fact that the NYT published a large front page piece on the the Rolling Stone story some minutes before the Rolling Stone story itself was published. Who gave it to the NYT and when? The NYT repeats essentials parts of the Penn piece but in a more polished version.

It also adds this to the overall story:

A Mexican government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe confidential matters, said the authorities were aware of the meeting with Mr. Penn.

An AP reporter seems to have talked to the same anonymous Mexican official who suggests:

[A] Mexican official said security forces at one point located the world's most-wanted trafficker thanks to a secret interview with U.S. actor Sean Penn.

Hmm ..

The NYT piece also has says this about the story:

In a disclosure that ran with the story, Rolling Stone said it had changed some names and withheld some locations. An understanding was reached with Mr. Guzmán, it said, that the story would be submitted for his approval, but he did not request any changes. The magazine declined to comment further Saturday.

But that is wrong. This is the actual Rolling Stones lawyerish wording:

Disclosure: Some names have had
 to be changed, locations not named, and an understanding was brokered with the subject that this piece would be submitted for the subject’s approval before publication. The subject did not ask for any changes.

How come "the subject" has no name? Is it really El Chapo aka Mr. Guzmán or is it some three letter agency?

Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel also thinks that the story has a smell and that it seems that Penn was used, likely knowingly, by some agency to get El Chapo.

That is why the story has some of the weird angels Marcy finds. That the NYT hangs this piece of another magazine so high is part of the cover up of the DEA's Penn operation.

Go read Marcy for additional details.

Posted by b on January 10, 2016 at 19:09 UTC | Permalink | Comments (49)