Next Cold War 2/19/16
Last week’s deal by the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG) in which they agreed to work to expedite aid to besieged areas of Syria and work on a cessation of hostilities succeeded in getting more aid trucks and an arrangement for airdrops but the group struggles to convene follow up meetings in Geneva. The Syrian army and allies and the Kurdish forces and their partners continue to gain territory in Latakia and northern Aleppo. They are also now making progress in the far northeast region of Hasakah, plus moving toward a strategic base in the vicinity of Raqqa.
Terror Attack in Ankara
_ In response to a car bomb attack in Ankara and another attack on Thursday on a military convoy, Turkey’s president Erdogan said “Turkey will not shy away from using its right to self-defense at any time, any place or any occasion.”
_ On Wednesday Turkey bombed Kurdistan Workers Party PKK camps in northern Iraq and called for a UN Security Council meeting. In 2014, a tape of a conversation between Turkey’s foreign minister (now prime minister) and the head of Turkish intelligence was leaked, exposing a discussion about cayrrying out a false flag attack on Turkey to justify an invasion/attack on Kurds in Syria.
_ Turkish PM Davutoglu alleged that that the Syrian Kurds were responsible for the attacks, aided by PKK. “We collected intelligence all night,” Davutoğlu told reporters in Ankara. “The perpetrators have been fully identified. The attack was carried out by YPG member Salih Necar, who came in from Syria.” Both Kurdish groups deny any involvement. There have been reports that Turkey’s military opposes a Syrian invasion.
_ Davutoglu gave an ultimatum to the US and anyone who supports the YPG: “Those that see Turkey’s enemy as their friend will lose Turkey’s friendship.”
_ Davutoglu’s speech seemed to prioritize making the argument that everyone should designate YPG as terrorists, shouldn’t expect Turkey to negotiate with them and YPG shouldn’t be allowed at any negotiations:
“Just like Al-Qaeda or Daesh [Arabic pejorative for IS] do not have seats at the table, the YPG, which is a terrorist organization, cannot have one,”
ISIS in Northeast Syria
— Elijah J. Magnier (@ejmalrai) February 18, 2016
_ Turkish military vehicles (“dozens”) crossed into the Kurdish Rojava area of Syria in Aleppo province have begun digging trenches and building a concrete wall between the border towns of Meidan Ekbis and Sorka, according to a report with photos from the Kurdish media, Ajansa Hawar News Agency (ANHA).
_ A reported 2000 (numbers vary) Syrian “rebels” “with weapons and vehicles” reentered Syria from the Turkish border into Azaz. “The route across Turkey for fighters has become the only path for rebels to their north Aleppo enclave along the border after recent Syrian army advances in the northern Aleppo province closed the main lifeline into rebel territory for years.”
_ On Thursday, ISIS attacked Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, QSD, Kurds + Sunni Arab militias) who are holding the Tishrin Dam, recently recaptured from ISIS. Kurdish media ANHA reported “50 ISIS gangs killed.”
_ An interesting theory from some experienced retired military folks on which professional forces are fighting along with the Kurds and other groups in northern Syria and coordinating efforts with the Russians and the Syrian army. Is it US special forces? Is this why Turkey is so furious? Washington Post and other US media are reporting that the Pentagon has told Russia where US forces are in Syria, in an abundance of caution to avoid being hit by Russian airstrikes. It’s an odd admission if they have been coordinating with Russia and the Syrian army in northern Syria in recent battles.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook would not go into specifics regarding the size of those areas detailed by Brown. Cook said the “highest levels” of leadership within the Pentagon have discussed the Special Operations forces’ locations with the Russians but refrained from saying when those discussions took place. Brown, however, said that the Russians have been made aware of the Special Operations forces’ presence within Syria around the same time the Pentagon announced their deployment in December.
_ In his latest article, Al Rai Media’s Elijah Magnier reports that the Turkish-Saudi intervention in Syria against ISIS “is welcome“, that 900 al Qaeda and allies ‘were allowed free passage from Turkey to fight US allies SDF in northern Aleppo‘, and ‘the cessation of hostility [agreement] will help to dedicate more forces against Al Qaeda and ISIS‘. He also reports that northern, eastern and western Aleppo are not included in the cessation of hostilities agreement in Syria.
_ Whoever is fighting in northern Aleppo, they’re making swift and very professional progress.
Tony Blair Interview with Kurdish Media
_ Tony Blair gave an interview to Rudaw Media Network, a Kurdish media organization in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. (Transcript and video). Blair said “there’s a disagreement [between the US and Russia] about the position of Bashar al Assad in Syria” but there are also common enemies and “we’re going to have to cooperate to a degree.” He said there will be a transition, over time, but it must be made “absolutely clear to President Assad that he is not going to succeed.”
_ Blair said there had been many debates “over these last years” about the Sykes-Picot borders, that “the boundaries were drawn in a completely different era and time” before oil wealth had been discovered or developed, but “I however think there are a whole series of questions that are probably, not at this moment in time, those that can be answered very easily” and security is a higher priority right now.
_ On the issue of Kurdistan, Blair said “we’ve got to be careful right at this moment of having debates that will divide allies that need to be together.” The Kurdish journalist says Kurds have been invaluable in the fight against ISIS but they have huge financial problems, old weapons, and implies they should be rewarded with the autonomous country they’ve been working for. Blair praises the dedication and sacrifice of the Kurds, says they should get more support, but an independent Kurdistan is probably not in the cards right now because ISIS, security and unity of regional allies.
Former UK Ambassador to Syria’s Comment
_ Former UK Ambassador to Syria says Britain should ”
get real” and realize Assad won’t be overthrown, “we should have backed off and should not have tried to overthrow the regime.” He says it’s “like a dog returning to vomit” and “we never saw a secular Arab regime that we didn’t want to overthrow.” He said the Assad regime is the only one that will preserve a secular, pluralistic Syria.
Humanitarian Aid Trucks Reach Some Besieged Areas. ISSG Task Force Work Continues With Delays
_ Aid trucks reached five besieged areas in Syria, after John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov negotiated a deal on areas besieged by either the Syrian government or Syrian rebels at the Munich Security Conference last week. UN estimates there are 15 besieged areas. No aid was delivered to Deir Ez-Zor, besieged by ISIS.
_ On Thursday a task force formed by the deal was scheduled to meet in Geneva and will continue to work on getting aid to nearly 500K people under siege.
One hundred truckloads of aid were given to about 100,000 people, the U.N. said, as convoys entered Madaya, Zabadani and Mouadamiya al-Sham near Damascus which have been under siege by government forces, and the villages of al-Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province, which are surrounded by rebel fighters.
_ The Thursday meeting was postponed until Friday, delayed again, and then Russia announced the Friday meetings canceled, but gave no reason why. Reportedly, “US and Russian military officials did hold an unannounced bilateral meeting Friday morning.” UN envoy de Mistura said “I cannot realistically call new Geneva talks for 25th of February. We need ten days preparation and invitations.” de Mistura is still trying to make the cessation of hostilities and task forces work and a UN spokeswoman said ‘the larger meeting of the ISSG group would take place at the UN Friday afternoon.’
_ Due to the ISSG group deal last week on emergency aid, there will also be Russian planes “dropping food in an operation partly financed by the United States.” The UN World Food Program “will start its first airdrops in Syria” with a main focus on Deir al-Zour, where 200,000 are under siege by ISIS.
— Alexey Khlebnikov (@AleksKhlebnikov) February 19, 2016
— Syria (@Syria_Rising) February 18, 2016
Saudis Say Yemen War Will Continue and ISIS is Priority in Syria
_ Last week the Saudi military spokesman, Gen. Ahmed Asseri, said their decision to do ground operations in Syria was “irreversible“. On Thursday the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said their Yemen operations, which are not going very well, would continue until the government is restored or an agreement is reached to restore the government in control of all of Yemen’s territory. The Northern Thunder military exercises are scheduled to continue until March. He said that only a small part of the Saudi military is involved and they’re not bogged down.
Lawrence Wilkerson on Possible Syria Ground Invasion by Saudi Arabia and Turkey
_ Wilkerson hopes the threat is a bluff and hopes nobody calls the bluff because “this has every prospect to be an August, 1914 like event series that could lead to a much wider war, far more powerful belligerents and maybe even a conflict that none of us, not a single one of us, other than perhaps ISIS, ever contemplated or wanted in the first place.”
_ Former Indian ambassador to Syria
Angela Merkel for UN Secretary General
_ NYT op-ed by Mark Seddon, a speechwriter for Ban Ki-Moon, suggests Merkel should succeed him as the head of the UN. The president of the UN general assembly and US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power apparently used a “novel technique” to start the process of finding a new UN chief (a letter soliciting candidates) this time around. Typically the UN Security Council recommends a candidate and the general assembly rubberstamps. DW sums up the argument made by the op-ed as “She is female, hails from Eastern Europe, understands Russia and could mediate between Russia and the US” and she has shown her humanitarian side and leadership skills. This position has been suggested before as a “graceful exit” for Merkel who reportedly doesn’t want a fourth term and would probably have a difficult time getting reelected. The DW article quotes people saying the UN needs an untypical strong leader at the UN because the post-WWII world order is endangered and “so many important things to be done at the global level that we need people like her in a certain way.”
Ukraine’s Yatsenyuk Saved by Oligarchs and Western Backers
_ Ukraine’s prime minister was saved in a no confidence vote by three oligarchs (plus oligarch Poroshenko) showing they still control the country, and Yatsenyuk’s western backers.