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Extraordinary Interview With Jaish al-Thuwar Officer and Report From Syria-Turkey Border

Next Cold War Roundup 3/4/16

The Syrian ceasefire continues to mostly hold. A US carrier strike group has moved into the South China Sea. A follow up meeting was held on the Minsk agreement with no breakthroughs while fighting on the front line in Ukraine increases.  An RT journalist traveled to the Syrian-Turkish border near Azaz and filmed al Nusra encampments, Turkish military vehicles and an interview with a former FSA rebel, now part of Jaish al-Thuwar, a fighting group with a mix of Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen that is allied with the YPG Kurds in an alliance called Syrian Democratic Forces.

Frustrated European Officials Meet on Ukraine, Pressure Russia on Syria

Leaders of Belarus, Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine at Minsk Summit, February, 2015 (by Kremlin CC by 4.0)

Leaders of Belarus, Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine at Minsk Summit, February, 2015 (by Kremlin CC by 4.0)

_ French president Hollande announced that there will be a Germany, France, Russia, UK meeting about Syria on Friday .  A separate Minsk agreement follow up meeting in the “Normandy format” (Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine) is was held Thursday night in Paris.   There was a Ukraine”contact group” meeting on Wednesday that went better than usual.

_ A “gloomier view” has taken hold with respect to the peace deal in Ukraine — a view “that political dysfunction in Kiev has all but doomed the chances of it delivering on its own commitments under the peace agreement. [..] For now, officials say, the goal is to keep Minsk on life support even if it looks dead.” Given that they believe Kiev can’t deliver on their Minsk-required constitutional changes (or much else) German, British and French officials put out a statement pressuring Russia, calling on Russia to use their influence to stop violence in eastern Ukraine and interestingly also demanded that Russia “stop march to Aleppo” in Syria and to “stop all attacks against Western-backed rebels in Syria.”  It may be significant that they demand that Russia stop to all attacks on “Western-backed rebels”.  Even the mainstream media has now begun to admit that those rebels are “intermingled” with al Qaeda and some, like Ahrar al-Sham, really are a front for al Qaeda, others were used as a conduit for western arms to get to stronger al Qaeda groups.  The European officials surely know that but as the media becomes more transparent, the European officials maintain the moderate mythical rebel line.

_ The Minsk follow up meeting on Thursday night lasted four hours and the Ukrainian and French foreign ministers reported that no breakthoughs had been made.  The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault said they still hoped to hold the long delayed elections in Donbass by June. Russia’s foreign minister left without comment. Reuters doesn’t mention any comments from the German FM.

_ If, as European officials have concluded,  the corrupt and crumbling government in Kiev cannot meet their Minsk obligations, then the Russian sanctions cannot be lifted as the EU conditions depend on this. Or, as Russia argues, the sanctions must be lifted because they have largely held up their end of the deal. Pressure for lifting the sanctions is growing among some EU leaders. Knowing this might happen, Ukraine officials, even though they have not done their part on the Minsk agreement, are demanding the sanctions stay in place. In fact, Ukraine officials have claimed that Russia has destablized the entire EU. “Dolgov, and other Ukrainian officials, conveyed the message that not only Ukraine, but the entire EU had been destabilised by Russia.”

US Navy Sent Carrier Strike Group to Confront China

USS John C Stennis in Phillipine Sea. Feb., 2016 (by US Navy)

USS John C Stennis in Phillipine Sea. Feb., 2016 (by US Navy)

_ NavyTimes is reporting that the US Navy “has dispatched a small armada to the South China Sea.” Thousands of U.S. sailors on the 7th fleet aircraft carrier, USS Stennis, plus two destroyers (Chung-Hoon and Stockdale) and two cruisers (Antietam and Mobile Bay) have “sailed into the disputed waters”.  The 7th fleet command ship, Blue Ridge, is in the area as well and conducted a live-fire exercise on March 1 in the Phillipine Sea. The USS John C. Stennis “supercarrier” is doing dispatches on Facebook from the South China Sea.  Navy Cmdr. Clay Doss, spokesman for the Pacific Fleet said the Stennis is “carrying out a routine patrol of the South China Sea” and will do this regularly. The “7th Fleet spokesman downplayed the visit as a show of force.”

_ Containment of China: Head of US Pacific Command, Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., “proposed reviving an informal strategic coalition made up of the navies of Japan,Australia, India and the United States, an experiment that collapsed a decade ago because of diplomatic protests from China.” An Indian strategist and Chinese professor don’t believe that India will join any such network beyond participating in forums or other exercises because of China’s ability to ‘put a navy on their doorstep’ in Pakistan.

A Federalized Syria

_ The prime minister of Jazeera, one of the Kurdish cantons in the Kurdish region of Syria, Rojava, calls for a federalized Syria.  He claims that the Kurdish National Council can not only rule Rojava, but all of Syria. “So the democratic autonomous administration, with all its people, is capable of running not only Rojava but all of Syria.”

_ Partitioning Syria has a very ugly past.

_ This article, “Securing Syria Region-by-Region from the Bottom Up” by New America think tank fellow Ilan Goldenberg presents Syria as a problem that the United States is duty-bound to redesign and solve.  There’s no justification about why anyone should slice up Syria, or why a country across the ocean would have the authority to do so.  Not to mention, the US has a pretty bad track record for understanding or providing solutions in the Middle East.

Instead, the United States needs a region-by-region approach to Syria that builds from the bottom up and leaves a Syria with a weak central government but strong regionally-based power centers backed by local populations.

America’s primary objective should be to fill the security and governance vacuums in President Bashar al-Assad’s Syria […] U.S. strategy cannot use unlimited manpower and treasure. Our commitment must be sustainable and proportionate to our interests—meaning we can do more than we have done to date without returning to the days of 150,000 troops on the ground.

Saudi General Says US Coalition Still Considering Ground Invasion of Syria

_ “Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, confirmed that defense ministers from the anti-Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) coalition debated placing ground troops on the ground in Syria during a ministerial meeting in Brussels last month.”

Syria Ceasefire, Aid Reached 100,000

_ Ceasefire is mostly holding, “better than expected”. Aid has been delivered to 100,000 during the less than one week old agreement. Syrian rebels are furious as the ceasefire continues to hold and see it as a US betrayal.  UN envoy de Mistura says the ceasefire “greatly reduced” violence in the country and the tentative date for broader peace talks to resume is March 9. UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there has been a “huge drop” in civilian casualties.

Since the pause in fighting began last Saturday, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s  government has allowed aid trucks to move to previously inaccessible areas – so far, eight convoys have delivered aid to more than 100,000 people, with more trips scheduled in the next few days, the officials said.

_ A report from Syria Direct US side of the ceasefire violations hotline is having some staffing problems.  The hotline is staffed by “State Department personnel in Washington” but only “some of whom speak Arabic” according to the State Dept. spokesman, Mark Toner who also says they’re doing it “in addition to their usual jobs.” The reports said that some journalists and activists have given up trying to report incidents to the US line and are using the UN or the High Negotiating Committee (Saudi umbrella group) hotline. Journalists on the front lines have to make an international call on their own dime to report violations to the US hotline. “A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the hotline was set up in haste last week and the State Department had put out an email seeking volunteers to help staff it.”

_ AP journalist went on a trip organized by the Russian government to a village, Maarzaf, in central Syria, where the Russian Defense Ministry signed an agreement with village leaders and delivered aid. These kinds of agreements, 30 of which have been negotiated and signed so far, require the towns to agree to government control and abiding by the ceasefire in exchange for aid and security assurances.

_ During a Wednesday press briefing in Moscow, Maria Zakharova rebuffed suggestions that the cease-fire would end after a two-week period.

Lizzie Phelan Films Turkey Resupplying al Nusra Near Azaz, Former FSA Rebel Saying Turkey Supports ISIS and al Qaeda

_ RT’s Lizzie Phelan has done an extraordinary report from Syria where she traveled with the Kurdish YPG and her crew filmed (from very close by) Turkish vehicles entering Syria at the Bab al-Salam crossing near Azaz where al Qaeda/al Nusra is encamped. Turkey has said it will not allow Azaz to fall to the Kurds.

“When we zoom in we can see Turkish military vehicles, probably around a kilometer away, maybe less. And just in front here’s another small village that YPG say Al-Nusra uses for training,” Phelan said.

“Beyond that we can see the Turkish flag flying, that’s on the Turkish side of the border, and through there the YPG says they monitor a regular supply of weapons coming from Turkey to that Al-Nusra camp.”

_ YPG Kurds told Phelan that after the ceasefire, al Nusra took down most of their flags because they are excluded from the ceasefire and want to blend in with the “rebels” covered by it. She does spot three al Nusra flags and films them along with footage of Turkish military vehicles.  “Head of the YPG in Afrin, Abdu Khalil, says Turkey is definitely providing support for terrorist groups in the area.” Khalil said when Turkey captures a Syrian Kurd, they had him over to al Nusra but if they capture a wounded ISIS figher, they give him medical treatment, “immunity and guards,” and hide him in Turkish hospital. (3 minute mark in video below).

_ Jim Jaras, a former US diplomat asks (4 minute mark in video below) how Turkey could be considered part of an anti-ISIS coalition when they are clearly supporting al Qaeda and ISIS.

_ In Phelan’s extraordinary interview with a former Free Syrian Army (FSA) general and co-founder of Jaish al-Thuwar (Army of Revolutionaries, now part of the Syrian Democratic Forces SDF), Abu Jouma Benawii says Turkey supports al Qaeda and ISIS, Turkey “wants to occupy our land, not to help our people,” “supported Al Nusra against us.” Benawii said his SDF group is committed to the ceasefire, one million percent” and knowing what he knows now, he would not have joined the “revolution” because everybody contributed to destroying Syria, at the beginning and the end it is only the people who lose.” He added “Had we known that Syria’s friends would be like this, we wouldn’t have been with them. All our people were forced to flee.” You can find this interview in the video embedded in the RT article, at the 3 minute mark.

 

Syria Battlefield

_  18 US-backed rebels, including leaders of the Syria Revolutionaries Front were killed by a car bomb “in the southern village of Asheh, in Quneitra province” “after a huge blast rocked its headquarters in Ashe village in Quneitra countryside.”

_ The Syrian air force targeted ISIS “in al-Bab city, 38 km northeast of Aleppo city”. The Syrian army took the village of Fah, east of Aleppo, from ISIS.

_ ISIS positions in Palmyra were hit by the Syrian air force.

_ Syrian Kurds “captured a hill [Castello Hill] overlooking a main road in Aleppo from the militant Nusra Front group and its allies, in a surprise offensive aimed at encircling the northern city.” This resulted in supply lines to east Aleppo which is held by rebel opposition and al Nusra.  “An opposition activist based in Turkey said the SDF’s apparent aim is to push north of the Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud and reach government forces in the nearby town of Handarat, which would completely besiege the eastern neighborhoods of the city that are under rebel control.”

Syria Analysis

Protecting al-Qaeda: Guest Analysis by Steven Chovanec – a very good body of research and analysis on the US most viable ally on the ground in Syria — al Qaeda, published at the Levant Report.  As DIA head Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn said, “If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic.” Some Americans are, but there are very few who read enough or are willing to challenge their own world view or in the case of people who make a living within this system, to risk standing up to it, to make a difference right now.  The mainstream media, of course, chugs along with the “war on terror” narrative on a daily basis.

_ German journalist, expert on Middle East, spent 10 days interviewing ISIS, says US seeks to divide, weaken Middle East countries and Syria should not be divided. “Americans should NOT divide Syria, says Jurgen Todenhofer.” In 2013, Fareed Zakaria also argued strongly to “stay out of Syria.”

 

Turkey’s Impending Civil War and/or Regime Change

_ David Ignatius, known to be a CIA conduit in the media, reports that there is a “growing risk of civil war in Turkey.” An HDP party leader, Selahattin Demirtas, said “Turkey faces a ‘serious risk’ of civil war as it battles Kurdish militants near its southern border”. He said “By summer, the tension between the PKK and government could grow […] Many Kurds and Turks could die, and this could trigger an ethnic war.” Demirtas wants the US or another external entity to broker ceasefire talks. An Obama administration official said they are “exploring ways to encourage this dialogue.”

_ Turkey’s state-run news media reports on Friday that Turkish police detained four executives and board members of a company linked with exiled (in Pennsylvania) Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan’s former ally now accused of using his extensive network to overthrow him.

_ There has been speculation for months about a regime change operation in Turkey. Michael Whitney, in a CounterPunch piece titled “Regime Change in Ankara? More Likely Than You Think” wonders if Obama will give Erdogan the greenlight to invade Syria and then “pulling the rug out from under him,” similar to the situation with Saddam Hussein’s fateful invasion of Kuwait. Sibel Edmonds has predicted a coup or regime change operation against Erdogan for nearly a year and believes the “final stage in Erdogan’s takedown” involving a “CIA/Gulen destabilisation campaign” is nigh.

_ Ignatius’ source for his column, Selahattin Demirtas, “rose to prominence after the so-called Gezi Park protests of 2013” which resembled a CIA-style color revolution. Last September, a Turkish prosecutor “sought a jail sentence of up to 34 years” for Fethullah Gulen (who is exiled in Pennsylvania but has a large movement in Turkey and internationally) for plotting a coup against Erdogan.  This was the “latest salvo in Erdogan’s two-year battle to wipe out the movement of his former ally.” An Al-Monitor columnist thinks the indictment about coup plots and armed terrorist organizations originating with Turkey’s “Western friends” are a mixture of fact and fiction.

Netanyahu Says Ceasefire Doesn’t Apply to Israel if They Officially Enter Syrian War

_ Israel is considering changing their official position of neutrality in the Syrian war  to “more actively trying to topple Assad,” but at the moment is mainly pressuring for more Western intervention. A former military intelligence chief wrote that Israel should tighten its “quiet ties with Saudi Arabia” and do a reconciliation with Turkey, enemies of Assad, and also “persuade Russia to push Assad aside.” This neutrality is only the public, official position of Israel. In reality they have been involved for a long time, providing medical and other aid to al Qaeda and opposition rebels, and “Israel is believed to have launched attacks that killed a key Iranian general and high-ranking Hezbollah officers who were in the border area near the Golan.”

“Israel wants to preserve its freedom of action,” said Ofer Zalzberg, an Israel analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“Netanyahu is concerned that there is a period now in which every use of arms is seen as a breach, which endangers the entire cease-fire.” Netanyahu is saying that Israel’s “red lines” are separate from the cease-fire and defending them doesn’t violate it, Zalzberg said.

_ “Israel’s cooperation with Jabhat Al-Nusrah and other insurgencies in the Golan has led to the withdrawal of UNDOF forces from a 12 – 16 k-wide corridor in the demilitarized zone. It is here Israeli military and intelligence interact freely with the ‘rebels’ […] At a politically and strategically convenient time, it will provide political cover for the permanent military occupation of the Golan due to the UNDOF’s “failure”, and under the guise of Israel’s ‘war on terrorism'”

_ Jerusalem Post column: “Humpty Dumpty is down. The Golan is Israeli.” Columnist David Weinberg says that Israel has been afraid to say this for years, but the Golan is theirs because the Golan plateau because it is Israel’s “best defense against potential Syrian aggression”. Because Syria is in chaos and will never be put together again, Israel needs to take the Golan to maintain “defensible borders”. They don’t have any desire to continue any negotiation “land for peace” with Syria and wants the US to recognize “Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan”.  Post-WWII international law prohibits acquisition of territory by force but pro-Israel parties argue that if one party “disintegrates”, those laws should not apply.

“As we sadly mark this week five years of the wrenching Syrian civil war, it is time to say plainly: Israeli sovereignty should be recognized out of global interest in stabilizing the region. This is in addition to Israel’s normative, legal, historic and national security claims to the Heights.”

 

ISIS Detainees in Iraq

_ US defense department does not “intend to establish a long-term American facility to hold Islamic State detainees, and Obama administration officials ruled out sending any to the United States military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.” Delta Force, now operating in northern Iraq, captured an ISIS member and was “being interrogated by American officials at a temporary detention facility in the city of Erbil” after which he will be turned over to Kurdish or Iraqi officials.  There are extensive CIA facilities in Erbil.

A “Do Over” on Libya by Interventionists Who Destabilized It

Civilians in Misrata, Libya. June, 2011 (by UNHCR/H. Caux)

Civilians in Misrata, Libya. June, 2011 (by UNHCR/H. Caux)

_ Sen. Bob Corker, war hawk and fervent interventionist, says the problem in Libya was due to “lack of planning” and the problem in Syria was a “failure to act”.  Now he’s holding Senate Foreign Relations committee hearings on “a path forward for Libya” as if people who completely wrecked and destabilized countries and regions should get a “do over” and dictate that country’s future rather than stand at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.  Meanwhile the US, British and French have already re-invaded the country with special forces troops in the Obama & Friends “Secret” Libyan War 2.0.  The witnesses are Claudia Gazzini from the NGO “International Crisis Group” (focused on peace in the most “war is peace” Orwellian ways and with people like NATO interventionist Carl Bildt on its board) and Fred Wehrey from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  Hearing video is here.

_ It should be noted that the same interventionists who insisted that Gaddafi must “depart” before any peace negotiations could begin, and then allowed Islamic extremist groups (who had already been part of the so-called Libyan “rebels”) to overrun the country, even after warnings that “To insist, as they have done, on Qaddafi’s departure as a precondition for any political initiative is to prolong the military conflict and deepen the crisis” is an important detail. The same interventionists are demanding that “Assad must go” in Syria before any serious negotiations can happen, even though they have been warned by countless experts that this will lead to Syria becoming a failed state overrun by ISIS and al Qaeda. The warnings are being ignored, more military intervention is being demanded of the US in order to take out Assad as a first priority. This indicates that destabilization is not an unintended consequence of neocon, “humanitarian” interventionist and Syria’s neighbors’ regime change operations.

Russian Warships Crossing Bosphorous

_ Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily reports the crossing of a Russian warship, “Novocherkassk” through the Bosphorous with heavy security and monitoring but does not mention why there was increased security for this particular ship. “Turkish police stood guard along the coasts of the Bosphorus while the ship moved along the strait accompanied by two Turkish Coast Guard boats, a coast guard ship and a police helicopter.”

Dr. Strangelove Breedlove

_ EUCOM/NATO chief Gen. Breedlove, who will soon finish his term,  told members of US Congress that Russia and Syria are “deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve“. Sen. Tom Cotton asks Breedlove (video below) if it is a “long term goal of Vladimir Putin to ultimately divide the European Union and NATO” and Breedlove replied: “I do believe that one of the primary goals of Mr. Putin is to find a division in NATO and find a division in the European Union.” In his written statement for the hearing (PDF) he said “Since the beginning of 2014, President Putin has sought to undermine the rules-based system of European security and attempted to maximize his power on the world stage.”

 

_ Gen. Philip Breedlove’s testimony and press briefings this week on European Command (EUCOM) and NATO :

  1. Breedlove press conference 3/1/16.
  2. Breedlove testimony to Senate Armed Services Committee 3/1/16 (PDF).

Nobel Prize Winner Asks Obama to Change Date of Argentina Visit

_ Pres. Obama’s is scheduled to be in Argentina on March 24, the 40th anniversary of a US-backed coup. “Adolfo Perez Esquivel says he is happy that the US president would like to visit Argentina, only he believes that Obama should travel to the country at a later date due to the sensitivity of the anniversary.” Esquivel’s Nobel Prize was for his work defending human rights after a March 1976 military coup.

“I’m a survivor of that era, of the flights of death, of the torture, of the prisons, of the exiles,” Esquivel told AP. “And when you analyze the situation in depth, the United States was responsible for the coups in Latin America.”

Photo licensed under Creative Commons by Ryan J. Reilly
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Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

Joanne is a blogger with focus on issues of war and peace, a mom, engineer, software developer and amateur photographer.