Next Cold War Roundup 3/9/16
Syrian peace talks are expected to resume on Monday, though delegates have begun to arrive in Geneva already. 240,000 people in besieged areas have received humanitarian aid and aid workers are still working to get access to six more areas. VP Joe Biden is visiting Israel to “patch things up”. Pentagon reported an airstrike targeting ISIS leader and former FSA collaborator “Omar the Chechen”.
Omar the Chechen
_ Pentagon reports that “Omar the Chechen” or Abu Omar al-Shishani, a Georgian jihadist and top ISIS leader whose real name is Tarkhan Batirashvili, was targeted with an airstrike by the US last week near the Syrian town of al-Shaddadi. Omar the Chechen had ties to the US umbrella group, the Free Syrian Army, as late as 2013, as evidenced in this analysis by Brad Hoff. McClatchy war correspondent Mitch Prothero had encountered Omar the Chechen and wrote this about him in 2015. Hoff did two very good interviews on the subject on the Scott Horton Show and on public radio in Canada.
Syrian Peace Talks
_ Syrian government says it will attend the Geneva talks starting March 14. “Observatory chief Rami Abdel-Rahman told AFP that the average number of civilian deaths a day had fallen by 90 percent since the truce came into force, with an 80 percent decline among soldiers and rebel forces.”
_ VP Joe Biden, currently traveling in the Middle East, told an Abu Dhabi newpaper “So as hard as it is, we have to keep trying to reach a political settlement.” Then at a military base in UAE he said “We have to squeeze the heart of Daesh in Iraq and Syria so they can’t continue to pump the poison in the region and the rest of the world.”
_ On Wednesday, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said “he is hoping the warring sides will make progress within 10 days after peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition resume next week in Geneva.” Delegates will arrive in Geneva over the coming days but he expects more “substantive, deeper” talks will begin on Monday. The format will again be “proximity” talks where opposing parties are in different rooms.
“On the agenda Monday will be issues such as a new constitution, internationally-sought parliamentary and presidential elections, and new governance for Syria, the envoy said — though he did not address the issue of a possible departure of President Bashar Assad from power, a key hope of the opposition and its Western backers.”
_ It’s complicated.
— World_Conflicts (@World_Conflict_) March 7, 2016
Humanitarian Aid in Syria
_ 240,000 people have received humanitarian assistance since January and 536 trucks have reached besieged areas that were unreachable last year. The UN envoy’s advisor noted that “We still have not reached six important besieged areas, including Daraya and Douma.”
_ Unusual admission in western media that Turkey contributed to the refugee crisis by allowing foreign fighters into Syria.
US Building Second Air Base in Syria
_ Kurdish media reports US building a second air base in Syria “southeast of Kobani, straddling the Turkish border.” The first base was built in “the oil town of Rmeilan in Hasaka province which is currently being used by US aircraft for “logistics and deliveries.” US military command, CENTCOM, denies that US forces “were in control of any airfields in Syria” but then says “That being said, U.S. forces in Syria are consistently looking for ways to increase efficiency for logistics and personnel recovery support.”
Netanyahu Canceled Visit With Obama. Biden Visits Israel and Palestinian Territories.
_ A National Security Council spokesman: “”We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting, and we were surprised to first learn via media reports that the prime minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit.” The same spokesman told Reuters “Reports that we were not able to accommodate the prime minister’s schedule are false.”
_ Biden arrived in Israel on Tuesday for a two-day visit. Netanyahu claims this is evidence that the relationship between the US and Israel is not collapsing. At his weekly cabinet meeting he said “There are those who predict the collapse of these relations – it is not so.” But only one press event is scheduled, with Biden and the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin. They planned to discuss “Iran, Syria and the frozen Israeli-Palestinian peace process, although no new initiative on that front is expected during the visit.”
_ During Biden’s visit, an American graduate student, 2009 West Point graduate and Afghanistan/Iraq war veteran Taylor Force, was killed in a stabbing attack in Jaffa, a coastal town south of Tel Aviv. The attack happened very close to where Biden was having dinner with his wife and grandchildren. Taylor Force was in Israel on a school related trip. Thirteen other people were wounded in a series of knife attacks.
150 Killed by US Drone Strike in Somalia
_ The targeted group was a gathering of the al-Shabab militant group that was conducting “some kind of ceremony” when the drone strike occurred. The Pentagon claims they were preparing for a large scale attack on US and AMISOM forces. The Pentagon later issued a correction — there were manned aircraft involved as well.
_ In the recently recaptured Ramadi:
Tribe in Ramadi blows up homes of members who joined Daesh. Intra-tribal violence, revenge difficult to contain pic.twitter.com/3c9Smxy89x
— Sajad Jiyad سجاد (@SajadJiyad) March 6, 2016
_ Baghdad in the 1970’s
Iraq, Baghdad, postcard for Al-Umma garden in Bab Al-Sharqi in the 1970s. pic.twitter.com/Ojogf9FOgK
— Old Iraqi Pictures (@IraqiPic) March 7, 2016
Emergency EU-Turkey Summit on Migration
_ Turkey’s demands for their cooperation stemming the flow of migrants to Europe are growing as they “raised the stakes by demanding more money, accelerated membership lks and faster visa-free travel for its citizens in return.” Turkey’s prime minister Davutoglu said Turkey is willing to take back migrants who are refused asylum by Europe and also those who are intercepted in its territorial waters. One EU official said “They (Turkey) are offering more and demanding more.” One source said “Ankara was seeking 20 billion euros.”
Erdogan Under the Bus
_ New York Times editorial board: “That’s not the approach of an ally, and Mr. Erdogan’s turn toward authoritarianism will not strengthen Turkey, NATO or the European Union.” NYT opinion column: “Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Despotic Zeal“. Seems like he’s not toeing the line. The question is, whose line? His days may be numbered.
Spies Sans Frontières?
_ “CIA-linked Palantir is gaining ground in the aid industry.” The software is “an all-powerful integrator: combing through data from documents, websites, social media and databases, turning that information into people, places, events, things, displaying those connections on your computer screen, and allowing you to probe and analyse the links between them.”
_ Last week, shipments of arms headed for the port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon were intercepted and alarms went off regarding a potential armed uprising of Sunni fighters, opening a new front in the Syrian war. This New York Times article refers to the situation in Lebanon as a place where Saudi Arabia and Iran have “competed for influence” but have “managed to preserve a tense calm” just over the border from Syria where they are on opposite sides of the war in Syria. With the Saudis suddenly cutting all aid and Gulf states telling their citizens to leave Lebanon, with Israel and Hezbollah always on the verge of war and Israel signalling that they are no longer willing to negotiate for the Golan but intend to integrate all of it into Israel, what is next for Lebanon?
“Suddenly, this sliver of a nation, long beloved by Saudis for its night life, beaches and mountains, is once again thrust into the middle of the battle for regional dominance between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. The consequences could be enormous for a nation that barely survived its own civil war, borders Israel, hosts well over a million Syrian refugees and relies on a shaky power-sharing arrangement between sects for its own stability.”
Iranian Missile Tests
_ It seems relevant that Russian media (RT) used this headline regarding Iranian missile tests, given that they are allied with Iran in the Syrian war: “Iran tests more missiles, brags about having Israel in range“.The Iranian Republican Guard (IRGC) continued launching ballistic missiles on Wednesday and one general said “The reason we designed our missiles with a range of 2000km is to be able to hit our enemy …. from a safe distance.”