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Closing in on Palmyra. Mosul Begins, King Abdullah Spills Info on Turkey and Syria

Next Cold War Roundup 3/25/16

Syrian forces close in on the main city of Palmyra as various hills and sites are recaptured including an important citadel today. Iraqi military command says the long battle for Mosul has officially begun. US military involvement in Iraq continues to grow as games are played with the meaning of “combat” and “boots on the ground”.  Jordan’s king accused Turkey of exporting terrorism to Europe and told of a midair confrontation between Russia, Israel and Jordan in southern Syria in January.  A ceasefire and peace talks on Yemen are planned for April.

Number of Troops Deployed in Iraq and Advisory vs. Combat Roles

_ Col. Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the anti-ISIS military mission, claims that the number of US troops deployed in Iraq is “within our force cap” of 3,870, and there are now a number of conventional troops in addition to special operations forces.   Nancy Youssef claims to have gotten a different, larger number. Nobody believes the official numbers nor the statements about troops not being engaged in combat.

_ The controversial marine base “Firebase Bell” (a US-only base, not co-located with Iraqi forces) is the first of its kind (that we know of) since the US military’s return to the country for Iraq War 3.0 in 2014. It is located near Makhmour, in Kurdish-held Erbil province, where there is an “expanding Iraqi military base.”  “The creation of the outpost is the latest incremental escalation of a war whose developments do not always correspond to the White House’s depiction of a conflict in which the US is in a merely advisory capacity on the ground.”

_ In the case of “Firebase Bell” the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed there have a mission of “force protection” for “coalition advisers and Iraqi forces.”  When asked if they will “provide forward protection to Iraqi forces” Col. Warren did not deny that they would play this role but said there was no “forward movement of the Iraqi forces” yet.  (His last press conf. was March 21.  Iraqi forces have now begun forward movement toward Mosul.)  Warren doesn’t consider this to be an official combat role.

_ There is a lot of game playing with the numbers of troops and the term “combat.”  Similar dishonesty is happening with the term “boots on the ground” as special forces aren’t always counted for reasons that have never been clearly explained. Whether or not they are disclosed and/or included in counts seems to depend on the political needs and desires of the administration. “The White House has ruled out a ground combat role for the U.S. in Iraq, and is intent on avoiding the appearance of any expansion in military operations there.”

Battle for Mosul Officially Begins

_ The Iraqi joint operations command said that its army and Popular Mobilisation paramilitary force “have begun the first phase of conquest operations” on Thursday.  Several villages have already been taken between Qayyarah and Makhmur.  Lt. Gen. McFarland believes it will take about a year to recapture Mosul.

_ On Thursday, Fox News reported on the “expanding combat role” of US troops in Iraq as the battle to retake Mosul from ISIS escalates. An anonymous US official said the “American combat role” expanded on Thursday when US marines provided “targeting assistance and artillery fire to support Iraqi troops inching forward to retake Mosul.” US fighter jets did airstrikes during Thursday’s operations.  Another US official said this wasn’t an expanded combat role because it was support requested from the Iraqis.

Battle for Palmyra

_ Syrian forces and allies are advancing toward the full recapture of the city of Palmyra “amid massive retreat of ISIS militants.” Some other reports say that ISIS is not retreating but fighting to the death in the various hills on the approach to the city.  ISIS has sent VBIEDs at the entrance to the hotels compound southwest of Palmyra.

_ On Friday, Syrian forces captured the citadel of Palmyra which is Palmyra’s main Islamic-era monument and overlooks the main city. (The citadel is also referred to as the castle.)

_ What is left of Palmyra (Tadmur)? The Syrian government says that monuments will be rebuilt.

Midair Confrontation Between Russia, Israel and Jordan

_ King Abdullah of Jordan told members of US Congress on January 11 that he had told the Russians “one bullet across the agreed border in the south, all gloves are off” after a midair confrontation when Russian planes “were on a mission to survey Israeli defences on the Syrian border.” Abdullah also said he wanted to wipe out al Nusra and he accused Israel of looking the other way with al Nusra because they were enemies of Hezbollah.

_ Abdullah said he believed Russia’s motivations in Syria were related to national defense because “whatever problems terrorism posed in Europe, it was 10 times worse for Russia because of the number of Russian and former Soviet country nationals fighting in Syria.” He said Putin wanted to preserve the naval base and Assad but had no strategy to retake Raqqa.


_ US anti-ISIS coalition reported an airstrike near Manbij in Aleppo province in Syria. Strikes in northern Syria are reported frequently now.



Mission Creep in the Middle East

_ Trevor Timm believes that with this latest admission of more troops deployed to Iraq War 3.0, “More troops in Iraq will sow the exact same chaos as America’s Libya folly” and that “the US is will be dragged into another ground war in the Middle East despite the administration’s insistence that it does not want to get caught up in one.” Timm cites the expansion of ISIS in Libya, different groups “vying for power” and the failed state where no government can rule. “But the fact remains: our military interventions have created the generation of terrorists that fight us now.” Timm wants to know when the cycle will stop.


_ Pentagon Press Secretary, Peter Cook on March 22: “Early this morning the U.S. military conducted an airstrike against an al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula training camp in Yemen. The camp was located in the mountains, and was being used by more than 70 AQAP terrorists. We continue to assess the results of the operation, but our initial assessment is that dozens of AQAP fighters have been removed from the battlefield.”  Local medics and officials said they were standing in line for a dinner meal. No information on civilian deaths has been reported.  BBC reports it was “a former military base about 75km (47 miles) west of Mukalla, which AQAP seized along with most of the surrounding province of Hadramawt last year.”

_ Another report, this time from UN envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, that “Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed government forces have agreed to a ‘cessation of hostilities‘” beginning on April 10. Talks are scheduled to begin April 18.

US Military

_ Raytheon won a contract for a CHAMP missile, “a counter electronics, high-powered microwave weapon to be carried on cruise missiles.” These missiles can “disable adversaries’ electronic systems” and “defeat enemy infrastructure with little collateral damage.”

Turkey Exporting Terrorists to Europe

_ The King of Jordan told members of US Congress in January that Turkey was exporting terrorists to Europe.“The fact that terrorists are going to Europe is part of Turkish policy and Turkey keeps on getting a slap on the hand, but they are let off the hook.” The debriefing with members of Congress happened after Pres. Obama canceled a meeting with Abdullah.

Obama Says He Failed to Get Two-State Solution in Israel-Palestine

_ While talking to students in Buenos Aires, President Obama talked about Israel and Palestine:

“This is not something I was able to get done […] I am not that hopeful that it’s going to happen in the next nine months. It’s been 60 years; it’s not going to happen in the next nine months.”

“If you want to preserve it [Israel] as a predominately Jewish state and a democracy, then you have to give Palestinian people and the Arab people who are living in that community, their own state in order to have self-determination and I hope that that happens and even once I am no longer president I will continue to try to promote that peaceful dialogue […] ”

“There’s been talk about a one-state solution or sort of a divided government. It’s hard for me to envision that being stable, there’s such deep distrust between the two peoples right now […] And the neighborhood is in such a mess that I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way. Now, over time that could evolve.”


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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.