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Rival Libyan Armies Prepare for Sirte Battle, Pentagon Reveals US Troop Deployment

Next Cold War Roundup 5/13/16

The Obama administration and the Pentagon revealed that US special operations forces have been deployed in Libyan “outposts” for months along with other western forces. Multiple armies are preparing for an attack on ISIS (and possibly each other) in Sirte. There were multiple devastating ISIS suicide attacks in Baghdad this week. A top Hezbollah commander was assassinated by a missile or airstrike in Damascus, possibly by Israel and despite Russian missile defense systems deployed in the area. ISIS and al Qaeda captured territory in Aleppo and Homs. Amnesty International investigates possible war crimes by Syrian rebels in Aleppo. UN Security Council permanent members US, Britain and France prevented al Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebel groups from being blacklisted.

US Troops “Stationed” in Libya, Multiple Armies Preparing for Sirte Battle

_ The Obama administration, via favored mouthpieces the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, via official but anonymous sources, broke the news to the American public that we have troops in Libya and we have established bases (referred to in euphemistic terms like “outposts” rather than bases and “stationed” rather than “deployed”). “American Special Operations troops have been stationed at two outposts in eastern and western Libya since late 2015, tasked with lining up local partners in advance of a possible offensive against the Islamic State, U.S. officials said.” The stated goal is “to bring Libya’s feuding factions together behind a fragile new unity government” but they also say the troops are “assessing security conditions so that, if a broader mission takes place, the United States can move in additional personnel more safely” and to ” avoid Libya becoming like Syria.” US special operators are working in “parallel” with similar elite forces from other western countries. Although the Washington Post says this has not been reported before, it has been reported in other outlets for a number of months.

_ The Washington Post(WaPo) reported that there are three different forces preparing to advance on ISIS-held Sirte: Militias from Misrata as part of a unity govt. command center, Gen. Hifter’s army (does not recognize unity govt.) and the man who was the prime minister of the western part of Libya in Tripoli before the UN-appointed unity government moved in. WaPo reports via anonymous American officials that they are not happy about US allies supporting Hiftar’s army, including France and Egypt.

_ The Wall Street Journal article is commentary from Carnegie’s Fredereic Wehrey, giving more detail about rival factions and the three factional command centers preparing for the Sirte battle. “In some cases, the West may find them unsavory partners: traffickers, hard-line Salafists, tribal supremacists, military officers with authoritarian and anti-Islamist leanings.” Wehrey said the Misrata brigades are relatively weak and advises the US to only proceed if the three command centers are working in coordination. Wehrey describes the “politicization of the anti-ISIS struggle,” that factions get resources and arms in the name of fighting ISIS when they are really most interested in fighting their local rivals, and the risk of empowering factions that may not agree to disarm and support the unity government after the battle is over (as happened with the 2011 NATO regime change operation.)

_ Reuters reports that the Misrata brigades, the fighting force for the unity government (previously supported the govt. in Tripoli) are preparing to attack Sirte whether they have “international logistical support” or not. Brigadier General Mohamed al-Gasri said “Whether they’re going to support us or not, we will be there soon. We will not stand and watch.” The unity government had advised to wait for a coordinated command room with the Hifter army who are also preparing for Sirte “though past announcements have come to nothing.”

_ The Economist calls it the “scramble for Sirte”. “Each side sees the fight against IS as an opportunity to bolster its standing—at the other’s expense. They are both scrambling for Sirte and may soon take aim at each other, as well as the jihadists. The UN warns of civil war again.” The head of the unity government, Serraj, “has hunkered down at a naval base since arriving in Tripoli on March 30th” and his forces have lost territory “without much of a fight” to ISIS between Sirte and Misrata. Economist says Haftar (Hifter) is backed by Egypt and the UAE. The unity govt. controls the national oil company, the only one allowed to export Libya’s oil. Haftar set up a parallel structure in the east but was “turned back from Malta.” In retaliation he shut down exports in the port of Marsa el-Hariga,

ISIS Attacks in Baghdad

_ There were 3 separate bombing attacks in Baghdad on Wednesday morning. Four other suicide bombers detonated their explosives during a raid on an ISIS cell “in the area of Albu Khamis in northern Iraq.”

_ Pepe Escobar wonders where the “I am Sadr City” solidarity protest is (referring to the “Je Suis” campaigns related to previous ISIS attacks in Europe.)

Hezbollah Leader Killed by Strike in Damascus

_ Haaretz correspondent Jack Khoury reports that Israel may or may not be responsible for the missile strike near Damascus that killed a top leader of Hezbollah, Mustafa Amine Badreddine. Badreddine was an explosives expert, suspected of assassinating Lebanese prime minister Hariri in 2005 and allegedly involved in the Beirut bombing of US marines barracks in 1983, and was believed to be responsible for leading Hezbollah forces in the Syrian war. He was on a US terror blacklist. Khoury said that Israeli media initially claimed that Israel conducted the strike but later stopped reporting it as an Israeli strike.

_ According to Al Rai’s correspondent, Magnier and others, this is part of an ongoing battle between Israel and Hezbollah to kill each others’ leaders and is not covered under Russia’s air/missile defense deal with Syria. Russia allegedly has a separate deal with Israel where neither interferes with each others’ interests.

_ Al Masdar reports that “an Israeli jet hauled through the southern outskirts of Damascus and struck an Hezbollah unit near the Damascus International Airport.” Hezbollah said it was investigating “whether it was caused by an air strike, a missile attack or artillery bombardment. ”


_ Battle in the village of Khan Touman in the Aleppo province near the Aleppo-Damascus highway, resulted in high casualties among the Syrian coalition after they were ambushed by “Jaysh al Fath, a jihadist-led alliance of rebel groups.” Iranian officials “consider the assault ‘a major pre-planned violation’ of the ceasefire that would not be left unanswered.” Although Iranian officials haven’t publicly criticized Russia, Iranian media criticized Russian “indifference” and “inaction” for failing to provide air cover.

_ Al Qaeda seized an Alawite village in Homs, al-Zara, as part of an assault named “revenge for Aleppo.” State media reported civilians were killed and abducted. The Alawite minority ” have regularly been targeted by Islamist rebel groups over the course of the civil war,” and jihadist groups publicly threaten to ethnically cleanse Syria of this minority population.

_ Amnesty International says Syrian rebels may have committed war crimes in the Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood of Aleppo with “ indiscriminate attacks that have struck civilian homes, streets, markets and mosques, killing and injuring civilians and displaying a shameful disregard for human life.”

_ ISIS recaptured 2 villages in northern Aleppo near Azaz from the Free Syrian Army. “Recently, there has been an increase in military activity near the Turkish border-crossing, thanks in large part to the Turkish Army’s large presence along the Aleppo border.”

US, Britain, France and Ukraine Protect Al Qaeda Allied Syrian Rebel Groups in UN Security Council Resolution

_ From the start of the Geneva peace talks, the coalitions on opposing sides of the Syrian war have not been able to agree on which groups are terrorists. Russia brought a resolution to the United Nations Security Council requesting that extremist Salafists groups Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, the two main groups backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, be added to the “U.N. terror blacklist and sideline them from the Syrian peace process.” None of the diplomats in the AFP article would speak on the record but they defended their decision, saying the resolution would be counterproductive to the peace talks.

_ The Salafist/Islamist extremist group, Ahrar al-Sham is a Syrian “rebel” coalition backed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. It is designated as a terrorist organization in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Iran, Syria and Russia and it has been considered for terrorist designation in the US. It is headquartered in Aleppo and Idlib. Ahrar is the largest rebel group in Syria whose stated goal is to create an Islamic state under sharia law. Guido Steinberg of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs refers to Ahrar as the “Syrian Taliban.”

_ Jaish al-Islam (Jaysh al-Islam) is a coalition of Salafist and Islamist groups and is the largest rebel group operating in the Damascus area. Their stated goal is also an Islamic state under sharia law.

Brexit and the US-UK “Special Relationship”

_ “13 former US secretaries of state and defence and national security advisers” wrote a letter to the Times (London). They told Britain not to count on the “special relationship” with America if they choose to “Brexit” from the EU and it causes them to lose global influence. “Britain must not bank on its ‘special relationship’ with the United States to compensate for losing global influence by leaving the EU, foreign and defence chiefs from every White House administration over the past 40 years have warned.”

_ Five former secretaries general of NATO published a letter in the Telegraph warning that “Brexit would undoubtedly lead to a loss of British influence, undermine Nato and give succour to the West’s enemies just when we need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder across the Euro-Atlantic community against common threats, including those on our doorstep.”

9/11 Commission Member Says Report Did Not Exonerate Saudis

_ 9/11 Commission member and former Sec. of Navy John Lehman dissented from recent statements by commission chairs Kean and Hamilton and CIA director Brennan on Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks. “There was an awful lot of participation by Saudi individuals in supporting the hijackers, and some of those people worked in the Saudi government […] Our report should never have been read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia.” Lehman said “the commission had been aware of at least five Saudi government officials who were strongly suspected of involvement in the terrorists’ support network” and accused Kean and Hamilton of playing “a game of semantics” when they claimed that only one Saudi government employee was implicated. Lehman thinks the 28 pages of the Congressional Inquiry (different from the 9/11 Commission) should be made public.

South China Sea

_ “China scrambles fighter jets as U.S. destroyer steams past disputed island.” The USS William P. Lawrence, a guided missile destroyer, sailed within the 12 mile limit of the Fiery Cross Reef, one of the built-up islands China turned into a small military base with a runway, port and helipad.. China scrambled 3 fighter jets and 3 ships to monitor until the American ship left the area.

NATO Summit in Warsaw, Hagel’s Advice on Syria and Eastern Europe

_ July’s NATO summit in Warsaw “has been tabbed as a launching point for a new era for the military alliance.” Turkey wants NATO to deploy more assets to the Black Sea and wants Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia to join NATO soon.

_ Former Sec. Defense Hagel at an Atlantic Council event, says NATO should not go into Syria which still has a “hangover” from European colonization.

“I would be very careful to advise a president of the United States to get NATO actively involved in Syria […] I think we can help, we should help, and many of us are, in our own way. But that problem in the Middle East is so deep, so wide, so combustible, so rift with so many uncontrollable elements, that it ain’t gonna be solved by NATO […] I think the last thing we want to do is once again impose Western will, Western institutions […] I hope we learned a lesson in Iraq. It won’t work. It never has worked in history.”

_ Hagel, a combat veteran with experience at high levels of both the legislative and executive branches of government, also cautioned about mission creep and lack of strategic thinking in eastern Europe. He laid out the likely scenario of Russia’s response to the deployment of NATO troops on their borders, and the escalation that would follow.

“Then we continue to build up the eastern flank of NATO, with more battalions, more exercises, and more ships and more platforms, and the Russians will respond. I’m not sure where that takes you either […] I’m not sure there’s some real strategic thinking here […] It’s a reaction, it’s a tactical ricocheting from crisis-to-crisis, which I think has been much of what we think we have strategically in the Middle East, with [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] in particular. […] There’s always going to be increase [when you deploy troops].”

_ Journalist Seth Ferris says the Russian Boogeyman is NATO’s last chance to stay afloat. Ferris says NATO is “dying of pointlessness” and it is shifting attention to eastern Europe after “embarrassing failures in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.” The opinion piece refers to similar analysis offered by Russian studies scholar, Stephen Cohen in a recent radio interview on the Batchelor Show.

Russian Official Says New NATO Boss Worse Than Old NATO Boss

_ Russia considers NATO’s new Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti to be even worse in “aggravating the war hysteria against Russia” than his predecessor Gen. Philip Breedlove, according to the head of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Considering Breedlove’s reputation in Europe and Russia, that’s really saying something.

Foreign Policy Analysis and Predictions

_ Lobelog reports on an event on Monday, May 16 where a group of liberal interventionists and neoconservatives come together to present their report, “Extending American Power: Strategies to Expand U.S. Engagement in a Competitive World Order,” which Jim Lobe believes will provide a strong hint about Hillary Clinton’s “expansive” foreign policy, even though it’s unlikely that she will reveal this during her campaign. The people behind the report are also likely to serve in a Clinton administration, Lobe believes.

_ Pepe Escobar says that the “major strategic objective of our transatlantic alliance” that Clinton has ‘extolled throughout her campaign’ is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is a NATO-on-trade (which he thinks is “doomed”).

_ Pepe Escobar believes we are living in Cold War 2.0, a time of hybrid war, mainly initiated by “Washington” against the imperial “enemy”of an integrated Eurasia, China’s New Silk Road, BRICS, a Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, new development banks, a resurgent Iran and all “Non-Aligned Movement nations”.

“This is the ultimate, ongoing 21st confrontation that will keep generating multiple, localized hybrid warfare forms – as it takes place not only across Eurasia but across the whole Global South. It’s all interlocked – from Maidan to the secret TTIP negotiations; from provoking China in the South China Sea to an oil price war and an attack on the ruble; from the NSA spying on Petrobras feeding a slow motion, legalistic regime change process in Brazil to an EU ravaged by twin plagues; a refugee crisis ultimately provoked by NATO’s wars (and instrumentalized by Turkey) coupled with Salafi-jhadi terrorism also spawned by the same wars. “

_ Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in the American Interest blog in April about the end of American global dominance and how the United States must “take the lead in realigning the global power architecture.” Zbig believes that the US must partner ‘in varying degrees” with both Russia and China ” in dealing with the current Middle Eastern violence.” But he also says China should “become America’s principal partner in containing global chaos” and that their alliances with Central Asia and Iran should also be “targets of global Sino-American accommodation.” Russia should be convinced “that that its only place as an influential world power is ultimately within Europe” whereas China and the US would, in partnership, be global powers.

Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

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