Next Cold War Roundup 5/24/16
Coordinated terrorist bombings in coastal Syria killed more than 150 civilians and significantly disturbed the situation in the country. The ceasefire is in danger as fighting continues in the areas of Aleppo, Damascus, and southern Syria, with both sides blaming the other for the degradation of the situation. The Iraqi forces coalition began a major operation to retake Fallujah. Syrian Democratic Forces and US anti-ISIS forces began an effort to retake northern Raqqa. The Russian Foreign Minister says the US and Russia have agreed to coordinate their anti-terrorism operations, not just via communication but via military cooperation. The Syrian coalition may be weakening or reshaping. Kurds want a seat at the table in Geneva.
_On Sunday night, Iraqi PM Abadi announced the beginning of an offensive to retake Fallujah from ISIS, who has controlled the city for two years and has been under siege by “the Iraqi army, local militias, and police – all supported by US-led coalition airstrikes.” 75,000 civilians remained and “were facing dire shortages of food and medicine.”
_ Video was released late Sunday of large-scale military operations and heavy attacks and bombing in Fallujah, through green night vision lenses, reminiscent of the beginning of the Iraq invasion in 2003.
— Iraq Live Update (@IraqLiveUpdate) May 23, 2016
_ A research director and assoc. fellow at Chatham House, Hayder al-Khoei, says some Qatar-owned media Al Jazeera journalists “are shedding tears over Iraqi Army operation to liberate Fallujah. Much more upset than when ISIS occupied city.” He says that Sunni and Shia fources are working together on this operation. “Iraqi Army, Special Forces & 5000 Anbar PMF (Sunnis) involved in Fallujah op. Shia PMF on outskirts of city.” Khoei says what ISIS fears most and tried to destroy is Iraqis praying and fighting together, regardless of sect and that ISIS brutality “created cross-sectarian alliances that will be hard to reverse.” He advises that “understanding internal dynamics within sects/ethnicities is more important than understanding the difference between Sunni & Shia” and cites an article by Robert Tollast about the Iraqi militias (aka Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), aka Hashd al-Shaabi) and how ISIS has united Iraqis.
_ “On Tuesday, the Norwegian Refugee Council Iraq Director, Nasr Muflahi, said there was no sign yet that trapped families were able to flee, warning that they ‘now risk being caught in the crossfire.'”
Latakia: Major Terror Attacks on Civilians, New Offensive by Opposition
_ On Monday, seven different bombs, “most of them suicide attacks,” (4 car bombs and 3 people with suicide belts) killed about 150 people and seriously injured hundreds in the coastal cities of Jabla (Jableh) and Tartus (Tartous) in the province of Latakia, areas that have been relatively calm compared to other parts of Syria. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks via their media organization “Al-Amaq”.
_ Jaysh al-Fatah, an alliance of Syrian rebels which includes Ahrar al-Sham, praised the attacks and said there will be worse to come. A Brookings fellow generally sympathetic to the Syrian rebels. finds the ISIS claim of responsibility to be “unusual” in its wording and perhaps suspect. Initially, the Syrian state media reported that Ahrar al-Sham was responsible for the attacks. Syrian officials did capture one of the suicide bombers, reportedly (by Lebanese media) a member of Ahrar al-Sham. Independent journalist Hala Jaber reports that the majority of the victims in Jabla are internally displaced refugees, and Sunni. Many have mentioned how extremely difficult it would be for ISIS to carry out an attack in this area.
_ This is being reported as an ISIS attack but on social media there is discussion and speculation among analysts about whether the attacks will cause an end to the ceasefire, whether the Syrian coalition believes the “rebels” were responsible and whether an escalation will result. Al Masdar editor reports that the Russian air force will begin operations again in 24 hours.
Syrian Govt. Says Ahrar al-Sham Did Attacks, Calls Out Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and UN Security Council
_ Syrian foreign ministry sent a letter to the UN Security Council saying that the “rebel” group Ahrar al-Sham claimed responsibility for the attacks. The targets in Tartous were a bus station and a residential neighborhood. The targets in Jableh were a bus station, the “Electricity Directorate” and the entrance to Jableh National Hospital. The letter said “most of the victims are women and children, and that the attacks also caused massive damage to properties, infrastructure, and nearby houses.” The Syrian government claims that these bombings “constitute a serious escalation by the extremist and malicious regimes of Riyadh, Ankara, and Doha, and that they seek to undermine the efforts that aim at stopping the shedding of Syrian blood, and they also seek to derail the Geneva talks.”
Russia Calls For “Regime of Calm” in Damascus Suburbs
_ Russia called for a temporary truce in two towns in Damascus suburbs where observers said “al-Nusra Front was preparing an advance on the region.” US Sec. State Kerry contacted Russian FM Lavrov urging him to pressure the Syrian coalition to “halt its attacks on Aleppo in the north and Daraya near Damascus.”
Aleppo, Syrian Coalition Weakening?
_ “The rebel part of Aleppo city, controlled by al-Qaeda, is now cut off from its only supply line. Improvised rockets from the rebel side are daily hitting civilians in the densely populated government held side.” This quote is part of a good situation report from Moon of Alabama.
_ In their May 23rd review, SouthFront reports significant setbacks for the Syrian coalition in the Aleppo area at least in part due to differences between Iran and Russia, and the number of available troops vs. the number of active fronts. Turcopolier interprets this Southfront report as an indication that the Syrian coalition might be collapsing, not at the military level but at a leadership level. We reported on this in detail here on May 10. The Russian Ministry of Defense reported some 6,000 rebel fighters “preparing for a major offensive in Syria’s Aleppo province.”
_ Is the Syrian coalition really weakening or are there realignments? Moon of Alabama and Elijah Magnier’s recent reporting indicate “new, deeper level of Russian and U.S. cooperation of Syria and on fighting al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.” TASS reports statements from FM Lavrov that “Russia and the United States have agreed to switch over from information exchange to coordination of their anti-terrorism efforts.”
_ In southern Syria, Al Masdar has field reports about a regrouping of ISIS.
Race to Raqqa
_ A Kurdish journalist reports “major operation against ISIS in Raqqa started this morning by SDF forces on the ground, US-led coalition by airstrikes.” This would seem to contradict earlier reports and speculation that the battle for Raqqa would follow the battle for Mosul. A geopolitical analyst claims that the operation to capture northern Raqqa “started from Ayn Issa with the support of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition” and lays the “groundwork for a future offensive on Raqqa city.”
_ A “commander with the Kurdish YPG militia, which is taking part in the operation, indicated that the operation launched on Tuesday was in fact the beginning of a larger move to reclaim all of the city.” Russian foreign minister Lavrov said Russia is “ready to coordinate with the U.S. and the Kurdish forces on the ground for the offensive on Raqqa.” Raqqa was the sixth-largest city in Syria and is considered Arab territory even though the SDF is primarily Kurdish.
ISIS Targeted CENTCOM General in Syria
_ The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Facebook that ISIS used two suicide vehicles at a checkpoint that was 2km away from the location where CENTCOM Gen. Votel was meeting with the Syrian Democratic forces (SDF) as they were “preparing for wide military operations under protection of the U.S led coalition to liberate Syria from the terrorism.” SOHR also reported that “SOHR activists were informed that the meeting between SDF and Joseph Votel came after several flights by helicopters around regime controlled areas in al-Hasakah, and the regime didn’t react at all.”
_ Turcopolier says this visit and reports of AWACS presence in the area (“a flying command post for air operations”) may be indicative of a “major effort” on the horizon.
Russia Denies ISIS Attack on T4 (Tiyas) Airbase in Syria
_ Stratfor released satellite imagery that supports ISIS claim that they destroyed Russian attack helicopters and fuel trucks at the T4 airbase near Palmyra, so the rumored mid-May attacks seem to be true. “The imagery strongly suggests that the explosions that destroyed approximately 20 vehicles and four Russian attack helicopters were not accidental but were related to Islamic State artillery fire. In addition, a Syrian MiG-25 aircraft that was likely already out of commission appears to have been damaged.” The BBC cites “news agency linked to IS” and says the destroyed trucks were loaded with missiles and ISIS released a photo of one of their fighters firing a Grad rocket at T4.
_ Russian Defense Ministry denied that these reports were true, said it’s ISIS propaganda, the damage in satellite photos are the result of shell explosions from “fierce fighting for this aerodrome between the Syrian government troops and militants of terrorist groupings”. Then they threw out an dig about the US side’s contribution toward fighting terrorism: “To put aside all the lyrics and speak directly, then, apparently, the spread of such information is ‘the fair share of contribution’ by our partners in the struggle against international terrorism.” No love lost there.
Ahrar al-Sham Jihadist Visited United States in December
_McClatchy reported that an Ahrar al-Sham leader, a group linked to al Qaeda, visited Washinton in December.
_ Ahrar al-Sham never agreed to the ceasefire in Syria but wants to be protected by it “while continuing its attack on Syrian government forces and civilians.” The US, Britain and France recently blocked a UN Security Council resolution aiming to add Ahrar to the list of blacklisted terrorist groups.
Demarcation Lines in Syria
_ Via Al Rai’s correspondent Elijah Magnier, an agreement is in the works for demarcation lines in Syria, similar to Lebanon in the 1980’s.
Free Syrian Army and Syrian Kurds, Both US Allies/Proxies, a War Within a War
_ Over the past months there were “claims that the YPG had killed some 50 FSA members in fighting over the village of Ayn-Dakna” and over the weekend “a former FSA officer, who the FSA now insists was ‘fired,’ attacked and killed a pair of Kurdish fighters in what he said was a revenge attack for the village incident.”
_ A Syrian journalist and think tank fellow said that Amnesty Intl. reports on this fighting are indicative of “secondary conflict brewing between Arabs and Kurds from Hasakah to Qamashli to Aleppo, which could easily spin out of control and add to the many conflicts that already plague the country.”
Syrian Kurds Finalizing Plans for Autonomous Rojava
_ The Syrian Kurds are finalizing plans for an autonomous region in a federated Syria. They were left out of the Geneva talks because of the objections by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, so they continued to work on Rojava outside of the UN system that they were excluded from. As they opened their fourth office overseas in Paris (others in Moscow, Berlin and Stockholm) one member of their political party PYD said “The problem is not the fall of Assad or people that are ruling, but changing (the) system.” She called out the western backed rebels. “It’s not matter of fighting Assad or not. It’s how do you change the system from a dictatorship into a democratic system in Syria. Look at the other opposition, they called for the fall of Assad, but they have gained nothing but killing and many refugees.” The French foreign ministry said they will not recognize the office that the Kurds just opened in Paris.
_ The Syrian Kurds welcome US military support but want to have more of a say in the political process and negotiations. They want a seat at the table in Geneva.
Obama in Vietnam
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) May 23, 2016
Pentagon is Preparing for a Tank War With Russia
_ Phil Giraldi, on the Scott Horton Show on KPFK on Sunday, said a significant number of generals in the Pentagon are serious about this and “they’re nuts”: “How the Pentagon is Preparing for a Tank War With Russia.”
_ I think it’s more nuanced than this, maybe not just “nuts” and involves a battle between the (declining in overall power) conventional forces in the American military and the modern (and smaller) special operations forces, cyber war and in general the force being created to deal with modern, high tech “hybrid war”. The transition from a conventional force to a modern force is rocky and means a loss of both political power and revenue for some. I think it also has something to do with the spectacular failure of the “War on Terror” for the past 15 years.
_ An article in the German magazine, Stern, lobbies for lifting the sanctions “at least partially” on Russia because cooperation with Moscow is beneficial to Germany and Europe, and the West needs Russia to help fight Daesh and stop the flow of refugees, and Putin is a more “predictable, sociable and right-minded” than Erdogan.
Pushing Russia Toward War
_ Alastair Crooke, a former British diplomat and senior British intelligence official, says that a hardly noticed event in late April signals that Russian hardliners have been empowered by NATO’s recent provocation and economic sanctions. Putin is under pressure to reduce the influence of the faction in the Russian government which is more sympathetic to the West and increase the influence of the nationalist hawks.
_ The top Russian prosecutor, General Alexander Bastrykin, published a manifesto saying that “the West is preparing for war against Russia and that Russia’s leadership does not appear to be aware of or alert to the danger the country faces.” This sparked further public discussion with “three prominent members of the Russian elite charging, sometimes implicitly but also explicitly, that Putin has supported his ‘fifth column’ government headed by Prime Minister Dmitrii Medvedev.” The hardliners want Putin’s government and policies replaced (but not Putin himself).
_ Russian pro-western opposition interpreted the “manifesto” as a sign that the Russian government is wobbling and isolating and complained that “draconian” measures were proposed and the liberal opposition was being demonized.
_ The nationalist hawk faction “wants to see an immediate mobilization of the military and the economy for war, conventional or hybrid. This is not about wanting Putin ousted; it is about pushing him to wield the knife — and to cut deeply.” They want to take a tougher stance on Ukraine and Syria, where they don’t trust the US-Russia deal and think the US is trying to “ensnare” Putin, partly because the US reneged on an important agreement. Stephen Cohen mentions in his weekly radio show interview last week that the Ukraine rebels in Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) want to control more territory in eastern Ukraine and the Putin has prevented it but the hardliners agree with the rebels.
_ Crooke believes the Russians are likely to misread events as “offensive and aggressive” and the ‘ground is already laid’ for escalation.
Taliban Leader Killed in Pakistan
_ On Saturday, US Special Operations Forces (JSOC) killed a Taliban leader, Mullah Mansour, “the one-eyed, secretive head of the Taliban”, successor of Mullah Omar, near the Afghan-Pakistani border in Baluchistan, via drone strike. “One lawmaker said Mansour’s death, if confirmed, would be a significant blow to the Taliban, though not enough to allow the U.S. to disengage from a conflict that has involved thousands of U.S. troops for nearly 15 years.”
_ AFP reported that the US did not get permission from Pakistan before carrying out the drone strike on Mullah Mansour but notified Pakistan afterward. This might be true or might be cover for the Pakistani government. “Mansour is considered close to Pakistani authorities” and allegedly “lived under Pakistani protection until his death.” Carrying out a strike in Baluchistan “reverses 15 years of US policy.” CFR’s Micah Zenko notes that the US military has only acknowledged a handful of drone strikes in Pakistan, that this one wasn’t covert CIA strike, and opines “of course Pakistan knew ahead of time.”
_ Pentagon spokesman said Mansour was “an obstacle to peace” and “another step to make our troops safer in Afghanistan.” An Afghani-born LA Times reporter asks: “What about the Afghan people?” A former BBC correspondent and Afghan expert says it’s hard to see how they will make a deal now with the “fractured movement” and says “this strengthens Pakistan-backed Haqqani wing“. Sec. State Kerry said Mansour was not helping the peace process, and posed a “continuing imminent threat” to US personnel in Afghanistan and said: “This action sends a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners as they work to build a more stable, united, secure and prosperous Afghanistan […] Peace is what we want.”
_ Pakistani media denied the death of the Taliban leader, saying a taxi driver and passenger were hit by the strike. The Taliban also reportedly denied it.
Iran, Afghanistan and India
_ Iran, Afghanistan and India signed a transit accord. The Chabahar “port would open a transit route to Afghanistan and Central Asia for Indian goods and products, avoiding the land route through Pakistan.” An Iran newspaper said India “wants to challenge China’s power in central and South Asia through Chabahar port” which refers to China’s deal with Pakistan and the port of Gwadar. India’s transport minister said the Chabahar deal would increase India’s trade with “Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asian nations and Russia” and “quick movement of goods first to Iran and then onwards to Afghanistan and Russia through a new rail and road link.”
Tony Blair, the Chilcot Report and War Crimes
_ Last year when asked if former Labour PM should be tried for war crimes, current Labor leader Corbyn said: “If he’s committed a war crime, yes. Everyone who’s committed a war crime should be […] Is he going to be tried for it, I don’t know. Could he be tried for it? Possibly.” The Chilcot Report will be finally released after six years. “The report will deliver an ‘absolutely brutal’ verdict on the former Labour prime minister, ex-foreign secretary Jack Straw and the former MI6 boss Sir Richard Dearlove, according to a former government minister quoted in the Sunday Times.”
A Labour spokesperson confirmed that Corbyn stands by his previous remarks.
ISIS in Kosovo
_ The New York Times claims that Saudi and others’ money “have transformed a
once-tolerant Muslim society into a font of extremism” and a “pipeline for jihadists” and all of it happened “under the watch of American officials.” A senior fellow at CATO Institute says that during Bill Clinton’s presidency and with Hillary’s staunch support “the US blew up Serbia and created an independent Kosovo” and created “another disaster.”
_ Consortium News has published many articles on Kosovo since the NATO intervention in 1999. Jonathan Marshall says the current chaos there is no surprise, and it undercuts Clinton “‘success'”. Marshall also marks Kosovo was when the “marriage of liberal and neoconservative interventionists” occurred and cites a scholar who said the campaign was the “most important precedent supporting the legitimacy of unilateral humanitarian intervention.” Marshall says Kosovo has become a model for military intervention and regime change by the West.
Consortium News: “The rump state was created by a violent secessionist movement led by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). That guerrilla band of Albanian nationalists wascovertly backed by the German secret service to weaken Serbia. Its terrorist attacks on Serbian villages and government personnel in the mid-1990s prompted a brutal military crackdown by Serbia, followed by NATO’s decisive intervention in 1999.”
Analysis and Opinion Articles
_ David Petraeus op-ed: “Anti-Muslim bigotry aids Islamist terrorists“