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First US Fighter Jets in Eastern Mediterranean Since 2003; Largest Ever NATO Exercise in Poland

Next Cold War Roundup 6/7/16

US Navy fighters are bombing ISIS in Syria via the USS Truman, which has moved to the Mediterranean—the first strikes from the Mediterranean since 2003. NATO is conducting the largest military exercise in Eastern Europe since the Cold War, and the largest ever in Poland. The apparent Race for Raqqa continues as US-backed forces are entering Manbij and Syrian coalition forces enter Raqqah province and advance toward Tabqa air base. The Russian air force has stepped up airstrikes and their overall involvement in Syria again, saying US did not hold up their end of the bargain in separating rebels from al Qaeda and as fighting escalates in Idlib and Aleppo. At the Shangri-La Dialogue, a Chinese admiral said: “We do not make trouble but we have no fear of trouble.”

The Race for Raqqa, Manbij and Tabqa Air Base

_ The US-backed SDF  “are now advancing on Manbij, 72 miles to the north-west of Raqqa.”(Videos: 1, 2, 3). The Pentagon reports on the operations in Fallujah, Iraq and Manbij, Syria as part of a synchronized effort. On Wednesday Reuters reported that “U.S.-backed alliance of fighters in Syria is ready to enter the Islamic State-held city of Manbij at will but is being cautious due to the presence of civilians there.” ISIS is pulling out of Azazz as the SDF enters Manbij.

_ Syrian coalition forces “backed by Iranian, Lebanese and Russian firepower” are advancing on Raqqa from the south and on Sunday were within 25 miles of the strategic Tabqa air base. “It is unclear whether the twin offensives were coordinated.” (Videos: 1) On Tuesday there are continued reports of progress toward the Tabqa air base though the next target of the Syrian coalition is still unclear.

_ From MoonofAlabama: “The current renewed Syrian Arab Army attack towards Raqqa is being obstructed not only by sandstorms but also by a timely attack of al-Qaeda, Ahrar al Sham and Turkestan Islamist Party forces against government positions in the south Aleppo countryside […] It seems obvious that these moves U.S. supported forces are planned to prevent any gains of the Syrian government in the east.” MofA notes the same thing happened in April when the Syrian coalition was making progress toward the east.  They don’t have enough ground forces to fight on two major fronts.

Aleppo and Idlib

_ “Kurdish militias have retreated from a strategic neighborhood in the Syrian city of Aleppo after Al Nusra and Ahram al-Sham militants launched a heavy offensive across the embattled city. [Video]”

_ “Russia’s Defence Ministry releases drone footage showing alleged convoy of military reinforcements heading from Turkey towards militant positions in Syria’s Idlib and Aleppo provinces.”

_ There have been many speculations that the US/Gulf states coalition wants to draw Russia further into Syria as a trap. Russian airstrikes have tripled in recent days and other resources deployed quietly.  At SST, they believe that Russia could overrun al Nusra and ISIS in a matter of months with the “addition of two divisions of Russian troops” and generally a “beefed up Russian deployment” but they also believe Russia is playing a longer and broader game that involves “holding back for larger strategic reasons that go beyond Syria or the Middle East.

US and Russian Airstrikes on ISIS Oil

_ US airstrikes have devastated an oil market in northern Mosul and Russian airstrikes destroyed dozens of tankers near Raqqa.

US Navy Fighter Jets Launched From Carrier In Eastern Med for First Time Since 2003

_ “Over the weekend two waves of U.S. navy fighter jets were launched from the USS Truman for raids on Islamic State group positions in Raqqa — the first launched from an aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean since 2003, according to U.S. defense officials.”

_ The USS Harry S. Truman left the Persian Gulf last week and moved to the Eastern Med “where a new dramatic tempo has been set. Planes take off or land every few minutes, with only intermittent breaks, pushing others responsible for bomb supplies to work night and day to keep up with the new pace.” CNN reports that the Truman has “flown more than 1,800 sorties and dropped around 1,500 pieces of ordnance weighing some 1.5 million pounds on ISIS targets.” Each bombing mission usually starts with the takeoff of several tankers, then the F-18 Hornets loaded with bombs. The missions often take seven hours and require up to three refuelings in the air. The most commonly used ordnance is the “500-pound guided bomb called the GBU-28.” Sailors said they also load some air-to-air missiles on the fighter jets but mostly air-to-ground are used.

_ The USS Truman’s deployment has been extended by a month and they plan to be in the Med for several more weeks. Adm. John Richardson said “this unusual arrangement is a demonstration of the flexibility of naval power” and a demonstration that “the U.S. Navy can conduct flight operations (against ISIS) from other locations, not just the (Persian) Gulf.” The fighters flew over Turkey for the missions in Syria and said they “did not alert Russian or Syrian officials before conducting the strike operations against the Islamic State.”

_ A US official told BBC they flew over Turkey “to minimize exposure to Russian air defenses.” The Same BBC journalist said it’s “safe to say that US aircrafts hitting IS in support of SDF in Raqqa province fly well within range of Russian S400 air defence system.”

_ The USS Truman recently “had been supporting a limited U.S. intervention in Yemen.”

USS Eisenhower Deployed to Middle East

_ The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is now underway in the Atlantic.  After months of maintenance and certifying operations the carrier is deploying to the Middle East. They were scheduled to deploy last year but because of problems and delays the USS Truman went instead.  The Eisenhower and the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 10 with 7,000 sailors left Norfolk on June 1 to relieve the Truman.  CSG 10 includes the carrier plus “nine squadrons of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 26 staff, the guided missile cruisers USS San Jacinto (CG 56) and USS Monterey (CG 61), and the guided-missile destroyers USS Stout (DDG 55), USS Roosevelt (DDG 80), USS Mason (DDG 87) and USS Nitze (DDG 94).”

_ Washington Post says that the Eisenhower will replace the Truman in the Eastern Mediterranean but will “also likely transit back into the Persian Gulf.”

_ A BBC Arabic journalist says the Eisenhower will be “joined by Russian carrier Adm Kuznetsov next month.

Largest Ever NATO Military Exercises in Poland, NATO Intelligence Post

_ Anaconda-16 exercise during a ceremony in Warsaw. The exercise will involve “some 31,000 troops from Poland, the U.S. and 17 other NATO member nations […] Some 12,000 of the troops are from Poland, almost 14,000 from the U.S. and some 1,000 from Britain” plus “thousands of vehicles from 24 countries.” AP describes the 10-day exercise as the largest ever in Poland and the Guardian describes it as the “largest war game in eastern Europe since the end of the cold war.” The Anaconda-16 exercises will include training for responses to “military, chemical and cyber threats.”

_ A defense attache  at the EU embassy in Poland talked about the potential for a “nightmare scenario” and risk of “a mishap, a miscalculation which the Russians construe, or choose to construe, as an offensive action”.

_ This new intelligence post is being proposed “in a bid to improve how Europe and America share sensitive information on terrorism and other threats” as a result of the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels. The new intelligence unit is supposed to speed up decision making. And historian and modern global security expert notes that NATO could have developed this capacity long ago but the allies decided against it. NATO uses the intelligence of its member countries.

Moscow Says US Asks Russia Not to Bomb al Qaeda

US still can’t get “moderate” Syrian rebels to detach from al Qaeda.  This has been a bone of contention between the US and Russia for months. Moscow claimed that during the initial ceasefire negotiations that John Kerry tried to include al Qaeda in the ceasefire. Part of the agreement between them is that the US will convince US-backed rebels to move far enough away from al Nusra (al Qaeda) that the Syrian coalition can engage with them since they are not part of the ceasefire.  Russian FM Lavrov claims that in Friday’s telephone call with John Kerry, Kerry again asked Russia not to bomb al Qaeda.  State Dept. spokesman says that Kerry asked Lavrov to carefully distinguish between the rebels and al Qaeda.  It’s surprising to see this AP story published by ABC.

Arab Battalion Leader of Syrian Democratic Forces KIA

_ Abu Leyla (Abu Layla), the Syrian Kurdish leader of the Northern Sun Battalion (Shams al-Shemal, Shams al-Shamal) was killed by an ISIS sniper near Manbij.  Northern Sun Battalion is the Arab battalion fighting alongside Syrian Kurds (YPG) as part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).  This is a significant loss and Leyla is mourned by both Arabs and Kurds.  The Arab battalion is critical to operations where Americans and Kurds are fighting in and reclaiming Arab territories. Initial reports said he was wounded by an ISIS rocket and later reports said he took an ISIS sniper shot to the head.

Turkey’s Automatic Shooting Towers

Turkey has begun building “smart military towers” every 300 meters along its border. The towers will have “a 3-language alarm system and automated firing systems.” The towers have “machine guns, thermal cameras, and alert systems” that detect “any element” within 300 meters.  A warning comes over the loudspeaker and if the “element’ doesn’t move away the tower will begin shooting at it.  Turkey has also “sealed hundreds of kilometers of the border, either with concrete blocks or wire fencing.”

Saudis Were Added Then Removed from UN Blacklist

_ “The United Nations on Monday said it would temporarily remove the Saudi-led coalition from a blacklist over the deaths of hundreds of children in Yemen.”

Saudi Defense Minister Visit to Washington

_ Prince Reckless is coming to Washington June 14-16 to talk about Syria, Yemen and “expanding the Saudi private sector.” In addition to a “sweeping overhaul” to their economy, social reforms are proposed including “proposals for social transformation that extend to ways of tackling domestic violence, increasing city park space and reducing road deaths.”

Shangri-La Dialogue, Economic Summit With China

_ Sec. of Defense and two admirals gave a press conference at the Shangri-La Dialogue (International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia Security Summit) (Video) following a speech given by Carter, “The Asia-Pacific’s Principled Security Network” (Transcript). A dual approach was presented, “cooperate where we can, confront where we must.” Carter said that the “United States and many others in the Asia-Pacific are working together to build a principled security network to ensure that everyone and every nation can continue to rise and prosper.”

_ The Shangri-La Dialogue was followed by an economic summit, the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SED).  US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew gave a speech in Beijing ahead of that summit on Sunday about how China must reduce its excess industrial capacity and the “US Commerce Department has imposed anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on a wide range of Chinese steel products.”

_ At the Shangri-La Dialogue, Chinese Admiral Sun Jian-guo  “reiterated that China will not accept arbitration on a South China Sea territorial dispute with the Philippines, out of respect for international law” and ” also urged countries outside the region not to interfere in South China Sea matters, nor disrupt attempts at dialogue.” He said (transcribed from video):

“We have also noticed some countries employ the international law only where it is convenient and ignore when it’s not. On the one hand, they implement the so called freedom of navigation program by openly showing military muscles in the South China Sea. On the other hand, they support allies confronting China, forcing China to accept and honor the arbitration award. China firmly opposes such behavior.”

“We do not make trouble but we have no fear of trouble. China will not bear with the arbitration award nor will it allow any infringements on its sovereignty and security interests or stay indifferent to the irresponsible behavior of some countries in and around the South China Sea.”

“I want to repeat what I said at this forum last year. China’s people and the Chinese military always believe in truth rather than heresy and truth rather than force. I reiterate that our policy on the South China Sea remains unchanged. China has the wisdom and patience to resolve the disputes through peaceful negotiations. We also believe that other countries concerned have the same wisdom and patience to walk on a path of peace along with China. Any countries not directly concerned are not allowed to sabotage our path of peace for selfish gains.”

_ At another recent speech, the Naval Academy commencement speech, Carter said China was creating a “Great Wall of self-isolation.” China’s foreign ministry spokeperson, Hua Chunying, accused Carter of operating with a Cold War mindset. “Some American media have criticized Carter by saying he can turn white into black. Hua says this latest speech reflects the typical American mindset and hegemony of Carter’s China-related comments.”

Ukraine’s Savchenko Returns to Neo-Nazi Battalions, Explosives Seized at Border

_ “Newly freed Savchenko meets nationalist Yarosh in E. Ukraine & ‘tested experimental weapons‘” though it looks like their western sponsors have given them new uniforms and convinced them to stop wearing or displaying Nazi symbols in photos.

_ A French citizen was detained on May 21 at the Ukraine-Poland border with “100 kg of explosives, fuses, three grenade launchers and several Kalashnikov assault rifles” and was trying to smuggle the arsenal to France. Officials suspect an intention to use them for a terrorist attack at Euro2016, a European soccer tournament. Ukraine has become a “burgeoning black market for weapons” as “small arms, grenade launchers, explosives and other heavy weapons are being stolen from the battle zone and are flooding the rest of the country.”

Tony Blair Lashes Out in Preparation for Chilcot Report

_ Tony Blair lashed out at Jeremy Corbyn because he opposed the Iraq war and said there should be accountabilty for war crimes exposed by the Chilcot Report. In Blair’s view Corbyn should also be intervening in Syria (though it is unclear how Corbyn would do that since he is not prime minister). Blair also says he is “bewildered” by the “revolutionary phenomenon” of social media, which is “creating these waves of sentiment and emotion”. The Chilcot Report will be released in July.

Blair: “I’m accused of being a war criminal […] and yet Jeremy is seen as a progressive icon as we stand by and watch the people of Syria barrel-bombed, beaten and starved into submission and do nothing,”

Analysis & Opinion

_ Pepe Escobar gives an informative explanation of the main insurgent factions and groups in Afghanistan, the “New Opium War”. He believes that no matter how many drone strikes are done, this insurgency won’t be put down by the West and the “Taliban riddle” will only be solved by joint Russian-Chinese leadership and their budding military alliance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Escobar also has analysis on the “Road to Raqqa.”

_ Peter Lee at Asia Times “Ash Carter’s Blissful Bubble of Oblivion.”

_ Gilbert Doctorow writes about Poland’s wave of Cold War II repression

_ Robert Parry on who presents the bigger risk of nuclear war, Trump or Clinton.

_ Robert Parry on the US professed strategy in Libya, using the metaphor of water droplets, digging channels and chaos theory, and the reality of the situation, US and allies using coercion to pick winners and losers and force outcomes (which renders the metaphor to be false at best, more like ridiculous euphemism.)

_ John Legend reading Muhummad Ali’s 1966 speech:

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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.