Bombing Mission in Libya; Coup Plotters Called JCS Dunford; Incirlik Protests
Next Cold War Roundup 8/2/16
A new US airstrike mission was launched in Sirte, Libya. President Obama authorized a 30-day mission and the Pentagon spokesman said the mission had “no end date.” JCS chair Gen. Dunford traveled to Turkey for meetings. Tales of the Turkish coup attempt and its aftermath continue to be revealed. After an apparent foreign policy pivot, Turkey’s foreign minister called for a halt to all attacks on Aleppo. Last week, thousands of Turkish police surrounded Incirlik air base, where several anti-American protests occurred. Syrian coalition forces advance on the besieged rebel-held part of Aleppo. Syrian rebels downed a Russian helicopter and there are reports of chemical weapons attacks. Some US retired military brass are loudly endorsing and denouncing presidential candidates and others are lashing out against such political involvement. The Cold War and risk of hot war with Russia escalates.
US Warplanes “Pound” Libya. No End Date for New Libyan War.
_ On Monday morning, just a few days after Hillary Clinton’s nomination at the Democratic party’s national convention, news of airstrikes in Libya began to break: “U.S. jets pound ISIL in Libya.” Pentagon press release Aug. 1:
“Today, at the request of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), the United States military conducted precision air strikes against ISIL targets in Sirte, Libya, to support GNA-affiliated forces seeking to defeat ISIL in its primary stronghold in Libya. These strikes were authorized by the president following a recommendation from Secretary Carter and Chairman Dunford.”
_ Pentagon press secretary: “The U.S. stands with the international community in supporting the GNA as it strives to restore stability and security to Libya.” Just a month ago, news reports indicated that the US is fighting on two sides of the war in Libya, both on the side of the UN appointed “unity” government and on the side of Haftar in the eastern part of the country.
_ “The wider military and militia forces across Libya are still embroiled in local rivalry.” The BBC suggests that this bombing campaign will not create stability in Libya because the “unity” government doesn’t control the country. The “US, and other countries involved in Libya, will probably be left with more questions than answers over the stability of the country and the local forces they backed.” The Pentagon estimated that there are 1,000 ISIS militants in Sirte and 6,000 in all of Libya.
_ The bombing and escalation is happening “without Congressional authorization or even debate.” Pres. Obama can’t get another UN resolution because Russia and China, and perhaps others, would not agree to it. They believe they were deceived in 2011. The Pentagon press secretary said the new bombing campaign of Libya does not have “an end point.”
_ The new airstrikes are being carried out under AFRICOM. These “these strikes — like those in Iraq/Syria against ISIS — are supposedly legal under 2001 AUMF against Al Qaeda,” a 15-year old AUMF for a war in Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda.
_ Libya expert Mary Fitzgerald reports that these are the fourth acknowledged strikes in Libya during the past year. Previous strikes were against ISIS in Derna and Sabratha, plus al Qaeda in Ajdabiya.
_ On Tuesday, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis reported 5 “U.S. precision strikes yesterday” took out a tank and 2 military vehicles, and 2 strikes so far on Tuesday, citing specific items hit. Also on Tuesday, Fox News reported that Pres. Obama approved a “30-day airstrike mission in Libya.” Yesterday the Pentagon spokesman said the mission had no end date so today a different spokesman, Capt. Jeff Davis clarified: “This is a finite period of time and a very finite mission […] We don’t envision this as being something that’s going to be too long” in duration.” Pres. Obama said the mission was limited to Sirte but Davis said the military “reserved the right to conduct counterterrorism strikes elsewhere in the country as the U.S. military did in November and February. ”
_ The USS Wasp and the guided-missile destroyer USS Carney are off the coast of Libya. Yesterdays strikes were conducted by 3 Marine Harrier jets and 2 Reaper drones.
_ Southfront reports that the Syrian army is advancing on Aleppo with the support of Russian airstrikes. The city is encircled and under siege with reported civilian evacuations via humanitarian corridors created and announced by the Syrian command.
_ The Syrian government reported two chemical weapons attacks in Aleppo by opposition terrorist groups.
_ Syrian rebel group, White Helmets, reported a chlorine gas attack in Idlib, near the site of a downed Russian helicopter. A Russian spokesman said this claim was fabricated. CNN spoke with a doctor in the area who treated the injured victims.
_ Voice of America (VOA) reports, via “activists”, that Syrian rebels and civilians remaining in the eastern rebel-held part of Aleppo are determined “to resist the onslaught.” But some civilians told VOA that they want to flee but fear leaving through the humanitarian corridors. Interviews on Russian media show civilians who escaped claiming that the Syrian rebels are preventing them from leaving. Another video report shows aid delivery and humanitarian corridors, including one corridor for opposition fighters who are Syrian nationals, where they will be offered an amnesty deal.
Incirlik Air Base Surrounded
_ “Some 7,000 armed police in heavy vehicles surrounded the Incirlik air base” and blocked access to the base on Saturday. Hurriyet reported that security forces “had been tipped off about a new coup attempt.” Stars & Stripes reported that it was “in response to an anti-American protest, the second such rally in three days.” Local officials said it was a safety inspection. Turkish president Erdogan had lashed out at “Central Command’s Gen. Joseph Votel, whom he accused of siding with coup plotters,” and a protest on Thursday coincided with those comments. Tensions are high between Turkey and the United States and senior Turkish officials and pro-government media continue to accuse the US of involvement in the coup attempt.
_ Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, head of EUCOM and NATO supreme commander, said that rapprochement between Turkey and Russia could be a positive thing but he will be keeping an eye on Turkey’s adherence to their values of democracy and rule of law. Scaparrotti also said that “Russia is back” and it’s a “very serious adversary” to the US and NATO. Erdogan plans to travel to Moscow on Aug. 9 to meet with Russian Federation president Putin.
Turkish Foreign Policy Pivot Reversed?
_ On Monday, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu demanded that all attacks and airstrikes on Aleppo stop immediately. Southfront suggests that “the resetting of relations between Russia and Turkey has ended before it could properly begin.” The prime minister’s statement was made during the meeting with the head of the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC), Riad Hijab. The HNC represents the Syrian opposition at the Geneva negotiations. Retired Col. Pat Lang wonders what’s happening: “Or What? What on earth does this man think he can threaten Russia with?”
Turkish Coup Attempt Aftermath, Part 2
_ This is a continuation of our collection of tales about the Turkish coup attempt on July 15.
> Ex-CIA and Wilson Center Director Barkey’s Prince Island Meeting & Coup Involvement
_ Pro-Erdogan Turkish media outlet, Yeni Safak, continues to leak more accusations of US involvement in the Turkish coup attempt. On July 26, Yeni Safak reported that “more evidence surfaces daily,” presumably from the thousands of people they have detained and are interrogating and from various intelligence sources. They are now fingering Henri J. Barkey, ex-CIA and the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, as “the second top American figure who orchestrated the coup attempt in Turkey.” From July 15-17, Barkey stayed at a hotel on Istanbul’s Princes Island, and held a meeting through the night in a special meeting room, with “with 17 top figures, most of them foreign nationals.” The hotel, “Splendid Hotel,” was “used as a British Military Headquarters during the days of occupation in 1919.”
> Turkish Prosecutor Indictment of CIA and FBI
_ On July 29, Yeni Safak reported that Turkey’s Edirne Public Prosecutor’s office has prepared an indictment charging that “members of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization [FETO] have been trained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to attempt a coup in Turkey and topple its democratically-elected government.” The indictment claims that the CIA and FBI and “some other foreign secret services” trained FETO “cadres” in “overseas cultural centers” to infiltrate all state institutions. Only the most intelligent and elite students were chosen for the Gulen movement’s project, a project that has been ongoing since the 1970’s. Gulen reportedly intended to stage the takeover when the Gulen movement members within the state institutions had gained enough power and when Gulen gave the signal.
> Cockburn’s Dispatch From Istanbul
_ Investigative journalist, author, and Middle East expert, Patrick Cockburn, called the Gulen movement a “secret society” and compared it to a cult, in a recent interview on the Scott Horton show. In Cockburn’s latest article for the UK’s Independent, he notes that accusers describe the Gulen movement as a “religious cult” that is “wholly under the control of its charismatic leader who is seen by some as having semi-divine powers.” Cockburn reports that Erdogan is using his emergency powers to “close 15 universities and over one thousand schools alleged to have links to the Gulen movement. […] Those now being shut include 1,043 private schools, 1,229 charities and foundations, 19 trade unions, 15 universities and 35 medical institutions.” Cockburn was in Istanbul and reported that “non-governmental experts on his movement in Istanbul say that they have no doubt that Gulenist officers organised and conducted the coup attempt.” Cockburn reports “widespread popular conviction at all levels in Turkey that US government and its intelligence agencies were complicit in the coup.”
_ Cockburn provides an analysis that contradicts other conclusions and now conventional wisdom in the West of a pitiful, poorly planned coup with this description: “It is becoming clear that – leaving aside government paranoia – a large number of units from the Turkish armed forces took part in the coup on 15/16 July and that it nearly succeeded.”
_ Scott Horton interviewed Middle East correspondent, Patrick Cockburn, who was in Istanbul at the time, on the mood in Turkey and on Cockburn’s take on the Turkish coup attempt. Cockburn says he doesn’t know the details of who was behind the coup but he has reported on the crackdown on the Gulen movement, which he says is legitimately a cult-like secret society which has slowly infiltrated Turkey’s institutions and created an alternate chain of command for their operatives inside these institutions. Cockburn cites reasons why he believes that the idea of Erdogan triggering this coup on himself is not credible, especially since he came close to being killed.
> Coup Plotters’ Late Night Call to JCS General Dunford
_ Perhaps the biggest surprise of the latest coup tales comes from Buzzfeed. Without citing a source, Ali Watkins, Buzzfeed’s national security correspondent, and contributing authors Mike Giglio and Borzou Daragahi, reported that the Turkish coup plotters called the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joe Dunford, on the night of the coup, while he was sleeping in Afghanistan, but Dunford’s staff decided not to wake him, and hung up on them! That’s quite a tale. The call came from the phone number of “his Turkish counterpart, Gen. Hulusi Akar, the leader of Turkey’s military and a critical ally in the fight against ISIS. But when Dunford’s office staff answered, it wasn’t Akar’s voice on the other end of the line — it was his kidnappers’, who, hours before, had started waging a bloody coup in the streets of Turkey. With Turkey’s top general and presidential confidante held hostage, they needed Dunford’s support.” Dunford was on a “routine trip” to Afghanistan.
_  Buzzfeed issued a correction that we did not see on first reading since it was in grey text at the bottom of the story. The source is now partially identified as “JCS” or Joint Chiefs of Staff (still an anonymous source but the organization is now provided). The correction reads as follows: ”
(Dunford’s office contacted BuzzFeed News after publication and said the general was awake in Afghanistan when he was informed the call from Gen. Akar’s number had come into his DC office.) Jul. 30, 2016, at 9:47 p.m.”
_ Ali Watkins also issued a correction via Twitter, citing the source of the information as “JCS”, the acronym for Joint Chiefs of Staff.
_ Buzzfeed left the original text in the article claiming that the general was asleep and the call came into Afghanistan, uncorrected.
_ Maybe relevant, maybe not: Dunford was the former commander of International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan who immediately preceded Gen. John Campbell. Campbell was the first high level American accused by Yeti Safak of organizing the Turkish coup attempt.
> Gen. Dunford’s Post-Coup Visit to Turkey
_ The Pentagon announced that chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joe Dunford, “visited Turkey’s chief of defense [on Aug. 1] just a little over two weeks after Akar was kidnapped, drugged and threatened as part of the unsuccessful coup here.” Dunford said he has known his counterpart for a long time and “wanted to be sure his friend was all right.” Akar told Dunford that “one of his aides had turned on him and sided with the coup plotters.” Dunford said Akar told him that Turkey wants to keep a “broad partnership with the United States across a broad range of issues, but especially in NATO” and anti-ISIS operations and that Akar assured him that Turkey “will continue to provide access to Turkish bases in Incirlik and Diyabakir.”
_ Dunford, Akar and the US ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, then had a meeting with the Turkish prime minister, Binali Yildirim. Dunford reported that in all meetings he heard a “reaffirmation of the importance of the U.S.-Turkey relationship”and the tone was positive and “not accusatory at all.” Dunford assured them that he would communicate their “perspective” to US leadership related to their demand for extradition of Fethullah Gulen. The visit did not included discussion of a lot of specific “asks” on the counter-ISIL operations and needs of the US because Dunford wanted this to be primarily a visit to his friend, and he hopes Akar will come to Washington for a trip that was scheduled for later this month.
Russian Helicopter Delivering Aid in Aleppo Shot Down
_ A Russian MI-8 with 3 crew members and 2 officers were shot down from the ground and crashed in Idlib province, killing all five resulting in the “biggest single loss of life for Russia in Syria” since they began their intervention in September, 2015. They were reportedly delivering aid to civilians escaping Aleppo via humanitarian corridors created by the Syrian coalition forces.
_ CNN, in a long article that reads like carefully prepared war propaganda, employs relatively new techniques like large callout text graphics, reports on the crash in a way similar to reporting of Russian helicopters shot down by Stinger missile equipped mujahideen in Afghanistan. It is also similar to reporting of “Blackhawk Down” where a US helicopter was downed by an rocket propelled grenade (RPG) in Somalia, with horrific images, cheering opposition fighters shouting “Allahu Akbar,” bodies being dragged, etc.
_ In the battle of words between the US and Russia after the Russian intervention in Syria, high level US officials, including Pres. Obama, warned Russia that the intervention might turn out badly, citing or alluding to CIA-supplied Stinger missiles taking down helicopters in Afghanistan, “Russia’s Vietnam,” which was factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union. This type of psyop is aimed not only at Russia’s leadership but at the military and the public, where there exists a significant amount of living memory of the Afghan war.
_ Russian media reports it as heroic deaths as the crew was delivering aid and maneuvered to avoid crashing into residential areas.
Escalation of New Cold War With Russia
_ Prof. Stephen F. Cohen did an interview on CNN over the weekend. Since Cohen’s views don’t match the establishment war party view, his mass media appearances have been reduced significantly since the Ukraine coup. In this interview, Cohen pushes back against the dangerous escalation of the new cold war with Russia, and the potential Cuban missile crisis that it is provoking.
_ From Der Spiegel: Dangerous Propaganda: Network Close To NATO Military Leader Fueled Ukraine Conflict.
Clashing Brass and The War Party at the DNC
_ Two days after retired Gen. John Allen gave a roaring speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), and a week after retired Gen. Michael Flynn gave a less loud but very political speech at the Republican National Convention, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, published an op-ed in reaction: “Military leaders do not belong at political conventions.”
_ A second op-ed from Dempsey was published at DefenseOne on August 1: “Keep Your Politics Private, My Fellow Generals and Admirals.” Dempsey cites the constitutional relationship between elected leaders and the military, a relationship “based on trust.” From his experience, a commander-in-chief will only trust and value the advice of military brass “if they believe that it is given without political bias or personal agenda.” Dempsey says retired military should speak to election candidates but do it privately “where it will not be interpreted that they are speaking for us all” and they should stick to the issues, not the personalities or “who is more suited to be elected” because that should be decided by the voters and the military serves whoever is chosen by the voters. Lastly, Dempsey advises against adopting a “reality-TV model for our civilian-military interactions” where we “troop out as many retired generals and admirals as we can for each side, decide who has the most persuasive group, and make our decision about suitability to be commander-in-chief on that basis.”
_ Retired Gen. Michael Flynn, advisor to presidential candidate Donald Trump, pushed back on Fox News Radio at criticism of his involvement in politics from retired Gen. Jack Keane and retired Gen. Martin Dempsey. He says he feels obligated to speak and wonders: “When does somebody stop being an American citizen and caring about the future of our country?” He also said of retired Gen. Allen that he didn’t understand “why he can stand there and support somebody like Hillary Clinton who the FBI director said lied to the American public.” Flynn responded to criticism about Trump’s comments on how our military can’t win by citing recent testimony of military chiefs saying our military is not ready for the kind of big wars that we expect we might be involved in soon.
_ Gen. John Allen’s speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) (video below) was red meat for the war party, controversial, protested in real time, and historically uncharacteristic for a Democratic party convention. Side not: Interestingly, in the version of this speech on the DNC’s YouTube channel, the “no more war” chants seem more muted and harder to hear than in the video version of the speech below.
Analysis and Opinion
_ Brad Hoff at The Canary: “The CIA’s top spy in Syria knew nothing about Syria.” The same top spy admitted that there “were no moderates” among the Syrian “rebels”. Hoff’s very concise and effective article is based mainly on a recent book by Douglas Laux, who, after a few years working as a CIA officer in Afghanistan, was tasked with preparing a plan for regime change in Syria using jihadi proxies. Brad Hoff is a journalist at the Levant Report, marine veteran who lived and traveled in the Middle East for a number of years and is very familiar with Syria.
_ Senior fellow at Council on Foreign Relations, Harvard MBA, former Wall Street emerging markets/conflict zone investment specialist, author of “Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield” and apparent R2P military interventionist, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, wrote a polemic, “Gold Star Families Deserve Better Than One News Cycle.” Lemmon makes t points about recent but likely short-lived attention to veterans and Gold Star families by presidential candidates and conventions. There is too much apathy for our wars and superficial “hashtag solidarity,” says Lemmon, implying political exploitation of veterans and Gold/Blue Star families and a lack of genuine interest. But after making these points, Lemmon herself offers only vague suggestions for redress, such as: “we must care every day”; we need to ‘engage with our wars’; and we must ask Gold Star families about their loved ones instead of just repeating the vacuous “thank you for your service.” Notably, what Lemmon, an apparent interventionist, does not suggest, is ramping down the wars.
_ From Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at the Telegraph: “Texas shale oil has fought Saudi Arabia to a standstill.”
_ Johns Hopkins professor, Daniel Serwer, who publishes a blog named “peacefare” says, in a Washington Post op-ed, that Hezbollah is the right target for the US in Syria. Serwer explains that “Hezbollah was founded to resist the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in the early 1980s” and says they, like al Qaeda and ISIS, are a terrorist organization, and therefore the US should target them too. He urges this strategy because Assad must be weakened in order for the US to gain a better bargaining position at the negotiating table and since Obama does not want and doesn’t have legal authority for war with Russia, Iran or Syria but could bomb Hezbollah using the justification that Hezbollah is attacking “moderate” Syrian rebels. Serwer believes the result of targeting Hezbollah will be attacks on US citizens and assets and attacks on Israel. Serwer does mention that Iran backs Hezbollah but doesn’t list war with Iran as a risk if the US attacks them. Overall, Serwer believes this would “would mostly please and embolden Washington’s friends and discomfit its antagonists” and in his view is “not a bad balance of risks and benefits.”