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Controversial Russian Bombing Missions From Iran; Chinese Aid For Syrian Military

Next Cold War Roundup 8/17/16

Russian strategic bombers arrived at an Iranian air base this week and began flying airstrike missions in Syria from the base.

A Chinese envoy traveled to Damascus to discuss military and humanitarian aid for Syria.

Turkey will allow international observers to inspect cargo at border crossings.

There has been a flurry of diplomatic negotiations among various countries involving Syria and Ukraine. US-backed Kurdish and Arab forces are securing the strategic city of Manbij and will used it as a staging area for taking Raqqa. Syrian Kurds want to advance to the west, not to Raqqa.

Iraqi Kurds told the Iraqi prime minister they will keep the territory they liberate as he told them to stop advancing.

The Atlantic Council released a proposal for Polish cyberattacks on Russian public transportation, power and state-sponsored web sites and a prolonged DDoS attack on RT web site began shortly afterward.

Saudi bombing raids escalated on Yemen, a country in severe humanitarian crisis.

Ukraine, Donbass and Crimea

_ Joe Biden called Ukraine Pres. Poroshenko on Aug. 12 and urged him not to escalate tensions with Russia and noted that the White House  has urged “the Russian side” to do the same.

_ BBC reported that S-400 Triumph missile defense system was delivered to the Russian air force and air defense unit in Crimea.

_ No public support from Western governments toward Ukraine after their denials of attempted terror attacks on Crimea and counter accusations against Russia. “On the contrary Western governments have publicly said virtually nothing about the incident.” The UN Security Council held a closed door meeting about the incident on Aug. 12.

Aiding and Abetting Saudi Slaughter in Yemen

_ Patrick Cockburn has an article in Harper’s Magazine on “aiding and abetting the Saudi slaughter in Yemen,” one of the poorest countries in the world.

_ Before the Saudis started bombing it a year and a half ago 40,000 children were dying before age 5, and 1 in every 5 Yemenis going hungry. The Saudis have also blockaded food, fuel and medicine. The US is supplying bombs, the US Navy assisted with the blockade, the US military runs a joint operation center with the Saudis, helps with intelligence and logistics, refuels Saudi jets in air, and assists overall.

_ In 2009, the last time the Saudis launched an attack on the Houthis in Yemen, including an air campaign by their air force, it failed, and “the Saudis embarked on a massive weapons-buying spree,” a $60 billion deal, the “largest arms sale in U.S. history,” and a major score for the Obama administration. Total sales to Saudi Arabia over the course of Obama’s two terms is more than $111 billion.

Diplomacy, Negotiations and Summits

Steinmeier-Lavrov Summit

_ Before the meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued a statement on Aug. 12 saying that aid must be allowed to reach both sides of Aleppo city and holds Russia more accountable for making sure this happens because they are a “supporter of the regime.”

_ At a press conference after Steinmeier-Lavrov Summit on Aug. 15, German FM Steinmeier said: “I would be very happy if Russia would accept our proposals on Syria.”

Russian Defense Minister: US and Russia Closer to Plan on Aleppo

_ On Aug. 15, Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu said (via Russian media) said of the plan for US-Russia joint military operations against militants in Aleppo: “We are now in a very active phase of negotiations with our American colleagues […] We are moving step by step closer to a plan – and I’m only talking about Aleppo here.”

_ Reuters reported that Shoigu said there were about 700,000 people still living in Aleppo and the civilians in the rebel-held eastern part of the city are “hostages of armed groups.” Other recent reports said there were more than 1 million people in government-held western Aleppo, and about 30,000 in eastern Aleppo

US State Dept on Aleppo

_ State Dept. spokeswoman, when asked about Shoigu’s comment on cooperation said she didn’t have anything on that, and when pushed said: “We remain in close contact with the Russians on the three components [cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access, political transitions] that are the main focus of our work right now.” When pressed even further, the spokeswoman said the journalists should go and speak to the Russians.

China Training Syrian Forces

_ A Chinese military envoy, rear admiral Guan Youfei, went to Damascus this week and they agreed that China will provide humanitarian to Syria and the Chinese military may conduct training of Syrian personnel. Chinese state media said that China wants closer military ties with Syria.

Turkish-Russian Detente

_ Russian FM Lavrov said Turkey “would consider establishing international control at two border-crossing points at the Syrian border.” A former Turkish diplomat said Turkey is in a weak position and will have to agree to deploy “international observers and specialists” at the border to inspect humanitarian supplies which have included hidden supplies for militants in the past.  UN resolution 2165 calls for this.

Jordan Cannot Take Any More Refugees, Fears Extremist Elements

_ King Abdullah of Jordan announced publicly, in a media interview, that Jordan cannot absorb any more refugees. Back in February, Abdullah said Jordan was at a “boiling point” .

_ The NGO group Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report about Syrian refugee children not receiving education. There are 226,000 school-aged Syrians registered with the UN and living in Syria. Even with refugee camp school teachers doing double shifts, Jordan can’t educate all of them. HRW urged Jordan to “expand efforts to realise the fundamental right to education for all Syrian children.

_ King Abdullah said Jordan has 1.4 million refugees and international funding covers only 35% of the costs of hosting them. The rest is paid by Jordan and it’s now 25% of the country’s budget. “Jordan is doing its utmost to help refugees. […] However, we have reached our limits… This is an international crisis and an international responsibility, and the world has to do its part.”

_ Abdullah also fears for the security of the people of Jordan and refused to reopen the border with Syria where people are stranded. He fears there are “extremist elements” among the refugees and said that Jordan does its “utmost to help refugees but that will under no circumstances be at the expense of the livelihood of Jordanians and their security.” Aid agencies continue to pressure Jordan.

Cyberattacks on Russian Media After NATO/Atlantic Council Proposal

_ The Atlantic Council published a proposal after the NATO Warsaw Summit (dated July 19), written by Gen. Sir Richard Shirreff and Maciej Olex-Szczytowski, titled “Arming for Deterrence: How Poland and NATO Should Counter a Resurgent Russia.”

_ Shirreff is the former NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commader (2011-2014), wrote a book published this year, titled: “War with Russia: An Urgent Warning from Senior Military Command.” Shirreff was involved in some controversy in May when the British Foreign Secretary called him out publicly on his warmongering.

_ Maciej Olex-Szczytowski was Special Economic Adviser to Poland’s Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski from 2011-12.

_ In the proposal are some specific actions that Poland should do:

“Poland should announce that it reserves the right to deploy offensive cyber operations (and not necessarily in response just to cyber attacks). The authorities could also suggest potential targets, which could include the Moscow metro, the St. Petersburg power network, and Russian state-run media outlets such as RT.” [Emphasis added]

_ On Aug. 14, Russian state media Sputnik reported that their other English language state media web site, RT, had been under DDoS attack during the past week, a “well-planned series of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, one of the means of attack described in the NATO/Atlantic Council proposal.

Syrian Kurds Want to Advance West

_ Operation Inherent Resolve reports that US-backed forces are driving ISIS out of and securing Manbij which, as of Friday Aug. 12, is under the control of the US-backed Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) but fighting is still occurring. When asked about ISIS fighters and civilians escaping to the north (probably to Turkey) the Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) spokesman said those escaping vehicles were not targeted because based on their systems and partners on the ground “every vehicle had civilians.” He would not specify where they went but said it wasn’t a compact convoy, destinations varied, and they are still tracking as part of an ongoing operation. He would not discuss whether the civilians were acting as human shields.  Journalists had a lot of questions about the ISIS and civilian convoy that left Manbij to the north.

_ Kurdish fighters want to advance west, not to Raqqa, to work on forming the Kurdish entity in northern Syria, called Rojava.

_ The co-leader of Rojava council, Mansour Alsaloum, said he doesn’t see the warring sides and their foreign backers in Syria working for a “lasting peace” and Turkey “deceived the international community and brought the assassins and radicals of the world into our country.”

_ Across the border in southeastern Turkey, the post-coup crackdown “has only worsened the situation” for Kurds who are fleeing the country. Some are applying for asylum in Germany, according to Ali Toprak, the chairperson of Germany’s KGD Kurdish advocacy group.  “If the situation doesn’t improve, if there’s civil war, there could be a massive exodus from Turkey to Europe.”

Russian Bombers Deployed to Iran

_ Russian strategic bombers were deployed to Iran, preparing for airstrikes in Syria. Al Masdar News published “exclusive photos” on Aug. 15 and this is part of a “newly signed military agreement with Iran” that will reduce flight time by 60% for bombing missions on Palmyra. Al Masdar said it also indicates an improvement in relations between Russia and Iran. US State Dept. and Dept. of Defense have been flooded with questions from journalists about the situation.

_ The Russian bombers began flying missions on Aug. 16, attacking positions in “Serakab, Al-Ghab, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor.” On Aug. 17, another wave of airstrikes was launched from the Hamedan base.

_ On Aug 16, US State Dept spokesman Mark Toner said it was “unfortunate” and it “only pushes us further away from what we’re all at least say we’re trying to pursue.” Toner said he thinks this may be just a “one-off” or a “stopover.”

_ Col. Garver, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) in Baghdad, said the Russians “did notify the coalition as per the Memorandum of Understanding for safety of flight […] They informed us they were coming through and we ensured safety of flight as those bombers passed through the area and toward their target and then when they passed out again.” He said they were given enough notice to ensure safety of flight and not interfere with OIR operations in Iraq and Syria. OIR gives clearance thru Iraqi airspace when they are notified by the Russian military.

_ On Aug. 17 a “prominent Iranian lawmaker” Alaeddin Boroujerdi said Russia is using the air base for airstrikes in Syria but only stop to refuel there with permission from Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. The speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, said that Russia does not have a permanent base and their constitution bars foreign military bases.

_ The Hamedan air base is also called Noje Air base, or Shahid Nojeh Air Base, and is located in Hamadan province, in western Iran, between Tehran and Baghdad. ”

This is the first time Russian military forces have been on Iranian soil since the aftermath of the Second World War.” American officials and historians noted the historic nature of this move: “This didn’t even happen under the shah,” said John Limbert, referring to a time when American advisors in Iran wanted a bigger presence but were “rebuffed” due to Iran’s strong “sense of sovereignty.”

_ The Iranians staunchly want to keep Syrian president Assad in office while Russia, reportedly, was willing to bargain on that as long as their interests in Syria were protected. “’The Iranians have been all in on Assad, and I think the Russians have now moved in that direction,‘ said Cliff Kupchan, a specialist on Russia and Iran at the Eurasia Group.” In the same NYT article, John Limbert speculated that Russia paid a big price for air base access in Iran. Support for Assad might be the price they paid.


 Battle for Mosul

_ The Iraqi coalition forces are advancing on the strategic town of Al-Qayyarah, south of Mosul.  They captured the Qayyara airfield (35 mi. south of Mosul) in July, and it will be the main staging area for the offensive to retake Mosul. ISIS fighters reportedly are continuing to flee to the north.

_ Kurdish Peshmerga forces backed by US anti-ISIS coalition air strikes, reached Kanhash, east of Mosul. The Kahhash Heights are on on the western side of the Grand Zab river, which flows into the Tigris.

_ Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, who was in Iraq last week, issued a press release congratulating the Iraqi forces and Peshmerga who are “helping to shape the conditions for Mosul’s ultimate liberation and stabilization.” McGurk reported “recent increases in U.S. and coalition support, including support for stabilization in liberated areas to ensure battlefield gains are durable and lasting.” McGurk tweeted that the “noose is tightening” as Peshmerga advance from the east and ISF from the south.

_ Operation Inherent Resolve (anti-ISIS coalition) report airstrikes across Iraq and Syria.

Post-Liberation Mosul

_ Sabah Alnasseri, a Canadian professor from Iraq, in an interview with The Real News, says that the Iraqi parliament just passed another de-Baathification law, and discusses the party and faction battles over who is going to control Mosul after its liberation.  One of the big issues is “how to deal with the many Iraqi generals and officers, also from Mosul, who were laid off during the de-Baathification period.” Alnasseri says that “the majority of the Iraqi generals and officers come from Mosul [..] most of them were laid off by Bremer at that time, and when the Iraqi government accusing them of Baathist, although the absolute majority of them were not Baathist.”

_ They are unemployed, don’t have pensions, and some of them sided with ISIS and others did not. The Shiites and Kurds in parliament are saying “if we retake Mosul, what to do with all these 10,000 of generals and officers and bureaucrats” who want to be rehired or want to resume public office.

_ Brent McGurk mentioned that the future governance of Mosul should be decentralized. When asked about this, State Dept. spokeswoman said she would not go as far as to say there are plans for confederacy.

Iraqi Kurds vs. Iraqi Prime Minister

_ Iraqi prime minister Abadi: “The Peshmerga should stay where they are now, and they should not expand their presence even if they help the Iraqi Army […] No other force will enter the city of Mosul.” [except for Iraqi government forces]

_ Spokesman for Kurdistan Regional Government: “The Peshmerga will continue their advances and will not retreat from the areas they have recently liberated from the Islamic State in Mosul.”

 India Helps to Circumvent Sanctions — Military Equipment for Afghanistan

_ “Western sanctions against Russia is leading to a paucity of spares for Russian-made weaponry used by Afghan forces” and most of the money given to Afghanistan comes from countries who are sanctioning Russia. Gen. John Nicholson asked India to give more military aid to Afghanistan. India sent Afghanistan four Russian MI-25 attack helicopters and an Indian defense analyst said the sanctions pulled “the plug on supply of military spares” so presumably there is some arrangement for spares as well.  US has to undermine its own sanctions to keep Afghan forces equipment running. Sanctions have been in effect since early 2014 so  it’s likely that this is not the first time some arrangement was made to get around the sanctions for spare parts.

War and Elections

_ On the stump in Scranton, PA, Hillary Clinton promised that she would not increase “American ground troops” in Syria.  Meanwhile, all of her surrogates are promising escalation and regime change, even if it means direct confrontation with Russia and Iran, and triggers a much larger war.  As Kelley Beaucar Vlahos in The American Conservative, says: “everyone in her orbit is calling for expanded U.S. intervention—including personnel and firepower—in the region, even at the risk of confrontation with Russia. […] Her advisors say Syria will take top priority in her first days in office, and, in addition to ISIS, President Bashar Assad must go.”

_ Vlahos points out three key places to look/listen if you want to know what Clinton’s real war agenda is: 1) Michele Flournoy, Clinton’s national security advisor and likely defense secretary and the policies/proposals from the CNAS think tank she runs which was “founded in anticipation of Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid”; 2) Clinton’s foreign policy surrogates; 3) Neocons who are backing Clinton.

_ Flournoy recently rolled out a plan, “Extending American Power: Strategies to Expand U.S. Engagement in a Competitive World Order,” which calls for many different kinds of boots on the ground in Syria and “no bomb zones,” (yet another permutation on the term “no-fly zones” which former JCS Dempsey made clear is war and which were flatly rejected by the American public.) The CNAS plan calls for war with the Syrian government forces, and direct conflict with Russia if necessary.

_ Vlahos quotes Gareth Porter saying that the CNAS plan is dangerous and reckless and Clinton’s other surrogates’ comments are even worse, making the CNAS plan look relatively tame. Vlahos cites Jeremy Bash, Michael Morell, Leon Panetta, Robert Kagan. Porter says it is perhaps unprecedented for a presidential candidate to have detailed plans for a new war.

_ Also in The American Conservative, Daniel Larison follows up the Vlahos article with: “A Clinton Win Means An Expanded War in Syria.” Hillary Clinton has decided to mislead voters who are less informed, and even the voters who are pretty well informed but don’t read white papers, or know the foreign policy language. She uses words in her campaign speeches that make it sound like she’s not going to radical escalation, while making it very clear to the War Party that she will. Larison says Clinton is so confident that she will win the election that she “doesn’t think she has to make any concession to her critics on the left.”

Radio, Podcasts, Video, Films

_ Weekly radio interview (Aug. 16 podcast) – Stephen Cohen on the John Batchelor Show.

Analysis and Opinion

_ Jeffrey Tayler, a contributing editor to the Atlantic Magazine, says: “When it comes to the dangers of unchecked NATO expansion, Trump was right,” in an article titled “The Time is Ripe for Détente, 2.0.” Two days later, The Atlantic published an angry rebuttal letter from Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokesperson.

"Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar observes operation over the site of the former Deepwater Horizon platform." Photo by Tami A. Heilmann-DOI, via Deepwater Horizon Response on Flickr.
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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.