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Turkish-Russian Roadmap for Syria; US Partners Clash; All Corners of Pentagon React

Next Cold War Roundup 8/30/16

Analysts describe deals struck by Turkey and Russia, and by Turkey and Iran, that could be game changers in Syria. The Pentagon supported Operation Euphrates shield but later reported that coordination between Washington and Ankara had broken down after Turkish armed forces attacked YPG Kurds. There were responses from the Sec. Defense, head of CENTCOM and various spokespeople at the Pentagon and questions about the subject were the top priority of the media.

US Sec. State Kerry and Russian foreign minister Lavrov announced that they are close to a deal for political transition in Syria.

Al Nusra is still al Qaeda. There has been a rebranding and a new PR campaign aimed at gullible western journalists, but no real split.

Libya’s unity government is crumbling and there are calls to partition the country.

Syrian War Deal Between Turkey and Russia

_ War correspondent Elijah Magnier describes a deal between Turkey and Russia: “Putin and Erdogan have agreed on a restricted road map in Syria: the Kurds and Nusra will be the main losers.”

_ Magnier describes a “road map” agreed upon by Putin and Erdogan where Turkish-backed rebel groups join the Turkish military in northern Syria and drive both ISIS and the YPG Kurds out of the border area.

_ In the deal that Magnier describes, these rebel groups refuse to join Nusra’s call for unity among all rebel groups, and leave the jihadis in the battle for Aleppo weakened and leaving the Kurds without the Rojava (a Kurdish autonomous region and a place where the US could build permanent military bases) that they had envisioned and had been working on with the US.

_ One of Carnegie Europe’s fellows, Thomas de Waal, also talks about a Turkey-Russia deal made in St. Petersburg but says there’s no way that Turkey and Russia can have a real rapprochement because of centuries of bad history, religion related complications, and this deal is a tactical move, “more like a business deal with limited aims and an economic rationale than a new strategic alliance.”

_ De Waal does talk about the deal being a move toward a multipolar world, and advises the EU, NATO and OSCE to “make themselves more attractive and more inclusive to the awkward nations on the edge of Europe” if they want to combat the multipolar trend.

Syrian War Deal Led by Turkey and Iran

_ On Aug. 18, Gareth Porter explained, in an article and in an interview, an agreement between Turkey and Iran, that might be the key to the end of the Syrian war. Assad and the Kurds have to agree to and/or comply with the terms and carry them out, with the US exerting pressure on the Kurds and Russia on Assad.

_ The battles in Hasakah and Jarablus make a lot more sense when the terms of this alleged deal, reached within days of Aug. 18, according to Porter. Two key factors in the deal involve Turkey shutting down some Syrian rebel support operations and the US pressuring the Kurds to stop their westward advance, moving back to the east side of the Euphrates.

_ All the parties to the Syrian war, except Saudi Arabia, have accepted that the ousting of Syrian president Assad as a precondition for a settlement cannot work. They realize there must be a long transition period, according to Vijay Prashad, in a DemocracyNow! interview on Aug. 26.

Pentagon Reaction to Jarablus,  Turkey’s Pivot, Invasion of Syria and Attacks on Kurds

Pentagon Statement on Jarablus / Operation Euphrates Shield

_ After expressing solidarity with Turkey on Jarablus and Operation Euphrates in previous days, numerous reports of attacks on Kurds and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and advancement outside Jarablus, activity in Kobani, etc., and also reports that not all Kurdish fighters had retreated to the east of the Euphrates, a loud response from several areas of the Pentagon began early on Monday.

_ Early Monday (Aug. 29) morning, Brett McGurk, special  presidential envoy for anti-ISIS coalition tweeted:

  • Excerpts from @PentagonPresSec statement on the situation south of #Jarabulus …
  • DOD: Monitoring reports of airstrikes & clashes south of #Jarabuls b/w Turkish forces, some opposition groups, & units affiliated with #SDF.
  • DOD: We want to make clear that we find these clashes — in areas where #ISIL is not located — unacceptable and a source of deep concern.
  • DOD: The United States was not involved in these activities, they were not coordinated with U.S. forces, and we do not support them.
  • DOD: Accordingly, we call on all armed actors to stand down and take appropriate measures to deconflict & open channels of communication.
  • DOD: The US is actively engaged to facilitate such deconfliction and unity of focus on #ISIL, which remains a lethal and common threat.

_ Washington Post reported that US-backed rebels are fighting US-backed Kurds in northern Syria. They frame it as the “impossible choices” the US faces in Syria “in supporting forces that are mutually hostile — from among the Turks, the divided non-Islamist Syrian opposition, and the Kurds.” Turkey and the Turkish-backed and US-back Free Syrian Army groups say the Kurds did not retreat to the eastern bank of the Euphrates.

_ On Sunday, the Wall Street Journal published a big article about how the “coordination between Washington and Ankara broke down at senior levels,” titled: “Turkish Offensive on Islamic State in Syria Caught U.S. Officials Off Guard.”

_ On Aug. 30, AFP reported that the US had negotiated a loose ceasefire agreement between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces. On Aug. 28, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs called his Turkish counterpart to try to de-escalate the situation.

Ash Carter Presser, Calls Out Turkey, Will Meet Next Week

_ While hosting India’s minister of defense, Sec. Defense Carter did a press conference (transcript) on Monday, Aug. 29. After each of them gave a long statement on the US-India partnership, “the defining partnership” of the 21st century, and the first question was about Turkey and Syria, and the subject dominated the presser.

_ Before criticizing Turkey, Carter made the point that ” we very much appreciate the efforts of both partners” (Turkey and SDF) and then said that yes, “we have called upon Turkey to not — to stick — stay focused on the fight against ISIL and not to engage Syrian Defense Forces [sic].” He said the US appreciates Turkey’s anti-ISIS operations in Jarablus and westward, but not south of Jarablus.

_ Carter: “So we’ve called on both sides to not fight with one another, to continue to focus the fight on ISIL […] to retain those geographic commitments that they’ve made.”

_ Carter said there had been contacts with Turkey “at all levels” about the crisis, and he plans to meet with his counterpart “face-to-face” next week in Europe.

_ When asked whether the SDF had withdrawn across the Euphrates, and if “Turkey shares your view of what the SDF is,” Carter said: “Well, one of the things we’re talking about is that — with them — is clarifying where different elements of the SDF are.”

_ Carter: “there are elements of the SDF that are Kurdish and are YPG-associated.  We work with them in our common interest to defeat ISIL and to move from Manbij and then on to Raqqah and to destroy ISIL in Syria.” Carter said there has been no change in strategy.

_ Fox News notes that things are getting so complicated in Syria and there are so many players and rebranding that: “Underlying how complex the situation has become, Carter mixed up the name of the Syrian Democratic Forces, calling them the ‘Syrian Defense Force.’”

CENTCOM Chief Gen. Votel Presser: Support withdrawn for Jarablus Operation When Turkey Stopped Focusing on ISIS

_ On Tuesday Aug. 30, Gen. Votel, the new commander of CENTCOM, held a press conference (video). Votel said Turkey plays “an extraordinarily important role” in the fight against ISIS and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, Kurds + Arab fighters) still prove to be the most capable fighters in the region and that more forces might be “aligned with that element.” He did not mention which forces might join SDF. Votel did mention that there were some “Turkmen” forces in the SDF.

_ Votel stressed that all partners should remain focused on ISIS. He said the US did support Turkey in their move on Jarabus “we’re glad” that they moved on ISIS, but when Turkey started focusing on targets other than ISIS, “we had to withdraw our support for that.”

_ As for Kurds withdrawing to the east, Votel said the YPG fighters who are part of SDF are withdrawing, but inferred that there are other Kurdish fighters involved who are not.

_ When asked if he thinks Turkey will stay in Syria, Votel said Turkey is moving west along the border and “that is extraordinarily good news. That’s very helpful to us” and he said our other partnering efforts with them over in the Mara Line area, we’ve seen them continue to support those operations. Those are extraordinarily positive… What I’m seeing on the ground is they remain very committed to the ISIL fight. They’ve said that and we will take them at their word for that.”

_ When asked where ISIS is fleeing to and if they will be able to fight under the umbrella of FSA, Votel hesitated and said they probably went to al-Bab and Raqqa and he doesn’t think we’ve seen indications of that.

_ Votel said “we’ve been co-located with Turkish forces for a long period of time so they know very well where we are” so he’s not worried about Turkey hitting US advisors embedded with SDF forces.

_ At the end of the presser, Votel made one last statement emphasizing his confidence in our partners in the region.

Anti-ISIS Coalition Operation Inherent Resolve Statements

_ Operation Inherent Resolve reported coalition airstrikes on Aug. 29 near Abu Kamal, Raqqah, Manbij and Palmyra. On Aug. 30, the spokesman said they welcome “the recent calm between the Turkish military and other counter-ISIL forces in Syria,” and reported establishing “communication channels for de-conflicting operations and maneuvers in this crowded battlespace.”

Operation Euphrates Shield

_ The highly skilled social media propaganda account managers for Operation Euphrates Shield reported over the weekend that 5 more villages near Jarablus were taken by the Free Syrian Army (FSA). On Aug. 29 they reported that the “FSA recaptured 10 more villages, cleared a 400km2 area from Daesh and PYD [YPG Kurds] terrorists.”

_ They sent multiple tweets about Red Crescent aid arriving in Jarablus, about life returning to normal in Jarablus, FSA clearing mines, Turkish tanks protecting the border, etc.

_ They also sent out a message from Bulgarian president Borisov, announcing that a refugee wave of nearly 2 million people was prevented by Operation Euphrates Shield.

_ As of Saturday, Aug. 27, the Turkish air force is now involved, bombing Kurdish forces in Syria.

_ As of Sunday, Aug. 28, there were 50 Turkish tanks fighting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, Kurds + some Arab fighters) in the vicinity of Jarablus. War correspondent Elijah Magnier believes the objective is not just Manbij but “all ISIS controlled land on borders” and that “Russia and Damascus will allow Turkey to take al-Bab and Dabiq.”

 Raqqa

_ ISIS released a 9-minute propaganda video which shows children, including a British “white, blue-eyed youngster” executing prisoners in Raqqa. The executed prisoners drawing the most attention are five Kurdish captives, executed by gunshot.

_ ISIS execution propaganda videos are not uncommon and have, in the past, stirred up calls for retaliation by the targeted groups in the videos. This particular video seemed to draw more headlines and media attention for two reasons: a British child executioner and Kurdish victims.

_ One of the child executioners says, to the Kurdish people: “The war with you has yet to begin. Neither America, France, Britain, nor Germany will benefit you.”

_ There were other victims in the ISIS execution video but they weren’t mentioned in many of the news articles in western media. The Telegraph article gives them one sentence: “Elsewhere, the video shows old men killing Syrian soldiers and other fighters beheading four men from rival rebel factions.” The impression one gets is that older ISIS executioners and Syrian soldier victims are no longer sensational, and alone, wouldn’t draw enough eyes or serve the most recent agenda.

Aleppo

_ Pro-Syrian rebel analyst from Brookings Institution (Qatar branch) Charles Lister says in northern Aleppo now we have Free Syrian Army (FSA) backed by CIA/DoD/Turkey fighting against DoD-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (Kurdish YPG + some Sunni Arab fighters) and it’s a “disgraceful mess.”

Lister said that both sides are using “DoD-supplied weaponry” to fight each other, a “shameful policy.” Lister recalls DoD officials telling him that FSA should join SDF in fighting ISIS, and ‘if necessary, we’ll transform ethnic/tribal power dynamics in Syria to fight ISIS.” Lister believes that the current US anti-ISIS strategy will end up creating a “secondary war” in northern Syria that will outlast the rebel war against Assad.

Rebranded Al Qaeda Marketing Campaign With Western Journalists

_ Al Nusra, the rebranded al Qaeda in Syria, who recently changed their name to Fatah al-Sham, has been reaching out to western journalists and offering interviews as part of a big marketing campaign.

_ Thomas Joscelyn and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross: “Rebranding Terror: Nusra’s Renaming is Part of al Qaeda’s Plan.” They make clear that regardless of the flurry of media stenographers, there has been no real split from al Qaeda.

“Taken together, the evidence is clear: Nusra’s rebranding as JFS does not represent a genuine split from al Qaeda. Instead, it signals a return to al Qaeda’s original game plan for Syria.” [Emphasis added]

Pentagon Assessment of ISIS, Mosul Battle Soon

_ Not much resistance from ISIS in recent battles in “areas where Islamic State had appeared entrenched.” In Jarablus, only 1 ISIS fighter was killed. “Several hundred others apparently fled,” according to the LA Times. US officials have “hinted” that the battle for Mosul may be launched this fall.

_ Though ISIS may be weakened in its home territories in Syria and Iraq, the US National Counterterrorism Center believes they are still capable of “inspiring” attacks in other countries.

_ CENTCOM’s Gen. Votel said the Iraqis “own the timeline” for Mosul but things are on track for the battle to done by the end of the year.

_ Operation Inherent Resolve reported the “biggest strike of the year” on an ISIS vehicle suicide bomb (VBIED) factory near Mosul.

Kerry – Lavrov Meeting in Geneva

_ Kerry-Lavrov held a press conference after 12 hours of meetings in Geneva on Aug. 26. (video, transcript).

_ Kerry said their teams have been working intensely for the past few weeks and will continue meeting to work out the few technical issues that haven’t been worked out.

_ Lavrov said the previous approach had been to wait until issues were resolved or until a ceasefire was in place before beginning a “political process” (move toward unity government, political transition). The new approach is to move forward with the political process and work on the other things at the same time. Negotiations between the Syrian government and all possible opposition groups should begin very soon.

_ On Ukraine, Lavrov said that Russia appreciates “Washington’s efforts to help us get the Minsk process off the ground.”

_ Lavrov: “The key interest of both Russia and the United States is to have normal relations between our two countries and I’m hoping that today’s meeting has helped us move in that direction.”

_ Kerry said the problems of rebels intermingling with al Nusra haven’t been resolved and in some cases other neighbor countries in the region are part of the problem. Kerry said that Nusra’s name change has not changed anything from the White House’s perspective. Lavrov said they gave information to Kerry about rebel groups who they believe to be part of al Nusra.

_ Lavrov was asked if Russia agreed to ground Syria’s air force. He said they’re not ready to disclose agreements yet but they are focusing on targeting the right groups, not preventing anyone from flying.

_ An RT journalist asked very direct questions about Operation Euphrates Shield, a subject that has everyone shaking their heads.  Lavrov gave a very long answer and the presser ended. Kerry had dodged the question but after a brief huddle with Lavrov came back to the mic and said:

“We are for a united Syria. We do not support an independent Kurdish initiative. There has been some limited engagement with a component of Kurd fighters on a limited basis and we cooperated very closely with eh eh eh with Turkey, specifically to make sure that there was a clear understanding of the rules by which that engagement would take place. They understand that now that Manbij city has been liberated, I think there are other expectations that will take place, but we understand the sensitivities of our friends in Turkey with respect to this. VP Biden just visited and had lengthy conversations about it and we will continue to work together for inclusivity within Syria as we seek a political solution.”

John Kerry in Saudi Arabia

_ US Sec. State John Kerry’s press conference with Saudi FM Jubeir (transcript, video).

Iran Deployed Missile Defense System

_ Iran deployed the Russian S-300 missile defense system at their “Fordow underground uranium enrichment facility” about 60 miles south of Tehran, according to state media via Telesur. This system was ordered years ago but held up by sanctions.

ISIS Leader Baghdadi Was in Abu Ghraib Prison

_ ISIS Leader Baghdadi was held by the US in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, for some months in 2004, just weeks before the stories about torture and abuse in that prison were published, according to The Intercept. Baghdadi was in US custody for 10 months and spent most of that time in Abu Ghraib. His name was Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry at that time. The US military and/or media have changed their story several times about how long Baghdadi was held and where.

Darayya

_ Syrian rebels surrendered the town of Darayya (Daraya) and evacuation of fighters and civilians began on Aug. 26. The battle fo Darayya lasted four years, much of that time in gridlock. 2,500 Syrian army troops are now freed up. The number of rebels and civilians to be evacuated was much smaller than the rebels had claimed, and very much lower than the number of people the rebels had claimed were under siege. Therefore the evacuation that was expected to take 4 days was completed in 1 day.

Ground Troops Needed in Libya; Unity Govt Crumbling; Brookings Says Break it Up

_ A few weeks ago, UN envoy Martin Kobler announced that support for the UN-appointed “unity government” in Libya was “crumbling.” And then he parroted the very familiar statement that comes after every promised ‘no boots on the ground, airstrikes only’ US intervention: “Strikes by the Americans alone cannot defeat IS. The fight has to be a Libyan one. It will be won with ground troops.”

_ A Brookings Institution fellow, Federica Saini Fasanotti, proposes breaking up Libya to save it. Did she, or the Brookings headline writer, realize that they were employing the infamous phrase quoted from a US military officer in the Vietnam war: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it”?  Fasanotti uses the conquest of Libya by the “Italian Royal Army” (and even cites the ‘Divide et Impera’ strategy of the ancient Romans) to illustrate why Libya’s problems are all their own fault, and why the “international community” must slice up their country. Fasanotti does mention some of the foreign powers backing the various factions in the country, but doesn’t assign any blame there nor does she (not even once,) mention the word “oil”.

_ A British professor and author of a new book about shadow wars and “the secret struggle for the Middle East” comments on the Brookings proposal: “Funders of #IS shock troops really getting value as these sort of ‘confederations’ for Syria, Libya, etc loom larger […] So we see #IS as foreign spoilers/contras accelerating fragmentation in 3+ major Arab states,all of which were/are problematic for US/GCC.”

_ Brad Hoff at The Canary with “5 explosive secret intelligence memos on Libya everyone must read.” Hoff includes a video of Hillary Clinton being questioned by Sen. Rand Paul at a Benghazi hearing about whether she knew of a weapons pipeline being run out of the CIA annex to Turkey or any other country. Clinton denied any knowledge of the rat line.

Ukraine

_ A Reuters journalist and others wrote a letter in protest of what they say is a staged war photo in Ukraine. The journalists provided analysis of the flaws in the photograph that show it’s a fake photo by an amateur from the press department of the Ukraine Ministry of Defense.

F35A Initial Operational Capability

_ Lockheed Martin promo video for the F-35A as the US Air Force declared “Initial Operational Capability” for the F-35A Lightning II in early August.

Yemen

_ An ISIS suicide car bomb attacker in Aden killed at least 60 people, according to a BBC report. The attack happened on Aug. 29 at a “training camp, or compound used by the pro-government Popular Resistance militia.”

_ Al Masdar News: “According to Yemeni ground activists, UAE warplanes from the Saudi-led Coalition struck the Shu’ayb Mosque repeatedly on Wednesday, destroying the entire infrastructure of the religious site. The Shu’ayb Mosque was 1,100 years old and located on the highest peak in the Sanaa Governroate.”.[Emphasis added]

War and Elections

_ Bush administration deputy defense secretary and Iraq war architect Paul Wolfowitz is Hillary Clinton’s latest neoconservative supporter. Wolfowitz said it would be “a huge mistake to abandon democracy promotion,” which is his euphemism for regime change and nation-building, the policies Trump has claimed he would abandon.

_ Vijay Prashad, a professor of international studies, in an interview with DemocracyNow!, said that Hillary Clinton shows a “profound dangerous tendency to go into wars overseas, damn the consequences. If you’re looking at this from outside the United States, there’s a real reason to be terrified.”

Analysis and Opinion

_ Brad Hoff: “Media silence on the major Israeli group that sees ISIS as ‘a useful tool’ is utterly shameful.”

_ Alexander Decina: “Violently Ousting Assad Won’t Solve Anything in Syria.”

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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.