Next Cold War Roundup 9/6/16
At the G20, Pres. Obama met with Turkish Pres. Erdogan, where he promised to help bring coup plotters to justice, and with Russian Pres. Putin, where they failed to agree on a Syria deal. He also met with Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping where they discussed peacekeeping forces and military cooperation.
Syrian coalition forces recaptured territory in Aleppo, encircling the rebel-held area again. Turkey is making dubious claims about having cleared ISIS from a 100km border area in 12 days. Turkey claims they won’t stay in Syria but they appear to be creating the “buffer zone” they have demanded for a long time. Turkish media claims they will create refugee settlements along the border.
A Times (London) reporter recognized, in a Jarablus video, a rebel who captured and shot him, and says he now “works for the CIA.” The new Philippines president lashed out at the US and the UN. A Syrian rebel group used a small armed drone on Syrian government forces. The UK Navy deployed a ship to Libya. Maidan activists set a Ukraine TV station on fire. The Democratic party blames Russia for documented incidents of election fraud and for hacking their DNC server, and asked for an FBI investigation.
_ Opening remarks (transcript) by Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping.
US and China Agree to Build Rapid Response Peacekeeping Forces
_ US state propaganda channel, Voice of America (VoA), reports that on the first day of the G20, Pres. Obama met with Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping in a 3.5 hour sideline meeting during which they agreed to work together to build peacekeeping forces that can be deployed rapidly. The arrangement has “Washington providing engineering and military logistical support that will ensure rapid deployment of such units. China said it intended to make ready some units of its promised 8,000-member peacekeeping force within 60 days.”
US-China Military Cooperation
_ VoA reports that Pres. Obama and Pres. Xi Jinping also agreed to “improve information sharing on foreign terrorism suspects” and “military cooperation ‘in areas of mutual interest'” including things that “deepen mutual trust, improve operational safety and reduce risk between our armed forces.”
Saudi Arabia & Russia to Stabilize Oil Market
_ AP reports: “The world’s two largest oil producers, Russia [non-OPEC] and Saudi Arabia [OPEC], on Monday agreed to act together to stabilize global oil output.” In October they will hold “the first Russia-Saudi task force on oil and gas.”
Obama-Putin Sidelines Meeting on Syria
_ Obama and Putin failed to finalize the Syria deal their teams have been working on for weeks. In his press conference at the end of the G20, Obama said there were “gaps of trust” he instructed his team to keep working on it for a few more days. Comments by Pres. Obama after the G20 include statements about the Syria deal (transcript). Pres. Putin also did a press conference and answered some questions about the deal (transcript).
_ Transcript of Obama-Erdogan press conference.
_ AFP chose an interesting photo for their story about Obama pledging to “help Turkey bring coup plotters to justice.”
Obama says the US will help bring Turkey coup plotters to justice https://t.co/bzeMgLrkxa
— AFP news agency (@AFP) September 4, 2016
Operation Euphrates Shield Conquers ISIS in Border Zone
_ Turkey and allies announced on the 12th day that they had cleared ISIS out of the entire ~100 km stretch of border. Everyone is puzzling over this stunning feat. Some western media is parroting Turkey’s rhetoric on Euphrates Shield but many analysts are skeptical, to put it lightly.
— EuphratesShield (@EuphratesShield) September 4, 2016
The Turkey Curveball in Syria
_ “What is the real Turkish game plan in Syria?” On Iranian TV, two analysts, Soraya Sepahpour and Michael Lane, debate the topic of what Turkey is really trying to achieve in Syria. Sepahpour says that the people of Turkey were staunchly against an invasion of Syria, Russia must have given the go ahead on this action, and she believes that Washington and Israel are behind Turkey in this incursion. Both believe that Erdogan now realizes that by damaging Assad, he has created a big Kurdish problem for himself, and changed his stance. Sepahpour thinks that America is playing a double game and always has, especially with the Kurds, who they always use and then betray, and their only real allies are Israel and the UK. Sepahpour says Turkey is unlikely to support Assad long term and the question of why they wanted to oust him in the first place will give a better view of what they’ll do now. Washington won’t give up on ousting Assad after investing so much. Lane says Erdogan will stick with Assad now because Russia is backing him.
_ Trouble in Jarablus. Al Masdar reports that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has withdrawn from bases in Jarablus, which they and the Turkish military just captured two weeks ago from ISIS. DefenseOne says Turkey has about 1500 “rebels” fighting along with them. A Reuters report from Jarablus on Sep. 2 said that the rebels’ ability to hold Jarablus depends on “Turkey’s appetite for keeping its forces inside Syria” because they have to displace ISIS and keep the Kurds from “filling the void.” The Reuters correspondent said there were no Turkish forces in Jarablus as of Sep. 2. They were advancing toward Manbij.
_ Erdogan says the YPG Kurds have not moved to the east of the Euphrates, as promised.
Turkey Plans to Establish Settlements in Northern Syria
_ Pro-Erdogan media, Yeni Safak, says Turkey will build refugee cities on the “security-zone” vacated by Daesh in the 110km (and 40km deep) area from Karkamis (near Jarablus) to Oncupinar (near Azaz). Yeni Safak says they have “reports” that Turkey plans to “build new settlements in northern Syria, which will host millions of refugees who had been forced to flee the war in their homeland” The settlements are for people “fleeing to Turkey from the Syrian regime’s violence,” refugees now registered in Turkey, and Syrians who have fled the region.
_ “Turkey demands the safety zone to be imposed under the umbrella of NATO” and with a UN Security Council resolution 2170. Turkey has been talking about creating this “safe zone” along the border (but inside Syria) for some years.
_ However UN Security Council resolution 2170, passed in August, 2014, also calls on member states to”suppress the flow of foreign fighters, financing and other support to Islamist extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.” The resolution cites ISIS and al Nusra and “and entities associated with Al-Qaida.”
_ Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claims Turkey will not be staying in Syria “after Turkey eradicates the threat posed to its border by the Kurdish YPG and the Islamic State.”
_ Retired US admiral, former NATO commander, neoconservative and staunch War Party member, James Stavridis, said that in order for Turkey to create their buffer zone along the Syrian border, they will need to keep a substantial number of troops in it, which he finds unlikely. Turkey will prioritize the advance to the west to the Marea (Mara line), a frontline with ISIS, according to the head of the Sultan Murad rebel group, which could take weeks or months. The rebel fighters don’t want to fight Kurdish forces but will if necessary. US special operations forces are embedded with the Kurdish forces along the Mara line, according to Gen. Votel, as we reported last week.
Aleppo and Idlib
_ The Syrian coalition forces on the ground, with Russian air support, recaptured key territory, military academies and an artillery base south of Aleppo city, which means that the rebel-held eastern Aleppo is surrounded again. There has been some back and forth but it looks like the Syrian coalition forces are holding and, according to Southfront, gaining momentum.
_ Izat Charkatli of Al Masdar News reports from Idlib province, Syria, that there are clashes between two Syrian rebel groups, Ahrar al-Sham and Jund Al-Aqsa (al Qaeda). The conflicts and attacks between these groups may be serious enough to trigger an rebel civil war.
_ A truce with opposition forces in the Darayya suburb of Damascus has been done and another with Muaddamiyah (Moadamiyah, Moadamiyet) in Western Ghouta is in the works, according to Al Masdar News.
US-Russia Deal on Syria Failing
_ The US and Russia failed to come to agreement about Syria over the weekend at the G20 where they had prepared a press conference to announce the deal. The US says Russia pulled back on a previous agreement and Russia says that Washington has to “disassociate itself from Nusra [al Qaeda].” The US State Dept. seems to have changed the terms of the deal to a nationwide ceasefire. Neither side is revealing the terms of the deal or the specific sticking points. Kerry and Lavrov met on Sunday and Obama and Putin on Monday.
_ War correspondent Elijah Magnier (paraphrased), via one of his sources, on the failed US-Russia Syria deal:
“POTUS asked Putin to agree on allowing Assad a transition limited period to deliver the power later. Russia disagreed. The USA wants ‘a price’ to deliver ex-Nusra (AQ) that Putin seems unwilling to give away. Expect Russia to escalate in Syria in the next few months if deal with the USA is not reached. Turkey is working in harmony with Russia in Syria. The ‘price‘ would be Assad and the demilitarization of Aleppo, for starters.”
_ Military expert “Moon of Alabama’s” take is that Russia continues to push the US to stop supporting al Qaeda in Syria and to implement UN Security Council resolution 2254, but the US continued to support al Nusra (al Qaeda, AQ) and AQ front groups like Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa. The conditions of the US-Russia deal were “leaked” and were so stacked against Russia and Syria that they were “ridiculous” and amount to a delaying tactic as the Obama administration wants to leave Syria to the incoming adminstration in 2017.
_ Retired US military intelligence officer, Pat Lang says that what Kerry and Obama are doing is trying to get Russia to agree to a ceasefire so they can “enable the unicorn/jihadi allies of the US in Syria to refit and re-supply without having the Russian Aerospace Forces bombing the bejayzus out of them while they try to do so,” which is what they did during the last ceasefire, and they’re just “trying to hustle the bear” again.
_ Foreign Policy’s Paul McCleary wrote (in a Sep. 2 article before the Obama-Putin meeting at the G20 on Sep. 4) “few in the Pentagon […] have much faith in Moscow.” He quotes one anonymous “senior defense official” saying he doesn’t trust the Russians and:
“No one thinks that any of this is actually going to come to pass.[…] The Russians are using these talks in Geneva just as a cover to continue taking Daraya and bombing the crap out of the opposition in southwest Aleppo, so they can say ‘we’re talking to the Americans,’ meanwhile they’re hitting the ground hard.”
_ McCleary quotes pro-rebel Charles Lister saying it will be “next to impossible” to hit al Nusra without hitting other opposition forces and US-backed opposition groups refuse to move away from Nusra despite appeals from Washington because “trust is at an all”ceding territory to the regime.” McCleary cites unnamed “experts and former diplomats” saying the deal would destroy any leverage the US had left. He then quotes pro-rebel former ambassador Robert Ford on the record saying that the rebels would no longer trust the US if they partner with Russia.
Foreign Policy Article on Al Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham
_ Three journalists, Jennifer Cafarella, Nicholas Heras, and Genevieve Casagranda, wrote a long Foreign Policy (FP) propaganda piece titled “Al Qaeda Is Gaining Strength in Syria” with a subheading of “While Washington sits on the sidelines, the siege of Aleppo has cleared a path for the return of America’s greatest enemy.” In the article, they bluntly admit that Ahrar al-Sham is indeed an al Qaeda (AQ) affiliate, and did not disavow al Nusra when Washington appealed to rebel groups to do so over the past six months while the Geneva talks waited for the rebels to disengage and physically move away from al Qaeda.
_ The authors also said that Ahrar al-Sham is Turkey’s strongest ally among the Syrian opposition, and it participated in the recent Turkey/FSA Euphrates Shield operation in Jarablus with the FSA branded group of fighters, but did so quietly because those FSA fighters were getting US air support. FP also cites Ahrar al-Sham, last year, calling for Turkey to create a safe zone in northern Aleppo. Al Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham are building a “durable safe haven in the Levant.”
_ The three authors call for the US to “take action” and “provide Syrian civilians and opposition groups with an acceptable alternative to the al Qaeda network” and focus on preventing “further development of sharia-based governance structures in opposition-held areas in order to combat al Qaeda’s subversive strategy.” By this they mean issue an ultimatum to Ahrar al-Sham to ditch al Qaeda or be targeted by the US along with al Qaeda. But they urge the US to do this alone and not as a joint project with Russia and Syria because this would cause the “mainstream” opposition (the authors put “mainstream” in quotes) to “turn away from the United States” and turn toward the “hard-line elements of the Syrian opposition.” The authors say this scenario would leave no “potential Sunni partners” to fight against ISIS, but unless they are referring to a post-Assad Syria, it doesn’t make much sense. The majority of the Syrian army is Sunni, for instance, and they are fighting ISIS.
_ Note: This is a stunning article because even though it is full of pro-rebel spin (two of the authors are from the neocon think tank, Kimberly Kagan’s Institute for the Study of War) and mythology, it also makes the blunt admission that Ahrar al-Sham is an al Qaeda group, something the US, Turkey and Gulf State allies (before the recent realignment) on the Syrian regime change operation have repeatedly denied, and which has caused major rifts in the Geneva talks with their opponents — Syria, Russia, and Iran, who have always insisted that Ahrar was an AQ-allied jihadist group. This has been the main reason why the US and Russia kept hitting a brick wall in their negotiated list of terrorist groups for targeting. But the obviously pro-rebel actors who wrote the article have decided that, for some reason, perhaps as a last ditch effort to undermine the US-Russia deal, or as a way to undermine trust between Russia and Turkey, and/or because it’s now impossible to hide the nature of Ahrar al-Sham and al Qaeda’s role in western Syria.
Al Qaeda Affiliated Jihadist Group Built Armed Drones
_ Long War Journal reports that Jund al Aqsa, a rebel al Qaeda front group in Syria,used a drone to drop a small bomb on the Syrian government forces.
Turkey Works to Normalize Relations, Crack Down on Drug Rings
_ Turkey’s prime minister, Binali Yildirim, said they are working to normalize ties with Russia, Israel, Egypt and Syria. “God willing, there will be normalization with Egypt and Syria. Turkey has started a serious attempt to normalize ties with Egypt and Syria.” He also said that the Kurds squandered an opportunity for peace with Ankara.
_ Yildirim claims that drug dealing rings are the “primary financial sources for terrorism” and recent operations resulted in the detention of 8,561 people and 40 tons of narcotics in “Diyarbakır, Siirt and Şırnak provinces.” Turkey “will be fighting against those who attempt to poison our children.”
“Moderate” Syrian Rebels. Times Journo Recognizes His Captor in Operation Euphrates Video.
_ This isn’t from a tabloid. It’s a story by Anthony Loyd from the Times (London): “The man who shot me now works for the CIA”:
“It was with some surprise watching a video of a victorious band of western-backed rebels that I noticed the face of America’s newest ally in the war against Isis in Syria.”
“It was the face of a man I last saw in May 2014 when he leant forward to shoot me twice in the left ankle at almost point-blank range while my hands were tied. It was punishment for having attempted to escape his gang of kidnappers in northern Syria who had hoped to sell me on.”
“He shot me in the middle of a crowd of onlookers, after a savage preliminary beating, denouncing me as ‘a CIA spy’. Now, it seems, he works with them.”
_ The CIA-backed rebel, Hakim Abu Jamal (aka Abdel Hakim al-Yaseen aka Hakim Anza), was in a video on Facebook, crossing the border from Turkey to Syria 2 weeks ago, celebrating a small victory supported by US air power and Turkish artillery, according to Loyd, in the border town of al-Rai. They were clearing a “key stretch of road” before capturing Jarablus, in Operation Euphrates Shield.
_ The story was published by the Times on Sep. 2. As of Sep. 4, US media has not picked up the story, based on a Google news search.
_ BBC published an interview with Loyd when he was in the hospital in 2014 after he was let go and taken to a field hospital, having been beaten by the Syrian rebels and shot by “Hakim” who the journalists had considered a “friend.” The “Islamic Front” intervened and took him to the hospital, according to a BBC report.
— Nour Samaha (@Nour_Samaha) September 3, 2016
_ Loyd contacted CENTCOM to find out “how such a well-known hostage taker with family connections to extremists could have passed US vetting procedures,” but got no response.
_ The UK Royal Navy announced that the HMS Diamond has deployed to the Mediterranean, off the coast of Libya, “to help tackle arms trafficking.”
_ Journalists Peter Oborne and Nawal Al-Maghafi traveled to Yemen and published an exposé in Middle East Eye, “A calamity is unfolding in Yemen and it is time the world woke up,” where “they survey the devastation and reveal the culpability of the West for the carnage that is unfolding on a daily basis.”
Philippines President Lashes Out at US
_ Philippines new “firebrand” president, Rodrigo Duterte (aka Digong), is waging a brutal war on the drug trafficking, has been publicly criticizing the US and insulting Pres. Obama, who canceled his planned meeting with Duterte at the ASEAN summit. Duterte is moving away from the US and closer toward China in relations.
_ After reports that Obama planned to call him out on extrajudicial killings in is drug crackdown, Duterte said: “Who does he think he is? I am no American puppet. I am the president of a sovereign country and I am not answerable to anyone except the Filipino people[…] Son of a bitch, I will swear at you.” Duterte later said his on camera rant wasn’t meant as a personal insult.
_ When UN human rights experts called on Duterte to stop the extrajudicial killings, Duterte threatened to withdraw from the UN and said the killings were not done by his police, ranted against the UN and Washington and told them to look at the number of lives lost due to the drugs. Duterte: “I will prove to the world that you are a very stupid expert.”
_ In July, Duterte lashed out at the US:
“They forced their way into Iraq […] “After almost 10 years of investigation, it turned out there was no legal basis to declare war against Iraq. You see, it’s a useless war […] Look at Iraq now. Look what happened to Libya. Look what happened to Syria. Even children are being doused with gasoline. They were pushed to the wall for the failed promises.”
_ Maidan activists occupied and set fire to one of Ukraine’s largest TV stations, claiming it was too pro-Russian in its views, a claim that doesn’t even hold up under scrutiny.
War and Elections
_ Senate minority leader Harry Reid sent a letter to the FBI calling for an investigation into allegations that Russia hacked the DNC server and may intend to tamper with elections.
_ The hacking accusations against Russia, which the US intelligence community admits are without any hard evidence, are now spreading to Ukraine. A cybersecurity company, ThreatConnect, reported that the same IP address used to break into Arizona and Illinois election boards also did spearfishing attempts against the governments of Ukraine and Turkey. Here’s the kind of evidence they use: “That target pattern suggests—but does not prove—Russian-state backed actors since they would have the biggest interest in spearphishing Turkish and Ukrainian political figures.” But you have to dig down halfway into the sensationally headlined article to see that. The same warmongering and misleading stories are splashed across all US media.
Analysis and Opinion
_ Columnist at Yeni Safak, Ibrahim Karagul: “The corridor betrayal: Starting off with Kobani.” Karagul says the same people who staged the July 15 coup attempt were also working on using the Syrian Kurds (PYD/YPG) to create “the North Syria Corridor” and used the PKK for a “wave of attacks aimed at separating Turkey’s southeastern cities from Turkey post-June 7 elections.” He refers to these three things as “all three forms of intervention” that were “planned and managed from a single center.” Karagul talks about how the “entire border was trusted to the Gülenist Terror Organization’s (FETÖ) commissioned officers” and how the maps to divide Syria into statelets had long been drawn, the “preparation period” had ended and the “implementation period” had begun, during which “Turkey’s security units became a part of the U.S.’s plans.” So he describes a massive conspiracy and urges authorities in Turkey to dissect it and make it public.
_ Prof. Filip Kovacevic: “Unfinished Business in the Balkans: Biden in Belgrade and Prishtina.”
_ Nabih Bulos at the LA Times provides a criticism of disastrous and misleading US media coverage of the Syrian war. It’s pretty rare to find this kind of criticism published in mainstream media here. The coverage of Aleppo is a good example and the viral photo of the injured toddler, Omran, which “promotes a one-sided narrative about the conflict.” The people in the government-held side of Aleppo “see it as yet another salvo in a media war that they are losing, their suffering all but forgotten in the eyes of the world.” A 30-year old engineer in western Aleppo said:
“The policy of these western countries is to destroy the Syrian government, or the ‘regime’ as they call it, so they don’t mention what happens in government territory… because they don’t want their people to know the truth of what is happening in the country.”
_ Note: Bulos also touches upon the very misleading and inaccurate numbers being reported from Syria, where the numbers of civilians in rebel-held areas are routinely inflated. He also reports about the way war photos are sometimes staged, and gave voice to the activists in Aleppo who used social media to balance out the reporting.
_ NYTimes C.J. Chivers writes about a “modern military’s most basic practice: keeping track of the guns” and the “dangerous failure of American arms-trafficking and public accountability.” Since 9/11 the US has “handed out a vast but persistently uncountable quantity of military firearms to its many battlefield partners in Afghanistan and Iraq” and the Pentagon doesn’t know how many or where they are. A former BBC journo Iain Overton is working on a weapons proliferation project with an organization “Action on Armed Violence” and is issuing a report. The Pentagon can’t account for half of the arms they handed out in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the rat lines and covert operations. It’s only the weapons from documented contracts. Chivers’ title “How Many Guns Did the U.S. Lose Track of in Iraq and Afghanistan? Hundreds of Thousands” is almost certainly a massive underestimate if all US military, intelligence and government contractors are taken into consideration. Chivers notes that Iraq is not likely to stabilize anytime soon, partly due to “bottomless abundance of black-market weapons from American sources.”
_ Admiral Alan William John West, Baron West of Spithead, retired senior officer in the Royal Navy and a member of Gordon Brown’s cabinet, says the world is more dangerous and chaotic than ever, world war looms, an EU breakup and war in Europe looms, and the UK needs to partner with the US facing down China in the South China Sea, but the UK military needs a lot more money to handle all of these things. British citizens interviewed on the street think this is mostly military propaganda, have negative views toward more war and neocolonialism, and have some other interesting opinions. One gentleman said “we have to remember the British are masters at this [because their country is reliant on imperialism]. They taught the Americans so we should always watch what the British hand is doing.”
_ Peter Lee (aka chinahand), says that the US truly is the “indispensable nation” when it comes to empowering other nations in the name of containing China and we can expect more of that with a Hillary Clinton presidency. Hillary in her latest foreign policy speech, parrots Madeline Albright: “In fact, we are the indispensable nation. People all over the world look to us and follow our lead.” Lee illustrates how the US is not the only indispensable nation in Asia, and it no longer leads, but instead it “enables” by assisting Japan and India, who exploit American power “as long as it is useful” for their own hegemony, which “incites adventurism.”