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US HIMARS Rocket Strikes in Syria From Turkey; Carter’s Oxford Speech Pressures Russia

Next Cold War Roundup 9/9/16

The US has deployed HIMARS rocket artillery and troops in Turkey near the Syrian border and, in the last week, has launched rocket attacks into northern Syria. US military officials say they are working closely with Turkey on the anti-ISIS operations and also working with Kurds, asking them both to remain focused on ISIS. Turkish-backed rebels continue westward. There is fighting between Turkey and Syrian Kurds in northern Syria, near the Afrin canton and near Manbij.

Syrian coalition forces gained more territory in southern Aleppo. US and Russia continued talks about a ceasefire and a deal for Syria. The battle for Raqqa is on hold. The battle for Mosul is scheduled for October.

In Sec. Def. Carter’s speech at Oxford he said post-Brexit UK and the US must fight to defend “principled international order,” the 2 challenges are Russia and terrorists like ISIS, and if Russia doesn’t influence Assad to “transition” the “consequences” will be on them. Carter signed a “framework” agreement for the US military and Ukraine during a large defense ministers meeting in London on UN peacekeeping initiative “reforms”.

Lack of Availability and Critical Analysis of the UN-OPCW Chemical Weapons Attacks Report on Syria

_ Robert Parry did some analysis on the widely reported UN-OPCW investigation results released to the public on Aug. 30 but the first articles about it came out a week earlier. Parry went looking for the report but it was difficult to find on the UN web site and even after he found it with assistance from UN personnel, they found that the page had been offline since Sep. 2. During the time that the report was not available to the public, the media was reporting about it, shaping opinion, and the “conventional wisdom had already solidified regarding the Syrian government’s guilt.”

_ Link to list of UN reports is here.. Link to Aug. 30 UN-OPCW report on Syria is here. Title of report: “Third report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism concerning the use of chemicals as weapons in Syria (30 August).”)

_ Parry examined the UN report and found some serious flaws. The chlorine gas attacks attributed to the Syrian government admittedly “relied on shaky evidence,” ignored reports that some of the incidents were staged, and used a questionable assumption about the Syrian government being the only party with access to helicopters, when the rebels had seized air bases, the Syrian opposition had some defectors from the Syrian military, and the Syrian rebels clearly had assistance from foreign powers. Parry’s compares the situation to the WMD investigation in the run up to the Iraq war and notes that the UN officials were “under enormous pressure from the U.S. State Department and Western governments to come up with something that could be used to justify ‘regime change’ in Damascus.”

_ This AP article about the UN report doesn’t link to the report, doesn’t even give the title of the report.  It cites some quotes from Samantha Power and some key facts from the report. Since the AP articllde was published on Aug. 25 and the report had not been released yet, did AP also have a leaked copy or did they just have some talking points from Samantha Power? The UN Security Council (UNSC) was scheduled to discuss the report on Aug. 30, but the NY Times, AP and other media had already published the conclusions and Samantha Power had already called for “strong and swift” actions against the Syrian government a week before the UNSC review, based on a report unavailable to the public.

Chinese Naval Base in Syria

_ Via war correspondent, Elijah Magnier, China may  be preparing to set up a naval base in Syria, in Tartus. Chinese admiral Youfei’s discussed this with the Syrian government during his visit to Damascus and reportedly it will be discussed during Assad’s visit to China.  China and Russia both justify their intervention with the “fight them over there rather than fight them here” reasoning.  A significant number of Chechen and Uighur jihadists are involved in the war in Syria, fighting for ISIS or other opposition groups. Turkey plays a role in the Uighurs’ mercenary adventures.

US-Russia Deal on Syria; Carter Pressures Russia in Oxford Speech

_ AP’s State Dept. correspondent, Matt Lee, reported that John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov would return to talks in Geneva on Thursday and Friday, but on Wednesday night, followed up with doubts that the meeting would happen, due to the fact that the US never confirmed. On Thursday evening, John Kerry departed for Geneva. The meetings are underway now..

_ More information (paraphrased) from war correspondent Elijah Magnier on what the US and Russia are wrangling about (see previous insider info from Magnier in our Tuesday Roundup):

“Cease-fire between Russia and the USA seems difficult to achieve any time soon. The US requests were rejected by Moscow & Damascus. USA asked Syrian Arab Army (SAA) pull out 3.5km from Castello road,  halt bombing rebels even those fighting with JFS (ex-Nusra, al Qaeda). USA asked Russia & Syria Air Force to stop attacks BEFORE the cease-fire, and asked a limited time for Assad 2go.”

_ The Washington Post reported on the US-Russia deal, citing some anonymous White House sources, and framing it as Obama’s final offer to the Russians. The Kremlin disputed the report, saying it is “not fully relevant” and said that the sticking point is still the issue of defining who the called moderate rebels are and who the terrorists are.

_ In his speech at Oxford (transcript, video) Sec. Defense Ash Carter said that “some in the world” are “intent on challenging or even upending” “principled international order” and he cites that the two main challenges are “states like Russia” and the other is “terrorists like ISIL.”

_ Carter claimed that in its goal to improve its standing in the world, Russia is “undercutting the work and contributions of others rather than by creating or making positive contributions on its own.” He said that Russia “sows instability rather than cultivating stability.”

_ Carter said that Russia’s fears are irrational, because “no nation […] seeks to defeat it or constrain its potential,” and in fact “we’ve all expressed an interest in being able to work more closely with Russia.”

_ Carter goes on to describe the actions the US is taking to “deter” Russia’s “aggression against our allies” but also keeping the door open. Then he gets to the tough talk.

Carter: “Now, let me be clear.  The United States does not seek a cold, let alone hot, war with Russia.  We don’t seek an enemy in Russia.  But also make no mistake, we will defend our allies, the principled international order and the positive future it affords us.  We will counter attempts to undermine our collective security and will not ignore attempts to interfere with our democratic processes.”

_ Also in Carter’s Oxford speech, with respect to the US-Russia deal in Syria, Carter accused Russia of intervening in Syria under false premise, and of prolonging the war by propping up the Syrian government. Carter then threatened that if Russia doesn’t “influence the Syrian regime towards a political transition” then the “consequences will be its responsibility.”

Aleppo

_ The Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) continued westward in the Aleppo border area and recaptured more territory from ISIS, including the most recent villages of Qunra, Mirzah and Tel Ali.

_ There has been some cross border fighting between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds in the area of their Afrin canton in the northwestern area of Aleppo. Kurdish media reported that Turkey shelled a village in Afrin heavily.

_ In the past week, the Syrian coalition forces recaptured more territory in Ramouseh, southern district of Aleppo city and the eastern rebel-held part of Aleppo city remains under siege. AP/New York Times frames this gain from the US point of view and claims that the “government advance also endangers talks between Russia and the United States over a possible Aleppo cease-fire.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 700 civilians have been killed in the last 40 days of heavy fighting in Aleppo, since the rebel forces launched a large coordinated offensive.

_ Retired US military intelligence officer Pat Lang believes the Syrian opposition in Aleppo have been defeated and that they didn’t leave anything on the road in their large offensive this summer, used everything they had, but it wasn’t enough to retake Aleppo. The Turkish deal with Russia and Iran will leave the rebels fighting Assad without Turkish support and Russia and Iran will look the other way while Turkey prevents the Kurds from creating their autonomous region. Lang believes that Obama and Kerry are now looking for a face saving diplomatic deal.

Mosul

_ The Wall Street Journal reports from Baghdad that US officials expect the battle for Mosul to begin in October, and that 400 more US troops have deployed to Qayyarah, “the launchpad for the allied operation,” to “assist Iraqi forces.” This brings the publicly acknowledged total to more than 5,000 US troops in Iraq. Some troops are deployed on “temporary assignment” which is a loophole that keeps them out of the official total, and special operations forces are covertly deployed (also not counted) Contractors and mercenary fighters aren’t in the official total either.

_ Colonel John Dorrian, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, said there are 3,000-4,500 ISIS fighters in Mosul, but said it’s hard to tell because “there are some hardcore fighters.  There are people that are not as committed to the fight.  There are people that are tolerant, and then there are people that wish they weren’t there.” He was referring to both Mosul and Raqqa with this disclaimer.

Raqqa

_ The new commander of the anti-ISIS coalition, US Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, said that the push to reclaim Raqqa is on hold due to the Turkish incursion which is complicating issues with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF = Kurds + Arab fighters) who the coalition plans to use in the battle for Raqqa.

_ Colonel John Dorrian, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, said there are “somewhere on the order of 1,000” ISIS fighters in Raqqa, but qualified the estimate by saying it’s “difficult to tell.”

_ On Sep. 8, the OIR spokesman said: “We are working with Turkey and our SDF partners to come up with a gameplan for Raqqa” and that CJTFOIR (Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve) “coordinates with Turkey daily to defeat Daesh.”

_ US military and civilian defense officials always emphasize and are focused on not just battles but things like “lasting defeat,” holding territory and a lasting peace and stability after the battles are over. The 2003 Iraq war is recent enough that many of them were probably involved in that war, which obviously did not result in any lasting defeat, stability or peace, so it’s easy to understand why they would not want it to end that way again.

Turkish Incursion in Syria

_ Reuters reports that Syrian Kurdish groups “will approve a constitution for a new system of government in northern Syria next month” in the parts of northern Syria they have carved out as autonomous regions. They say the “Turkish intervention” will not obstruct them.

_ The Syrian government, Turkish government, and the Syrian opposition oppose this, even though Kurds say they are not trying to create an independent Kurdish state. The US opposed their plan last Spring. The Kurds believe that Manbij will be part of their system.

_ While enroute to London, Sec. Defense Ash Carter answered some questions (transcript) about Turkey in Syria. When asked about the Kurdish and Turkish forces in Syria, Carter said we want to work with both of them and get them to focus on ISIL not on each other. Carter: “And so we’re working with them to make sure that they can each do what they are trying to do without coming into a collision one with the other.” He said the Kurdish element of the “Syrian defense forces” [wrong name again] ” will be withdrawing east of the Euphrates” and the Turks will “keep their forces associated with themselves north of the Sager River.”

_ When asked about Turkey creating a buffer zone, Carter said we’re working with the Turks on both sides of the border to “get control over that critical border area” which “hasn’t been secured.” When pressed again on whether there would be a no-fly zone or buffer zone, Carter dodged the question and reiterated securing the border but this time also mentioned the population: “We are working with — again, on both sides of the border — but to create a — to disrupt the flow of foreign fighters and secure the population and territory there.”

_ NATO Sec. General, Jens Stoltenberg, said he welcomed Turkey’s cooperation with NATO against ISIS, and “Turkey, a NATO ally, is perhaps most affected by the turmoil, the violence and presence of ISIL in Iraq and Syria.” Turkey’s pro-Erdogan media, Yeni Safak, which has been publishing many stories hostile to the US and related to the coup attempt, featured an article with the headline: “NATO supports Turkey’s operation in Syria.”

_ At the G20 summit, Erdogan said: “The operation carried out in northern Syria isn’t an intervention to its territorial integrity.”

_ Operation Euphrates Shield continues prolific announcements and propaganda on social media. In the past few days they announced on Twitter:

  • 43 armoured units were dispatched to Islahiye from Istanbul
  • Erdogan’s spokesman said that Kurdish YPG withdrawals must be confirmed by Turkey
  • FSA forces captured 6 more villages
  • FSA is establishing checkpoints in villages liberated from Daesh
  • Erdogan quote: “If we step back, terrorist organizations such as DAESH, PKK, PYD and YPG will settle there.”

HIMARS Rocket Artillery Now Deployed in Turkey, Hitting Targets in Syria

_ HIMARS: M142  High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, the “light, wheeled version of the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS),” is a GPS-guided rocket artillery system with up to a 185 mile range, made by Lockheed Martin, used by the US Marines and the US Army.

Syrian Opposition Plan for Transition and Boris Johnson’s About Face Endorsement

_ The Saudi-backed “High Negotiations Committee (HNC), an umbrella organization for Syrian opposition groups, presented a 25-page plan for political transition in Syria at a conference in London where they (HNC, the EU, the US, and “regional powers”) met with UK’s new foreign minister, Boris Johnson, who endorsed the plan. The plan seems to be exactly what the Saudis have been demanding all along — that the Assad government essentially turn the country over to the Saudis and some mix of regional allies, and their proxies. The plan calls for:

  • A ceasefire prerequisite for negotiations
  • 6 months of negotiations with the Syrian government
  • After 6 months, Assad “and his clique” would be required to leave office
  • A transitional government comprised of rebel groups, political “civil society” opposition groups, current government personnel, would run the country for 18 months
  • After 18 months, internationally supervised elections

_ Boris Johnson published an op-ed in the Times (London) backing the HNC plan, accusing Assad of “barbaric military tactics” and attacking Russia for supporting him. This is a big change from his previous positions where deviated from the US/UK/Saudi hard line and advocated better relations with Russia. In 2015, Johnson suggested allying with Assad against ISIS. In 2016, he said Assad was a monster but praised him for recapturing Palmyra and urged that Britain participate in its restoration.

_ The Assad government responded via an anonymous official, through the state media agency, Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA). They’re not happy:

“Johnson’s statements show that he is completely dissociated from reality as he has not yet realised that the time of mandate and tutelage has gone beyond the point of no return. […] the British government bears direct responsibility for the bloodshed in Syria and the aggravating danger of terrorism threatening the peace and security of the region and the world […] The British government is used to transgressing against and usurping the rights of people […] The government of Britain has reached such a point of moral and political deterioration due to the imperialist mentality governing its politics that was reflected in what Johnson said […] the Syrian people will not allow Johnson or anybody else to meddle in their affairs and are now more resolved to defend Syria’s sovereignty, preserve its territorial integrity and protect its national independent decision.”

 Western Pressure on the Saudis

_ Peter Oborne urges Boris Johnson to take a new path on foreign policy with Saudi Arabia, and finds that Johnson has shown courage in this arena. This alliance that has been “at the heart of British policy in the Middle East for the last 40 years […] they sell us oil and we sell them arms.” Oborne says that Johnson “can either carry on with the Cameron/Hammond policy of shielding Saudi Arabia and its allies from international criticism. Or he can repudiate the Cameron/Hammond policy and strike out on his own.” Oborne says the pressure on Johnson will be enormous and if he does change tack he will “infuriate the British defence and foreign policy establishment” and the whole national security apparatus which includes:

“… arms dealers, spies, bought-and-paid-for ex-ambassadors, tame journalists, private security moguls, compliant academics, bogus think tanks and louche public relations men operating out of lavish Mayfair offices who collectively comprise the morally abject Saudi lobby.”

_ Oborne is mainly referring to Yemen in this article. But he mentions Syria and says that the things Johnson is calling out Assad for also apply to the Saudis in Yemen. There does seem to be some change in western policy toward the Saudis, even with the enormous push back from the numerous supporters whom they fund. It remains to be seen how it will play out as the money gets tighter for the Saudis and Gulf States.

_ Ben Norton reports that OxfamAmerica has urged Congress to block US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and they issued this statement about Yemen and about holding the Obama administration’s “feet to the fire.”

Another US-Russian Dust Up Over Black Sea

_ US side of the story: “A Russian fighter aircraft came within 10 feet of a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft on Wednesday in the latest in a series of dangerous and unprofessional intercepts.” Two anonymous defense officials said it was “unsafe and unprofessional” and that the Navy spy plane was “flying a regular patrol.” They said the incident lasted 19 minutes. An anonymous US defense official wouldn’t confirm or deny whether the US planes had their transponders on but said: “It is not a requirement for a military aircraft to have its transponder turned on” and claimed that Russian planes routinely fly without transponders on. He said the Navy spy plane was about 40 miles from the Russian border.

_ Russian side of the story: The Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said: “On September 7, the US P-8 Poseidon surveillance airplanes tried to approach the Russian border twice… with their transponders off,” and the SU-27 fighter jets who intercepted them were “in strict accordance with international flight rules.” The defense ministry said the Russian jets “approached the US spy planes close enough to visually identify them, the American aircraft sharply changed direction and flew away from the border.” They also said the latest attempt to approach the border near where large military drills (“Caucasus-2016”) are being held, but Russia “officially invited military attaches from 60 countries, including NATO members, as well as more than 100 foreign journalists, to attend the final stage of the drills.” Russia’s defense minister said, in July, that they will turn on their transponders over the Baltic when NATO does the same.

_ Last week, ABC News published a video of their reporter, Martha Raddatz, flying in an F-15 on the Russian border from Estonia. They pointed out the Russian border below while talking about “Russian aggression” and enemy planes.

Missiles in Poland

_ Poland announced it was “planning on buying the U.S. Army’s Patriot air-and-missile defense system.” They plan to purchase 8 systems from Raytheon upon US approval. Missile defense is a controversial issue in Europe, and Russia strongly objects. “Patriot missiles were selected ahead of Lockheed Martin’s Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), Israel’s David’s Sling, and French Eurosam SAMP/T.”

_ Dan Goure of the National Interest says: “The Next Great Arms Race Is Here: Missiles vs. Missile Defense,” the race is on in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia as he describes all he different misile systems that have been deployed, and says it’s only a matter of time before the US will move to do a significant upgrade on missile defense at home too. Goure says ballistic missile defense in Europe has largely been done by the US and clamors for “European members of the Alliance” to “step up and deploy modern anti-missile systems.”

Middle East Peace Talks

_ Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed “in principle” to meet in Moscow. The Russian foreign ministry hopes this will be a “relaunch the Mideast peace process after more than a two-year break.” A date hasn’t been set after Israel postponed a meeting scheduled for this week.

_ France had also planned to hold Middle East peace talks this fall.

Sec. Defense Carter Meetings

_ On Sep. 7, Sec. Defense Ash Carter met with Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s minister of defense, while in London, to discuss, among other things, “ways to expand and accelerate cyber coordination.”

_ Carter met with Turkey’s minister of defense, Fikri Isik, in London, and “vowed the United States would continue to stand side-by-side with Turkey against shared threats” and thanked him for Turkey’s “resolve” in the fight against ISIS and “assured Işık of the United States’ continued support for Turkey’s efforts to clear ISIL from its borders.” They talked about retaking Raqqa and the “need for local forces to play a central role.” Carter said the previous level of cooperation between the US and Turkey has “pretty much” been restored.

_ Carter met with Ukraine’s minister of defense, Gen. Stepan Poltorak, in London, and told him that “remains committed to the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements” and they signed a “bilateral partner concept.” This document provides a “framework” for the US and Ukraine “to enhance the defense capacity of Ukraine’s forces, advance critical Ukrainian defense reforms, improve resource management processes,  and boost defense technology cooperation.” Carter also named “Gen. John Abizaid (Ret.), former CENTCOM commander, as a senior defense advisor to Ukraine.”

_ Carter plans to take a trip with Norway’s defense minister to a Norwegian base in the Arctic. Carter calls the relationship between the US and Norway “exceedingly close,” “great closeness and also great value to the United States.”

US-UK Cyber Agreement

_ An agreement was signed a cyber memorandum of understanding that will allow them to share more information and “advance their offensive and defensive cyber capabilities as they partner in new ways and in new domains to strengthen their longstanding alliance.” Carter said this sends a message to adversaries that “the two nations who partnered together at Bletchley Park decades ago to crack German codes are going to be doing more together in yet another arena — namely cyberspace.”

War and Elections

_ Donald Trump leads war hawk and interventionist Hillary Clinton by 19 points in polls among voters who are currently serving or have previously served in the US military, the people who actually have to fight the wars she wants to start or continue indefinitely.

_ On Sep. 9, Hillary Clinton, on Israeli television said ISIS leaders are rooting for Donald Trump to win the election: “They are saying, ‘Oh, please Allah, make Trump president of America.’ […] “So I’m not interested in giving aid and comfort to their evil ambitions.” In a different statement, Clinton said we should “make it a priority” to hunt down ISIS leader Baghdadi, like we did with Osama bin Laden. [Emphasis added]

_ During a “Commander-in-Chief” Forum on Sep. 8, Hillary Clinton was grilled about her private email server and how she compromised sensitive information.  The next day, her campaign manager said that her opponent, Donald Trump, “was potentially sharing information that he learned in his [intelligence] briefing. Nobody asked him for specifics on the accusation.

_ Gen. John Allen, a former commander of the ISAF and US forces in Afghanistan, and advisor to Hillary Clinton, said that the next president should halt the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.  Allen calls for adding more troops and a “lasting footprint” in Afghanistan, at 15 years, already America’s longest war in history. Pres. Obama has already stopped the withdrawal, scheduled to be completed in 2014, even though one of his main campaign pledges in the 2012 election was to end the war in Afghanistan, which VP Biden guaranteed would happen. Biden: “But we are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period.”  The administration still claimed they ended the war for some time after he stopped the withdrawal and decided to keep about 10K troops there, in an alleged non-combat capacity, along with a large number of contractors.

Analysis and Opinion

_ The necon War Party marches on. Elliott Abrams: “To Show Our Resolve, We May Have to Sink an Iranian Ship.”

_ Missy Ryan in the Washington Post: “A reminder of the permanent wars: Dozens of U.S. airstrikes in six countries.” 45 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, US planes “pounded at least 20” ISIS targets in Libya, a drone strike in Yemen, the “Pentagon targeted al-Shabab” in Somalia, “several counterterrorism strikes” in Afghanistan. A retired Army Ranger now think tanker said the Obama administration really wanted to end the wars but we bombed six countries over the weekend and that’s “just the unfortunate reality of the terrorism threat today.”

_ Liz Sly had an article on Sep. 7 also in the Washington Post: “10 new wars that could be unleashed as a result of the one against ISIS.” Sly says people are asking “what’s next?” as ISIS is collapsing in Iraq and Syria, and “the answer seems likely to be: more war” because American allies in the region are enemies with each other and they are all seizing territory captured from ISIS. She lists 10 wars among among Turkey, Turkish-backed Arab forces, Kurds, Sunnis, Shia, Iraqis, Syria and the US but says there are likely more.  Among the “likely more” that she doesn’t mention are US vs. Russia, US vs. Iran, etc. There are a lot of other combinations.

_ In 2014, a study sponsored by NASA and headed by National Science Foundation’s Safa Motesharrei on the collapse of societies like the Roman Empire and Mesopotamia, finds that the collapse of modern western civilizations can be avoided but requires reduction of economic inequality, the preservation of natural resources, the use of renewable resources and reduction of population growth. The study challenges the idea that technology and more efficiency alone can resolve these problems because it “tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction.” Some other studies (e.g. KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science) have “warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years.”

_ LeMonde diplomatique: “Sleepwalking into a big war: The major powers are planning for war and claim that’s the best way to defend against war. Will this mutual hawkishness lead to armed conflict?”

_ Richard Clarke: “After 9/11, We Thought It Would Be a Generation-Long Struggle; We Were Wrong.” Clarke, the counter-terrorism advisor to the Clinton and Bush White House, says we’ve now been fighting the War on Terror for almost a generation, and there’s no end in sight. “We were wrong. It will take even longer.” Clarke says “there’s evidence the problem of large-scale, pseudo-Islamic terrorist violence may be putting down deeper roots.” He discusses 5 aspects of the problem. Al Qaeda (AQ), still fighting, ISIS, AQ’s offshoot, a resurgent Taliban, Europe’s security weaknesses, and “pseudo-Islamic terrorists” at home doing “small-cell and lone-wolf attacks.” Clarke believes that the ideological attraction to “pseudo-Islamic extremism” will continue until it is “countered or otherwise abates” and until the “root socioeconomic conditions that breed discontent are mitigated.”

_ “Obama and Putin’s icy death stare gets a presidential Photoshop battle” (in the Photoshop Battles subReddit).

Photos taken from the Norse Attack Map. By Christiaan Colen 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.