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US-Backed FSA Threatens Slaughter of US Commandos; American Flag Flying in Border Town

Next Cold War Roundup 9/16/16

The ceasefire in Syria is shaky but producing a reduction in violence and may allow humanitarian aid soon. US special forces deployed to work with Turkish forces in Operation Euphrates Shield were threatened by US-backed Free Syrian Army forces. Russia wants the terms of the deal made public but the US refuses.  US and Russia continue to point fingers for failing to comply with the new agreement.

A UK House of Commons committee issued a scathing report on the 2011 intervention and regime change operation in Libya, said the evidence used to justify it was erroneous and largely blamed David Cameron and his council. US State Dept. maintains the evidence was valid and air strikes were justified.

The DPR and LPR rebels in eastern Ukraine declared a unilateral ceasefire and the government of Ukraine agreed to do the same. Pres. Poroshenko plans to attempt constitutional changes needed to implement the Minsk agreement.

Operation Euphrates Shield; US-Backed FSA Rebels Threaten to Slaughter US Troops

_ US special operations forces, working with Turkish forces, advanced on the town of al-Rai, as they prepare for their offensive on the strategic town of al-Bab, which is occupied by ISIS. The Free Syrian Army is backed by both the US and Turkey and is also involved in Operation Euphrated Shield but on Friday in al-Rai they chanted that the US forces are “pigs,””crusaders,” “infidels,” “dogs,” and said “Down with America”, “‘Get out you pigs” and “They are coming to Syria to occupy it”. They threatened to slaughter the US troops, who decided to flee the town and another video shows “US soldiers in a column of armoured vehicles and Turkish tanks speeding out of al-Rai.”

_ The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that the 40 US special operations troops were going to “work alongside Turkish forces to fight Islamic State in northern Syria” in Operation Euphrates Shield, as combat advisors and under the same rules as other US forces inside Syria, as the Turkish coalition forces advance toward Dabiq. WSJ said this the “first time American special-operations forces are working with the Turkish military and moderate rebels in Syria.”

_ The Telegraph, in their report about the incident, said that the “US commandos are operating in a complex web of alliances and enmities in Syria” where “many of America’s allies are fighting each other and some rebel groups that receive US support still harbour strong anti-American sentiments.” They cite the video where FSA screams at US commandos as they drive by in trucks: “Christians and Americans have no place among us,” and “The collaborators of America are dogs and pigs. They wage a crusader war against Syria and Islam.”

_ Military expert Moon of Alabama (MoA) concludes, about this deployment of US troops with Turkish forces that: “One can reasonably assume that the planned presence of U.S. forces amid a Turkish invasion has the sole purpose of deterring Russian or Syrian moves against it.” MoA also reminds that these are the same rebel groups that the CIA “vetted” and “provided with TOW missiles and other weapons” and could use against US troops. He also reminds that the sentiments they chanted are not new and nobody should be surprised that they would turn on their sponsors because they”have done so in each historic parallel one can think of.”

_ The staunch US defenders of so called moderate Syrian rebels will be calling their public relations consultants and working all weekend to conjure up a response to this, no doubt.

Diplomatic Battle on Making Text of US-Russia Deal Public

_ All week, there has been a diplomatic battle going on between the US and Russia about the deal they signed 1 week ago. The US, reportedly demanded that the text of the agreement remain secret. As we reported in Tuesday’s Next Cold War Roundup, on Monday, the White House spokesman started reporting that Russia could not be trusted to hold up their end of the deal, at which time Russian foreign minister called for the text of the deal to be made public, but as of Thursday, the US has not agreed to do that.

_ French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Sep. 15 that it’s a problem that France doesn’t know all the details of the deal and the US must make more of agreement on targeting available to them because of the risk of “moderate opposition” being hit.

_ Reuters also says that France “is a key backer of rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and allied militias.” When rebel sponsor countries are mentioned, France is not usually among those mentioned. Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are usually cited.

_ On Friday, Sergey Lavrov said the US is “stalling on its promise to separate moderate rebel groups in Syria from terrorists.  Lavrov went even further by saying he hopes “this delay is not caused by someone in Washington trying to shield terrorists from being targeted.”

_ As of Thursday, the US will not agree to release the text of the deal. In a press briefing journalists pressured State Dept. spokesman Mark Toner on the subject.

Journalist: “… it’s just so strange that we have this really big, important agreement and you’re not willing to share the text.”

Toner said it was a “bilateral agreement,” it deals with “sensitive issues that we believe, if made public, could potentially be misused or misinterpreted or used by – I know Secretary Kerry talked about the spoilers or would-be spoilers of this – but also could put some of these opposition groups, moderate opposition groups, at risk.”

_ Toner also said, when asked about the French foreign minister, that the State Dept. plans to address the subject with partners next week during the annual UN gathering and they will be: “sitting down with other members of the ISSG next week in New York walking them through in painstaking detail and answering every question they may have about the agreement.” Toner said the deal “hinges on their ability to convince the groups that they support within the moderate opposition.”

Kerry: Rebel Sponsors Have Condemned Al Qaeda

_ There is a “significant drop in violence” in Syria, according to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura. John Kerry did an interview with NPR, during which he said: “We are not going to support people who are fighting alongside al-Qaida. Period.” Kerry claims that the so called moderate opposition rebels have been encouraged by their sponsors (“Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia”) to “make common-sense decisions” and the sponsors have now condemned Al Qaeda themselves.

Ahrar al-Sham Designation as a Moderate Opposition Group

_ One of the biggest sticking points between the US and Russia sides in the Syrian war is the classification of the opposition group Ahrar al-Sham.  State Dept. spokesman John Kirby dodged a question during the Sep. 12 briefing about whether Ahrar al-Sham was “considered to be moderate opposition.” He said “Ahrar al-Sham is not designated as a terrorist organization inside Syria” and therefore it is a “group that we have maintained a level of contact with.”

Pentagon vs. Kerry on US-Russia Deal

_ New York Times reports that Sec. Defense Ash Carter was one of the people who kept Kerry in a 5-hour conference call during the negotiations in Geneva last week, and who “pushed against the agreement.” As of Tuesday, Sep. 13, the Pentagon reportedly would not even agree to the second part of the deal where the US military and Russian military cooperate on targeting al Qaeda.

_ In a US Defense Dept. briefing on Sep. 15, spokesman Peter Cook was asked if Sec. Def. Carter must “submit a waiver to Congress to get away from the legal ban on military discussions with the Russians in this context.” Cook said the joint implementation center (JIC) has not been “stood up” yet and no coordination is happening and “we fully anticipate the Department of Defense, as always, will adhere to the law.” He said they are still waiting for compliance with the ceasefire before making any move on starting the coordination with the Russians.

_ Cook refused to answer any questions about accusations that the US was “not really separating the moderate rebels from militant groups” and directed those questions to the State Dept.

_ On Sep. 14 Ash Carter made a public statement on Sep. 14 (video, transcript) commending Sec. Kerry “for getting us an agreement.” Carter said the ceasefire is largely holding and it will ease the suffering of the Syrian people and that it “will mean that Russia gets on the right side  of things in Syrian not on the wrong side, and that’s good.” He said we’ve “got a ways to go to see whether it will be implemented or not” but “we in the Defense Department will play whatever role we have with our accustomed excellence.”

_ Gareth Porter believes that the reason for the leaks to the media about the Pentagon opposition to military coordination with the US is “parochial” in that the Pentagon wants to “maintain the line that Russia is a dangerous threat” and the CIA wants to grow its covert Syrian rebel program. Both want more resources.

Ceasefire, Humanitarian Aid, Military Cooperation in Syria

_ Most of the ceasefire violations were committed by Ahrar al-Sham, the Syrian rebel group with ties to al Qaeda and ISIS, but one which the US refuses to put on the list of recognized terrorist groups.

_ The Kremlin said “the truce in Syria is progressing slowly” and they are pressuring the Syrian government to “continue observing it despite violations.”

_ The State Dept. said levels of violence are lower than they were before the ceasefire began and we have seen violations from both sides and had an “uneven start” but it’s worth continuing.

_ Humanitarian assistance has not been delivered to Aleppo yet. State Dept. spox said, after some pressure from a journalist, that we’re really in “day one, day one and a half” of the ceasefire, in terms of calculations for the ceasefire and the “JIC” (joint operations center with Russian military).

_ The Russian military has deployed drones and cameras to provide a “real-time online broadcast of the situation” in Aleppo to “ensure transparency in the implementation of the ceasefire.”

_ AP reports today that the Syrian military has begun to withdraw from Castello Road late on Thursday, a key artery and an important part of the agreement. Russia will deploy their forces along the road to ensure safe passage for the humanitarian aid vehicles. AP calls this the “most overt participation by Russian ground forces in the Syrian war.”

_ On Thursday, UN envoy de Mistura said the US-Russia agreement had led to a dramatic reduction of violence and is still a potential “game changer” in three different areas. De Mistura said that the UN, US and Russia were disappointed that the Syrian government had not yet issued “facilitation letters” for humanitarian aid deliveries via Castello Road.

_ The other side of the story, via the Telegraph, about who is blocking the humanitarian aid also comes from the UN spokesman David Swanson who said the rebel factions inside Aleppo said they would “reject aid” and were blocking delivery.

US Envoy Letters to US-backed Syrian Rebel Groups about the US-Russia Deal

_ In an article by Gareth Porter, he analyzes the 2 letters sent from a US envoy to the US-backed Syrian opposition groups about the US-Russia deal.  In a Sep. 3 letter (translated by Al Monitor) from Ratner tells the opposition that the Syrian air force will be grounded in all areas controlled by the opposition, whether al Qaeda is there or not. It makes no reference to the rebels moving away from or breaking ties with al Qaeda.  But the US is claiming that their part of the deal is to coerce rebel groups to separate from al Qaeda. The Sep. 3 letter says nothing about that:

“Russia will prevent regime planes from flying, and this means there will not be bombing by the regime of areas controlled by the opposition, regardless of who is present in the area, including areas in which Jabhat Fateh al Sham [al Qaeda/al Nusra] has a presence alongside other opposition factions.”

_ Ratney’s second letter, sent on Sep. 10, one day after the US-Russia deal was signed, does strongly urge the rebels to “distance themselves and cut all ties with Fateh of Sham, formerly Nusra Front, or there will be severe consequences.” Porter suggests that this could mean the last concession Kerry made was the strong message sent to the rebels, and he believes the US was reluctant to issue the ultimatum, even though this issue has been on the table since the last ceasefire negotiations.

_ The previous ceasefire negotiated in February, was broken by the so called moderate opposition when they joined with al Nusra (al Qaeda) and Ahrar al-Sham in an offensive in southern Aleppo in April.

American Flag Flying in Syria

_ On Thursday, photos of buildings in Syria flying the American flag started showing up on social media. Al Masdar reports that “a new batch of U.S. special forces (about 50, with 17 armored vehicles, heavy weaponry and communication equipment) have entered Syria through Turkey and set up camp at Al-Monbath hill in the countryside of Tell Abyad, near a border crossing, a Kurdish-held region north of Raqqa.” Reportedly, they are setting up a military base, advising the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and will try to prevent Turkish-backed forces from attacking the Kurds and SDF, but Al Masdar was also told that the SDF is not allowed to enter the new military site.

_ Turkish media is reporting that the Syrian Kurds (YPG) established the base and are misusing the American flag “again”.


Donbass Separatist Regions Declare Unilateral Ceasefire in Ukraine

_ On Tuesday, there were reports that the Donbass regions would declare a unilateral ceasefire: “Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) will implement a unilateral ceasefire, starting September 15th.” LPR said the ceasefire was to “demonstrate our commitment to a peaceful settlement of the conflict.” DPR said they would stop shelling and “call on the Ukrainian side to take it seriously and show that they are willing to do this.”

_ On Wednesday, DW reported that Ukraine Pres. Poroshenko the Ukrainian military would agree to “abide by a ceasefire agreement proposed by pro-Russian rebels earlier this week. The ceasefire was set to come into effect Thursday and last for at least one week.” German foreign minister Steinmeier announced this news while in Kiev, alongside his French counterpart. He praised Poroshenko and mentioned that the IMF “has expressed its willingness to support Ukraine if it sticks to the deal.”

_ Stephen Cohen feels that the sudden developments on Ukraine are related to the US-Russia deal on Syria. The leader of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic suddenly declared a unilateral ceasefire and Ukraine Pres Poroshenko, who refused to bring a vote on constitutional changes to the Rada (parliament) has now decided that he will bring it to a vote, which would give the separatist regions a degree of home rule. So it’s possible that the Minsk deal is not dead after all. Cohen believes that enormous pressure was brought by Germany, France, Russia and the US on Poroshenko, and that Putin’s threat to pull out of the agreement was the catalyst.

_ Poroshenko, who has been threatened by neo-Nazi factions in his country if he complies with the Minsk agreement.

_ Batchelor brings up the issue that Merkel’s party lost an election, Hollande’s approval ratings are bad, and next Sunday there are parliamentary elections in Russia, and these things may have pushed the leaders to force the Minsk agreement to finally be implemented.

ISIS Has Newer Weapons From Eastern Europe

_ A British company, Conflict Armament Research, funded mainly by the UK, German and EU governments, has tracked a half million illegal weapons and ammunition in conflict zones in less than 2 years. Their staff embeds with “national security forces” and arrive at the front lines soon after the fighting stops “to find and document seized weapons and work out where they came from.” They try to track the chain of supply and their aim is help governments, NGOs and the UN challenge countries that are “fueling illegal weapons trades.”

_ James Bevan, director of Conflict Armament Research, says they have noticed a “rapid, frightening change in the weapons being used by the so-called Islamic State.” ISIS weapons used to be mainly the ones seized from the Iraqi and Syrian armies but their arsenal now has late model weapons from Eastern Europe. Bulgaria and Serbia has been selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, who sends them to Turkey, where Syrian opposition groups get them, and then they get to ISIS, all in less than 2 months.

_ Bevan concludes that “anyone supplying weapons to Syrian opposition groups has ‘absolutely no control’ over where they end up” because “the agenda of the many opposition factions overlaps with that of IS.” He notes that there is very little difference between the hard line opposition groups and ISIS. Bevan finds the situation to be similar to Afghanistan in the 1980s when the US and Saudi Arabia gave weapons to Pakistani intelligence who “picked the winners, which were the hard line Islamist forces that were the origins for Al Qaeda and the Taliban.””

_ Conflict Arms Research contacts the countries who manufacture the weapons and they get a decent response from the EU, India, Pakistan, some Middle East countries but they never get a response from the US, China and Russia who will never help trace weapons. Bevan says when the US and other countries engage in activity like arming Syrian opposition groups they disassociate themselves by supplying Eastern European weapons.

Batchelor – Cohen Podcast on the “New Cold War”

_ On Tuesday’s Batchelor Show segment with Stephen Cohen (podcast), they discussed the US-Russia deal on Syria.

_ Cohen says the opposition to the US-Russia deal is “ferocious” and is the thing to watch now. The opposition is in Damascus where Assad is not particularly happy, in Brussels/NATO but the “center of the opposition is here in US.” The “opposition here in the US takes the form of a kind of media blitz, and this blitz is backed by powerful forces, to declare that Vladimir Putin is not a worthy partner for the United States” and by association, having made the deal with Putin, would discredit Obama. The opposition is widespread and bipartisan.

_ Cohen claims that Assad wants to take back all of Syria from ISIS and rebels but the US-Russia deal does not allow for that.

_ Cohen cites Ash Carter’s Oxford speech, painted Putin “in the old Soviet” way as ” the root of all our problems.”
– Carter said Putin doesn’t share any interest w/US, which Cohen has never heard said by any administration in his memory.

The “Bloody Collapse of Libya”

_ UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee investigation “Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK’s future policy options” report is now available on their web site. (Report summary, conclusions and recommendations, full report)

_ Charles Shoebridge says: “5 years late, UK MPs condemn UK France use of humanitarian pretext for catastrophic Libya regime change intervention.” A “damning report by MPs” blames “David Cameron blunders” for the “bloody collapse of Libya.” The report says that Cameron should have used Tony Blair’s “’contacts and influence’ to try to secure Gaddafi’s exit and a ‘negotiated solution’”

_ The report also says there was “’insufficient action’ taken to secure weapons abandoned by the Gaddafi regime, which contributed to the turmoil and ‘increased terrorism’ across the region.” While it’s true that Cameron should have tried to secure the weapons, Sy Hersh has reported that the “ratline” of weapons from Gaddafi’s stockpiles in Libya to Syria, via Turkey, was a deliberate State Dept. and CIA operation as part of a regime change operation in Syria. The weapons ratline operation was overseen “in part by the American consulate in Libya, located in Benghazi,” was “executed by the CIA in conjunction with the UK’s MI6” as a liaison operation, was “funded by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar” and was “overseen by CIA Director David Petraeus prior to his resignation, and used Libyan front companies to ship packages to Turkey.”

_ Cameron resigned his position as an MP one day before the report was released even though he had pledged to stay on as a backbencher. Deflecting as much blame as possible onto Cameron is politically advantageous for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and anyone who pushed for the overthrow of Gaddafi and the connected Syrian regime change activities. Obama had already set Cameron and Sarkozy (among others) up to take the fall for Libya in his interviews with Jeffrey Goldberg, reported in April in the infamous ” Obama Doctrine” article. And David Cameron is an even easier mark now.  This is not meant to imply that Cameron is blameless, but it is just plain silly to suggest that he has not always been the weaker partner in Anglo-American empire projects.

_ When asked about the UK government report on Libya, US State Dept. spokesman said “in the immediate aftermath of Qadhafi’s downfall, not enough was done to secure Libya and to help the new government stand on its feet” but since then we’ve done a lot to “set up a new government” and to “help it cope with threats from ISIL and really consolidate power within Libya.”

_ When asked about the UK’s finding that the “intervention is based on erroneous assumptions and incomplete understanding,” State Dept. spox said we had “statements that Qadhafi was making that he was going to go into various cities that were held by – or rebel-held cities, that he was going to hunt people down like dogs from house to house and kill them” so we “had every right” to carry out airstrikes and we acted before Qadhafi was able to carry out massacres.

War and Elections

_ Bill Clinton’s Sec. of Defense, William Perry, warned Hillary Clinton about the danger of her Cold War rhetoric that she uses to distract the public from her political problems. Perry also notes that the NATO expansion is what “took us down this path.” Perry says “we have to understand there is the possibility of a truly catastrophic event if this rhetoric were to lead, somehow, to a military conflict which could escalate into a nuclear conflict.”

Analysis and Opinion

_ Journalist David Mizner notes that President Obama continues to set records and make history: “most deportations, arms sales, countries bombed (since WWII), espionage act prosecutions & aid to Israel.”

_ Naomi LaChance at The Intercept: “Latest Estimate Pegs Cost of Wars at Nearly $5 Trillion.”

_ James Rosen, Fox News: “Watergate: CIA withheld data on double agent.” CIA just released, in response to a Judicial Watch FOIA request, a 155-page study titled: ““Working Draft – CIA Watergate History.” Judicial Watch “shared it” with Rosen. One of the burglars was a CIA mole (an agent, not an informant) and a Bay of Pigs veteran.

Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

Joanne is a blogger with focus on issues of war and peace, a mom, engineer, software developer and amateur photographer.