Next Cold War Roundup 9/27/16
Samantha Power and colleagues accused Russia of barbarism and war crimes before walking out of the emergency UN Security Council meeting that they convened. New York Times claimed that Russia used bunker-buster bombs on underground playgrounds in Aleppo. The Kremlin protested the rhetoric which could threaten the peace talks.
A German journalist interviewed a Nusra commander in Aleppo who claimed the US supports them through allied countries and rebel groups and Israel supports them.
Dept. of Defense officials testified at Senate hearings and said Russia was responsible for the aid convoy attack, a no-fly zone would mean war with Syria and Russia, and responded to intense pressure for military intervention in Syria coming from all directions.
Nusra Says the Americans, Israelis Provide Support
_ Well known German journalist, Jürgen Todenhöfer, who was the first western journalist to do an interview with ISIS, who spent 6 days in Mosul with ISIS, traveling there from Raqqa, has now done an interview with an al Nusra commander in Aleppo. Military expert and analyst, Moon of Alabama, translated the interview with Nusra commander Abu al-Ezz in Aleppo. A video of the interview with subtitles is also available.
_ Al-Ezz said that Nusra is part of al Qaeda, that the rebel groups who are allied with them are indistinguishable from Nusra. Al Ezz said that the US provides weapons to Nusra and the opposition through their allies, and that Israel is supporting Nusra and the opposition groups. Quotes from Abu al-Ezz during the Todenhöfer interview:
“Yes, the U.S. support the opposition, but not directly. They support the countries which support us. […] We reached a balance with the regime through these missiles. We received the tanks from Libya through Turkey.”
“No, the missiles were give directly to us. They were delivered to a certain group. When the “road” was closed and we were besieged we had officers here from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States.”
“Israel, for example, is now supporting us, because Israel is at war with Syria and with Hizbullah.”
“‘IS’ was used in the interests of big states like America, for political reasons, and was steered away from our principles. It became clear to us that most of their leaders work with secret security services.”
_ When asked about the Nusra commander interview with Jürgen Todenhöfer, State Dept. spox Mark Toner said: “that’s complete poppycock” by the Nusra commander and “we would never provide Nusra with any kind of assistance.” [Emphasis added]
_ The interview has begun to stir up a fuss and in a follow up post, Moon of Alabama responds to alleged experts who failed to debunk.
Escalation in Aleppo
_ The Syrian coalition launched an offensive to reclaim Aleppo despite strong protests from the US and the West. The US and Russia denounce and blame each other for the failed ceasefire on a daily basis and the rhetoric has escalated sharply.
_ John Kerry is under increasing pressure from uberhawk interventionists who want to remove Assad by force. Kerry maintains that negotiation is the only solution and blames Syria and Russia, who he says the cause of the escalation in violence is “is Assad and Russia wanting to pursue a military victory.” But Kerry also said contradictory things that indicate he’s pushing for intervention too.
_ On Monday, the State Dept. spokesman said Kerry and Lavrov have not spoken since Friday and unless we see “significant gestures” from Syria, he doesn’t see the talks going forward. Toner admitted that they had seen some gestures and they haven’t given up on the talks but they’re getting close to the “last possible measure.”
_ Toner: “If you’re asking about the legendary Plan B [military option], we’re not there yet” but says there have been discussions.
_ Russian FM Lavrov said Russia “will no longer take seriously” calls for Syria and Russia to take unilateral measures and wants the US to show “serious intentions” and credible proof that they will disassociate moderate rebels from al Nusra.
_ Toner said the bombing drives the moderate rebels into Nusra’s hands when asked about the US alleged effort to separate them. Toner dismissed the fact that rebel groups immediately rejected the ceasefire in verbal and written statements, and said that the rebels “say a lot of things.”
_ Russian ambassador to the UN Churkin said the US “had failed to convince mainstream rebels to distance themselves from ‘terrorist’ groups.”
_ Anne Barnard of the New York Times called the new offensive “Aleppo’s worst bombardment of the war” and took the claims to extraordinary levels, claiming that the Russians used “bunker-buster” bombs to target underground shelters, water pipes and even “schools, clinics and even playgrounds built underground over the years.” Moon of Alabama notes that Barnard’s article has 14 sources: 12 on the payroll of the US or UK, 1 Syrian, 1 Russian. Washington Post has been reporting in a similar style about the “ferocious assault” on Aleppo.
Pressure For Military Intervention in Syria
_ The criticism for Pres. Obama’s Syria policy has been escalating from inside and outside of his administration. War and intervention fanatics, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, have been lashing out relentlessly, pushing for regime change via US military intervention in Syria and did so again on Monday:
McCain and Graham: “Diplomacy in the absence of leverage is a recipe for failure […] abject failure of its Syria policy and the fact that there is no Plan B […] Assad and Putin lay the ground work to starve or butcher the 250,000 Syrians […] Obama’s policy remains shockingly unchanged.”
McCain and Graham: “Putin and Assad […] must be compelled, and that requires power.”
_ Kerry’s response to the saber rattling via his spokesman:
Toner: “[…] what the Secretary said, if Congress wants to give us other authorities or options, then Congress is able to do that and they do have a certain leverage themselves in this process.”
_ Kerry also said it would be “diplomatic malpractice” not to keep pursuing the negotiations and said: “We will have to see whether or not anything can develop in the next days that indicates a different approach from the Russians and from the regime.”
_ Kerry then made a more hawkish statement: “The important thing right now is to figure out what’s the alternative that the American people and the United States Congress will support,” hinting that they might go back to Congress for the go ahead for military intervention. Kerry’s statements about diplomacy and intervention were contradictory.
_ White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Pres. Obama is “deeply concerned” about Aleppo in Monday’s daily briefing (video, transcript). He said there was a “vigorous discussion at the National Security Council last night.” Earnest said that Russia “will have to account for their actions” and accused Russia of deliberately targeting civilians.
_ Earnest also responded to criticisms of the president by saying, numerous times, that the president will not apologize for “pursuing peace” and that pursuing peace is “not a concession.”
_ Two anonymous “US officials” speculated (via Jonathan Landay) about what “allies” might do. One official said Gulf allies or Turkey might “turn a blind eye to wealthy individuals looking to supply MANPADS to opposition groups.” A second official said “The Saudis have always thought that the way to get the Russians to back off is what worked in Afghanistan 30 years ago – negating their air power by giving MANPADS to the mujahideen.”
UN Security Council Emergency Meeting on Syria, Kremlin Lashes Out at Damaging Rhetoric
_ US, Britain and France called an emergency UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting on Saturday night, and the meeting was held on Sunday to address the escalating violence in Aleppo. (Video).
_ UN envoy de Mistura appealed for Russia and the US to pull Syria ‘away from the brink.’ De Mistura said there are reports of 213 dead in Aleppo.
_ The British ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, accused Russia and Syria of committing war crimes.
_ Samantha Power and the ambassadors from the UK and France walked out of the security council chamber when Syria’s Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari spoke. (She walked out on the Russian ambassador last week.)
_ When asked the walkout and the status on the inquiry about the UN aid convoy bombing, the UN envoy de Mistura had no comment.
_ US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power accused Russia of “barbarism” and war crimes in her statement.
Power: “Russia would have this Council live in “upside-down land,” where bombing first responders, cutting off humanitarian aid, and supporting a murderous regime is billed as counterterrorism. […] What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism; it is barbarism.”
“[…] It is apocalyptic what is being done to eastern Aleppo […] this Council can at the very least have the courage to say who is responsible for this. And, in a single voice, tell Russia to stop.” [Emphasis added]
Peskov: “We note that the tone and rhetoric used by official representatives from the UK and US is generally unacceptable and it can seriously damage the settlement process and our bilateral relations.” Peskov also said the “terrorists” had used the ceasefire time to “regroup, replenish their arsenals and obviously prepare for offensive actions”.
“The Kremlin views the situation as extremely complicated […] We are chiefly concerned that … terrorists are using a ceasefire to regroup their forces, to replenish their arsenals, for obvious preparations for waging offensives […] Because there has been no separation of moderates from terrorists, terrorists continue their encroachments, they continue offensives … Naturally the fight against terrorists is ongoing, it must not be stopped.” [Emphasis added]
Text of US-Russia Deal on Syria
_ The full text of the Sep. 9 US-Russia deal was leaked to the AP and published here.
Recent Senate Hearings With Dept. of Defense
_ Sec. Defense Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Dunford appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sep. 22 and the staff officers testified to the same committee on Sep. 12.
Intelligence Sharing With Russia
_ Sen. McCain tried to get to get Dunford to criticize Syria policy and the peace talks. Dunford would only say that he has offered the president some military options if our policy changes. McCain continued to pressure.
Dunford (from transcript): “What the president has directed us to do is establish a joint implementation […] Chairman, I do not believe it would be a good idea to share intelligence with the Russians.”
Military Plans for Raqqa and the Removal of Assad
_ Graham had a long exchange with Dunford and Carter on Raqqa and military intervention to remove Assad. The transcript and video clip is in our Next Cold War post: “Graham, Carter, and Dunford on Military Plans for Raqqa and Assad.”
Who Attacked the Aid Convoy in Aleppo
_ When asked by Sen. Blumenthal about the attacks on the aid convoys in Aleppo, Dunford said it was the Russian’s responsibility. When asked if it was a war crime, Dunford said it was an “unacceptable atrocity.”
Dunford: “I don’t have the facts. What we know are two Russian aircraft were in that area at that time. My judgement would be that they did. There were also some other aircraft in the area that belonged to the regime, at or about the same time. I can’t conclusively say that it ws the russians but it was either the Russians or the regime […]
“Senator, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Russians are responsible. I just don’t know whose aircraft actually dropped the bomb […] Yes, it is the Russians that were responsible.“
No-Fly Zone With a “More Palatable” Name, Controlling Airspace Means War With Russia and Syria
_ In this 5 min. video clip Sen. Wicker tells Sec. Carter and Gen. Dunford that a Democratic party colleague in the Senate has now changed his mind on military intervention to take down Assad via a no-fly zone, but it must be given a different name, a “more palatable name”. Wicker asks if we can ‘control the airspace to stop the barrel bombs’ and Dunford reminds them that controlling the airspace in Syria means going to war with Russia and Syria. [Emphasis added]
_ John McCain interrupted and Dunford said he wasn’t talking about “imposing a no-fly zone, he was asked about controlling airspace. McCain said what we all mean is “imposing a no-fly zone”. Dunford refined his answer and said a no-fly zone won’t require war. Nobody explained the difference between the two.
_ When asked by Sen. Blumenthal if he agrees that all aircraft in the area should be grounded, Dunford said the Russian and Syrian air forces should be grounded, but not the coalition aircraft.
Dunford’s Response to FSA Rebels Insulting and Threatening US Special Forces
_ Both Carter and Dunford said they hadn’t seen the video but had been told about the FSA group who threatened US special forces. Dunford said that FSA group was “a small minority the forces were supporting and that incident was policed up by our other partners and we view that to be an isolated incident and not reflective of the relationship that our forces have with the vetted opposition.”
_ Dunford said there’s an “incredible level of tension” between different groups in the region and it’s “a testimony to the professionalism of our forces there” that they’ve been able to continue with the Syrian Democratic Forces and the political situation with Turkey, for months and months.
Houthis Support From Iran
_ Sen. McCain asked Carter if Iran is supporting the Houthis in Iran and Carter said: “They are certainly assisted in some respects by the Iranians, yes.”
Deir Ezzor Attack: Syrian Intelligence Claims to Have Audio of US and ISIS
_ There are reports throughout pro-Syrian and pro-Russian media about the Speaker of the People’s Council of Syria, Hadiya Khalaf Abbas, who claims that Syrian intelligence has an audio recording of communication between ISIS and the US military just before the US coalition airstrikes on the Syrian military on Sep. 17 in Deir Ezzor.
_ Abbas told the Al Mayadeen broadcaster that: “The Syrian Army intercepted a conversation between the Americans and Daesh before the air raid on Deir ez-Zor,” according to Sputnik News.
_ No audio has been released, so the claim cannot be confirmed. Abbas also claimed that the US directed the ISIS attack on the Syrian military, which occurred immediately after the airstrikes. If the audio is confirmed, as she claims it will be, this would provide evidence to back up the Syrian government claims that the air and ground attacks were coordinated and as ZeroHedge states, “would put to rest years of speculation that the US military has been directly coordinating with the Islamic State.”
_ War correspondent Elijah Magnier, in a recent article, says that Syria and Russia do not believe that the US is in alliance with ISIS but they do believe that “the Americans behave with ISIS like a shepherds with their sheep” and they are able to manipulate the situation to “push these towards the left or the right and force the entire group to head in the desired direction.” Magnier uses Palmyra and al-Tabaqa as examples.
_ Reported on social media: 70 emirs and hundreds of fighters left Ahrar al-Sham because of its decision to cooperate with the US and because an Ahrar al-Sham leader was “bad-mouthing Al Qaeda ideologue Maqdisi & Bin Laden’s mentor Azzam.” This could be an attempt to very publicly break ties with the group in order to avoid being bombed, similar to the way al Nusra attempted to rebrand as no longer part of al Qaeda.
Raqqa, Arming the Kurds
_ The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that the Syrian Kurds (YPG) might be the primary ground forces in the battle for Raqqa, even though the population in Raqqa is not Kurdish. The “White House is considering steps in Syria to more directly arm the Kurdish forces” with “more small arms, ammunition and possibly some non-lethal assistance like trucks or medical equipment,” and this will anger Turkey. The WSJ article said that up until now the US has been arming the Kurds indirectly via the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
_ In a hearing, Sen. Blumenthal asked Gen. Dunford about the growing consensus that the Kurds should be armed. Dunford said they were in “deliberation about exactly what to do with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)” and it was “very difficult” to manage the relationship with SDF and the relationship with “our Turkish allies.” Dunford said they are working closely with the Turks “to come up with the right approach o make sure we can conduct effective and decisive operations in Raqqah with the Syrian Democratic Forces and still ally with the Kurdish.” He believes that “reinforcing the SDF current capabilities” will increase the chance of success in Raqqa.
Al Bab, Kurds Advance Despite Presence of Turkish Forces
_ There are reports of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), primarily Kurdish forces, advancing on Al Bab and the Afrin canton, capturing territory from ISIS, despite the presence of the Turkish military and Turkish-backed rebels in Syria now. There were previous advances (7.5km) between Aug. 30 and Sep. 23.
Pentagon Train and Equip Rebels Defect to ISIS
_ ISIS announced that 4 rebels from the Pentagon’s New Syrian Army, part of a train & equip program in Jordan, defected to ISIS and formally declared their defection.
_ SOFREP blog has quotes from a US Special Forces soldier who participated in the training of the New Syrian Army (NSyA) said the NSyA “had been pitched as a large-scale shaping operation that would change the course of the war” but they watched them cut and run when faced with a few ISIS fighters. “We literally watched them, with 30 guys in their force, run away from three or four ISIS guys.”
Operation Euphrates Shield
_ Turkey seized 29 Kurdish “population centers” bordering the Kurdistan Region in September. The latest is the town of Idil, in Sirnak Province. (Source: Kurdistan24)
_ Military aircraft (likely American) from Qatar air base airdropped supplies to rebels near the town of al Rai. US-backed FSA rebels in al Rai insulted and threatened US special forces on Sep. 17, and ran them out of town with Turkish military escorts.
_ Journalist Joumana Gebara asked an FSA spokesman why they “kicked” US troops out of al-Rai and he said “Because Turkey wants to teach US a lesson.”
How Many Civilians Are in East Aleppo and Why Are Numbers Inflated?
_ The number of civilians in rebel-held East Aleppo is controversial. Even though most western news media regularly report the number to be 250,000 – 275,000 or even higher, the few western journalists who have traveled to and reported from East Aleppo have said the number is drastically lower, in the 30,000 – 60,000 range.
_ The Guardian’s Martin Chulov reported “roughly 40,000.” VICE did a video segment titled “Most of Aleppo’s residents have fled the city.” “‘Spookstad‘, ghost-town, is the title of the Dutch TV documentary from there,” according to Moon of Alabama.
_ “Ehsani2”, a commentator with sources in Syria, reported on the reasons for the discrepancies in the reported numbers of civilians in rebel-held East Aleppo. In a series of tweets, aggregated in Storify, Ehsani2 explains why the rebels are drastically inflating the number of civilians reported to be there, and how aid is a “critical part of the war economy.” Aid packages, depending on their size, can be worth from $50 to $1,500 on the black market. The number of packages delivered depends on the stated number of civilians in the area being served.
“Inflating your number by a mere 1000 is potential source of recruiting or paying salaries of 1000 fighters who demand about $200 a month.”
_ Ehsani2 recalls when the truce was made between rebels and the government in Daraya, the actual number of people who emerged during evacuation was about 1/3 (or perhaps as low as 10% of the UN numbers) the amount that the rebels had claimed.
_ Ehsani2 also recounted that the government in Damascus had first learned about how the aid packages were used to finance fighters when 500 ISIS jihadists “took over Yarmouk in Damascus from Nusra” and a humanitarian disaster ensued. UNRWA took over the aid effort. ISIS knew that people would pay $1500 for a family aid package and they were able to finance 4,500 fighters with proceeds.
_ Turkish president Erdogan, for some reason, announced the start date for the battle of Mosul. October 19. Erdogan supports the plan to retake Mosul from ISIS and said so while in New York: “The agreement which is signed between the Peshmerga and Arabs for the offensive is very important.” But the agreed upon date, was supposed to remain secret, according to a Peshmerga spokesman. The Iraqi government has demanded that the Turkish military, at a base in Bashiqa, leave northern Iraq but Erdogan said: “Mosul inhabitants including Arabs and other groups are supporting us.”
_ A Peshmerga Ministry official announced that there is an agreement in place on who will administer Mosul after it is liberated from ISIS, which is expected to happen by the end of the year. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) reached a consensus with the Iraqi government in Baghdad “and the US-led coalition countries on all the details of Mosul’s liberation.” The agreement has not yet been signed. The UN expects 1 million people to flee the city when the military operations begin, with most fleeing to the Kurdistan region.
More Troops in Iraq
_ 400 new US troops were sent to Iraq in September and the Pentagon is asking for 500 more. There are about 6,000 troops in Iraq now, not counting contractors or covert. 4,400 are official and 1,500 are not officially counted, using a temporary assignment loophole. “The White House maintains that the troops the Pentagon sends to Iraq aren’t heading into direct combat.” But as you can see by the way the Wall Street Journal article is worded, nobody believes it. There have been casualties during these “advise and assist” missions. Most of the new troops will be deployed to “Q-West,” a “logistics hub” near Qayara, south of Mosul.
Permanent Bases in the Middle East are Back
_ Sec. Defense Carter and Chairman of Joint Chiefs said the US military will be deployed in the Middle East long after ISIS is defeated and we’ll set up “a more permanent command-and-control structure for operations in the region.”
Carter: “What is obvious and very clear is that we’re going to be in that region for a while.”
Dunford: “If you assume, like I do, that we’re going to be in that region, if not in Iraq, for many, many years to come, then we do need to open the aperture in terms of how we source these headquarters and the talent from which we draw to command.”
NATO Military Committee Conference
_ A NATO Military Committee Conference was held in Croatia on Saturday, Sep. 17. US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, met with his Turkish counterpart, General Staff, Gen. Hulusi Akar, ahead of the conference to “advance discussions on the way forward in the fight against” ISIS and to recommit to the “close military-to-military and strategic relationship the U.S. has with Turkey.”
_ After the conference, NATO commander and EUCOM commander Gen. Scaparrotti said NATO recognizes Russia as a challenge but can also collaborate with Russia. Scaparrotti said working together with Russia in Syria is a “good move” and “an opportunity that you got to take advantage of.”
UK Blocking War Crimes Inquiry Into War in Yemen
_ The UK is refusing to support an effort by The Netherlands to convene an international inquiry “to examine civilian deaths in Yemen, where the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is accused of committing war crimes.” The “UK neutered EU attempts to bring about such an investigation” and a proposal for an inquiry and monitoring was replaced with a much weaker one. UK foreign minister Boris Johnson said the UK is “using a very, very wide variety of information sources about what is happening to acquaint ourselves with the details” about Yemen. Various rights groups protested and issued statements accusing the UK of putting arms deals before the investigation of civilian deaths.
War and Elections
_ CATO: “Hillary Backed 9 of the Last 7 Interventions.”
_ Carnegie Endowment or International “Peace”, the Center for a New American Security, and the United States Institute of “Peace” published a white paper by Hillary Clinton proteges and likely top cabinet nominees Michele Flournoy and William Burns: “US Leadership & Challenge of State Fragility“. The paper talks about scarce resources and how Americans are “increasingly looking homeward” and how we can’t afford to do that and must continue intervention “for American interests, for the interests of our allies and partners, and for global peace and security.”
Analysis and Opinion
_ Pepe Escobar: “The US road map to balkanize Syria.”
_ Patrick Cockburn: “Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria.” Cockburn argues that both the US airstrike on Deir Ezzor and the Russian airstrike on the aid convoy in Aleppo were blunders and were covered up by using a propaganda technique of quick explanations that they knew would only last a few days until the news cycle moved on to something else and the fog of war produces targeting mistakes all the time.
_ Rick Sterling: “How US Propaganda Plays in Syrian War.”
_ Writer and editor and former State Dept. advisor, James Carden: “How Libyan ‘Regime Change’ Lies Echo in Syria”
_ NSA expert Jame Bamford: “Every Move You Make: Over eight years, President Barack Obama created the most intrusive surveillance apparatus in the world. To what end?” Bamford writes that the Obama administration has “drowned itself in data” and “America’s intelligence culture has grown frenzied. Agencies are ever seeking to get bigger, move faster, and pry deeper.”