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US Sidelined on Syria Solution; EU Offers Cash for Concessions; Rebels Refuse to Surrender

Next Cold War Roundup 12/4/16

US, Britain and France try to force ceasefire in East Aleppo, 60% of which has been recaptured. Russia refuses until rebels and jihadis leave. US is being sidelined as Turkey holds talks with rebels and the EU tries to cut a deal with Damascus, offering cash for a rebel win of some territory and a political solution. And more in today’s roundup…

Syria: Negotiations on Aleppo

_ Syrian opposition rebels told the Financial Times  on Dec. 1 that Turkey is brokering talks between rebels and Moscow, sidelining the US.

_ US Sec. State John Kerry offered a proposal on Saturday for withdrawal of rebel forces from Aleppo and talks to begin on Tuesday.  Lavrov said a ceasefire would happen after an agreement is reached but rebels who refuse to withdraw would be considered terrorists and would not be covered by the ceasefire. The remaining opposition fighters are concentrated in the southern part of East Aleppo now.

_ The EU wants to purchase a win for rebel forces in Syria as part of a proposal for a political solution in Syria. They want to pay the Syrian government to create a rebel-controlled area. Federica Mogherini met with Syrian opposition leaders 2 weeks ago. Let’s just say, this seems unlikely. The EU claims to offer this deal to avoid a flood of refugees but the evidence in East Aleppo so far shows civilians fleeing to government-held areas, not fleeing the country.

_ Those who do flee the country are likely to be the remnants of the jihadi fighters who make it out alive, and return to Turkey, and that will be Erdogan’s problem, who helped them get there.

_ The meeting with Mogherini was revealed by a rebel source who told The Times in London.  The EU is also apparently backing away from regime change policy in Syria, which terrorism analyst Max Abrahms describes as “perhaps another blow to the think tanks.”

_ The Times article, “EU offers cash to Assad regime for Syria peace deal,” was written by Richard Spencer, who said there is “a growing sense that America has been sidelined as a western negotiating partner” and Mogherini’s offer was “last-ditch effort to retain western influence on the outcome of the war.”

Syria: Rebels Will Not Surrender

_ As of Monday, Syrian coalition forces have retaken about 60% of East Aleppo from the al Qaeda-led rebel forces and are advancing toward the rebel-held Old Aleppo. Russia said they are ready to negotiate with the US for the withdrawal of the remaining rebel forces, according to Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.

_ Rebels have formed several new alliance groups with new names, such as “The Aleppo Army” . It’s difficult, as it always has been, to keep track of the various morphing groups and alliances.

_ Multiple calls for moderate rebels to separate from  jihadi fighters have failed. Zakaria Malahifji, a “senior rebel official” from the Fastaqim group, speaking to Reuters from his location in Turkey, said the rebels told the US they will not leave Aleppo. He also said the rebels groups demanded that “humanitarian corridors” be opened to deliver aid and evacuate the wounded.

_ The Syrian military dropped leaflets on Sunday giving a final warning to opposition forces to “surrender their weapons and allow civilians to escape the conflict zone through humanitarian corridors.” A Syrian military source told reporters that they expect to clear East Aleppo of jihadists in a matter of weeks.

Syria: Rebel Counteroffensive, Syrian Coalition Bisects East Aleppo Again

_ Fatah Halab and Jaysh Al-Fatah (includes al Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham) launched a major counteroffensive in East Aleppo on Monday, Dec. 5, “storming the Syrian Arab Army’s defenses at the Mayssar, Al-Qaterji, and Zibidiyeh districts.”

_ Rebels in East Aleppo continue to shell the government-held West Aleppo and on Monday a Russian mobile hospital set up to help civilians as they flee from East Aleppo was hit, killing and injuring paramedics and civilians who were being treated. The Russian ministry of defense is “accusing the United States, Britain and France of tipping off the rebels about the hospital’s location.”

_ Military experts Col. Lang and Moon of Alabama offer more detail (here, here and here) on the cauldron and other technique employed by the Syrian coalition forces in Aleppo.

_ There are reports that the Syrian coalition forces are only 200 meters away from the children’s hospital which has been used the main rebel headquarters since 2012.  Air cover by the Syrian air force have been nonstop, according to reports.

Syria: UN Security Council Meeting on Aleppo

_ The UN Security Council meeting held on Wednesday, Nov. 30, called by the French and British ambassadors, produced a lot of headlines. A BBC headline uses a quote from Stephen O’Brien, a UN humanitarian affairs chief, who said East Aleppo risks becoming “one giant graveyard.” O’Brien reported that 25,000 people had been displaced.

_ However, O’Brien also said, “in an apparent reference to the rebels themselves, he said there were reliable reports that “non-state actors” were preventing civilians fleeing.” It’s curious that he decided to use a vague term rather than the commonly used terms “rebels” or “moderate opposition.” [Emphasis added]

_ The aid agencies who were called to testify at the UN Security Council meeting called for aid and a ceasefire. The Russian military offered to escort aid convoys into East Aleppo but as of late Wednesday, the UN had not accepted the offer. The spokesman for the Russian defense ministry, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said the US, UK, France and UN “have not yet offered humanitarian relief to 90,000 Aleppo citizens, liberated from militants two days ago.” [Emphasis added]

_ The UK foreign office spokesman said the UN has a “credible plan” and they have an agreement with the opposition but they are waiting for Syrian Pres. Assad to allow the aid in.

_ The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, told the UN and the media on Weds. that the road for aid delivery, Castello Road, has been “liberated.” Churkin: “Following recent developments, the Castello Road can be used for aid deliveries to eastern Aleppo without any limitations, or any further special talks or agreements. Whenever humanitarian workers are ready, they can use the road.”

_ The UN Security Council will meet again on Monday, Dec. 4, to vote on a draft resolution demanding a 7-day ceasefire in Aleppo, with plans to renew the ceasefire after it expires. Russian foreign minister Lavrov said Russia would not support the resolution, as Lavrov and Kerry are working on a deal to evacuate the rebel fighters from Aleppo, after which a ceasefire could begin. The talks were proposed by US Sec. State John Kerry over the weekend, and the start date for the talks delayed by a few days at Washington’s request.

Syria: Contrasts in Western Media Reporting on East Aleppo Civilians

_ Voice of America frames the civilian flight from East Aleppo as people fleeing Syrian government forces: “In Aleppo, Tens of Thousands Flee Advancing Government Troops.” VoA claims that 50,000 civilians have fled, based on numbers from a “Syrian monitor group” but doesn’t specify which group. They also reported that 26 civilians were killed on Wednesday by “government artillery fire” and 300 have been killed since the government offensive began in mid-November. The State Dept. expressed “deep outrage” and holds Russia responsible.

_ A Syrian in Aleppo, Edward Dark, says the pictures tell the tale, as thousands flood out of East Aleppo into government-controlled areas. It conflicts with the western media narrative that they are afraid of the “regime” and running away from its forces. (Though no doubt, there are some Syrians for which this is true.)

_ A young woman with babies escapes jihadi rebels in East Aleppo after multiple attempts, and reunites with her mother in the government-controlled territory. They allow the AFP to do a video interview. Thousands of civilians are still being held hostage “to keep up fighters’ morale,” according to the young woman who escaped, interviewed by the Financial Times. The narrative in most western media portrays the situation in an entirely different life, urging the US military to intervene to prevent the Syrian government forces from attacking these “rebels” even though their offensive is allowing civilians held hostage to flee to safety.

_ Even CNN is reporting the stories of civilians fleeing East Aleppo who tell them the rebels would not let them leave. Notably, one Twitter commenter says that CNN added some detail about bombs dropping, that the civilian did not actually say: “He talks about rebels shooting at them not ‘heavy bombs falling’ as the voiceover says when the boy talks.”

_ As of Monday, Dec. 4, Reuters reported 30,000 civilians had evacuated areas of East Aleppo, wiht 18,000 going to government-controlled areas , 8,500 to the Kurdish-controlled neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud, and the remainder moving to other rebel-controlled areas of East Aleppo.

Syria: Restoring Liberated Areas of East Aleppo

_ Syrian engineer units are de-mining neighborhoods recovered from rebel groups and have begun restoring electricity and public water, which were disrupted by rebels as they fled, according to the Russian defense ministry. RT’s Lizzie Phelan, an incredibly gutsy young female journalist, traveled with the Syrian engineers as they clear buildings, and find chemicals and rockets in a school.

 Syria: Israel Bombs Damascus

_ Israeli fighter jets breached Lebanese airspace and fired 4 missiles at a town, Al-Saboorah, west of Damascus. Al Masdar’s correspondent in downtown Damascus actually heard the explosions from that distance because the explosions were so huge.

Syria: Erodgan’s Flip Flop

_ Early in the week, Turkish Pres. Erdogan blurted out that he is in Syria to take down Syrian Pres. Assad. Presumably, Erdogan was angry about his troops in Syria being bombed and halted at the gates of al-Bab, and was frustrated by his inability to respond with his air force or his army. Erdogan called Russian Pres. Putin 3 times and by Dec. 1, Erdogan had clarified his statements with a flip flop. Erdogan’s goal was no longer an Assad regime change, but instead he was back on track fighting terrorism in Syria. His outburst put his troops in a precarious situation, before the Russians apparently set him straight. Moon of Alabama has an analysis explaining the situation further.

Syria: CENTCOM Chief Calls for Continuation of Backing Syrian Rebels

_ During a conference at the rebranded neocon think tank, Foreign Policy Initiative, CENTCOM commanding Gen. Votel urged the new president to continue the policy of arming “moderate” Syrian rebels. Retired Col. Pat Lang thinks that disqualifies him as for the CENTCOM position and he should be replaced for pushing this disastrous policy.

Syria: Raqqa

_ Jeff Seldin at Voice of America asks: “Why Hasn’t Raqqa Been Attacked Yet?” He gives a few reasons like uncertainty due to the unexpected election of Trump, and the need for sufficient ground forces while the Kurdish YPG are preoccupied with Manbij and al-Bab now.

_ Seldin also mentions that “IS defense positions in Raqqa’s surrounding villages have remained largely undamaged by U.S. and Western warplanes.” But he really doesn’t explain why those ISIS defenses in Raqqa are largely intact after 2 years of anti-ISIS coalition operations in Syria. He veers off into a discussion of how Sec. Defense Carter’s announcements that the battle for Raqqa would begin soon were probably not serious.

Syria: Airstrikes that Killed Syrian Troops and Killed Peace Deal

_ A Pentagon investigation concluded that the hour long US coalition air attack on a Syrian military garrison in Deir Ezzour in September that killed 62 soldier and injured 100 was an “unintentional” human error and also miscommunications and intelligence problems. The Pentagon decided that the attack did not “violate the law of armed conflict or the rules for the American military.”

_ Danish, British and Australian air forces were also involved in the strike on Syrian troops. Shortly after the Pentagon report was published, Denmark announced they would not be extending their participation in the mission and will be pulling out their 7 F-16 fighter jets.

_ Airwars, a watchdog organization, calculates 6,000 US coalition airstrikes on Syria and estimates that there have been 1,000 civilians killed by those airstrikes, since the Operation Inherent Resolve mission began in 2014.

Syria Strategy Under Trump

_ Via the Wall Street Journal, allies of President-elect Trump spoke about Syria. Former Sec. Defense Gates said: “I think we have to begin by being realistic, Assad is going to remain in power, and the Russians are committed to that.” Newt Gingrich said: “Show me a strategy right now that gets rid of Assad […] The Russians are for him and the Iranians are for him, and there’s no coalition of forces in the region that defeats him. So it starts with reality.”

_ The WSJ article also mentions that Sec. Defense nominee, Gen. Mattis, has also called for a Congressional resolution that authorizes the use of US troops.

Mosul

_ In a press briefing on Dec. 1, OIR deputy commander, UK Major General Rupert Jones, said they “are beginning to see a reduction in the amount of suicide attacks on the Iraqi security forces” by ISIS. One reason is because of bridges that were “disabled” between east and west Mosul to hamper ISIS VBIEDs and the flow of “fresh fighters”. Another is they may be running out of ammunition, and a third reason is that the coalition and Iraqi forces have adapted their tactics “to counter this barbaric style [sic] of attack.”

_ Jones also said of the Mosul battle: “This is not a race, so patience is required.”

_ The Iraqi government sent aid trucks with food, water and supplies into areas in eastern Mosul that had been retaken from ISIS. The trucks were overwhelmed by civilians. (Video)

Ukraine

_ The Minsk Agreement meetings held on Tuesday between Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine resulted in no progress, according to Russian FM Lavrov, who also said the OSCE statistics show more weapons violations by Ukraine than by the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

_ The Ukraine military will hold missile launches on the border with Crimea on Dec. 1 and 2, and in what Russia considers to be their airspace. A spokesman, Roman Yurchilo, from the Ukraine air force said the launch area is 90km from Crimea and won’t pose any threat to the peninsula’s residents. He said there would be a temporary ban on the use of specific part of the airspace. A source in Crimea said it’s a PR ploy but the Russian military and navy air defenses will be put on high alert. The Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Zakharova said it’s a “provocation designed to prompt a tough response.”

Analysis & Opinion

_ Paul Craig Roberts, who served as Treasury Secretary for Pres. Ronald Reagan, and whose web site was including in a ridiculous “PropOrNot” list of alleged Russian propaganda sites, wrote a snarky letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Dear President Putin, Now That the WaPo Has Blown My Cover…”  In the letter, he asked for a passport, like Steven Seagall, and a press agent to help him publish his memoirs, “My Life as a Putin Stooge.” Roberts asks Putin to expedite the request since the FBI will now be after him and gets in some digs about how his criticisms of Washington’s policies and preference “that the world not be blown up in thermo-nuclear war” is a “suspect view in the US.”

“We need to get on with this ASAP as the Washington Post has the FBI on my tail. They will be very angry at me for deceiving them all those years when I held top secret and higher security clearances while I was a Russian agent. Any day now the Washington Post might discover that my fellow KGB agent Ronald Reagan and I cut taxes on the rich in order to make capitalism so oppressive that the American people would rise up and overthrow it. Boy did we fool the left-wing!”

_ The Kremlin played along with Roberts’ request, and said (via their spokesman) that they awaited his application for citizenship.  RT asked him why he was put on that blacklist to begin with. He said it’s because he doesn’t demonize Russia or Putin and he’s not a warmonger, and during his career he helped to defuse tensions between the US and the USSR. “I respect the truth, and I realize that in a world of thermonuclear weapons it’s a very serious mistake for Washington to increase tensions between nuclear powers.”

_ Asked why the US is ramping up tensions and demonizing Russia, Roberts said: ” I respect the truth, and I realize that in a world of thermonuclear weapons it’s a very serious mistake for Washington to increase tensions between nuclear powers.” When asked about the “fake news” kerfuffle, Roberts said the media was “concentrated in a few hands” during Bill Clinton’s “regime” and it “serves as a propaganda ministry for the oligarchy and the special interests.” Alternative media on the internet is a threat to them.

_ Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn at Counterpunch: “The CIA and the Press: When the Washington Post Ran the CIA’s Propaganda Network.”

_ Stephen Kinzer  in the Boston Globe: “Trump should embrace ‘dual conciliation’ abroad.” Kinzer advocates: “Rather than side instinctively with Saudi Arabia in its rivalry with Iran, Trump should seek to balance the two.” He advocates abandoning the longstanding “Saudi Arabia good, Iran bad” policy. A true outsider rebel, Kinzer says, would be brave enough to take not only Russia off our enemies list but Iran too.

_ Gareth Porter: “How Syrian White Helmets Played the Western Media.”

_ Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a US veteran, a Democrat and a   Congresswoman from Hawaii is not mincing words. Published in the Nation: ” Giving Voice to Millions of Americans: End US Wars of Intervention.”

Gabbard: “I felt it was critical to meet with Donald Trump now, before warmongering neocons convince him to escalate the Syrian conflict.”

_ War hawk Michael O’Hanlon did an interview with CENTCOM chief Gen. Votel at a forum hosted by the neoconservative think tank, Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI). FPI is essentially a rebranding of the discredited Project for a New American Century (PNAC). The name of the forum was “2016 FPI Forum: An Era of Consequences.” He wrote about it for Brookings Institute: “The state of the Middle East, from the point of view of the CENTCOM commander.”

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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.