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Rebels Collapse; Kerry and Lavrov Wrangle; Congress Approves MANPADS; Long Battle for Mosul

Next Cold War Roundup 12/8/16

West Aleppo celebrated as the Syrian forces took Old Aleppo, the rebel stronghold in the East Aleppo pocket. The battle for Aleppo is almost over.  Kerry and Lavrov wrangle over ceasefire and evacuation proposals.  Congress recklessly authorized MANPADS for so called vetted Syrian rebels and politicians urge GPS parachute drops for them. The battle for Mosul will take longer than hoped, as winter sets in and difficult urban warfare continues. And more in our Next Cold War roundup…

Syria: Old Aleppo and Most of East Aleppo Recaptured

_ Tuesday (Dec. 6) evening, reports began to circulate on social media about a victory and rebels leaving their Old Aleppo stronghold, a section of East Aleppo. Others said that civilians were pouring out. A woman recorded a video of streets in the government-held West Aleppo, packed with people celebrating. Another reported that church bells were ringing.  Edward Dark, a Syrian from Aleppo, said the jihadi forces had collapsed.

Charles Lister reported that “Mousa al-Omar confirms opposition will withdraw from Old Aleppo.” Just an hour before, Charles Lister had been reporting that “multiple opposition sources insist a withdrawal is impossible.”

_ Al Masdar News reported that jihadist rebels had surrendered almost all of East Aleppo. RT reported that the Syrian forces had captured 85% of the territory. A fortified hospital complex that the rebels had converted into a large headquarters was taken by the Syrian troops.

_ On Weds. (Dec. 7) the Washington Post reported the rebel forces as “besieged and facing certain defeat” in an “accelerating collapse” and calls the Syrian government push into East Aleppo as “a defining moment in more than five years of war,” referring to it as their “most important enclave.”

_ On Thursday (Dec. 8) Reuters reported that the Syrian army advance had slowed and momentum had slowed in the face of some “stiff resistance” but “victory was still firmly in sight.”

Syria: Negotiations Melee on East Aleppo

_ On Thursday morning, Dec. 8, Al Jazeera reported that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the US and Russia were “close” to a deal but warned against high expectations. Ryabkov said they had been engaged in “intensive document exchange” for the past several days. It’s unclear if there was sarcasm in that comment, given the events (described below) of the past week between US Sec. State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov.

_ Kerry and Lavrov talked “briefly” for 10 minutes in Hamburg on Thursday (Dec. 8) and they met for about an hour on Wednesday. The Washington Post called it a “last-ditch effort.” Lavrov was asked if he supported a ceasefire proposal and he said he supported Kerry’s Dec. 2 proposal which allowed for evacuation of civilians and rebels but left al Qaeda-linked groups behind as fair targets. Kerry said he was not confident but hopeful and the UN assessment “was bleak.” A UN adviser on Syria said the US and Russia were “poles apart.”

_ On Tuesday (Dec. 6), Lavrov puzzled about the ceasefire/safe passage proposal Kerry gave him over the weekend and then reneged on the day negotiations were set to begin. Lavrov called it “an attempt to buy time for the militants, allow them to catch their breath and resupply” and compared the whole negotiations melee to a “mystery novel.”

_ Lavrov compared the renege to the collapsed agreement on Sept. 9, and wondered who is running the show in the US:

Lavrov: “The same thing happened with our agreement of September 9. […] It’s difficult to understand who makes decisions there, but apparently there are plenty of those who want to undermine the authority and practical steps by John Kerry.”

_ Also on Tuesday (Dec. 6) Kerry denied canceling the meeting with Lavrov and withdrawing the proposal. Anonymous US officials told Reuters there was no meeting scheduled in Geneva and “we’re not going to negotiate this publicly.”  While in Berlin on Tuesday, Kerry said he plans to meet with Lavrov in Hamburg on Thursday at an OSCE meeting. The NY Times reported that US officials “acknowledged the possibility of talks with the Russians in Geneva this week but would not confirm the substance of Mr. Lavrov’s remarks, which appeared to have taken them by surprise.”

_ Tuesday (Dec. 6) night in Brussels, at a press conference following a NATO foreign ministers meeting, Kerry said he is “deeply in favor” of negotiating with Syrian president Assad, even if Aleppo falls, “it might or it might not, I can’t tell you, but it’s undergoing an unbelievable barrage of indiscriminant killing.” Kerry said even if it did fall, “Aleppo won’t change the fundamental, underlying complexity of this war.” Kerry said the war won’t end if Aleppo falls. He said Syria can’t be rebuilt without money from the “global community” and they won’t provide that funding without a “political settlement.” An anonymous US official told Reuters: “Aleppo falls, but the war goes on.”

_ RT reported on pro-Syrian government media reporting about Syrian officials directly negotiating safe passage out of East Aleppo with “several militant commanders.” In our last roundup we have reports of Turkey secretly brokering a deal between rebels and Moscow, sidelining the US, and statements from rebels refusing to leave.

_ On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the US was in negotiations with the rebels for their surrender and evacuation from East Aleppo, despite all the confusion from earlier in the day. John Kerry was reportedly in Brussels for a meeting with NATO foreign ministers, and said he expected to meet with Russian foreign minister Lavrov later in the week.

Syria: Other Reporting on East Aleppo

_ A BBC news producer in Aleppo reported via social media on Dec. 4 that a Syrian Army general said the “rebels – terrorists in his words – who are still left in Aleppo have one choice – surrender or die.”

_ Syrian rebel “White Helmets” told Al Jazeera (reporting from their office in Gaziantep, Turkey) that 2 of their 4 bases have been destroyed and they are having trouble responding.

_ Al Masdar News showed on some combat footage taken by Ruptly in East Aleppo of the Syrian army’s “elite Tiger Forces” in fierce urban warfare. Retired US Col. Lang found their performance as an armor and infantry unit to be impressive, and believes it demonstrates that:

Lang: “What has happened in the cauldron of the civil war is that a new force has appeared in the Levant. A new Syrian Arab Army now exists thanks to Russian training, equipment and advice.”

_ Prof. Asad Abukhalil at California State Univ. (aka Angry Arab) said Syrian government forces found rebel warehouses filled with food they were hoarding.  Some civilians had reported the hoarding but all western media reported that there was no food in East Aleppo and everyone was starving. This information came from a Qatari newspaper in Arabic.

_ Pres. Obama and other world leaders (Germany, France, Britain, Canada and Italy) signed a statement saying they “condemn the actions of the Syrian regime and its backers, especially Russia” for its attacks on Aleppo and refusal to allow humanitarian aid there and in other besieged areas. France will hold a meeting on Saturday for the Syrian opposition, and the leaders urged a UN ceasefire plan and negotiations for a political transition.

Syria: Civilians in East Aleppo

_ On Wednesday (Dec. 7), war correspondent  Elijah Magnier reported that so far, about 25,000 civilians have left East Aleppo, in total, which includes 3-4,000 who left today. (Magnier later updated his report to 28,700.) Civilians are communicating directly with the Syrian army to arrange exit.  The civilian numbers were nowhere near the reported 250,000 count that was given by the UN and used all throughout western media.

_ The director of a French magazine said the 250,000 number was “myth” and “pure propaganda.”

_ The New York Times reported on “Bana,” the 7-year old girl who tweeted for help from East Aleppo and on the doubts about her authenticity, and the general issue of propaganda in the Syrian war. US media had begun to report widely on “Bana” and the Washington Post referred to her as “our era’s Anne Frank.

_ On Dec. 8, Reuters started to mash the civilian numbers and still claimed that 100,000 civilians might still be inside East Aleppo. From Geneva, the president of the “Aleppo local council” Brita Haji Hassan said: “Today 150,000 people are threatened with extermination. We are calling for a halt to the bombing and guarantees of safe passage of all.”

Syria: Airdrops to East Aleppo Via GPS Parachutes

_ Western diplomats and supporters of Syrian rebels in East Aleppo are urging “aid” drops from a high altitude and “standoff” distance via GPS guided parachutes (called “JPads“) with containers of supplies attached.

_ Various politicians have been discussing this. White Helmets and other so called rebels have been begging for help zs they are now in a desperate situation as they hold out in East Aleppo. The US military is reportedly not very keen on the idea and some have denied the capability.  The Guardian mentions that the Red Cross could “potentially” inspect the contents of the supplies on the pallets.

_ It is unclear why the aid could not be sent in via the Syrian and Russian organizations who have been delivering aid, or through the UN. One obvious reason would be that the pallets would also contain arms, as rebels and jihadi fighters inside East Aleppo are running out of ammunition.

_ The US Army web site published an article about improving JPADS software in late November, and mentioned that they are generally used for special operations forces.

Syria: US Congress Authorizes MANPADS

_ On Dec. 2, the US House of Representatives authorized, via the defense bill, the incoming Trump administration to arm the “vetted Syrian rebels” with anti-aircraft missiles, which is a win for the warmongering Senator McCain. The original bill expressly prohibited MANPADS but it was modified.

_ Just Foreign Policy policy director Robert Naiman said:

Naiman: “I’m more afraid of Congress on this issue than I am of Trump […] I think Congress is trying to tie Trump’s hands against making a realistic deal with Russia to end the Syrian civil war. And they are trying to pressure him in the direction of not doing that.”

_ It’s hard to overstate the recklessness and stupidity of this authorization, especially considering how many weapons intended for so called vetted moderate rebels ended up in the hands of al Qaeda and ISIS, and considering that the US has planes flying around Syria, Iraq and Turkey and the risk to civilian airliners everywhere.

Syria: Bombing of New Russian Field Hospital in Aleppo

_ The Russian ministry of defense said (captioned video) al Nusra jihadis are surrounded in the southern part of East Aleppo, so only the so called “moderate opposition” could have shelled the brand new Russian field hospital, and they were given coordinates from US/UK/French intelligence.  He lashed out at the countries who support these fighters and give them cover by calling them “opposition” not terrorists. He also suggested that some al Nusra terrorists are being rebranded as moderate opposition because as the Nusra numbers shrink the opposition numbers grow, in the information given to the Russians by the US.

_ Russian analyst “The Saker” calls this a “not so subtle threat” from the Russian military that the “allies” (US/UK/France) had better pay attention to.  Commenters suggest that the coordinates were provided by the CIA and special operations forces operating on CIA  missions. The Colonel Cassad web site has additional photos and videos of the hospital wreckage.  The English language Russian channel, RT, had a very large amount of coverage of the incident.

Iraq: Mosul

_ Martin Chulov from the Guardian, reporting from Mosul, talks about how the battle for Mosul has gotten much more difficult and much more slow, as the fast progress “has given way to a numbing reality: Isis will not surrender Mosul, and Iraq’s battered military will struggle to take it.” The Iraqi forces are about 5 miles from the Nour mosque, where Baghdadi declared himself the leader of the caliphate. “Some however concede that they could still be fighting in Mosul’s tunnels and alleyways as late as next summer,” and they mock political leaders who had hoped it would be over in a matter of weeks. One officer said they’ve heard that ISIS has dug tunnels and sent “boys in suicide vests” and “stopping them is not what we have trained for.” But the soldiers Chulov spoke to seemed determined. One said they’re fighting “the devil himself.” That devil still controls about 3/4 of Mosul.

_ One Mosul resident said the Iraqi army trucks, supplied by the Americans, look like they’ve been in battle for 5 years when in fact it has only been 2 months. ISIS rockets and snipers have hit every one of them, he said. Many Humvees have been wrecked by suicide bombs. Some Iraqi officers “in immaculately pressed uniforms” didn’t want too many pictures of the damage.

_ The People’s Mobilization Units (PMU), formerly known as Shia militias, were recognized as a state body by the Iraqi government this week, are not directly involved in the battle for Mosul but they are operating west of the city. There are many Shiite soldiers in the Iraqi army who openly display flags, which rattles the local Sunni populations and one Mosul resident said they were expecting it “but to be honest, they have not been as bad as we thought they would be. As long as they free us, then leave us alone, we will be happy.”

_ Reuters journalists also reported the slowing of the battle for Mosul, where ISIS digs in among civilians and use “a network of tunnels to launch waves of attacks.” ISIS have begun some counterattacks during the past week after “a seven-week Iraqi military assault on their Mosul stronghold.” ISIS has regained some territory. Iraqi officers say they withdraw to minimize civilian casualties, but then work to take back the territory lost. Residents (most of whom were urged to stay and resist if they could) and aid groups are urging faster progress, as they’re worried about winter food and fuel, being caught in crossfire, and having to shelter in basements.

_ The Reuters article estimates that 1,000 ISIS fighters have been killed and 4,000 remain, and that 1,000 Iraqi soldiers have been killed. 650 ISIS car bombs have been detonated.

_ Hala Jaber reported that 4,500 Iraqi families fled Mosul in the last 4 days, and 82,000 have left since the offensive began on Oct. 17.  “It’s freezing cold.”

Turkish Coup Attempt: Greek Court Overturns Extradition Ruling

_ In November we reported on some 400 Turkish military officers who were summoned back to Turkey after the July 15 coup attempt and some refused to return and sought asylum in the countries where they were stationed, including NATO officers.

_ A court in Greece has just ruled that 3 of the 8 Turkish military officers, pilots, seeking asylum must be extradited for “attempting to topple the regime.” These officers fled to Alexandroupoli (Alexandropoulos), Greece in a Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopter on July 16, but they deny playing any role in the coup. They were charged with “attempting to overthrow the state, attempting to impede a parliamentary session and the seizure of a helicopter,” but rejected the charge of attempted assassination, according to Hurriyet.

On Monday, the court denied extradition  of 3 different Turkish officers, because their “personal safety was in jeopardy” and in the court’s opinion there wasn’t enough evidence of their involvement. But on Tuesday the ruling was different for 3 different officers.  They are expected to appeal the decision. The Athens Council of Appeals will rule on the remaining 2 officers on Dec. 8.

_ Turkey’s defense minister said that Greece is Turkey’s NATO ally and Turkey expected the Greek government to “make every effort to return the officers.” Hurriyet reported that Greece’s political asylum commission denied asylum to 7 of the 8 applicants and has 1 more to review.

Turkey, Russia, China, and Iran

_ Turkey and Russia are working toward using local currencies in their trade with each other, hence initiating a partial “dollar exit.”

UK Foreign Minister Calls Out Saudis

_ At the conference in Rome last week, the UK’s new foreign secretary, Boris Johnson called out Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the UK for 100 years, and just as the new British prime minister, Theresa May, was returning from a visit to the kingdom, where she lauded their “visionary leadership.” Boris also specifically said they lacked visionary leadership. The foreign office tried to smooth things over by saying Boris was referring to the leaders in Yemen and Syria. Criticisms of Britain’s allies are not allowed, no matter how true they are. Boris has reversed positions publicly before.

Boris: “There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives. That’s one of the biggest political problems in the whole region. And the tragedy for me – and that’s why you have these proxy wars being fought the whole time in that area – is that there is not strong enough leadership in the countries themselves. […] “That’s why you’ve got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in, and puppeteering and playing proxy wars.”

Podcasts, Radio & Film

_ Prof. Joshua Landis, from the University of Oklahoma, on NPR, debates the claim that Syrian president Assad helped create ISIS.

_ John Pilger just released a documentary, “The Coming War on China.” He has an article about the documentary on Unz.com.

Analysis & Opinion

_ Brad Hoff’s interview with British analyst Kamal Alam: “Assad’s (non)Demise: An interview with Kamal Alam.”

_ Jason Ditz at antiwar.com: “Trump to End Regime Changes, Focus on Fighting ISIS: Says Policy of ‘Intervention and Chaos’ Must End.”

_ A Washington Post article by Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward, “Pentagon buries evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste,” shows that the Pentagon ordered a cost savings analysis and then buried it after it showed more than $100B in waste. For instance, there are more than a million contractors filling “back-office jobs far from the front lines.” The analysis didn’t even recommend cutting spending, just using it more wisely in different ways, and the analysis didn’t even require any layoffs or cuts in military personnel. But the Pentagon made the deep-sixed the report into secrecy and pulled it off their website because it made them look like liars and it might undermine “their repeated public assertions that years of budget austerity had left the armed forces starved of funds.” There was never anything to worry about, really, as Congress passed their $611 billion budget by a wide margin on Dec. 2., and notably this story about burying the cost analysis wasn’t reported by the media until a few days after it passed. So, the intrepid media buried it too. The Pentagon thought $611B still wasn’t enough.

_ Carlotta Gall in the New York Times: “Ally, Enemy or Both? Saudi Arabia’s Many Roles in Afghanistan.” The Saudis are on both sides of the war in Afghanistan. Wealthy Saudis ally with Pakistan and fund the Taliban while official Saudi Arabia backs the Afghan government and the American mission that collapsed the Taliban government in the early 2000s. Gall says that their “dual track” policy serves their interests but also ” threatens to undermine the fragile democratic advances made by the United States during the past 15 years.” The Saudis seek to build a “wall of Sunni radicalism across South and Central Asia to contain Iran, its Shia rival.” Sheikhs from Gulf states funnel billions to “Sunni social organizations, madrasas and universities to shape the next generation of Afghans” and have done this for decades because Afghanistan is important to them. The activity is increasing as the US withdraws.

_ Gall, many paragraphs into the article, also notes that Saudi Arabia funds ISIS, and she cites a Podesta email published by Wikileaks where Hillary Clinton wrote that Saudi Arabia and Qatar provide “clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” This information was available before the 2016 election but hardly touched by the corporate media. It’s a really big deal that Hillary knew this and also a big deal when MSM reports on it.  Gall also described, in great detail, the covert peace efforts between the Afghan government and the Taliban, with some Saudis working as intermediaries, and the collapse of that effort after various events occurred. [Emphasis added]

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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.