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Kerry: We Watched ISIS Grow; Hacking Intel Report a “Dud”; Syrian Rebels Target Water & Energy

Leaked audio reveals John Kerry admitting US watched ISIS grow.  Intel chiefs’ report on alleged Russian hacking was a “dud.” US dropped 26,000 bombs in 2016. And more in our global war news roundup…

CENTCOM


Leaked Audio: Kerry Admits They Watched ISIS Grow, Hoped ISIS Would Weaken Assad

_ Several short clips of leaked audio from a recorded conversation of a mid-September meeting on the sidelines of the 2016 UN General Assembly, between Sec. State John Kerry and Syrian opposition members, were reported by Anne Barnard at the New York Times (NYT) on Sep. 30. But the full tape shows that a crucial part was never reported on by the mainstream media, in which Kerry admits that the “U.S. watched ISIS grow from afar in order to force Assad to negotiate with them.”

_ On Jan. 3, Wikileaks publicized the leaked audio on Twitter, claiming that it had been “removed by CNN.” Wikileaks linked to a 37 minute YouTube video (containing the leaked audio) on a channel named  “Angel North.” The video description claims that the audio had originally been leaked to the NYT but it was also stored on the CNN web site, and had since been removed from the CNN site. Angel North had taken a copy of the audio file from the CNN site, “improved” the audio, and published it in the public interest, under the Fair Use clause of US copyright law.

_ The Angel North video was posted to YouTube on Oct. 4, 2016 (4 days after the NYT article was published) but there are no comments older than Jan. 3, 2017, so either the video received no comments until Wikileaks drew attention to it on Jan. 3, or commenting was turned off until then, or the video may have been marked as “private” or “unlisted” until Jan. 3, then made “public.” As of midnight on Jan. 6, the video had 191 comments and more than 238,000 views.

_ The newly noticed part of the audio begins at 26:08 when John Kerry says:

“I mean the reason Russia came in is because ISIL was getting stronger. Daesh was threatening the possibility of going into Damascus and so forth. And that’s why Russia came in. Because they didn’t want a Daesh government. And they supported Assad. And we know that this was growing. We were watching. We saw that Daesh was growing in strength and we thought Assad was threatened. We thought, however, we could probably manage, you know, that Assad might negotiate and instead of negotiating, you got Assad, ah, you got Putin supporting him.” [Emphasis added]

Syria: Airstrike on Al Qaeda Headquarters in Idlib

_ On Tuesday, Jan. 3, an airstrike killed at least 25 al Nusra (al Qaeda, Fateh al-Sham) jihadi fighters, some of them senior figures as yet unnamed.  Later reports put the count at 40.

_ Al Nusra blames the airstrike on the US coalition forces. The Syrian Observatory said it is undetermined. The airstrikes hit a meeting at a “main headquarters” location in the countryside of Idlib province, according to a Fateh al-Sham spokesman.

_ Al Masdar News said the airstrike happened in the town of Sarmada, Idlib, near the Turkish border, and posted pictures of some of the victims. There are unconfirmed reports of another strike on an al Qaeda prison, with at least 1 prisoner killed. Al Masdar said a there was a drone strike on a car in this same area 2 days ago, which killed several al Qaeda “prominent field commanders.”

Syria: Reconciliation Deals Continue

_ One brother fought for the Syrian Army, the other for an armed rebel group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Their reunion was televised on Syrian television and posted on Facebook as various reconciliation deals continue to be brokered.

_ Al Masdar reports that rebels from 3 towns along the Golan Heights border (Beit Sabr, Kafr Hawr, and Beit Timah) have come to an agreement with the Syrian military and will surrender in exchange for safe passage to Idlib province.

Syria: Damascus Water Crisis

_ Ehsani, who has good sources in Syria, offers more information on the water crisis in Damascus, in a series of tweets. Rebels blamed a Syrian military air strike for the water cutoff and the government said the rebels poisoned the water. According to Ehsani, both things happened. In the past, rebels (who control a main water source in Wadi Barada, Barada river valley, outside Damascus) cut off the water and negotiated to turn it back on. After East Aleppo was taken by the Syrian coalition, they cut it off and would not negotiate. The Syrian air force did an airstrike in the area, which damaged 1 of 3 water stations. The rebels retaliated for the strike and the military escalation in the area by pouring diesel in the reservoir.

_ According to Ehsani, Damascus believes there are about 2,000 militants in the area from 13 different groups, including al Qaeda, and intends to take back the territory where Damascus’ critical water source is.  The Syrian opposition fighters are now offering to “to trade access to water source for Damascus with halting of military operations by army.” The Syrian government rejected the offer and ordered all armed groups to leave the water stations. Civilians have been asked to leave or stay out of this area.

_ The Wadi Barada offensive began on Dec. 26, reportedly as a result of al Qaeda’s (AQ, Jabhat Fateh al Sham, JFS) presence in the area and refusal to leave, and the poisoning of the water. Al Qaeda is not covered by the ceasefire. The Syrian opposition has controlled Wadi Barada village since 2012, along with Ain al-Fijah water spring. The Syrian coalition forces advanced into the area to recapture it, attacking Ahrar al-Sham positions along the way. Rebels claimed ceasefire violation, but Abu Hashem al-Qalamouni, an AQ/JFS commander, is reportedly in Wadi Barada, which confirms presence of jihadis who aren’t covered by the ceasefire.

_ Late last week, residents of Wadi Barada negotiated an agreement with the Syrian government for armed groups to lay down arms and either evacuate to Idlib with light weapons or lay down all arms and stay (for local fighters only). In exchange, the Syrian state can take control of the water facilities that supply Damascus. Radical jihadi groups opposed the deal and worked to sabotage it, reportedly with pressure from foreign powers. Local residents pressured more moderate rebels to accept the deal.

_ On Jan. 7, Syrian government engineers and technicians arrived and took control of the water stations. The next day, the deal fell through when al Qaeda fighters attacked the engineers and technicians. The Syrian government resumed military operations in the area.

_ In addition to the now weeks long water crisis in Damascus, ISIS has attacked a major gas processing facility. Syria relies on gas for 80% of their power generation. So al Qaeda is attacking the water supply and ISIS the energy supply. This series on Twitter explains more about the situation where terrorist groups losing on the battlefield are focused on attacking the civilian population and the state.

Syria: Al-Bab

_ Turkey is “facing pilot shortages” post-coup attempt, so Russia is now providing air support to Turkish ground troops in al-Bab. An estimated 400 of Turkey’s 700 pilots were reportedly fired or arrested after the coup attempt.

_ Last week, US coalition “carried out flights in support of Turkish forces” near al-Bab but didn’t do any airstrikes.  Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the flights were a “visible show of force.” Cook: “My understanding is that last week there was a request when some Turkish forces came under fire for air support and there… were flights conducted by the coalition at that time.” An anonymous source told Reuters the flights happened on Thursday.

_ To “halt growing Russian-Turkish military cooperation,” the “Pentagon is reluctantly considering to join Turkey to capture al-Bab,” according to a Turkish analyst/journalist in Washington.

Iraq: Iraqi Forces Control Bridge On Tigris River in Mosul

_ On Saturday, there were reports that Iraqi forces are in control of Bridge #4 on the Tigris river in Mosul. OIR spokesman said ISIS severely damaged the bridge “as they continue losing ground.” On Friday, OIR reported Iraqi forces making “excellent strides in liberating neighborhoods in Eastern Mosul.” One of the districts captured, Al-Furqan, is reportedly a “game changer.”

_ War correspondent Elijah Magnier said their objective is to have the “full control of Mosul left bank” by Jan. 20.

Iraq: ISIS Attacks; Protests in Baghdad

_ Bomb attacks on Shiite targets in Baghdad have killed 100 people during the last week and injured many more. The latest attack Sunday was a suicide car bomb in a market in Sadr City neighborhood. A soldier shot at the car but failed to stop the driver from detonating.

_ Iraqis are lashing out at the government for failing to provide more security. Muqtada Al-Sadr has called for nationwide protests next Friday. Sadr supporters have begun to gather in Tahrir Square in central Baghdad and have erected tents.

Iraq: Saddam’s First CIA Interrogator on Book Tour Says He Warned About ISIS

_ John Nixon, the first CIA analyst to interrogate Saddam Hussein, is on a book tour (book: Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein)  and did an interview on DemocracyNow! in which he revealed things that Saddam said and warned about while in captivity and before he was executed on Dec. 30, 2006. “Nixon reveals that much of what the CIA believed they knew about Saddam Hussein at the time of the invasion was wrong.” He was deeply critical of al Qaeda and feared Sunni extremists and Wahhabism. He believed that Iraq and the US were natural allies in the fight against al Qaeda and extremism. After 9/11 he sent a letter (using Tariq Aziz and Ramsey Clark as go-betweens) offering to work with the US against terrorism. He had also reached out to the Clinton administration offering to work together against terrorism.

_ After the invasion, Saddam Hussein warned: “You are going to fail. You are going to find that it is not so easy to govern Iraq. You are going to fail in Iraq because you do not know the language, the history, and you do not understand the Arab mind.”

_ In Part 2 of the interview, Nixon reveals that the CIA interrogators were never asked to brief the president on the Saddam interviews until 2008, years later. He said the CIA has become corrupted over the past several decades into an agency that provides intelligence that the president wants.  Nixon thinks the invasion was a catastrophe and is unsure if ” the genie of sectarianism and sectarian feelings that have been loosed by Saddam’s removal” can be put “back in the bottle.”

Israel: Former Defense Minister Warning

_ Former Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said “the IDF is an army that if it loses its basic values and moral legitimacy, it could wind up looking like ISIS,” during a talk to a group of high school seniors, and in reference to the military tribunal trial of an IDF soldier who shot and killed a Palestinian man who had been detained and “subdued” by soldiers. Ya’alon sided with IDF commanders who condemned the killing and has been under attack by politicians (like the new defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman) who called the soldier a hero. Russia doesn’t present the kind of “global ideological” or military threat that the Soviet Union did and “nothing suggests anyone in Moscow wants to go to war with America” or Europe. Russia has little to gain and a lot to lose if it attacked Baltic states. Presidential candidates who advocated shooting down Russian planes in Syria had “essentially lost their minds.”

Middle East: Zbig Calls for US, Russia, and China to Unite to Stabilize the Middle East

_ Pigs are flying over grand chessboards. Zbigniew Brzezinski has an op-ed in the Huffington Post, of all places, calling for the US, Russia, and China to join forces to stabilize the Middle East.

Turkey: Terror Attacks Likely to Continue

_ Patrick Cockburn at the Independent says that the terror attacks in Turkey are carried out by 3 different groups (ISIS, Kurdish associated groups, Fethullah Gulen associated groups) who are powerful and aren’t going anywhere, therefore the frequent terror attacks are “likely to continue with unrelenting savagery whatever the government does.” Both ISIS and the PKK “have established powerful de facto states in Syria and Iraq, something that could only have happened because of Erdogan’s ill-conceived involvement in the Syrian civil war after 2011.” And it’s impossible to stop these kinds of attacks where “civilians are the targets and the killers are prepared to die.” The attacks and the government response is not causing national unity but instead is tearing the country apart and radicalizing the “puritanical” Islamist factions.

_ Ahmet Yayla, a former counterterrorism chief who “tracked extremist groups in Turkey, says ISIS has vast network of cells in the country.”

_ Turkey’s Pres. Erdogan’s chief aide Yiğit Bulut “claims a coalition of countries & their intel services were behind night-club attack.”

_ The Istanbul night club attacker was reportedly assisted in his escape by Uyghurs at a restaurant.

_ For years, Turkey assisted Uyghurs who wanted to join the jihad in Syria. There are several stories about this at China Matters blog.

PACOM


_ The Chinese Communist Party will choose new leaders next fall, which make the Chinese president Xi Jinping more sensitive and likely to “respond forcefully to foreign policy challenges.”

SOUTHCOM


Cuba: Internet Pilot Project

_ Cuba started a pilot project for internet access from homes in Havana. Before this, Cubans could access the internet from Wi-Fi hotspots and a select few had home internet access, about 5% of the population, mainly academics and professionals who had government permission.

_ “NATO and Colombia discuss future of cooperation.” NATO and Colombia are looking to “do more together.” In 2013, they signed an agreement that was the “first step toward Colombia being considered as a NATO partner.”

SOCOM


US Special Operations Forces on the Russian Border

_ US special operations forces have deployed in Lithuania on the Russian border.

_ The first paragraph of the New York Times (NYT) propaganda article about dozens of US special operations forces now active in Lithuania on the Russian border is below. Gen. Thomas, the head of the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command said Lithuania is “scared to death” of Russia and: “They’re desperate for our leadership.”

“Dozens of United States Special Operations forces are now in the Baltics to bolster the training and resolve of troops who are confronting a looming threat from Russia, and to enhance the Americans’ ability to detect Moscow’s shadowy efforts to destabilize the former Soviet republics.”

NORTHCOM


US Dropped 26,171 Bombs in 2016

_ Micah Zenko at Council for Foreign Relations tabulated data on bombs dropped by the US, noting that the number is “undoubtedly low” since the reliability of data in different countries varies and often multiple munitions are dropped in each airstrike. The bombs dropped don’t include US-assisted airstrikes, such as the Saudi airstrikes in Yemen. Zenko’s summary of bombs dropped is as follows:

  1. Syria 12,192
  2. Iraq 12,095
  3. Afghanistan 1,337
  4. Libya 496
  5. Yemen 34
  6. Somalia 14
  7. Pakistan 3

_ The US conducted 79% of the airstrikes in the US-led anti-ISIS Operation Inherent Resolve coalition in Iraq and Syria. The air force component of the coalition is comprised of 10 different countries and the overall coalition has dozens of partners.

Neocon Woolsey Quits Trump Team

_ Neocon former CIA director James Woolsey resigned from President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team on Thursday.  He said that he wished Trump success, but also said he thinks the “Russians have been involved in one way or another” in the alleged hacking of emails. Woolsey said in a CNN interview that he’s not really functioning as an advisor anymore and didn’t want to “fly under false colors.”

_ Wooley’s resignation comes 1 day before the “highly anticipated briefing from intelligence officials on their conclusion that Russia hacked Democratic targets with the intent of tipping the election in Trump’s favor.” The report will be delivered to Trump in New York by DNI Chief Clapper and CIA Director Brennan.

_ Mr. Trump is at odds with the US intelligence community at the moment, to put it lightly. He has demeaned them via Twitter using scare quotes around the word “intelligence” and by doubting their assessment that Russia hacked email servers to tilt the election in Trump’s favor. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the day before the intelligence briefing, during which they “rebuffed the president-elect’s criticism of their work” and senators on the panel were outraged that the intelligence agencies were doubted and shown disrespect.

Intelligence Officials Leaked Classified Hacking Report; Public Version Was a “Dud”

_ The night before the scheduled briefing, NBC was reportedly shown the report before the president-elect, which angered Trump. NBC reported (using an “anonymous senior intelligence official” as a source) that “U.S. intelligence picked up senior Russian officials celebrating Donald Trump’s win.” The Washington Post had also reported that the “ebullient reaction among high-ranking Russian officials” was a factor in US intelligence assessment.

_ The anonymous official also told NBC that “highly classified intercepts” showed that the Russian government planned and directed a campaign “to undermine the integrity of the American political system.” Presumably we’ll have to take the word of the anonymous official on that one and the highly classified proof won’t be shown to the public. NBC claims that the US has identified the “Russian actors” who gave “stolen Democratic material” to Wikileaks.

_ When the public, declassified version of the long awaited intelligence report proving that the Russians hacked and influenced the election for Trump, even the most severe Trump critics at the Daily Beast said it “unlikely to convince a single skeptic” and didn’t contain any of the evidence that the intel chiefs said they had. Noah Shachtman said there was no new evidence in the report and quoted “OH” at the Daily Beast saying “This thing is a dud.” There was widepread mocking and condemnation of the report all over social media and mainstream media. There was near consensus on the fact that the content and quality of the “intelligence” in the report was shockingly and embarrassingly bad.

CYBER COMMAND


The Alleged Russian Election Hacking, the New Red Scare, and Military Escalation

_  Andrew Cockburn interviewed Jeffrey Carr, CEO of a cybersecurity firm, for his Harpers article, “The New Red Scare: Reviving the art of threat inflation.” Carr is “a rare skeptic regarding the official line on the hacks” but he mocks the case being made by US intelligence on the DNC hacks. He also told Cockburn that “it doesn’t take much to leave a trail of bread crumbs to whichever government you want to blame for an attack.” Carr also said it’s almost impossible to confirm attribution for hacks. For example, the “Equation Group,” now known to be the NSA, once used a set of tools known to be used by Chinese government hackers, to hack the Afghan government, knowing that investigators might to finger the Chinese.

_ For several years now, political and industry forces have been working to resurrect Russia as Enemy #1, but the election hacking accusations have taken 1950s Red Scare levels, Cockburn believes. But in the absence of the Soviet Union and its “international communist movement,” US officials now proclaim that Russia is a threat to our democracy, is undermining faith in our institutions, and intends to erode the “principled international order,” and all of this while Russia’s military budget is 1/10 that of the US. Russia’s military can’t even afford the weapons their manufacturers export. Cockburn makes the case that much of this is the military-industrial complex beefing up its coffers but notes how dangerous the very real escalation has become. Bruce Blair, who used to work with nuclear missiles said “few people are aware of what we’re getting into with the Russians.”

_ Bill Binney (former NSA) and Ray McGovern (former CIA) on “The Dubious Case on Russian ‘Hacking.’

NYT Editorial Board or John Brennan?

_ The NYT editorial board published yet another editorial that looks like something John Brennan would write, appalled that the president-elect would dare “disparage” or doubt the US intelligence agencies, who have been so wrong on so many issues in recent years. This kind of “disparagement” is “is perilous for national security” according to the board! It doesn’t occur to them to mention that major supposed intelligence blunders like 9/11, cooking the intelligence to justify invasion of Iraq, or pretending to miss the rise of ISIS, and provoking wars with nuclear powers are much, much more perilous to national security. But nothing is more important than the feelings of the intelligence chiefs to a newspaper board who almost religiously bows to them, caters to them. The complicit media and the intelligence chiefs also rant in harmony about the grave danger “fake news,”as they attempt to shut down dissenting voices in independent media, when it’s a proven fact that they themselves are prolific traffickers of fake news. In times like these, it’s hard not to be reminded of the well known quote: “In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

ANALYSIS & OPINION


_ Doug Bandow at the National Interest: “Newsflash: Russia Is Not the Soviet Union.” Putin is “not a nice fellow” and “no friend of liberal values” but a “lamentable lack of respect for human rights doesn’t turn a state into a threat to the U.S.,” says Bandow. He cites the Saudi royals, leaders of Central Asian states, Turkey’s Erdogan, Egypt’s “pharaoh” Sisi, who the US cooperates with and complains “very little about their brutality at home.”

_ Rania Khalek: “In Syria, Western Media Cheer Al Qaeda.”

Director of National Intelligence, James Clappe. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley 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.