Somalia’s new president “Mr. Cheese,” is a Somali-American technocrat. The situation in Afghanistan is at a “stalemate,” generals want more troops. Isolation operation on Raqqa is nearly complete with an imperative to take it quickly. Another rebel commander assassinated in Ukraine. And more in our global war news roundup…
Afghanistan: Deploy More Troops to Break “Stalemate”
_ US and NATO troops in Afghanistan have 2 missions: Operation Resolute Support, a NATO train, advise and assist mission, and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, a US counterterrorism mission.
_ Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan and of NATO’s Resolute Support mission, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the situation with the Taliban is now at a “stalemate.” Nicholson wants to deploy a “few thousand” more troops for the train/advise/assist mission. (Video)
Nicholson told the committee that Afghanistan has the highest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world, and said: “We remain very focused on the defeat of al-Qaida and its associates, as well as the defeat of Islamic State Khorasan Province, which is the ISIL affiliate in Afghanistan.”
Syria: Raqqa Completely Isolated in a Few Weeks
_ In a press conference from Baghdad, Colonel John Dorrian gave an update on the situation with the US coalition operation on Raqqa, and the overall progress against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Dorrian said the isolation operation on Raqqa continues with US special forces, the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Coalition, and they expect that “within the next few weeks the city will be nearly completely isolated.” After that there will be a “decision point to move in.” He said they won’t give the exact timing on the effort to “seize the city.”
_ Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters that the “three axes the SDF have taken [are] in the south, northwest … and east,” of Raqqa. SDF has “begun blowing up bridges south of Raqqa along the Euphrates River, the enemy has only one route from which it can resupply.” They have been working to make the force more ethnically similar to the area they are moving into and the Syrian Arab Coalition is now 50% of the force preparing to take the city. Davis said it is “urgent” and there is “an imperative for us to take Raqqa quickly.”
Syria: Al Qaeda and Rebel Realignment May Have Killed Astana Talks
_ War correspondent Elijah Magnier believes the Astana peace talks are all but dead because al Qaeda attacked the rebel groups who attended, after which most of them joined the new alliance with Ahrar al-Sham, and Ahrar refuses to participate in the talks.
Syria: US-Russian Cooperation in Syria is Under Review
_ Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein told reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast that the cooperation between US and Russian forces in Syria is still only focused on deconfliction, and that he has not “heard of any dialogue that leads us towards joining forces (with Russia).” When asked if this coordination between US and Russia would go further, he said that the new Sec. of Defense and the Pentagon was “taking a look at… all of the memorandums and directives that they now have inherited to see where they want to make any changes. So that review is going on right now.”
Syria: Amnesty International Report on Syrian Prisons
_ Nizar Nayouf, a Syrian dissident, a former political prisoner because of leftist underground activities, is now living abroad and critiqued the Amnesty report for Asad AbuKhalil (“The Angry Arab” who also identifies as part of the Arab Left). A translation of it is here.
_ AbuKhalil does not doubt that the Syrian government committed human rights violations. He makes that very clear. But he is skeptical about the Amnesty report because of the methodology, the lack of named sources, and because he doesn’t trust any of the parties involved (the Syrian government, Syrian rebels, or any of their allies). And it’s also important to understand that since faux humanitarianism is now routinely used to justify regime change and military interventions:
“Western human rights organizations–specifically Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch–don’t have any credibility among most Arabs about human rights. Their reputation has sunk far lower ever since the Arab uprisings in 2011, where they have been rightly perceived as propaganda arms of Western governments.”
_ The Nizar Nayouf analysis of the Amnesty report can’t be boiled down to one conclusion. He points out many details that are inaccurate and can’t be true for reasons that can be refuted by the technical details of the facilities and processes. For instance, the numbers are impossible: “the main White building, it is quite impossible for it to accommodate 10,000 prisoners.” But he believes that “what the report says about the kinds of mistreatment and torture and criminality is generally true,” based on his experience. “The world has not seen more savage prisons than the 18 prisons of the Iraqi (Saddamist) and Syrian prisons since the times of Nazism and Fascism in WWII.”
Yemen: Ballistic Missile Hit Base Near Riyadh
_ The Saleh-led Yemeni army (rebel side of the war) launched a Burkan-2 ballistic Missile that hit a military base 30km from the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Monday night (Feb. 6), according to Yemen’s SABA news agency. Yemeni lawyer in Sana’a, Haykal Bafana said there were unconfirmed reports of 2 ballistic missile launches on Tuesday night from a location near the capital, and sources he trusts said there would be more missile launches on other Gulf state cities, like Doha and Abu Dhabi, “if they still want war.”
_ The Burkan missiles are modified Soviet era “Scud” missiles. In September, the Yemen military’s Missile Research and Development Centre, which is allied with the Houthis fighting against the Saudi-led coalition, unveiled the Burkan-1 missile that they had developed, and claimed that it has a range of 800km and can carry a 500kg warhead. There are also, reportedly, longer range versions of the missile, the Burkan-2 and Burkan-3 and the Qahir missile, which was repurposed from S-75 surface-to-air missile systems.
_ Last October, the Saudi Press Agency reported “at least 18 ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia that have been intercepted since 6 June 2015, all of them in the southern provinces of Asir, Jizan, and Najran.” Patriot missile defense systems are deployed in some areas.
_ Jane’s Defense reported that sometime before 1990, the military of the then separate South Yemen acquired an unknown number of R-17 Scud missiles from the Soviet Union and another variation of the missile from North Korea.
Iran: More Missile Tests Might Result in US Strike on Iranian Missile Test Site
_ IHS Jane’s Intelligence Weekly believes that the US “robust stance” toward Iran is probably a strategic move intended to “contain” the Iranian military IRGC currently operating in Iran and Syria, and allegedly in Yemen. Jane’s analysts also assesse that further ballistic missile testing by Iran, even though it does not violate the JCPOA agreement, “carry an increased likelihood of limited US military action, for example, a demonstrative US cruise missile strike on an Iranian missile test site.” A missile strike on Iran, “demonstrative” or not, would still be an act of war, no? [Emphasis added]
Yemen: Navy SEAL Raid
_ CNN reported that the leader of AQAP, Qassim al-Rimi, survived the raid and then trolled the White House in an audio tape that US intelligence claims is real. Anonymous military and intelligence officials told NBC that al-Rimi was the target of the raid conducted by US and United Arab Emirates commandos, but Col. John Thomas of CENTCOM had denied that it was a high-value target mission.
_ NBC also reported that this mission had been in preparation for 2 months and was part of a proposal to “accelerate U.S. counterterrorism operations in Yemen.” It was a large mission involving 2 dozen SEALs, 30-40 other Americans “on the ground and in the air,” 6 Yemeni soldiers and 12 United Arab Emirates commandos, plus a “Marine Corps Quick Reaction Force was waiting offshore.”
_ NBC reported that the targets of the mission “were alerted by something — possibly a barking dog, a drone crash or walkie-talkie chatter, U.S. officials said.” CNN said “Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters detected the SEAL team before it reached its objective, leading to an intense firefight.”
_ Neither the Pentagon nor the White House have publicly annnounced it, but anonymous White House officials told the New York Times that Yemen will no longer allow US special operations ground missions in Yemen. They will still allow drone attacks and “American military advisers who are providing intelligence support to the Yemenis and forces from the United Arab Emirates.”
US: Elliot Abrams as Deputy Secretary of State?
_ Rumors have been flying about Sec. State Rex Tillerson naming Elliot Abrams as his deputy at the Dept. of State, an action that would indicate that the neocon war hawks would still have significant power.
_ Daniel DePetris at National Interest Online enumerated some of the reasons why this would be a disastrous appointment, an ominous sign but great news for the #NeverTrump neocon war hawks. Abrams was a fierce opponent of detente with the Soviet Union during his days as a Democrat on the Moynihan staff and during the 2016 election he denounced Trump’s foreign policy ideas as dangerous to to American exceptionalism. He pleaded guilty to Iran-Contra crimes but George H.W. Bush pardoned him.
“Abrams is a prominent neocon and served as assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs during the Reagan administration and as Middle East director on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff.”
_ Eric Alterman at The Nation, who has written about Abrams since 1987, said that he is a full-fledged war criminal, far beyond Kissinger and Cheney, and the Iran-Contra affair was only the “tip of the colossal iceberg.” Alterman provided must read details about two examples in Venezuela, Palestine, and Guatemala:
- “ worked to subvert the results of the 2006 elections in the Palestinian territories […] undermining—perhaps forever—the possibility of a democratic peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
- “ Abrams sought to ensure that General Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala’s then-dictator, could carry out ‘acts of genocide'”
_ On Friday (Feb. 10) CNN reported that, according to Republican sources, Trump had removed Abrams from the list of contenders. These sources were disappointed about the decision and said it was purely because of Trump’s “thin skin and nothing else.” It is also possible that Abrams was not a contender, and the whole thing was a media campaign by Abrams and his allies.
US-Iran: Bipartisan MEK Supporters Hand Deliver Letter to Trump; Urge Changes to Iran Policy
_ Several days before Pres. Trump was sworn in, a letter from 23 notable members of both parties, former military and diplomats, hand delivered a letter to him, urging changes to policies on Iran. The letter was published on the MEK web site. The MEK, until recently, was designated as a terrorist group in the United States.
_ Among the signatories were some politicians from both parties: Ed Rendell, Joe Lieberman, Patrick Kennedy (son of Ted Kennedy, former RI congressman), Robert Torricelli, Rudy Giuliani. There were several former federal officials: Tom Ridge, Louis Freeh, Michael Mukasey. And retired military officers: Gen. James L. Jones, Gen. Hugh Shelton, Gen. Charles Wald, Gen. James Conway, Lt. Gen. David Deptula, Col. Wesley Martin.
Pentagon Filled With Defense Industry Representatives
_ POGO reports that like administrations before him, Pres. Trump is filling the Pentagon leadership positions with people who are really representatives of the defense industry. “President Trump’s ethics executive order and current lobbying rules are insufficient to address the scope of financial conflicts of interest for officials who go through the revolving door.”
_ Wesley Kirton, the Chairman of the Private Sector Council at the Institute of Caribbean Studies in Washington who serves as the leader of a delegation of South Florida businessmen, reported on a conference he attended this week — the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America and the Caribbean’s (AACCLA) Outlook on the Americas Conference at the Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables, Florida.
_ The conference was attended by leaders from governments, private sector and NGOs to talk about “trade, investment, commercial and other development issues in the Americas.” Their consensus, according to Kirton, was that the “private sector has a critical role to play in the future development of the Latin American and Caribbean region” and governments who do not accommodate and provide incentives for the private sector to expand are “risking their own peril.”
_ Admiral Kurt Tidd, the head of US Southern Command, was a keynote speaker. He said that Southcom “will need new regional partnerships and innovation” to fight “threat networks,” or “cartels, gangs, drug trafficking and criminal organizations, violent nonstate actors, narcoterrorists and the like.” Some of them are “globally integrated enterprises that rival Fortune 500 companies and have worldwide reach.” Other networks do “as cocaine trafficking, extortion and human trafficking,” and “smuggle precursor chemicals into Mexico to make heroin and fentanyl.” And some of them “reap enormous profits by illegally mining gold in Guyana, Peru and Colombia.”
_ These networks “threaten the prosperity and security of our hemisphere,” Kidd said. The US wants to “find new ways to work together with its partner nations, allies, nongovernmental organizations, academia and the private sector,” to “harness technologies” and create “innovation partnerships.” Kidd emphasized that “security and economic prosperity go hand in hand,” and these efforts will be also good for US and Latin American businesses.
_ Kirton and Tidd had an exchange about the “recent discovery of significant oil reserves within Guyana’s geographic space,” and Venezuela’s aggressive claim to that oil. Tidd told Kirton that “Guyana has solid partners in the hemisphere on its side and could pursue the development of its oil industry with confidence.”
Ukraine: Second Rebel Leader Assassination in Several Months
_ 36-year old Mikhail Tolstykh, (nom de guerre “Givi”), one of the most famous rebel commanders in the war in Ukraine, was killed in his office by a rocket, reportedly from an RPG-like “Shmel flamethrower“. The Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) called it a terrorist attack by the Kiev government, via a “Ukrainian sabotage reconnaissance group.”
_ Another leader, Arseny Pavlov (nom de guerre “Motorola”), was killed last October by a bomb set off in the elevator of his apartment building. BBC calls it a “car bomb” but reports from pro-rebel sources have consistently said it was a bomb in his elevator.
_ Last Saturday, Oleg Anashschenko, the head of the military police in the other separatist region, Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), was blown up in his car in the middle of town.
_ Canadian state media refers to the Eastern Ukraine rebel commanders as “unruly commanders” and “warlords” even though they formed and led an organized military in the DPR, a functioning separatist state. The variance in the language of propaganda about friends and foes is interesting. Jihadi rebel leaders in Syria who are backed by Western powers or allies are not referenced by Western media with such negative terms. Rarely are they called jihadis and never called terrorists, even if they’re associated with al Qaeda.
_ The Ukraine SBU denied involvement in the latest assassination. The Russian government said the killing was an attempt to “destabilize the situation” where fighting has escalated in recent weeks on the frontline of a shaky ceasefire.
_ Fort Russ, a pro-Ukrainian rebel and generally pro-Russian blog, translated an article from SV Press, an independent Russian media outlet. The article has quotes from the DPR defense ministry and from academic Eduard Popov. Popov considers the killing of Givi and Motorola to be different from the Anashschenko killing in LPR, in that it was intended to be more of a “psychological blow” and intimidation and it’s the type of blow that “can not be countered”. Ukrainian politicians have openly talked about a plan to eliminate rebel leaders through terrorist attacks.
_ According to SV Press, the feeling in DPR is:
“[…] that Kiev, unable to achieve real victories on the battlefield, has decided to declare a subversive-terrorist war on the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics, to decapitate the army, depriving them of the most famous and respected leaders.”
_ Popov believes that the ministries of DPR and LPR have been thoroughly infiltrated by Ukrainian agents and that a “fifth column is in place”. He said that “any day now a large-scale war with Ukraine will start.”
Germany: No Smoking Gun Evidence of Russian Interference in German Politics
_ German intelligence found no evidence of Russian interference in their country’s politics, after conducting a “government-commissioned investigation” after a high-profile German “fake news” case. But nonetheless, Germany will launch a anti-“fake news” program where Facebook will “fact-check” and censor news stories.
_ The Russian ambassador to China said that trilateral cooperation between the US, China and Russia “would help stabilize world affairs.”
Somalia: American “Mr. Cheese” Wins Presidency
_ Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, nicknamed “Farmajo”, like the Italian word for cheese “formaggio,” won the presidential election in Somalia. “Mr. Cheese” is a technocrat and a former prime minister, characteristics which are typically preferred by the West. He is American and Somalian, and he:
“[…] returned from the US only last year to announce his candidacy […] He was first posted to the Somali embassy in Washington in the 1980s and was studying in the US when the civil war started in 1991 and he claimed political asylum.”
_ The election was held after months of delays. 329 new members of parliament, operating form a high security compound at an airport, chose the president from a list of candidates including the incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and 21 other candidates. The capital city of Mogadishu was on lock down the day before the election and a curfew was imposed afterward. These security measures were carried out by African Union peacekeepers.
_ The new parliament members themselves were chosen by 14,000 clan elders and other selected regional figures. Because of the unrest in the country, the original plan to allow all adult citizens to vote was abandoned by Western backers, but is still considered to be an important step toward democracy. The UN special representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, called it a “political process with electoral features”
_ The insurgent group, al Shabaab, which is affiliated with al Qaeda, and once ruled most of the country, said that every person involved in the election is an apostate.
_ The Guardian interviewed various Somalians, some of whom were happy to be witnessing an electoral process for the first time as they watched on television. Others spoke of widespread corruption, where candidates or their foreign backers from the West and the Middle East bought the votes of the parliament members.
PODCASTS, INTERVIEWS, BOOKS & FILM
_ At The Libertarian Institute, journalist Brad Hoff did a book review on “Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle in the Middle East,” by Christopher Davidson, a book which Hoff finds to be an “absolute must read.”
“More importantly, it is the first exhaustive work of history by a notable academic which accurately charts the rise of ISIS within the geopolitical chess board that is the Syrian proxy war, as well as assesses the longer history of the US/UK-Saudi alliance going back to the Afghan-Soviet conflict and beyond. Davidson is bold in his assertions, describing ISIS as a ‘strategic asset’ initially utilized by the West as a tool of regime change in Syria.”
ANALYSIS & OPINION
_ John Yoo, author of the Torture Memos, and infamous for his association with Dick Cheney and his legal opinions, used to expand executive power, now weighs in again, via the New York Times, on the powers of the president. He now has “grave concerns about Mr. Trump’s uses of presidential power.” However, Yoo is not worried about the war powers or avoidance of Geneva Conventions that he justified before. His “grave concerns” are about powers related to domestic and border issues, walls, trade, and tariffs.
_ An important article: “The media is ignoring leaked US-government documents on Syria,” by Ian Sinclair
at The New Arab. Update: Ironically, The New Arab later censored Sinclair’s article “for political reasons,” but you can find it here on his blog site.
_ Former US and Afghan government official says that Iran and Russia are trying to ‘fatally distract’ the United States in Afghanistan. He believes that Moscow wants to derail any American achievement in the Middle East and Iran wants to distract American forces away from themselves. “The onus is on Trump and American policymakers to figure out how to keep Afghanistan out of the jaws of Moscow, Tehran, and Islamabad while keeping Americans safe and protecting U.S. interests.”