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Author Topic: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR  (Read 107441 times)
Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #750 on: November 25, 2015, 11:58:20 AM »

Putin has announced he is putting in his extremely potent anti-aircraft system into Syria. 

As best as I can tell, this means short of total war the US (and Turkey, and France) is now denied the airspace.

From our side , , , crickets , , ,
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DougMacG
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« Reply #751 on: November 25, 2015, 12:06:36 PM »

"From our side , , , crickets , , ,"

Who is 'our side'?  The Obama administration??
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #752 on: November 25, 2015, 01:29:53 PM »



In the heaviest Russian strikes against the Islamic State to date, the Russian air force and navy deployed dozens of cruise missiles and other weaponry against Islamic State targets in Syria on Tuesday, particularly in and around Raqqa, the militants' self-proclaimed capital. Russian Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22M strategic long-range bombers flew their missions from bases in southern Russia, while the Russian cruiser Moskva fired a number of cruise missiles from the Mediterranean Sea. In a signal that this was just the start, Russian army Gen. Valery Gerasimov has indicated that Russia is allocating 25 strategic bombers for the Syrian mission.

Since Russian airstrikes began in Syria on Sept. 30, Moscow's attention has been focused largely on striking non-Islamic State rebels, some of whom were actively supported by other Arab States, the United States and Turkey. The Russians in effect reinforced the Syrian loyalist strategy of designating the non-Islamic State rebels as the primary threat and sought to reduce these rebels' ability to threaten the core city of Hama as well as the Syrian coast. Over time, Russian efforts did begin to include more Islamic State targets. For example, Russia provided active air support to loyalist forces advancing toward the previously besieged Kweiris air base and the Islamic State-occupied ancient city of Palmyra.

What is a Geopolitical Diary?

The overwhelming Russian focus on the other rebels in lieu of the Islamic State appears to have shifted even more after the Oct. 31 crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 in Sinai, in which 224 (mostly Russian) passengers and crew were killed. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for bringing down the aircraft — a claim Russia finally confirmed on Tuesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to hunt down those responsible and intensify airstrikes against Islamist extremists in Syria.

Recent events in France may also give Russia more leverage with the Europeans. Fully aware of the effects of the Islamic State attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, Russia will use the attacks to highlight the necessity of Russian-European cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State. Under French President Francois Hollande's stewardship, France has already suffered one major attack in January. Now the president's main concern is not to appear weak, especially considering that his two main rivals — center-right leader Nicolas Sarkozy and the far-right's Marine Le Pen — are traditionally stronger on security issues. Sarkozy and Le Pen also have ties to Russia and have urged Paris to strengthen its relationship with Moscow.

The French have also significantly ramped up their air campaign against the Islamic State over the past two days, and Hollande is set to meet with Putin on Nov. 26 in the wake of the French president's call for a global campaign against radicals. Moreover, Putin has given orders for Russian forces to link up with the French. The Kremlin announced that Putin had spoken to Hollande by telephone. He then ordered the Russian navy to establish contact with a French naval force heading to the eastern Mediterranean, led by an aircraft carrier, and to treat the French forces as allies.

Though the common cause of fighting the Islamic State may cause Russia and the West (particularly France) to collaborate more closely in Syria, there are still very real limits to that cooperation. Russia is ramping up its campaign against the Islamic State, but overall it is likely to remain focused on fighting non-Islamic State rebels. After all, Russia is trying to maintain its strategic position in Syria, and in its view, to fully address the Islamic State threat the country first needs a viable government. So long as these rebels continue to pose a critical threat to the Syrian government, Russia will continue supporting its loyalist allies on the ground against rebel advances. This dynamic will only reinforce U.S., European, Turkish and Sunni Arab support for the rebels, undermining the potential for a credible and lasting cease-fire. 

Beyond Syria, the limits of Russia's cooperation on the Syrian battlefield will keep Moscow from getting all the concessions it wants from the Europeans, including relief from the sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in Ukraine. So far, the United States and its European partners have not let the Russian government link cooperation in Syria to the ongoing Minsk negotiations over Ukraine. Russia may have better chances with France at this stage to try to strike a broader bargain, but even its newfound leverage is probably insufficient. Sanctions removal would require a unanimous European decision, and there are still enough European nations backed by the United States in their opposition to easing restrictions, that for now any efforts to give Russia sanctions relief will likely fail.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #753 on: November 25, 2015, 01:35:19 PM »

second post:



By Ambika Vishwanath

The Islamic State's use of natural resources to achieve its strategic goals is nothing new. Oil, one of the group's biggest sources of funding, plays an especially important role in its calculations — something the countries fighting the Islamic State are increasingly coming to realize. And they have begun to adjust their target sets accordingly. The United States and France, for example, have begun to launch airstrikes against the group's oil trucks and distribution centers, hoping to hamper its ability to pay for its military operations.

But what is less talked about, although no less important, is the Islamic State's use of water in its fight to establish a caliphate. Its tactics have brought water to the forefront of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, threatening the very existence of the people living under its oppressive rule. If the Islamic State's opponents do not move to sever the group's hold over Iraqi and Syrian water sources — and soon — it may prove difficult to liberate the region from the Islamic State's hold in the long term.

An Age-Old Conflict

Civilizations have long battled for access to water and founded their empires around great rivers. Historians believe that the ancient Sumerian city of Ur was favored by the empires that followed for its abundance of water and its proximity to the Persian Gulf. Other accounts say the city's inhabitants abandoned it amid severe droughts and the drying up of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Today, drought and low rainfall compete with the manmade disaster of terrorism to destroy the same, once-fertile swathe of land stretching along the two rivers.

What is Global Affairs?

Governments and non-state actors alike have used water as a weapon for centuries. While the number of full-blown wars over water resources has been lower than one might expect, given how critical water is to any population's survival, smaller conflicts have been numerous, destructive and deadly. The Middle East has fallen prey to this competition in recent years as states and groups have increasingly shifted from simply cutting off water supplies for a short period of time to diverting water flows or completely draining supplies in an attempt to threaten or coerce consumers.

The Islamic State is no exception. Since the group began expanding its territorial claims in western Syria, it has used water as a tool in its broader strategy of advancing and establishing control over new land. True, the Islamic State has also (and perhaps more visibly) targeted strategic oil and natural gas fields in both Syria and Iraq, but a close look at the group's movements clearly indicates that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers hold a central role in its planning. Recognition of the Islamic State's intention to organize its new caliphate around the Tigris-Euphrates Basin may prove helpful in the long-term fight against the group.

In 2012, the Islamic State emerged from the power vacuum created by the Syrian civil war and made its presence known in the western city of Aleppo. It had little in common with Syria's other rebel groups, which were primarily focused on fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar al Assad for regime change. Instead, the Islamic State was a terrorist organization with a clear agenda and strategy: It wanted to build an Islamic caliphate that would, from its perspective, follow the truest form of Islam as decreed by the Prophet Mohammed. Over the following year, the group moved quickly and decisively, cutting a path through Syria and toward Iraq, capturing the key towns of Maskana, Raqqa, Deir el-Zour and al-Bukamal  — all of which are positioned along the Euphrates River.

The Iraqi front didn't look much different; the Islamic State easily captured the river towns of Qaim, Rawah, Ramadi and Fallujah, two of which (Rawah and Ramadi) gave the group direct access to two of Iraq's major lakes, Haditha Dam Lake and Lake Tharthar. Meanwhile, the Islamic State pursued a similar strategy along the Tigris River, successfully capturing Mosul and Tikrit and attempting to seize other towns and cities along the way. In Iraq the goal was Baghdad, from which the group could rule a caliphate encompassing Syria and Iraq. While the oil and natural gas fields it seized along the way were a means for the group to threaten military forces and make money, the bodies of water and infrastructure were a means to hold the entire region hostage.

Historically, the Euphrates and Tigris rivers have been an important source of contention between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The lack of cooperation and coordination between these countries on sharing the mighty rivers has led to a failure to regulate their use and an overconsumption of resources. Consequently, any and all activity by upstream nations regarding the water resources carries the risk of agitating tensions with downstream countries. With no regional coordination and poor security along the rivers themselves, terrorist groups — including the Islamic State — have been able to use water as both a target and a weapon. Not only have they destroyed water-related infrastructure such as pipes, sanitation plants, bridges and cables connected to water installations, but they have also used water as an instrument of violence by deliberately flooding towns, polluting bodies of water and ruining local economies by disrupting electricity generation and agriculture.

Since 2013, the Islamic State has launched nearly 20 major attacks (as well as countless smaller assaults) against Syrian and Iraqi water infrastructure. Some of these attacks include flooding villages, threatening to flood Baghdad, closing the dam gates in Fallujah and Ramadi, cutting off water to Mosul, and allegedly poisoning water in small Syrian towns, to name just a few. Most of these operations are aimed at government forces, designed to fight the military by using water as a weapon against them, though some targeted water infrastructure to disrupt troop movements. Such efforts also often have the added benefit of enhancing recruitment efforts; by allowing water to flow to towns sympathetic to the Islamic State's cause, or even by simply doing a better job of providing necessary services, the group can attract more men and women to its ranks.

With water at the core of its expansionist strategy, the Islamic State has also ensured that bodies of water and their corresponding infrastructure have moved to the forefront of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. The control of major water resources and dams has, in turn, given the Islamic State a firm grip on the supplies used to support agriculture and electricity generation. Mosul Dam, for example, gave the Islamic State control over 75 percent of Iraq's electricity generation while it was in the group's possession. In 2014, when the group shut down Fallujah's Nuaimiyah Dam, the subsequent flooding destroyed 200 square kilometers (about 77 square miles) of Iraqi fields and villages. And in June 2015, the Islamic State closed the Ramadi barrage in Anbar province, reducing water flows to the famed Iraqi Marshes and forcing the Arabs living there to flee. While coalition and government forces in both countries have managed to recapture some key water sites, the threat of further damage persists.

At the same time, governments and militaries have used similar tactics to combat the Islamic State, closing the gates of dams or attacking water infrastructure under their control. But the Islamic State's fighters are not the only ones hurt by these efforts — the surrounding population suffers, too. The Syrian government has been repeatedly accused of withholding water, reducing flows or closing dam gates during its battles against the Islamic State or rebel groups, and it used the denial of clean water as a coercive tactic against many suburbs of Damascus thought to be sympathetic to the rebels.
Finding a Regional Solution

Because of its importance to both electricity generation and agricultural production, water has the power to run or ruin an economy. And since bodies of water often extend beyond any one country's borders, history shows that the competition for water resources can often only be settled peacefully through regional cooperation. Before Iraq and Syria deteriorated, and groups like the Islamic State arose, countries around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers had only each other to contend with. And in late 2010, the leaders of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan appeared to be on the verge of making progress toward setting up an integrated economic region. The countries' leaders called for regionwide cooperation on tourism, banking, trade and other sectors, and could have laid the foundation for further agreements on the distribution of shared natural resources like water. Though ambitious, the ideas and sentiments behind the proposals had the power to transform the region.

But politics prevailed, as is so often the case, and in less than a year the moment was lost. Had Turkey, Iraq and Syria taken the opportunity to act while political conditions were favorable, they would have found it easier to collectively tackle the Islamic State's advance later on. Bodies of water could have been labeled regional commons and thus the collective responsibility of all parties, ensuring swifter reactions by the governments involved to protect the water and associated infrastructure from terrorism. This, in turn, would have better protected the people and areas surrounding the rivers and lakes in the region. Of course, it is easy to look back and lament actions not taken, but the point remains that there is still a chance for these countries to come together and start working collectively to protect the water resources they share.

There is no doubt that the Islamic State has a very clear strategy, one that extends even beyond Syria and Iraq and into the wider region. The group has established bases throughout North Africa, following a similar path of controlling key resources and using them as weapons against the populations and governments it seeks to coerce or destroy. It is time that nearby states and the international community re-examine what they know about the Islamic State's tactics and formulate a new plan of action. Forces fighting the Islamic State must look at the region as a single integrated basin and bring bodies of water — and by extension, the populations dependent on them — to the forefront of their strategies. Water has always formed the core of civilizations; the Middle East — not to mention an Islamic State caliphate — is no different.
 
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #754 on: November 26, 2015, 06:56:37 PM »



Why Turkey Can't Sell a Syrian Safe Zone
Geopolitical Diary
October 7, 2015 | 01:24 GMT Text Size
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Brussels on Tuesday with an ambitious agenda: to promote the establishment of a "safe zone" in northern Syria. Erdogan can see that the Europeans have no good solutions to their immigration crisis other than to manipulate the route and flow of migrants. The latest idea gaining traction in a host of European capitals is to keep the hundreds of thousands of people trying to cross the Mediterranean off of Europe's shores by bottling them up closer to home instead. Brussels would, of course, pay Ankara to take care of its problem by housing more refugees traveling overland. But Turkey, which already hosts more than 2.5 million Syrians and has spent $7.6 billion on the refugee crisis so far, isn't buying into Europe's offer. Erdogan wants more. Much more.

Now that Turkey has Europe's attention and Russia has blindsided the United States in Syria, Erdogan is attempting to use the chaotic climate to dust off his plans for a Syrian safe zone. The Turkish version of a safe zone entails reinforcing rebel forces that are friendly with Turkey to flush out the Islamic State from a zone measuring 80 kilometers (50 miles) by 40 kilometers in Syria's northern Aleppo province. A no-fly zone, according to the Turkish proposal, would accompany the safe zone. Once the zone is declared safe and free of terrorist activity, refugee camps would be set up and Syrian migrants could live within their country's borders again.

What is a Geopolitical Diary?

The motives behind Turkey's plan are many and thickly layered. Most important, Turkey needs to avoid augmenting the burden migrants are placing on it at home while its economy is deteriorating. Second, Turkey is legitimately threatened by the Islamic State and wants to create as much distance as possible between its borders and those of the self-proclaimed caliphate. But the reasons don't stop there. Turkey can see that its southern neighbor will be fragmented for the foreseeable future. Ankara does not want to eradicate the Islamic State only to see Kurdish forces take its place. Rather, it wants to establish a physical foothold in northern Syria to ensure that the Kurds cannot create a viable autonomous state that could exacerbate Turkey's own Kurdish problem at home.

There is also a broader objective framing Turkey's strategy. A divided Syria undoubtedly creates risk, but it also presents an opportunity for Turkey to expand its sphere of influence in the Levant. This is the main driver behind Turkey's campaign to topple Syrian President Bashar al Assad's government and replace it with a Sunni Islamist-led administration that takes its cues from Ankara. After all, someone would have to provide security to make the zone in northern Syria "safe"; Turkish forces and civilian personnel presumably would take the lead in reinforcing such a corridor, potentially placing Turkish boots back on Arab soil.

Meanwhile, there is a murkier motive to consider. Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party will enter the Nov. 2 elections with a low chance of winning enough votes to regain its majority in parliament. The likelihood of the elections resulting in another hung parliament, coupled with Erdogan's reluctance to share power, raises the potential (albeit in an extreme scenario) for Turkey to use the premise of a military operation in Syria to stave off a third round of elections.

But Russia is botching Turkey's plans. Russia, Turkey and NATO are still arguing over whether two alleged Russian violations of Turkish airspace near the Syrian border were intentional (as Turkey and NATO claim) or accidental (as Russia insists they were). Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said Tuesday that Russia was ready to form a working group and that it would be pleased to host Turkish Defense Ministry officials in Moscow to avoid further misunderstandings in Syria. Ankara has no choice but to interpret Russia's actions as a signal that Moscow is willing to interfere in a Turkish-led safe zone if Ankara tries to push ahead with its plans.

Moscow's strategy has already begun to bear fruit. The European officials who met with Erdogan in Brussels listened politely to his ideas for a safe zone and promised to discuss the idea further. But no European power wants to risk getting mixed up with a brazen Russia on the Syrian battlefield. The Europeans would rather bargain with Erdogan on issues such as visa liberalization for Turkish citizens and Turkey's acceptance of more migrants on the Continent's behalf instead.

The United States has kept Turkey's safe zone plan at arm's length for similar reasons. However, Russia's military adventurism in Syria is accelerating U.S. plans for a rebel offensive that could still at least partially fit with Turkey's interests.

In the coming months, the United States will be focused on the areas east and west of the Euphrates River. To the east, the United States will ramp up its support for Kurdish forces and their allies in preparation for a move toward Raqqa against the Islamic State. Greater U.S. support for Kurdish forces will not please Turkish leaders, but the United States' simultaneous boost in aid for the rebels Turkey has been preparing to the west will. Here, the United States and Turkey will work together to try to carve out a border zone free of the Islamic State's presence. The Americans are avoiding the label of a safe zone to keep the operation from conflating with Turkey's more ambitious agenda. Nonetheless, the United States will be indirectly taking the first crucial steps toward Turkey's ultimate goals for northern Syria.

Of course, Turkey will still have to contend with Russia. Moscow will do whatever it can to play off the fears of the NATO alliance. If a buffer zone were established in Syria and if Turkey, a NATO member, tried to protect the airspace over the zone, who would shoot down the Russian air force in the event that it crossed into the zone? In Brussels, Erdogan reiterated that "an attack on Turkey means an attack on NATO." But if NATO proves too afraid of the consequences of responding to Russian interference, then NATO's credibility will have been dealt a major blow. And that is exactly the outcome the Russians are hoping for.
 
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G M
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« Reply #755 on: November 26, 2015, 09:44:14 PM »

My money is on Putin getting payback, and NATO crumbling.
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DougMacG
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« Reply #756 on: November 27, 2015, 10:48:06 AM »

Assad and ISIS are in business together.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11455602/Oil-middleman-between-Syria-and-Isil-is-new-target-for-EU-sanctions.html
Who knew?
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #757 on: November 29, 2015, 08:31:14 AM »

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey and Russia promised on Wednesday not to go to war over the downing of a Russian military jet, leaving Turkey’s still-nervous NATO allies and just about everyone else wondering why the country decided to risk such a serious confrontation.
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The reply from the Turkish government so far has been consistent: Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Though minor airspace violations are fairly common and usually tolerated, Turkey had repeatedly called in Russia’s ambassador to complain about aircraft intrusions and about bombing raids in Syria near the border. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday evening — and a Pentagon spokesman later confirmed — that before a Turkish F-16 shot down the Russian Su-24 jet, Turkish forces had warned the Russian plane 10 times in five minutes to steer away.
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“I personally was expecting something like this, because in the past months there have been so many incidents like that,” Ismail Demir, Turkey’s undersecretary of national defense, said in an interview. “Our engagement rules were very clear, and any sovereign nation has a right to defend its airspace.”
News Clips: Europe By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS 2:09
Turkey Audio on Downed Russian Plane
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Turkey Audio on Downed Russian Plane

In a recording released by the Turkish Air Force, through the prime minister's office, a voice can be heard repeatedly saying ”change your heading south immediately.” By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS on Publish Date November 26, 2015. Watch in Times Video »

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While that may be true, analysts said Mr. Erdogan had several more nuanced reasons to allow Turkish pilots to open fire. These include his frustration with Russia over a range of issues even beyond Syria, the Gordian knot of figuring out what to do with Syria itself and Turkey’s strong ethnic ties to the Turkmen villages Russia has been bombing lately in the area of the crash.

Turkey has been quietly seething ever since Russia began military operations against Syrian rebels two months ago, wrecking Ankara’s policy of ousting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The Turks were forced to downgrade their ambitions from the ouster of Mr. Assad to simply maintaining a seat at the negotiating table when the time comes, said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a nonpartisan research group.

“That would require Turkey-backed rebels to be present in Syria, and I think Turkey was alarmed that Russia’s bombing of positions held by Turkey-backed rebels in northern Syria was hurting their positions and therefore Turkey’s future stakes in Syria,” Mr. Cagaptay said. “So this is also an aggressive Turkey posture in the Syrian civil war to prevent the defeat of Turkey-backed rebels so they can hold onto territory and have a say in the future of Syria.”

But the fate of the particular rebels the Russians were bombing in the mountainous Bayirbucak area where the plane was shot down is more than just a policy matter to the Turks. Mr. Erdogan particularly emphasized the ethnic tie in a speech Tuesday evening, saying, “We strongly condemn attacks focusing on areas inhabited by Bayirbucak Turkmen — we have our relatives, our kin there.”
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Sorting Out What Russia and Turkey Say Happened in the Sky

Comparing the conflicting versions of the events.
OPEN Graphic

The Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said as much on Wednesday while dismissing Russia’s explanation that it was fighting a common enemy, the Islamic State. “No one,” he said, “can legitimize attacks on Turkmens in Syria using the pretext of fighting the Islamic State.”

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The bombing was creating political problems for Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Cagaptay said. “In the days leading up to the incident, many newspapers, especially the pro-government publications, were running headlines highlighting the suffering of the Turkmens, who are closely related to Anatolian Turks,” he said. “I think the government felt that, in terms of domestic politics, it had to do something to ease some of this pressure that had resulted from the Russian bombardment against Turkmens in northern Syria.”

Russia’s bombing of Turkmen villages was to be the principal issue Turkey raised with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, in talks that had been set for Wednesday but were canceled after the shooting down of the plane.

Mr. Erdogan’s emphasis on helping the Turkmens has another important political dimension in Turkey. Mr. Erdogan’s political party emphasized Turkish ethnic identity and Sunni Muslim faith in the campaign leading up to critical elections on Nov. 1, as it competed with one rival party heavily composed of Turkey’s Kurdish minority and another committed to preserving Turkey’s status as a secular society and state.
News Clips: Europe By REUTERS 1:46
Putin Criticizes Turkish Leaders
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Video
Putin Criticizes Turkish Leaders

A day after Turkey shot down one of Moscow’s jets, Russian president Vladimir V. Putin said Turkey’s political leaders had been "supporting the Islamization of their country." By REUTERS on Publish Date November 25, 2015. Photo by Pool photo by Alexei Nikolsky. Watch in Times Video »

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Mr. Erdogan managed an important victory in that election, preserving his chances of winning legislative approval to change the Constitution and turn the country’s parliamentary system into a presidential one.

Complicating matters further, Turkey and Syria have a longstanding border dispute in exactly the area where the Russian plane, a Sukhoi Su-24, was shot down, and Russia has sometimes voiced support for Syria’s claim. It is a narrow strip of territory, the Hatay Province of Turkey, that runs south along the Mediterranean Sea, deep into Syria.

The province is a melting pot of ethnic Turks and Arabs. It is also a religious mélange, with many Muslims but also a large Christian population, as Hatay includes the biblical city of Antioch. And the province has an acrimonious history.

The League of Nations granted Hatay Province to France after World War I as part of France’s legal mandate over Syria. Ethnic Turks led the province’s secession from Syria and declaration of an independent republic in 1938, and that republic then joined Turkey the next year — much as Texas seceded from Mexico a century earlier, became a republic and soon joined the United States.

Syria has periodically questioned the loss of Hatay over the years. “If you look at Syrian maps, that province, that chunk of territory, is shown as belonging to Syria,” said Altay Atli, an international relations specialist at Bogazici University.

When Hatay seceded from the French mandate of Syria, Hatay’s borders did not encompass all of the ethnic Turks in the area; many Turkmens remained just across the border in what is now northernmost Syria. For decades, it was difficult for families divided on either side of the border by the secession of Hatay to even visit one another. Tensions finally began to ease during the years immediately before the Arab Spring, but they have resumed in the last several years as Turkey has led calls for the removal of Mr. Assad.

The fact that Russia has over the years expressed sympathy for Syria’s claim to Hatay makes the province even more delicate for Turkey, and Tuesday’s incident with the Russian jet even more important, said James F. Jeffrey, a former American ambassador to Turkey who is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

He questioned whether the Russian jet had strayed into Hatay Province’s airspace accidentally or whether Russia might have been deliberately allowing incursions by its jets during military activities in Syria because of Hatay’s tangled history.

Syria

“Turkey was tired of Russia’s intimidating Turkey,” he said.

The Russian and Ottoman Empires battled for centuries for control over the area from the Balkans to the Black Sea, and vestiges of that bloody rivalry keep arising. One of those is reflected in Turkey’s deep concern about Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, said Murat Yesiltas, the director of security studies at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, a large research group in Ankara with close government links.

Turkey now faces across the Black Sea a much wider arc of territory occupied by Russian forces. Many in Turkey are further upset by Russia’s treatment of the Crimean Tatars, who speak a Turkic language and have opposed the Russian annexation. Most of the Crimean Tatars’ leaders have been forced into exile by Russia, and this week Tatars have been blocking repair crews from restringing crucial power lines to Crimea that were mysteriously blown up over the weekend, producing a nearly total blackout on the peninsula.

“Turkey wants to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Mr. Yesiltas said. Turkey has already provided economic assistance to Ukraine, but it has been reluctant to confront Moscow more publicly because Russia is one of Turkey’s biggest export markets and supplies three-fifths of Turkey’s natural gas.

Photo
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said on Tuesday that Turkish forces had warned the Russian plane 10 times in five minutes to leave before a Turkish F-16 shot it down. Credit Pool photo by Kayhan Ozer

With President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia saying things about the jet’s downing like, “We will never tolerate such crimes like the one committed today” and warning of “serious consequences,” the biggest question perhaps is what comes next.

Russia on Wednesday announced plans to deploy its most modern air-defense system, the S-400 mobile antiaircraft missile, to its air base outside Latakia. But while most experts — and Mr. Erdogan himself, in remarks on Wednesday — play down concerns of a wider confrontation, many worry that the biggest losers from Tuesday’s incident could be the Turkmens.

While the jet’s two crew members were able to eject from the plane, Russia said that one of them was killed — possibly by fire from the ground as he floated to earth — as was a marine sent in a helicopter that was shot down by local ground forces while trying to rescue the pilots; the Kremlin said the second crew member had been rescued by Russian special forces.

Several experts warned that Mr. Putin may step up his country’s attacks on the Turkmens in retaliation.

“They’re the real target,” Mr. Jeffrey said. “He can just plaster them.”
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #758 on: December 02, 2015, 06:45:39 PM »

Picking up from the Cruz thread where we were discussion Cruz vs. Rubio,

In 25-50 words, what are our individual thoughts on what to do right now?  On this criterion alone, do we favor Cruz or Rubio?

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G M
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« Reply #759 on: December 02, 2015, 08:00:21 PM »

More half measures? More promises that go unfilled? Better to do nothing. The one thing I would do is arm and train the Kurds and pull Christians, Yazidis and other minorities who would be butchered otherwise to Kurd protected areas.
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DougMacG
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« Reply #760 on: December 02, 2015, 11:37:06 PM »

In 25-50 words, what are our individual thoughts on what to do right now?  On this criterion alone, do we favor Cruz or Rubio?

I wrote my plan here:
http://dogbrothers.com/phpBB2/index.php?topic=987.msg91452#msg91452

First, a new President.  No credibility otherwise.  Attack ISIS with all allies on all fronts.  Kill it from the head and shrink their territory to nothing.  Make it top priority.  Bring back Petraeus and learn from the ground game used in Fullujah.  Use whatever leverage necessary to get enough Sunni Arabs from friendly nations to man the ground game.  Split the cost with all allies.

I don't have a plan for Syria and Assad.  Perhaps wait on NK, Iran and Assad until their next mis-step.  Rogue regimes need to see we are under new management.

Eradicate ISIS, then take inventory of who are our friends and who are the remaining threats.

This is not perfect or risk free but better than letting atrocities go unanswered.




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« Reply #761 on: December 15, 2015, 08:00:51 AM »

http://abcnews.go.com/International/delta-force-commandos-kill-key-isis-leader-ground/story?id=31092834
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« Reply #762 on: December 21, 2015, 08:50:47 AM »

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/fb86019e-a240-11e5-bc70-7ff6d4fd203a.html#axzz3undWuQYm
Isis proves vulnerable to its own ‘ghost armies’
 
Isis fighters in Syria

Isis may be claiming to wage a holy war for Islam but the self-declared caliphate is as vulnerable to the region’s deep-seated corruption as the secular Iraqi and Syrian regimes it displaced.

Evidence from its former fighters and officials suggests that “ghost armies” are fighting on both sides of the conflict.

A year ago Iraq denounced deep corruption within its army, alleging 50,000 “ghost” soldiers had been drawing salaries from the military without serving.
According to Omar, a rebel commander who fought with Isis for more than a year before fleeing and asked not be identified by his real name, the same thing happened on his side.

“You’d have a frontline [Isis] commander apply for salaries for 250 people, but really he only has 150,” he said. “When officials discovered the schemes they started sending financial administrators to deliver salaries. Then the administrators started agreeing with commanders on scams, too.”

Ex-fighters and former employees who worked under Isis often argue that, for all the jihadis’ talk of rejecting the secular Iraqi and Syrian governments they drove out, their officials often mimic those regimes’ penchant for bureaucracy — and graft.

From agricultural management to food subsidies, the officials put in charge by Isis often adopt the same systems developed by the ruling parties of Syria and Iraq, including their excessive use of paperwork and stamps.

Locals say Isis co-opted decades-old institutions that secured loyalty through patronage. And the more Isis expands, the more it depends on officials and fighters who prize financial reward over its radical ideology. In Syria some of the officials hired by Isis are the same people once employed by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Abu Rasheed, a hospital pharmacist from Syria’s eastern city of Mayadeen who asked to use a false name for his safety, says he was surprised when Isis hired a medical official fired by the Assad government. The official was accused of embezzlement, and appears to have attempted the same scheme under Isis: he wrote dozens of fake medicine orders and, after receiving the money, burnt down the dispensary to avoid being caught.

“There’s no doubt that some of the effects of this power are turning them into something we would recognise as a corrupt, autocratic system,” said one western intelligence official who follows Isis.

Even so, intelligence officials say Isis tolerates much less graft than previous regimes. The group’s comparative efficiency and lack of corruption was repeatedly mentioned by residents during the jihadis’ takeover as a reason they were prepared to tolerate the group — a sobering assessment for the coalition, which needs to work with partners like the Iraqi government to beat Isis.

“The reality is that prior to [Isis] control of Mosul, things were probably more corrupt,” the western official said. “They deal with corruption harshly.”

Not harshly enough for Abu Rasheed. When Isis leaders discovered the medical scam, they arrested the official, shaved off his hair and beard to disgrace him, and forced him to take a course in Islamic law. “But, according to their own laws, they should have cut off his hand,” he said.

Syrians and Iraqis living under Isis rule say they increasingly sense weak spots in the system that they believe are the result of growing corruption.

They point to the proliferation of people-smuggling out of Isis territory since the leadership banned residents from leaving most parts of its self-proclaimed caliphate. Locals often bribe Isis fighters to look the other way at checkpoints, making its borders more porous.

Isis corruption scandals have become lore among former fighters, who gossip about emirs that spirit fortunes over the border into Turkey, then disappear.
The rebel commander who worked with Isis says that in his area of eastern Deir Ezzor province, an emir known as Abu Fatima al-Tunisi ran off with some $25,000 in zakat (a form of tax) funds. He says the fugitive fighter left a message to former comrades on Twitter: “What state? What caliphate? You idiots.”

Additional reporting by Sam Jones in London

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« Reply #763 on: December 21, 2015, 09:02:12 AM »

Boots on the waves. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle in the Persian Gulf over the weekend, as the carrier conducts flight operations against the Islamic State. The visit presented a significant photo op moment, as the ship is the first non-American vessel to take command of the task force carrying out airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. The deployment of the French ship has also filled a gap in sea-based air power after the USS Theodore Roosevelt left the gulf in early October, leaving the coalition with no carriers there until the French ship arrived earlier this month. The USS Harry S. Truman recently passed through the Suez Canal, however, and should join the De Gaulle in the next several days to start conducting airstrikes.

The visit came after Carter flew out to the USS Kearsarge, also in the Persian Gulf, where the secretary expressed his condolences over what appears to have been an errant U.S. airstrike in Iraq which killed Iraqi forces fighting against the Islamic State near Fallujah. "These kinds of things happen when you're fighting side by side as we are," Carter said. The strike "has all the indications of being a mistake of the kind that can happen on a dynamic battlefield," he added.

Strike out. On top of the visits to ships at sea, Carter also met with Iraqi officials in Baghdad, where his offer of more U.S. troops and attack helicopters was flatly rejected by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Carter also visited U.S. troops in Afghanistan late last week.
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« Reply #764 on: December 21, 2015, 11:25:31 AM »

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/baad34e4-973c-11e5-9228-87e603d47bdc.html#axzz3undWuQYm
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« Reply #765 on: December 22, 2015, 09:19:56 AM »

This is a very telling article from Seymour Hersh. If accurate, it tends to suggest that Obummer is really on the side of the Caliphate.

Military to Military

Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war


Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped.

The military’s resistance dates back to the summer of 2013, when a highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then led by General Martin Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos and, potentially, to Syria’s takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was then happening in Libya. A former senior adviser to the Joint Chiefs told me that the document was an ‘all-source’ appraisal, drawing on information from signals, satellite and human intelligence, and took a dim view of the Obama administration’s insistence on continuing to finance and arm the so-called moderate rebel groups. By then, the CIA had been conspiring for more than a year with allies in the UK, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to ship guns and goods – to be used for the overthrow of Assad – from Libya, via Turkey, into Syria. The new intelligence estimate singled out Turkey as a major impediment to Obama’s Syria policy. The document showed, the adviser said, ‘that what was started as a covert US programme to arm and support the moderate rebels fighting Assad had been co-opted by Turkey, and had morphed into an across-the-board technical, arms and logistical programme for all of the opposition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State. The so-called moderates had evaporated and the Free Syrian Army was a rump group stationed at an airbase in Turkey.’ The assessment was bleak: there was no viable ‘moderate’ opposition to Assad, and the US was arming extremists.

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the DIA between 2012 and 2014, confirmed that his agency had sent a constant stream of classified warnings to the civilian leadership about the dire consequences of toppling Assad. The jihadists, he said, were in control of the opposition. Turkey wasn’t doing enough to stop the smuggling of foreign fighters and weapons across the border. ‘If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic,’ Flynn told me. ‘We understood Isis’s long-term strategy and its campaign plans, and we also discussed the fact that Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the Islamic State inside Syria.’ The DIA’s reporting, he said, ‘got enormous pushback’ from the Obama administration. ‘I felt that they did not want to hear the truth.’

‘Our policy of arming the opposition to Assad was unsuccessful and actually having a negative impact,’ the former JCS adviser said. ‘The Joint Chiefs believed that Assad should not be replaced by fundamentalists. The administration’s policy was contradictory. They wanted Assad to go but the opposition was dominated by extremists. So who was going to replace him? To say Assad’s got to go is fine, but if you follow that through – therefore anyone is better. It’s the “anybody else is better” issue that the JCS had with Obama’s policy.’ The Joint Chiefs felt that a direct challenge to Obama’s policy would have ‘had a zero chance of success’. So in the autumn of 2013 they decided to take steps against the extremists without going through political channels, by providing US intelligence to the militaries of other nations, on the understanding that it would be passed on to the Syrian army and used against the common enemy, Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State.

Germany, Israel and Russia were in contact with the Syrian army, and able to exercise some influence over Assad’s decisions – it was through them that US intelligence would be shared. Each had its reasons for co-operating with Assad: Germany feared what might happen among its own population of six million Muslims if Islamic State expanded; Israel was concerned with border security; Russia had an alliance of very long standing with Syria, and was worried by the threat to its only naval base on the Mediterranean, at Tartus. ‘We weren’t intent on deviating from Obama’s stated policies,’ the adviser said. ‘But sharing our assessments via the military-to-military relationships with other countries could prove productive. It was clear that Assad needed better tactical intelligence and operational advice. The JCS concluded that if those needs were met, the overall fight against Islamist terrorism would be enhanced. Obama didn’t know, but Obama doesn’t know what the JCS does in every circumstance and that’s true of all presidents.’

Once the flow of US intelligence began, Germany, Israel and Russia started passing on information about the whereabouts and intent of radical jihadist groups to the Syrian army; in return, Syria provided information about its own capabilities and intentions. There was no direct contact between the US and the Syrian military; instead, the adviser said, ‘we provided the information – including long-range analyses on Syria’s future put together by contractors or one of our war colleges – and these countries could do with it what they chose, including sharing it with Assad. We were saying to the Germans and the others: “Here’s some information that’s pretty interesting and our interest is mutual.” End of conversation. The JCS could conclude that something beneficial would arise from it – but it was a military to military thing, and not some sort of a sinister Joint Chiefs’ plot to go around Obama and support Assad. It was a lot cleverer than that. If Assad remains in power, it will not be because we did it. It’s because he was smart enough to use the intelligence and sound tactical advice we provided to others.’

*

The public history of relations between the US and Syria over the past few decades has been one of enmity. Assad condemned the 9/11 attacks, but opposed the Iraq War. George W. Bush repeatedly linked Syria to the three members of his ‘axis of evil’ – Iraq, Iran and North Korea – throughout his presidency. State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks show that the Bush administration tried to destabilise Syria and that these efforts continued into the Obama years. In December 2006, William Roebuck, then in charge of the US embassy in Damascus, filed an analysis of the ‘vulnerabilities’ of the Assad government and listed methods ‘that will improve the likelihood’ of opportunities for destabilisation. He recommended that Washington work with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to increase sectarian tension and focus on publicising ‘Syrian efforts against extremist groups’ – dissident Kurds and radical Sunni factions – ‘in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and uncontrolled blowback’; and that the ‘isolation of Syria’ should be encouraged through US support of the National Salvation Front, led by Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president whose government-in-exile in Riyadh was sponsored by the Saudis and the Muslim Brotherhood. Another 2006 cable showed that the embassy had spent $5 million financing dissidents who ran as independent candidates for the People’s Assembly; the payments were kept up even after it became clear that Syrian intelligence knew what was going on. A 2010 cable warned that funding for a London-based television network run by a Syrian opposition group would be viewed by the Syrian government ‘as a covert and hostile gesture toward the regime’.

But there is also a parallel history of shadowy co-operation between Syria and the US during the same period. The two countries collaborated against al-Qaida, their common enemy. A longtime consultant to America’s intelligence community said that, after 9/11, ‘Bashar was, for years, extremely helpful to us while, in my view, we were churlish in return, and clumsy in our use of the gold he gave us. That quiet co-operation continued among some elements, even after the [Bush administration’s] decision to vilify him.’ In 2002 Assad authorised Syrian intelligence to turn over hundreds of internal files on the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Germany. Later that year, Syrian intelligence foiled an attack by al-Qaida on the headquarters of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, and Assad agreed to provide the CIA with the name of a vital al-Qaida informant. In violation of this agreement, the CIA contacted the informant directly; he rejected the approach, and broke off relations with his Syrian handlers. Assad also secretly turned over to the US relatives of Saddam Hussein who had sought refuge in Syria, and – like America’s allies in Jordan, Egypt, Thailand and elsewhere – tortured suspected terrorists for the CIA in a Damascus prison.

It was this history of co-operation that made it seem possible in 2013 that Damascus would agree to the new indirect intelligence-sharing arrangement with the US. The Joint Chiefs let it be known that in return the US would require four things: Assad must restrain Hizbullah from attacking Israel; he must renew the stalled negotiations with Israel to reach a settlement on the Golan Heights; he must agree to accept Russian and other outside military advisers; and he must commit to holding open elections after the war with a wide range of factions included. ‘We had positive feedback from the Israelis, who were willing to entertain the idea, but they needed to know what the reaction would be from Iran and Syria,’ the JCS adviser told me. ‘The Syrians told us that Assad would not make a decision unilaterally – he needed to have support from his military and Alawite allies. Assad’s worry was that Israel would say yes and then not uphold its end of the bargain.’ A senior adviser to the Kremlin on Middle East affairs told me that in late 2012, after suffering a series of battlefield setbacks and military defections, Assad had approached Israel via a contact in Moscow and offered to reopen the talks on the Golan Heights. The Israelis had rejected the offer. ‘They said, “Assad is finished,”’ the Russian official told me. ‘“He’s close to the end.”’ He said the Turks had told Moscow the same thing. By mid-2013, however, the Syrians believed the worst was behind them, and wanted assurances that the Americans and others were serious about their offers of help.

In the early stages of the talks, the adviser said, the Joint Chiefs tried to establish what Assad needed as a sign of their good intentions. The answer was sent through one of Assad’s friends: ‘Bring him the head of Prince Bandar.’ The Joint Chiefs did not oblige. Bandar bin Sultan had served Saudi Arabia for decades in intelligence and national security affairs, and spent more than twenty years as ambassador in Washington. In recent years, he has been known as an advocate for Assad’s removal from office by any means. Reportedly in poor health, he resigned last year as director of the Saudi National Security Council, but Saudi Arabia continues to be a major provider of funds to the Syrian opposition, estimated by US intelligence last year at $700 million.

In July 2013, the Joint Chiefs found a more direct way of demonstrating to Assad how serious they were about helping him. By then the CIA-sponsored secret flow of arms from Libya to the Syrian opposition, via Turkey, had been underway for more than a year (it started sometime after Gaddafi’s death on 20 October 2011).​* The operation was largely run out of a covert CIA annex in Benghazi, with State Department acquiescence. On 11 September 2012 the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed during an anti-American demonstration that led to the burning down of the US consulate in Benghazi; reporters for the Washington Post found copies of the ambassador’s schedule in the building’s ruins. It showed that on 10 September Stevens had met with the chief of the CIA’s annex operation. The next day, shortly before he died, he met a representative from Al-Marfa Shipping and Maritime Services, a Tripoli-based company which, the JCS adviser said, was known by the Joint Staff to be handling the weapons shipments.

By the late summer of 2013, the DIA’s assessment had been circulated widely, but although many in the American intelligence community were aware that the Syrian opposition was dominated by extremists the CIA-sponsored weapons kept coming, presenting a continuing problem for Assad’s army. Gaddafi’s stockpile had created an international arms bazaar, though prices were high. ‘There was no way to stop the arms shipments that had been authorised by the president,’ the JCS adviser said. ‘The solution involved an appeal to the pocketbook. The CIA was approached by a representative from the Joint Chiefs with a suggestion: there were far less costly weapons available in Turkish arsenals that could reach the Syrian rebels within days, and without a boat ride.’ But it wasn’t only the CIA that benefited. ‘We worked with Turks we trusted who were not loyal to Erdoğan,’ the adviser said, ‘and got them to ship the jihadists in Syria all the obsolete weapons in the arsenal, including M1 carbines that hadn’t been seen since the Korean War and lots of Soviet arms. It was a message Assad could understand: “We have the power to diminish a presidential policy in its tracks.”’

The flow of US intelligence to the Syrian army, and the downgrading of the quality of the arms being supplied to the rebels, came at a critical juncture. The Syrian army had suffered heavy losses in the spring of 2013 in fighting against Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist groups as it failed to hold the provincial capital of Raqqa. Sporadic Syrian army and air-force raids continued in the area for months, with little success, until it was decided to withdraw from Raqqa and other hard to defend, lightly populated areas in the north and west and focus instead on consolidating the government’s hold on Damascus and the heavily populated areas linking the capital to Latakia in the north-east. But as the army gained in strength with the Joint Chiefs’ support, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey escalated their financing and arming of Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State, which by the end of 2013 had made enormous gains on both sides of the Syria/Iraq border. The remaining non-fundamentalist rebels found themselves fighting – and losing – pitched battles against the extremists. In January 2014, IS took complete control of Raqqa and the tribal areas around it from al-Nusra and established the city as its base. Assad still controlled 80 per cent of the Syrian population, but he had lost a vast amount of territory.

CIA efforts to train the moderate rebel forces were also failing badly. ‘The CIA’s training camp was in Jordan and was controlled by a Syrian tribal group,’ the JCS adviser said. There was a suspicion that some of those who signed up for training were actually Syrian army regulars minus their uniforms. This had happened before, at the height of the Iraqi war, when hundreds of Shia militia members showed up at American training camps for new uniforms, weapons and a few days of training, and then disappeared into the desert. A separate training programme, set up by the Pentagon in Turkey, fared no better. The Pentagon acknowledged in September that only ‘four or five’ of its recruits were still battling Islamic State; a few days later 70 of them defected to Jabhat al-Nusra immediately after crossing the border into Syria.

In January 2014, despairing at the lack of progress, John Brennan, the director of the CIA, summoned American and Sunni Arab intelligence chiefs from throughout the Middle East to a secret meeting in Washington, with the aim of persuading Saudi Arabia to stop supporting extremist fighters in Syria. ‘The Saudis told us they were happy to listen,’ the JCS adviser said, ‘so everyone sat around in Washington to hear Brennan tell them that they had to get on board with the so-called moderates. His message was that if everyone in the region stopped supporting al-Nusra and Isis their ammunition and weapons would dry up, and the moderates would win out.’ Brennan’s message was ignored by the Saudis, the adviser said, who ‘went back home and increased their efforts with the extremists and asked us for more technical support. And we say OK, and so it turns out that we end up reinforcing the extremists.’

But the Saudis were far from the only problem: American intelligence had accumulated intercept and human intelligence demonstrating that the Erdoğan government had been supporting Jabhat al-Nusra for years, and was now doing the same for Islamic State. ‘We can handle the Saudis,’ the adviser said. ‘We can handle the Muslim Brotherhood. You can argue that the whole balance in the Middle East is based on a form of mutually assured destruction between Israel and the rest of the Middle East, and Turkey can disrupt the balance – which is Erdoğan’s dream. We told him we wanted him to shut down the pipeline of foreign jihadists flowing into Turkey. But he is dreaming big – of restoring the Ottoman Empire – and he did not realise the extent to which he could be successful in this.’

*

One of the constants in US affairs since the fall of the Soviet Union has been a military-to-military relationship with Russia. After 1991 the US spent billions of dollars to help Russia secure its nuclear weapons complex, including a highly secret joint operation to remove weapons-grade uranium from unsecured storage depots in Kazakhstan. Joint programmes to monitor the security of weapons-grade materials continued for the next two decades. During the American war on Afghanistan, Russia provided overflight rights for US cargo carriers and tankers, as well as access for the flow of weapons, ammunition, food and water the US war machine needed daily. Russia’s military provided intelligence on Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts and helped the US negotiate rights to use an airbase in Kyrgyzstan. The Joint Chiefs have been in communication with their Russian counterparts throughout the Syrian war, and the ties between the two militaries start at the top. In August, a few weeks before his retirement as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Dempsey made a farewell visit to the headquarters of the Irish Defence Forces in Dublin and told his audience there that he had made a point while in office to keep in touch with the chief of the Russian General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov. ‘I’ve actually suggested to him that we not end our careers as we began them,’ Dempsey said – one a tank commander in West Germany, the other in the east.

When it comes to tackling Islamic State, Russia and the US have much to offer each other. Many in the IS leadership and rank and file fought for more than a decade against Russia in the two Chechen wars that began in 1994, and the Putin government is heavily invested in combating Islamist terrorism. ‘Russia knows the Isis leadership,’ the JCS adviser said, ‘and has insights into its operational techniques, and has much intelligence to share.’ In return, he said, ‘we’ve got excellent trainers with years of experience in training foreign fighters – experience that Russia does not have.’ The adviser would not discuss what American intelligence is also believed to have: an ability to obtain targeting data, often by paying huge sums of cash, from sources within rebel militias.

A former White House adviser on Russian affairs told me that before 9/11 Putin ‘used to say to us: “We have the same nightmares about different places.” He was referring to his problems with the caliphate in Chechnya and our early issues with al-Qaida. These days, after the Metrojet bombing over Sinai and the massacres in Paris and elsewhere, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that we actually have the same nightmares about the same places.’

Yet the Obama administration continues to condemn Russia for its support of Assad. A retired senior diplomat who served at the US embassy in Moscow expressed sympathy for Obama’s dilemma as the leader of the Western coalition opposed to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine: ‘Ukraine is a serious issue and Obama has been handling it firmly with sanctions. But our policy vis-à-vis Russia is too often unfocused. But it’s not about us in Syria. It’s about making sure Bashar does not lose. The reality is that Putin does not want to see the chaos in Syria spread to Jordan or Lebanon, as it has to Iraq, and he does not want to see Syria end up in the hands of Isis. The most counterproductive thing Obama has done, and it has hurt our efforts to end the fighting a lot, was to say: “Assad must go as a premise for negotiation.”’ He also echoed a view held by some in the Pentagon when he alluded to a collateral factor behind Russia’s decision to launch airstrikes in support of the Syrian army on 30 September: Putin’s desire to prevent Assad from suffering the same fate as Gaddafi. He had been told that Putin had watched a video of Gaddafi’s savage death three times, a video that shows him being sodomised with a bayonet. The JCS adviser also told me of a US intelligence assessment which concluded that Putin had been appalled by Gaddafi’s fate: ‘Putin blamed himself for letting Gaddafi go, for not playing a strong role behind the scenes’ at the UN when the Western coalition was lobbying to be allowed to undertake the airstrikes that destroyed the regime. ‘Putin believed that unless he got engaged Bashar would suffer the same fate – mutilated – and he’d see the destruction of his allies in Syria.’

In a speech on 22 November, Obama declared that the ‘principal targets’ of the Russian airstrikes ‘have been the moderate opposition’. It’s a line that the administration – along with most of the mainstream American media – has rarely strayed from. The Russians insist that they are targeting all rebel groups that threaten Syria’s stability – including Islamic State. The Kremlin adviser on the Middle East explained in an interview that the first round of Russian airstrikes was aimed at bolstering security around a Russian airbase in Latakia, an Alawite stronghold. The strategic goal, he said, has been to establish a jihadist-free corridor from Damascus to Latakia and the Russian naval base at Tartus and then to shift the focus of bombing gradually to the south and east, with a greater concentration of bombing missions over IS-held territory. Russian strikes on IS targets in and near Raqqa were reported as early as the beginning of October; in November there were further strikes on IS positions near the historic city of Palmyra and in Idlib province, a bitterly contested stronghold on the Turkish border.

Russian incursions into Turkish airspace began soon after Putin authorised the bombings, and the Russian air force deployed electronic jamming systems that interfered with Turkish radar. The message being sent to the Turkish air force, the JCS adviser said, was: ‘We’re going to fly our fighter planes where we want and when we want and jam your radar. Do not fuck with us. Putin was letting the Turks know what they were up against.’ Russia’s aggression led to Turkish complaints and Russian denials, along with more aggressive border patrolling by the Turkish air force. There were no significant incidents until 24 November, when two Turkish F-16 fighters, apparently acting under more aggressive rules of engagement, shot down a Russian Su-24M jet that had crossed into Turkish airspace for no more than 17 seconds. In the days after the fighter was shot down, Obama expressed support for Erdoğan, and after they met in private on 1 December he told a press conference that his administration remained ‘very much committed to Turkey’s security and its sovereignty’. He said that as long as Russia remained allied with Assad, ‘a lot of Russian resources are still going to be targeted at opposition groups … that we support … So I don’t think we should be under any illusions that somehow Russia starts hitting only Isil targets. That’s not happening now. It was never happening. It’s not going to be happening in the next several weeks.’

The Kremlin adviser on the Middle East, like the Joint Chiefs and the DIA, dismisses the ‘moderates’ who have Obama’s support, seeing them as extremist Islamist groups that fight alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and IS (‘There’s no need to play with words and split terrorists into moderate and not moderate,’ Putin said in a speech on 22 October). The American generals see them as exhausted militias that have been forced to make an accommodation with Jabhat al-Nusra or IS in order to survive. At the end of 2014, Jürgen Todenhöfer, a German journalist who was allowed to spend ten days touring IS-held territory in Iraq and Syria, told CNN that the IS leadership ‘are all laughing about the Free Syrian Army. They don’t take them for serious. They say: “The best arms sellers we have are the FSA. If they get a good weapon, they sell it to us.” They didn’t take them for serious. They take for serious Assad. They take for serious, of course, the bombs. But they fear nothing, and FSA doesn’t play a role.’

*

Putin’s bombing campaign provoked a series of anti-Russia articles in the American press. On 25 October, the New York Times reported, citing Obama administration officials, that Russian submarines and spy ships were ‘aggressively’ operating near the undersea cables that carry much of the world’s internet traffic – although, as the article went on to acknowledge, there was ‘no evidence yet’ of any Russian attempt actually to interfere with that traffic. Ten days earlier the Times published a summary of Russian intrusions into its former Soviet satellite republics, and described the Russian bombing in Syria as being ‘in some respects a return to the ambitious military moves of the Soviet past’. The report did not note that the Assad administration had invited Russia to intervene, nor did it mention the US bombing raids inside Syria that had been underway since the previous September, without Syria’s approval. An October op-ed in the same paper by Michael McFaul, Obama’s ambassador to Russia between 2012 and 2014, declared that the Russian air campaign was attacking ‘everyone except the Islamic State’. The anti-Russia stories did not abate after the Metrojet disaster, for which Islamic State claimed credit. Few in the US government and media questioned why IS would target a Russian airliner, along with its 224 passengers and crew, if Moscow’s air force was attacking only the Syrian ‘moderates’.

Economic sanctions, meanwhile, are still in effect against Russia for what a large number of Americans consider Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine, as are US Treasury Department sanctions against Syria and against those Americans who do business there. The New York Times, in a report on sanctions in late November, revived an old and groundless assertion, saying that the Treasury’s actions ‘emphasise an argument that the administration has increasingly been making about Mr Assad as it seeks to press Russia to abandon its backing for him: that although he professes to be at war with Islamist terrorists, he has a symbiotic relationship with the Islamic State that has allowed it to thrive while he has clung to power.’

*

The four core elements of Obama’s Syria policy remain intact today: an insistence that Assad must go; that no anti-IS coalition with Russia is possible; that Turkey is a steadfast ally in the war against terrorism; and that there really are significant moderate opposition forces for the US to support. The Paris attacks on 13 November that killed 130 people did not change the White House’s public stance, although many European leaders, including François Hollande, advocated greater co-operation with Russia and agreed to co-ordinate more closely with its air force; there was also talk of the need to be more flexible about the timing of Assad’s exit from power. On 24 November, Hollande flew to Washington to discuss how France and the US could collaborate more closely in the fight against Islamic State. At a joint press conference at the White House, Obama said he and Hollande had agreed that ‘Russia’s strikes against the moderate opposition only bolster the Assad regime, whose brutality has helped to fuel the rise’ of IS. Hollande didn’t go that far but he said that the diplomatic process in Vienna would ‘lead to Bashar al-Assad’s departure … a government of unity is required.’ The press conference failed to deal with the far more urgent impasse between the two men on the matter of Erdoğan. Obama defended Turkey’s right to defend its borders; Hollande said it was ‘a matter of urgency’ for Turkey to take action against terrorists. The JCS adviser told me that one of Hollande’s main goals in flying to Washington had been to try to persuade Obama to join the EU in a mutual declaration of war against Islamic State. Obama said no. The Europeans had pointedly not gone to Nato, to which Turkey belongs, for such a declaration. ‘Turkey is the problem,’ the JCS adviser said.

Assad, naturally, doesn’t accept that a group of foreign leaders should be deciding on his future. Imad Moustapha, now Syria’s ambassador to China, was dean of the IT faculty at the University of Damascus, and a close aide of Assad’s, when he was appointed in 2004 as the Syrian ambassador to the US, a post he held for seven years. Moustapha is known still to be close to Assad, and can be trusted to reflect what he thinks. He told me that for Assad to surrender power would mean capitulating to ‘armed terrorist groups’ and that ministers in a national unity government – such as was being proposed by the Europeans – would be seen to be beholden to the foreign powers that appointed them. These powers could remind the new president ‘that they could easily replace him as they did before to the predecessor … Assad owes it to his people: he could not leave because the historic enemies of Syria are demanding his departure.’

*

Moustapha also brought up China, an ally of Assad that has allegedly committed more than $30 billion to postwar reconstruction in Syria. China, too, is worried about Islamic State. ‘China regards the Syrian crisis from three perspectives,’ he said: international law and legitimacy; global strategic positioning; and the activities of jihadist Uighurs, from Xinjiang province in China’s far west. Xinjiang borders eight nations – Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – and, in China’s view, serves as a funnel for terrorism around the world and within China. Many Uighur fighters now in Syria are known to be members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement – an often violent separatist organisation that seeks to establish an Islamist Uighur state in Xinjiang. ‘The fact that they have been aided by Turkish intelligence to move from China into Syria through Turkey has caused a tremendous amount of tension between the Chinese and Turkish intelligence,’ Moustapha said. ‘China is concerned that the Turkish role of supporting the Uighur fighters in Syria may be extended in the future to support Turkey’s agenda in Xinjiang. We are already providing the Chinese intelligence service with information regarding these terrorists and the routes they crossed from on travelling into Syria.’

Moustapha’s concerns were echoed by a Washington foreign affairs analyst who has closely followed the passage of jihadists through Turkey and into Syria. The analyst, whose views are routinely sought by senior government officials, told me that ‘Erdoğan has been bringing Uighurs into Syria by special transport while his government has been agitating in favour of their struggle in China. Uighur and Burmese Muslim terrorists who escape into Thailand somehow get Turkish passports and are then flown to Turkey for transit into Syria.’ He added that there was also what amounted to another ‘rat line’ that was funnelling Uighurs – estimates range from a few hundred to many thousands over the years – from China into Kazakhstan for eventual relay to Turkey, and then to IS territory in Syria. ‘US intelligence,’ he said, ‘is not getting good information about these activities because those insiders who are unhappy with the policy are not talking to them.’ He also said it was ‘not clear’ that the officials responsible for Syrian policy in the State Department and White House ‘get it’. IHS-Jane’s Defence Weekly estimated in October that as many as five thousand Uighur would-be fighters have arrived in Turkey since 2013, with perhaps two thousand moving on to Syria. Moustapha said he has information that ‘up to 860 Uighur fighters are currently in Syria.’

China’s growing concern about the Uighur problem and its link to Syria and Islamic State have preoccupied Christina Lin, a scholar who dealt with Chinese issues a decade ago while serving in the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld. ‘I grew up in Taiwan and came to the Pentagon as a critic of China,’ Lin told me. ‘I used to demonise the Chinese as ideologues, and they are not perfect. But over the years as I see them opening up and evolving, I have begun to change my perspective. I see China as a potential partner for various global challenges especially in the Middle East. There are many places – Syria for one – where the United States and China must co-operate in regional security and counterterrorism.’ A few weeks earlier, she said, China and India, Cold War enemies that ‘hated each other more than China and the United States hated each other, conducted a series of joint counterterrorism exercises. And today China and Russia both want to co-operate on terrorism issues with the United States.’ As China sees it, Lin suggests, Uighur militants who have made their way to Syria are being trained by Islamic State in survival techniques intended to aid them on covert return trips to the Chinese mainland, for future terrorist attacks there. ‘If Assad fails,’ Lin wrote in a paper published in September, ‘jihadi fighters from Russia’s Chechnya, China’s Xinjiang and India’s Kashmir will then turn their eyes towards the home front to continue jihad, supported by a new and well-sourced Syrian operating base in the heart of the Middle East.’

*

General Dempsey and his colleagues on the Joint Chiefs of Staff kept their dissent out of bureaucratic channels, and survived in office. General Michael Flynn did not. ‘Flynn incurred the wrath of the White House by insisting on telling the truth about Syria,’ said Patrick Lang, a retired army colonel who served for nearly a decade as the chief Middle East civilian intelligence officer for the DIA. ‘He thought truth was the best thing and they shoved him out. He wouldn’t shut up.’ Flynn told me his problems went beyond Syria. ‘I was shaking things up at the DIA – and not just moving deckchairs on the Titanic. It was radical reform. I felt that the civilian leadership did not want to hear the truth. I suffered for it, but I’m OK with that.’ In a recent interview in Der Spiegel, Flynn was blunt about Russia’s entry into the Syrian war: ‘We have to work constructively with Russia. Whether we like it or not, Russia made a decision to be there and to act militarily. They are there, and this has dramatically changed the dynamic. So you can’t say Russia is bad; they have to go home. It’s not going to happen. Get real.’

Few in the US Congress share this view. One exception is Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii and member of the House Armed Services Committee who, as a major in the Army National Guard, served two tours in the Middle East. In an interview on CNN in October she said: ‘The US and the CIA should stop this illegal and counterproductive war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad and should stay focused on fighting against … the Islamic extremist groups.’

‘Does it not concern you,’ the interviewer asked, ‘that Assad’s regime has been brutal, killing at least 200,000 and maybe 300,000 of his own people?’

‘The things that are being said about Assad right now,’ Gabbard responded, ‘are the same that were said about Gaddafi, they are the same things that were said about Saddam Hussein by those who were advocating for the US to … overthrow those regimes … If it happens here in Syria … we will end up in a situation with far greater suffering, with far greater persecution of religious minorities and Christians in Syria, and our enemy will be far stronger.’

‘So what you are saying,’ the interviewer asked, ‘is that the Russian military involvement in the air and on-the-ground Iranian involvement – they are actually doing the US a favour?’

‘They are working toward defeating our common enemy,’ Gabbard replied.

Gabbard later told me that many of her colleagues in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, have thanked her privately for speaking out. ‘There are a lot of people in the general public, and even in the Congress, who need to have things clearly explained to them,’ Gabbard said. ‘But it’s hard when there’s so much deception about what is going on. The truth is not out.’ It’s unusual for a politician to challenge her party’s foreign policy directly and on the record. For someone on the inside, with access to the most secret intelligence, speaking openly and critically can be a career-ender. Informed dissent can be transmitted by means of a trust relationship between a reporter and those on the inside, but it almost invariably includes no signature. The dissent exists, however. The longtime consultant to the Joint Special Operations Command could not hide his contempt when I asked him for his view of the US’s Syria policy. ‘The solution in Syria is right before our nose,’ he said. ‘Our primary threat is Isis and all of us – the United States, Russia and China – need to work together. Bashar will remain in office and, after the country is stabilised there will be an election. There is no other option.’

The military’s indirect pathway to Assad disappeared with Dempsey’s retirement in September. His replacement as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in July, two months before assuming office. ‘If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia,’ Dunford said. ‘If you look at their behaviour, it’s nothing short of alarming.’ In October, as chairman, Dunford dismissed the Russian bombing efforts in Syria, telling the same committee that Russia ‘is not fighting’ IS. He added that America must ‘work with Turkish partners to secure the northern border of Syria’ and ‘do all we can to enable vetted Syrian opposition forces’ – i.e. the ‘moderates’ – to fight the extremists.

Obama now has a more compliant Pentagon. There will be no more indirect challenges from the military leadership to his policy of disdain for Assad and support for Erdoğan. Dempsey and his associates remain mystified by Obama’s continued public defence of Erdoğan, given the American intelligence community’s strong case against him – and the evidence that Obama, in private, accepts that case. ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria,’ the president told Erdoğan’s intelligence chief at a tense meeting at the White House (as I reported in the LRB of 17 April 2014). The Joint Chiefs and the DIA were constantly telling Washington’s leadership of the jihadist threat in Syria, and of Turkey’s support for it. The message was never listened to. Why not?

« Last Edit: December 22, 2015, 11:44:23 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged

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« Reply #766 on: December 22, 2015, 09:41:29 AM »

Also possible is that Seymour Hersh has this wrong even though Obummer has been on the side of the Caliphate.
Interesting rebuttal of sorts here on liberal site Vox, mostly saying the story is weakly sourced, Hersch has been unsubstantiated on other stories lately, and most militarily leaders would resign rather than actively undermine a President's policies.
http://www.vox.com/2015/12/21/10634002/seymour-hersh-syria-joint-chiefs
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« Reply #767 on: December 22, 2015, 11:44:56 AM »

Hersch is never a dull read.
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« Reply #768 on: December 22, 2015, 11:47:48 AM »

The truly sad part is that the story is actually believable under Obummer's reign.
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« Reply #769 on: December 23, 2015, 05:09:56 PM »

Intriguing hypothesis:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/23/opinion/how-saddam-hussein-gave-us-isis.html?_r=1
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« Reply #770 on: December 31, 2015, 02:09:51 PM »

The ISIS/Iran Conundrum
by Lee Smith
December 29, 2015
http://www.meforum.org/5741/lee-smith
 
Lee Smith, senior editor at the Weekly Standard and author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, briefed the Middle East Forum on December 16, 2015.

The obsessive international preoccupation with ISIS notwithstanding, Iranian expansionism poses a far greater threat to U.S. interests and regional allies than the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Tehran boasts control of four Arab capitals (Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sana) as well as a number of powerful Shiite militias (from Hezbollah, to the Houthis, to various Iraqi groups), and has warmed relations with Moscow following the latter's military intervention in the Syrian civil war.

As a result, Washington has effectively abandoned its longstanding goal of toppling President Bashar Assad - Tehran's (and Russia's) foremost regional protégé - whose relentless sectarian cleansing has not only decimated Syria's Sunni population but has flooded Europe with illegal immigrants.
 
Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (right) with Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani

By contrast, the ISIS problem can be best understood in the context of the territory it controls and the attendant threat to adjacent states. To be sure, the influx of Western jihadists to the nascent state is a novel and highly disturbing development that involves the risk of increased terrorism once these volunteers return home. Yet the extent of this threat should not be overstated. After all, al-Qaeda has killed far more Americans and Europeans than ISIS.
Washington is perfectly capable of defeating ISIS just as it routed its precursor in the 2007 surge, when U.S. forces collaborated with local Sunni tribes against al-Qaeda and its local allies. But to do so it will need to stop its courtship of Iran, which has alienated Sunni societies and reduced their readiness to join the anti-ISIS fight, and to curb Tehran's burgeoning expansionism. This includes penalizing the repeated Iranian violations of the newly-signed nuclear agreement and toppling the Assad regime - the main lifeline to Iran's Hezbollah proxy.

This, however, is probably asking too much of the Obama administration. As the Middle East's simmering problems are exported to Europe and increasingly affect the American homeland, it remains clueless, leaving a very heavy burden for the next administration.

Summary account by Marilyn Stern, Middle East Forum Board of Governors
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« Reply #771 on: January 14, 2016, 10:39:50 AM »

Iraq and the Kurds Are Going Broke

By THE EDITORIAL BOARDJAN. 13, 2016



Iraqi and American officials leading the military campaign against the Islamic State now have to wrestle with a challenge that has the potential to change battlefield fortunes: the slumping price of oil.

The semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, an oil-producing region, has racked up $18 billion in debt, which has imperiled its ability to pay state workers and security forces. This is especially worrisome since Kurdish security forces have been instrumental in rolling back the Islamic State’s advances.

The government in Baghdad, meanwhile, is scrambling to avoid a budget shortfall this year. Iraqi officials last year obtained a $1.7 billion loan from the World Bank and reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund that will allow it to obtain additional loans.

Baghdad is seeking to renegotiate with international energy companies new terms for oil contracts, which have become less advantageous for Iraq as the price of oil has crashed. And it is seeking a $2.7 billion loan from the United States to acquire military equipment.

Iraq’s budget problems have rightly alarmed officials in Washington. While there is little appetite to bankroll a country where so much American money has been wasted and pilfered since the ill-conceived 2003 invasion, Iraq’s economic problems must be addressed. If they are to worsen, more Iraqis will almost certainly join the tide of refugees leaving the Middle East and the government will have a harder time rebuilding areas that Iraqi security forces have wrested back from Islamic State control.

“We’re asking our partners and allies to increase their military aid,” Lukman Faily, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, said in an email. “Iraqis are willing to do the fighting on the ground, so it would not be unreasonable to expect the international community to provide us with the military and logistics support to effectively wage this war.”

Cash handouts like those America has provided over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan should be out of the question. But the United States could well offer the Iraqis technical advice and help the government secure access to credit from international institutions.

The International Monetary Fund agreement forces Iraq to adopt reforms that will be healthy in the long run. These include measures and policies intended to wean the country from its near-absolute reliance on oil, and slashing wasteful spending by senior government officials. Iraq is also contemplating sensible measures it has long resisted, including fighting corruption, thinning its bloated state payroll and overhauling its taxation system. “In some ways, our economic challenges are an opportunity for us to get our house in order,” Mr. Faily said.

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

Baghdad also must address the financial strains on the Kurdistan Regional Government. The Kurdish region, which includes three provinces, received a percentage of Iraq’s national budget until 2014, when Baghdad cut it off as part of a long-running dispute over oil revenue from fields in the north.

Desperate to pay salaries, officials in Iraqi Kurdistan have seized deposits at two branches of Iraq’s central bank, a problematic and unsustainable course. Still, the government has been unable to pay state workers on time.

Brokering a compromise to the budget dispute between the Kurdish region and Baghdad won’t be easy, because a broader fight over oil revenue in the north remains unresolved. But the United States and the international organizations that are stepping in to ease the budget crunch have significant leverage over the parties now. Allowing the dispute to drag on will make it harder to solve and give Islamic State militants breathing room.
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« Reply #772 on: January 21, 2016, 12:02:25 AM »

The Islamic State

Tighten your suicide belts, Islamic State, austerity is coming to the caliphate. A memo from the Islamic State's bureaucratic powers that be has warned fighters that they're going to get a 50 percent pay cut across all positions "on account of the exceptional circumstances the Islamic State is facing." What, specifically, "exceptional circumstances" refers to remains unclear but the U.S. recently bombed a cash distribution facility owned by the group, blowing up millions of dollars of the Islamic State's cash.

The Islamic State released its English language magazine, Dabiq, on Tuesday, including a eulogy confirming the death of notorious executioner Mohammed "Jihadi John" Emwazi in a November 2015 U.S. drone strike. Emwazi gained infamy for murdering reporters and aid workers in a series of savage beheading videos released by the group on the Internet.
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« Reply #773 on: January 21, 2016, 09:30:57 PM »

reliability unknown

http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/turkish-forces-moves-syria-how-will-russia-respond/ri12343
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« Reply #774 on: January 25, 2016, 11:23:28 AM »

Hat tip BBG

http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/documents-show-degree-of-is-control-over-life-in-its-territories
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« Reply #775 on: January 25, 2016, 05:08:28 PM »


Imagery Supports Claims of U.S. Military Activity in Syria
Analysis
January 22, 2016 | 15:52 GMT Print
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(Stratfor)
Analysis

As Syria's rebel coalition expands its fight against the Islamic State, so too does it appear that the United States is expanding its support of the rebels. Low-resolution satellite imagery taken Dec. 28 shows construction underway to extend the runway at an airfield in Rmeilan, al-Hasaka province, which would prepare the site to accommodate larger aircraft. (Similar images captured over the course of the last few weeks had been obscured by cloud cover, making it difficult to discern more recent ground activity.) Rumors of the U.S. arrival at Rmeilan originally surfaced in early January; the images confirm that at least some of those rumors are true.

Before the war, the airfield was an agricultural airstrip used by the Syrian government. As such, its runway was only 2,300 feet (700 meters) long, a length that appears to be doubling. The airfield has since been captured by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which has controlled the airport for more than two years.

The new and improved infrastructure could help the Syrian Democratic Forces conduct offensive operations against the Islamic State. The United States has already carried out two weapons airdrops to the rebel Syrian Arab Coalition, a faction of the Syrian Democratic Forces. But additional assistance in the Syrian Democratic Forces' fight against the Islamic State, including efforts to drive the extremist group from its self-declared capital in Raqqa, would require a broader logistical effort than is currently underway. Expanding the Rmeilan runway could expedite this process by allowing U.S. airplanes to land and drop off supplies instead of continuing to rely on airdrops.

The U.S. involvement in al-Hasaka province would not be so unusual; the United States nearly always attempts to establish an air bridge to support the semi-permanent positions of the conflicts in which it operates. But it comes at a time when Russia similarly builds up its own military presence there. A Russian detachment composed of logistics personnel and military intelligence officers has reportedly arrived in Qamishli airport, an airfield in al-Hasaka controlled by forces loyal to the Syrian government. While the Russians will likely try to improve the logistical capability of the airfield, they have reportedly already sought to enhance their influence with the various rebel militia groups operating in the province.
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« Reply #776 on: January 27, 2016, 01:33:44 PM »

http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/09/muhammad-isis-iraqs-full-story.html
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« Reply #777 on: January 28, 2016, 08:17:36 AM »

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Loose lips. The general in charge of the nation’s special operations forces recently sent a memo to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, demanding that Pentagon officials stop talking about what his elite troops are doing, FP’s Dan De Luce reports in an exclusive get. Gen. Joseph Votel, who currently runs the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and was nominated earlier this month to take over U.S. Central Command, issued the complaint in a Dec. 8 memo that arrived just days after Carter and White House officials announced that a force of about 200 Special Operations Forces (SOF) would be deployed to Iraq to target Islamic State militants.

“I am concerned with increased public exposure of SOF activities and operations, and I assess that it is time to get our forces back into the shadows,” Votel wrote, according to an excerpt provided to FP by a defense official. Votel knows something about secrecy, as he ran the Joint Special Operations Command from June 2011 to August 2014. He isn’t the first official to be angered over too much talk about commando ops, however. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other Pentagon officials privately admonished their White House counterparts for publicizing key details about the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to Gates’ memoir.
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« Reply #778 on: January 28, 2016, 09:17:26 AM »


How the U.S. Would Assist Turkey in Syria
Analysis
January 26, 2016 | 20:48 GMT Print
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(Stratfor)

Editor's Note: Stratfor closely monitors conflict zones from a geopolitical perspective. What is perhaps the most volatile conflict today can be found in the territories of Iraq and Syria that are controlled by the Islamic State. Though these areas are cartographically distinct, they are functionally linked: Sunni tribal structures, rebel operations, Kurdish interests, external influences and the suzerainty of the Islamic State bind them together as a single, coherent theater.

The Islamic State capitalized on the chaos of the Syrian civil war and the inadequacy of Iraqi security forces to take over a large swath of the Middle East. After making some impressive gains, including the taking of the Iraqi city of Mosul, the Islamic State now finds itself in an increasingly difficult position, against which a wide array of opponents are aligned. Nonetheless, the group is uniquely resilient and, as such, remains extremely dangerous and unpredictable.

In addition to examining the combatants inside the Syria-Iraq battlespace, Stratfor also tracks the political machinations, negotiations and goals of outside the battlespace, including Iran, Russia, the Gulf monarchies and the United States. For the first time, in one place, Stratfor is providing routine updates covering the gains, losses and extent of the Islamic State's so-called caliphate. For previous updates, read Retaking Ramadi Is Only a Small Victory.
Jan. 27: How the U.S. Would Assist Turkey in Syria

Stratfor has received new information that points toward an understanding between the United States and Turkey and opens the way for a Turkish incursion into northern Syria. Though Stratfor has not been able to fully verify the veracity of the information, Turkey has made no secret of its desire for the United States to help it drive the Islamic State out of northern Aleppo province. Moreover, Turkey would then be able to bolster its rebel proxies and prevent the Kurdish People's Protection Units from controlling the area from Afrin to Kobani.

Our sources note that the United States will mostly assist with air support. Turkey has its own powerful air force, but it is probably hesitant to give Russia an excuse to shoot down its aircraft over Syria in retaliation for its downing of a Russian Su-24 warplane that allegedly crossed into Turkish airspace. The precaution will not necessarily prevent the Russians from carrying out airstrikes and potentially hitting Turkish forces on the ground. Still, the lack of Turkish planes would be one less point of potential conflict.

In preparation for U.S. air support for Turkey, the United States will allegedly use Turkish air bases in Batman, Diyarbakir and Malatya, even though most U.S. combat jets will continue to take off from Incirlik air base in Adana. The United States has also reportedly told the Syrian Democratic Forces to halt their advance toward Manbij to pave the way for the operation. To that end, Stratfor is looking for any further deployments of additional U.S. aircraft, troop movements, logistics buildup, and any additional signs of a pending U.S.-backed Turkish incursion into Syria. Furthermore, we are monitoring the Syrian Democratic Forces close to Manbij to see if their activity over the following weeks matches the information we have received.
Jan. 26: In Syria, Russia Courts the Kurds

According to pro-Syrian government media, Russian officers have met with Syrian Kurdish officials in northeastern Syria to hold preliminary talks on military coordination. These talks include a Russian proposal to aid the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in taking Jarabulus, a town on the Turkish border that the militia desires.

The reports come after multiple sources, including the United States and Turkey, confirmed Russia's presence in al-Hasaka. The province is of secondary importance for Damascus and, by extension, the Russians in their fight against the rebels and the Islamic State. Thus, the Russian mission to these Kurdish areas only reinforces the narrative that Russia is enhancing ties with the YPG and other armed groups, such as Assyrian and Arab militias, in the north.

The YPG will undoubtedly take advantage of Russia's courtship but will be careful not to fall completely into Moscow's embrace. The YPG can certainly benefit from Russian arms and funding. The Kurdish militia can also use Russian influence with the Syrian government to promote its ambitions for Kurdish autonomy in Syria. But the YPG recognizes that Russian support cannot match that of the United States, even if the United States has been hesitant in supplying direct aid because of its relationship with Turkey.

Of course, the United States does provide considerable political backing to the YPG that protects the group from Turkey. Operating under the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces shields the YPG from direct Turkish hostility, and Ankara also wishes to avoid directly clashing with a group closely tied to Washington. Furthermore, while the United States has thus far not delivered considerable material aid to the Syrian Democratic Forces, let alone the YPG, it has provided critical air support. Russia cannot match the United States in this regard, since all U.S. airstrikes in Syria use precision-guided munitions, while the Russians primarily use unguided munitions.

More important, Russia's pursuit of Kurdish cooperation threatens to strain the country's already delicate relations with Turkey over the Syrian conflict. The YPG and the Kurdish autonomy it seeks is a sensitive issue for Turkey, and one it considers of vital national interest. Russia also reportedly continues to build up forces, including surface-to-air missiles, in Aleppo province, which would conflict with any direct Turkish involvement in the conflict, the prospects of which continues to be evaluated. U.S. military officials are busy talking with their Turkish counterparts on the best way to fight the Islamic State, with Lt. Gen. Charles Brown scheduled to visit Ankara and southeastern Diyarbakir on Feb. 1-2. The meeting could extend to a joint U.S.-Turkish operation in Syria. It could also simply expand Turkish logistical support for an enhanced U.S. campaign. Either way, the outcome will dictate the likelihood of a clash with Russia.
Jan. 19: Turkey May Be Planning a Syrian Invasion

The Islamic State is fending off attacks from all sides in Syria, and there are growing indications that a Turkish ground invasion could add to the group's list of concerns. The Turks are determined to clear the Islamic State from a corridor of land stretching along the Syrian side of the Turkey-Syria border. In what could be a sign of this intent, Turkish minesweeping vehicles have started clearing mines along a section of the border near the Syrian town of Jarabulus, which the Islamic State controls. According to Stratfor sources, Russia and the United States have discussed the plan, and Russia has agreed not to obstruct Turkey's efforts so long as Ankara does not try to expand the buffer zone to the Mediterranean Sea — a stipulation Turkey has reportedly acquiesced to. Our sources also said liaison officers from Turkey, Russia and the United States will coordinate with one another to prevent cases of accidental fire or, in the event that they do occur, to avoid any escalation between Turkish and Russian forces.

As Stratfor has noted, Turkey has long wanted an international operation to clear the Islamic State from northern Aleppo, and its plan to establish a buffer zone along the border may be the first step toward achieving its goal. If such an operation occurred, it would deal a heavy blow to the Islamic State, which recently launched a suicide bombing against the Turkish capital. It would also strengthen the rebels in northern Syria, in turn preventing the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) from expanding their reach westward. Finally, an international operation would likely draw the United States deeper into the Syrian conflict — a boon for Turkey, which does not want to go it alone.

Until now, though, Turkey's plans for Syria have been greatly complicated by Russia's intervention in the conflict, and Moscow has continued to frustrate Ankara's ambitions since Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 warplane in November 2015. For instance, the Russians have reinforced their air defense assets in Syria, and in a Dec. 17 interview Russian President Vladimir Putin dared Turkey to fly over Syrian airspace, implying that the aircraft would be shot down if it did.

Despite the considerable risks, Turkey may decide to move forward with its operation anyway. Assaults by Russia-backed loyalists have stretched thin the Syrian rebels allied with Turkey, and the Islamic State has turned its gaze toward Turkey's cities. Meanwhile, the Kurdish YPG is making headway in the territory west of the Euphrates River. Each of these developments could encourage Turkey to take a more active role in the Syrian conflict, even it means risking a clash with Russia.

Still, that does not mean that Ankara, with Washington's help, is not trying to reach an understanding with Moscow, at least in terms of setting up deconfliction procedures to avoid clashing with each other in the Syrian warzone, which is rapidly becoming crowded. On Jan. 22, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland plan to travel to Istanbul for high-level talks with Turkish officials. The United States could use this opportunity to try to bring Turkey back into talks with Russia over the Syrian conflict. However, even if both sides set up deconfliction procedures, they cannot guarantee that miscalculation and escalation will not take place in an atmosphere rife with mistrust and suspicion.

Turkey has already begun to ramp up its artillery strikes along its border with Syria to help its rebel allies and to destroy Islamic State targets. This could indicate an effort to soften enemy defenses ahead of a Turkish ground incursion once minesweeping operations have been completed. An invasion could theoretically occur at any point along the Islamic State-controlled portion of Turkey's border with Syria, but if it begins at Jarabulus, where Turkey is clearing mines, it would have to be mostly carried out by Turkish forces. The nearest Syrian rebel lines are nearly 100 kilometers (62 miles) away, and no coalition ground troops are present in Turkey to offer support.

The threat of an impending Turkish ground offensive is only one of many confronting the Islamic State in northern Aleppo at the moment. The group is already grappling with a three-pronged assault on its territory in the area. From the east, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces have crossed the Euphrates River, despite Turkey's opposition to the move, and they are now advancing westward toward the Islamic State-held town of Manbij. From the south, Syrian loyalist forces backed by Russian airstrikes are advancing toward the city of al-Bab. And from the west, rebel forces predominantly from the Turkey-backed Mare Operations Room are advancing eastward along the Turkey-Syria border, looking to gain ground held by the Islamic State. The possibility of a ground invasion by Turkey could make the Islamic State's fight for territory even more difficult, albeit at the risk of also complicating the operations of the other parties involved in Syria's civil war.
Jan. 5: In Syria, Loyalist Forces Push South

As the Russians and Iranians ramped up their support for the Syrian government over the last three months of 2015, they focused on counterattacking the largely Islamist rebel forces in northern Syria. However, during the past week the Syrian loyalist forces, with significant aid from their allies, have begun major operations in southern Syria, particularly in Daraa and Quneitra provinces.

The new loyalist offensives in the south focus on Sheikh Miskin, a strategically located crossroads town located just west of the M5 highway. Rebels successfully seized the town in January 2015 and from there have continued to seriously threaten the loyalists' narrow logistical corridor that runs from Damascus to the their embattled forces in Daraa city.

The initial loyalist offensive managed to retake the northern parts of the town and its outlying bases, but a rebel counterattack led to difficult urban fighting and continuous back-and-forth advances by both sides. The loyalists have lost a considerable number of tanks and vehicles in the town but have also inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels with their heavy artillery and airstrikes. There is also a loyalist effort to reach the town of Nawa, located west of Sheikh Miskin.

The battle also involves an expanded Russian air campaign that is targeting the Free Syrian Army Southern Front. This breaks the alleged accord, which has largely held until now, between the Russians and the Jordanians to avoid increasing attacks on their preferred proxies. With loyalist offensives currently taking place in both northern and southern Syria, the Syrian government is rallying once again after its recent losses. However, the intensification in fighting is undermining the international effort to push through the cease-fire that was originally planned for this month.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #779 on: January 28, 2016, 12:44:59 PM »

In Syria, Locals Take the Fight Back to Islamic State
by Jonathan Spyer
The Australian
January 23, 2016
http://www.meforum.org/5807/taking-the-fight-back-to-is
 
 

Excerpt of an article originally published under the title "Striking a Winning Formula as Locals Take the Fight Back to Islamic State."
 
In late December, I travelled to northern Syria to take a closer look at how things were working out. Is Islamic State being contained and eroded? And if it is, who are the forces on the ground that are achieving this?

Kobane is a good place to start. This once anonymous Kurdish town on the Syrian-Turkish border was the subject in 2014 of Islamic State's predatory intentions. The jihadists wanted to remove the logistical irritation of a Kurdish enclave poking into their domain. Abu Omar al-Shishani, the most feared of the Islamic State commanders, declared that he would "drink tea in Ayn al-Islam" (the name Islamic State gave the town). He came close to achieving his objective.

By October 2014, the nearly surrounded Kurdish forces were preparing for a last stand. The fighters of the YPG (the People's Protection Units of the de facto Kurdish ¬autonomous region in northern Syria) were determined, but outgunned.

Then something changed. The intervention of US power, partnering with the lightly armed but determined Kurds, turned the tide and proved the formula for success against Islamic State. More than 2000 jihadists died inside the ruins of Kobane, under the relentless US air attacks and the determined assaults of the YPG. In January, the group abandoned the attack. Kobane had survived.

Western air power is partnering with local ground forces across a broad front stretching from the Syrian-Turkish border to Iraq.

This formula for success — Western air power in partnership with carefully selected and directed local ground partners — is now being applied across a broad front stretching from Jarabulus on Syria's Turkish border all the way to deep inside Iraq.

Kobane today bears fearful testimony to the awesome destructive capacity of modern war. There is hardly a building that is not damaged. Roads are ploughed up. Craters made by the bombs, filled with rainwater, offer mute testimony to the fierceness of the fight. Once residential streets are now just lines of damaged structures — rubble and masonry and foundation walls rising like outstretched hands towards the sky.

But, importantly, the war is now far from here. Once the assault on Kobane ended in January last year, the YPG and its US allies continued to push the jihadists back: 196 villages and an area of 1362 sq km were liberated from the jihadists. As of now, since the capture of Ain Issa, the front lines at their most forward point are situated just 30km from Islamic State's "capital" in Raqqa City.

196 villages have been liberated by Syrian Kurdish forces in the past year.

This has enabled life to begin tentatively to return to Kobane. About 40,000 people are now living in the town, although its reconstruction remains in the opening stages. It has also set the stage for the current phase of the war in which Islamic State is often no longer on the attack. Rather, it is being slowly pushed back. What comes next, I asked Colonel Talal Silu, spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, at a facility in al-Hasakah city. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose existence was announced in October last year, is the 40,000-strong military alliance with which Western air power and special forces are partnering in the war against Islamic State.

Silu, an ethnic Turkmen from northern Syria and a member of the Jaysh al-Thuwar (Army of Revolutionaries), is a living example of the purpose of the SDF.
The victories against Islamic State at Kobane and to its east were won by the combination of determined Kurdish ground forces and US air power. This partnership works militarily. Politi¬cally, however, it is problematic.

The US is committed to the maintenance of Syria as a territorial unit. The PYD (Democratic Union Party) in Syrian Kurdistan is a franchise of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), which is based in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan and is engaged in an armed conflict with Turkey. The PYD is widely believed by Syrian Arabs to be seeking to secede from Syria. Yet, more problematically, the PKK remains on the US and EU lists of terrorist organisations. And the secular, leftist YPG in Syria is clearly the creation of the PKK, though spokesmen deny formal links.
 
Syrian Kurds have taken the initiative in the war with Islamic State.

The SDF, which brings in non-Kurdish organisations and fighters around the nucleus of the 30,000-strong YPG, is intended to remedy this situation. It serves a purpose for both Kurds and Americans. It enables the YPG to present itself as an integral part of Syria. The US, meanwhile, can claim to be working with a multi-ethnic alliance rather than a Kurdish nationalist force.

This latter aspect is of particular importance because of Turkish concerns. The Turks have warned the YPG not to cross west of the Euphrates River. Ankara is concerned at Kurdish ambitions to acquire control of the entire long border between Syria and Turkey. At present, an isolated Kurdish canton in the area of Afrin in northwest Syria remains cut off from the main area of Kurdish control. Areas of rebel and Islamic State control separate the two.

Silu, however, is not interested in discussing the intricacies of ¬Levantine power politics on the morning that we met. What needs to come next, he tells me, is heavy weapons. On October 14, the US dropped 50 tonnes of ammunition to the SDF. This, the colonel says, is not enough. "What they dropped was only enough to fight for two or three days. Not so useful."

So, what would be useful? "Heavy weapons, tow missiles, anti-tank missiles ... The Americans gave million to people who did nothing. Saudi Arabia is supporting forces and providing high-quality weapons. But we are the only force that is fighting Islamic State seriously."
 
YPG and YPJ fighters at the funeral of three comrades killed fighting Islamic State.

This sentiment is repeated again and again as we follow the SDF front lines down south of al-Hasakah to the last forward positions before the town of al- Shaddadah. The SDF liberated al-Hawl on November 16 and is now pushing beyond it.

The remnants of Islamic State rule are plainly visible as we drive through the town. "The Islamic Court in al-Hawl", one painted structure proclaims grandly. But the building is ransacked and deserted, and someone has painted a livid red YPG emblem above that of the former Islamist rulers. Islamic State is on the retreat.

"If we had effective weapons, we could take Raqqa in a month," says Kemal Amuda, a short and energetic YPG commander on the front line south of al-Hawl. "But the area is very large. And the airstrikes are of limited use."

'If we had effective weapons, we could take Raqqa in a month,' says YPG commander Kemal Amuda.

What would help? Once again: "Anti-tank weapons, tanks, armoured vehicles."

The reason the heavy weapons these commanders desire have not been forthcoming may relate to the provisional nature of the alliance underpinning the SDF.

The Western forces want to use this force as a battering ram against Islamic State. But the Kurdish core of the force has other ambitions, which include the unification of the cantons and acquiring control of the border. The Western coalition may well prefer to neutralise Islamic State advantage in heavy weapons by employing air power, rather than afford the Kurds an independent capacity in this regard.

But despite the absence of such weapons and the political complications, the SDF is proving a serviceable tool in the battle against Islamic State. The strategy appears to be to slowly chip away at the areas surrounding Raqqa City in order to weaken the jihadists' ability to mount a determined defence of the city. The loss of al-Hawl meant Islamic State also lost control of the Syrian section of Highway 47 from Raqqa City across the Iraqi border to Mosul, Iraq's second city and the other jewel in the Islamic State crown.

The SDF captured the Tishrin Dam on December 27.

The conquest of the Tishrin Dam by the SDF on December 27 further isolates Raqqa. The dam was the last bridge across the Euphrates controlled by Islamic State. Its loss significantly increases the time it would take for the ¬jihadists to bring forces from Aleppo province on the western side of the river to the aid of the city.

So the SDF, partnering with US air power, appears to be aiming to split Islamic State in two, before attacking its most significant points.

The YPG component, which accounts for most of the SDF's fighting strength, is an irregular force. It lacks the resources and the structure of a regular army. The fighters have only the simplest of equipment. No body armour. No helmets. Night vision equipment also appears to be absent. Medical knowledge and supplies are basic.

Concerns have been raised regarding the high rate of attrition in this force, including fighters who suffered wounds that ought not to have been fatal had skilled medical attention been close at hand.

But despite all this, they appear to get results, and morale was clearly high among the young combatants that I interviewed in the frontline areas south of al-Hawl and al-Hasakah.

A particularly striking element was the constantly repeated refrain that Islamic State fighters suffered from severe attrition and noticeably declining motivation.

Islamic State fighters reportedly suffer from severe attrition and declining motivation.

As we pass through an eerily silent and seemingly deserted frontline area close to al-Bassel Dam, 30km east of Shaddadah, I come across a group of YPG men defending a position about 3km from the jihadists.

The officer commanding this group refuses to give his name or to be recorded. "Journalists aren't really supposed to be around here," he remarks with a smile. Nevertheless, in the conversation that follows, the commander gives a precise description of the changing tactics used by the jihadists, and what in his view this portends for the fight against Islamic State.

Once, the jihadists attacked en masse. The order, as described by the commander, was that a number of "suicide cars" — vehicles filled with explosives and intended to spread panic among the defenders — would appear first, followed by suicide bombers on foot, who would try to enter the positions of the defenders and detonate themselves. Then a mass of ground fighters would follow behind, with the intention of breaking through the shocked defenders.
These methods had been effective, but also very costly in terms of manpower. Now, however, the jihadists are evidently seeking to preserve the lives of their force. Their tactics have changed accordingly. They move in smaller groups, preferring to leave only token forces to defend areas subjected to determined attack.

The change, suggests the commander, derives from a dwindling flow of eager recruits in comparison with mid-2014. "Formerly, they were attractive as conquerors. Their power derived from intimidation and imposing terror," he says. "This has now gone."

This decline in the stream of recruits for Islamic State probably explains an amnesty for deserters announced last October, as revealed in a recent trove of Islamic State documents leaked to British researcher Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi. The announcement suggests Islamic State can no longer maintain in their entirety the ruthless and draconian methods that characterised its early stages. The need for manpower precludes this.

The turn to international terrorism by Islamic State in recent months is probably also explained by its loss of momentum in Iraq and Syria. The group needs "achievements" to maintain its "brand". Its slogan is "baqiya wa tatamaddad" (remaining and expanding). But expansion of its territorial holdings is no longer taking place. The downing of the Russian Metrojet passenger airliner on October 31, the coordinated attacks in Paris on November 13 and a series of attacks in Turkey suggest action on the global stage may be a substitute for gains on the battlefield closer to home.

What is most striking about the large swath of northern Syria now administered by the Kurds is its atmosphere of near normality. This was not always the case. This reporter first visited "Rojava", as the Kurds call Syrian Kurdistan, in early 2013 — just a few months after the Assad regime pulled out of most of northeast Syria. At that time, the security structures put in place by the Kurds were rudimentary and somewhat chaotic. And the remaining regime presence in the cities of al-Qamishli and al-Hasakah was far more extensive.

By the end of last year, however, the rule of the PYD and its allies had taken on a look of solidity. Pictures of martyrs are everywhere, testimony to the high cost the maintenance of the enclave continues to exact. But the YPG checkpoints and the presence of both the Asayish (paramilitary police) and the "blue" police force established by the Kurds leaves no doubt as to who is in control here.

Syrian Kurds have carved out an enclave constituting more than 20 per cent of the country's territory.

The US decision to partner with the Kurdish de facto force in this area is an acknowledgment of this achievement. Finding physical evidence of the American presence, however, is a challenge. YPG commanders interviewed by me insisted the process of calling in airstrikes was handled by the YPG alone, via a control room that was in contact with US forces. The Americans, in this telling, were responsible only for advising and some training of forces.

Yet it seems likely that the small complement of US special forces committed to Syria (up to 50 operators, according to the official announcement) are doing more than simply training and advising.

In neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan, evidence has already emerged of the ground involvement of US special forces in operations against Islamic State. Similar events are likely taking place in Syria, too.

According to a recent report in the regional newspaper al-Hayat, plans are afoot to broaden the US presence, with the construction of a base in which, according to a Western official quoted by the paper, "US experts will reside and from which they will travel to battle lines". The base, according to al-Hayat, is set to be built outside the town of Derik (al-Malikiyah), deep in the heart of the Kurdish-controlled area in northeast Syria. These reports, if they have substance, suggest a deepening of the military alliance between the US and the Kurds of Syria.
...
But this war, in truth, looks nowhere close to conclusion. In the meantime, the Syrian Kurds have carved out an enclave constituting more than 20 per cent of the country's territory of the country and established at least a semblance of normal life.

The jihadists are far from a spent force. On January 15, they launched a ferocious counterattack against Assad regime forces in the Deir ez-Zor area. A massacre of civilians followed. Islamic State's capacity for mass murder should not be underestimated.

Still, as we crossed the Tigris River from northern Syria into Iraq, two memories remained particularly vivid.

The first was of Kobane. As we entered the ruined city, a celebration was taking place. About 100 young Kurds were dancing in an open area, Kurdish music blaring from a primitive sound system, with the ruined, macabre buildings casting their shapes all around.

The second was of a clump of strange mounds that we found by the roadside in the desert south of al-Hawl. These, on closer inspection, turned out to be the torn corpses of a group of Islamic State fighters — killed perhaps in an airstrike. Their foes had covered them lightly with earth before continuing south. The sightless eyes stared skyward.

The war against Islamic State and the larger war of which it is a part are far from over. But on this front at least, the direction is clear. The SDF is moving forward.

Jonathan Spyer is director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.
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DougMacG
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« Reply #780 on: February 03, 2016, 09:51:10 AM »

http://nypost.com/2016/02/01/get-ready-for-obamas-next-syria-fiasco/

We will likely need to recognize the demise of Syria and Iraq, and create a new, secular Sunni state from their territory once ISIS is vanquished. America’s failure to act effectively against ISIS to date is readily reversible, and regional allies are all but begging for renewed attention to our own Middle East security interests.

Most importantly, the road to Damascus runs through Tehran. Our attention should be on regime change in Iran first. Only when the ayatollahs are swept aside is there even a glimmer of a chance for Middle East peace and security.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #781 on: February 05, 2016, 10:44:37 PM »

Is Assad's Russian-backed Offensive a Game-changer in Syria?
by Jonathan Spyer
The Jerusalem Post
February 5, 2016
http://www.meforum.org/5834/syria-talks
Originally published under the title "Precarious Syria Talks Leave Its Future Uncertain."
 
The failure of the peace talks was foreseen by most serious analysts on Syria.  UN Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura this week announced the suspension of just-convened peace talks in Geneva intended to resolve the Syrian civil war.  The failure of the talks was predictable and foreseen by most serious analysts on Syria. Diplomacy requires compromise. But the forces of President Bashar Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are advancing in both northern and southern Syria.

The dictator and his allies, as a consequence, see no reason to abandon their core aims or accept a political process leading to a transition of power.
The action of consequence with regard to Syria is taking place on the battlefields of Aleppo, Idlib, Deraa and Quneitra provinces, not in the conference rooms of Geneva and Vienna.

The aim of the regime and its Russian and Iranian allies at present appears to be to destroy the non-Islamic State Sunni Arab rebellion against Assad. This would have the consequence of leaving only three effective protagonists in the war in Syria – Assad, Islamic State and the Kurds in the north.
Russia hopes to lure Syrian Kurds away from their alliance with the US.

Moscow is engaged at the moment in the energetic courting of the Kurds. Should Russia, after defeating the non-Islamic State rebels, succeed in tempting the Syrian Kurds away from their current alliance with the US, this would leave Moscow the effective master of the universally approved war against Islamic State in Syria.

Assad, who was facing possible defeat prior to the Russian intervention in September 2015, would be entirely dependent on Moscow and to a lesser extent Tehran for his survival. This would make the Russians and Iranians the decisive element in Syria's future.

The defeat of the non-Islamic State Sunni Arab rebellion is the first stage in this strategy. The main regime and Russian efforts are currently directed toward the remaining heartland of the rebellion in northwest Syria.  But Assad and his allies also appear intent on delivering a death blow to the revolt in the place it was born – Deraa province in the south and its environs. This, incidentally, if achieved in its entirety, would bring Hezbollah and Iran to the area east of Quneitra crossing, facing the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights. It is not by any means certain that the regime will achieve this aim in total. But as of now, Assad and his friends are moving forward.

The first stage following the Russian intervention, and achieved in the dying months of 2015, was to end the rebel threat to the regime enclave in Latakia province. There is no further prospect of the rebels finding their way into the populated areas of this province. The regime has recaptured 35 villages in the northern Latakia countryside.

This achieved, the main fulcrum of the current effort is Aleppo province. Aleppo is the capital of Syria's north. The rebellion's arrival in this city in the late summer of 2012 signaled the point at which it first began to pose a real threat to Assad.

This week, the regime, its Iran-mustered Shi'a militia supporters and Russian air power succeeded in breaking the link between the border town of Azaz and rebel-held eastern Aleppo. This reporter traveled these rebel supply routes from the border when they were first carved out in 2012. They were vital to the maintenance of the rebellion's positions in Aleppo. There is a single link remaining between Turkey and eastern Aleppo – via Idlib province.
The direction of the war is currently in the regime's favor.  But the rebel situation is rapidly deteriorating. The regime also broke a two-year siege on two Shi'ite towns, Nubul and Zahra.

The rebels rushed all available personnel and resources to defend these supply routes. Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida branch in Syria, sent a convoy of 750 fighters to the area. This proved insufficient.

Further south, a recent regime offensive in Deraa province led to the recapture of the town of Sheikh Maskin, which again cuts the rebels off from key supply lines in a province they once dominated.

So the direction of the war is currently in the regime's favor.  This is due to the Russian air intervention and to Iran's provision of ground fighters from a variety of regional populations aligned with it.  The pattern of events on the ground had a predictable effect on the diplomacy in Geneva.
Any attempt by the regime to claw back the entirety of Syria will lead to overstretch.

All this does not, however, necessarily presage imminent and comprehensive regime and Russian success on the ground. Syrian opposition sources note that the pendulum of the war has swung back and forth many times in the course of the last four years. They hope that fresh efforts from Ankara, Qatar and Saudi Arabia will help to stem regime gains in the weeks ahead.

Perhaps more fundamentally, any attempt by the regime to claw back the entirety of Sunni Arab majority areas or Kurdish majority areas of Syria would lead to the same situation the regime faced in 2012 – namely, overstretch and insufficient forces to effectively hold areas conquered.  But as of now, thanks to the Russian intervention, prospects for rebel victory have been averted and the Assad regime, with its allies, is on the march once more.

Comprehensive eclipse for the non-Islamic State Sunni Arab rebel groups is no longer an impossibility somewhere down the line. This reality at present precludes progress toward a diplomatic solution.

As an old Russian proverb has it: When the guns roar, the muses are silent.
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