Category - Levant

The 587,688 Man ISIS Army

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The Commander in Chief of Turkey’s half million-man military, President Recep Tayipp Erdogan, is a supporter of ISIS and a financial beneficiary of the ISIS oil trade. It is entirely reasonable to say that Turkey is aligned with ISIS and is actively supporting that group and other extremist jihadist groups in the attack on Syria. Image: Creative Commons

Since the start of the attack on Syria in 2011, Turkey has been a key transit point for foreign jihadists, supplies, and weapons headed for rebels fighting to bring down the Syrian government. Jihadists enter Turkey and get bussed to the Syrian border. Along the way, many are trained at facilities like that in Adana, Turkey.   The Turkish military has done nothing to stop this.

The Turkish military did nothing in 2012 when local authorities in southern Turkey stopped a shipment of weapons to jihadists in Syria. When intelligence officials in Ankara instructed the local authorities to stand down and allow the weapons to pass to Syrian rebels, the army passively observed and silently endorsed the delivery of deadly munitions to jihadist extremists.

When the Syrian city of Kobani was under attack by ISIS in October 2014, the Turkish military lounged on their tanks in the hills above the besieged city and did absolutely nothing.

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Palmyra: Dozens of civilian casualties reported in fresh Syrian airstrikes

ARA News, By Laila Majdalawi, January 3

Damascus – Syrian regime’s air force hit the ancient city of Palmyra with dozens of airstrikes, killing and wounding dozens of civilians, activists reported on Saturday.

Local sources said that Syrian warplanes bombed residential neighborhoods in central Palmyra.

“At least 13 civilians were killed and 20 more wounded in renewed airstrikes by Syrian warplanes,” media activist Samir al-Homsi told ARA News.

[…]

“The Syrian regime claims that its warplanes are targeting ISIS positions in Palmyra; however, the strikes mostly hit residential buildings causing civilian casualties and destruction to private property,” al-Homsi said.

Military to Military

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

London Review Of Books, By Seymour Hersh, January 7

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.’

Democracy Now!: Seymour Hersh’s Latest Bombshell: U.S. Military Undermined Obama on Syria with Tacit Help to Assad, December 22

Truthout: What the “War on Terror” Really Is, and How to Fight It, December 23
Empire Burlesque: Word Games: False Premises Fuel Bogus Debate on Bombing Syria
CounterPunch: Hersh, Gauthier and the Coming of Terror in Xinjiang

Obama reinforces ISIL strategy

President Obama’s address tonight contained little news, but his Oval Office backdrop lent a new gravity to his request for Muslim countries and organizations to help de-radicalize Iraq and Syria. For the first time, he unequivocally acknowledged San Bernadino, Fort Hood and even Chatanooga as terrorist attacks, and warned of the effectiveness of ISIL’s recruitment campaigns over the Internet.

Syria is already the most complicated battleground since World War 2, and keeping up with all the shifting goals and allegiances of a growing list of players may prove impossible. Political relations with nearby Muslim countries are just as complex. ISIL may lose ground in an international military push, but halting its spread elsewhere requires a global effort.

Turkey Day?

A couple of us Agonistas solicited Sean Paul Kelley’s views on the current brouhaha involving Turkey and Syria. Having recently returned from Istanbul – a city and culture he knows well – and with his familiarity with the peoples and history of the area, he was kind enough to enlighten us with the following:

  This last election, just two weeks behind us now, more or less, proves the following: The AKP has firmly consolidated its power in Turkey in the political realm, the media, the military, the ministries and the provinces. They have swept the board, run the table, pick you metaphor. They’ve won. Read More

Ceasefire broken in northwestern Syria

Rebels shell Fuaa after they say government forces dropped barrel bombs nearby, just a day after truce declared in area.

Al Jazeera, September 27

A ceasefire in northwest Syria, part of a wider deal that included cessation of hostilities in the area, as well as in a town near the Lebanese border, has been broken after just one day, according to an activist monitoring group.

Shells apparently fired by rebel fighters hit the village of Fuaa in the province of Idlib on Saturday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said, after rebels blamed government forces for violating the ceasefire by dropping barrel bombs on an area nearby.

Warring sides, including Hezbollah, had agreed on Friday a ceasefire in Fuaa and next-door Kafraya, two villages held by pro-government forces and besieged by rebels, as well as in the town of Zabadani near the Lebanese border, where fighters are holed up and surrounded by government forces.

But shelling of Fuaa resumed, the observatory said, with no immediate casualties reported.

A Philosopher Looks at the Syrian Refugee Issue

One of my favorite blogs is Justin Smith. He’s always worth reading but this is particularly good.

One of the memes circling around the French Internet shows the mayor of the town of Roanne telling a huddled group of refugees that they cannot stay, since they are not Christian. “Neither are you,” is the reply.

Yes, some people are so ignorant as to believe that all Syrians are Muslims, but the most relevant clarification is not that some are not, but that that is irrelevant to the refugee crisis.

At the popular level in Europe, there is both dispiriting xenophobia and its opposite, a seemingly unprecedented preparedness to welcome the refugees and to take responsibility for their well-being. State officials have so far tended to play to the interests of the xenophobes, mostly not by expressing outward xenophobia (with plenty of exceptions of course, as with the mayor of Roanne, or with Hungarian president Viktor Orbán), but by classic buck-passing, insisting that the crisis is someone else’s problem. This is particularly the case for the poorer countries of the EU to its south and east, which are of course also the countries that are so placed as to first receive the refugees travelling by land (and, more perilously, by water). The absence of any obvious authority, either at the union-wide level or in each individual member state, reveals, like no other situation has since the EU’s expansion to include former Soviet Bloc states, that transnational body’s utter impotence and irrelevance.

American liberals and progressives love to fawn over the great liberal democracies of northern Europe with their advanced welfare states and their commitment to fair distribution of resources to all citizens. Yet as long as these societies continue to adhere to a sharp political and moral distinction between citizens and outsiders, between those who are in the system and those who are outside of it, what they have accomplished is scarcely any more worthy of praise than the sort of ‘socialism’ we see practiced within major corporations. European social democracies that extend medical care and education to everyone who has theirpapers in order, while expelling irregular migrants in nighttime raids and strong-armed police operations, are not truly egalitarian societies, but protection rackets. The extent that European citizens are today, en masse, resisting this arbitrary distinction between citizen and non-citizen, in order to come to the direct aid of the Syrian refugees, is precisely the extent to which Europe is living up to its claim to be Christian.

France says tackle Syria to solve migrant crisis, promises strikes

CNN, By Mick Krever, September 9

France will soon launch air stikes in Syria, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday, saying the refugee crisis “cannot be solved just by receiving them.”

“At the moment there are millions of Syrians who are displaced. There are refugee camps — in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Turkey — receiving 4 to 5 million Syrians. And we’re not going to receive 4 to 5 million Syrians, so the problem has to be dealt with at source,” he said through an interpreter.

“These are very difficult subjects. And of course, in Syria, so long as we haven’t found a political solution; so long as we haven’t destroyed this terrorist group, Islamic State; so long as we haven’t got rid of Bashar Assad; we will not find a solution.”

France began flying reconnaissance missions over Syria this week, and Valls said he would appear before the country’s Parliament next Tuesday to announce “the objectives of France and that there will be strikes.”

CNN: U.S. to Russia: Backing al-Assad ‘is not a winning strategy’
New York Times: U.S. Begins Military Talks With Russia on Syria

Putin Said to Explore Sidelining Assad Even as He Arms Him

Bloomberg, By Henry Meyer & Donna Abu-Nasr, September 13

Russia is sending signals to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that it may allow Syria’s embattled leader Bashar al-Assad to be eased out of power as it seeks to forge a united front against Islamic State and retain influence in the region, officials and Syrian opposition leaders said.

Officials from the three countries, as well as from the opposition, have been negotiating possible terms for sidelining Assad since at least June, when President Vladimir Putin hosted Saudi King Salman’s son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed, they said. Saudi Arabia is Assad’s main regional enemy, while Russia is his longtime ally. Since then, Russia’s whirlwind diplomacy has brought key officials from across the region to Moscow for talks.

Syria’s civil war has traumatized the Middle East, spilling into neighbors and enabling the rise of Islamic State amid the turmoil. The latest Russian-backed efforts to end the conflict come as its fallout spreads westwards, with hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking refuge in the European Union.

Like every other aspect of the war in Syria, though, Russia’s policy isn’t straightforward. U.S. and Russian officials say they’re weighing a transition plan that would strip Assad of power while remaining interim head of state.

Exclusive: 50 Spies Say ISIS Intelligence Was Cooked

The Daily Beast, By Shane Harris & Nancy Youssef, September 9

It’s being called a ‘revolt’ by intelligence pros who are paid to give their honest assessment of the ISIS war—but are instead seeing their reports turned into happy talk.

More than 50 intelligence analysts working out of the U.S. military’s Central Command have formally complained that their reports on ISIS and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials, The Daily Beast has learned.

The complaints spurred the Pentagon’s inspector general to open an investigation into the alleged manipulation of intelligence. The fact that so many people complained suggests there are deep-rooted, systemic problems in how the U.S. military command charged with the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State assesses intelligence.

“The cancer was within the senior level of the intelligence command,” one defense official said.

Two senior analysts at CENTCOM signed a written complaint sent to the Defense Department inspector general in July alleging that the reports, some of which were briefed to President Obama, portrayed the terror groups as weaker than the analysts believe they are. The reports were changed by CENTCOM higher-ups to adhere to the administration’s public line that the U.S. is winning the battle against ISIS and al Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the analysts claim.