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US special operations chief confirms end of CIA support for anti-Assad forces in Syria

RT | July 21, 2017

A US army general has confirmed that Washington has decided to put an end to a CIA scheme to equip and train certain rebel groups fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He insisted the policy shift had nothing to do with improving relations with Russia.

US Army General Raymond Thomas, head of the Special Operations Command, said the decision was “based on assessment of the program.”

“At least from what I know about that program and the decision to end it, (it was) absolutely not a sop to the Russians,” Thomas said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on Friday.

Unnamed government sources told various media outlets last week that the decision to end the program had been partly due to the Trump administration wanting a better relationship with Russia.

The decision to terminate the program was reportedly taken by Trump in consultation with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and national security adviser H.R. McMaster ahead of his meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg earlier this month.

But the end of the CIA’s Timber Sycamore strategy was not a precondition for the ceasefire deal reached between Putin and Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit, the US officials insisted.

The covert CIA program began arming and training the so-called moderate Syrian opposition forces in 2013.

Two US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity with Reuters, pointed out that the covert CIA tactic had produced little success.

Russia has always warned against arming the so-called moderate opposition groups in Syria, underlining that weapons supplied to them often fall into the hands of jihadist groups.

The so-called moderate opposition has effectively ceased to exist in Syria, hijacked by armed extremists, Russia’s former UN ambassador told the General Assembly in December last year.

Having pointed to the scale of destruction in Syria, Vitaly Churkin, now late, said it was “a result of the mindless foreign policy of several international and regional players who once decided to change the leadership in Damascus and to redraw drastically the political, ethnic, confessional, and economic map of the region.”

But despite having “extensive financial, logistical, and propaganda support” from the outside, “the elusive concept of ‘moderate Syrian opposition’ has effectively failed,” the Russian diplomat then said.

July 21, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 2 Comments

Class War on the Waterfront: Longshore Workers Under Attack

Photo by ROBERT HUFFSTUTTER | CC BY 2.0
By Jack Heyman | CounterPunch | July 21, 2017

The ink wasn’t even dry on the West Coast longshore contract when the head of the employers’ group, the Pacific Maritime Association, proposed an additional 3-year extension to the president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), making it an eight-year contract. While the number of registered longshore jobs, 14,000, is the about same as in 1952, revenue tonnage has increased 14 times to a record-breaking 350 million revenue tons.

Under the current contract employers have already eliminated hundreds of longshore jobs through automation on marine terminals like the fully-automated Long Beach Container Terminal and semi-automated TraPac in the port of Los Angeles. “By the end of an extended contract in 2022, several thousand longshore jobs will be eliminated on an annual basis due to automation” warned Ed Ferris, president of ILWU Local 10 of San Francisco. With driverless trucks and crane operators in control towers running three cranes simultaneously, the chances of serious and deadly accidents are enormous.

Now maritime employers are pulling out all stops to push through this job-killing contract extension, using both Democratic and Republican politicians, high-powered PR firms and even some union officials.

A Chronicle op-ed appeared this week by Democrat Mickey Kantor, former Secretary of Commerce who was responsible for creating the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Association which lost millions of jobs and Norman Mineta, another Democrat former Secretary of Commerce, from the public relations firm Hill and Knowlton. The first public relations firm was hired by Rockefeller to clean up his public image after nearly 100 people, men, women and children were killed in a 1914 Colorado miners strike known as the Ludlow Massacre and employers continue to use PR firms today.

The authors of this week’s SF Chronicle pro-company PR piece talk of preserving “labor peace” and refer to West Coast port shutdowns over the last 15 years. Yes, there is a class war on the waterfront, but it’s being waged by the employers. Those port closures were caused by employer lockouts in 2002, 2013 and 2014 during longshore contract negotiations. The 2002 lockout was ended after Democrat Diane Feinstein called on President Bush to invoke the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act directed not against the maritime employers’ lockout but the longshore union. The only time the ILWU shutdown Pacific Coast ports in that period was May Day 2008 to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first-ever labor strike in the United States against a war.

The two Democrats cite distorted figures for wages and pensions that only reflect the highest skill level after a lifetime of work in one of the most dangerous industries. And then they threaten that “if the contract proposal is rejected” it could lead Republicans and Democrats alike to impose anti-strike legislation on the waterfront. The ILWU backed Bernie Sanders in the last election and then Hillary Clinton. Yet no matter who leads it, the Democratic Party represents the employer class, Wall Street on the waterfront. Clearly what’s needed now is a workers party to fight for a workers government that would expropriate the maritime industry, in ports and at sea, while establishing workers control.

The so-called “friends of labor” Democrats have been enlisted by PMA because earlier this year at the Longshore Caucus, a union meeting representing dockworkers on all West Coast ports, the San Francisco longshore delegates voted unanimously to oppose a contract extension. Last week they held a conference at their union hall on automation and the proposed contract extension. One proposal was to make automation benefit dockworkers by reducing the workweek to 30 hours while maintaining 40 hours pay, creating another work shift.

There are tens of millions of unemployed in this country. The labor movement should launch a new campaign for a shorter workweek at no loss in pay as part of a struggle for full employment to benefit all, not Trump and his Wall Street bankster cronies. In resisting the push for this contract extension to automate jobs out of existence, ILWU waterfront workers can stand up for all workers.

Jack Heyman is a retired Oakland longshoreman who edits the Maritime Worker Monitor and chairs the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee

July 21, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , | Leave a comment

US corporations lobby against anti-Russia sanctions

RT | July 21, 2017

A wide range of American conglomerates, including oil, energy, banking, aerospace, auto and heavy manufacturing enterprises have jointly started a lobbying campaign against the new round of sanctions against Russia passed by the US Senate, CNN reports.

BP, ExxonMobil, General Electric, Boeing and Citigroup, MasterCard and Visa are reportedly among the companies raising concerns the punitive measures will ultimately harm their businesses, rather than the Kremlin.

Ford, Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, International Paper, Caterpillar, and Cummins have reportedly warned the measure could impact their businesses as well.

The new bill, aimed at punishing Russia for alleged meddling in the US presidential election, was approved last month. The measures target already sanctioned Russian banks and energy sector, limiting the financing period for them to 14 and 30 days respectively.

The legislation also introduces individual sanctions for investing more than $5 million a year or $1 million at a time in Russian pipeline projects or providing such enterprises with services, technology or information support.

Over a dozen of US corporations want changes to the bill and lobbyists and trade associations have been visiting Capitol Hill in recent days meeting members of Congress.

“It passed with such force and such a strong vote in the Senate, it seemed to be insurmountable initially. I don’t think they thought through the unintended consequences,” said a senior congressional aide who has worked on the billб as quoted by the media outlet.

The bill, which is still to be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Trump administration has drawn a wave of criticism among European corporations as well.

Earlier this week, the heads of European energy companies warned the sanctions Washington wants to impose on the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline might have an adverse impact on Europe.

Last month, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said the new measures introduced by the US were only about “selling American liquefied natural gas and ending the supply of Russian natural gas to the European market.”

July 21, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , | 4 Comments

‘Operational Uncertainty’ Forced Trump to Kill CIA Syria Program – Karen Kwiatkowski

Sputnik – 21.07.2017

WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump reportedly decided to halt the training of Syrian rebels about a month ago after a meeting with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. The program originally ramped up in 2015 and was designed to produce a force of more than 5,000 troops to fight the Syrian government.

“This program increased the level of operational uncertainty beyond which Mr. Trump, McMaster and even CIA Director Pompeo were comfortable,” Kwiatkowski said on Thursday.

Trump, McMaster and Pompeo appear to have decided to shut down the CIA training program well before the US president met Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg earlier this month, Kwiatkowski recalled.

Contrary to neoconservative analysts who claim Putin during their talks at the G20 persuaded Trump to drop the Syria program, Trump had been prepared to scrap the CIA training program before he was elected president, Kwiatkowski pointed out.

Trump’s decision to end the CIA training program in Syria was likely to be welcomed by many US citizens, Kwiatkowski predicted.

“The CIA aid program initiated under Obama in 2013 had been embarrassing, counterproductive and confusing to many Americans,” she remarked. “It was ineffectual, and typical of most CIA field operations, operationally implemented without thorough coordination with either State [Department], the Department of Defense or local allies,” she said.

The program had aroused increasing concern among US intelligence veterans, Kwiatkowski added, noting that in the past 18 months even CIA officials had expressed concern about the ineffectiveness of the initiative.

“Four years of [Daesh], (banned in Russia) and extremist rebel defections from the US program in Syria, taking with them US weapons, training and intelligence, increases the risk factor of violating the great power goals in Syria,” she said.

The CIA program had also repeated disastrous failed US secret policies in many other conflicts around the world since World War II, Kwiatkowski added.

“The concept of aiding selected rebel groups in a civil war in order to emplace a friendly dictatorship or satrap is certainly a tried and failed US approach around the world for the past 70 years. It’s not particularly imaginative,” she said.

However, the discontinuation of the CIA program, “as with the conclusion of all welfare programs,” will be met with anger, recrimination, and simmering resentment by those who were formerly in receipt of the aid, Kwiatkowski predicted.

McConnell, the Republican Majority Leader in the Senate and McCain who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee strongly supported the CIA secret training program for rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad over the past five years, Kwiatkowski recalled.

July 21, 2017 Posted by | War Crimes | , | Leave a comment

American Armored Vehicles Are Pouring into Raqqa, But Who Are They For?

© East News/ Michael Curvin
Sputnik – 21.07.2017

Footage has surfaced online depicting flatbed tracks laden with American armored military vehicles passing through Syria, with conflicting commentary claiming that the materiel was bound for use by either US-backed Syrian militant groups or US troops themselves fighting Daesh in the city of Raqqa.

The photos and videos were uploaded by Syrian Kurdish activists who are known affiliates of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF.) The vehicles included Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, Mine-Resistant All Terrain Vehicles (M-ATVs) and armored bulldozers. They were mounted on the backs of flatbed trucks and were filmed passing through Qamishli, 170 miles northeast of Raqqa.

​All three vehicle types were previously mentioned in Pentagon reports as assets being supplied to SDF fighters. “Up-armored vehicles have been delivered to the SDF and [Syrian Arab Coalition] as part of our existing authorities to enable them,” a spokesperson for US operations in Syria told Task & Purpose.

​”Specifically, these vehicles will help them contend with [Daesh’s] IED threat in their current operation, and as they move to isolate [Raqqa].” Mine-resistant vehicles are deployed against areas known to hide improvised explosive devices, which are a major danger to American soldiers riding in armored vehicles. At least half of all US casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan have been attributed to IEDs.

​However, the spokesperson went on to tell Task & Purpose that MRAPs and M-ATVs were “not part of the package that is divested to the SDF.” The Military Times noted that the M-ATVs were mounted with Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station (CROWs) systems, which allow for operators to fire the M-ATV’s mounted.50 cal machine gun without exposing themselves to enemy fire. CROWS systems also weren’t provided to SDF fighters.

​Instead, the vehicles “are for use by the Coalition to protect our forces from IEDs.” In other words, the Pentagon claims these armored vehicles are for use by Western operators, not SDF militants.

Under the Trump administration, there has been an uptick in American support for the SDF, a coalition of various militias. Since June, the SDF have besieged Raqqa, Daesh’s final stronghold in Syria. Although Daesh has mounted intense resistance, the SDF has encircled the city and is slowly but surely gaining ground. The deeper the SDF go into the city, however, the stiffer the defenses they find awaiting them.

“The SDF has reportedly encountered intensified resistance and ‘better-emplaced defenses’ over the past four weeks following initial rapid gains in districts on the outskirts of [Raqqa],” read a new report from the Institute for the Study of War.

Although the US support for SDF operations is common knowledge, the Pentagon has been very cagey about providing details of American operations. They only directly confirmed the presence of US advisers in Raqqa five weeks into the siege, for instance.

The largest and most prominent militia among them are the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey, a nominal US ally, considers the YPG to be a terrorist group, which the US denies. The Syrian Kurds and the Turkish military have become increasingly belligerent to one another, with some exchanges of gunfire along the Syrian-Turkish border. Ankara has stated in no uncertain terms that they will never support a Kurdish state on their border.

The armored vehicles may then serve a purpose beyond helping to bring an end to the Daesh occupation. They may also be the Pentagon looking ahead to the wars of tomorrow.

July 21, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , | 1 Comment

US says Syria crisis needs political solution, Assad doesn’t have to go first

Press TV – July 21, 2017

US President Donald Trump’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser says the US is seeking a political resolution to the conflict in Syria and won’t insist on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s immediate ouster.

Tom Bossert said Thursday there needs to be a political outcome in Syria, not a military-imposed one that has no political strategy to fill a void in leadership.

“I don’t think it’s important for us to say Assad must go first,” Bossert said at the Aspen Security Forum, an annual gathering of intelligence and national security officials and experts.

“The US would still like to see Assad go at some point. That would be our desired outcome,” he added.

The administration of former President Barack Obama had chanted “the Assad must go” mantra on major international forums for several years.

Bossert made the remarks following news reports that Trump had decided to end a covert CIA program that has been arming, training and funding anti-Damascus militants since 2013.

US officials said that ending the CIA operation reflects Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia. Moscow had long pushed Washington to end the covert program, which was begun by the Obama administration to overthrow Assad.

However, the CIA effort had failed to achieve its goals and some US lawmakers had proposed cutting its budget. By some estimates, the CIA trained some 10,000 militants.

For years, Damascus has accused the US of supporting militants seeking to topple the government.

Despite halting the CIA program, the US is still militarily involved in Syria. In May, Trump authorized arming the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces — a Kurdish rebel group — using Department of Defense funds.

Since 2015, Russia has been conducting cruise missile strikes and aerial attacks against terrorist positions in Syria at a request from the Syrian government. The US has been leading dozens of its allies in a military mission purportedly aimed rooting out Daesh since 2014.

July 21, 2017 Posted by | War Crimes | , , , | 1 Comment

End of CIA Training Program Removes Roadblock to Real Peace in Syria

Sputnik – 21.07.2017

President Donald Trump’s decision to end CIA training for US-backed rebel groups in Syria opens the way for peace at last and humanitarian relief for the suffering people of that country, analysts told Sputnik.

The move was widely reported in the US media on Wednesday with no denials and has been universally accepted as taking place.

Trump reportedly decided to halt the training about a month ago, after a meeting with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, which preceded his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany earlier this month.

SCRAPPING CIA TRAINING PROGRAM OPENS WAY FOR PEACE DEAL IN SYRIA

The CIA program’s goal was to train at least 5,400 allegedly non-Islamist rebels in an armed force to fight Daesh terror group (outlawed in Russia), while also opposing the legitimate Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.

“This decision opens the door noticeably wider for a negotiated resolution of the dire political conflict (and resulting humanitarian catastrophe) inside Syria,” historian and Middle East analyst Helena Cobban, a leading expert on Syria, said on Thursday.

Continued US support for the rebel groups, some of which were extreme Islamists, had effectively blocked any moves in the past to end the conflict in Syria that has lasted nearly six-and-a-half years and cost more than 600,000 lives, Cobban explained.

“So long as the United States’ covert-action teams were working hand-in-glove with the forces working tirelessly to overthrow the government of Syria, it was hard to envision the United States also sitting down with those political forces inside and outside the country who seek a negotiated resolution,” she said.

However, Trump’s decision to end the CIA support program breathed new life into the Syrian peace process, Cobban observed.

The problems plaguing massive US military aid and training for the rebels greatly embarrassed previous President Barack Obama. Senior US officers have testified to Congress that an undetermined number of such rebels have disappeared with US military equipment and actually joined Islamist forces, including Daesh.

On September 16, 2015, then CENTCOM commanding General Lloyd Austin told the US Senate Armed Services Committee that half a billion dollars of funding for military training of Syrian rebels approved by Congress had only produced only four or five opposition troops in the field by that point.

The CIA training and support program for the rebels failed to accomplish any constructive goals, but only spread and intensified the sufferings of ordinary people in Syria, Cobban recalled.

“The CIA’s aid to the Syrian ‘rebels’ prolonged and deepened the suffering of Syria’s people throughout the whole of the past six years,” she said.

The real purpose of the program was not to defeat Daesh, but to topple the legitimate Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, Cobban stated.

The Obama administration added to the CIA program a “very bright green light… to other non-Syrian actors working to overthrow Syria’s legitimate government, like the Saudi and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Turkey… and jihadis from all around the world,” she said.

However, a series of policy shifts by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the clash in the GCC between Qatar and other member states backed by Saudi Arabia looked likely to distract these previous support sources for the Syrian rebels, Cobban observed.

“With the Turkish government now acting a lot more pragmatically than before, and with the ongoing chaos among the GCC countries, it can be hoped that… groups who supported regime change in Syria will now… die of their own accord,” she said.

The end of CIA training for Syrian rebels was also likely to give a boost to cooperation between governments and other forces in the region that genuinely opposed the Islamic State and other Islamist terror groups, Cobban noted.

Rebels seeking regime change in Damascus were now more likely to “be quashed through the cooperation of all the sincerely anti-jihadi forces in the region. There is still a lot of diplomatic work to do, but this decision from Washington makes it seem at least more possible,” she concluded.

CIA PROGRAM SHOWED 5-YEAR RECORD OF CONSISTENT FAILURES

Trump’s decision to terminate the CIA program has been interpreted by analysts as an acknowledgment that the five-year-old program has totally failed to achieve any of its goals, caused damage to US credibility and was not capable of being reformed.

Author and political activist David Swanson said Trump’s decision to end the CIA training program was a long-belated acknowledgment of its complete failure to produce any significant moderate rebel fighting force, while many recruits actually joined the Islamic State or other Islamist groups.

Swanson said the decision to scrap the rebel military training program expressed “a recognition of reality.”

Previous president Barack Obama had been praised as an alleged moderate and technocrat, yet he had ignored his own best intelligence assessments to launch the costly CIA training program after being given due warning that it would not work, Swanson recalled.

“When Obama was president he had the CIA produce a study on whether aiding proxy forces had ever succeeded on its own terms. The answer was no, yet Obama, the supposedly intelligent technocrat went ahead and did exactly what the study had found would not work,” he said.

Trump’s decision to end the CIA training program was rational and sensible, but came as a surprise because US policies in the Middle East and especially on Syria had not been guided by such considerations, Swanson observed.

“Ending it after years of predictable and predicted failure is only hard to explain because we have come to expect completely illogical madness,” he said.

Trump may also have scrapped the program as part of some quid pro quo arrangement he had negotiated with Putin at their G20 meeting, Swanson noted.

The decision to end the CIA training could indicate “some deal struck between Trump and Putin, but since neither of them is likely to tell us, we are left to speculate,” he said.

Although Trump had ordered the end of the training program, it remained to be seen whether he could ensure that the US armed forces and the CIA obeyed his orders and actually enforced the decision, Swanson cautioned.

“The decision is a good one on its own terms if it’s real. But what goes with it remains to be seen — including whether the US military and CIA actually comply with it,” he warned.

Swanson assessed that the results of the CIA training program had been entirely disastrous.

It had only produced “massive death and suffering, militarization of a region, fueling of hatred and hostility and terrorism for years to come,” he concluded.

The CIA reportedly maintained its program to provide weapons to Syrian opposition fighters since 2012. However, the private intelligence firm Soufran Group noted in a report on Thursday that the training program was ineffective and problematic since its launch.

July 21, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment