Aletho News


US Splurges More Cash on Balkans Arms for Syria

Pentagon shopping spree for Balkans arms to equip Syrian rebels shows no sign of abating, after plans have emerged for US to buy a further 25,000 Kalashnikov-style rifles and 20 million bullets.

By Lawrence Marzouk, Ivan Angelovski, Juliana Ruhfus, Jelena Cosic | Balkan Insight | March 15, 2018

The Pentagon is planning to spend $162.5 million on weapons, ammunition and other equipment in 2019 to arm Syrian forces fighting Islamic State, ISIS, a recently released budget report reveals.

The amount comes on top of the $2.2 billion already designated by the US for arms to Syrian fighters [and other Pentagon-backed groups] from former Eastern Bloc countries – which BIRN revealed in investigation in September last year.

The operation of arming Syrian rebels already on the ground with former Eastern Bloc arms and ammunition, known as the Syria Train and Equip programme, has drawn almost entirely from the Balkans and Central Europe to date, a trend that is likely to continue throughout 2018 and 2019.

The new details of the spending have emerged as Al Jazeera English broadcasts “America’s Guns – Pipeline to Syria”, a joint investigation with Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

The probe found further evidence that arms were flowing from the Balkans to the Pentagon’s military projects in the Middle East.

BIRN tracked more than 20 Pentagon-commissioned flights leaving the island airport of Krk, Croatia, carrying unidentified military equipment to US bases, mostly in the Middle East.

The pattern of these airlifts being accompanied by inbound flights from the Azeri cargo firm Silk Way, first revealed by BIRN last October, has continued.

Serbia’s air aviation directorate told BIRN that a Silk Way flight from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Rijeka on October 5, 2017, which overflew their airspace, was given a permit for the “transportation of arms and dangerous goods”.

The Croatian authorities have refused to confirm or deny whether the flights are carrying weapons to Syria.

Questions have been raised about the ability of the US to keep track of its deliveries to anti-ISIS fighters, with evidence that Pentagon-purchased equipment is finding its way also to Islamist groups.

James Bevan, executive director of Conflict Armament Research, has documented more than 40,000 items found with ISIS in Syria, and found that many had originally been supplied by the Pentagon to its allies.

“The main issue is that if you supply weapons to non-state actors, you have very little control over what happens to those weapons,” Bevan explained, “particularly in a situation like Syria, where we have multiple competing groups.”

“That means, as somebody who is supplying weapons into that conflict, you really have no control over where they are going,” he added.

The Pentagon insists that US weapons deliveries to Syria are “incremental” and intended only for specific operations.

The new batch of weapons is needed, according to the latest Pentagon budget, to create a force capable of ensuring ”a safe and secure environment and capable of countering ISIS 2.0 and AQ [Al Qaeda].”

The equipment will be provided to 65,000 “Vetted Syrian Opposition” fighters – 30,000 of which will be tasked with offensive combat missions while the remaining 35,000 will become part of the new “Internal Security Forces”, whose job it will be to maintain security in “liberated areas”.

Currently, the Pentagon has around 30,000 vetted fighters on its books, mostly from the 50,000-strong Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF.

The US military said in January that half of the new “Internal Security Forces” – branded the “Border Security Force” at the time – would be made up of former members of the SDF.

The SDF is a coalition of different militia, widely considered to be Kurdish-led but, according to the Pentagon, split equally between Kurds and Arabs.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, YPG, is one of its most important elements and played a critical role in the battle for Raqqa, the former “capital” of the Islamic State group.

The Turkish government, however, argues that it is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Ankara considers a terrorist group. It launched an offensive against the YPG in January, placing it on a collision course with its NATO allies.

The Pentagon has sought to assuage Turkey fears by insisting that the weapons’ pipeline to these vetted forces is “mission-specific” and that new recruits would be “comprised of local forces that are demographically representative”.

March 18, 2018 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | 2 Comments

Analysts alarmed over Pentagon’s 60,000-strong Syrian rebel force

‘US aid ends up with extremists’

RT | March 7, 2018

Analysts have warned that US-supported groups in Syria often defect to extremists with their weapons. That’s after it was revealed the Pentagon plans to spend around $300 million to train and equip a 60,000-strong army in Syria.

Commenting on the Pentagon’s plans to build, train and equip a massive ‘Vetted Syrian Opposition’ to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in Syria, a number of US-based experts told RT the move has nothing to do with combatting terrorism. Instead, US weapons and aid could easily land in the hands of Islamist extremists, as has often been seen in the past.

“In the past, some of the groups who were the recipient of US aid ended up either taking over or [being] defeated by some of the radical forces on the ground in Syria. Or some of them ended up joining the extremists and taking some of the weapons with them,” Edmund Ghareeb, a scholar at the American University in Washington, DC, told RT.

Another expert said an armed formation will help Washington tighten its grip over rebel-controlled parts of Syria, while stressing that the US’ “hostile military presence in Syria” has no legal basis. “They want to create… conditions in Syria where the country is still divided. The record of the US and the CIA’s operations in Syria is that the people they have supported all along have been extremists,” said Nicolas J.S. Davies, the author of ‘Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.’

He argued that the State Department and Pentagon “clearly want to push ahead with a plan to basically keep forces under their control in command of all Syrian territory east of the Euphrates river.”

While the US justifies its presence in Syria with claims it is fighting terrorists, the only area IS “has survived is the area that is under American and its allies’ control,” Daoud Khairallah, a professor of international law at Georgetown University, believes.“One would wonder whether they are getting assistance from Americans for their survivability, ” Khairallah told RT.

Pentagon pays monthly allowance to rebels, seeks to establish large force in Syria

Following the virtual defeat of IS terrorists in Syria, the US appears to be trying to restructure its military presence in the war-torn country. In February, a fiscal year 2019 budget document mulled creating a new army out of elements of the so-called Vetted Syrian Opposition (VSO). The forces are “projected to total approximately 60,000 to 65,000” by October 2018, according to a report titled ‘Justification for FY 2019 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)’.

The document explains that some 30,000 fighters will conduct “ongoing combat missions” against remaining pockets of IS in the Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV), while another 35,000-strong contingent will form Internal Security Forces in liberated areas.

Creating the massive new military structure of rather questionable legality, roughly equivalent to the size of the Canadian armed forces, is an expensive endeavor. Besides seeking $250 million for border security requirements for areas outside of Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon is seeking some $300 million from US lawmakers to implement the creation of the new opposition bulwark machine that will be funded through the Syrian Train and Equip Program. Launched under the Obama administration in 2014, the program identified and trained selected Syrian opposition forces to fight IS.

The Pentagon plans to spend the bulk of the new funds on arming the forces. Nearly $50 million is allocated for buying AK-47s, PKM machine guns, as well as RPG-7 anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Mortar launchers and sniper rifles are also on the menu next to hand grenades, different types of vehicles and tons of ammunition.

Washington plans to pay a monthly allowance to its force, in addition to providing the new force with uniforms, hygiene kits and medical equipment. “[The Department of Defense] will transition to a stabilization effort that will focus on support to local Internal Security Forces, who will receive stipends for their efforts to secure liberated territory and prevent the re-emergence of ISIS or its affiliates,” the document reads. “Currently, 10,000 established partner force personnel are being paid stipends. The individual stipend payments range from $200 to $400 per month.”

While Washington maintains that its goal is to defeat IS, Moscow has repeatedly questioned US intentions, especially as the American presence in Syria is viewed as a violation of sovereignty.

The Russian military last month asserted that the true US goal is to capture “economic assets” in Syria, warning that America’s presence constitutes a dangerous threat to the political process and territorial integrity of the country.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

US lights up pathway to Afghan peace

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 6, 2018

The Principal Assistant Secretary of State in the US state department’s Bureau of South & Central Asian Affairs, Alice Wells gave an extraordinary briefing in Washington on March 5 on the Trump administration’s outlook on the Afghan peace talks and reconciliation. The fact that the briefing was on record is itself of significance, underscoring the cautious optimism that the 4-way contacts and below-the-radar discussions between Washington, Islamabad, Kabul and the Afghan Taliban have gained traction.

Wells has touched on all aspects of the situation and they are almost entirely in consonance with my own assessments contained in the opinion piece, which appeared in The Tribune newspaper on March 5. (Joint gains from Afghan Peace, The Tribune, March 5, 2018 )

The most significant thing will be that Wells has forcefully, unequivocally – even euphorically – backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offer on February 27 to the Taliban, and has pledged that Washington intends to promote the process, no matter what it takes. Equally, Washington estimates that the Taliban has not yet “officially responded”, various media reports attributed to Taliban spokesmen notwithstanding. Wells pointedly urged the Taliban to accept the peace offer.

The Trump administration expects Pakistan too to put its weight behind the Taliban leadership to bring them to the negotiating table. The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua arrived in Washington on March 5 for talks. Pakistan is confident of taking the process forward. Wells said,

  • We’re certainly not walking away from Pakistan. There will be very intensive dialogue through both our military and our civilian channels to discuss how we can work together. I mean, Pakistan has an important role to play in helping to stabilize Afghanistan.

Second, the Afghan peace process is not taking place in isolation but forms part of the broad framework of Pakistan-US strategic relationship.

From the Indian perspective, the salience of Well’s briefing lies in the US’ acknowledgement of Pakistan’s centrality in the Afghan peace process and, notably, Pakistan’s “legitimate concerns”, which Washington intends to address. This is how Wells framed the US policy:

  • Pakistan has a very important role to play in a peace process. We believe that Pakistan can certainly help to facilitate talks and to take actions that will put pressure on and encourage the Taliban to move forward towards a politically negotiated settlement. And our engagement with Pakistan is on how we can work together, on how we can address Pakistan’s legitimate concerns and Afghanistan’s stability through a negotiated process as well. Obviously, as Pakistani officials have underscored, they see a variety of issues, whether it’s border management or refugees or terrorism that emanates from ungoverned space in Afghanistan, as important issues, and we would agree that all of these need to be resolved during the course of a reconciliation process.

Two vectors that are going to shape the agenda of the forthcoming peace talks are: a) Washington accepts that Taliban has “legitimate grievances… (that) will have to be addressed at the negotiating table”, and, b) the US does not “preordain” any factions or elements within the Afghan Taliban movement to be “irreconcilable.” The latter means, plainly put, that it is entirely up to the Haqqani network to bid farewell to arms and join the peace talks and reconciliation. Wells chose her words carefully:

  • I think there are always going to be elements and factions that do not participate – the irreconcilable, so to speak. I think a political process defines who is reconcilable, who is prepared to come to the negotiating table, who is prepared to adhere to an agreement that is negotiated through a political process. And so rather than preordain who is irreconcilable, let the process determine that. But certainly, we would anticipate that there will continue to be elements, not just Taliban elements, that will pose a terrorism threat and will need to be taken care of by the Government of Afghanistan with the support of its partners.

Of course, it is unthinkable that the Haqqanis will defy the Pakistani diktat and continue to pose a terrorism threat. It is hugely significant that at one point, Wells went out of the way to openly acknowledge without caveats as to what is it that distinguishes the Taliban from the ISIS – simply put, Taliban is a legitimate Afghan entity:

  • I think all of us recognize that while the Taliban may be – represent an insurgency, they stand for and are Afghan nationalists of one type. ISIS is a nihilistic force that is bent on the very destruction of Afghanistan. And so there is a seriousness, an extreme seriousness of effort, in defeating ISIS.

Then, there is the tantalizing question of the fate of the US military bases in Afghanistan. Here, Wells parried, pleading evasively that it is entirely up to the future government in Kabul to decide whether continued US military presence is needed or not. But then, en passé, she added meaningfully, “No one is precluding any formula…” To my mind, there is going to be some sort of trade off.

Indeed, it may suit Pakistan too that there is continued US military presence in Afghanistan. For one thing, there is the searing experience of the Mujahideen takeover in Kabul in 1992 and the ensuing anarchy. Fundamentally, Pakistan has always sought that Taliban enjoyed US recognition, and, in the given situation, it is in Pakistan’s interests too that the US remains a stakeholder in the post-settlement era in Afghanistan. For, that would inevitably translate as US/NATO dependence on Pakistani cooperation, resuscitation of Pakistan’s role as a “non-NATO ally”, US interest in strengthening the strategic partnership with Pakistan, a US mediatory role in India-Pakistan issues, and, most importantly, the US as a guarantor that what has been shored up by way of an Afghan settlement doesn’t get undermined by other regional states that might harbor revisionist tendencies. The bottom line is that the Pakistani elite cannot think of a future for their country without an enduring strategic partnership with the US.

Unsurprisingly, Wells singled out Russia in almost adversarial terms. What emerges is that the US approach is to try to forge a regional consensus at the forthcoming Tashkent conference this month, which would pile pressure on Russia to fall in line. Evidently, Washington proposes to bypass Moscow and deal directly with the Central Asian capitals to create a regional consensus and support system for the peace process leading to a settlement.

Finally, Washington is still keeping its fingers crossed that Pakistan rises to its expectations, which is not surprising, given the backlog of distrust. Wells said,

  • We’ve not seen decisive and sustained changes yet in Pakistan’s behavior, but certainly we are continuing to engage with Pakistan over areas where we think they can play a helpful role in changing the calculus of the Taliban.

Once bitten, twice shy? At any rate, the Trump administration has no alternative but to take Pakistan at its word. Despite the bravado about the US military strategy making headway, Pentagon would know that the Taliban cannot be defeated through air strikes and this is a hopeless stalemate what needs to be addressed on the political and diplomatic track. Wells said,

  • We’re certainly not walking away from Pakistan. There will be very intensive dialogue through both our military and our civilian channels to discuss how we can work together. I mean, Pakistan has an important role to play in helping to stabilize Afghanistan.

All in all, Wells’ briefing augurs the opening of a new page in the chronicle of the Afghan war. It signifies that that the war is most likely drawing to a close and the ending is going to be like how all insurgencies in history rooted in native soil finally ended – via reconciliation with the insurgents. The full transcript of Wells’ briefing is here.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Authoritarians Who Silence Syria Questions

By Jonathan Cook | CounterPunch | February 28, 2018

I am loath to draw more attention to the kind of idiocy that passes for informed comment nowadays from academics and mainstream journalists. Recently I lambasted Prof Richard Carver for his arguments against BDS that should have gained him an F for logic in any high school exam.

Now we have to endure Brian Whitaker, the Guardian’s former Middle East editor, using every ploy in the misdirection and circular logic playbook to discredit those who commit thought crimes on Syria, by raising questions both about what is really happening there and about whether we can trust the corporate media consensus banging the regime-change drum.

Whitaker’s arguments and assumptions may be preposterous but sadly, like Carver’s, they are to be found everywhere in the mainstream – they have become so commonplace through repetition that they have gained a kind of implicit credibility. So let’s unpack what Whitaker and his ilk are claiming.

Whitaker’s latest outburst is directed against the impudence of a handful of British academics, including experts in the study of propaganda, in setting up a panel – the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media – to “provide a source of reliable, informed and timely analysis for journalists, publics and policymakers” on Syria. The researchers include Tim Hayward of Edinburgh University and Piers Robinson of Sheffield University.

So what are Whitaker’s objections to this working group? Let’s run through them, with my interjections.

Whitaker: They dispute almost all mainstream narratives of the Syrian conflict, especially regarding the use of chemical weapons and the role of the White Helmets search-and-rescue organisation. They are critical of western governments, western media and various humanitarian groups but show little interest in applying critical judgment to Russia’s role in the conflict or to the controversial writings of several journalists who happen to share their views.

Western governments and western corporate media have promoted a common narrative on Syria. It has been difficult for outsiders to be sure of what is going on, given that Syria has long been a closed society, a trend only reinforced by the last seven years of a vicious civil-cum-proxy war, and the presence of brutal ISIS and al Qaeda militias.

Long before the current fighting, western governments and Israel expressed a strong interest in overthrowing the government of Bashar Assad. In fact, their desire to be rid of Assad dates to at least the start of the “war on terror” they launched after 9/11, as I documented in my book Israel and the Clash of Civilisations.

Very few corporate journalists have been on the ground in Syria. (Paradoxically, those who have are effectively embedded in areas dominated by al Qaeda-type groups, which western governments are supporting directly and through Gulf intermediaries.) Most of these journalists are relying on information provided by western governments, or from groups with strong, vested interests in Assad’s overthrow.

Should we take this media coverage on trust, as many of us did the lies promoted about Iraq and later Libya by the same western governments and corporate media? Or should we be far more wary this time, especially as those earlier regime-change operations spread more chaos, suffering and weapons across the Middle East, and fuelled a migrant crisis now empowering the far-right across much of Europe?

Whitaker and his ilk are saying we should not. Or more disingenuously, Whitaker is saying that the working group, rather than invest its energies in this supremely important research, should concentrate its limited resources on studying Russian propaganda on Syria. In other words, the researchers should duplicate the sterling efforts of Whitaker’s colleagues in daily attributing the superpowers of a James Bond villain to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Here’s a counter-proposal: how about we leave well-funded western governments and media corporations to impugn Putin at every turn and on every pretext, while we allow the working group to check whether there is a large (larger?) mote in the west’s eye?

Whitaker: The worrying part, though, especially in the light of their stated intention to seek ‘research funding’, is their claim to be engaging in ‘rigorous academic analysis’ of media reporting on Syria.

Is this really so worrying? Why not allow a handful of academics to seek funds to try to untangle the highly veiled aid – money and arms – that western governments have been pumping into a war tearing apart Syria? Why not encourage the working group to discern more clearly the largely covert ties between western security services and groups like the White Helmets “search-and-rescue service”? One would think supposedly adversarial journalists would be all in favour of efforts to dig up information about western involvement and collusion in Syria.

Whitaker: But while members of the group are generally very critical of mainstream media in the west, a handful of western journalists — all of them controversial figures — escape similar scrutiny. Instead, their work is lauded and recommended.

More of Whitaker’s circular logic.

Of course, the few independent journalists (independent of corporate interests) who are on the ground in Syria are “controversial” – they are cast as “controversial” by western governments and corporate journalists precisely because they question the consensual narrative of those same governments and journalists. Duh!

Further, these “controversial” journalists are not being “lauded”. Rather, their counter-narratives are being highlighted by those with open minds, like those in the working group. Without efforts to draw attention to these independent journalists’ work, their reporting would most likely disappear without trace – precisely the outcome, one senses, Whitaker and his friends would very much prefer.

It is not the critical thinkers on Syria who are demanding that only one side of the narrative is heard; it is western governments and supposedly “liberal” journalists like Whitaker and the Guardian’s George Monbiot. They think they can divine the truth through … the corporate media, which is promoting narratives either crafted in western capitals or derived from ties to groups like the White Helmets located in jihadist-controlled areas.

Again, why should the working group waste its finite energies scrutinising these independent journalists when they are being scrutinised – and vilified – non-stop by journalists like Whitaker and by big-budget newspapers like the Guardian ?

In any case, if official western narratives truly withstand the working group’s scrutiny, then the claims and findings of these independent journalists will be discredited in the process. These two opposed narratives cannot be equally true, after all.

Whitaker: The two favourites, though, are Eva Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley — ’independent’ journalists who are frequent contributors to the Russian propaganda channel, RT. Bartlett and Beeley also have an enthusiastic following on ‘alternative’ and conspiracy theory websites though elsewhere they are widely dismissed as propagandists.

“Widely dismissed” by … yes, that’s right, Whitaker’s friends in the corporate media! More circular logic. Independent journalists like Bartlett and Beeley are on RT because Whitaker’s chums at British propaganda outlets – like the Guardian and BBC – do not give, and have never given, them a hearing. The Guardian even denied them a right of reply after its US-based technology writer Olivia Solon (whose resume does not mention that she was ever in Syria) was awarded a prominent slot in the paper to smear them as Kremlin propagandists, without addressing their arguments or evidence.

Whitaker: [Bartlett and Beeley’s] activities are part of the overall media battle regarding Syria and any ‘rigorous academic analysis’ of the coverage should be scrutinising their work rather than promoting it unquestioningly.

There is no “media battle”. That’s like talking of a “war” between Israel, one of the most powerful armies in the world, and the lightly armed Palestinian resistance group Hamas – something the western corporate media do all the time, of course.

Instead there is an unchallenged western media narrative on Syria, one in favour of more war, and more suffering, until what seems like an unrealisable goal of overthrowing Assad is achieved. On the other side are small oases of scepticism and critical thinking, mostly on the margins of social media, Whitaker wants snuffed out.

The working group’s job is not to help him in that task. It is to test whether or how much of the official western narrative is rooted in truth.

Returning to his “concerns” about RT, Whitaker concludes that the station’s key goal:

is to cast doubt on rational but unwelcome explanations by advancing multiple alternative ‘theories’ — ideas that may be based on nothing more than speculation or green-ink articles on obscure websites.

But it precisely isn’t such “green-ink” articles that chip away at the credibility of an official western consensus. It is the transparently authoritarian instincts of a political and media elite – and of supposedly “liberal” journalists like Whitaker and Monbiot – to silence all debate, all doubt, all counter-evidence.

Because at heart he is an authoritarian courtier, Whitaker would like us to believe that only crackpots and conspiracy theorists promote these counter-narratives. He would prefer that, in the silence he hopes to impose, readers will never be exposed to the experts who raise doubts about the official western narrative on Syria.

That is, the same silence that was imposed 15 years ago, when his former newspaper the Guardian and the rest of the western corporate media ignored and dismissed United Nations weapons experts like Scott Ritter and Hans Blix. Their warnings that Iraq’s supposed WMD really were non-existent and were being used as a pretext to wage a disastrous colonial war went unheard.

Let’s not allow Whitaker and like-minded bully-boys once again to silence such critical voices.

February 28, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Russia, Pakistan edge closer in new cold war conditions

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 22, 2018

Afghanistan, no doubt, was what brought Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif to Moscow on a ‘working visit’ on February 20. This was Asif’s second meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the past 5-month period. They last met in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA session in September.

The Russian Ministry took pains to highlight Asif’s visit. A ‘working visit’ cuts out protocol frills and gets straight to transacting business. Yet, Moscow made an exception and issued a glowing ‘curtain-raiser’ to hail Asif’s arrival. There must have been strong reasons to do so. The regional backdrop is indeed tumultuous. The new Cold War is slouching toward the Hindu Kush and Central Asian steppes and Pakistan’s geography is regaining the criticality in strategic terms reminiscent of the 1980s.

The Russian statements have become highly critical of the US regional strategies in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Moscow has concluded that the US is determined to keep an open-ended military presence in the region. On the other hand, Russia is being kept at arm’s length from the Afghan problem. Instead, Washington is directly engaging the Central Asian states, bypassing Russia, including at the military level. Clearly, Washington is working hard to undermine Moscow’s leadership role in the region in the fight against terrorism and to challenge Russia’s notion of being the provider of security to the former Soviet republics neighboring Afghanistan.

Given the experience in Syria (where the US is covertly encouraging the ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates to make the going tough for the Russians and to create new facts on the ground that weaken Syria’s unity), Moscow is increasingly wary of US intentions vis-à-vis the ISIS in Afghanistan. To be sure, the growing presence of ISIS in the northern and eastern regions of Afghanistan facing the Central Asian region deeply worries Russia. Moscow has repeatedly hinted that the US could be facilitating the transfer of ISIS fighters from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan. But the Americans move on, ignoring the Russian barbs. The pattern in Syria is repeating.

Lavrov brought up the US-ISIS nexus in the discussions with Asif. The Russian side has floated the idea that the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization can be put to use “to develop practical measures to curtail ISIS influence in Afghanistan and prevent it from spreading to Central Asia.”

From Lavrov’s remarks following the talks with Asif, it appears that the SCO summit, which is scheduled to be held in Qingdao (China) in July, may make some moves/initiatives on the Afghan problem. Last year Russia injected a new lease of life into the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group. China will be hosting the next meeting of the Contact Group. The fact is that with the admission of Pakistan and India as full members, SCO now represents all key neighbors of Afghanistan.

At the media briefing after the talks with Asif, Lavrov outlined that Russia and Pakistan have common ground in regard of the Afghan situation. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry readout stated that the two ministers “agreed to closely coordinate in all Afghanistan-related processes for a regional solution of the Afghan conflict.”

Indeed, the articulations from both sides regarding the talks in Moscow on Tuesday suggest that Russia and Pakistan intend to work closely together to coordinate their approaches to the Afghan situation. Russia has promised to step up military support for Pakistan’s counter-terrorist operations. Significantly, as per a decision taken earlier, a new commission on military-technical cooperation between the two countries is being set up. Of course, this is happening at a time when the Pakistani military is preparing to face any cuts in US military aid.

To be sure, the talks in Moscow took place in the new cold war conditions. The critical difference today, compared to the eighties, would be that, as the Russian Foreign Ministry curtain-raiser put it,

  • “Today, Pakistan has become an important foreign policy partner of Russia. Both countries cooperate productively at international organisations, in particular at the UN and its agencies. Cooperation between Moscow and Islamabad is based on coinciding or similar positions on most issues facing the international community, including terrorism and religious extremism.”
  • “Opportunities for joint work expanded considerably after Pakistan joined the SCO as a fully-fledged member in June 2017…”
  • “The fight against terrorism is a key area of cooperation… The situation in Afghanistan arouses common concern. We are particularly concerned about the growing influence of the ISIS terrorist group in Afghanistan and its efforts to consolidate its positions in the country’s north and east. We advocate a regional approach towards resolving the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. We expect participants in the Moscow format of consultations on the Afghan issue and the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group to work productively.”

The pronounced convergence over Afghanistan can be expected to create synergy for an all-round expansion and deepening of the Russia-Pakistan relationship. Lavrov gave an upbeat account of the relationship as it stands today. Russia’s interest lies in boosting Pakistan’s grit and capacity to withstand US pressure. Interestingly, Lavrov and Asif also discussed Syria where the US has lately switched to an offensive mode against Russia. (See my blog US-Russia rivalry surges in Syria.) Again, Asif voiced Pakistan’s opposition to the sanctions against Russia.

February 21, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

US-Russia rivalry surges in Syria

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 20, 2018

A major speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday at an international conference on the Middle East turned into the strongest Russian denunciation to date of the shift in the US policies under the Trump administration towards Syria, where the Pentagon now intends to keep a military presence indefinitely. (here and here)

The overall impression Lavrov conveyed is three-fold. One, in immediate terms, a spurt in fighting in Syria can be expected, as the US attempts to create new facts on the ground by using local proxies — Kurdish militia plus al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS fighters — as well as to push back at Russia, Iran and the Syrian government.

Two, Russia concludes that the shift in the overall US strategy aims at balkanizing Syria. (Later on Monday, while speaking to the media in Moscow, Lavrov also drew attention to the presence of mercenaries and the Special Forces of France and Britain in northeastern Syria working in league with the US forces in implementing the American agenda to create zones of influence.)

Three, the conversation between Moscow and Washington regarding Syria is at a dead end. Lavrov specifically warned Washington that it is “playing with fire” in Syria, implying that the US strategy will run into resistance.

Two other features of the Moscow conference in Moscow are that, first, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif took part in it, and, second, the event also talked up a Russian mediatory role to calm down the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Zarif told Lavrov at a meeting in Moscow on Monday that Tehran seeks Russia’s help in resolving the intra-regional rifts in the Muslim Middle East. Later, Zarif posted on his official Tweeter account: “With Russia’s sober strategic perspective and its growing influence in West Asia, it can play an instrumental role to help a paradigm shift in the Persian Gulf to one based on dialogue and inclusion.”

The conference was attended by non-official delegates from several Middle East countries, including Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, King Abdullah of Jordan had paid a ‘working visit’ to Moscow on February 15 and met Putin. On the previous day, Lavrov had spoken to his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Hassan Shoukry on phone. Yesterday, Putin also telephoned Turkish President Recep Erdogan. The focus was on Syria in all these exchanges.

The Russian strategy will be to persuade important regional states who have been the US’ key regional allies – Saudi Arabia and Jordan, in particular – not to rejoin the conflict in Syria by fueling a new round of fighting. If the approach succeeds, the US may find itself at a disadvantage in lacking regional support for pressing ahead with the military track.

However, although Russia’s ties with Saudi Arabia have appreciably strengthened in the recent years, Moscow’s capacity to mediate a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement remains to be seen. Syria continues to be a major source of rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And, the irony is that, finally, the Trump administration is doing what Saudi Arabia had wanted the previous Obama administration to do by pushing upfront the ‘regime change’ agenda in Syria through coercive methods.

In the Saudi perception, Russia suffered a series of setbacks in Syria recently. Summing up the Syrian situation, Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of the influential Saudi establishment daily Asharq Al-Awsat wrote on Monday, “ Never before have all these flags, interests, dangers, armies, militias, internal divisions and regional and international clashes come together on its (Syria’s) territories. From the South to Idlib to Hmeimem to Afrin, Syria is like a powder keg. It is at the heart of a complex and vast geo-strategic conflict that is impossible to resolve with force and where losses and rewards will be difficult to predict… The regional and international circumstances do not appear ripe for… talks to happen. The Syrian tragedy is open to the most dangerous possibilities.”

The Saudi inclination will be to wait and watch which way the winds are blowing. On the other hand, the war in Yemen remains Saudi Arabia’s number one priority today and Riyadh seeks a Russian role in ending the war in Yemen by leveraging its influence with Iran.

February 20, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The US-ISIS Nexus in Afghanistan Becomes Hot Topic

By Melkulangara BHADRAKUMAR | Strategic Culture Foundation | 06.02.2018

Tehran has begun highlighting in loud decibel its hitherto-low key voice of disquiet that the United States is transferring the Islamic State* fighters from Syria and Iraq, where they have been defeated, to Afghanistan.

On January 30, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said: “The US goal of transferring the ISIL terrorists to Afghanistan is aimed at creating the justification for its continued deployment in the region and for buttressing the security of the Zionist regime.” Indeed, any statement at the level of the Supreme Leader invariably draws attention as signaling an authoritative policy directive based on careful decision taken in the light of relevant intelligence inputs.

The point is, three days before Khamenei spoke, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had an encounter with ISIS terrorists infiltrating Iran’s western province of Kermanshah from Iraq. By all accounts, it was a major encounter in which three IRGC personnel were killed, including an officer of the rank of major. According to the commander of the IRGC’s ground forces, Gen. Mohammad Pakpour, as many as sixteen ISIS terrorists were captured. Incidents of this nature are happening with increasing frequency along Iran’s borders and Iranian security agencies are busting large caches of explosives and arms smuggled across the border, but this is the first time such a big encounter took place.

Significantly, the senior foreign policy advisor to the parliament speaker, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, who is an influential voice in the Iranian diplomatic circuit, raised the issue of the US’ covert transfer of ISIS fighters to “northern Afghanistan” at a meeting with Jan Kubis, chairman of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq on January 28.

Kubis, a Slovak career diplomat, has previously served as UN special envoy to Tajikistan (during the transitional period following the civil war in the late 1990s), Secretary-General of the OSCE (1999-2005), EU’s special envoy to Central Asia (20015-2006) and, most recently, as UN Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (2011-2015). Abdollahian couldn’t have chosen better his interlocutor for making such a sensitive demarche. The message would have reached the intended quarters in no time.

Two days after that, Khamenei spoke. Given the above backdrop, it needs to be noted carefully that Iran has since listed the topic of US-ISIS nexus as a bilateral issue between Tehran and Kabul. On February 4, Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami made a phone call to his Afghan counterpart Tariq Shah Bahrami and warned that Washington is “implementing plots to transfer the ISIL terrorist group to Afghanistan.” General Hatami spoke on the lines of Khamenei’s remarks, and, importantly, warned against the US’ plans to increase its military deployment to Afghanistan. He underscored that security in Afghanistan is going to be possible only in harmony with the regional states and by pooling their resources to fight terrorism.

Gen. Hatami stopped just short of warning that Tehran may have to act to counter the perceived threat to its national security interests from Afghan soil. It is conceivable that his phone call to Kabul reflected the threat perceptions in Tehran following the interrogation of the 16 ISIS terrorists in the IRGC’s custody.

Iran has reason to feel perturbed that western Afghanistan is also witnessing a political vacuum lately similar to what has been happening in northern Afghanistan in the Amu Darya region during the past several weeks. The Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has destabilized the entire northern region bordering Central Asia by his abrupt dismissal of the governor of Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor in November. It is improbable that Ghani took such a precipitate step on his own volition. Atta is a powerful figure, popularly known as the ‘King of the North’. Noor, by the way, is also the head of the Jamiat-i-Islami and happens to be an aspirant to contest the presidential election in 2019.

No doubt, the US concurred with Noor’s removal – if not outright sought it. Curiously, the Trump administration has since voiced support for Ghani’s move. The US Vice-President Mike Pence made two phone calls to Ghani in January to express solidarity. On January 24, the White House took an extraordinary step to issue a statement that it “has been closely following the current dispute” and demanding a quick resolution to the Ghani-Noor standoff, virtually forewarning the latter to capitulate. But Noor hit back on February 3, naming the Kabul regime as puppets of the Americans and stoking the fires of Afghan nationalism.

Of course, the prolonged power vacuum in Balkh has created favorable conditions for the ISIS terrorists to establish presence in northern Afghanistan. Similarly, Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek strongman, who has been a bulwark against terrorist groups in the northern provinces, is on enforced exile in Turkey. The US, which controls Afghan air space, twice refused permission to his aircraft to land. (Interestingly, Turkish President Recep Erdogan since had a one-on-one with Dostum in Ankara.)

The heart of the matter is that a situation similar to Balkh is also on cards in the western province of Farah bordering Iran, where the provincial governor Mohammad Aref Shah Jahan abruptly “resigned” from the post ten days ago, citing as reasons “the worsening security situation in Farah” and “interference in my responsibilities from various individuals.” From all appearances, he decided to quit under duress. (In recent months, US made fresh deployments to Farah.)

What becomes an enigma wrapped in mystery is that Jahan, a Pashtun, and Noor (a Tajik) also happen to enjoy reputation as staunch Afghan nationalists. The conclusion becomes unavoidable that for reasons of its own, Washington desires ‘regime change’ in these two crucially important border provinces (Balkh and Farah), which border Central Asia and Iran respectively. Suffice to say, Tehran would wonder, “Who stands to gain?” Of course, it can only be the ISIS.

February 6, 2018 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

The Top 10 Outrageous Things About ISIS the Western Mainstream Media Ignores

By Robert BRIDGE | Strategic Culture Foundation | 31.01.2018

Last week, the US said it was working to create “alternative government authorities” on Syrian territory. This latest move, aside from demonstrating once again that the US has no respect for Syria’s territorial integrity, indicates we may be seeing more from that group of mercenaries known as Islamic State.

Thus, it seems to be an appropriate time to reflect upon a set of very strange circumstances that led to the rise of this loathsome terrorist group. Here are the top 10 reasons, in no particular order, as to why we should be very suspicious about this group.

10. Convenient Timing

In late August 2013, the United States was on the verge of initiating a massive attack on the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad over a deadly chemical attack that had occurred in the town of Ghouta just days earlier. Although it would have made no sense for Assad to have resorted to such dirty tactics, Washington had found its casus belli. It should be noted that at this time the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was largely unknown. That would change soon enough.

Meanwhile, a terrible thing happened on the way to this jolly little war. UK Prime Minister David Cameron suffered a stunning defeat in the House of Commons, voting down his effort to join the Americans in Syria. Apparently the British were America’s obedient poodle no longer.

The setback had an apparent sobering effect on Barack Obama, who suddenly – in a feigned nod to democratic procedure and all that – called for Congress to decide whether or not to use military force against Syrian. Tellingly, that vote never materialized.

What did materialize, however, and with alarming speed and viciousness, was a terrorist group that rose up like a phoenix from the ashes of Iraq known as Islamic State (ISIS), with evil designs to create an Islamic caliphate across a wide swath of Iraq and Syria.

In other words, the perfect casus belli for the US in Syria that would require no need for a vote from Congress.

9. Journalist Killings

As if to draw gratuitous attention to itself more than anything else, the Sunni terrorist group ISIS, under the leadership of one Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, began to grab world headlines not by its battlefield exploits, but by carrying out videotaped executions of Western journalists, as well as destroying cultural heritage sites. I still can’t help wondering: Why didn’t the group just let its fighting skills speak for itself? Why the apparent need for such outrageous publicity stunts? Was this compensation for something the group was desperately lacking?

In any case, starting in August 2014, almost one year to the day that Obama was forced to put the brakes on his Syrian attack, the beheadings began in earnest.

On August 19, US journalist James Foley, seen kneeling on the ground in some undetermined location next to his apparent executioner, ‘Jihadi John,’ reads out a short statement before being beheaded by his captor. However, Islamic State spared its audience the gore by not showing the moment of the actual beheading; the video only shows a head lying on a body following the purported act.

Even Western mainstream publications admitted that something didn’t seem quite right.

Under the headline, ‘Foley murder video may have been staged’ the Telegraph, a reputable British newspaper, interviewed forensic experts who called into question the moment in the video when Foley is allegedly being beheaded by his captor.

“After enhancements, the knife can be seen to be drawn across the upper neck at least six times, with no blood evidence to the point the picture fades to black,” the expert said.

Another expert who examined the video for the newspaper said: “I think it has been staged. My feeling is that the execution may have happened after the camera was stopped.”

Incredibly, every subsequent beheading video put out by Islamic State attracted the same amount of scepticism – not just from alternative websites, who were also noticing the many irregularities contained in the videos, but from mainstream media news sources.

Following the release of the video purported to show the beheading of Steve Sotloff, a journalist who worked with the Jerusalem Post, The Australian newspaper reported that “the apparent beheading on camera of a second US hostage by a man with a British accent was again staged, according to forensic analysis.”

Then there was the video of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians, dressed in impeccably clean orange jumpsuits, being led along a Libyan beach by black-clad members of ISIS, all of whom appear to be members of some NBA basketball team.

Veryan Khan, editorial director of the Florida-based Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, told Fox News that “the speaker, “Jihad Joseph” is much larger than the sea in both the close up and wide shots, and his head is bizarrely out of proportion, meaning he was filmed indoors and the sea added behind him… In addition, the jihadists featured in the film look to be more than 7 feet tall, towering as much as two feet above their victims…”

In July 2015, yet another strange report emerged, CyberBerkut, a Ukrainian group of hackers, said it hacked John McCain’s laptop while he was on an official visit to Kiev around the first week of June 2015. In a report by TechWorm, what they purported to find was a fully staged production of an ISIS execution video, with an actor portraying an executioner who is holding a knife in preparation to behead the prisoner.

The authenticity of this video has not been independently verified.

None of this proves that the individuals in all of the ISIS beheading videos did not go on to meet some grisly fate. However, it seems worth noting that so many forensic experts have spoken out on the “staged” nature of these videos, and that the actual moment of execution during these film productions is never actually shown. Why would such a barbarous group of villains like ISIS need to script and censor their videos?

8. ISIS freedom of movement

Despite employing state-of-the-art fighter jets, like the F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Warthog, the US campaign to destroy Islamic State was largely an exercise in utter futility. There is no other way to explain it. In June 2014, a convoy of hundreds of ISIS fighters drove through 200 km of the Syro-Arabian Desert in fresh-off-the-lot Toyota pickup trucks on the way to Syria. For any modern military, eliminating such a target would have been the equivalent of a lazy afternoon at the shooting range, or shooting fish in a barrel. The fact that these terrorists made it to Syria unmolested tells us everything we need to know about America’s real agenda.

“With state of the art jet fighter aircraft … it would have been – from a military standpoint – ‘a piece of cake’, a rapid and expedient surgical operation, which would have decimated the Islamic State convoys in a matter of hours,” Michel Chossudovsky wrote in Global Research.

“Instead what we have witnessed is an ongoing drawn out six months of relentless air raids and bombings, and the terrorist enemy is apparently still intact.”

“And we are led to believe that the Islamic State cannot be defeated by a powerful US led military coalition of 19 countries,” he added.

The only reasonable conclusion to make from all of this is that the air campaign was not designed to eliminate Islamic State.

7. SITE Security Group

In 2002, Rita Katz and Josh Devon founded Search for International Terrorist Entities Institute (SITE), which, according to its website, is “the world’s leading non-governmental counterterrorism organization specializing in tracking and analyzing online activity of the global extremist community.”

In 2006, in a New Yorker article entitled, “Private Jihad: How Rita Katz got into the spying business,” it was mentioned how SITE spoke directly with jihadists via various message boards:

“Katz has a testy relationship with the government, sometimes acting as a consultant and sometimes as an antagonist. About a year ago, a SITE staffer, under an alias, managed to join an exclusive jihadist message board that, among other things, served as a debarkation point for many would-be suicide bombers.

For months, the staffer pretended to be one of the jihadis, joining in chats and watching as other members posted the chilling messages known as “wills,” the final sign-offs before martyrdom. The staffer also passed along technical advice on how to keep the message board going.

When Katz called officials in Washington, she was reportedly met with resistance: ‘Oh, Rita, I’m not sure you should even be communicating with them—you might be providing material support!,” they told her.

In an interview with CNN, Katz admitted that her group was able to “beat [ISIS] with a release” of a video before it had even been disseminated.

In 2007, SITE came under fire for obtaining an alleged Bin Laden video a month prior to its formal release.

Some have raised questions as to how this small group is able to do what the government has not been able to: track ISIS and other terrorist groups with uncanny efficiency.

6. Toyota Trucks

Watching mainstream media reports detail the adventures of Islamic State as they speed carefree across wide-open desert, beards blowing in the wind, one would be forgiven for thinking they were watching a Toyota commercial.

The Times of Israel went so far as to ridicule the leaders of the West for expressing such fear over these militants in their Toyotas like hell raising teenagers speeding around the parking lot of McDonald’s on a Friday night to impress their friends.

“It’s almost unbelievable,” Avi Issacharoff wrote. “They used to say in the IDF that ‘the man in the tank will win,’ justifying the preference for armor over infantry. Now we hear that, from a US source no less, ‘the man in the Toyota’ will defeat the West.”

Somehow we are expected to believe that these shiny new trucks, along with over 2,000 Humvee vehicles, fell into the terrorists’ control by winning some battles in Iraq, like in Mosul and Palmyra. That absurd explanation falls very wide of the mark and needs far more inquiry.

5. Drone attack on Russia

On New Year’s Eve and on January 6, 2018, Russia’s Khmeimim Airbase in Syria was attacked. The first incident involved militants armed with mortars that resulted in the death of two Russian soldiers and damage to several aircraft. The second attack involved a swarm of 13 drones armed with bomblets, which Russian forces countered by means of electronic warfare and air-defense systems. Around half of the drones were electronically hijacked by Russian forces, while the others were shot down without incident. Nevertheless, the attack required a high level of expertise from a “technologically advanced country,” according to Russia.

The United States countered the claim, suggesting that such technology can be easily purchased. Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Rankin-Galloway said the “devices and technologies can easily be obtained in the open market.”

Meanwhile, however, President Putin never mentioned Islamic State when he discussed the incident with the media.

“Those aircraft were only camouflaged – I want to emphasize this – to look like handicraft production. In fact, it is quite obvious that there were elements of high-tech nature there,” the Russian leader said.

So are we expected to believe that Islamic State terrorists were able to buy these UAV drones, or is it more realistic to believe, along with the Russians, that some outside major power was needed to provide the know-how?

4. Never attacked mainland Israel

In March 2016, the warriors of Islamic State picked up their pens in an effort to explain away a question that has been perplexing many observers: why don’t they ever attack Israel?

In the article, translated by a group called MEMRI, the group said it holds to the position that the Palestinian cause does not take precedence over any other jihadi struggle.

“If we look at the reality of the world today, we will find that it is completely ruled by polytheism and its laws, except for the regions where Allah made it possible for the Islamic State to establish the religion…. Therefore, jihad in Palestine is equal to jihad elsewhere,” the article said.

“The apostate [tyrants] who rule the lands of Islam are graver infidels than [the Jews], and war against them takes precedence over war against the original infidels,” the article said, as reported in the Times of Israel.

Whatever the case may be, this seems to be the first time in modern history that a radical jihadist group has had no reason to quarrel with Israel.

3. Oil Export Business

After Islamic State managed to make it across the vast desert between Iraq and Syria without attracting so much as a damaged fender, it managed to do the unthinkable: it set up a very lucrative oil-export business practically overnight in the north of the country. And this was not some small-time operation.

According to one estimate, the motley crew of mercenaries was generating profits of more than £320million a year from oil exports, or about 40,000 barrels of crude every single day.

Are we really expected to believe that a 19-member military organization led by the United States was powerless to put this rag-tag operation out of business?

The reason why the story is so utterly preposterous is that Russia, in a matter of several days, was able to do what this multinational outfit could not do in over a year. In mid-November 2015, Russia had announced that it had destroyed in a matter of days some 500 fuel trucks – and there is plenty of videotape of the Russian attacks for the naysayers who doubt the Kremlin’s claim.

According to Russian General Staff spokesman Colonel General Andrey Kartapolov: “In just the first few days, our aviation has destroyed 500 fuel tanker trucks, which greatly reduced illegal oil export capabilities of the militants and, accordingly, their income from oil smuggling.”

2. Islamic State’s Israeli medical plan

In March 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported a rather stunning revelation that Israel was treating “Al-Qaeda fighters wounded in the Syria civil war.”

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Israel has provided medical assistance to nearly 2,000 Syrians.

The Wall Street Journal quoted “an Israeli military official” who said no questions were asked of the patients.

“We don’t ask who they are, we don’t do any screening,” the official said. “Once the treatment is done, we take them back to the border and they go on their way.”

Amos Yadlin, the former military intelligence chief, told the Journal that Hezbollah and Iran “are the major threat to Israel, much more than the radical Sunni Islamists, who are also an enemy.”

“Those Sunni elements who control some two-thirds to 90% of the border on the Golan aren’t attacking Israel. This gives you some basis to think that they understand who is their real enemy – maybe it isn’t Israel.”

The Jerusalem Post repeated a joke allegedly told by Syrian President Bashar Assad to Foreign Affairs, ‘How can you say that al-Qaida doesn’t have an air force? They have the Israeli air force… They are supporting the rebels in Syria. It is very clear.”

1. The Pentagon report that speak volumes

In May 2015, a declassified Pentagon document provided shocking evidence that the US-led campaign in Syria not only contributed directly to the rise of the Islamic State (IS), but that Washington was perfectly satisfied with such an outcome.

The US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report, obtained by Judicial Watch, dated August 2012, states that the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” comprise “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq].”

Furthermore, it states, these forces are being supported by a Western-led coalition – “The West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition.”

It went on to predict that the takeover of Hasaka and Deir Ezzor would possibly create a militant Islamist political entity in eastern Syria:

“If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasak and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

According to Nafeed Ahmez from Middle East Eye, “This extraordinary passage confirms that at least three years ago, the Pentagon anticipated the rise of a ‘Salafist Principality’ as a direct consequence of its Syria strategy – and that the ‘supporting powers’ behind the rebels ‘wanted’ this outcome ‘to isolate the Syrian regime,’ and weaken Shiite influence via Iraq and Iran.”

Let that sink in for a moment. The US-backed coalition, which seemed so inexplicably lacklustre in its fight against Islamic State, to the point where this group was actually able to open an oil export business, not to mention drive its Toyota trucks across wide-open desert unmolested, was more content to let a band of terrorists occupy Syria than the legitimate government in Damascus.

It seems safe to say, based on the findings of this incredible document, that such a rationale is exactly what guided Washington’s hand not only in Syria, but in other regime-change war zones, like Iraq and Libya. Democracy building was not the desired result in these fated places, but absolute chaos.

January 31, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, False Flag Terrorism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 1 Comment

Destroying Syria

Why does Washington hate Bashar al-Assad?

By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review • January 23, 2018

The Donald Trump administration is planning to install a 30,000 strong armed “security force” in northern Syria along the borders with Turkey and Iraq. This presumably will tie together and support the remaining rag-tags of allegedly pro-democracy rebels and will fit in with existing and proposed U.S. bases. The maneuver is part of a broader plan to restructure Syria to suit the usual crop of neocon geniuses in Washington that have slithered their way back into the White House and National Security Council, to include renewed demands that the country’s President Bashar al-Assad “must go,” reiterated by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last Wednesday. He said “But let us be clear: The United States will maintain a military presence in Syria, focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge.” Tillerson also claimed that remaining in Syria would prevent Iran from “reinforcing” its position inside Syria and would enable the eventual ouster of al-Assad, but he has also denied that Washington was creating a border force at all, yet another indication of the dysfunction in the White House.

A plan pulled together in Washington by people who should know better but seemingly don’t is hardly a blueprint for success, particularly as there is no path to anything approximating “victory” and no exit strategy. The Syrians have not been asked if they approve of an arrangement that will be put in place in their sovereign territory and the Turks have already bombed targets and sent troops and allied militias into the Afrin region, also a U.S. supported Kurdish enclave on the border. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indicated clearly that Ankara will disrupt any U.S. devised border arrangement. From the Turkish point of view the border security force, which reportedly will largely consist of Kurdish militiamen, will inevitably work in cooperation with the Kurdish terrorist group PKK which is active on the Turkish side of the border, in seeking to create an autonomous Kurdish state, which Turkey reasonably enough regards as an existential threat.

And then there is one other little complication, which is that the United States presence in Syria is completely illegal both under international law and under the U.S. government’s War Powers Act. Syria is a sovereign state with a recognized government and there is no U.N. or Congressional mandate that permits Washington to station its soldiers, Marines and airmen within the country’s borders. The argument that the recent Authorizations to Use Military Force (AUMF) permitted the activity because groups linked to al-Qaeda were active there and the local government was unable to expel them is only thinly credible as the U.S. has also attacked Syrian Army forces and the militiamen linked to Syria’s ally Iran. That constitutes a war crime.

Trump can under the War Powers Act take military action to counter an imminent threat, which was never the case from Syria in any event, but after 60 days he has to cease or desist or go to Congress for authorization up to and possibly including a declaration of war. The military offensive against Syria began under President Barack Obama and it is far beyond that two-month window already, so egregiously in violation that some Congressmen are actually beginning to take notice. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia has demanded that no military initiatives in Syria be undertaken without a Senate vote. He said on Thursday that“I am deeply alarmed that yet again, the Trump administration continues to raise the risk of unnecessary war, disconnected from any firm policy objectives and core national security interests. To be clear, neither the 2001 or 2002 AUMFs provide authority to target Assad or Iranian proxies in Syria, and it is unacceptable for this action to be taken absent a vote and approval of Congress.”

The animus against Syria runs deep, to include questionable claims from generally hostile sources that al-Assad has deliberately massacred hundreds of thousands of his own people as well as dubious assertations about the use of chemical weapons that led to a U.S. cruise missile attack on a Syrian airbase in Shayrat. A perfect example of how brain dead the western media is over the issue was provided by last week’s article by David Brunnstrom of Reuters on the Tillerson speech, where he wrote “U.S. forces in Syria have already faced direct threats from Syrian and Iranian-backed forces, leading to the shoot-down of Iranian drones and a Syrian jet last year, as well as to tensions with Russia.” The uninformed reader would assume that Americans were the victims of an attack and aggression by Moscow whereas the reality is quite different. Iran and Russia are allies of the legitimate Syrian government that are in the country by invitation to help in its fight against groups that everyone acknowledges to be terrorists. The United States is there illegally and is as often as not using its proxies to fight the Syrian Army.

Syria-phobia goes back to the George W. Bush Administration in December 2003, when Congress passed the Syria Accountability Act, House Resolution 1828. Syria at that time was already in the cross-hairs of two principal American so-called allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Both were actively working to destabilize the regime, though for different reasons. The Saudis were fearful of Iranian influence over Damascus but also had a religious agenda in that the secular Syrian regime was protective of religious minorities and was itself an offshoot of Shi’a Islam referred to as Alawites. The Saudis considered them to be heretics.

The Israelis for their part were enamored of the Yinon Plan of 1982 and the Clean Break proposals made in 1996 by a team of Jewish American neocons. Their intention was to transform most of Israel’s neighboring Arab states into warring tribes and ethnicities so they would no longer be a threat. Israeli leaders have stated openly that they would prefer continued chaos in Syria, which remains a prime target. Israel is, in fact, currently bombing Syrian Army positions, most recently near Damascus, while also supporting the ISIS and al-Nusra Front remnants.

The Syrian Accountability Act does indeed read at times like the completely bogus indictment of Saddam Hussein that had led to the invasion of Iraq earlier in 2003. It cites development of weapons of mass destruction and missiles, but its main focus is related to the alleged support of terrorist groups by Damascus. It “Declares the sense of Congress that the Government of Syria should immediately and unconditionally halt support for terrorism, permanently and openly declare its total renunciation of all forms of terrorism, and close all terrorist offices and facilities in Syria, including the offices of Hamas, Hizballah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.”

One might note that the groups cited by name are not identified as being a threat to the United States. Rather, they are organizations hostile to Israel, which suggests that the motivation for the bill was the usual dominant pro-Israeli sentiment in Congress. The bill’s sponsor was Eliot Engel of New York, a passionately pro-Israeli legislator.

Be that as it may, the drive to “get” Syria has remained a constant in American Foreign Policy to this day. When the U.S. still had an Embassy in Damascus, in December 2010 President Barack Obama maladroitly sent as Ambassador Robert Ford. Ford actively supported the large demonstrations by anti-regime Syrians inspired by the Arab Spring who were opposed to the al-Assad government and he might even have openly advocated an armed uprising, a bizarre interpretation of what Ambassadors are supposed to do in a foreign country. He once stated absurdly that if the U.S. had armed opponents of the regime, al-Qaeda groups would have been “unable to compete.” Ford was recalled a year later, after being pelted by tomatoes and eggs, over concerns that his remaining in country might not be safe, but the damage had been done and normal diplomatic relations between Damascus and Washington have never been restored.

The desire to bring about regime change in Damascus gathered considerable steam in 2011. Harsh government efforts to repress the demonstrations that did take place inevitably led to violence in both directions and the United States, Saudis and the Gulf States subsequently began to arm the rebels and support the formation of the Free Syrian Army, which Washington assured the American public consisted of only good people who wanted democracy and fundamental rights. To no one’s surprise many of the fledgling democrats accepted U.S. training and weapons before defecting to the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front or to ISIS.

Currently, the reconstruction of Syria is proceeding. The Syrian Arab Army is wiping out the last few enclaves controlled by ISIS in Idlib Province and the so-called Syrian Civil War will soon be over but for the mopping up. Many internal refugees have returned to their homes after the government reasserted control and also thousands who fled overseas have reportedly come back. Note that they are returning to areas where the al-Assad government is firmly in charge, perhaps suggesting that, while there were legitimate grievances among the Syrian people, the propaganda insisting that most Syrians were opposed to the regime was grossly overstated. There is considerable evidence that Bashar al-Assad is actually supported by a large majority of the Syrian people, even among those who would welcome more democracy, because they know the alternative to him is chaos.

One would like to think that Syria might again be Syria but Washington is baying for blood and clearly would like to see a solution that involves a fragmentation of the state enabling containment and rollback of Iranian influence there while also satisfying both its clients Israel and the Saudis as well as creating a possible mini-state for the Kurds. The destruction of Syria and the Syrian people will just be regarded as collateral damage while building a new Middle East. Hopefully the Syrians, backed by Iran, Russia and China will prevent that from happening and as the U.S. did not directly engage in much of the hard fighting that destroyed ISIS, it thankfully has little leverage over what comes next.

Whether it is Riyadh or Tel Aviv leading Washington by the nose is somehow irrelevant as the blame for what is taking place is squarely on the White House. The United States has no coherent policy, nor any actual national interest in remaining in Syria, but the strange political alignments that appear to be playing out in and around the Oval Office have generated a desire to destroy a country and people that in no way threaten the U.S. Someone should remind the president that similar scenarios did not turn out very well in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. No one should expect that Syria will be any different.

January 23, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Monbiot Is a Hypocrite and a Bully

By Jonathan Cook | Dissident Voice | January 15, 2018

It is time for George Monbiot’s legion of supporters to call him out. Not only is he a hypocrite, but he is becoming an increasingly dangerous one.

Turning a blind eye to his behaviour, or worse excusing it, as too often happens, has only encouraged him to intensify his attacks on dissident writers, those who – whether right or wrong on any specific issue – are slowly helping us all to develop more critical perspectives on western foreign policy goals than has ever been possible before.

I do not lightly use such strong language against Monbiot, someone I once admired. But his column this week drips with hypocrisy as he accuses the right wing media of being the real villains when it comes to “no-platforming”. Monbiot writes:

But perhaps the real discomfort is that the worst no-platforming of all takes place within our newspapers. In the publications most obsessed with student silliness, there is no platform for socialism, no platform for environmentalism, no platform for those who might offend the interests of the proprietors. …

I believe that a healthy media organisation, like a healthy university, should admit a diversity of opinion. I want the other newspapers to keep publishing views with which I fiercely disagree. But they – and we – should also seek opposing views and publish them too, however uncomfortable this might be.

What free speech advocate would disagree with that? Except it is Monbiot himself who has been using his prominent platforms, at the Guardian and on social media, to discredit critical thinkers on the left – not with reasoned arguments, but by impugning their integrity.

Denied a platform

It started with his unsubstantiated claim that scholars like Noam Chomsky and the late Ed Herman, as well as the acclaimed journalist John Pilger, were “genocide deniers and belittlers”. It now focuses on childish insinuations that those who question the corporate media’s simplistic narrative on Syria are Assad apologists or in Vladimir Putin’s pay.

But worse than this, Monbiot is also conspiring – either actively or through his silence – to deny critics of his and the Guardian’s position on Syria the chance to set out their evidence in its pages.

The Guardian’s anti-democratic stance does not surprise me, as someone who worked there for many years. I found myself repeatedly no-platformed by the paper – even while on its staff – after I started taking an interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict and writing about the discomforting issue of what a Jewish state entails. My treatment is far from unique.

Now the paper is denying a platform to those who question simplistic and self-serving western narratives on Syria. And Monbiot is backing his employer to the hilt, even as he professes his commitment to the publication of views he fiercely disagrees with. That’s the dictionary definition of hypocrisy.

‘Selfless’ White Helmets?

The latest installment of the Guardian and Monbiot’s long-running battle to silence Syria dissidents arrived last month when Olivia Solon, the paper’s technology writer living in San Francisco, developed a sudden and unexpected expertise in a controversial Syrian group called the White Helmets.

In the western corporate media narrative, the White Helmets are a group of dedicated and selfless rescue workers. They are supposedly the humanitarians on whose behalf a western intervention in Syria would have been justified – before, that is, Syrian leader Bashar Assad queered their pitch by inviting in Russia.

However, there are problems with the White Helmets. They operate only in rebel – read: mainly al-Qaeda and ISIS-held – areas of Syria, and plenty of evidence shows that they are funded by the UK and US to advance both countries’ far-from-humanitarian policy objectives in Syria.

There are also strong indications that members of the White Helmets have been involved in war crimes, and that they have staged rescue operations as a part of a propaganda offensive designed to assist Islamic extremists trying to oust Assad. (Solon discounts this last claim. In doing so, she ignores several examples of such behaviour, concentrating instead on an improbable “mannequin challenge”, when the White Helmets supposedly froze their emergency operations, in the midst of rescue efforts, apparently as part of a peculiar publicity campaign.)

Guardian hatchet job

Whatever side one takes in this debate, one would imagine that Monbiot should have a clear agenda in support of hearing evidence from all sides. One might also imagine that he would want to distance himself from Solon’s efforts to tie criticism of the White Helmets to a supposed “fake news” crisis and paint those critical of the group as Putin-bots. According to Solon:

The way the Russian propaganda machine has targeted the White Helmets is a neat case study in the prevailing information wars. It exposes just how rumours, conspiracy theories and half-truths bubble to the top of YouTube, Google and Twitter search algorithms.

Those are the same algorithms that have been changed in recent months to make sure that prominent leftist websites are increasingly difficult to find on internet searches and their writers’ views effectively disappeared.

Yet Monbiot has been using social media to promote Solon’s cheerleading of the White Helmets and her hatchet job against on-the-ground journalists who have taken a far more critical view of the group.

As set out by Prof Tim Hayward, the Guardian’s response to criticism of Solon’s piece has been typical. The comments section below the article was hastily closed after many criticisms were voiced by readers. The journalists who were singled out for attack by Solon were denied a right of reply. A group of concerned academics led by Hayward who submitted their own article, which detailed publicly available evidence to counter Solon’s simplistic account of the White Helmets, were ignored. Meanwhile, the Guardian’s editors and the reader’s editor have ignored all efforts by these parties to contact them.

Given his claim to be an uncompromising defender of free speech and a fierce advocate of providing platforms to those who can back up their arguments with evidence, however discomforting, one might have assumed that Monbiot would at the very least have lobbied on behalf of Hayward and his fellow scholars. But not a bit of it. Yet again he has joined the dogs of the corporate media baying for blood. Instead he turned to Twitter to claim Hayward and Piers Robinson, an expert on propaganda, had “disgraced” themselves.

Undermining climate concerns

The many tens of thousands of leftists who defend Monbiot, or turn a blind eye to his hypocrisy, largely do so because of his record on the environment. But in practice they are enabling not only his increasingly overt incitement against critical thinkers, but also undermining the very cause his supporters believe he champions.

Climate breakdown is a global concern. Rewilding, bike-riding, protecting bees and polar bears, and developing new sustainable technologies are all vitally important. But such actions will amount to little if we fail to turn a highly sceptical eye on the activities of a western military-industrial complex ravaging the planet’s poorest regions.

These war industries fill their coffers by using weapons indiscriminately on “enemy” populations, spawning new and fiercer enemies – while often propping them up too – to generate endless wars. The consequences include massive displacements of these populations who then destabilise other regions, spreading the effect and creating new opportunities for the arms manufacturers, homeland security industries, and the financial industries that feed off them.

A true environmentalist has to look as critically at western policies in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela and many other areas of the globe as he does at UK policy in the Welsh hills and the Lake District.

All indications are that Monbiot lacks the experience, knowledge and skills to unravel the deceptions being perpetrated in the west’s proxy and not-so-proxy wars overseas. That is fair enough. What is not reasonable is that he should use his platforms to smear precisely those who can speak with a degree of authority and independence – and then conspire in denying them a platform to respond. That is the behaviour not only of a hypocrite, but of a bully too.

January 16, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Environmentalism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , | 1 Comment

US, Israel step up hybrid war in Syria

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | January 9, 2018

The Russian airbase in Syria, Hmeimim, and the naval base at Tartus came under simultaneous drone attack on Saturday. The advanced Russian air defence system thwarted the attack. A wave of 13 drones was involved, and, interestingly, three of them were brought down intact.

After forty-eight hours of careful analysis of the incident, the Russian Defence Ministry in Moscow came out with a statement on Monday:

  • During the hours of darkness Russian air defense facilities made clear 13 remoted unknown small-sized air targets approaching the Russian military assets. Ten combat UAVs were approaching Russia’s Hmeymim air base and three more — the logistics center of Tartus.
  • Engineering solutions used by terrorists when attacking Russian facilities in Syria could have been received only from a country with high technological potential on providing satellite navigation and distant control of firing competently assembled self-made explosive devices in appointed place. (TASS )

The countries with such “high technological potential” and capability for “Satellite navigation and distant control” which are involved in the proxy war in Syria are just two in number – United States and Israel. Take your pick. To my mind, it is improbable that Israel, despite its bravado, would dare to attack Russia.

In sum, there was a spiteful American attack on Russian “assets” on the Christmas Day of the Russian Orthodox Church. The statement in Moscow was made after evaluation of the 3 drones that have been captured. Its fairly explicit tone is meant for the folks in Pentagon. To be sure, Pentagon suo moto came out with a pre-emptive statement deflecting the blame to Syrian rebels. That is an act of plausible deniability, since there are rebel groups operating in northern Syria. But they are al-Qaeda affiliates, who are American and Israeli proxies. The RT has a tongue-in-cheek rejoinder, here, to the Pentagon disclaimer.

Why is the US contesting the Russian bases in Syria? The point is, these Russian bases are located in Latakia province along the Mediterranean coast. And the US military objective is to gain access to the Mediterranean coast for the Kurdistan enclave it is creating in Syria without which the enclave will be landlocked and dependent critically on supply routes via Turkey or Iraq, apart from being economically unviable (although it is an oil-rich region of Syria.)

The Saudi establishment daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Monday that the Trump administration is planning to grant diplomatic recognition to the Kurdistan enclave in northern Syria (which is of the size of Lebanon.) The idea is to create a permanent foothold for the US and Israel in a strategic, economically self-sufficient independent Kurdistan where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Syria meet, and which may eventually reach Iran’s western border with northern Iraq.

But the US-Israeli strategy will remain a pipedream if the Kurdistsn is land-locked and continues to be challenged by Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Hence the criticality of creating an access route to the Mediterranean via Latakia province.

Russia and Turkey understand the US intentions perfectly well. That explains their latest move to clear the al-Qaeda affiliate groups that are ensconced in the Idlib province adjacent to Latakia. The Syrian government forces and its allied militia with Russian air support are advancing on Idlib in an operation that began last week. Idlib is a fairly big province and some protracted fighting is needed to vanquish these al-Qaeda groups. On Sunday, Syrian government forces captured a strategic town, Sinjar, which brings them within 20 kilometers of the sprawling air base at Abu Zuhour in Idlib. By the way, the highway connecting Damascus and Aleppo also passes through eastern Idlib.

Turkey is cooperating with Russia in clearing Idlib of the al-Qaeda groups. (Idlib borders Turkey.) Indeed, Turkey is staunchly opposed to the US efforts to create a Kurdistan in northern Syria. President Recep Erdogan openly threatened last weekend that Washington will “never be able to turn northern Syria into a terror corridor,” vowing to “hit them (US) very hard. They should know that we are determined on this. Areas that they consider as part of the terror corridor could turn out to be their graves.”

Conceivably, the recent attempts by the US and Israel to stir up turmoil within Iran is linked to all this. The US-Israeli game plan is to get Iran bogged down in internal issues. The Syrian and Iraqi governments are dependent on Iran and Hezbollah to do the heavy lifting in the war against the US-backed al-Qaeda and ISIS groups.

Tehran understands the US-Israeli strategy. The Iranian regime is highly experienced in defeating the US and Israel covert operations. The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei understands that the Syrian conflict is also an existential battle for Iran. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders are on record that the choice is between fighting the US-Israeli proxies in Syria and Iraq or fighting them on Iranian soil.

How will Moscow react to the US-backed drone attack on its bases? A permanent solution lies in retaliating against the American forces and inflicting heavy casualties – like in Beirut in 1983. If a few dozen American body bags arrive in Washington from Syria, President Trump is sure to say, ‘Enough is enough, boys, come home.’

But the problem is that the US is fighting a “hybrid war”, embedded within the Kurdish militia and cannot be targeted easily. Pentagon has also inserted “contractors” (American mercenaries) so that political risk is minimized.

Therefore, Russia’s option will be to step up the operations to cleanse Idlib province of the al-Qaeda groups backed by US and Israel once and for all. Indeed, Nikki Haley will begin howling in the UN on Israeli instructions alleging “war crimes.”

Of course, as they say, all is fair in love and war and there is another option open to the Russians or Iranians, too – equipping the Afghan Taliban with drones. But they are unlikely to go that far — as of now, at least.

January 10, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Did BBC team responsible for faked footage of Syrian chemical attack travel under terrorist protection?

 By Catte | OffGuardian | January 6, 2018

Most of our readers are now more than familiar with the bizarre events surrounding the BBC Panorama program Saving Syria’s Children. We’ve already returned to this story several times. The possibility that this program presented faked footage of a non-existent chemical attack by government troops on a school in Syria has been meticulously documented by independent researcher Robert Stuart over several years.

But a further twist to the story seems to show that the crew who filmed this questionable footage were being escorted and protected during their sojourn in Syria, by members of a jihadist terrorist group affiliated to Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The evidence, on the face of it, seems damning.

Ten minutes, 18 seconds into the program (which can be seen here) the film crew record a car journey, with the two British doctors featured in the program, to “see what medical care is available for children closer to where the fighting is”. At one point the journalist Ian Pannell can be heard in voice over saying:

Western journalists have been targeted in Syria, so I have to travel with my own security. The doctors are able to be more low key and take their own vehicles.

As he speaks we see Pannell himself, presumably filmed by his cameraman Darren Conway, in a car, part of a convoy, accompanied by armed men. We also see the hood of one of the cars in the convoy several times and pretty clearly. It has a logo on it. This is it:

The inset on the right is the logo of Ahrar-al-Sham.

In case you’re wondering, this is the same Ahrar-al-Sham identified by a Human Rights Watch report in October 2013 as participants in the killing of women and children (see “You Can Still See Their Blood” – Executions, Indiscriminate Shootings, and Hostage Taking by Opposition Forces in Latakia Countryside.). The report details the slaughter of nearly 200 civilians “including 57 women and at least 18 children and 14 elderly men” by opposition forces including Ahrar al-Sham on August 4 2013.

It was just 19 days after this massacre – on August 23 – that Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway (now an OBE) apparently decided Ahrar-al-Sham were the go-to ’security’ guys for them. The documentary further shows Pannell, Conway and their chums being waved through ISIS road blocks without a hitch. This is the same ISIS who – allegedly – had declared war on all westerners and were prone to cutting off their heads (though in 2013 this hadn’t become the media meme it later became). Our boys are apparently welcome deep in ISIS territory, with no worries about repercussions.

This is probably explained by the fact Ahrar-al-Sham, according to Stanford University’s Mapping Militant Program, “worked with the Islamic State (IS) until January 2014″.

But maybe the contact with terrorists was fleeting and almost accidental? Well, below are two images that tell a story. The top one is a screencap from Saving Syria’s Children. The man outlined in red is the “Fixer/Translator” for the program, Mughira Al-Sharif, and he is shown driving Pannell’s convoy car (Pannell himself can be seen second from right next to the window in the back). Mughira is seen again in the bottom image in a photograph taken the same day and shared on Instagram. Also with him in this pic, and looking remarkably chummy, are two members of the Ahrar-al-Sham security detail who can be seen in Pannell’s car. Mughira described these men in his Instagram post as ‘friends’. That post was subsequently deleted.

(Above) Fixer/Translator Mughira Al-Sharif driving Ian Pannell’s convoy saloon car in Saving Syria’s Children. Pannell is second from right. (Below) Al Sharif poses with two of the Ahrar al-Sham men in an Instagram post of the same day, describing them as “friends”. The post was subsequently deleted.

Let’s be clear – these “friends’ of Mughira’s could well have taken part in the recent slaughter discussed above, and must, at very least, be assumed to support the mass murder of innocent people. And this man Mughira is employed by Pannell as his guide and helper in making their documentary.

Why are a supposedly distinguished and professional BBC journalist and his crew working with allies of ISIS? Why are they using them as their ‘security’? Why are they comfortable tooling round Syria in a car festooned with jihadist logos? Why did they end up producing a documentary using highly questionable footage to promote UK intervention against the elected government of Syria?

Did neither they nor their employers at the BBC realise what they were doing?

Or did they know and think it was just dandy?

When is the BBC – and Ian Pannell and Darren Conway(OBE) – going to answer these and the many other questions hanging over this program and their credibility?

January 6, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment