Defense Secretary Ashton Carter last October said in a little noticed comment that the United States was ready to take “direct action on the ground” in Syria. Vice President Joe Biden said in Istanbul last month that if peace talks in Geneva failed, the United States was prepared for a “military solution” in that country.
The peace talks collapsed on Wednesday even before they began. A day later Saudi Arabia said it is ready to invade Syria while Turkey is building up forces at its Syrian border.
The U.N. aims to restart the talks on Feb. 25 but there is little hope they can begin in earnest as the Saudi-run opposition has set numerous conditions. The most important is that Russia stop its military operation in support of the Syrian government, which has been making serious gains on the ground.
A day after the talks collapsed, it was revealed that Turkey has begun preparations for an invasion of Syria, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. On Thursday, ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said: “We have good reasons to believe that Turkey is actively preparing for a military invasion of a sovereign state – the Syrian Arab Republic. We’re detecting more and more signs of Turkish armed forces being engaged in covert preparations for direct military actions in Syria.” The U.N. and the State Department had no comment. But this intelligence was supported by a sound of alarm from Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Turkey, which has restarted its war against Kurdish PKK guerillas inside Turkey, is determined to crush the emergence of an independent Kurdish state inside Syria as well. Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan stopped the Syrian Kurds from attending the aborted Geneva talks.
A Turkish invasion would appear poised to attack the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, which is allied with the PKK. The Syrian (and Iraqi) Kurds, with the Syrian army, are the main ground forces fighting the Islamic State. Turkey is pretending to fight ISIS, all the while actually supporting its quest to overthrow Assad, also a Turkish goal.
Saudi Arabia then said on Thursday it was prepared to send its ground forces into Syria if asked. Carter welcomed it. Of course Biden, Erdogan, Carter and the Saudis are all saying a ground invasion would fight ISIS. But their war against ISIS has been half-hearted at best and they share ISIS’ same enemy: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. If the U.S. were serious about fighting ISIS it would have at least considered a proposal by Russia to join a coalition as the U.S. did against the Nazis.
The Prize of Aleppo
The excuse of the Geneva collapse is a ruse. There was little optimism the talks would succeed. The real reason for the coming showdown in Syria is the success of Russia’s military intervention in defense of the Syrian government against the Islamic State and other extremist groups. Many of these groups are supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States in pursuit of overthrowing Assad.
These three nations are all apparently poised for a ground invasion of Syria just as, by no coincidence, the Syrian Arab Army with Russian air cover is pushing to liberate perhaps the greatest prize in the Syrian civil war — Aleppo, the country’s commercial capital. The Russians and Syrians have already cut off Turkey’s supply lines to rebels in the city.
The U.S. cannot stand by and watch Russia win in Syria. At the very least it wants to be on the ground to meet them at a modern-day Elbe and influence the outcome.
But things could go wrong in a war in which the U.S. and Russia are not allies, as they were in World War II. Despite this, the U.S. and its allies see Syria as important enough to risk confrontation with Russia, with all that implies. It is not at all clear though what the U.S. interests are in Syria to take such a risk.
From the outset of Russia’s intervention the U.S. and its allies have wanted Moscow out of the Syrian theater. They seem to be only waiting for the right opportunity. That opportunity may be now — forced by events.
Former U.S. national security adviser and current Obama adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said last October in the Financial Times that, “The Russian naval and air presences in Syria are vulnerable, isolated geographically from their homeland. They could be ‘disarmed’ if they persist in provoking the U.S.”
Turkey’s downing in November of a Russian warplane that allegedly veered 17 seconds into Turkish territory appeared to be very much a provocation to draw Russia into a conflict to allow NATO to drive Moscow out of Syrian skies. But Russia was too smart for that and instead imposed sanctions on Turkey, while urging Russian tourists not to visit the country, which has hurt the Turkish economy.
A Battleground of Empires
As a fertile crossroad between Asia and Africa backed by desert, Syrian territory has been fought over for centuries. Pharaoh Ramses II defeated the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh near Lake Homs in 1247 BCE. The Persians conquered Syria in 538 BCE. Alexander the Great took it 200 years later and the Romans grabbed Syria in 64 BCE.
Islam defeated the Byzantine Empire there at the Battle of Yarmuk in 636. In one of the first Shia-Sunni battles, Ali failed to defeat Muawiyah in 657 at Siffin along the Euphrates near the Iraq-Syria border. Damascus became the seat of the Caliphate until a coup in 750 moved it to Baghdad.
Waves of Crusaders next invaded Syria beginning in 1098. Egyptian Mamluks took the country in 1250 and the Ottoman Empire began in 1516 at its victory at Marj Dabik, 44 kilometers north of Aleppo — about where Turkish supplies are now being cut off. France double-crossed the Arabs and gained control of Syria in 1922 after the Ottoman collapse.
We may now be looking at an epic war with similar historical significance. All these previous battles, as momentous as they were, were regional in nature.
What we are potentially facing is a war that goes beyond the Soviet-U.S. proxy wars of the Cold War era, and beyond the proxy war that has so far taken place in the five-year Syrian civil war. Russia is already present in Syria. The entry of the United States and its allies would risk a direct confrontation between the two largest nuclear powers on earth.
Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.
The tiny Persian Gulf state of Bahrain says it is ready to deploy ground forces to Syria under the Saudi leadership as foreign-backed militants are losing ground in the face of the Syrian army advances.
The announcement by Bahraini Ambassador to Britain Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa on Friday came after Saudi Arabia said it was ready to send troops to Syria.
In a statement, Sheikh Fawaz said Manama would commit troops to operate “in concert with the Saudis” in Syria.
The Bahraini diplomat said the Saudi initiative was meant to combat both Daesh and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, the [Persian] Gulf states are determined to take positive action within the region and globally to combat terrorism and extremism, from whatever quarter they emanate,” he said.
Sheikh Fawaz said the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was also ready to commit troops to Syria.
Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are members of the US coalition that has been conducting air raids inside Syria since September 2014 without the Syrian government’s permit or a UN mandate.
They are staunchly opposed to the Syrian government, providing Takfiri militants with arms and funds to topple President Assad.
The Syrian army and allied fighters have made significant advances in recent weeks, especially in the areas near the second city of Aleppo.
In a surprise statement broadcast on the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news network on Thursday, a spokesman for the Saudi defense ministry suggested that the kingdom could send troops to Syria.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is prepared to participate in any ground operations that the anti-Daesh coalition might agree to carry out in Syria if there is consensus among coalition leaders,” the spokesman, Ahmed Asiri, said.
Pentagon chief Ashton Carter welcomed the offer, saying he looked forward to discussing it with the Saudi defense minister in Brussels next week.
The US defense chief welcomed reports on Thursday about Saudi Arabia’s willingness to deploy troops in Syria, noting that he would discuss the issue with his Saudi counterpart in Brussels next week.
During an interview with the Saudi al-Arabiya TV channel on Thursday, Saudi military spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri said Riyadh “is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition may agree to carry out in Syria”.
“That kind of news is very welcome. I look forward to discussing that with the Saudi defense minister next week – and other kinds of contributions that Saudi Arabia can make,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told reporters at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
Carter is going to meet defense ministers of 26 countries, which are part of the US-led coalition countering the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) takfiri group in Belgian capital Brussels.
The US defense chief acknowledged that the Saudi government has indicated willingness to do more in the fight against ISIL, which western media reports revealed it receives funds from main regional countries including the Saudi.
“I should mention also Saudi Arabia has indicated a willingness to take the lead in marshaling some Muslim-majority countries,” he said.
Carter said that the Netherlands also pledged to support anti-ISIL operations in Syria last week, in addition to the Dutch government’s existing contributions to the campaign in Iraq.
“You see others stepping up, and the reason why I’m going to Brussels next week is to bring the full weight of the coalition behind accelerating the defeat of ISIL,” Carter said.
pakistan-army_140093kPakistan has become an intermediary between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran against the background of increasing fears that a prolonged bilateral confrontation could potentially have serious consequences for the entire region. With a view to resolving the conflict, the civil and military leadership of Pakistan visited Riyadh and Tehran in January 2016. Both capitals responded favorably to the visits of the high-level guests, the tone of the Iranian leaders changed, the world stood still in anticipation of the detente… but no miracle happened. A few days later Riyadh firmly rejected both the mediatory role of Islamabad and the possibility of a dialogue.
Iran-Saudi tensions were escalating throughout 2015. Riyadh’s irritation grew after diplomatic missions of the Kingdom in Iran were raided, as well as in connection with the lifting of sanctions against Tehran by the United States and the European Union on January 16, 2016, which immediately promised to supply considerable stocks of crude oil to the world market to restore the status of the main hydrocarbon competitor of the KSA.
The mediatory role of Islamabad was quite understandable. Firstly, its concern was caused by the request of the Foreign Ministry of the KSA for the military establishment in Pakistan not only to send land forces into the zone of a potential conflict, but also to use nuclear weapons, the development of which had been actively financed by Riyadh for many years. In the past, Islamabad repeatedly declared the inadmissibility of a military intervention in a conflict on the side of any state within the Muslim Ummah.
Secondly, it was caused by Iran’s reaction to the establishment of an anti-terrorist alliance under the leadership of the KSA in December 2015. Islamabad was registered as its member, but it learned about it from statements of officials in Riyadh. The list included 34 more states, with the exception of Iraq, Iran and Syria. As the Saudi authorities explained later on, these countries had not been invited because of a lack of confidence in them.
Thirdly, Islamabad feared another surge of Sunni-Shiite massacres in its country, especially after the wave of protests that swept neighbouring Iran in early January 2016 in connection with the execution of the well-known Saudi Shiite preacher Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr by the leadership of the KSA on January 2, 2016.
Pakistan demonstrated impartiality during the growing tension between the two countries. It did not openly condemn the actions of Iran in connection with the attack on the diplomatic mission of the KSA, but it did not sever diplomatic relations with it either, as did a number of countries of the Persian Gulf; it stressed its neutrality even during the visit of the Foreign Minister of the KSA to Islamabad in mid-January this year.
Riyadh’s request to send several thousand Pakistani soldiers at the disposal of the authorities of the KSA changed the subsequent course of events. Islamabad immediately canceled a visit of the civilian Defense Minister H. Asif to Tehran in mid-January this year. In a short time, the Pakistani military and, in particular, the Army Chief of Staff General R. Sharif, initiated a project of mediation in the Iran-Saudi conflict.
On January 18 this year, two Sharifs (the namesakes – Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff General R. Sharif) visited Riyadh with a mission to settle disputes by peaceful means in the interest of the unity of the Muslims in these difficult times. The leadership of the KSA was sympathetic to the mission of Islamabad and handed over a list of items to the Pakistani delegation to be further discussed with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, assuring the guests from Islamabad that if the Islamic Republic of Iran showed positive signs, diplomatic relations could be restored.
The next day, on January 19, the civil and military leadership of Pakistan arrived in Tehran. It is fair to say that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was the first world leader who visited Iran after the lifting of sanctions. As reported by the Pakistani media, he managed to obtain a positive response from the Iranian leadership in respect of initiating the Iran-Saudi dialogue and regulating the issue of coordinators, whose mission, as planned, was to maintain business contacts with officials of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The mediation of Pakistan yielded positive results. On January 20, 2016, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly condemned the attack on the embassy of the KSA in Tehran for the first time.
It seems that Riyadh and Iran heard each other thanks to the efforts of the intermediary. But instead of a triumph, Islamabad’s diplomacy failed once again. On January 25, 2016, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the KSA Adel Al Dzhubeir said that Tehran was pursuing a hostile policy towards the Arab world, and interfered in the internal affairs of foreign countries inciting religious strife and supporting terrorism. Of course, the efforts of Islamabad turned out to be useless against this background.
Riyadh’s refusal of Islamabad’s services in the development of dialogue with Tehran is due to several factors: the change in the overall political and military situation in the Middle East, the intensification of the military cooperation of the KSA with the United States and India (Indian military and, consequently, their arms are taking up the positions of Pakistani military trainers stationed in Riyadh under the previous agreements) and Islamabad’s repeated refusal to send land forces at the disposal of the KSA. We should recall that in late March 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised the Saudis to send his troops at the disposal of Riyadh, but in early April the parliamentarians, under pressure of the generals, refused to send their troops to fight against the Huthis in Yemen.
The mediation failure of the civil and military leadership of Pakistan to establish Iran-Saudi dialogue means that this time Riyadh excluded Islamabad from the list of its allies for a long time, and it will greatly reduce the amount of financial assistance and expand trade and economic, military and other contacts with its old rival – New Delhi.
The domestic policy of Pakistan is also in anticipation of change …The issue of the extension of the term of office of the Chief of Army Staff General R.Sharif (official retirement in late November this year), that has long been discussed in the country, has already been decided. On his return from a tour of Iran and Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif refused to extend General R.Sharif’s term of office. The army commander had nothing to do but to publicly declare his refusal to continue service and his retirement upon reaching the retirement age. The generals of Pakistan are one of the strongest and most masterful government institutions and have seized power in the country four times; the Army Chief of Staff is the de facto first person in the state. Thus, the completion of the anti-terrorist campaign initiated by General R.Sharif delivered has been jeopardized.
And so the wheels of the Geneva talks came off in spectacular fashion, with all parties blaming each other for the breakdown in the so-called Syrian peace process.
The negotiations in the Swiss city were only into their second day –having opened on Monday, and that after a week-long delay –when UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura announced that the talks would be adjourned until February 25. Take it as read: it’s over.
Washington and Paris immediately sought to blame the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies for “torpedoing” the Geneva talks. US Secretary of State John Kerry accused Syria and its allies of seeking a military solution to the five-year-old conflict. With this background of ongoing air and ground assaults, the Geneva negotiations foundered, according to the US and its partners.
Kerry and his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, are engaging in reality-inversion, ably assisted by the Western mainstream news media.
The fact is the Geneva talks failed because Washington and its terrorist surrogates fighting for regime change in Syria could not affect a semblance of diplomacy.
Yes, Syrian Arab Army military advances are proceeding apace with the support of Russian air power and ground forces from Iran and Hezbollah. The game-changer was Russian intervention nearly four months ago, which has enabled the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad to recover huge swathes of territory occupied by foreign-backed mercenaries.
The latest military gains this week in northwest Syria have put the Syrian Arab Army within reach of taking back the city of Aleppo, the country’s largest urban centre, second to the capital Damascus.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week that Russian operations in Syria will continue until all “terror groups”are destroyed. Lavrov mentioned Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and Daesh (also known as ISIL), but Russia’s scope also extends to a myriad of other militants groups who are integrated with the more well-known terrorist organizations.
These militants are falsely and risibly divided into “moderates”and “extremists” by Western governments and their dutiful corporate-controlled news media. What is moderate about chopping heads of civilians considered to be “infidels”? And this barbarity has been routinely practiced by the so-called moderate rebels of the “Free Syrian Army”. Notably, we don’t hear much about the much-lionized FSA these days. That’s because in reality they don’t exist.
Syrian state forces have every right to extirpate all illegally armed groups on the sovereign territory of Syria. While the Geneva negotiations were in process, the main foreign conduits of military supply to the mercenaries –Turkey and Saudi Arabia –had not desisted from their illegal interference in Syria. That was in flagrant violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions in November and December calling for a global clampdown on terrorist organizations.
Not only were Turkey and Saudi Arabia continuing to supply illegally armed groups inside Syria, these two Western allies had included terrorist organizations into the so-called “opposition”at the Geneva talks. The grandly named High Negotiating Committee demanded it would only continue participating on the condition that the Assad government eventually stands down. That’s the real, proximate reason for breakdown, no matter what John Kerry might say.
Can you believe it? A bunch of foreign-backed and exile-based terrorists dictating terms to the elected government of Syria. Their foot-soldiers are getting wiped out on the ground –after five years of inflicting destruction on Syria –and yet these impostors are attempting to write the “peace terms”.
Syria and Russia are having none of it. Both are determined to crush an existential threat to Syria from foreign-backed terror groups. And Assad and Vladimir Putin are not going to hand over a victory of regime change at the negotiating table either.
That’s why Kerry is in a fluster. The peace process charade has been upended. Washington and its partners expected Syria and Russia to call off the military pressure in order to give their mercenary proxies some breathing space so that they could relaunch their terror war at a more opportune time, while also issuing ultimatums in Geneva for de facto regime change.
Washington and its allies were never serious about finding a genuine peaceful settlement. Now that the wheels have come off this snake-oil bandwagon, the US and its partners are obliged to find some “explanation” to sell to world opinion.
Hence, blame the Syrian government and its Russian ally for blasting the Geneva talks. But the world is not fooled by such reality-inversion. The Western powers’ plans for regime change in Syria just rolled into another blind alley.
The real danger, however, is that Washington and its allies might now attempt a direct military intervention in Syria out of desperation.
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. For over 20 years, he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organisations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent.
A group of MPs have called on the British government to immediately suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia and have demanded an independent inquiry into the war in Yemen, where British arms are thought to have been used against civilians.
In a letter to Development Secretary Justine Greening, the International Development Select Committee urged the UK to cease opposing an inquiry which aims to examine potential breaches of humanitarian law by the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen.
It comes after human rights charities and anti-war groups criticized Saudi Arabia for allegedly bombing civilian targets.
The British government has sold £1 billion (US$1.45 billion) worth of arms to the Saudi government in the past year.
Last week a leaked UN report found Saudi Arabia guilty of breaking humanitarian law. In response the Saudi government set up an internal inquiry.
British MPs say the UK should back an independent inquiry. Members of the committee were shocked to hear the UK had hindered efforts to launch such an investigation in September 2015 when it was proposed by the UN.
“We need an independent, international fact-finding mission to uncover the truth. Until then we should cease selling arms to Saudi Arabia,” wrote committee chair Stephen Twigg.
“All parties to this conflict should review their obligations under international law and undertake to put civilians and humanitarian work above other interests.”
MPs said they had been presented with evidence from the head of UNICEF Yemen, who said the Saudi-led coalition had been involved in bombing campaigns which endangered the lives of civilians.
The committee’s letter was welcomed by activist group Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), which condemned the British government’s actions.
“The humanitarian situation is getting worse and the UK government has been complicit in it. We agree that arms sales need to stop, but they should never have been allowed in the first place.
“Saudi Arabia has a terrible human rights record and has been supported by governments of all political colors for far too long,” said CAAT’s Andrew Smith.
The leaked UN report, obtained by the Guardian last week, found that Saudi airstrikes are breaching international law by hitting civilian targets, including refugee camps, civilian weddings, vehicles, medical facilities and schools.
The UN panel of experts on Yemen used satellite imagery to look at areas before and after bombings, which also targeted an Oxfam warehouse storing equipment for a water project funded by the EU.
Video-sharing website YouTube has reportedly blocked an account belonging to Iranian Arabic-language news network Al-Alam under pressure from Saudi Arabia, the TV channel says.
Al-Alam reported Monday that YouTube had closed its account after the Broadcasting Services of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (BSKSA) lodged a complaint against the Iranian TV.
The report also slammed the move as “unprecedented and unprofessional,” saying Al-Alam’s YouTube account was blocked without any prior notice and based on “unfounded claims.”
The network denounced YouTube’s move in taking down Al-Alam’s page as a “breach of regulations and technical protocols.”
This is not the first time the Saudis have taken action against the Iranian news channel.
Earlier last year, Saudi hackers overtook Al-Alam Twitter account and its YouTube network, posting items in support of Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Yemen.
Al-Alam is one of the leading foreign-language news channels operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), which also runs the English-language Press TV and the Spanish-language HispanTV.
The network has a vast following in the Persian Gulf countries and elsewhere among the Arab audience.
An opposition group founded by Saudi Arabia last month is turning the Geneva negotiations into a farce, putting the UN under pressure and refusing to talk to the Syrian government, German newspaper Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten (DWN) wrote.
According to the newspaper, the group was formed in December and consists of Islamist fighters who want to overthrow Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad.
The opposition platform is called the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) and is referred to in the media as “the most important opposition alliance.”
However, according to DWN, the group seems to be contributing to the destabilization of the situation, rather than to its resolution.
“The group sees its main task in disrupting the peace conference mediated by the UN,” the newspaper wrote.
The Syrian talks started on Friday with a meeting between UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura and the delegation of the Syrian government.
The HNC delegation attended the negotiations only after a long hesitation, previously claiming that the UN should put an end to the “crimes” of the Syrian government as a condition for their participation.
Shortly after their arrival in Geneva on Saturday, the delegation threatened again that it would not participate in the negotiations until their conditions are met.
“In fact, the envoys of the Saudis seek to create unrest at the negotiation table after Russia‘s military success [in Syria],” DWN wrote.
For decades, America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been relying on its partner’s money in discrete and covert operations; the money of the Saudi oil-rich kingdom.
Citing several current and former US officials, the New York Times reported on Jan. 23 that from the very beginning of the US operations against the Assad government in Syria, Saudi money was largely the supporter.
The most recent example of this ‘close bond’ between the US and Saudi Arabia has came to light in the New York Times article, which reported that US President Barack Obama knew well the US could rely on Saudi money when, in 2013, he secretly gave the CIA the green light to arm militant groups in Syria that were fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Code-named Timber Sycamore, the deal stipulates that the Saudis contribute both weapons and large sums of money and the CIA takes the lead in training the rebels on AK-47 assault rifles and tank-destroying missiles.
In 2012, the US repeatedly claimed that the Timber Sycamore program was designed to deliver what it claimed to be ‘non-lethal’ aid, yet months later, Obama gave his approval for the CIA to begin directly arming and training the rebels from a base in Jordan, amending the Timber Sycamore program to allow lethal assistance.
Also, the NY Times report noticeably underlines that such a long intelligence relationship helps explain why the United States has been reluctant to openly criticize Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses, its treatment of women and its support for the extreme ideology Wahhabism, that has inspired many of the very terrorist groups.
In the latest violation which brought uproar across the Muslim world in particular, Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, for challenging the oppression of the royal family and demanding human rights, yet the Obama administration did not publically condemn the action. Also, another form of Saudi human rights abuses to which the US has had no clear condemnation is its war on Yemen that has so far claimed the lives of more than 8,270 people including women and children.
The CIA covert operations in Syria began in 2013, in which more than 10,000 Wahhabi terrorists were armed, funded and trained. The trainings were taking place inside Jordan’s territories, and estimates have put the total cost of the ops at several billion dollars.
“They understand that they have to have us, and we understand that we have to have them,” said Mike Rogers, the former Republican congressman who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee when the CIA operation began.
The operation was described as part of the so-called “counterterrorism” program. On this note, a former State Department counterterrorism adviser and the author of a book on the Islamic State, William McCants points out “The more that the argument becomes, ‘We need them as a counterterrorism partner,’ the less persuasive it is. If this is purely a conversation about counterterrorism cooperation, and if the Saudis are a big part of the problem in creating terrorism in the first place, then how persuasive of an argument is it?”
Even though the biggest contributor was Saudi Arabia, yet its allies also had their share in the game. According to the NY Times, when Obama signed off on arming the rebels in the spring of 2013, the Qataris, Turkish and Saudis had been funneling weapons into Syria for more than a year. The Qataris had even smuggled in shipments of Chinese-made FN-6 shoulder-fired missiles over the border from Turkey.
Britain is at war in Yemen and is arming and facilitating a brutal Saudi dictatorship that is bombing innocent civilians, a growing chorus of critics has warned.
The allegation that Britain is engaged in covert warfare in Yemen was first made by Scottish National Party (SNP) Westminster leader Angus Robertson during a heated discussion in Parliament on Monday. However, it has since been echoed by political commentators and human rights campaigners, who are demanding the government come clean on the role of UK forces in the Saudi-led campaign.
The conflict in Yemen consists of a range of regional, local and international power struggles emanating from historical and recent events. As scrutiny of Britain’s involvement in the war intensifies, campaigners and commentators insist that the UK is intervening in the conflict. They argue that Britain’s arming of the Saudi-led coalition and provision of advice to Saudi military personnel amounts to proxy warfare.
Britain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia totaled £2.95 billion (US$4.23 billion) for the first nine months of 2015, and roughly £7 billion since Prime Minister David Cameron took office in 2010. Amid mounting concerns that UK-made weapons have been used to bomb schools, hospitals, markets and other civilian targets in Yemen, Cameron has been urged to suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn sent a letter to the PM on Wednesday demanding transparency on Britain’s involvement, after a leaked version of a UN panel’s report concluded attacks on Yemeni civilians had been “widespread and systemic.”
The 51-page report, which was obtained by the Guardian, examined 199 missions conducted by the Saudi-led coalition that violated international law.
Many of the attacks involved repeated airstrikes on civilian objects, including refugee camps; civilian gatherings such as weddings; civilian vehicles such as buses; residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and essential civilian infrastructure. Three cases of civilians being pursued and shot at by aircraft as they fled residential bombings were also recorded.
UK director of Human Rights Watch said the findings of the UN report “flatly contradict” UK ministers’ rhetoric about the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen.
“For almost a year, [Foreign Secretary] Philip Hammond has made the false and misleading claim that there is no evidence of law or war violations by the UK’s Saudi ally and other members of the coalition,” he told the Guardian.
Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs Allan Hogarth expressed disgust at the government’s attempt to downplay concerns over Saudi Arabia’s conduct in Yemen.
“Thousands of civilians have already died and it’s been utterly dismaying to see Downing Street brushing aside extremely serious concerns about the reckless conduct of Saudi Arabia in this devastating conflict,” he said.
Conflict in Yemen
Saudi Arabia revealed earlier this month that British and American forces are stationed in the control center from which military operations against Yemen are being directed. However, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has refused to disclose how many British personnel are involved.
The department also insists Britain’s involvement is confined to advice and training geared at ensuring Saudi Arabia complies with international law.
Yemen’s civil war kicked off in 2014, after Zaidi Shiite-led Houthi rebels overran the capital, Sanaa. The rebels, who had been targeted in six separate wars by Yemen’s central government, were loyal to Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
During the Arab spring in 2011, the Houthis had gained control of Yemen’s Saada province. However, it wasn’t until September 2014 that they conquered Sanaa. The Shiite-led rebels subsequently forced President Hadi to resign in January 2015, and seized control of swaths of southern Yemen.
The following March, a Saudi-led coalition of states launched airstrikes against the Houthis in a bid to retake Yemen. Sometime later, a Saudi-led ground operation also began. By August 2015, the Houthis had been pushed back by resistance fighters supported by the Saudi-led coalition.
As the conflict rolls onward and civilian fatalities continue to mount, criticism of Britain’s role in the Saudi-led military campaign is growing ever stronger.
A UN panel of experts says Saudi Arabia’s months-long war on impoverished Yemen has violated the humanitarian law as many of the airstrikes have been carried out on civilian targets.
The UN experts have called on the UN Security Council to “investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Yemen by all parties and to identify the perpetrators of such violations,” AFP reported on Tuesday.
The report added that Saudi warplanes had carried out 120 sorties, involving documented airstrikes on refugee camps, weddings, buses, medical facilities, residential areas, mosques, markets, factories, food warehouses, schools and airports.
“Many attacks involved multiple air strikes on multiple civilian objects,” the report further said, adding that “civilians are disproportionately affected” by the unabated aerial aggression. It also denounced Riyadh’s crippling blockade on Yemen, which constitutes “the prohibited use of starvation as a method of warfare.”
Saudi Arabia began its military aggression against Yemen in late March last year. The strikes are supposedly meant to undermine the Ansarullah movement and restore power to the fugitive former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
Some 8,300 people have been killed and over 16,000 others injured since the strikes began. The Saudi war has also taken a heavy toll on Yemen’s infrastructure.
Yemenis have been carrying out retaliatory attacks on the Saudi forces deployed in the country as well as targets inside Saudi Arabia.
ISIS and similar terrorist groups are US creations, used as imperial foot soldiers in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.
A video attributed to ISIS warned of attacks on US and European cities, saying “revenge has started… blood will flow. There will be no safety in this world from our guns and bullets and explosives.”
Nothing suggests it’s credible. Any nation, organization or individuals can produce videos saying anything.
ISIS claimed responsibility for last November’s Paris attacks. Evidence strongly indicates state-sponsored false flag responsibility – Western fear-mongering to enlist support for endless wars and homeland crackdowns on fundamental freedoms, a sinister US-led plot.
No evidence points to ISIS’ involvement in what happened. Current threats attributed to the group, claiming intended expanded global attacks, focusing on Europe, reflect state-sponsored deception.
Western officials and echo-chamber media are responsible for willful deceit, including Europol (European police) director Rob Wainwright.
On Monday, he claimed ISIS “developed a new combat style capability to carry out a campaign of large-scale terrorist attacks on a global stage” – no credible evidence supporting his claim.
State-sponsored fear-mongering substitutes for hard facts. Claiming ISIS intends going “global” is propaganda rubbish. Endless repetition gets most people to believe it.
Wainwright’s claim appeared strategically timed to coincide with an alleged ISIS video, again claiming responsibility for last November’s Paris attacks – showing them participating in murders at an undisclosed location, allegedly before entering Europe ahead of the Paris false flag, CIA operatives and their French counterparts likely sharing joint responsibility.
Europol’s report was willful deception, fear-mongering, claims without independently verifiable evidence, saying: “IS is preparing more terrorist attacks, including more ‘Mumbai-style’ attacks (an earlier false flag) to be executed in member states of the EU, and in France in particular, (mainly aimed at) soft targets” – for greater fear-mongering impact.
ISIS’ strength depends entirely on US-led NATO, Saudi-led rogue Arab states and Israeli support.
Europol claiming it developed an “external action command,” able to conduct “special forces-style attacks” has no credibility given its dependence on nations indicated as targets for support.
Headline-making “terrorist” attacks invariably are state-sponsored, groups or individuals named as perpetrators having nothing to do with them, patsy victims of Western imperialism.
Most ordinary people in allegedly targeted countries are out-of-touch, uninformed, indifferent, and easily duped by state-sponsored propaganda – raging to support imperial lawlessness.
Stephen Lendman can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”